Dear Neil: I just received 40 antique Byzantine gladiolus bulbs as a gift, but I can’t find the planting instructions. Online it says to plant in the spring, but a local master gardener says to plant now. What would you suggest?
A: This type of glads are completely winter-hardy. Nothing good will happen if you leave them sitting in a box over the winter. Plant them now.
Dear Neil: Can I remove a root sprout from a tree and use it to grow another tree?
A: To a large degree that’s going to depend on the species, but in general terms, the answer would be “no.” Live oaks are a classic example. A small percentage of them produce hundreds of root sprouts. Each sprout is tethered to the mother tree, and each one lacks any roots of its own. When you cut the sprouts loose, they lose all ability to take up water and nutrients. You probably wouldn’t want to propagate a tree with that genetic habit anyway.
Dear Neil: We have 30-year-old crape myrtles that are now about 1 foot from an existing brick wall. Their roots are causing the brick wall to lean, and I’m wondering if we can cut the roots? If so, how close can we cut them to the trunks, and when should we do it?
A: This is the perfect time to trim trees roots, including crape myrtles. By doing so now, you allow them the winter and spring to re-grow new roots before summer. Make the cuts a few inches away from the trunks — far enough that you can cut them without damaging the trunks.
Dear Neil: I dug some naked lady lycoris bulbs from alongside the road in front of my house, but before I got them replanted I fell and hurt my knee. Can I save them until next year to plant?
A: You really need to plant them as soon as you’re able (or get someone to help you). They send up their leaves in late winter, so they need to be in place to do so. Hopefully you’ll get to feeling better soon.
Dear Neil: I planted this rose about eight years ago. It did very well, but when we built a pool I had to dig it and put it into a pot. It almost died, but it sent up the one sprout. It has finished blooming now, and I’m wondering what I should do with the plant at this point.
A: Plant it into the garden this fall. You can trim off the dead stem. You will probably get additional branches forming from the new shoot in the spring. Hopefully you will be able to redevelop it into a nice plant. If your original plant was started from a cutting, this plant is genetically identical. Good luck with it!
Dear Neil: I planted a wisteria four years ago, and it has never bloomed. It is not in the shade. It grows well, but never any flowers. Can you help me?
A: That’s the most common question I get about vines, and unfortunately, I have trouble coming up with one conclusive answer. You addressed one that is a frequent part of the problem — they do best in full sun. Wisterias also must be pruned in April, after their normal blooming season. If we prune them in the winter (the normal time to prune other woody plants), we end up cutting off all the flowerbuds. It’s not uncommon for folks to grow them in areas with turfgrass, and that’s when the vines get too much nitrogen when we feed the lawn. That comes at the expense of flowers. Finally, when there are abundant rains in the autumn, wisterias may stay vegetative instead of setting buds. The answer is probably in there somewhere, but I’m not able to pull it out on its own. If you’ve never tried root-pruning your plant, that might help. Use a sharpshooter spade to cut the lateral roots 18 or 20 inches out from the trunk. Cut a slit 10 inches deep all the way around the trunk. That, perhaps, will shock the plant into setting flowerbuds yet this fall.
Dear Neil: What is this weed in my pollinator garden? Will it amount to anything?
A: This is a type of rattlebox (Crotalaria sp.). They’re rampant plants that will overtake their surroundings. Personally, if I were growing a pollinator garden, I wouldn’t want to have it around.
Dear Neil: I have attached a photo of my holly ferns planted on the east side of the house we have in Central Texas. They did very well for the first two years, but this year they have really struggled. They get two hours of sunlight early in the morning and then shade the rest of the day. Any help you could give me would be appreciated.
A: You’ve identified these as holly ferns. I went back and looked at the photo to make sure I had it matched up with the right question. These are fatsias, woody shrubs that also need about the same growing conditions that holly ferns do. I’ve grown them most of my adult life, and I have found them to be a little challenging in cold winters and under wet growing seasons. I’ve never known them to be bothered by insects or diseases. I suspect there has been some kind of environmental problem for your plants. That’s as close as I can come from the information I have.
If you’d like Neil Sperry’s help with a plant question, drop him a note in care of The Eagle, P.O. Box 3000, Bryan, Texas 77805. Or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.