|A fern that I left outside during the winter is starting to have new growth: how do I take out the old growth without harming the new growth? Tim, Southside|
|Hello, Tim in Alabama: Is it possible that this fern is actually hardy, or is it just that we have had such mild temperatures that the fern survived the winter months outdoors when under normal circumstances it would not have? Either way you might want to wait to see if the entire plant puts on new growth. It is still very early in the growing season and it may be that if left alone the fern will become as lush and beautiful as it was last year. If you really want to try to separate the new growth from the rest of the fern, it is a good idea to work from the root system upward. Take the fern out of the container and lay it on its side. This is going to get messy so keep this in mind before you start. As the fern is lying on its side, start separating the roots from the soil with your fingers. Gradually work your way up the root system to where you want to separate the new growth from the old. At this point you will really have to look closely to see where the viable roots are and separate them from the dead ones. It may be helpful to use a small hand saw to cut the fern into sections. After you have smaller ferns, make sure to plant them in smaller containers with drainage holes and a good quality potting mixture. Fertilize and water like you would any new tropical planting.|
|After an orchid (Phil.) has finished blooming, where and what part do you cut off? Laquita, Taylorsville|
|Hello, Laquita: There are over 28,000 species of orchids. Phalaenopsis orchids, also known as a moth orchid, are commonly found in the trade. They are quite stunning while they are in bloom. There are different opinions about what should be done with the stem after your orchid has finished blooming. Some say that with older plants you can cut the shoot back halfway just above one of the nodes and the orchid can potentially produce secondary flowers. The chance of this happening is low and the flowers will not be as large or last as long as the first ones did. This process will take three to four months. The more common practice is to remove the stem all the way down to the base of the plant. Leaving an inch or so is fine. This will allow your orchid to concentrate all its energy on the roots, foliage, and producing a new stem that will eventually bloom again. It is a process but for now continue to keep your orchid in a space where it will receive bright filtered light. A south-facing window is ideal. Do not want to allow the orchid to completely dry out, so depending on the temperature and humidity of your home, your orchid should be watered about once per week. Continue to feed your plant with your favorite water-soluble orchid fertilizer once a month. Using a half-strength dose of food is fine. It is always better to under-water and feed than to over-water or to over-feed your orchid. It should be repotted every two years with a good quality orchid medium.|
|Can a Kimberly fern be left outside during the winter (if planted in the ground) and what treatment/care would it need? Brenda, Newmarket|
|Hello, Brenda: Kimberly Queen ferns are hardy to zone 9, which means they can survive outdoors until temperatures reach 20 degrees F. So for those of us not living in these warmer regions it is good to know that they can be over-wintered quite easily. Over-wintering our tropicals such as a Kimberly Queen fern indoors is a great way to save our plants from year to year. That being said, some of these plants are easier to over-winter than others, but the Kimberly Queen fern is one of the easier ones. The downfall to keeping them indoors for the cold months is that they will likely drop a lot of their fronds, thus more maintenance on your part in terms of cleaning up after them. You can put a piece of plastic under the plant for easy cleanup. Another option is to cut back all the foliage when you bring it inside. Plant growth slows down when temperatures are cooler and in response, less light and water are required. The fern will not likely put on any new growth during the winter months. The idea is to keep the roots alive so it can put on new growth next season. Indoors or out, these ferns do not like to completely dry out so watch your moisture levels. This will depend on the temperature and humidity of your home, but watering every seven to 10 days should be sufficient for the cooler months. You will want to cut back on your fertilizing during the winter months but after your frost-free date passes, take your fern back outdoors, give it a dose of your favorite fertilizer, water it well, and watch it grow. It will likely take a few weeks for it to put on new growth so be patient, but it will once again look lush and beautiful. This upright sword fern is a sun lover but be careful when you take it back outdoors that it gets acclimated to the intense sun; otherwise the foliage will burn.|
|Can I overwinter my fern? If so, please advise me how. Jeff, Richmond|
|Hi, Jeff in Kentucky: Over-wintering your tropical fern indoors is a great way to keep your plant from year to year. This can be done quite easily in the right environment. Even though most ferns are shade-lovers they can and should be placed in a brightly lit room or window; south-facing would be ideal. We want the fern to get as much light as possible during the winter months and since the light levels are much lower this time of the year it is fine to place them in the sunniest room of your home. Plant growth slows down when temperatures are cooler, and in response less light and water are required. Your fern will not likely put on any new growth during the winter months. The idea is to keep the roots alive so it can put on new growth next season. Ferns can be one of the messiest tropicals to bring indoors because they tend to continuously drop their foliage. Placing a drop cloth or a piece of plastic underneath them may not be very aesthetically pleasing, but it makes for an easy cleanup. Another option is to cut back the foliage since the root system is the main concern at this time of year. It will take them longer to become full and lush for next growing season, but the trade-off is less maintenance in terms of cleanup while they are indoors. Remember to cut back on watering as well as fertilizer during the winter months. Your watering schedule will depend on the temperature and humidity of your home, but every seven to 10 days should be sufficient. Be careful not to over-water. The soil should be never be sopping wet.
|Can I plant an Australian sword fern houseplant in Maryland, in zone 4, will it survive? Doris, Oxon Hill|
|Hello, Doris in Maryland: The Australian sword fern (Nephrolepis obliterata) is considered a tropical for those of us not living in hardiness zones 9 and above. ‘Kimberly Queen’ is the most common cultivar found in garden centers this time of year. It is more tolerant of a sun-loving garden than other ferns in this family, none of which will survive the winter outside in the zone you are gardening in. You can over-winter these ferns indoors from year to year if you have a space inside that is south-facing or brightly lit. They can be messy since they tend to drop their foliage when they are brought inside, so keep this in mind if you are going to attempt to over-winter your fern. You can also cut back the foliage and let it put on new growth next spring, but it can take a while for them to become lush and full again. Sometimes it is easier to just purchase new ones each growing season.|
|Can I put my calla lily in the ground through winter? Suet, Littleton, CO Suet, Littleton|
|Hi Suet: According to the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map you are gardening in zone 5, and calla lilies (Zantedeschia aethiopica) are hardy to zone 7. This means they will not tolerate your winter weather and are not considered a perennial plant. However, if it is currently growing in a container you can bring it indoors before the first frost and place it in a south-facing window. Adjust your watering and feeding schedule and then take it back outside after the frost-free date for your area has passed. It will not likely bloom indoors during the winter months. If it is currently growing in your garden you can dig up the rhizomes, shake off the soil, and place them in the shade and let them soak up any moisture before storing them in a brown paper bag, newspaper, or shoebox and place them in the back of a closet or the like. They should not be exposed to too much heat/cold or light during this time. As spring arrives you can pot them up and enjoy them for another growing season.|
|Can scaredy cat plants in pots be brought indoors for the winter? Pat, Penticton, BC Pat, Penticton|
|Hi Pat: There are a few plants that can be used in the garden to deter cats, dogs, rabbits, and other critters. Coleus canina, also known as Plectranthus, is one of these. This plant is known by a few common names such as dogs be gone and scaredy cat, among others. It is native to Africa and will not survive the winters outdoors but it can be over-wintered indoors and taken back out next spring. Ideally it should be placed in a south-facing window but any room that has good bright light will be fine. You will want to cut back on your watering depending on the temperature and humidity of your home. The soil should be allowed to dry out before adding any additional moisture. This plant is highly scented to animals but if the foliage is rubbed or crushed it will give off a skunk-like smell in your home, so be careful not to disturb the plant. After the frost-free date for you area passes you can take it back outside and gradually work it back into the sun.|
|Can the roots of my bottle palm break up my walkway? Sonia, Edinburg|
|Hello, Sonia in Texas: Hyophorbe lagenicaulis, commonly referred to as a bottle palm, is considered a tropical for those of us not gardening in hardiness zones 10a to 11. As a Kentucky gardener, I am not able to answer this question from personal experience since they are not hardy in our colder climate, but from everything I have read these palms do not have an extensive root system that could potentially buckle your walkway. They are very desirable trees in terms of their mature size. Native to the Mascarene Islands, these palms only get to be around 10 feet tall and wide after several years. Bottle palms are not prone to many insect or disease issues, which is also a plus. They can tolerate full sun if given adequate moisture but will also be happy growing in part shade.
|Can we bring our ferns in for the winter to care for them until spring season? Joyce, Fairview Park|
|Hello, Joyce: Tropical ferns can be brought indoors to survive the winter months. Like any other tropical we over-winter inside it is best to place it in a brightly lit room; a south-facing window would be ideal. Even the shade-loving ferns will benefit from as much light as possible during this time. The light levels are so much lower that we do not have to worry about too much light during the winter months. You will want to adjust your watering schedule since they will not require as much moisture as they did outside. This will depend on the temperature and humidity of your home but every seven to 10 days should be fine. Avoid fertilizing this time of year as well. The downfall to over-wintering ferns indoors is that they are notorious for dropping their fronds. It can become a maintenance issue and the plants may not look very nice as we hit the middle of winter, so another option is to cut back the foliage before you bring the plants inside and then put them in the basement. Next spring when the frost-free date for your area passes put them back outdoors, fertilize them, and gradually move them into a sunnier location if they are Kimberly Queen ferns. Otherwise leave them in the shade and they will begin to put on new growth. This is a process but if you have the space and the patience it is worth the effort.|
|Can you help me with my banana trees? They are not hardy plants, so I have dug them out and cut them back to about 6 feet tall. They are big at the trunk, about 10 to 15 inches round. I have no basement or heated garage; I put them under my mother's house, which is underpinned with blocks. I am not sure how cold it will get under there in the winter. I have about 20 banana trees, but I lose several each year to the cold. Patricia, Boston|
|Hello, Patricia: Banana plants are considered tropicals for us here in Kentucky. However, they can be dug and saved from year to year. Storing them under the house will certainly give them protection but it will all depend on how cold it gets in terms of survival. The quantity you are dealing with may be a challenge, so trying a few different methods may be to your advantage. This way you will not be putting all your eggs in one basket. You can separate the smaller plants (pups) from the main plant to help when storage space is limited. Keep a few under the house and give them some added protection by wrapping the root ball in a black plastic bag or covering them with mulch. Do the same with another group and keep them in the unheated garage. The foliage is not the concern since it is the roots we are trying to keep alive. Ideally, they should be over-wintered in a dark space where the temperature range is around 40 degrees. Another option would be to pot a few of them up; this would be ideal for the smaller pups, cut the foliage back to just a few inches, and bring them indoors for the winter months. Keep them on the dry side. Next spring after the frost-free date has passed take them out of storage and cut back the foliage on the ones in the garage and under the house. New growth should emerge and keeping them well-watered and fertilized will help keep them happy.
|Can you help please? We brought two hibiscus trees and they bloomed beautifully for a two-week period. Then suddenly they no longer gave flowers for about a month now. They have lenty of green foliage and the plants look healthy, yet no new buds.
Yvonne, Toms River|
|Hello, Yvonne: Tropical hibiscus are a lovely addition to the summer garden. They typically are prolific bloomers provided they receive enough sunlight as well as nutrients. For the best blooms, hibiscus should be given a full day of direct sunlight. This means they should be growing in a space where they will be exposed to a minimum of six hours of sun. These tropicals are considered heavy feeders, so if you have not fertilized lately this is likely the issue. It sounds like your plants are otherwise happy, but they just may need to be encouraged to bloom again. Once they use up all the nutrients/energy they have stored up to produce flowers, they will need to be replenished. Visit your favorite garden center and purchase either a liquid or granular fertilizer. A well-balanced fertilizer such as 10-10-10 should be fine. Hibiscus will also benefit from additional iron. Too much phosphorus (middle number) can discourage blooms on tropical hibiscus. Be certain to follow fertilizer instructions as directed by the product since over feeding can also cause the hibiscus not to bloom. Hopefully this is the problem and your plants will soon be full of flowers again.
|Do dipladenias come back every year if left outside in the ground? Tammy, London|
|Hi, Tammy: Dipladenias are considered a tropical for those of us not gardening in hardiness zones 10 or 11. This means they will not survive our winter temperatures, but they can be overwintered indoors and then taken back out the following spring. Bring your tropical inside before the first frost and place it in a south-facing window or anywhere it will receive bright light. You will want to cut back on your watering as well as fertilizing during the winter months. Keep the soil on the dry side but do not allow it to completely dry out. It will likely not bloom inside and by the end of the winter it may not look great, but the idea is to keep the plant alive so you can enjoy it again next season. Once May 10 passes, place the dipladenia back outside in a shady spot. Gradually acclimate it to the full sun, give it a dose of your favorite fertilizer, and enjoy. Dipladenias are prolific bloomers and provide wonderful color in the summer garden.|
|Do you keep hibiscus trees in the house in the winter? Della, West Liberty|
|Hello, Della: I am assuming you are referring to a tropical hibiscus, the ones you see in all the garden centers this time of year. They are available in tree form as well as shrubs. If this is the case, the answer is yes, it must come indoors during the winter months. It would not survive the winter temperatures we have here in Kentucky. Bring your plant indoors before the first frost and place it in a bright room with good filtered light. You can cut back on your watering as well as fertilizing at this time. You do not want the hibiscus to completely dry out but the soil should not be sopping wet either. Watering will depend on the temperature and humidity of your home. The light levels are lower during the winter months and the hibiscus will not likely bloom, but can successfully be over-wintered indoors and then taken back outside after the frost-free date passes in May. Hibiscus blooms best in full sun but when you take your tropical back outside after the winter, remember to gradually move it to a sunny location. It will need to be acclimated from being inside all winter long.|
|Do you know where I can purchase Petticoat and Fishtail ferns? Mary, Crossville|
|Hello, Mary in Tennessee: It is always a bit harder to find more unusual plants, but the search is well worth it. I assume you have tried to locate these ferns at your local garden centers, but have you asked them if they could possibly special order them for you? If not, this would be a good starting point. You will probably have better luck with a smaller, locally owned store when dealing with special orders. If they carry tropicals they may have a source for these ferns. Both of these ferns belong to the Nephrolepis genus of which the Boston fern is the most common. These can be found in any garden center this time of year. I did find an online source for both the Fishtail and the Petticoat fern. I do not have any personal experience with this company so I cannot give you an opinion in terms of reliability, but if you cannot find them locally you might want to go this route. The name of the company is Glasshouse Works and their Web site is www.glasshouseworks.com/fernpage.html. Good luck with your search!|
|For Mother's Day this year my son gave me a hibiscus; it has the twisted trunk (three small ones twisted into one). It bloomed all summer but now that the temperature has gotten down cool at night I brought the plant inside the house. My question is should I prune it back some? It's already tall, more than 5 feet in the pot. I don't want it to get real tall but I'm not sure how to care for this plant.
|Hello, Shirley: Tropical hibiscus are one of the most sought-after plants during the warmer months for those of us not living in the tropics. They are prolific bloomers and even though their blooms only last for a day they are never in short supply. As long as they are given a minimum of six hours of direct sun and proper nutrients they will provide blooms all summer long. Over-wintering your tropical hibiscus is certainly worth the effort. Ideally it should be in front of a south-facing window but any brightly lit room will work just fine; even a basement with a grow light will suffice. The idea here is just to keep the plant alive so you can take it back outdoors next spring. During the winter when the light levels are at their lowest the hibiscus will not require as much moisture or nutrients as it does during the warmer months. A watering schedule will depend on the temperature and humidity of your home but every 7-10 days is typical for these plants. It will not produce many blooms, if any, and it will not put on any new growth during this time. If you need to prune to fit it in the space go ahead and do so but if you can wait until spring that would be best. After the frost-free date for your area passes, take your hibiscus back outside and place it in a shady spot so it does not burn. Gradually acclimate back into the full sun, give it a dose of your favorite fertilizer, and water it well. The blooms will once again appear.|
|How can I care for a tropical hibiscus plant that is outdoors now for the winter? I know because of the cold it will not survive the winter. If I dug it up and placed it in a large pot will that help? My only problem is that I have two cats who love to chew plants, so how do I care for this plant? Harvey, Paterson|
|Hello, Harvey: It seems like such a shame to have these beautiful tropicals in our garden all summer and each year having to choose which ones make the cut and which ones don’t. Tropical hibiscus is one that many choose to save. They are relatively easy to over-winter indoors as long as you can provide them with the right environment. Before moving it indoors, it is a good idea to dig it up and put it in a container with drainage holes and move it to a shadier location for a few days prior. This will help to acclimate the hibiscus to the light levels it will receive indoors. Ideally, it should be kept in a warm room near a bright window with adequate moisture. The more direct sunlight it can get, the happier the plant will be. The idea is to reduce stress and keep the tropical alive until next May when it can go back outdoors. Same idea applies here, initially place in a shady location and gradually work it into the full sun. This will keep the foliage from burning. Don’t be surprised if it does not bloom, but think of it as an added bonus if it does! As for your cats, keeping the plants out of reach would be the best solution but maybe not realistic. A diluted vinegar spray on the foliage may deter them; otherwise you can call your vet to see if they have any suggestions.|
|How can I overwinter a Kimberly Queen fern without bringing it inside?
