Q:  Should I prune my gardenias or azaleas now?   

A:  This is one of the most common questions I get every February.  So I am repeating my answer from a previous Garden Talk.  Gardenias, like azaleas, would need to be pruned after they have finished flowering, which will be sometime late spring or early summer. The best management practice for most any flowering plant is to prune directly after flowering. If they are pruned now in late winter, then we will reduce the number of flowers produce as the buds for flowering have already been formed. Gardenias and azaleas really require very little pruning except to improve their shape and/or remove broken or diseased stems. It is possible to prune azaleas or gardenias to increase flower production but keep the removal of stems to a minimum. Selectively prune a stem by hand rather than use a motorized pruning utensil. Hand prune the stems selectively by cutting back to a bud and be sure the stems are cut at a proper angle. Cuts should be made about ¼ inch above the bud. It is also best to prune the shrubs so they are smaller on the top and larger on the bottom to allow for the best exposure to sunlight. Remember, gardenias like well-drained, acid, organic soils. It is important not to water them as often as we do lawns. Avoid using heavy rock mulch around the root area as this will cause compacted soil. Consider using pine straw or pine bark as a mulch. Leave an area about 12-18 inches around the trunk with nothing but soil and air, which is an excellent practice for any tree or shrub.  I know everyone is eager to get out and prune their perennials but it is best to wait a little longer until we are certain the fear of freezing temperatures is truly over.      

Q:  Will you identify the caterpillar on my azalea?Azalea Caterpillar

A: Thanks for bringing in one of them into the office so we could correctly indentify it.  The caterpillar is an Azalea caterpillar, Datana major, which is often found on azalea bushes anytime from July through October.  It appears to be a scary caterpillar but there is no need to fear, this caterpillar does not sting.  If left alone, Azalea caterpillars can defoliate large sections of the shrub. The caterpillars can be treated with chemicals when they are small by using such active ingredients as Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), bifenthrin, or spinosad. The caterpillars will often start out on the underside of one or two leaves.  If possible, remove the leaves when the caterpillars are young and the problem will be solved.

Q: I know I should prune azaleas no later than July but I have some dead branches on several of my shrubs.  Should I wait until next year or cut them off now? 

A:  No matter what time of year it is, you can always remove dead branchesAzalea Flower from any tree or shrub.  I would, however, be concerned about why the tree or shrub has dead branches. I would suggest you exam some possible reasons for limbs dying.  Is the shrub planted too deeply?  If so, remove some of the soil off the roots.  Is the mulch too deep?  Remember, it should only be about 2-3 inches deep and never touching the trunk of the plant.  If it is too deep or touching the trunk – remove the excess mulch and take it away from the plant stem.  There are other possibilities such as an insect borer or a plant disease, but this will be a good starting point for your investigation.

Q:  Are azaleas toxic to pet and cattle? 

A:  Both wild and domesticated varieties of azalea can be toxic to animals. Azalea The severity of the symptoms will differ depending on the size of the animal and how much was ingested.  It would be unusual for dogs or cats to ingest azalea leaves if they are well fed and normally kept indoors.  However, that is not the case with cattle or horses which might be tempted by the dark green leaves growing just within reach of their mouths.  The animal may experience nausea, vomiting and possibly labored breathing.  If any of these symptoms occur, please contact your veterinarian as soon as possible.  They will provide the best and safest instructions for immediate care. If you suspect your pet or livestock may have eaten plant material, it would be wise to take samples to the vet just to be safe. Consider removing the azaleas to another area away from your livestock so you can enjoy the plants and they will not be a temptation to the animals. The attached publication is from Cornell University which will provide a short list of poisonous plants to avoid if you have a pet attracted to plants.

Q: The lot next door was heavily treed but has just been partially cleared to make way for a house.  As a result my azaleas on that side now receive much more light and a good deal of direct sun.  How will this affect them?  Some have gotten quite straggly and I'm thinking I should cut them back after the blooming season to allow them to fill in.  Will this work?

