Dear Neil: How should I overwinter my amaryllis bulbs? I see a lot of different suggestions online.
A: I’m going to assume you’re talking about the amaryllis that we see given as gifts around the holidays. Those are sub-tropical bulbs that will withstand temperatures into the 20s (as opposed to the hardier St. Joseph’s lilies, also known as “hardy amaryllis”). If you have a protected location, or if you’re in a part of Texas where temperatures rarely go below 25 degrees, they can be grown in beds in the ground. Otherwise, you would want to leave them in pots and let them grow all spring and summer. Above Oct. 1, lay them on their sides so that you cannot water the pots. That will force the plants to go dormant due to drought. That is what happens in their native homes. After about six weeks, repot them into fresh potting soil, water them and place them in bright light so that the plants can begin growing again. Generally, that will bring them in to bloom around the holidays.
Dear Neil: I have earmarked a few purple iris to dig and mail to my son in Georgia. When is a good time to do this? I thought the leaves would die down, but most are still green.
A: The best time to dig and divide iris would be late September and October. I note that you just sent your question a few days ago, so you’re really not very far off schedule. I would do it as soon as you’re able. Trim the green tops back by about 50% before you ship them. Wrap the rhizomes in moist perlite or straw within a plastic bag.
Dear Neil: I have flowerbeds on either side of the steps of my porch. I am tired of planting summer flowers and then winter flowers in them. I would like a few plants or shrubs on either side of the steps. They must not grow more than 24 inches tall. I do not want something I have to trim to maintain that height. For color, I will plant flowers in pots up on the porch. What would you suggest in the beds?
A: It sounds like you’re talking about a tall, clump-forming groundcover, and favorites from our own landscape are Harbour Dwarf or Flirt nandina and any of the standard green varieties of liriope.
Dear Neil: The prettiest display of Confederate jasmine I’ve ever seen was when it was allowed to climb the trunk of a large eucalyptus tree. It put on a show in late spring and summer every year. I’ve since moved, and now I have a 5-year-old peach tree roughly 9 feet tall. Can you think of any reason that I shouldn’t let Confederate jasmine climb its trunk?
A: I’d have to say that I am not keen about that idea. I would much rather see you build a trellis for the vine. You need to be able to access the peach tree to apply insecticide to the trunk to prevent peach tree borers. You need to be able to prune the tree each winter without encumbrances. Plus, speaking just from aesthetics, it doesn’t seem to me that you would want to draw attention to the trunk of a tree. Trunks are not the most beautiful parts of most trees.
Dear Neil: I am writing for help with my young live oak tree. About two months ago I noticed the bark being cracked and raised up by growths from underneath. An arborist has sent samples to Texas A&M’s plant disease lab, but we have not heard back. Can you give me any guidance?
A: I cannot. I spent about half an hour researching crown gall to see if that was a possibility on live oak. I did not find a lot of information. It appears that the interior wood has been dead for some time, as judged by its color. If that’s the case, this could be a saprophytic fungus developing off that tissue. The Texas A&M lab will probably have a much better answer than anything I can offer. They should get back to you shortly.
Dear Neil: I am going to be moving this winter. I have two osmanthus bushes that are over 16 years old. I want to take them with me, but it will be a challenge to dig them. How can I find someone who would be able to help me?
A: Depending on which variety of osmanthus you have, there’s a good chance these are really large plants. You would need a professional tree digger to get them out of the ground, wrap the root systems and transport them carefully. Someone in the business of planting landscape trees could do that. So could many landscape contractors. I would suggest starting at your favorite independent retail garden center and asking their advice of someone who does good work. They would know better than anyone.
Dear Neil: My red oak tree has a fungus growing on its trunk and at its base. I’ve attached photos of each. What is it, and how do I deal with it?
A: I may have covered this a month or two ago in this column, but I’ve had so many questions about fungal conks that it merits bringing the topic up again. There is a serious decay fungus that has developed within the internal tissues of your tree. Both of your photos show how it is developing. The wood of the tree is severely weakened, and at some point in the near future this tree is likely to fall. You need to have a certified arborist look at this tree (and perhaps take it down) immediately. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but there is nothing that can be done at this point.
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.