The pot is too heavy and I have no room to keep it inside. Can you wrap it in plastic? I'm in Zone 7B. Peg, Winston-Salem|
|Hi, Peg It is always nice to be able to overwinter our tropicals and the Kimberly Queen fern (Nephrolepis obliterata) is certainly a tropical. Hardy to USDA hardiness zone 9 this fern will unfortunately not survive the winter temperatures of your 7B zone. Is it possible to have someone help you bring it into a basement or heated garage? If not you could build or purchase an inexpensive mini greenhouse or hoop house to protect your fern in for the winter months. Unfortunately it is not as simple as just wrapping it in plastic. We have to make certain that no cold air gets under the plant as well. If this is the only plant you would like to overwinter it may not be worth going to the expense or trouble to do so. It may be just as easy to purchase another fern next spring. On the other hand if there are other plants you would like to keep you could build a simple hoop house with shade cloth or plastic sheeting, rebar stakes, and PVC tubing. Another thought would be to call around to your local garden centers to see if this is a service they offer. Sometimes for a small fee you can hire them to look after your fern in their greenhouse until the frost-free date for your area passes. Or maybe a friend has space to overwinter it for you.|
|How do I take care of a dipladenia plant and do I prune those long shoots it produces? Loretta, Gloucester|
|Hi, Loretta: Dipladenia are tropicals for those of us gardening where the winters are cold. They are usually found in garden centers sold as hanging baskets or climbing on a trellis. Although they do not climb as well as a mandevilla, which they are related to and sometimes marked as such, they still deserve a place in the garden. They are prolific bloomers and add a punch of color to the summer garden. Dipladenia will bloom best when placed in full to part sun. You can trim it back if you need to, but the growth habit of this plant wants to climb or can also be used as a trailer. If you are growing your tropical in a container it will need watering every day during the hot summer months. Make sure the container has good drainage as the dipladenia will not tolerate standing water. You can fertilize once a month with a well-balanced fertilizer such as 10-10-10.|
|How does one go about keeping the Kimberly Queen ferns over the winter here in Kentucky? Pamela, Alexandria|
|Hi, Pamela: Over-wintering our tropicals indoors is a great way to be more economically savvy when it comes to the summer garden. That being said, some tropicals are easier to over-winter than others, but the Kimberly Queen fern is one of the easier ones. The one downfall to keeping then indoors for the cold months is that they will likely drop a lot of their fronds, thus more maintenance on your part in terms of cleaning up after them. I have found that if you can put them in a space that is not well lived in and has good filtered light, it is not such an eyesore. You can put a piece of plastic under them and let the foliage drop without having to pick it up on a regular basis. Another option is to cut back all the foliage when you bring it inside. This solves the high-maintenance problem but again it does not look great, so keeping it in a room or basement that still provides light but not a main living space may be a good idea. Either way, these ferns do not like to completely dry out so watch your moisture levels. This will depend on the temperature and humidity of your home, but watering every seven to 10 days should be sufficient. You will want to cut back on your fertilizing during the winter months but after our frost-free date (May 10th ) passes, take your fern back outdoors, give it a dose of your favorite fertilizer, water it well, and watch it grow. It will likely take a few weeks for them to put on new growth so be patient, but they will once again look lush and beautiful. It is well worth the effort to keep them from year to year.|
|I am considering buying a Plumeria plant in the spring. Since I have never owned one before, I am wondering about its thrivability here in Savannah and also soil requirements for the pot it is planted in. Kathi, Savannah|
|Hi, Kathi: It is always exciting to introduce a new plant to the garden. Plumeria, also known as Frangipani, is a wonderfully scented tropical. It is native to tropical areas of the United States. This means it will not survive freezing temperatures and even 40 degrees F is pushing it, so this is one you will have to bring in for the winter. Luckily for those of us who do not live in the tropics, Plumeria are great container plants. If they are given the right environment you can enjoy the fragrant blooms throughout the growing season. There are many cultivars and hybrids to choose from, each a different color, scent, and growth habit. They all require full sun, meaning they need a minimum of six hours of sunlight each day. It is important to use a good quality container mix. Plumeria will not tolerate saturated roots so using a potting mix made specifically for containers that is loose, well-drained, peat-perlite based will help prevent this from being a problem. Plumeria are heavy feeders so fertilizer is a must during the growing season (May-August). It is best to use a fertilizer that is high in phosphorus because this is what will help to encourage your Plumeria to bloom. This is the middle number on the fertilizer so if a product is labeled 10-50-10 this one would be high in phosphorus. Either a slow-release or liquid fertilizer will work just fine. You can feed your plant twice a month during the growing season and then avoid just before you bring your plant indoors until it goes back out the following spring. During this time the plant will go dormant so you can cut back on your watering as well as fertilizing.|
|I am totally new to this gardening thing and just bought two pots of hibiscus flowers. I hear they are easy flowers to grow. My yellow ones bloomed beautifully today but it was short-lived as my dog ate them. Does that mean the flower won't grow back again at all? Lucy, Plano|
|Hi Lucy: The hibiscus you purchased may be hardy to your zone or they may be considered tropical plants that will not survive the winter outdoors. Hibiscus moscheutos is hardier than the tropical hibiscus and the main difference between the two besides the hardiness factor is the size of the blooms. The hardy plant has dinner-plate size blooms and the tropical plant has considerably smaller flowers. Either way, both are considered low-maintenance plants that are prolific bloomers and even though each individual bloom only lasts for a day they are never in short supply. So, do not worry about your dog eating a couple of flowers, the plant will make more. Hopefully your dog did not get sick from eating them. As long as your hibiscus are given a minimum of six hours of direct sun and proper nutrients they will provide blooms all summer long. They are heavy feeders so fertilize them liquid or granular food such as 10-10-10 per product recommendation rates. Plano, TX|
|I bought a Kimberly Queen fern this past late summer/early fall and it was doing great in the west window in my room; then in winter it slowed down so I devided the fern, took the two new shoots or tubers with roots, and currently it is not shooting forth new growth but it is still green. I was told it was in shock and to wait a while but it's been a week and no new frowns are coming up. All my house plants have seemed to stop growing or slow way down. I have them in the right lighting, water them properly, and keep the humidity 50%. What am I doing wrong? Isaac, Niles|
|Hello, Isaac: From what you have described the behavior of your plants is perfectly normal this time of the year. The days are shorter and the light levels are much lower, so the plants are not going to be actively growing. This is especially true if any of these were outdoors before the cold weather arrived. Anytime we bring plants inside to over-winter, they rarely ever put on new growth. The idea is just to keep them alive until next spring when they can once again enjoy the outdoors. If these are intended to be year-round house plants, they will still react to the change of season. As long as your plants are still green and healthy, you should not be concerned that they are not putting on new growth. The Kimberly Queen ferns can benefit from being divided but do not be surprised if they even drop some of their foliage. They will probably not put on any new growth until next spring when the light levels increase. These ferns will be very happy to go outside after your frost-free date passes. Watering as well as fertilizing should be cut back at this time of the year since the plants are not actively growing; they do not need the nutrients or moisture they do during the growing season. It sounds like you are doing everything right.|
|I bought about 50 caladium bulbs and planted them 30 days ago. To date, not one plant is growing. Is there any chance they will bloom in time? Kay, Judsonia|
|Hello, Kay: Caladiums provide colorful foliage to any shade garden or container. Native to South America, these tropicals require warm soil and air temperatures to thrive. They should only be planted outdoors when air temperatures range between 65-75 degrees F, including nighttime temperatures. Did you plant these directly in the garden or did you start them indoors? It may be that the temperatures have not been warm enough for them to put on any growth. Depending on conditions it can take up to eight weeks for these bulbs to show any sign of life, so patience is a must when it comes to these plants. As with any bulb, rot can be a problem when they are exposed to cold temperatures and/or excess moisture. The soil should be evenly moist in order for them to grow but it should never be sopping wet. They should be planted 1-1/2 inches deep. For now you can gingerly pull up a couple of bulbs to make sure they have not rotted. If they are still firm, put them back in the soil and wait patiently. For future reference you can dig up these bulbs in the late summer/early fall, cut back the foliage, and store them for next year. Allow them to dry before placing them in a brown paper bag and store them in a dark cool space; air temperature around 55-60 degrees F is ideal. Then you can pot them up indoors the following spring to get a jump start on the growing season. A heat mat may be beneficial since they do take so long to come up.|
|I bought two Kimberly Queen ferns about three weeks ago for my deck this summer. They are not looking good in terms of color of foliage. I can't tell if they are too wet, too dry, or have had too much sun. They receive direct morning sun until about noon. I don't know what I should do to try and save them. Brian, St. Louis|
|Hi, Brian: What is going on with the foliage, is it turning yellow or brown and crispy? Plants perform best when grown in specific conditions; each plant has its own idea about what this is and Kimberly Queen ferns are no different. We typically think of ferns as being shade-lovers but this is not the case for these upright sword ferns. They are sun-loving tropicals, which means they would be happiest growing in a location where they receive at least six hours of direct sun. So from what you mentioned they may not be getting enough light. How often are you watering? Depending on rainfall amounts you should water your ferns every other day during the hot summer months. It may get to the point where you will have to water every day but this will depend on temperature, humidity, and rainfall. Make sure the soil is not sopping wet. Too much water can be just as bad as, if not worse than, lack of moisture. If the soil is really wet then let it dry out before adding additional moisture. When the soil dries out you can water it until you see excess water coming out the drainage holes. This will give it a good soaking all the way through. The easiest way to check the soil for moisture is to use your fingers. If the plant is so root-bound in the container that you cannot get your finger in the soil it is probably too dry.|
|I bought two plants labeled Brazilian iris. They have fronds about 3 feet tall that resemble the iris I've grown up with. I potted them and left them outside during the summer but have them in the house now that the weather is changing. Should I prune them back for the winter? Would they be hearty enough to stay outside? Should I plant them in the spring? None of this information was on the tag. I'm not a real "green thumb" and I really don't want to lose these pretty plants.
|Hello, Elsie in Kentucky: You did the right thing by bringing your Brazilian iris (Neomarica gracilis) indoors. Hence its name, this iris is native to Brazil as well as southern Mexico. Hardy in USDA gardening zones 8-11, it is considered a tropical for those of us gardening in Kentucky. As you mentioned they can get quite tall, reaching 5 feet at maturity. Their blooms are stunning and almost orchid-like. They only last for a day but several blooms are produced from each stem. As far as caring for it indoors, you will want to place it in a space where it will receive bright, filtered light. Outdoors it actually prefers to be shaded from the direct sun, but the light levels are much lower at this time of year so providing as much light as possible is ideal. You will want to avoid fertilizing until next spring and water only to keep the soil moderately moist. The temperature and humidity of your home will dictate how often you will need to water, but as a general rule every 10-12 days should be sufficient. Less water is better than too much; we do not want to rot the bulbs. Unlike the iris we are used to growing as perennials in Kentucky, these are true evergreens so there is no need to cut back the foliage. Just keep your tropical happy during the cold winter months and then take it back outdoors mid-May of next year. Then you can fertilize and enjoy the blooms for another season. To prevent the foliage from burning, remember not to put it in the sun when you take it back outside.|
|I forgot to bring my Boston fern in one night and the temperature went below freezing. It was outside for eight hours, with some green leaves but mostly brown. Will it come back or did I kill it? Gina, West Grove|
|Hello, Gina in Pennsylvania: As gardeners this is something we are all guilty of so don’t be too hard on yourself. Hopefully the damage was just to the foliage and not the roots but really only time will tell. If the roots were not affected, then it will eventually put on some new growth but it may take a good bit of the growing season before it looks lush again. If no signs of new growth appear in the next couple of weeks it is not worth keeping. Depending on your investment to this plant you may just want to purchase a new one, although this early in the season I would suspect this is a plant you over-wintered. For now you will want to remove all brown foliage and keep the soil moderately moist. If it shows signs of new growth then you might want to give it a dose of your favorite plant food. It is just a waiting game at this point.|
|I found a Web site stating that Kimberly Queens, if planted in the ground and heavily mulched, will die off but then grown back the next spring. I would love to get some but don't have the indoor space to over-winter. I live in a 7a-6b zone. Any thoughts? Jeff, Wilmington|
|Hello, Jeff: I would have to see this with my own eyes to believe it, at least for those of us gardening in zones 6 and 7. This may be true for gardeners living farther south and maybe the site you were looking at was in a warmer area. Kimberly Queen ferns (nephrolepis obliterata) are hardy in USDA hardiness zones 9-11. This means that the average annual minimum temperature they can survive is 20-25 degrees F. Depending on which zone you are in, 6b or 7a, the lowest possible average temperature is -5 to 0 degrees F and the warmest possible average temperature is 0-5 degrees F. This is quite a drastic difference and not even a heap of mulch will help protect this fern; if so, that would be a pretty impressive microclimate. If you are looking for a hardy fern, the Ostrich fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris) may be a good substitute.|
|I had two Boston ferns that I left out during the winter because I thought they had died. I placed the baskets they were in out in the yard this spring (which has been unusually cool and wet) and, lo and behold, I've got Boston ferns growing out of the top and out of the bottom of the plastic baskets in which they were hanging. What to do? Repot? Leave them alone? Rehang them on my porch? The pots are full of last season's dead stems. Carole, Batesville|
|Hi Carole: Boston ferns are hardy to USDA zones 9 and up. I think you are gardening in zone 8 so either you have a micro climate in your garden or you had a mild winter. So, you have a couple of options: you can leave them alone and see what happens, or you can take them out of the hanging baskets and separate the new growth from the dead stems and re-pot them. It may be that the entire plant will come back, but if it has not done so yet then chances are that just parts of the fern survived. It will take a good part of the growing season for them to be full and lush again but worthwhile since you thought they were a lost cause to begin with. If you decide to separate the fern just be sure to keep as many of the living roots attached to the fern as possible. Fertilizing them will help encourage new growth. Smaller containerized plants dry out faster than larger ones because there is less soil surrounding the roots, so make sure to keep the soil evenly moist. If you want to keep these ferns from year to year, bringing them indoors this winter is a good idea. Batesville, MS
|I have a Somona Euphorbia X lomi or "Forever Flower." I have never cut it back in winter before and it is looking very leggy. It blooms wonderfully and I don't want to hurt it. Cindy, Waterloo|
|Hi, Cindy in Ilinois: Somona Euphorbia X lomi ‘Sonoma’ is a native of Madagascar that is grown as a houseplant in your zone. It is hardy to zone 10 but will not tolerate the winter temperatures in your area. Of course, it would be happy to live outside during the warmer months, just make sure it does not receive too much water if you have heavy downpours of rain for extended periods of time. As far as pruning this succulent, it is not a fast grower so it should not require pruning every year. It sounds like your plant is happy but maybe just a bit leggy. To rejuvenate your plant you will want to wait until the spring to do any major pruning. When spring arrives use a clean, sharp pair of pruners and cut the stems back to a desired height. As a general rule you do not want to remove more than one-third of the height of the plant. As Euphorbias do, your plant will produce a milky sap when pruned; this is perfectly normal and should not be wiped off. If the base of the plant is over-crowded you might consider removing some of the stems to improve air circulation. Continue watering and fertilizing as normal. Give your plant as much direct light as possible and make sue it is planted in a good quality container mix made specifically for cacti/succulents. It is always a good idea to check periodically and make sure the drainage hole is not clogged when dealing with succulents. For now cut back on your watering as well as your fertilizing and wait for spring.
