Ask John

BearTools_Fotor If you have a question about gardening in the Birmingham area, ask John. John Floyd has been gardening–and learning about gardening–for more than 30 years. In addition to his day-to-day experience in the garden, John has degrees in horticulture, plant taxonomy, and plant physiology from Auburn and Clemson Universities and was Editor-in-Chief of Southern Living.

If you need to include a photo, you can email your question to BirminghamGardeningToday@gmail.com


I had a border of Leland cypress that the drought murdered. I need to replace these with something fast growing and less disease prone. Can you give me some suggestions 22. March 2017

see answer below


I lost several cypress to the drought I need something hardy, fast growing and tall. What do you suggest 22. March 2017

It depends on how high you want the screen. One of my favorite 20 plus foot screens is Nellie R. Stevens holly. They grow very well in the Birmingham metro area. For screens larger than 30 feet, you will need a small evergreen tree. Those not sensitive to drought are not common in our area, so you might want to try cryptomeria, but they will require water.


I’m curious as to why nurseries seem to no longer offer varieties of gardenias such as the variety ‘Mystery’ that have larger leaves and blooms like the ones our grandparents grew. It seems they only offer ‘August Beauty’ with small leaves and small blooms. 17. March 2017

Many nurseries are limited by space and what is available from their wholesalers. Gardenias are not as popular as they use to be in the past. Check this spring at larger garden centers like Hanna’s, and they may have several types.


When is the best time to fertile Encore Azaleas… I use Fertilome with Systemic Insecticide. 17. March 2017

Each time after they finish blooming, so that could be up to 3 times a year depending on the selection.


When I trimmed my Oak leaf Hydrangea it did not bloom the next year. When and how do you trim them? 7. March 2017

Since they bloom on the new wood each year, prune before they leaf out.


I would like to build a hedge between my garden and my neighbors garden, I would like recommendation on shrubs that (1) will grow to at least 6 feet (2) have some berries/flowers for birds, butterflies and bees (3) are well adapted to local conditions. I live in Bluff park and one of our problem is that there is not much soil so I will need to supplement this. PS I had some cypress, but they all died with the dry weather of last year. I am having them removed. While I like cypress, I am also worried that they do not tolerate the dry conditions too well. Any advice you could give me would be appreciated. 24. February 2017

First, you are not alone in losing cypress. One of the things that needs to be decided is how fast you want a six foot hedge. I really like dwarf Burford holly, and mine came through the drought with limited watering. If you put out a good 3 gallon plant, five feet on center, expect 5-7 years to achieve what you described. Quicker growing shrubs include Mary Neil holly, ‘Bright ‘n’ Tight’ cherry laurel (short lived 10-15 years), Japanese boxwood, and Fortune’s osmanthus. But all of these will have to be kept at six feet once they achieve that height.


I’d there any weed killer that should be used on these early weeds in my centipede yard? We have applied pre emergent at the “appropriate ” times last year , but I’m seeing clover and other weeds growing now. I’m on a mission to kill them all!!!! LD in Mt. Olive 21. February 2017

About the only thing I am using on spring weeds is a herbicide containing 2-4-D. Make sure the product you buy is cleared for your specific type of grass and apply according to label directions. That should clean it up, except for Poa annua (common name annual bluegrass), which it does not control. If the Poa annua is sparse, you might want to hand pull it.


This month, it’s time to prune my blueberry bushes, fig tree, and crepe myrtle. I have read recently to wait until late February-early March since we’ve had warm temps lately and we’re bound to have a hard freeze or two before winter is over. Is it safe to prune now or should I wait? 8. February 2017

Candidly, the weather is so odd right now, who knows, if you depend on the weather. I think it is fine to prune blueberries, figs, and crepe myrtles, if they need it.


I have tons of leaves , have removed most of them by mulching and bagging with our lawn mower… is it ok to use these around shrubs in our “natural areas ” ..our yard is too large to use pine straw everywhere . We do use pinestraw in the beds around the house. 7. February 2017

Yes, it is fine to use as mulch, but it may contain some weed seeds. If you can spread a very thin layer of pine straw over the leaves, the look will be nice, and it will  help with decomposition. Buy pine straw at any big-box hardware store or garden center.