A: Azaleas prefer dappled sunlight (partial shade). They will survive in full sun but develop insect problems (lace bug).  The leaves will get a speckled look or bronzing (almost sunburned). Cutting them back, I believe, will have little impact except to reduce their size and food source.  You might consider relocating them or planting some larger shrubs or trees nearby. Several light prunings early in the active growing season will result in compact growth and numerous branches on the present season growth.  This pruning should be done after blooming has ceased.

Q:  What is wrong with my azaleas?  Some of them have died and others have branches that are in process of dying.  With all the rain we have been getting, I have noticed that our property stays wet for at least a day or even longer.  Do you have any ideas?

A:  Several calls have come in during the last few weeks regarding problems with azaleas.  My first inclination is to check out the roots because azaleas succumb to a very common disease caused by a fungus called Phytophthora, Phytophtora cinnamomi.  The disease proliferates when weather is wet and warm and soil is highly organic.  Symptoms include smaller sized new leaf growth, chlorosis between leaf veins, possibly some purple coloration and defoliation. This chlorosis is often confused with a deficiency of iron or other nutrients. At times light applications of iron and complete fertilizer can improve the green color of leaves but only for a short time. Usually, large plants slowly decline in vigor and die branch by branch over a period of several months to years, but sometimes they can die rapidly. Roots are reddish-brown, brittle and often limited to the upper part of a container or soil. The reddish-brown discoloration advances to the larger roots and eventually to the main stem. The disease is common and severe in areas where run-off water, rain water from roofs, etc. collects around plant roots. Azaleas do not like wet feet.  Phytophthora root rot must be prevented as chemicals are often ineffective in controlling this disease after above-ground symptoms become obvious. The following suggestions may aid in the prevention of root rot:

1. Purchase disease-free plants from a reputable nursery.
2. Plant root rot susceptible plants in well drained areas. If excess water from any source collects in the planting site, avoid planting root rot susceptible plants.
3. Do not set the new plant any deeper than the soil level in the container or the soil line in the nursery.
4. In areas where root rot susceptible plants have died, replant with plants that are not susceptible to root rot. You should consider moving the plants to higher ground where the soil is better drained or replacing them with plants that can tolerate the occasional standing water. 

Q: I have tiny black specks on the underside of my azalea leaves.  What is causing this? Azelea Lacebug Plus, leaves never look very good but they still bloom.  I have them in full sun.  Do you have any thoughts? 

A:  The black specks are evidence of an insect that was active last spring and summer and is now gone, but I suspect he will return. The insect is called a Lace bug, which is found under the leaves.  Lace bugs are very small and quite attractive.  OK, I’m the only one who thinks they are attractive. They are piercing and sucking insects that suck out the plant juices which causes a stippled look to the top portion of the leaf.  Although azaleas will survive in full sun, they ideally should be grown in partial sun so consider moving them if possible.  For more information on the control of Lace bugs on check out the University of Florida publication titled:  “Lace Bugs on Ornamental Plants”,

Q:  What might be causing the spots on my azalea leaves? 

A:  Most likely a fungus is causing the leaf spot on your azalea leaves.Azalea leaf spot Be sure the irrigation heads are not hitting the leaves directly; it would be better for the plant to receive water at the root area. The water splashes on the leaves and spreads the fungal spores from one part of the leaf to another part. The fungal spore enters into small openings on leaf and cause the damage and spots.  Any new leaves produced may be sprayed with fungicide so be sure to have the chemical ready in the spring and summer when the fungus is peaking.  Use any fungicide labeled for use on ornamentals. A common fungicide used on roses would be a possibility. Please read the label thoroughly and follow the instructions.  The older, spotted leaves will not be changed by applying fungicide so do not waste it on them. You might consider some light pruning but do not over do it.  If you prune now, you will lose some of the flowers expected in the spring so remember “lightly” is the operative word.  Attached is a publication on azaleas which contains common diseases and pests.