|I have a 5 foot windmill palm I ordered online; it has been struggling since I got it back in mid-summer. It has not grown an inch. I brought it in for the winter and the last two fronds are browing at the tips and progressing. The soil does not dry out, even during the summer I didn't need to water it a lot. I thought about trying some fish emulsion fertilizer but have read you are not supposed to fertilize during the dormant period: is this true? Steve, Clyde Township|
|Hi, Steve in Michigan: I am sorry to say that it does not sound good for your windmill palm (Trachycarpus fortunei). You mentioned that the soil was consistently wet and I suspect this is the reason or part of the reason for its decline. These palms are not too picky in terms of soil make-up or pH but they do require well-drained soil. Does the container have drain holes? And if it does make sure that they are not clogged up. These palms are susceptible to root rot, so excessive moisture can be detrimental. Windmill palms are prone to scale and aphids, both of which in high numbers can cause severe stress. All plants are more likely to become infected with insects if they are not given adequate growing conditions. The windmill palm can grow in shade or sun depending on the moisture level, and if yours was given more shade than sun this could also be part of the problem. Since the palm only has a couple of fronds left it may be too far gone to try to save, but if you want to give it a chance you need to determine why the soil is so wet and inspect the foliage for insects. It is true that plants do not require as much food during the winter months because the light levels are much lower and they are not actively growing. If you want to fertilize with fish emulsion, give it a half-dose strength. Indoors the palm will appreciate as much light as possible.
|I have a beautiful fox tail fern potted plant that I have had for a few years now. I bring it in during the winter months as it is only hardy down to 40 degrees. This year it has turned all brown and is growing shoots that are going crazy, but not filling out. Should I prune off all the dead tails and hope it makes a comeback ? Angela, Junction City|
|Hi, Angela: Foxtail ferns (Asparagus densiflorus ‘meyersii’) are a tropical for those of us gardening in Kentucky. So, just as you have done, they have to come indoors to survive our winters. It is not uncommon for their foliage to turn brown or even drop during these months as they would be much happier outdoors. Not to worry, the plant may not look great now but I am sure the root system is fine and that is what really matters at this point. Plants that we over-winter indoors are not expected to put on new growth or to even look great during this time: the idea is to keep them alive so we can take them back outside after the danger of frost passes. You can actually cut back the foliage as it starts to look bad and keep the roots alive with minimal watering. So go ahead and remove anything that does not look good. As the temperatures rise you can take the fern back outdoors. Since this fern likes full sun, it is necessary to acclimate it to this amount of light. Place it first in a shady location and then gradually move it into the sun. Fertilizing at this time with a liquid or granular slow-release food will be beneficial. Any well-balanced fertilizer will work just fine.|
|I have a beautiful foxtail fern that I have had for a few years. Now it has started to turn the needles yellow; what is the problem? I was told when I bought it to just water and nothing else is needed. I would like to know what the problem could be and does it need to be repotted? Lucinda, Hickory|
|Hello, Lucinda: Foxtail Ferns (Asparagus densiflorus 'meyersii') for the most part are low-maintenance plants. They do require medium to high light levels and adequate moisture. They will also benefit from being fertilized once a month. Typically when we notice the foliage begin to yellow, it is a result of uneven moisture levels or lack of nutrients. Do you feed your fern on a regular basis or has it changed environments recently? If you are not feeding your plant, go ahead and give it a well-balanced fertilizer such as 10-10-10. Either liquid or granular food is fine. The benefit to granular is that it is slow-release so it will last longer, as opposed to liquid that is immediately taken up through the root system of the plant. That being said, you may want to give it a dose of liquid fertilizer at this stage because if it is a lack of nutrients you are dealing with, the plant will take it up faster with the liquid food. If this plant is outdoors but was over-wintered indoors, it could just be adjusting to the change of environment. Sometimes it can take longer than we would think for plants to show any sign of stress. If the plant is outdoors and subject to Mother Nature, it may be uneven moisture levels causing the foliage to yellow. Outdoors, our tropicals will need to be watered on a daily basis and make sure that the container has adequate drainage. If the plant is indoors it may not be getting enough sunlight. One last possibility is that it is root bound and the roots are competing for nutrients as well as moisture. If you have not repotted your fern in a couple of years it will certainly benefit from having a bit more space to spread out. The general rule is not to increase the container size any more than 2 inches in diameter. For now go ahead and prune out any yellow foliage.
|I have a climbing hummingbird plant (annual) which says on the tag, crimson red hoop. Jon, Sturtevant |
|Hello, Jon in Wisconsin: The climbing vine you have is a mandevilla, sometimes referred to as a hoop plant. ‘Crimson Red’ is the named variety of the mandevilla. These plants are considered tropicals for those of us not gardening in hardiness zones 9 and above. The plants will not tolerate temperatures lower than 45 degrees F. Your vine will thrive when planted in a container or the garden where it will receive a minimum of six hours of direct sunlight. These tropicals like their soil to be moderately moist but never sopping wet. In the heat of the summer you will need to water your vine every day if grown in a container. It will likely reach 3-4 feet in one growing season. It can get to 10 feet where it can be grown year-round, but since our growing season is much shorter than zones 9-11, it will not get to be this large. You can feed your vine with your favorite fertilizer every couple of weeks to encourage blooms. A well-balanced fertilizer such as 10-10-10 is fine, or a fertilizer with a higher potassium is fine as well. As with any fertilizer, it is important to follow recommended application rates since too much food can have the reverse effect in terms of flowers. If you choose to use a granular food, you will not need to feed as often as a water-soluble one. You can over-winter your plant indoors if you want to keep it for next year's growing season. Bring it in before the first frost and place it in a space where it will receive bright light. It will not flower indoors but the idea is just to keep it alive until you can take it back outside next spring. During the winter months you will want to cut back on your watering and fertilizing. You can give it a half dose of your favorite plant food once per month and water every seven to 10 days. Your watering routine will depend on the temperature and humidity of your home.|
|I have a discolored Macho fern because I did not realize the pot I had it planted in did not have a hole for the water to exit; therefore, the fern has suddenly began to look unhealthy and discolored. I have put a hole in the bottom of the pot, what else should I do to make it healthy and green again? Jon, Plains|
|Hello, Jon: Too much water can be very harmful to plants, this is why drainage holes are essential with any container plant. So you did the right thing by creating drainage in your container. The fern is obviously not happy about all the moisture; it is common to see discolored foliage on water-logged plants. Make sure to let the soil dry out before watering at all. As long as the roots have not rotted the fern should recover. If the roots are soft and mushy with a foul smell you should toss it, but if they are firm with vigor then this is good. As for nutrients: if you have not added any recently it might not be a bad idea. Nitrogen would be the most important in your case since it helps the plant to produce chlorophyll. This will promote darker green foliage and new growth. Any fertilizer with a higher nitrogen percentage will be beneficial but a well-balanced fertilizer such as 10-10-10 will work as well. Adding nutrients and letting the soil dry out should be the focus at this point. This would be a good time to cut out any dead foliage. Not knowing how stressed your fern is it is hard to say if it will recover or how long it will take. If it continues to decline it may be too far gone, but hopefully it will start to perk up soon.
|I have a foxtail palm; it is only 2 months old. We gave it a good drink of expert gardener all-purpose food 24-8-16. The leaves are turning brown about an inch all up and down the leaf. I was told this will kill it. I gave it some iron three or four days ago. Can you help me out? Janice, Rockport|
|Hello, Janice: Foxtail palm (Wodyetia bifuracata) is a fast-growing tropical palm, native to Australia. It can be grown outdoors in hardiness zones 9-11. These palms are quite tolerable of most soil conditions but prefer moist, well-drained soil that is rich in nutrients. Because you are gardening in zone 9 I am assuming you are growing this palm in your garden. As with any new additions to the garden, there is always a bit of transplant shock. For a healthier plant in the long run, it is a good idea to let them become established in the natural environment without adding additional nutrients. Not fertilizing for the first year is perfectly fine and actually recommended. This is especially true if you have not had your soil tested to know the amount of available nutrients. If you have not had your soil tested you can contact your County Cooperative Extension Service. The fertilizer you applied has a very high percentage of nitrogen, which can potentially burn the foliage. I am also wondering if the all-purpose food you applied had iron (Fe) in it as well. This should be listed on the packaging. For now you should avoid adding any additional nutrients. Keep the soil evenly moist and have your soil tested. Go ahead and remove the foliage that is damaged. Plants have survived for a very long time without our help and as gardeners we want to make them happy and strong, but in most cases it is best to let them do this on their own. The Aransas County offices are located at 611 East Mimosa, the phone number is (361) 790-0103.|
|I have a home in Kentucky but I live in Taiwan. My wife and I own a greenhouse where we sell various tropicals, especially plumerias. I was wondering if you have ever had any luck growing them in Kentucky. My wife wants us to move back to Kentucky and tropicals are our business here. Michael, Paintsville|
|Hi, Michael in Taiwan: Growing tropicals for a living can be a risky business but for all of us plant lovers not living in warm climates, we are very grateful for your efforts. Moving an international business is certainly not my area of expertise and I would imagine you should get in touch with the U.S. Department of Agriculture if this is a serious venture. But for growing plumerias (Frangipani) here in Kentucky, you would need a heated greenhouse to keep them happy year-round. Heating a greenhouse is not cheap depending on its efficiency, and I assume in Taiwan you not have a heating bill as part of your business budget, so plumerias can potentially be expensive plants to grow and make a profit on. I agree they are lovely and any Kentucky gardener would be lucky to have their own. I do know people grow them here successfully but they have to be brought indoors during the colder months.|
|I have a Kimberly Queen fern that I thought died over the winter. When I brought it out in the spring, it started growing from the bottom. How do I separate the dead from the live plant without harming it? Renee, Creal Springs|
|Hi, Renee: Kimberly Queen ferns are quite easy to over-winter. It can take them time to put on new growth when we take them back outdoors after the frost-free date has passed, but if you have the space and bright light indoors it is well worth the effort. So it sounds like your fern is putting on some new growth and the rest of it is no longer alive. Basically, the idea here is just separate the healthy foliage and root system from the rest of the plant. This process can be messy so use a potting bench or put a piece of plastic under the fern for easy cleanup. You will want to remove the fern from the container it is growing in and lay it on its side with the root ball closest to you. Use a sharp pair of gardening scissors or pruners and start from the base of the roots and work your way up through the plant, separating the healthy plant from the nonhealthy plant. Try to keep as much of the root system attached to the healthy growth and discard the rest of the plant. Repot the smaller fern or ferns into smaller, adequate sized containers with proper drainage holes and give them new soil. Feeding them with a well-balanced fertilizer such as 10-10-10 will help give them a boost. Water well and make sure they receive plenty of light. These ferns are actually sun lovers so you can gradually work them into the full sun. This process will invigorate them and you should see quite a bit of new growth in the next few weeks.|
|I have a large assortment of cactus and succulents, and wondering if I can leave them outside during the winter. They are on shelving against the southwest side of the house. Violet, Shepherdsville|
|Hi Violet: There are so many cacti and succulents and certainly some of them are hardy, but most of them are considered tropical for Kentucky gardeners. Not knowing the exact assortment you have, I can't say for certain but chances are they should all come indoors to over-winter. Hopefully you have a south-facing window or enough space in a brightly lit room where your plants can live during the colder months. Succulents do not require a lot of moisture, and when the light levels are lowered during the winter your watering routine should be adjusted. This will depend on the temperature and humidity of your home but every 10-12 days should be sufficient; just make sure the soil is dry before adding any moisture. If you know the names of your plants that would be helpful, but you can always take pictures or samples of them to your local garden center or to your Cooperative Extension Service to have them identified by a horticulturist. This way you will know exactly what you are growing and if they are hardy or tropical.|
|I have a large potted tropical plant that has grown too big to keep indoors. It has several long spear-shaped leaves with periodic white fragrant flowers in the middle. Where could I donate such a plant? Walter, Lexington|
|Hello, Walter in Kentucky: It sounds like you have a very happy plant! I am certain that someone would be very glad to take it off your hands. How to go about finding this individual is the tricky part. I would start with asking family and friends and if that does not get you anywhere, you can contact your local garden centers/nurseries: they may be able to donate it for you. They have a lot more contacts and hopefully they would have some local suggestions for you. Another option is to contact your County Cooperative Extension Service. The horticulture agent may be able to help or could put you in contact with Master Gardeners in your area. Surely someone has the space for this plant or can help find it a good home. You might try calling around to local restaurants or coffee houses to see if anyone is interested. Large office buildings, schools, or doctor offices may be worth contacting. There are a lot of nonprofit organizations that would surely be grateful to have a plant donated to them. I hope this gives you some ideas.|
|I have a money tree that got hit by frost. I let it stand for a couple months, then it looked like it was dead so I took it out of the pot. I found stems about the size of a nickel that look very healthy, so I got down until I had removed what looked brown, soft, and dead. Can I start my money tree from what is left and how? Patricia, Rochester|
|Hello, Patricia in Minnesota: Pachira aquatica, commonly referred to as a money tree, are popular house plants for those of us not gardening in the tropics. These tropicals are native to wetland areas of both Central and South America and are hardy in gardening zones 9b-11. As you have found, they will not survive even a light frost. Temperatures in the lower 30s will be detrimental to this plant. They are not affected by many insect or disease issues and will tolerate full sun to part shade. They prefer moist soil but will grow happily in dryer situations as well. Money trees are considered low-maintenance plants but a low temperature is the one thing that will kill them. If your plant was going to put on any new growth it would have done so by now. Typically propagated by seed or cuttings, your plant has few options at this point, so I am sorry to say that it does not sound good for your money tree in terms of recovery. Sometimes it is just easier to cut your losses and purchase a new healthy plant.|
|I have a pair of Kimberly Queen ferns on my front porch. I water them every other day or so and mist them reguarly; however, one of them is starting to show dark brown fronds, which I am taking off. First, what is this indicative of and is taking them off okay for the fern? Kathi, Savannah|
|Hello, Kathi: Kimberly Queen ferns (Nephrolepis obliterata) are large upright sword ferns that are great in containers. These ferns can handle a lot more sun than other ferns can. In fact, they are happy to grow in full sun. They can become very large, reaching 3 feet tall and wide at maturity. During the growing season, they are constantly putting on new growth, meaning they have to lose some fronds in order to make room for the new ones. I would suspect this is what is happening with your plant. If it is just a frond here or there and the overall health of the fern looks good, you should not be too concerned. It is perfectly normal for them to have dieback. This is just what they do, and yes, you are doing the right thing by removing these fronds. As fall is approaching and the daytime and nighttime temperatures drop, you can cut back on your watering. These ferns are hardy to zone 9 but they can be over-wintered quite easily. The fronds can be cut back, bring the fern indoors before the first freeze, and place it in a space with bright filtered light. They will not put on much growth indoors but take them back out next spring, give them some food, and they will be lush again before you know it.|
|I have a plant just like the one that you are holding in the Web picture. I call it a pineapple cactus. The leaves are falling off of it. What can I do? Tamara, Augusta|
|Hello, Tamara: The plant that is in the picture is a type of Euphorbia. When they produce leaves this indicates they are happy. When they lose their leaves it typically means one of two things: too much or too little water. These succulents do not require as much moisture as other plants do. Depending on the temperature and humidity of your home, they should only need to be watered every 10 to 14 days. The soil should be allowed to dry out between waterings. Make sure your plant is growing in a good cacti-succulent soil mix and the container has decent drainage holes. Ideally these plants should be in a south-facing window or any space in your home that receives bright light. They are happy to go outside during the warmer months. They can handle full sun but since the light levels indoors are very different than the sunlight outdoors, they will need to be acclimated to these conditions. Gradually working them into the full sun will prevent them from burning. For now, adjust any of the growing conditions if needed. If the plant is losing its leaves and is mushy to the touch, then it is too far gone. Otherwise, if the rest of the plant looks healthy then it should be fine and will eventually produce new leaves.|
|I have a plumeria and the leaves are starting to curl under. It is in a pot indoors. I haven't moved it outside since the winter. I water it very little. Also, upon moving it outside what precautions should I take, if any?
