Ask the Gardener

Ask the Gardener: Doggone dogwood in a flowering funk

CorrespondentJanuary 10, 2014 

Sunlight – too much or too little – will inhibit flower production in dogwoods.

L.A. JACKSON

I have a dogwood tree that will not flower. It has been in the ground for six years. It has grown well and looks very healthy, but no flowers. We just can’t figure out what the problem is.

Kathy Scardino

Sanford

Even though your dogwood has been planted six years, it could still be adjusting to its spot in the garden, believe it or not, and as a result, is shy to flower until it feels completely at home. So, the cure here could be simple patience – give it another year or so to see if it goes from bashful to blooming big-time.

In the meantime, make sure to maintain a 3-inch layer of mulch around the tree to keep its soil moisture even. High-and-dry dogwoods, especially young ones becoming established, usually won’t put on much of a flower show. The mulch additionally keeps the growing ground around the tree slightly on the acidic side, which also helps snap a dogwood out of a flowering funk.

Two more factors could be at work. First, if the dogwood was planted in an area that does not drain freely, it may survive, but it won’t thrive, especially when it comes to flowering. Second, sunlight – too much or too little will inhibit flower production. A partially shaded site or an area that receives morning sunlight but is shielded from the worst of summer’s afternoon rays will usually result in the best displays of blooms.

How to prune Papaya Popsicle

Last spring, I planted three “Papaya Popsicle” Kniphofia plants. In the fall, I had an irrigation system installed, and with all the digging, lots of dirt ended up piled on the plants, making the leaves look really bad. I can’t find any information on how, when, or whether to prune these plants. I would appreciate any information you can give me.

Alice Bender

Cary

Any blooms that become way past prime on a Kniphofia – also known as a red hot poker – during the growing season should be, of course, pruned out, and any ugly leaves can be snipped off as well. However, I would leave at least some foliage in place through the winter and tie it up over the center crown. This will deflect cold rains and help prevent crown rot. In mid- to late March, cut the old leaves back to about 3 to 4 inches above the crown to make room for the new foliage.

Use insecticidal soap on bugs

I have problems with aphids and spider mites on my indoor plantings. I have cuttings from portulaca and verbena plants in my window sill, and they are covered with these little bugs. I had these last year, and the plants finally died. Hopefully I can get a handle on this. What do you recommend?

Alma Alexander

Raleigh

If you only have a few plants, and they sport large, smooth leaves, you can simply wipe the offending critters off with a washcloth dipped in lukewarm water. With your plants though, I would spray the little nasties with insecticidal soap, which is available at most garden centers. And since it seems you have more of an infestation than just a mild visitation, you will probably need to spray three or four times, with treatments spaced out a week to 10 days apart.

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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