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


When is the best time of year to plant hostas and ferns? 17. August 2016

The best time of the year is when the plants or dormant or early spring when the foliage is just sprouting. Now saying that folks transplant them all the time with big clumps of dirt around the plants but not all will make it even if they are kept constantly moist


I have an allotment and all my cabbage, cauliflower plants have been eaten by something,also my Brussels sprouts seem to be going the same way 6. August 2016

Look for little greenish worms. If that is the case it is cabbage looper and can be controlled with ‘Sevin’ or ‘Dipel'(organic). If that is not the case, it could be something like grasshoppers or some type of flying insect. In all cases I suspect ‘Sevin’ will help.


Is CubCadet RT 65, a rear tine garden tiller, useable in Shelby county area. We are relocating from Florida. In my visits to your area, I noticed rocky and clay soil. Thanks for your help. 5. August 2016

It will do great here. While our soils are a mix of sand and clay it has power enough to handle our soils just fine.


What do you suggest to fertilize hydrangeas with? 5. August 2016

I generally use a low nitrogen fertilizer like 5-10-10 or 6-12-12 this time of the year on hydrangeas.


Are Pawpaw trees/shrubs suitable for Alabama and is there a specific one to purchase? I live on a farm and am trying to add birdand butterfly plants. 31. July 2016

I do not know of any selections and they are hard to find. The are great for Alabama gardens since it is a native plant in parts of our state.


What is the disease that is killing mature dogwoods limb by limb? I have lost several and it takes a couple of years for the entire tree to die. 29. July 2016

It is probably dogwood borer from what you describe. Ortho Rose and Shrub disease product is a homeowner product cleared to control dogwood borer. Apply according to label directions. If the trees are large, several applications will be needed in several seasons.


John, OK thanks for the response. I think my question is really can the portion that we remove be rooted and will it survive. We have three or four rooting going now from previous cuttings, but cutting ten or so inches down the main ‘tree’ will be different. What should we put the cutting in to try and have it survive? John 26. June 2016

I think it is worth a try as you have nothing to lose, but rooting these is not easy. But, if you have had success in the past, then if the wood of the plant is not too big and old, you probably can root it the same way you did the others.


OK JAF, we have a very tall fiddle leaf fig plant, and have cut the top several times and rooted new plants. The plant has four branches growing at the top from the last ‘trimming’, is it possible to cut ten or so inches below the branching and expect the cut portion to survive. Pics will follow. Thanks J & J Feagin 23. June 2016

Well, you can do that as long as there is foliage below where you are cutting the ficus. Just remember that you can also do it in stages, which I like to do.


Mountainside ground cover 14. June 2016

Need more information. Sun or shade, degree of slope, quality of soil, current state of erosion, are things I need to help you make a good decision. Also, see post on sun ground covers.


Sun loving ground cover 14. June 2016

I could use some more details. Dense is Asian Jasmine and it hugs the ground, and once established it can be maintained with nylon-string trimmers. Almost all of the Junipers like full sun, and you can get them in a variety of sizes (heights). Many folks use these on slopes. Others include winter Jasmine, some of the new rose types that trail, prostrate loropetalum (Chinese Fringe),etc. A good description of the space you are considering, and the quality of the soil would help me be more specific.


John, can we grow Muhly Grass in Birmingham successfully? 9. June 2016

It certainly can be cut back with a string trimmer, but using a mower if the crown is high will probably damage or kill the plant.


What are the times during the year to fertilize Encore Azaleas? I have heard spring , summer, and fall…what are your thoughts? 5. June 2016

I think they should be fertilized each time they finish blooming. So, depending on the type you have, that would be two or three times a year.


The slugs are eating up my caladiums. I’ve used the granules in my flower garden, but I’m still finding big holes in the lraves. What can I do? 2. June 2016

Slug bait usually controls them, but if not I have had good luck pouring beer in shallow tops and putting them under the leaves, and it does the trick over time. But if you have a large infestation, you are going to have to refill the tops several times.


What do you think about products with Spinosad for controlling thripes on roses? 28. May 2016

While I have never used this product, I checked with the Hanna Center at the Botanical Gardens, and they say it is an excellent product. Two things to remember, it lasts only a max of ten days and spraying open blooms can cause burn to the petals.


I love Zinnias and plant them from seed… They always have pretty blooms, but the leaves look horrible! Dry, brown and very unsightly. IS this fungus? how can it be controlled so the plant looks good all summer. Linda in Mt. Olive 24. May 2016

I checked with my friends with the Hanna Center and they agree that if it is just brittle or brown leaves, it is one of two things: the plants got dry and the lower leaves are where the damage is exhibited, or it is just a characterisitc of the plants, as many of the older types have this as a common characteristic.


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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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