|Hello, Gabe: Thank you for your question and your kind words! Plumeria, also known as frangipani, is a wonderfully scented tropical. Plumeria are great container plants and yes, you were right to cut back on your watering during the winter months but now that the light levels are higher, you should start to water more often. I suspect this is what is causing the foliage to curl. Taking it back outside and fertilizing it will encourage it to bloom. This tropical requires full sun, meaning it needs a minimum of six hours of sunlight each day. Since it has been indoors for many months, now you will want to gradually acclimate it to the full sun. This will prevent potential foliage burn. Place it in the shade for a few days and then move it to a sunnier location and eventually to a space where it will receive six hours of direct sunlight. Plumeria are heavy feeders, so fertilizer is a must during the growing season (May-August). It is best to use a fertilizer that is high in phosphorus because this is what will help to encourage your plumeria to bloom. This is the middle number on the fertilizer so if a product is labeled 10-50-10 this one would be high in phosphorus. Either a slow-release or liquid fertilizer will work just fine. You can feed your plant twice a month during the growing season.|
|I have a plumeria that I grew from a cutting this year. It has had a bud on it for the past three weeks. The nights are getting colder than they should for this time of year. I have taken it in at night when the temps drop into the 40s. I am worried about losing the bud. Should I just put it in a southern exposure window now and keep it inside? Mark, Lebanon, PA Mark, Lebanon|
|Hi Mark: Yes! Bring your plumeria, also known as Frangipani, indoors. They are native to tropical areas of the United States and will not survive freezing temperatures; even 40 degrees F is pushing it, so it sounds like it is time to bring yours indoors where you can hopefully enjoy the fragrant bloom. Plumeria require full sun and should overwinter in a south-facing window. They will not tolerate saturated roots so adjust your watering routine as it comes inside. Plumeria are heavy feeders so fertilizer is a must during the growing season (May-August) but at this point you will want to avoid feeding until it goes back out next spring. You can always watch the weather and take it outside if it seems reasonable. Enjoy the bloom.
|I have a potted rubber tree. Can I store it in my basement during the winter? Vicki, Fairfield|
|Hi, Vicki in Ohio: Yes, you can certainly bring your rubber tree (Ficus elastic) to the basement to survive the winter months. This tropical is hardy to about 30 degrees F, so if it is not brought inside it will not survive the winter. It will benefit from some filtered light if possible, or even a grow light will help during these months when the light levels are so much lower. Because of this reason it is not necessary to fertilize your plant or water it as much as you did during the growing season. Your watering routine will depend on the temperature and humidity of the basement, but watering every 10-12 days should suffice. It will not put on any new growth during this time and it may even drop a few of its leaves, but this is perfectly normal so do not be alarmed. Ficus are notorious for dropping their foliage when they are moved. The idea here is just to keep the plant alive so it can go back outdoors next spring after the frost-free date for your area passes. When that time comes, it is a good idea to place the plant in the shade for at least a week and gradually work it back into the filtered sun; this will prevent it from sunscald after living in the basement all winter long. At this time go ahead a give it a dose of your favorite fertilizer and adjust your watering schedule.|
|I have a prayer plant that is about 6 years old; I have repotted it several times and each time it gets bigger and bigger. Now it is to the point that I can hardly move the pot, it is so big, and it is root-bound again. Although I love that it has done so well I really don't know what to do with it. What can I do with it without killing it? Can I divide it or cut it back without damaging it? Sandy, Pendleton|
|Hi, Sandy: It sounds like your prayer plant (Maranta leuconeura) is very happy! If given the right environment they can be very long-lived plants. Native to Brazil, these tropicals prefer to grow in a warm, humid environment with low to medium light exposure. So, you have a couple of options in terms of keeping your plant to a manageable size. First, you can simply divide it; this is best done in the spring, so hopefully it is fine where it is for now and then when spring arrives you can remove the plant from the container and literally divide the root ball in half. You do not have to be super gentle about it, and depending on how root-bound it is you may find it easier to use a pair of gardening scissors or even a fork to separate the roots. After it has been separated, repot it into a smaller container more suitable for its size and spread the roots out so they do not grow in a circular pattern. Make sure to use a good quality potting soil when you replant it. Water and feed as you normally do. Another option is to root prune your plant. This sounds drastic but it actually revitalizes your plant and allows you to keep it in the same container without losing any of the foliage. Again, this is better done in the spring so if you choose this option remove the plant from its container and lay it on its side, use a pair of pruners or gardening scissors, and start cutting back the roots a couple of inches all around the root ball including the bottom. After you have finished, use your hands to spread the roots out so they do not grow in a circular pattern and replant it into the same container. Again, make sure to use a good quality potting soil. For now you can cut back on your watering as well as your fertilizing and think about what would be the best option for your prayer plant next spring.|
|I have a yucca plant, a peace lily, and a palm that I brought inside over the winter. When would be the best time to take them back outside? They will be on a screened-in porch. Cheri, LaGrange|
|Hello, Cheri: Here in the Louisville area, our average frost-free date is May 10. This date indicates it is safe to take our tropical plants back outdoors to spend the warmer months. Of course, this can vary from year to year and Mother Nature is not always predictable, so watch the forecast and you may be able to put them out sooner. Keep in mind that whether or not these plants are sun- or shade-loving, they have been indoors for many months and are used to the indirect, low-light levels. When they go back outdoors, it is a good idea to gradually work them into the amount of direct sunlight they thrive in. This will prevent them from burning and gives them time to become acclimated to being back outside. Both the yucca and the palm will handle more light than the peace lily. Moisture levels will also need to be adjusted depending on the weather. This is also a good time to feed our tropical plants.
|I have an Angel Trumpet on my back porch. There is very little heat out there. What is the best place and how do I care for it over the winter? It is about 3 feet tall. Marsha, Mauckport|
|Hi, Marsha in Indiana: Brugmansia, commonly referred to as Angel Trumpet, is native to South America. This plant is known for its large, fragrant, pendant-like flowers. It is a great container planting for those of us not gardening in the tropics. Of course, we have to treat this plant as a tropical and bring it indoors during the colder months. Ideally your Angel Trumpet should live in a south-facing window or any space in your home that is warm and has bright light. Your Angel Trumpet may not produce many blooms indoors but the idea is to keep it alive, so next spring after the frost-free date for your area passes you can take it back outside. Your watering schedule will depend on the temperature and humidity of your home, but it certainly will not require as much water as it did outdoors. You can cut back on your fertilizing as well. It should only require water every 10-12 days and if you do fertilize, a half-dose strength is best. Next spring when you take your tropical back outside, it is always best to acclimate any tropical back into the full sun. Even if it is in a bright window, it is not the same as being in full sun outdoors. So, start by putting it in the shade and then gradually work it into the full sun.|
|I have an indoor braided tree-type hibiscus plant that did not get watered for a month back in March and it looks dead at the top, but it has nice green leaves at the bottom. Is it salvageable? Should I just cut the dead branches off the top until I see green in the middle of the branches? Laurel, Northborough|
|Hi Laurel: This is precisely what you need to do. Even though your hibiscus is grown indoors it will still go through a semi-dormant phase during the winter months and will not require as much moisture as it will during the growing season. But given no water at all for a month will result in loss of foliage. It makes sense that the plant defoliated from the top first since it is the farthest away from the roots/moisture source. Take a sharp pair of pruners and scrape the bark to make sure that the cambium layer is not green and then remove as much of the woody part of the plant as you need to. Depending on how much of the plant is lost you may not have a braided, tree form hibiscus but more of a shrub. At least the entire plant was not lost. Your tropical would be happy to live outside during the warmer months if this is an option for you. It will also benefit from being fed if you have not already done so. Northborough, MA|
|I have orange canna lilies that have been cut down due to dried up leaves. Will they return to normal? Gloria, Poinciana|
|Hello, Gloria in Florida: The real question is do you know why the foliage turned brown? Cannas are commonly referred to as bulbs but are technically rhizomes. If the rhizomes are still viable, the canna should put on new growth. The climate where you are gardening is conducive to growing cannas as hardy plants. For those of us gardening in Kentucky this is considered a tropical, which has to be dug and stored for the winter months. Cannas are hardy in zones 8-11. The foliage will die back after a couple of frosts and return as temperatures warm again. At this point, only time will tell if the canna will put on new growth. Hopefully the rhizomes are still firm and the foliage dried up due to lack of moisture.|
|I have read about elephant ears and have heard all kinds of information on them but never about their blooms. Mine bloom in late fall about the first frost and they look like calla lillies. Why is it there is never anything about their blooming cycle? Catherine, Lexington|
|Hello, Catherine in Kentucky: Elephant ears are grown for their large foliage but, in fact, they will bloom, as you can attest to. Although elephant ears do not belong to the same family as calla lilies, they do belong to the same family as peace lilies, which would explain the resemblance of the blooms. The tiny flowers are found on the inner spike-like structure known as the spadix, which is surrounded by a modified leaf known technically as a bract. The blooms, also known as spaths, are a creamy white color. Older plants are more likely to flower than younger plants and here in Kentucky, unless you are gardening in a micro climate, we have to dig up our bulbs to protect them from the winter weather. So, to have an older bulb means it has been well cared for. Sometimes stressed plants produce flowers as a way to reproduce and if the flowers are pollinated they will produce red berries that can be planted. Elephant ears are typically sporadic and unreliable bloomers, which is why we do not hear or read about them very often. They are mainly grown for the tropical feel they provide us.|
|I have several plumerias that have been potted for several years. This year I planted several in the ground and they did great. With winter coming I was told I could take them out of the ground and let them go dormant. I don't know whether to do this or take them out of the ground and repot them. Danny, Beaumont|
|Hi, Danny: Plumeria, also commonly known as Frangipani, are native to tropical America. For those of us not living in these tropical regions we can still enjoy them during the warmer months. If given the right growing conditions they produce lovely scented blooms lasting all summer long. Unfortunately they will not survive colder winters outside so there are a couple of options in terms of over-wintering your plumeria. First, you can dig up the plant and pot it up in a container. If you are growing evergreen varieties this is your best option. This is a good option if you have a south-facing window or any brightly lit room. If this is the option you choose be certain to cut back on your watering. These plants will only require moisture every couple of weeks. The deciduous varieties are going to drop their foliage and will not need to be fertilized. They are not going to look great during the winter so keep this in mind as well when deciding on how to over-winter your plant. The second option is to dig up your plant, gently wash off the soil, and let the roots dry before storing it in a brown paper sack. You can remove the foliage at this time as well or just let it naturally defoliate. You will want to store your plant in a dry, dark space with good air circulation and above-freezing temperatures. A closet or basement is usually the best option. Be certain that the roots have dried before storing, otherwise it will be susceptible to root rot. Next spring bring your plant out of storage and pot it up, giving it a dose of your favorite fertilizer. Take it back outdoors after the frost-free date has passed and place it in a shady spot for a week or so. Gradually acclimate it back into the full sun and watch it put on new growth and your plant will eventually be full of blooms again. Be sure to wear gloves when dealing with the roots of this plant because the sap can cause skin irritations.|
|I have started a plant from a pineapple top outside and it's doing very well. Should I leave it in the pot it's in and bring it inside or can I transplant it outside? Glenda, Elizabethtown|
|Hello, Glenda in Kentucky: The pineapple (Ananas comosus) is native to tropical America. Unfortunately here in Kentucky we do not have the climatic conditions that are favorable in terms of growing the fruit outdoors year-round. It will not survive our winter temperatures and so it will need to be over-wintered indoors. Pineapples thrive when given full sun so place it in the sunniest window of your home. It is always fun to propagate new plants and it sounds like yours is doing well. Pineapples have interesting sword-like foliage, similar to that of a Bromeliad, which is in the same family. If your goal is to produce fruit, keep in mind that it can take a couple of years for it to bloom and the actual fruit will be much smaller than commercially grown pineapples. During the winter months it will not require as much moisture as it did in the summer. Every 10-12 days should be sufficient. You can fertilize once a month during the winter and then if you decide to take it back outdoors next spring you can increase your watering and fertilizing schedule. Remember when you take it back outdoors to gradually work it back into the full sun to avoid sun scald.|
|I have three tropical hibiscus trees, a ficus, a tropical
palm, and four large Kimberly Queen ferns that I have successfully wintered for three years myself in our basement. However, this winter we will be finishing our basement, so I am interested in paying a greenhouse to store and care for them until spring. Do you know of any local greenhouses who do that? I have a friend in Lexington who has had that type of service for several years now. Julene, Prospect|
|Hello, Julene: Kitty’s on Highway 22 was the only place in Louisville that offered this service. Unfortunately, they are no longer in business. Professional growers do not usually offer this as an option because of the risk of insect and disease problems, both from a grower’s standpoint as well as the client's. A greenhouse is a wonderful environment for insects to survive the winter. Your plants may go in healthy but come out infested, or you could unknowingly bring insects into a greenhouse and infect the grower’s plants. Also, the cost involved in this service might be more than the actual plants are worth unless they have sentimental value. The hibiscus, ficus, and palm could all come up into the living space if you have room. They would prefer a south-facing window or any brightly lit room. The ferns are quite messy to keep, as I am sure you have found out from previous years of over-wintering them. They can actually be cut back so that the foliage is not constantly dropping. If you are insistent on keeping them in the basement, you may talk to your contractor to see if this is something they can work around, or ask a friend to keep them for a few days while the major construction is under way. One final thought would be to ask your friend in Lexington where she takes her plants and make a road trip with a car full of plants. Sorry I do not know of a closer option for you.|
|I have two Kimberly ferns that I have recently cut most of the middle out of because of browning. I think they had gotten too dry. Will they put new foliage back out through the middle part or have I ruined them? Leah, Wadesboro|
|Hi, Leah: Kimberly Queen ferns (Nephrolepis obliterate) are considered tropicals for those of us gardening in Kentucky. That being said, we can certainly over-winter them indoors, which is what I am assuming you have done with yours. I would suspect the foliage dieback in the middle is a result of stress and possibly lack of sunlight from the winter months. If the plants were dry it would not just be the middle that would lose its foliage. The good news is that if the rest of the plant looks healthy you have nothing to worry about. You might consider dividing the ferns so that you will have four smaller ones instead of two big ones that do not look so great with no fronds in the center. To divide the ferns, remove them from their container and lay them on their side. Take your fingers or a pair of gardening scissors/pruners and separate the roots all the way up the middle of the plant. Start at the bottom of the soil and work your way up through the foliage, or in your case where the foliage should be. Take a good look at the roots and make sure they are not soft to eliminate any root problems that may have caused the dieback. Repot them in separate containers or in the ground. This will invigorate your ferns and encourage them to put on new growth. At this time you can feed them with either a liquid or slow-release fertilizer and keep them moderately moist. These ferns do not like to completely dry out so watch your moisture levels. It will likely take a few weeks for them to put on new growth so be patient, but they will once again look lush and beautiful.|
|I have what I believe are called palm ferns. They are 2 years old and potted. I brought them indoors last winter. Can I leave them outdoors from now on and what would I have to do to protect/maintain them over winter and get them growing again come spring? Linda, Pittsburgh|
|Hello, Linda: If what you are growing are indeed palm ferns (Blechnum appendiculatum) they will have to come indoors for the winter. These are tropical ferns hardy in gardening zones 9-11 so even protecting them outdoors they would not survive. If you want to keep them you will have to over-winter them indoors like you did last year. Ferns in general can be messy plants to bring inside; they tend to drop their foliage. If you have a basement with a window this would be ideal; that way if they make a mess it is not constant upkeep. You could also put a piece of plastic under the ferns for easy cleanup. If you do not have a space with good light an inexpensive shop light with a fluorescent bulb will work just as well. Another option is to cut the foliage back when you bring your ferns inside. It will take them longer to put on new growth in the spring but you will not be picking up debris all winter long. When we bring our plants inside for the winter we have to keep in mind that the light levels are much lower so the plants will not require as much moisture. The can be watered every seven to 10 days depending on the temperature and humidity of your home. They will not need fertilizer during this time but they will benefit from additional nutrients come spring. They can be taken out after the frost-free date for your area passes.