What the proper way and time to trim bearded iris leaves? 7. February 2017

I cut mine in a fan shape in late fall. If you did not do that last fall, remove dead and damaged leaves now. Leave the new leaves coming out of the rhizomes now.


I live just outside Oak Mountain State Park in Pelham and we have a HUGE deer population. I see herds every day in my 3 acre yard. Is there anything I can do to protect my plantings? They jump my fence to get in the back yard. Milorganite helps somewhat. Any advise would be greatly appreciated. 22. December 2016

I really don’t have a solution for you. I have a friend that has an electrified fence, and that does not seem to work either. My only suggestion is that over time you select deer resistant plants to replace the ones you lose from those pesky deer.


I had bamboo in a five gallon container and the drought hit it hard. The leaves kept some green in them, although with a lot of shriveling. Would it help to cut it low and plant it? I’ve continued to water it. Thanks very much. 20. November 2016

It should be ok in the container but remove the dead stalks. Then, in the spring, when new shoots appear remove any bad looking shoots. It always grows better in the ground vs a pot.


Will azaleas and hydrangeas that are crisp in this drought come back next spring Should they be trimmed back ? Will pachysandra come back if it appears to be dried up? 4. November 2016

Tough questions – I think if the azalea’s leaves are shriveled and then turn brown, chances are poor. Scratch the bark and see if there is any green under it; if not, my guess is they are dead. As for hydrangeas, even if they die back, oftentimes they will come back from the roots (hopefully). As for the pachysandra, I must declare it is dead unfortunately. With it being so dry now, I think many of our plants will be severely damaged.


Where will I find your sharing of Libby Rich 20. October 2016

When she commnets it is either in Ask John or Comments and she will identify herself-john


Armadillos…YUCK! We have one that has destroyed our back yard…. Assuming he was looking for grubs, we sprayed, we had army worms too that had reaked havoc also. My husband killed the little devil last night, but we are left with hundreds of divots… what do you recommend to repair this? Just fill the holes with dirt? thanks… Linda in Mt. Olive 5. October 2016

Broom rake the area where you killed the worms, or try removing with a blower. Instead of soil, I would use sand if the holes are severe. When I have had infestations in the past I would clean the area of dead worms the best I could, and then water the area well. Generally it filled the holes, and the yard returned to normal. As for the armadillos, removal from the area is the best solution.


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13 thoughts on “Ask John

  1. Greetings John, My beautiful Peace lillies have an infestation of a scaly type of insect…aphids…I attempted to eradicate them by cleansing the stems and leaves with a damp paper towel and then followed up with a banana peel. As a deterrent, I would break off pieces of the peel and place around the top of the dirt. This seemed to work for a little while, but then I notice some of the leaves begin to grow limp and then turn yellow and I just cut them off. I would appreciate any suggestion and I really prefer the “Natural” remedy, but am open to whatever help you can offer. Thank you.

  2. thank you for replying re: fertilizing my various hydrangea types. I’m going to purchase the 15-0-15 you suggested and I plan to put some, dry, around the base of each plant. Some are very mature–the latest additions were planted in October, 2014. OK to treat all one time either now or very early summer? Thanks again.

  3. I transplanted some daffodils several years ago from my family home in Grove Hill, AL. The blooms do not seem as bright and yellow as they did in their previous environment. Is there a food they need to be more colorful and not so pale yellow? The foliage looks great; only the flowers are not as bright.

    • It might be several things, but usually the depth of color is pretty constant. Once they finish blooming, I would give them a bit of fertilizer. There are products especially for bulbs, but an all-purpose fertilizer like 15-0-15 (which is what most of us need to use in this area) can be sprinkled throughout the foliage. Also, if the bulbs you dug were in a sunny spot, and yours are in shade, that might affect the color somewhat. Other than that, I really do not have any ideas. Let’s hope next year the color will be brighter and clearer.

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