By NEIL SPERRY
Dear Neil: My 8-year-old schefflera is 6 feet tall. The last several months, it's started losing lower leaves. Someone told me I was keeping it too wet, so I let it dry out. Still, leaves are falling. Any suggestions?
A: Scheffleras are large trees by their nature, so some lower leaf drop is to be expected. At the same time, however, you should be seeing new growth at its top. Scheffleras become big trees in nature. They need nearly full sunlight to do best. Did you change the plant's lighting a few weeks before the leaf drop started? Look closely for signs of scale insects affixed to the stems and leaves. They may be accompanied by sticky honeydew on the leaves and floor. Houseplant insecticides would help. Keep the plant moist at all times, never soggy wet for prolonged periods, and never dry to the point of wilting.
Dear Neil: I have applied a fungicide to my redtips, but only after I carefully trimmed off all the diseased leaves, raked the debris from beneath the plants and pruned off any new infestations. It seems to have stopped the problem.
A: I hope it lasts. Extreme care hasn't done much for other plants that I've watched in people's yards. I used to recommend the best fungicides and tell people to do essentially what you have done, but it never worked, and I kept hearing back from unhappy gardeners a year or two later. I vowed to be blunt, but honest in regards to this plant. Good luck with your plants in the future. It's a lovely plant, but with issues. Hope you can keep yours growing.
Dear Neil: I saw your answer on redtips a couple of weeks ago. We have three of them, and I've grown very unhappy with them. They don't have the disease, but they've outgrown their usefulness. Can you recommend a shrub that doesn't grow more than 8 feet tall and that stays slimmer than the redtips? If we grow them in pots, will they be more vulnerable to cold damage?
A: Consider Willowleaf holly (also called Needlepoint), Mary Nell holly, Spartan juniper or false Japanese yew (Podocarpus) in a protected site. You could also consider an espalier (shrub trained to grow two-dimensionally, flat against a wall). Growing plants in pots probably will cost them about 20 degrees of winter hardiness. That's about two hardiness zones. Probably not a good plan.
Dear Neil: Will my oleander and sago palm plants come back after the freeze?
A: Oleanders frequently come back from their root systems. They don't bloom for a year or two, but at least they do come back. Sago palms are less winter-hardy, so only time will tell with them. In both cases, a lot of it depends on the extent of their exposure to sub-freezing weather. With both plants, you can trim off the dead leaves at any time.
Dear Neil: I have many volunteer pecan trees ranging from 4 to 60 feet tall. Two years ago, they had a very good pecan crop, but none in the past two years. What will keep a pecan from producing?
A: Pecans bear in alternate years. In other words, you'll seldom have two heavy crops in successive years. Be patient, and keep the trees watered properly during the summer. You'll be back in business.
Dear Neil: How can I get hollyhocks to grow here? They were wonderful when I was a kid in Indiana. I planted a packet last spring and didn't get any plants at all. Where can I buy good seeds?
A: Hollyhocks don't sell quickly off the seed racks, so the seeds you bought may not have been fresh. Mail order sources would send you seeds that have been carefully stored in cool, dry conditions. Old-fashioned hollyhocks are biennials. They're planted in late spring one year, then they grow and bloom their second year. You'll also find dwarf types in well-stocked Texas nurseries in the spring. Most of those function as annuals, planted in spring and allowed to bloom in the summer.
Dear Neil: When and how do I trim and fertilize my boysenberries?
A: Prune boysenberries like you would prune blackberries. That is, remove all canes that have borne fruit immediately after the last fruit has been harvested. Once they have produced fruit one year, old canes will never bear again. Simply cut those canes to the ground. Fertilize all bramble berries as they gear up for spring growth, again immediately after harvest, and perhaps one time in early fall. A soil test will suggest whether you need an all-nitrogen or high-nitrogen plant food.
* 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 e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.