|I just bought an 'After Dark' agonis patio tree. I want to keep it outside for summer and inside for winter. How do I do this and when should I do it? Also, what is the general care for summer and winter? Vicki, Lincoln|
|Hello, Vicki: Agonis flexuosa ‘After Dark’ is commonly referred to as a peppermint tree. They are hardy in zones 9-11, which means they are a tropical where you are gardening. During the warmer months it will be happy outside in a space where it will receive a full six hours of direct sunlight. They are drought-tolerant once established in a landscape, but since you are growing yours in a container you will need to keep an eye on the moisture level. Make sure the container has drain holes and that it drains freely. During the hot summer months you may need to water every other day, but check the soil before watering. If it is still moist wait another day and then water. The soil should never be sopping wet. A thin layer of mulch on top of the soil will help retain moisture. When fall arrives you will want to bring your peppermint tree indoors before the first frost. Place it in a sunny window, preferably a south-facing one where it will get good filtered light. The light levels are lower during the winter months so giving it as much light as possible will reduce stress. You should cut back on your watering this time of the year. Once every seven to 10 days should be fine. You want to keep it on the dry side. Avoid feeding it at this time as well.|
|I just dug up a Ming fern and planted it in a container. It had two stems. One is doing fine. The smaller one is yellowing and dropping the needles. Should I cut the ailing one back? Cyndi, St. Augustine|
|Hi Cyndi: Ming fern (Asparagus macowanii) are very drought-tolerant plants native to South Africa. Here in the States they are hardy in zones 9 and above. These plants are commonly known as ferns but are not actually ferns at all. They belong to the same genus as edible asparagus. It sounds like your plant is struggling a bit and yes, you should remove the unhealthy stem. These plants thrive in bright, indirect light and will benefit from a fertilizer high in nitrogen. The soil should be allowed to dry out before any additional moisture is necessary. Make sure the container your plant is growing in has sufficient drainage holes and that the soil is not too moist at any given time. This can cause root rot and loss of plant. You may need to adjust the growing conditions and hopefully the plant will put on healthy new growth. St. Augustine, FL|
|I just purchased two Queen Anne ferns for my side porch but it gets a lot of sun there; is this okay? Andrea, Magnolia|
|Hello, Andrea: I am not familiar with a fern named ‘Queen Anne’; is it possible they are ‘Kimberly Queen’ ferns (Nephrolepis obliterata)? If this is the case, you are fine to place them your porch. These ferns can handle a lot more sun than other ferns can. In fact, they are happy to grow in full sun, which is great for us fern lovers who may not have shade that many other ferns require. These upright sword ferns are great in containers or planted in a bed. They can become very large, reaching 3 feet tall and wide at maturity. They are hardy to zone 9 but they can be over-wintered quite easily. The fronds can be cut back, bring the fern indoors, and place it in a space with bright filtered light. For now keep them moderately moist; watering once every 5-7 days should be fine but it is best to test the soil before watering. If the soil feels moist, wait a couple of days and then water. Make sure your containers have good drainage and you can feed your ferns once a month with your favorite fertilizer.|
|I live in Cabo, Mexico, six months of the year. I inherited an aloe vera plant that's too large for its pot. It's got so many babies growing from it that it's split the pot. How can I separate the larger one from the rest so I can re-pot it? It's on my upper deck of the condo. Polly, Kelso|
|Hello, Polly in Mexico: Aloes are native to Africa and belong to the Asphodelacaea family. This family contains hundreds of species but they all thrive in the same growing conditions. The most common is the aloe vera that you are growing. When they are happy, they produce pups like yours has done. These pups have their own root systems, so they can be separated from the mother plant and repotted into their own container(s). Aloe, like any succulent, likes to be a bit root-bound in its container. Since your container is cracked, you will want to purchase a new one the same width and then go ahead and purchase another large container or several small ones, depending on how you want to repot the smaller plants. You can put all the babies together or in separate containers. It is best to use clay containers as opposed to plastic ones because they are porous and allow for good drainage. Make sure the containers have adequate drainage holes and never allow the soil to be sopping wet. Less is better when it comes to watering these succulents. Use a good soil mixture specifically made for cacti and succulents. When you have all your supplies and you are ready to repot, gently remove the cactus from its current home, being careful not to damage the roots. A large fork will help to loosen the roots. It may be easier to remove the entire plant, lay it on newspaper, and then begin to remove the pups so you are eventually left with several small plants and one large one. After they have been separated, you can pot them up in their new homes. You may need to adjust the soil level so that the top of the soil attached to the root system is a few inches lower from the top of the new container. They should be planted at the same soil level as they were before. Then back fill with the succulent mix and water well. Remember that aloe likes very bright light and will not tolerate wet soil. It is best to keep them on the dry side. As for fertilizing, these plants are not considered heavy feeders but if you have not fed it in a few months, go ahead and give them a half-strength dose of liquid fertilizer labeled for cacti and succulents.
|I live in Kentucky and I have a hibiscus tree outside and winter is here. I am wondering what to do with it. I'm not sure if I can leave it outside or if i should bring it inside? Kellie, Glasgow|
|Hello, Kellie: I am assuming you are referring to a tropical hibiscus just to be clear, because there are hardy hibiscus but since you mentioned that it is a tree form it is certainly a tropical plant. The main difference between the two besides the hardiness factor is the size of the blooms. The hardy plant has dinner-plate size blooms and the tropical plant has considerably smaller flowers. If you have not already done so it must come indoors during the winter months. It will not survive the winter temperatures we have here in Kentucky. If it has not already been brought indoors it may have some damage but as long as the roots are fine it will survive. The ideal place to over-winter this tropical is in a bright room with good filtered light. You can cut back on your watering as well as fertilizing at this time. You do not want the hibiscus to completely dry out but the soil should not be sopping wet either. Watering will depend on the temperature and humidity of your home. Do not be surprised if it drops some of its foliage, there is always a certain amount of stress involved when moving plants from one environment to another. The light levels are lower during the winter months and the hibiscus will not likely bloom, but can successfully be over-wintered indoors and then taken back outside after the frost-free date passes in May. Hibiscus blooms best in full sun but when you take your tropical back outside after the winter, remember to gradually move it to a sunny location. It will need to be acclimated from being inside all winter long. You can resume fertilizing and increase your watering at this time.|
|I live in Kentucky and want to plant a rubber tree plant I got at my mom's funeral outside and leave it there. Can I do that? Kelly, LJ|
|Hi, Kelly: I am sorry for your loss. The rubber tree you received is considered a tropical for us here in Kentucky. It is hardy to zone 10, which is much more tropical than we are. So it is best to keep your rubber tree (Ficus elastica) as a houseplant. It can be put outdoors during the warmer months and then brought back in for the winter. If you want to do this, wait until the middle of May when we are free of possible frost. This plant prefers filtered sunlight so keep it in a bright window or outdoors under a canopy tree. During the growing season, keep the soil evenly moist but not sopping wet. They do not want to completely dry out at this time of the year. During the winter months when the light levels are lower, you can cut back on your watering. Once every 10-12 days should be sufficient.|
|I live in the cold north and winters are long and cold. I have a small 1 foot by 1 foot tropical hibiscus and we are expected to have a freeze with temps about 25. I placed it in a pot in was in the ground. It is now inside and it bloomed very little in the summer, but now it has grown rapidly and has many large buds about to bloom. I want to keep it so I can plant it next year in May. I learned that I need to cut it back. Do I have to or could I just let it do its thing and will it bloom again? Daniel, Madison|
|Hi, Daniel in Connecticut: Tropical hibiscus provides those of us not living in the tropics a hint of the lush plants that grow in that environment. Unfortunately, we can’t grow them outdoors year-round since they can’t handle the cold temperatures of our winters so you were smart to bring your hibiscus indoors. It sounds like it is quite happy living inside your home. You must have good light since it has put on new growth and has continued to bloom. This is not typically what happens when we bring our plants indoors for the winter months. They usually stop blooming and slow down in terms of growth. This is due to lower light levels and humidity. You have probably discovered this already but you do not need to water your plant as often as you did during the summer, and you can cut back on your fertilizing as well. There is no reason to prune your hibiscus at this point unless it is too large for the space. It is perfectly fine to leave it as is and enjoy the flowers. Next spring after the frost-free date for your area passes you can take it back outside. It is always best to acclimate any sun-loving tropical back into the full sun. Even if it is in a bright window it is not the same as being in full sun outdoors. So, start by putting it in the shade and then gradually work it into the full sun. This will prevent sun scald.|
|I noticed that Barbara from Corbin had a eucalyptus shrub. I am wanting to start one I found at a greenhouse but wonder if it will live if planted outside (with our Kentucky winters) or if I should keep it as a house plant? If I do plant indoors, wonder what size of pot I should use? I purchased it in a small 4" pot.
|Hi, Angela: Eucalyptus will not survive our winters here in Kentucky but is certainly a wonderful addition to the summer garden. It has fragrant bluish-green foliage that is nice dried or as an addition to a cut flower arrangement. It can get quite big in one growing season, so keep this in mind when you plant. If you are going to grow your eucalyptus in a container, you can go larger than you normally would for a 4” plant because they grow so fast. I would not hesitate to plant that into a 10" container or even larger if you are doing a mixed container. Depending on the plant, sometimes it is easier to start new every spring with our tropical plants as opposed to over-wintering them. If you have the right conditions and the patience, it can be worth the effort. To over-winter your plant indoors, make sure to bring it in before the first frost arrives. It will be happiest when placed in a bright space where it will receive a lot of filtered sunlight, such as a south-facing window. If your eucalyptus does not get enough light it will become leggy. You will want to cut back on your watering during the winter months. When spring arrives and our frost-free date has passed (May 10) you can take your eucalyptus outdoors. It is best to acclimate it back to the full sun.|
|I ordered a pink Angel Trumpet from a catalog three years ago and in that time it has gone through different phases, but none of them include blooming. What am I doing wrong? Are they heavy feeders? I bring it in in the winter and it has completely dropped its leaves more than once, had spider mites, I think, one winter, and lost various amounts of leaves at other times. This year I was not brave enough to put it outside. It's dropped very few leaves and looks very healthy except no there are buds. I am about at the point of pitching it since it takes up so much room in my dining room's south window inside. Any help will be appreciated. Cheryl, Russell Springs, KY Cheryl, Russell Springs|
|Hi Cheryl: The reality is that your Brugmansia, commonly referred to as Angel Trumpet, is probably not going to bloom indoors. Even though it is in a bright, south-facing window, it is not the same as being in full sun outdoors. This South American native thrives in hot, humid weather. It is late in the season to take it outdoors, but if your goal is to get it to bloom then this is maybe its last opportunity. If you decide to take your tropical back outside, it is always best to acclimate it back into the full sun. Start by putting it in the shade and then gradually work it into the full sun. Brugmansia are heavy feeders and if not given sufficient nutrients this could be part of the reason for the lack of blooms. Are you on a regular fertilization schedule? Mature plants like yours will benefit from a fertilizer higher in phosphorous than nitrogen or potassium; a 7-9-5 ratio is recommended. Choose a water-soluble food over a time-released granular option so the plant does not have to wait for food. Feed weekly during the growing season and then cut back during the winter months. So, if you want to give your plant one more chance, take it outside and feed it, or you can try feeding it indoors and then take it out next spring so it has the entire growing season to produce flowers.|
|I purchased four palms this summer. They are HUGE! I brought them inside before the first frost. Do I need to leave them inside or can they go outside? They are too big for my house. If they must stay inside, can I cut them back?
