Dear Neil: I heard that if I prune my gardenias, they will not bloom again. Is that correct? They are 3 feet tall.
A: That is not especially tall for standard gardenias, so hopefully you won't have to do much pruning. Trim one branch at a time with hand shears. The best time would be immediately after the main flowering cycle in the spring.
Your plants definitely will continue to flower if you keep the pruning to a minimum and time it for late spring.
Dear Neil: I have a rather large garden area that is bounded by huge 20-foot Japanese ligustrum trees. I love the trees and their berries, but cedar waxwings devour the fruit and give me thousands of seedlings every spring. Is there a way to eliminate them without spraying? They are too close to desirable plants to spray. Would a pre-emergent weedkiller work? If so, what type would be best?
A: You probably don't want to try a pre-emergent because it might inhibit the growth of the other plants you'll be sowing, be they flowers or vegetables. One of the Gallery products would be best for any non-grassy weed, including ligustrum seedlings.
You'll probably find it easiest to apply 1 to 2 inches of mulch over the garden. It could be shredded tree leaves, compost or shredded pine bark. The mulch would inhibit many of the seeds from sprouting, plus it would make it much easier to run a sharpened hoe across the soil surface, scraping all the seedlings in the process.
Finally, you could rig up some type of sponge-on-a-stick to allow you to wipe a broadleaf weedkiller across the plants' leaves. That would eliminate runoff, drift and other contaminations. You could make such an application within a foot of a desirable plant.
Dear Neil: What kind of fertilizer should I add to my compost to make it decay more quickly?
A: Something high in nitrogen will speed the microorganisms to their maximum. That's the sort of fertilizer you would find labeled for lawn grasses and shade trees. Stir in 1 cup per cubic yard of compost.
Dear Neil: Five years ago, we lined our long driveway with live oaks. Two more died recently, bringing our total to almost half of the trees that we planted. What's going on?
A: Without more information, I can't really narrow the blame: It could be drought, trunk damage, herbicide injury or even oak wilt.
Think back to when it occurred. If it was midsummer each year, the trees probably got too dry, particularly if most of the losses were four and five years ago, when the trees were younger.
You should remember if you applied any weedkiller or weed-and-feed fertilizer near the trees, so that diagnosis should be easy, and you should be able to see any type of trunk injuries that could have been caused by sunscald, borers, rodents, trimmers or mowers.
Oak wilt, another killer, is a vascular disease that can be identified by the Plant Disease Diagnostic Laboratory at Texas A&M University. Contact your county Extension office for details.
Dear Neil: I have been trying to transplant wisterias. I dug up a good bit of the root system in one case, but the plant died. I've tried starting cuttings in water. That didn't work, either. How are new plants started?
A: Wisterias are rooted from cuttings but rarely in water. It's better to use a lightweight potting soil such as half-and-half peat moss and perlite. The cuttings should be 4 to 6 inches long, and you can take them either late in the winter ("hardwood" cuttings) or in early summer, after the flush of new growth has slowed ("semi-hardwood").
Rooting hormone powder speeds the formation of roots. You'll need almost greenhouse-like conditions of bright light, along with high humidity.
• 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.