Bellyache Bush

Q:  My sister and I found this plant in some orange groves down south. It is so attractive and hardy that I have been growing it here. It dies back in the winter but produces a lovely red flower and a seed pod. The seed pod contains about 3 seeds and when it is ripe it pops open and tosses the seeds quite a distance from the pod. Can you tell me what it is?

A: It seems this is the week for bringing things into the office I have never seen. Bellyache BushThis one was a puzzler for me so I asked the advice of the plant identification specialist at the University of Florida Herbarium in the Florida Museum of Natural History. The plant is Jatropha gossypifolia L., commonly known as bellyache bush, in the Euphorbiaceae (Spurge Family). This plant is native to tropical America, and has escaped from cultivation to central and southern Florida.  It forms three-lobed capsular fruit that releases its seeds explosively; as a result, it can spread a considerable distance quite rapidly. In climates where it does not freeze back it can become a problem.  You will find that this plant is widely regarded as invasive in Australia.  However, it is NOT listed as invasive by the Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council, nor is it listed on the Global Invasive Species Database.  Nonetheless, caution is advised with this plant.  The specialist’s advice was not to share it with friends who live in central or south Florida, and to consider advising folks to grow this plant in a pot rather than in the ground.  The root, stem, leaves, sap, and seeds of this plant contain jatrophin, a powerful purgative and potential toxin, which is probably where it gets its nickname “bellyache bush”.  No part of this plant should be consumed under any circumstances.  Jatropha species, as with most members of the spurge family, should be handled with care since the sap may cause dermatitis and eye irritation.


Q:  My neighbor tells me I have beautyberry in my yard but I think it is pokeweed.  Can you tell me the difference between these two plants? 

A:  Once you know how to identify a beautyberry I am sure you will never forget it.  American beautyberry, Callicarpa Americana, as its name indicates is native to North America. Beautyberry There are various other species from Asia and Central America.  American beautyberry is found throughout the southern part of the U.S. in home gardens and natural areas.  It grows well in light shade but can tolerate some direct sun.  We have it growing in the UF/IFAS Nassau County Demonstration garden in some sun. It is currently full of berries so take some time to go see the garden along with other plants now blooming such as crape myrtle, loropetalum, plumbago, blanket flower, and firecracker. It has the potential to reach heights up to 8 feet with an equal spread.  It grows well in just about any type of soil but will flower and fruit better in organic soil.  It is deciduous but the leaves will provide beautiful fall colors before dropping.  Do not be fooled in thinking the plant has died – it will return once the spring temperatures arrive. The easiest way to tell the difference between the two plants is to look at the fruit.  The fruit of beautyberry, which is attached almost directly on the stem just above the leaf node, is eaten by birds and many small rodents.Pokeweed  Pokeweed, Phytolacca Americana, is also native to North America but the fruit is produced on a long stalk.  The berries and seeds are poisonous. Although the leaves have been used in the past for food (Poke Salad Annie) it must be processed appropriately or it can be dangerous.  I have attached photos to assist you in recognizing which plant might be growing in your yard.


Q:  My bougainvillea was planted in the shade and I have had no blooms. I have used several different kinds of fertilizers but still no blooms.  What can I do to make my plant bloom? 