|Hi Tara: Palms belong to a large group of plants and each has its own mature size and growing requirements. As a Kentucky gardener, they are all considered tropical for us and to survive the winter months they will need to live indoors. Ideally they should not be cut back but if it is necessary in terms of space, go ahead and remove some of the largest fronds all the way back to where they attach to the trunk. Moving our tropicals indoors is always an adjustment for the plants and depending on the palms you are growing, they may require a south-facing window or a brightly lit room. Some are tolerant of lower light levels; do you know what type of palms you have? Another option is to bring in all you have room for and donate the others. I always keep this in the back of my head when purchasing tropicals. They have to be really special to get space indoors to over-winter. As your plants adjust to living inside they will not require as much water or food. The soil should be allowed to dry out before watering. Less is better in terms of water and if you feed them, give them half strength until next spring. After the frost-free date for your area passes they can go back outside. If they are sun-loving palms you will want to gradually work them back into the full sun to prevent the foliage from burning.|
|I purchased two Chinese palms about two months ago. I brought them home and nursed them inside the house in their original pots, and the plants were growing fine. About three weeks ago I took them outside and placed them on my patio. I repotted them, but kept them in their original containers, and added additional soil, plant food, and fertilizer. We had two days of cold weather here in St. Louis. I noticed the leaves are starting to turn brown and brittle looking. I have been keeping the plants watered (maybe over-watered). Do you think the cold weather shocked the palms? I do not know if the additional soil I added to the pots had some kind of disease. Please help! I really love these tropical plants and would be very disappointed if they died. Diane, Florissant|
|Hello, Diane: Chinese fan palms (Livistonia chinensis) are considered tropicals for those of us not gardening in hardiness zones 9-11. It is very possible they have some winter injury if they were left outside in cold weather. Even though Mother Nature sometimes grants us beautiful weather in April, it is still too early to put our tropicals outside. The middle of May is when we are frost-free. If the foliage is all brown and crispy, you should cut it back to the base of the plant and hopefully it will put on some new growth. They are actually pretty tough palms so give them time and let them recover. You mentioned that you gave them plant food as well as fertilizer? It is also possible they have been over-fed. This can also cause the foliage to burn. We typically cut back on fertilizing during the winter months and then begin to feed again during the growing season. You should not feed your palms for at least one month. I do not think the soil you used should be a concern. Keep an eye on the weather and if the nighttime temperatures drop into the 30s you will want to bring your palms inside; otherwise, cut back the damaged foliage and avoid over-watering. The soil should never be sopping wet. Use your finger to test the soil moisture. If the soil feels moist 1 inch down there is no reason to water. Under-watering and under-feeding is better than over-watering or over-feeding. Make sure the containers your palms are planted in have adequate drainage. These palms are quite drought-tolerant so keeping them on the dry side is a good idea.|
|I read that Cucurma domestica is edible but I'm not sure if all Cucurma domestica are edible. I found yellow, white, and orange turmeric being listed as Cucurma domestica, and claimed as edible. Could you please help me find the full scientific name of each colored turmeric? I found Cucurma domestica Valeton but am not sure if this is a yellow or orange turmeric. Peter, Houston, TX
|Hi Peter: Turmeric is a plant that is cultivated for its rhizomes and used as a spice in many parts of the world. Cucurma longa is its scientific name sometimes referred to as Cucurma domestica but there are different varieties within this species and genetic variation differs between each variety. Turmeric is a member of the ginger family (Zingiberaceae). This tropical plant produces rhizomes (fleshy roots) that are harvested, dried, and ground to sell as a spice. Cucurmin is a pigment found in the roots of this plant that gives it its color. The concentration of cucurmin directly corresponds with the level of brightness in terms of color. Some varieties are more orange or red in color but in some cases artificial coloring is added to meet market demands. Cucurma longa 'Suroma' produces a reddish rhizome and Cucurma longa 'Suvarna' is a variety grown for its orange color. All varieties of this species are edible and ground for culinary purposes.|
|I transplanted a tropical palm for indoors and it was outside and we had a downpour! It's floating in water and soil. What do I do? Linda, Hampton|
|Hello, Linda in Virginia: Excessive moisture can lead to root rot, which can ultimately kill your palm. This would only happen if the palm were left in this situation over a period of time but if you think about it, it actually makes sense that the loose soil would overflow if it came into contact with a heavy downpour of rain since your palm was just repotted and the roots have not had time to take hold of the soil and sort of anchor it down. So, for now, make certain the container has drainage holes and they are not clogged. Stand the palm upright and rework the soil around the root ball. Avoid packing the wet soil too tightly since this can decrease air circulation. Once the palm is upright and planted properly you will want to allow the soil to dry before adding any additional moisture. Keep in mind that the light levels are much lower now and will continue to decrease throughout the winter, so hopefully you have a space in your home with a south-facing window or an area that is brightly lit for your tropical to over-winter. Your palm will not need as much moisture this time of year as it did during the summer, especially if it were living outside. Not to worry, there is no real harm done here. Just get it indoors before the temperatures really drop!|
|I want to buy two or three foxtail ferns and I don`t know where to get them in Cincinnati or if I should order them from someone. Jeanie, Cincinnati|
|Hi, Jeanie in Ohio: Foxtail ferns (Asparagus densiflorus ‘Meyersii’) is a tropical fern for those of us not gardening in hardiness zones 9 and above. The foxtail fern does produce white blooms that eventually turn into red berries, but it is mainly grown for its fronds that resemble fox tails, hence the name. It is elated to the vegetable asparagus as well as the asparagus fern, but the foliage is quite different. Technically they are not ferns because they do not produce spores but this is how they are commonly known. This plant will thrive in full sun to part shade and can be successfully over-wintered indoors. It can reach 2 feet tall and 3-4 feet wide at maturity. It prefers to grow in evenly moist, well-drained soil. The soil should never be sopping wet so make sure you allow it to dry out before adding any additional moisture. As for locating this plant it is pretty commonly found in garden centers/nurseries this time of the year. You may just call around or visit your favorite local stores and see if they have them in stock. If not you can ask if they could special order them for you. Anyone who carries tropical plants should have a resource for these ferns. You will probably have better luck with the smaller garden centers that are locally owned in terms of special orders.|
|I want to keep Kimberly Queen ferns in my basement with grow lights over the winter. What kind of light do I need, how many hours, and how close to the plants? Margaret, Arrington|
|Hello, Margaret: Over-wintering your Kimberly Queen ferns indoors is a great way to keep your tropicals from year to year. This can be done quite easily in the right environment. If your basement has windows, you may not need any additional grow lights. This is especially true if your basement is not heated. Plant growth slows down when temperatures are cooler and in response, less light and water is required. The fern will not likely put on any new growth during the winter months. The idea is to keep the roots alive so it can put on new growth next season. Ferns can be one of the messiest tropicals to bring indoors because they tend to continuously drop their foliage. Placing a drop cloth or a piece of plastic underneath them may not be very aesthetically pleasing, but since you are putting them in the basement that may not be a concern, and it makes for an easy cleanup in the spring. Another option is to cut back the foliage since the root system is the main concern at this time of the year. If you would like to keep your fern as lush as possible, then grow lights would be a good option. As far as grow lights go, there are many options but using a standard fluorescent bulb is sufficient for your purpose. Since these lights do not give off much heat, they can be placed within inches of the actual plant without damaging the foliage. They can be placed as far as 36 inches away from the plant and have the same effect. Keeping the lights on for 8 hours a day should give them what they need. The expense of purchasing grow lights may be more than you would spend on new ferns next season, but if you have other plants and intend on over-wintering them year after year, it would be a good investment. Remember to cut back on watering as well as fertilizer during the winter months.
|I was recently given some seeds for the Job's Tears plant. Can you find out for me where this plant originated from? I am planning on using the seeds after I've established it in my flower garden this spring. Some of the history of how the plant's seed was used is very interesting. Carolyn, Irvington|
|Hello, Carolyn: Job’s Tears (Coix lacryma-Jobi), also commonly known as Juno’s Tears and Bead Seeds, is a member of the grass family (Poaceae). Like many plants it has been around for centuries, originating in Southeastern Asia where it is cultivated for cereal. This grass is hardy in gardening zones 9 and above so it could only be grown as an annual here in Kentucky. It prefers to be planted in full sun to part shade and can reach 4-6 feet tall at maturity. The most fascinating characteristic of this plant is the beadlike involucres, or grain, it produces in the late summer/early fall. This droplet-shaped structure is basically a shell that encloses the seed. As the grain hardens, it dries into a dark gray or pearly white hue with a natural hole on either end. This feature makes them ideal for stringing together to create jewelry. They can be dyed or painted. This grain is used for other purposes around the world. It is cultivated in China for medicinal purpose and used like barley in soups. In other regions it is used for making beer and wine or it can simply be eaten like a shelled peanut. So after May 10 when our frost-free date has passed go ahead and plant your seeds. You could also start them indoors if you wanted to get a jump on the growing season. If you want to grow this grass from year to year remember to harvest the seeds in the early winter for the following year's source.|
|I woke up this morning to find my hibiscus to have lost its blooms and green leaves. It looks like clean breaks, not like they have been chewed, and I saw no sign of insects. It's in plenty of sun and in my back yard. Is this normal? Yesterday it was beautiful. Today nearly bare. Bianca, Humble|
|Hello, Bianca in Texas: There is obviously something that has caused your hibiscus to defoliate. I assume that this is considered a hardy plant where you are gardening so winter temperatures would not be a cause for concern. Is this a new planting or an established one? If it is a newer addition to the garden, too much or too little moisture can result in leaf drop. It is normal for hibiscus to drop their blooms since they only last one day; it is not normal for them to lose their leaves overnight. Plants completely defoliate for many reasons, including environmental stress and insect and/or disease issues. Without seeing your plant I can’t say for sure what happened, but unless it was accidentally sprayed with a harmful chemical the decline would have been gradual. Some insects are hard to see and if it were issues with the roots then it would not have been evident in terms of the foliage. Did you notice it start to yellow? If you still have any of the foliage, you can take a sample of it to your county Cooperative Extension Service to have the horticulture agent identify any potential insect or disease issues, but since the plant has no foliage left to photosynthesize the chances of it making a comeback are slim. You might also want to pull the plant from the soil to inspect the roots. This way you will at least know if it was a result of moisture issues.|
|I'm trying to grow sundews. I know they require water with low or no minerals, but I live in Louisville. I've been watering them for a while with tap water. Do you know if Louisville water is good enough for them or if I should use purified water? Paul, Louisville|
|Hi, Paul in Kentucky: Sundews are considered carnivorous plants that belong to the Drosera genus. There are over 100 species within this genus and even more hybrids. These plants are able to survive in nutrient-depleted soil where most other plants would not survive. They are unique in that they are able to trap insects in the dew they produce and eventually absorb these nutrients. Each species is different in terms of the growing conditions they prefer, so I cannot give you specifics without knowing which one you have, but it really is best to try and mimic the environment these plants are native to. This can be a challenge indoors but a terrarium filled with peat or even orchid bark will help give your sundew the acidic soil they require. As for watering, it really is best to water your plant with collected rain water or distilled (demineralized) water. We are fortunate in Louisville to have high quality drinking water but for your purpose it may not be ideal.|
|I've purchased a mandevilla plant and I live in south-central Kentucky. I need to know if this plant can withstand our winter. I also need to know how to properly take care of it and keep it disease-free. David, New Haven|
|Hello, David in Kentucky: Mandevilla are considered a tropical vine for those of us not gardening in hardiness zones 9-11. These prolific bloomers thrive when planted where they will receive a minimum of six hours of direct sunlight. They are happy to grow in a container or the garden. Either way, they will need a trellis of some sort to grow up. Mandevilla like their soil to be moderately moist but never sopping wet. In the heat of the summer you will need to water your vine every day if grown in a container. They are not susceptible to many insects or disease issues. Your vine will likely reach 3-4 feet in one growing season. It can get to 10 feet where it can be grown year-round, but since our growing season is much shorter than in tropical regions it will not get to be this large. You can feed your vine with your favorite fertilizer every couple of weeks to encourage blooms. A well-balanced fertilizer such as 10-10-10 is fine, or a fertilizer with higher potassium is fine as well. As with any fertilizer, it is important to follow recommended application rates since too much food can have the reverse effect in terms of flowers. If you choose to use a granular food you will not need to feed as often as a water-soluble one. This vine can be over-wintered indoors. Ideally it would like to be in a south-facing window or any space that receives bright light. It will not bloom indoors but the idea is to keep it alive so you can take it back outside next spring. During the winter months you will want to cut back on your watering and fertilizing.|
|In the Louisville, Kentucky, area, is it necessary to dig up and store elephant ears for the winter, or can they be left in the ground? If storing is required, when/how should that be done?
|Hi, Kathy: In Louisville we can grow elephant ears during the warm months but they are not winter-hardy in our zone so the bulbs have to be dug and saved from year to year. It has been so warm this November that they are still happy in my garden and won't be dug up until after the first frost. With no chance of a freeze in the extended forecast there is still plenty of time to dig them up. This way the bulbs can store up all the energy they will need for next year before they come indoors to survive the cold winter months. Before you dig them up go ahead and cut back the foliage and then gently lift from the soil, taking care not to damage the bulb. Wear a pair of gloves when handling the roots since they have been known to cause skin irritation for some gardeners. Shake off any excess soil and allow the bulb to dry for a few days in a shady space with good air circulation before placing it in a paper bag. They should be stored in a dark, cool space where they will not be exposed to moisture since this can result in rot. A closet or a dry basement is ideal. Next spring after our frost-free date has passed (May 10) the bulbs can again be planted directly in the ground to be enjoyed for another season.|
|is it too late (May 9) to prune my braided hibiscus? I keep it on my deck facing west and it gets a lot of sun. Tom, Granite City|
|Hi, Tom: I am assuming this is a tropical you have overwintered indoors. It will be happy to go back outside for the warmer months. Remember to acclimate it to the full sun when it goes back outside. The light levels are much lower inside and taking it from this environment to the full sun can burn the foliage. If it is an older plant or just needs shaping, it is a good time to prune your hibiscus. Use a clean, sharp pair of pruners and make your cuts above a leaf node. Do not remove more than just a few inches unless you are removing dead wood. This will invigorate your tropical and encourage future blooms so you can enjoy them all summer long. Hibiscus are heavy feeders so remember to give them the nutrients they need. A slow-release well-balanced fertilizer such as 10-10-10 will be beneficial.
