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Letters, I Get Letters From Gardeners

Maria is a master gardener and master of public health. She & her husband, known online as The Gardener & The Cook, live in coastal Alabama.

Letters requesting gardening advice are common to master gardeners.

Letters requesting gardening advice are common to master gardeners.

Okay, okay, they’re not actual letters, they’re email messages, text messages, direct messages on Instagram and Facebook, as well as in-person questions, and even posts on our neighborhood Facebook group page, all about various gardening issues or decisions.

Master gardeners love to be asked about anything plant-related, so of course, as a master gardener, I am delighted to receive these questions. After all, being a master gardener is all about community service.

The Most Common Questions

Many of these are questions I received recently. Others are from old blog posts where I answered my readers’ questions. That blog has been closed, so I’m moving them here. Some of the frequently asked questions are why won't things bloom, what's this bug, what's wrong with this plant, etc. Oh, yes, and "what's wrong with my tomatoes?"

Walter Asks What to Put in Flower Boxes That Get Morning Sun

I'd like your opinion on the best flowers to put in my boxes on the front porch this summer. I have flower boxes that I put on my porch rails that are about 3' long and 5" deep. They will get full morning sun for about 3 1/2 - 4 hours then total shade the remainder of the day.

I had impatiens in them last year and they did well for a while but began to fizzle out in July. I know they don't like the sun a lot but I didn't think that much would hurt them. Anyway I wondered if you had any ideas.

Thanks, Walter

Impatiens are popular shade loving flowers. They look great paired with hosta and ferns in shade gardens.

Impatiens are popular shade loving flowers. They look great paired with hosta and ferns in shade gardens.

My Reply to Walter

Impatiens should be fine in your flower boxes. Unfortunately, as the summer get hotter, they tend to get long and leggy. When mine do that, I cut them back a bit. If you remove the leggy part, you should see new growth coming out at the base of the plants. Give them some plant food and they should respond quickly.

If you want to try some other plants in those boxes, you might try caladiums. They need lots of shade, but most varieties can take morning sun. You could also try begonias or waxed begonias. These will have to be taken indoors or to your basement over the winter, though. There are many others that do well in shade, but most of them are best in shade gardens, rather than as potted plants.

Walter later wrote back to let me know his impatiens had grown back, and were doing fine.

Waxed begonias are shade-loving plants that can easily take morning sun, and they come in several colors.

Waxed begonias are shade-loving plants that can easily take morning sun, and they come in several colors.

A Text From My Neighbor, Gina.

This is my bromeliad that I have yet to put in a pot. Coming back from the holidays, I see the top part is all brown. Do I cut that off, and is it salvageable? There seems to be another shoot coming off the side. I know nothing of this.

Thanks! Gina

I couldn’t find Gina’s photo of her bougainvillea, so here’s a shot of one of mine that also had a spent bloom.

I couldn’t find Gina’s photo of her bougainvillea, so here’s a shot of one of mine that also had a spent bloom.

My Reply to Gina

The brown part is a spent bloom. You can cut it off. The little shoot is called a pup. It will eventually put out a flower bud. Glad you had a safe trip back home from your holiday trip.

This is a new flower on one of my pink bromeliads. See the pup on the left? Soon it will have a flower, too. Notice this one is growing in the ground. You can do that in Florida.

This is a new flower on one of my pink bromeliads. See the pup on the left? Soon it will have a flower, too. Notice this one is growing in the ground. You can do that in Florida.

Glen Asks About Moving a Bougainvillea

I received a call from Glen, our former neighbor in Florida. He had recently moved his bougainvillea to a different spot in his yard where he thought it would be better suited. The spot sounded perfect — protected from high winds, yet in full sun most of the day. He said it soon began not doing so well. After questioning him about the process of the move, I think I found the answer to his problem. Glen did several things right, but he also did a couple of things wrong.

Bougainvillea (pronounced "boo-gan-vee-ah") is a showy and prolific vine that will climb a wall or  trellis, or tumble over a fence.

Bougainvillea (pronounced "boo-gan-vee-ah") is a showy and prolific vine that will climb a wall or trellis, or tumble over a fence.

What He Did Right:

  • He found a sunny spot with good drainage – two very important things.
  • He pruned the plant a bit to make moving it easier.
  • He dug carefully to avoid damaging the root ball.

What He Did Wrong:

  • He dug up the plant before preparing the new planting hole.
  • With no hole ready to receive the bougainvillea, he put it on the ground while digging the new hole.
  • Because there was another plant in the place where the bougainvillea was to go, he dug up that plant and moved it to the place the bougainvillea came from. Sounds like musical chairs for plants, right?
  • By the time he was ready to put the bougainvillea into its new home, its roots had been exposed to the air for about 20 minutes.

A Common Mistake

Not having the new planting hole ready and waiting is a common mistake. I even had a landscape worker in North Carolina do that to a large lantana of mine. I was not a happy camper.

Dad and me preparing to dig a planting hole for one of his many azaleas.