A:   This is a case of Right Plant/Right Place. Bougainvillea Bougainvillea will grow in a variety of soil types, is highly drought tolerant but should be grown in full sun in acid soil to produce numerous colored bracts (similar to poinsettia or dogwood).  If it receives too much shade and/or water it will resists blooming.  You may need to consider another flowering plant to replace your non-blooming bougainvillea.  Ginger, camellia, oakleaf hydrangea or azalea are all tolerant of shaded areas and may bring you more pleasure.  Attached is a University of Florida publication on landscape plants for shaded sites:  Another option would be to move the bougainvillea to a sunny site. The following information is regarding bougainvillea cultivars, should you decide to keep the plant.  Bougainvillea can tolerate hot, dry locations but chlorosis may be a problem in alkaline soil (high pH).  Regular pruning will be necessary to shape the plant or direct its growth since shoots often grow vigorously, but Bougainvillea tolerates trimming well. These vigorous shoots can stunt growth on the rest of the plant if they are left to develop. Be careful when trimming to avoid injury from the 1 to 2-inch-long thorns. This is generally a low-maintenance plant. It is not uncommon for plants often loose many leaves following a flowering period. This usually preceeds a new growth flush. This plant is very versatile in the proper environment as it can be used as a hedge, espalier, cascading or formed into a single trunk tree.  Bougainvillea plants come in a variety of colors listed below.   ‘Barbara Karst’, bright red bracts, vigorous growth; ‘Afterglow’, yellow-orange, heavy bloom, sparse foliage; `Hawaii’ (‘Raspberry Ice’), red bloom, leaves have golden yellow margins, is one of the hardiest. Dwarf cultivars include: ‘Crimson Jewel’, combines crimson, pink, and orange; ‘Oo-la-la’, very purple. There is also a cultivar available with variegated foliage, ‘Variegata’. Bougainvillea spectabilis has purple-red flower bracts, thorny stems, leaves thick, large, and hairy. Bougainvillea glabra has smooth leaves, rose-red flower bracts, is less thorny, and is hardier. Propagation is by seeds or cuttings.  Check out the University of Florida publication from which the above information was adapted:


Q:  My boxwoods are dying.  What might be causing this? 
A:  This could be an indication of root decay but there are fungal pathogens which can also cause limb dieback. If possible, consider bringing me a clipping so I can better determine what might be the real problem. Limb dieback can be caused by over-watering, heavy mulching and over pruning. There are no chemical recommendations for this - just cultural changes:
1.  Boxwood plants are drought tolerant plants - consider removing or capping the irrigation. Watering twice a week can cause some serious issues.
2.  Mulch should not be touching the trunk of any tree or shrub and should be only 2 - 3 inches thick.  Over time, mulch layers can build up and contribute to root problems.  Heavy mulching should be removed.  There should be an area directly around the trunk with nothing but soil and air.

 3.  Consider allowing the shrubs to reach a slightly higher height to avoid over-pruning.

Butterfly Bush

Q:  I am just not successful growing butterfly bush along the coast here.  What am I doing wrong? 
A:   You are doing nothing wrong it just butterfly bush (Buddleia spp) prefers a more inland climate, especially in our sandy soil. They do not like high humidity and watering them twice weekly should be avoided.  They can develop mildew problems on their leaves if they are not getting good air circulation. Well-drained organic soil is the best.  Of course, we do not want you to use any type of pesticides around the shrub as it can kill the butterfly population which should be one of the reasons for growing the butterfly bush. We planted Buddleia Lo and Behold 'Blue Chip', which is a trade-marked plant. We have had incredible success with it. This butterfly bush dies back in the winter but returns each year.  It is a dwarf variety and so pretty. 


Q:  What it the name of the plant I see along the roadsides with round, white flowers? 

A:  I suspect you are referring to the Buttonbush, Cephalanthus occidentalisButtonbush grows as a shrub or small tree - typically growing 10 or 20 feet tall. This plant is deciduous, losing its leaves for 1 or 2 months in winter. Buttonbush is a native plant which occurs in swamps, ponds, and stream banks throughout Florida. Keep that in mind if you are thinking about adding it to your landscape, it is not a true drought tolerant plant. However, it might make an excellent choice for areas around retention ponds. It flowers from early spring to late summer and provides nectar for many important pollinators. Waterfowl and shorebirds consume the seeds of common buttonbush. White-tailed deer browse foliage in the northeastern United States. Wood ducks use the plant’s structure for protection of brooding nests. Butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds are attracted to common buttonbush for its nectar and bees use it to produce honey.  Buttonbush is named for its ball-like clusters of small white flowers around fruits. Flower balls can be an inch or more across which dangle from long stalks. Buttonbush leaves are about six inches long, elliptic, and tapering to pointed tips. As buttonbush becomes older, its bark becomes rough and bumpy. According to the USDA Common buttonbush contains the poison Cephalathin which can induce vomiting, paralysis, and convulsions if ingested.