|My aloe plant was placed outside by a roommate, and then knocked over. It was like that for a few days before I asked where it was. Since then the bottom leaves have fallen off. The top has seven good-looking leaves left, and there are shoots coming up from the bottom; however, no new leaves from the main stem are being produced. Is there anything I can do? Jonathan, Cleveland|
|Hello, Jonathan: There are hundreds of species of aloe but the most common is the aloe vera plant. This succulent is pretty tough and quite forgiving. A few days on its side will not be detrimental to your plant as long as it does not have frost damage. Even though it has lost some of its foliage the rest of the plant sounds healthy. Hopefully at this point your aloe is indoors and in a sunny window. These plants are not considered fast growers so the fact that it has new growth coming up is a good sign. This is especially true during the winter months when the light levels are lower. Do not expect to see too much growth at this time of the year. You will want to cut back on your watering during the winter. Depending on the temperature and humidity of your home the aloe will only require minimal watering every couple of weeks. The worst thing we can do to our succulents is to over-water them. The soil should be allowed to completely dry out before adding additional moisture. You will also want to avoid fertilizing until the spring when you can take your plant back outside where it will be happiest. So, at this point there is not much more you can do unless you need to replace soil that was lost when it tipped over. If you do need to add additional soil make sure to use a mixture made specifically for cacti and succulents.|
|My aloe vera plants don't have long roots: can I plant them in a pot that is 17 inches deep? Marilyn, Detroit|
|Hello, Marilyn in Michigan: You are correct in saying that aloe vera (Aloe barbadensis) plants have a shallow root system. Like other cacti and succulents, these plants do not need a very deep container to grow in, and 17 inches is more than enough depth for the aloe to grow. In fact, it may be too much depth because of the potential of retaining too much moisture. Aloe plants are native to Africa, where they thrive in hot and dry conditions. If these plants are growing in a soil that is not well-drained, it can be detrimental. Less is better in terms of water. For a long-lived plant, it should be planted in a cacti/succulent growing medium and a container that has sufficient drainage. Living in Michigan the aloe would happy to live outside during the warmer months, but has to be brought indoors during the winter. Outdoors it will thrive in the full sun, and indoors it should be grown in a south-facing window or any space where it will receive as much light as possible.|
|My fiddle leaf fig trees froze: is it possible to save them? They are in pots on my porch. I live in South Mississippi. Brenda, Lucedale|
|Hello, Brenda: Ficus lyrata, commonly known as a fiddle leaf fig, is native to the tropics. Only tolerating tropical temperatures it will not survive a hard freeze. I believe you are gardening in hardiness zone 8 and these plants are hardy to zones 9-10. This means they are grown as a tropical and need to be indoors during the winter months. We are all guilty of leaving our tropicals outside too long, so don’t beat yourself up, but here is the scenario: if all of the foliage has dropped this is not a good sign. On the other hand, if your plants were exposed to just one night of frost they may be okay. At this point it is a waiting game to see if they put on any new growth. It may be that the foliage was killed off but the roots are still alive. It is hard to say how far gone they are without being able to see them, but hopefully they are indoors and enjoying the warmer temperatures. If they are still alive they are stressed, so do not overdo it in terms of fertilizer and/or water. They really are a great low-maintenance houseplant so if you have the room/patience, give them some time to see if they recover. Otherwise it may be easier to replace them.|
|My hibiscus plant was covered for the first frost. When I went to bring it indoors, the cover was not on, it was in my screen porch. The leaves are falling off now; will the leaves come back or did the frost kill it? Dean, Oak Creek|
|Hello, Dean: The damage from the frost is irreversible but I would not say goodbye to your tropical hibiscus just yet. Was it a hard freeze or just a light frost? Obviously it was more than the foliage could handle, but the root system may be just fine. It is going to be a waiting game at this point. I assume you have brought it indoors, so keep in mind that the best place to over-winter your hibiscus is in a south-facing window or any space where it will receive bright filtered light. Since it does not look very happy you might put it in the basement under lights. The idea is just to keep the plant alive so it can go outside next spring and put on new growth. It is normal for these tropicals to drop some of their foliage when we take them indoors for the winter months. There is always a certain amount of stress involved with this process, and reducing the stress is key to successfully over-wintering our tropical plants. Keep the soil on the dry side but do not let it completely dry out. Watering every seven to 10 days should be fine, but it will depend on the temperature and humidity of your home, so check the soil before watering so it does not receive too much water. Avoid fertilizing until you take it back outside next spring.|
|My husband bought me a beautiful hibiscus braided tree from Lowes. I planted it in the yard where I live in northern Kentucky. Will it survive the winter? Or do I need to dig it back up and bring it in for the winter? I love it and don't want to kill it. Sue, Elsmere|
|Hello, Sue: The hibiscus your husband gave you is considered a tropical for us here in Kentucky. There are hardy hibiscus but yours will not survive our winters, and should be dug up and brought indoors if you want to over-winter it and put it back in the garden next May. When you dig it up, try to get as much of the root system as possible. Start digging farther out from the braided trunk and then work your way in, trying not to damage any of the roots. Choose a container to plant it in that is large enough for the root ball and has drain holes. Bring your hibiscus indoors and place it in a bright room with good filtered light. A south-facing window would be ideal. At this time you can cut back on your fertilizing and your watering. It will not need to be fed until next spring when you take it back outside. As for watering, this will depend on the temperature and humidity of your home. Every seven to 10 days should be sufficient, but check the soil moisture before you water. It is fine to let it dry out before adding more moisture. It will likely not bloom inside, but as long as the foliage stays healthy it will continue to bloom next spring and throughout the summer months. You will probably have some leaf drop when you bring it indoors but this is normal given the change of environment.|
|My mother-in-law has a back yard full of sugar cane growing. Any suggestions on how to get rid of it? Kathy, Killen|
|Hello, Kathy: Sugar cane is a tropical grass that once planted will return year after year in your part of the country. Growing sugar cane can be a profitable crop for large farms, but it requires a lot of labor and usually large machinery to harvest. There is a project under way in your state for farmers to grow sugar cane as a source for jet fuel, not that your mother-in-law wants to take this on, or any home gardener for that matter. An established plot will be a task to get rid of but it certainly is doable. Depending on the space involved this might be a job that you hire out for, but the first thing you need to do is cut back the foliage so that photosynthesis is reduced. The roots will need to be dug up, which is the only way to prevent it from coming back. You should contact your County Cooperative Extension Service for local recommendations. The Lauderdale county offices are located at 802 Veterans Drive in Florence. The phone number is (256) 766-6223. The following link is to the Lauderdale County Web site: www.aces.edu/counties/Lauderdale/
|My son bought me a phalaenopsis orchid. On his way to bring it to me, he made a stop and left the orchid sitting in the hot car for probably an hour. The flowers, stem, and most of the leaves are brown. However, the roots and base of the plant still look green and healthy. Do you think it is possible to save this plant? If so, what steps do I need to take? Evelyn, Forest City|
|Hello, Evelyn: The good news is that the plant itself sounds salvageable. As long as the foliage looks healthy there is still hope. The blooms not so much, but thankfully orchids are typically long-lived plants that bloom once or twice a year. So, unfortunately you did not get to enjoy the blooms it had when it your son purchased it, but given the right growing conditions it will bloom again. For now you will want to remove the blooms and the stem all the way back down to the base of the plant. They will not bloom from those stems again; instead they will produce new ones as they get ready to bloom again. Your phalaenopsis should be planted in a soil mixture made specifically for orchids. It is bark-based as opposed to a peat-based soil. This allows for excellent drainage like they would receive in nature where they grow attached to a tree but under the canopy. These epiphytes prefer a sunny window indoors or can be placed in a shady part of the garden outdoors during the warmer months. It should be watered once a week and will benefit from a fertilizer made specifically for orchids. Visit your local garden center to see what they offer. Keep in mind that too much fertilizer can cause them not to bloom so be sure to follow the recommended application rates. The normal blooming cycle for these orchids is every three to six months so do not get discouraged: they should eventually bloom again. These blooms can last for up to three months so it is well worth the wait.|
|My son gave me a red fury mandevilla for Mother's Day. Other than what's on the card I'm clueless how to care for this flower. I plan on putting it in a large pot on the deck in full sun and let the vine run on a trellis. Other than that I don't know how to care for it. Shirley, Eolia|
|Hello, Shirley in Kentucky: Mandevilla is considered a tropical vine for those of us gardening in Kentucky. ‘Red Fury’ is a variety that produces intense red blooms all summer long. It will thrive when planted in a container or the garden where it will receive a minimum of six hours of direct sunlight. These tropicals like their soil to be moderately moist but never sopping wet. In the heat of the summer you will need to water your vine every day if grown in a container. It sounds like you have the perfect situation for your vine to grow. It will likely reach 3-4 feet in one growing season. It can get to 10 feet where it can be grown year-round, but since our growing season is much shorter than zones 9-11 it will not get to be this large. You can feed your vine with your favorite fertilizer every couple of weeks to encourage blooms. A well-balanced fertilizer such as 10-10-10 is fine, or a fertilizer with a higher potassium is fine as well. As with any fertilizer, it is important to follow recommended application rates since too much food can have the reverse effect in terms of flowers. If you choose to use a granular food you will not need to feed as often as a water-soluble one.|
|My tropical plant puts on new foliage, turns brown starting at the tip then moves up the leaf, then dies. This plant use to be full of leaves but now it has only a few left. It is still putting on new growth. Anthony, Arlington|
|Hello, Anthony: Without knowing what plant you are growing I cannot give you specific information in terms of what makes this plant happy. Each plant has growing conditions that they perform best in. In general when we see die-back of foliage it is caused by insufficient light and/or moisture levels. In some cases insects can also do this but if you have checked the foliage for insects and did not see any then this is probably not the problem. The good news is that your plant is putting on new growth. For now you should remove all foliage that does not look good, check the soil to make sure it is not sopping wet, and the drainage holes to make sure they are not clogged. Also if you have recently moved it to a new location you may consider moving it back. If you can let me know what this plant is I can give you more details.|
|Regarding Boston ferns in the winter: I have six and would like to store them in the basement over the winter. If I cut them back do I still water and how far do I cut them back? Gloria, Summersville|
|Hi Gloria, Over-wintering our tropical ferns indoors is a great way to be more economically savvy when it comes to the summer garden. The one downfall to keeping them indoors is that they will likely drop a lot of their fronds, thus more maintenance on your part in terms of cleaning up after them. I have found that if you can put them in a space that is not well-lived in and has good filtered light, it is not such an eyesore. You can put a piece of plastic under them and let the foliage drop without having to pick it up on a regular basis. Another option is to cut back all the foliage when you bring them inside. This solves the high-maintenance problem but again it does not look great, so keeping it in a room or basement like you mentioned may be a good idea. A simple shop light will do if you do not have a good window to put them in. Either way, these ferns do not like to completely dry out so watch your moisture levels. This will depend on the temperature and humidity of your home, but watering every seven to 10 days should be sufficient. You will want to cut back on your fertilizing during the winter months, but after your frost-free date passes, take your ferns back outdoors, give them a dose of your favorite fertilizer, water well, and watch them grow. Keep in mind that it will likely take a few weeks for them to put on new growth so they will not look like the ones being sold in the garden centers next spring. Sometimes I think it is a toss-up between the upkeep of the plants over the winter and/or tossing them and buying new in the spring.
|The other morning I went outside and found that my basil plants were brown and limp. I cut the bad parts off, which left only the stalk. Now there is white "cottage cheese" looking stuff coming out of each place that I cut. What is this? Can I save my plant? Or should I just start over? Since then I have brought my plants inside. But they are still producing this white stuff. Please help! Tabitha, Chattanooga|
|Hello, Tabitha in Tennessee: Basil is a must-have in any herb garden. Unfortunately for those of us not gardening in warmer climates, it is considered an annual. There are many varieties of basil and all of them are very frost-sensitive; this is what caused the foliage on your plant to turn brown. It can be grown indoors in a very bright room or south-facing window if you have one. Since there is no foliage left on your plant you can add it to your compost pile and start with a new one. If you have sufficient growing conditions indoors it is worth growing, but in some cases it is just easier to buy basil at the market during the colder months. Later this winter, you can start your basil seeds indoors before the frost-free date for your area arrives and get a head start on your basil for next season. At the end of the growing season next year or as your basil needs pruning and you have an abundance of it, you can store it for winter use. Freezing fresh basil in ice cubes is a great way to use your home-grown herb in winter dishes. As for the white stuff it may be aphids but without seeing your plant I can’t say for sure.|
|There's a slight discrepancy in the gardening article, page 52 of the May issue, regarding selaginella. How can it be over 400 million years old when the world is not even that old? Jeannie, Union|
|Hello, Jeannie: It is always nice to hear from our readers, so thank you for your response. As far as the age of the earth goes, there are certainly different opinions. According to John Mickel from the New York Botanical Garden, these fern allies “reached their greatest development during the carboniferous period.” Geologically speaking this is during the Paleozoic era, which is dated around 400 million years ago.|
|This is a thank you note not a question. I have a dozen BEAUTIFUL Kimberly Queen ferns that have been on my decks this summer. All the info you have on this site as to how to deal with these beauties over the winter is very helpful and encouraging. We have put one or two ferns is every "good" light window in my house. I will also follow your watering advice.