Dad and me preparing to dig a planting hole for one of his many azaleas.

Being Transplanted Is Traumatic

Moving a plant puts it into shock for a few days, whether it is moved within the landscape, re-potted, or moved from a pot to the ground. The roots should be exposed to air for no more than a couple of minutes.

My Reply to Glen

Keep the traumatized bougainvillea well-watered while it recovers from the shock of being moved. Be sure it is in rich, acidic, but well-drained soil. It should recover soon, but will likely lose some leaves. There may also be some dead wood that needs to be removed.

When moving a plant, whether it’s an old established plant or a new plant, be sure to have the new hole prepared and ready to receive the plant, before taking it from its comfy home

If you need to move one plant in order to move another, dig up the first one and plant it elsewhere, or put it into a pot with good soil or into a bucket of water until its new home is ready to receive it. Then, and only then, dig up the one that’s going into the place of the first one.

The Topics I Get the Most Questions About

The topics I get the most emails, texts, and calls about is crepe myrtles — how, when, and where to prune? Why won’t mine bloom? Where to plant them? What’s wrong with them?

I also get asked about palms: when to fertilize them? When and how to prune them?

I'll share more of these in the next article about questions to a master gardener.


Your Comments Are Always Welcome

MariaMontgomery (author) from Coastal Alabama, USA on October 08, 2021:

You're welcome, John. Thank for reading it. Send me your questions, if you have any, and I'll do my best to answer them.

John Hansen from Gondwana Land on October 08, 2021:

This is a great idea for a series, Maria. Good answers to the questions, and I am sure you have plenty. Thanks for sharing.

MariaMontgomery (author) from Coastal Alabama, USA on October 08, 2021:

Hi, Peggy. I just checked the USDA Zone for Houston. It's 9a which is where I grew them in the ground in central Florida. You should be fine doing it in Houston, too. If you are warned of a freeze coming, be sure to cover them with cloth, or a box -- preferably something that does not touch them. Thanks for reading my article.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on October 08, 2021:

I agree with others that already wrote that this could be a good continuing series. So many people like gardening, and yet few are master gardeners like you. I am tempted to plant a bromeliad plant in the ground in Houston. It has been potted as an indoor plant and has many pups. I might keep one planted indoors and see if the ones that are outdoors can survive the Houston winters. In any case, it needs dividing.

MariaMontgomery (author) from Coastal Alabama, USA on October 08, 2021:

Wow, Shauna! Thanks so much for the encouragement -- I really appreciate it. I'm hoping it will go to either Dengarden or Letterpile. We'll see.

I had several different types and colors of bromeliads when we lived in Florida, but they were in the ground, so they were sold with the house. Here, I would have to grow them in pots, and haven't done it. You're right -- they are soooo Florida. That Asiatic jasmine will take over everything, if given a chance. It's a good ground cover for places where not much else will grow or where you just don't want to have to care for plants. We always recommended it for that to local homeowners.

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on October 08, 2021:

Maria, this is going to be a very successful series, I think. Your pink bromeliad is beautiful. I had several in my back yard, but Asiatic jasmine took over the area. Bromeliads are so Florida, aren't they?

MariaMontgomery (author) from Coastal Alabama, USA on October 08, 2021:

BTW, Bill Holland, what gardening zone are you in?

MariaMontgomery (author) from Coastal Alabama, USA on October 08, 2021:

Hi Bill, thanks for you comment and question. I'll have to research those sweet peas. My mom grew them, but I have never tried them. I got the idea for a series partly from your mailbag, and partly from a gardening journal our master gardener group had in when I lived in Florida. I hope you don't mind if I sort of copy your idea. Thanks, too, for reading my article. I'll be sure to include your sweet pea info right away.

MariaMontgomery (author) from Coastal Alabama, USA on October 08, 2021:

Thank you, Brenda. I sure hope it helps lots of folks. Thanks for reading it.

MariaMontgomery (author) from Coastal Alabama, USA on October 08, 2021:

You're very welcome, Miebakagh. Thanks for reading my article, and for your comment.

MariaMontgomery (author) from Coastal Alabama, USA on October 08, 2021:

Hi Dora! Years ago, I made the same mistake. Live and learn, right?

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on October 08, 2021:

I see an HP series in the making. Great gardening help from a Master. Love it. As a side note, my impatiens rocked in a large metal container this year. I made sure to block them from the afternoon sun, and they flourished. Here's a question for your next in this series: I cannot, for the life of me, grow sweet peas. What am I doing wrong? I follow the planting instructions to the tee and still nothing. Does that mean the soil is wrong for them?

BRENDA ARLEDGE from Washington Court House on October 07, 2021:

Good article.

I think this is a helpful one & can benefit those down the road.

Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on October 07, 2021:

Maria, thank you for updating my knowledge base on gardening.

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on October 07, 2021:

Thanks for sharing these questions and answers. I've been guilty of not preparing the hole before I dig up the plant. This was a lesson for me. I'd never do that again.

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