Q:  What are these spots on my camellia leaves?Scurf
A:  The spots are caused by algae, Cephaleuros virescens, which is also called green scurf.  Green scurf can be found on other leathery-leafed plants such as magnolia, Indian hawthorn, or holly.  Wet weather conditions provide the perfect environment for the fungi to spread so it is important to keep water off the leaves of any tree or shrub. Clean up any twig or leaf drop from around the base of these trees to minimize the spreading of the spores. I would not remove the spotted leaves unless they were few in number as they are still green and are an important food source for the rest of the tree. The spots are generally not considered a serious problem but it might be advisable to spray fungicides labeled for ornamental plants when new leaves are being formed.  Remember to follow the directions on the pesticide label – the label is the law. 

Q: What is causing the holes on my camellia leaves and buds of my camellia?

A: There are several possibilities. It could be the Cranberry rootworm beetles, Black Vine WeevilRhabdopterus picipes, or the Black vine weevil.  Both of these insect adults feed mostly at night. Both have larval stages feed on roots during part of their life cycle. They prefer to feed on berry crops, grapes, cane fruit, ornamentals and leafy vegetables.  The Cranberry adult beetle feeds on new growth of azaleas, camellia, red tip photinia, and other shrubs in the landscape. They leave characteristic holes in the leaves which are narrow and straight or crescent-shaped. The new growth is the part of the plant most damaged by this pest so only the new growth would typically be treated with insecticide. Fortunately, these insects vary from year to year in their abundance so fewer may be seen next year which will mean less damage.  For the average homeowner, it is only a cosmetic issue and probably doesn't require treatment. The Black vine weevil can be found throughout North America and can cause extensive damage in the warmer regions. They overwinter in the grub stage in the soil. In the spring they wake up when the soil warms and they begin to feed. When they are fully grown they burrow deeper in the soil and pupate. The adults hatch in 2-3 weeks. Adults lay their eggs near the base of the host plants late summer and the cycle continues until the weather becomes cooler. Adults feed on the leaves making large notch like holes. Plants which have large numbers of grubs feeding on them can eventually die.  Adult control is best done by using sticky traps.  Place the traps on the ground and shake the limbs of the shrub or tree.  The insects will fall to the ground and get stuck in the traps.  Dig lightly around the soil if you see vine weevils and pick out the small grubs. Drop them in hot soapy water. Vine weevils hide in garden debris during the day so it is a good idea to keep your garden clean and free of leaf and twig litter.  Bt used correctly will kill the grubs in the soil. Remember to follow the directions on the label. 

Q:  My camellia plant seemed to wilt over night.  Does it have the sudden oak death fungus? 
A:  The leaves on the camellia have wilted but I suspect the culprit is a root rot.  Your camellia probably does not have the same disease causing agent, Phytophthora ramorum, as sudden oak death (SOD).  You have no lesions, spots or necrosis on the leaves (similar to the ones in the attached photo).  The roots of camellia infected with the fungal pathogen for SOD usually show no symptoms of disease.  The roots of your plant showed numerous lesions with brown decayed areas. All the large primary roots from the trunk were decayed which resulted in the plant being unable to take up water and nutrients.  This inability to take up water caused the plant to wilt.  The disease has probably been working on this plant for some time but with the drought in the spring followed by sudden large amounts of rainfall the tree finally died.  Diseases such as root rots and leaf spots on woody ornamental plants often occur when too much irrigation is applied.  Another common mistake is planting the shrubs too deeply, which will eventually reduce the amount of air around the roots. Remember roots need 50% of the soil surrounding them to be made up of air and water. Unfortunately, there is not chemical fix for this problem; the tree needs to be pulled up and destroyed. 

