Ask the Gardener

Ask the Gardener: Glory-less Morning Glories

CorrespondentSeptember 13, 2013 

The morning glory is a tough plant that is used to surviving – and flowering – in poor soil.

COURTESY OF L.A. JACKSON — Courtesy of L.A. Jackson

Help! I bought some very pretty morning glories this spring, and the only time I saw flowers from them was at the store. I brought them home, put them in a sunny place, fertilized and mulched them. At planting time, I added a time-release fertilizer, but after a month, with no flowers to be seen, I added some 8-8-8, and still no flowers. The plants don’t look stressed. The vines are long and there are lots of green leaves, but just no flowers. What’s going on?

Beth Vaughn

Durham

What’s going on is that you have been too nice to your morning glories, especially when it comes to fertilizer. True to its ditch-weed roots, the morning glory is a tough plant that is used to surviving – and flowering – in poor soil. When pampered, it turns prissy and only wants to flaunt foliage. Nitrogen encourages leaf growth, which is usually a good thing, but add it around morning glories, and they will go wild with long vines full of leaves, leaves and more leaves at the expense of bloom development. I truly think that if morning glories had noses, and they got even a slight whiff of nitrogen, they would try to stretch for the South Carolina border and forget to flower along the way.

When it comes to fertilizer, the most I would do for morning glories is scratch in a little aged compost at planting time. However, if you have any all-phosphorus fertilizer such as Super Phosphate sitting on your garden shelf, a dusting of that could also help with the flower show, since phosphorus stimulates bloom – not foliage – production.

Aphids infesting hibiscus

I bought a tropical hibiscus this past spring. I noticed small orange and black aphids on the base recently, and they have spread through out the plant. Is the plant a lost cause, or can I get rid of those bugs at a limited cost?

Brenda Kalamaja

Raleigh

Aphids can easily – and cheaply – be dislodged by simply spraying them off the leaves with your garden hose, but since they are so tiny, it is tough to get them all. If you miss one and it lays eggs, your plant will be in trouble again before you know it. Applying insecticidal soap is a more efficient way to deal with aphids because it just doesn’t shake them off the leaves, it kills ’em. Since aphids are common pests on tropical hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis), think about applying a systemic pesticide for year-round protection. Aphids do their damage by sucking on plant juices, so turning these fluids into a killer cocktail will spoil their party. Many are available. Ask your local garden shop to recommend an appropriate systemic aphid-bopper.

Castor beans not illegal

Is it illegal to save castor beans?

Melody Sharp

Wilmington

Castor beans are toxic, but the local constabulary won’t even put you on their “Least Wanted” list for growing and saving them for future plantings because they aren’t illegal in North Carolina. I have saved some of these beans to replant the following spring for years, and they have always come back as true copies of their parents. The castor bean plant (Ricinus communis) is a large, pretty, tropical-looking gem that scares off some gardeners because of its poisonous beans. The easiest way to enjoy this beauty without worrying about the beans around curious kids or pets is to simply snip off the flower clusters after they form.

L.A. Jackson is the former editor of Carolina Gardener Magazine. Send your garden questions, including the city where you garden, to: askthegardener@newsobserver.com.

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