Thanks for your help!
|Hi Page: It is always nice to hear positive feedback! I hope you are successful in over-wintering your ferns. Thank you for your kind words.|
|We have purchased many tropical plants this summer in Louisville, KY, for their beautiful flowers and vining for the deck. We have the plants in pots. There is nowhere to bring them inside during the winter, except our basement, which has no light at all. What can we do to keep the plants alive through the winter? Would a simple grow light bulb on a timer be adequate? We don't want to invest much. Sean, Louisville|
|Hello, Sean: Over-wintering our tropical plants is doable if you have the space and the right light conditions. Since the light levels are so much lower during the winter months than they are during the summer months, it is important that they receive as much light as possible. A simple fluorescent shop light will be sufficient to give the tropicals what they need to get through the cold months. They will not bloom or put on any new growth, but the idea is just to keep them alive so they can go back outdoors next spring. There is no reason to purchase an expensive full spectrum grow light for what you are trying to accomplish. Growing indoors year-round would require a different approach and can get quite technical, but to keep it simple you can purchase an inexpensive fluorescent bulb. It can be placed as close as 8-12 inches away from the plants without them burning. This is not the case with other bulbs such as a halogen. The plants will go into shock when they come indoors because the growing conditions are not what they are used to, but as long as they are kept moderately moist they should survive. You will want to cut back on your watering as well as fertilization. In terms of hours of light, eight should be sufficient each day to keep your plants happy.|
|What are the bulbs found on the roots of my nephrolepis obliterata 'Kimberly Queen?' Thomas, Orlando|
|Hello, Thomas in Florida: The botany of plants is a very interesting subject. nephrolepis obliterata, commonly known as the Kimberly Queen fern, is no exception. This erect sword fern belongs to a large family but is distinguished among other ferns in this family because of the underground rhizomes it produces and the tubers that are attached to these rhizomes. A few inches below the soil line you will find grape size tubers that are usually green in color. These root tubers store nutrients as well as moisture for the fern and are released when needed. Underground rhizomes and tubers also serve as propagation organs by professional growers. They can be cut into pieces and planted to produce offspring.|
|What can I use on my plants before bringing them in the house for the winter? Something natural, please. Mrs. Ollie, Groose Pointe|
|Hello, Mrs. Ollie in Michigan: It is that time of year again when we need to start bringing our tropical plants indoors to over-winter. In general most tropicals can be damaged when temperatures fall below 45 degrees F. Of course, there are always exceptions but that's just to give an idea in terms of temperatures and when to start actually moving them. The light levels are much lower during the winter months and even that much lower indoors. It is always best to gradually acclimate them to lower light levels. This can be done by moving your sun-loving plants into a shadier location outdoors before bringing them inside. As far as spraying, it is not necessary unless you actually see insect activity currently on the plants. Depending on what your plants are and what kind of insects you may be dealing with, there are a couple of different organic options, including insecticidal soap and pyrethrum-based sprays. It certainly will not hurt to wipe down the foliage with a damp cloth before you bring your plants inside or even change out the soil. This could remove random insects but a more severe population will need something stronger. This may not be feasible depending on how many plants you are dealing with, but a good spray down (with water) of the foliage is not a bad idea either. It is always best to have the insect identified before treating for it. If you do see insect activity you can take a sample to your local garden center or to your County Extension office for a positive identification and treatment options. Remember to cut back on your watering and fertilization of your plants during the winter months.|
|What is the best potting mix or soil to use for Kimberly Queen ferns? Peggy, West Paducah|
|Hi, Peggy: Kimberly Queen ferns (Nephrolepis obliterata) are hardy to zone 9 so they are considered tropicals for those of us gardening in Kentucky, although they are quite easy to over-winter if you have the space. In terms of soil, this will depend on if you are growing your fern in a container or in the ground. These upright sword ferns are great in containers or planted in a bed. Either way, it is important that the soil is well-drained. In all reality, they are not too picky when it comes to soil as long as it allows for proper drainage. In a container, use a high-quality container medium such as Pro-Mix. If the ferns are growing in the garden, just make sure the clay is not too compact so the roots can breathe. If your clay is compact, working in compost or an expanded slate material such as Permatil will help break up the clay and allow for better drainage. These ferns prefer the soil to be consistently moist, not sopping wet, but they should not be allowed to completely dry out between waterings. Moisture requirements will depend on how much sun the fern is exposed to. These ferns can handle a lot more sun than other ferns can. In fact, they are happy to grow in full sun. They can become very large, reaching 3 feet tall and wide at maturity. Make sure your containers have good drainage and you can feed your ferns once a month with your favorite fertilizer. Liquid or granular is fine.
|What is the best water temperature to use when watering (indoor) plants? Keely, Northampton|
|Hi, Keely in Massachusetts: When we water our indoor tropical plants it is best to use water that is room temperature. Water that is too hot or too cold can shock the plants and in extreme cases can be detrimental. Tap water is fine but some contains more fluoride than others and over time this can lead to fluoride toxicity. The most common symptom of fluoride toxicity is brown foliage on the tips of your plants. If this is an issue where you live you can use distilled or tap water that has been left out overnight, so the fluoride has had a chance to evaporate. As with all plant material it is always best to avoid watering the actual foliage. Water only the soil and make sure the containers have good drainage holes that are not clogged. Different plants require different levels of moisture and your watering routine will need to adjust depending on the time of year. During the winter months when the light levels are lower you can cut back on your watering. This will all depend on the temperature and humidity of your home but in general indoor plants should be watered every seven to 10 days.|
|What should I do with a pod from calla lily plants? Joanne, Mortons Gap|
|Hello, Joanne: Calla lilies are not considered perennials for those of us gardening in Kentucky. They are very tender perennials at best, but only if you have a micro-climate in your garden. Our winters are just a bit too cold for these plants. However, they can certainly be overwintered indoors or the rhizomes can be dug up and treated like a caladium, canna, or elephant ear bulb, stored indoors and then planted again next spring. When Calla lilies (Zantedeschia aethiopica) bloom, the white funnel-shaped petal is actually a modified leaf also known as a spathe. The yellow spike (spadix) enclosed around the petal is where the male and female flowers are formed. The male flowers are orange and the female flowers are green. This is where the seed pods are formed. To answer your question, what to do with the seed pods, this depends on your intentions. If you are wondering what to do after the flower has faded, go ahead and remove the stem all the way back down to the base of the plant. If you are thinking about collecting the seeds and propagating your plant, you will want to let the flower fade and remove it from the plant, then allow the seed pods to ripen. This process can take a couple months. After the pods mature, collect the seed, let them dry, and pot them up in a good seeding mix. Keep the soil moderately moist and out of direct sunlight.|
|When my plumeria finishes blooming do I cut off the flower stem where it attaches to the leaves? Darlene, Rowlett TX Darlene, Rowlett|
|Hi Darlene: Plumeria, also known as frangipani, is native to the tropical United States and produces wonderfully scented flowers. Considering where you are gardening, this may be a hardy plant for you. For Kentucky gardeners we have to bring ours indoors during the winter months. As for removing the flower, if you are growing this outdoors and are interested in seeing if any of your flowers get pollinated or produce seed, you will want to leave them alone for a better part of the next year. Otherwise you can wait for the flowers and stems to fall naturally or you can remove them by hand. You can pinch off the spent flowers with your fingers. After all the flowers in the cluster have finished blooming you can remove the stem as well; this might require scissors or pruners. Yes, take it back all the way to just above where it intersects with the rest of the plant. Plumeria require full sun and are heavy feeders, so fertilizer is a must during the growing season (May-August). Plumeria will benefit from being fed twice per month during the growing season with a fertilizer that is high in phosphorus.|
|Where can I buy a petticoat lace fern? Donna, Ardmore|
|Hello, Donna in Oklahoma: Nephrolepis exaltata ‘Petticoat’ is a tropical fern for those of us not gardening in USDA hardiness zones 9 and above. This fern can be grown outdoors during the warmer months but will not tolerate the cold winter temperatures, so it will have to be over-wintered indoors. As for locating one, you should check with your local garden centers to see if this is a fern they typically carry. If not, they may be able to special order one for you. This will all depend on the availability of their suppliers and potentially the quantity they would have to purchase. Sometimes smaller businesses can order in smaller quantities so you may have better luck trying them first. Mail ordering could be another option and Plant Delights Nursery is a reliable source for some more unique specimens. You can visit their Web site at www.plantdelights.com. This fern has interesting foliage and for those of us fern lovers it would be a nice addition to the garden. I hope you are successful in your search. If you are not familiar with the garden centers in your area you can contact your County Cooperative Extension Service and the horticulture agent, or Master Gardener volunteers should be able to give you local suggestions.|
|Where can I purchase the Ixora coccinea you featured in the July 2011 issue? I'd like to buy locally if possible. Tracie, Gilbertsville|
|Hello, Tracy in Kentucky: The tropical that Shelly wrote about in the July 2011 article is certainly worth locating. Ixora coccinea, or Jungle geranium as it is commonly called, is a great addition to any sun-loving space in the garden or container. It is a tropical for those of us gardening in Kentucky, but can be over-wintered indoors during the colder months. As for finding this plant locally, you should start by visiting or calling your local garden centers. If this is not a plant they carry, you can always ask if they would be willing to special order it for you. This is sometimes easier for smaller, locally owned businesses since they do not have to order in such a large quantity. If they carry tropicals and have a source for the Ixora coccinea, I am sure they would be happy to get it in for you. It is still early for tropicals so it may be that they can still add it to their spring orders. I am not familiar with the garden centers in your area to recommend any. If you go this route and have no luck, or if you are making a road trip to Louisville, you can contact The Plant Kingdom (502-893-7333) and ask them to put one on hold for you. We are not in the business of shipping plants but have been known to do so under special circumstances.|
|Where can you find the proper medium to repot orchids? Deanna, Lebanon|
|Hi, Deanna: The most common orchids sold are the Phalenopsis, which are epiphytes, meaning that they literally grow on trees in their native habitat. So, it makes sense that that they would not have an abundant amount of rich heavy soil for the root to grow in. This is why it is so important to plant them in a bark-based soil. Orchids are quite particular about the soil medium they are planted in, so you are wise to look for the proper soil. Have you checked with your local garden centers? This is where you should start. Many garden centers have a large inventory of tropical plants and carry different soil for specific plants such as succulents and orchids. The orchid mixture should be a mixture of bark, peat, and perlite or vermiculite. Different brands have different combinations of these ingredients, but as long as they are mainly bark any of them will be fine. This allows for good air circulation that is essential for the health of your orchid. It may be that the garden centers in your area do not carry a soil specifically for orchids, but they may have all of the ingredients so you could ask if they could mix up a small bag for you. If you cannot find it anywhere in your area, let us know at the Plant kingdom in Louisville and we would be happy to send a bag to you. You can reach us at (502) 893-7333.
|Where in Nicholasville or Lexington, Kentucky, can you buy tea tree oil? Erica, Nicholasville|
|Hi, Erica: Most herbal and health food stores should carry tea tree oil. I found a couple of different places in Lexington that carry it: Good Foods Market & Café, 455 Southland Drive, their phone number is (859) 278-1813. GNC also carries it and they are at 2331 Nicholasville Road. Tea tree oil is derived from the foliage of Melaleuca alternifolia, an evergreen plant native to Australia. Originally it was used as a substitute for tea. The natives found it to be helpful in curing other ailments; it apparently has been used for many, many years to treat bacteria and fungal problems. It is now a common ingredient found in body care as well as aromatherapy products.|
|Why does my jade plant's leaves turn brown on the edges and shrivel up and fall off? The stem is also weak. Mary, Jamestown|
|Hello, Mary: When leaves on a jade turn brown, shrivel, and fall off it is a sign that your succulent is not very happy. The real question is what is causing the leaves to brown? Unfortunately, there is not a clear-cut answer, it may be caused from too much moisture or too much light. Sun scorch can look like what you described, but I suspect that moisture is the real issue at this time of year. The fact that the stems of the jade are also weak is a good indication that it is receiving too much water. Make sure your jade is planted in a container that has at least one drainage hole. Also make sure it is planted in a well-drained soil mixture made specifically for cacti and succulents. Good drainage is essential in preventing root rot. Just as important is good light, especially during the winter months. A south-facing window is an ideal location for your jade. If the entire plant is soft and flexible with little to no foliage left, it may be too late. Otherwise, change the container and/or soil if necessary and cut back on your watering. Depending on the temperature and humidity of your home, your jade can be watered every 10-14 days. It will enjoy growing outdoors during the warmer months.
|Will Confederate Star jasmine live through a Kentucky winter? Terri, Elizabethtown|
|Hello, Terri in Kentucky: Confederate jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides) or sometimes also called Star jasmine is native to southeastern Asia and hardy in USDA gardening zones 8-11. Here in Kentucky the warmest zone in our state is 7a. This means the jasmine is considered a tropical for us and the plant will have to be over-wintered indoors. Unfortunately, it will not likely bloom inside but the idea is to just keep it alive so you can take it back outdoors next spring after the frost-free date for your area passes (usually around May 10). Watch the weather this fall and bring your jasmine inside before the first frost. Find a sunny window or brightly lit room to over-winter your plant. You will not need to fertilize during this time since the light levels are so much lower and you can also cut back on your watering. Your watering schedule will depend on the temperature and humidity of your home but every 10-12 days should be fine. It will not hurt the plant if you need to cut the jasmine back to bring it indoors. The pinwheel-shaped flowers this plant produces are not super showy but are sweet and delicate. The perfume scent they give off is the main reason for growing this plant.|
|Will festival grass grow well in Kentucky? Eric, Liberty|
|Hi, Eric: Festival grass is also known as Cordyline. This hybrid can be found in most garden centers this time of the year. The burgundy foliage and arching growth habit provide both color and structure in the garden. For those of us gardening in Kentucky it is considered a tropical plant. It can be grown as a perennial grass in USDA hardiness zones 9-11. It is great in containers or as a focal point in an annual bed but it will not survive our winter temperatures. It can be over-wintered indoors if you have a room with bright filtered light. It should be brought inside before the first frost and can be taken back outdoors after the average frost-free date passes in early May. Outdoors they prefer to grow in full sun with well-drained soil.|
|Will Kimberly Queen ferns grow and thrive in a shady place? Or should I use a Boston fern? Paula, Leeds|
|Hello, Paula in Alabama: Kimberly Queen and Boston ferns are both lovely container options for Kentucky gardeners. In your case, depending on your hardiness zone, they may actually be considered hardy ferns. Both the Boston and the Kimberly Queen belong to the same species (Nephrolepis) of ferns. The main difference besides the growth habit is that the Kimberly Queen can tolerate the full sun where the Boston fern will burn if grown in the direct sun. The Boston fern requires bright, indirect light and the Kimberly Queen is just as happy growing in the full sun as it is in the shade. So really it is up to you in terms of what you are trying to achieve in your planting space. The Kimberly Queen is more upright in growth habit, and the Boston is more of a loose, arching fern usually found in hanging baskets.|
|Will my Star Jasmine live through the winter? I have heard that they can in some parts of Kentucky. Terri, Elizabethtown|
|Hello, Terri in Kentucky: The scent of a jasmine flower is quite intoxicating. The Star Jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides) is native to southeastern Asia and considered a tropical for anyone not gardening in zones 8-11. According to the USDA plant hardiness zone map, Kentucky gardeners are growing in zones 6a, 6b, and 7a depending on where in the state you live. This map is zoned according to the average annual extreme minimum temperatures throughout the states. So, Star Jasmine can survive outdoors with minimum temperatures of 10-15 degrees F. We certainly get colder than this anywhere you live in Kentucky, so if you want to keep this plant happy it will have to come indoors during the winter months. Unfortunately, it will not likely bloom inside but the idea to just to keep it alive so you can take it back outdoors next spring after the frost-free date for your area passes. Watch the weather this fall and bring your jasmine inside before the first frost. Find a sunny window or brightly lit room to over-winter your plant. You will not need to fertilize during this time since the light levels are so much lower and you can also cut back on your watering. Your watering schedule will depend on the temperature and humidity of your home but every 10-12 days should be fine. It will not hurt the plant if you need to cut the jasmine back to bring it indoors.
|Would a Boston fern die out and come back the next year if it's been outside in a pot? Shirley, Birmingham, AL
|Hi Shirley: Boston ferns are hardy to USDA zones 9 and up. According to the USDA Hardiness Zone Map you are gardening in zone 7b or 8a, which means that this fern would be considered a tropical for you. It will not survive outdoors in a container during the winter but tropical ferns can be brought indoors to survive the colder months. Like any other plants we over-winter inside, it is best to place them in a brightly lit room; a south-facing window would be ideal. Even the shade-loving ferns will benefit from as much light as possible during this time. The light levels are so much lower during the winter that we do not have to worry about too much light during this time. If you decide to bring it inside, you will want to adjust your watering schedule since it will not require as much moisture as it did outside. This will depend on the temperature and humidity of your home but every seven to 10 days should be fine. Avoid fertilizing this time of year as well. The downfall to over-wintering ferns indoors is that they are notorious for dropping their fronds. It can become a maintenance issue and the plants may not look very nice as we hit the middle of winter, so another option is to cut back the foliage before you bring it inside and then put it in the basement. Next spring when the frost-free date for your area passes put it back outdoors, fertilize, and be patient as it begins to put on new growth. Some gardeners think this is worth the effort and others choose to treat them as annuals and purchase new every year.|