Q:  What is all the white stuff under my camellia leaves? 

A:   Camellias are blooming now and therefore we are paying more attention to them,Tea Scale which results in us finding these insects more readily.  The insect is tea scale.  It will take some hard work to manage these pests.  You could take a wet paper towel to wipe of most of the insects, then apply horticulture oil (ultra fine works best) and use a soil drench of imidacloprid around the root area of the shrubs.  Imidacloprid is the active ingredient found in several products made to control insects on trees and shrubs.  Check your local garden centers for appropriate pesticides.  It will probably take more than one application of the pesticide to obtain control.  Please follow the direction on the label.  We want to do all we can to protect our pollinators and other beneficial insects. 

Q:  My camellia flowers normally stay on the tree for a long period of time but a few of the flowers turn brown and drop off quickly.  What is wrong?  

A:  There are environmental reasons for browning of camellia flower petals such as cold temperatures, too much sun or severe wind exposure. Camellia Flower Blight However, there is a serious disease of camellias which can cause the flower petals to turn brown.  It is easy to distinguish the difference between the disease and environmental causes as the fungal disease causes the vascular tissue to be darker than the surrounding petal tissue.  The first sign of the fungal disease will be spots on the petals but the spots soon spreads to the rest of the petal tissue and then to the center of the flower at which time it is called flower blight.  As with any disease the conditions for the pathogen (fungus) have to be perfect.  Early spring rains often provide that perfect environment for the fungus, Ciborinia camelliae, to damage the petal tissue.  Ultimately the entire flower turns brown and the flower usually drops within 24 to 48 hours. Only the flowers of the plant are affected. The best management is sanitation.  Remove all diseased flowers and especially those which have dropped off the tree. This fungus lives in the soil so it is best to remove and replace old mulch when the disease is detected in a camellia plant. Fungal soil drenches are available which will be absorbed by the roots and transferred to the rest of the plant helping to maintain long term control.  Topical fungal sprays are also available which can be sprayed directly on the flowering portion of the plant.  As always, please follow the directions on the label for best results. 

Q:  What are the white spots on the leaves of my camellia? 

A:  I am glad you brought this into the office during our Plant Clinics as it is difficult to diagnose over the phone.  Algal leaf spot, caused by the alga Cephaleuros virescens, may appear on a wide variety of plant species but Southern magnolia and camellia trees are the most common targets.  Weather is an important contributing factor – mostly rainfall or overhead irrigation. Cephaleuros virescens can survive until the appropriate weather conditions provide the perfect environment. The best defense is to keep trees healthy by providing proper irrigation, fertilizer and air circulation.  Clean up any leaf or twig debris as these can provide places for the algae to incubate.  Light pruning on some of the leaves or twigs might be beneficial.  When possible, avoid the leaves being wet for extended periods of time. Nassau County Extension conducts plant clinics to the general public for help with landscape questions.

Q:  I am growing Anna apples and I found these tiny insects on the underside of the leaf.  Can you tell me what they are? 
A:  The insects on the ‘Anna’ apple leaves are aphids.  They are feeding on the plant juices in the leaf and causing the leaf to curl. There are dozens of them under one tiny leaf.  Aphids do not require a male to reproduce and the young are born live, skipping the normal insect egg stage.  Aphids can be controlled by applying horticulture oil on undersides of new leaf growth.  More than one application may be necessary.  Notice the aphids are attracted to new leaves as these leaves are most tender.  Horticulture oil should be applied during the morning or early evening hours.  Avoid applying oil in the heat of the day as this could damage the leaves.  Remember to read and follow the directions on the pesticide label.   ‘Anna’ is a good apple choice for Florida as are ‘Dorsett Golden’ and ‘TropicSweet’.   Apples grown in Florida require a pollinator so use ‘Dorsett Golden’ to cross with ‘Anna’ or ‘TropicSweet’ to produce mature fruit. Fertilize in January and June.  Irrigate 4-5 inches under the tree canopy once a week if sufficient rainfall does not occur. 

