Overgrown gardenias benefit from pruning

Q: My gardenias once had large flowers. They have declined and now have small leaves, small flowers, and lichens on the stems. Should I prune and fertilize them now to help them regain their beauty? Ruth Green, email

A: My feeling is you should wait until mid-February and prune them severely then, perhaps as low as 18 inches high. In April, fertilize with Ferti-lome or Holly-tone. You’re probably not going to have very many flowers next year but in my experience overgrown gardenias respond very well to severe pruning. In years to come, prune your gardenias after the heaviest flowering is over.

Q: My landscaper is installing some Green Giant arborvitae. Is it safe to plant them now? Brad Brown, Roswell

A: I think they would be fine to plant now through December. Quiz the installer to make sure he is giving the Green Giants a wide area in which to spread their roots, not a small hole slightly bigger than the root ball. I have seen many arborvitae shrubs suffering from drought this year. My preference would be to loosen an area eight inches deep and six feet in diameter for each one and put the shrub in the center. If your arborvitae have been growing in pots, it is imperative that the roots be untangled before planting so they spread out in all directions. None should be allowed to circle close to the trunk. It would be best if you were present for the entire process to make sure things are done correctly. After planting, watering regularly is paramount. It is hard to guess what the weather will be but my recommendation is to give each shrub 5-10 gallons of water every week for the next six months. Your goal should be to keep the soil moist, not soggy nor dry.

Q: I have a well established bermuda lawn and am thinking of overseeding with rye. Do I plant rye every year or is it a one time deal? David Scheller, Ball Ground.

A: You’ll have to plant the ryegrass every year, usually in September. Make sure your lawn is in good health first. The ryegrass will look great in the winter but will die when hot weather comes. I have more details at bit.ly/GAoverseed.

Q: I hired a company to install fescue sod. I asked them to mix soil conditioner into the soil as they prepared. They raked the soil conditioner over the soil but didn’t really mix it in. Is the sod going to root through the layer of soil conditioner? Mike Haremski, Tucker

A: In general, plant roots find it hard to penetrate successive layers of different soil types. The goal of soil preparation for sodding is to make a homogeneous six-inch strata in which grass roots can grow without stress. If the soil conditioner layer is just an inch thick, I don’t think there will be a problem. If it’s thicker than that, grass roots will tend to grow there exclusively, leading to problems with drought and heat stress.

If your company is a member of the Urban Ag Council (www.georgiaurbanagcouncil.com) you could get the association to help rectify the situation.

Listen to Walter Reeves Saturday mornings on News 95.5 FM and AM750 WSB. Visit his website, www.walterreeves.com, follow him on Twitter @walterreeves, on Pinterest, or join his Facebook Fan Page at bit.ly/georgiagardener for more garden tips.

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