Q:  Some of my camellias are not looking their best.  The leaves of a few of them are brownish-gray.  They seem to have specks of something all over them but I can not tell exactly what they are.  Can you help me? 

A:  I am glad you brought in a few samples as the brownish coloration on the leaves could be caused by several things.  After viewing the leaves under the scope we were able to determine the cause of the bronzing was from hundreds of two-spotted mites feeding on the leaves.  The two-spotted spider mite prefers the hot, dry weather of the summer and fall months, but may occur anytime during the year. Overwintering females hibernate in ground litter or under the bark of trees or shrubs.  This mite has been reported to infest over 200 species of plants. Some of the more common ornamental plants attacked include arborvitae, azalea, camellia, evergreens, hollies, ligustrum, pittosporum, pyracantha, rose, and viburnum.  Fruit crops attacked include blackberries, blueberries, citrus and strawberries. A number of vegetable crops such as tomatoes, squash, eggplant, cucumber are also subject to two-spotted spider mite infestations and damage. The mite is also a pest of trees and may damage maple, elm, and redbud.  Complete defoliation may occur if the mites are not controlled.  You may need to use a spray program of horticulture oil in addition to an ornamental miticide specifically labeled for ornamental trees and shrubs. 

Chinese Privet

Q:  I have white specks all over the trunks of my Chinese privet.  What should I do about it? 

A:  The white specks are scale, most likely snow scale.  Snow ScaleThis is an insect that pieces into the trunk tissue and siphons out the plant juices.  It, like all other scale insects, is very difficult to control.  You could use a soft scrub brush and physically remove the scale from the trunk area.  Be sure not to rub too harshly as you do not want to remove or damage the bark tissue.  Your ultimate goal is to obtain good control of the insects.  Since your shrub is an ornamental plant you could use a systemic insecticide containing imidacloprid then follow up with a topical spray such as Insecticidal soap.  Does this sound like overkill?  Well, it may seem a little excessive but this scale insect infestation has gone unchecked for some time and the number of insects is astronomical.  It is going to take quite a bit of diligence to gain control.  Another thought would be to remove the plant altogether and replace it with something else.  I would choose some other plant and steer away from anything in the privet family.  If you need dwarf varieties consider Schilling’s Holly, African Iris or Indian Hawthorn for full sun.  Giant liriope or holly fern are better choices for shady sites.


Q:   A friend gave me this plant and I was hoping you might know the name of it. 
A:  Bringing in the flowers certainly helped.  Reddish - orange flowers are somewhat uncommonButterfly Bush and one of the Nassau County Master Gardener volunteers happened to be present and recognized the plant immediately.  We believe the plant is a clerodendrum, perhaps Pagoda Flower.  Regarding the name of specific cultivar; of that we cannot be sure as there are numerous varieties of this plant.  Clerodendrum plants can be propagated by seed or cuttings. They are incredibly easy to grow; some have become weedy and problematic because of this characteristic.  We have a Clerodendrum in the demonstration garden called Butterfly bush, Clerodendrum myricoides 'Ugandense'.  The one in the demonstration garden produces beautiful blue flowers which the butterflies and bees adore. 

Q:  Can you identify this plant for me?  I purchased it at the local garden centers and it did not have any label on it. It has never bloomed.  It does die back when the temperatures get cold but it comes back.    

A:  I was not immediately familiar with this plant so I sent a brief description to the horticulture agent in Alachua and she recognized it as a clerodendrum, most likely one called “shooting stars” or “starburst”, Clerodendrum quadriloculare.  It does seem odd that you have not seen blooms on it as this plant puts on large, clusters of white or pink blossom clusters during the winter months.  Like many other clerodendrum, it has a tendency to be “weedy” as it can put out suckers from the roots and spread quickly.  Therefore it might work better in a large container or raised bed.  It can grow to heights of 6-8 feet if the winter is mild.  Shooting star plants are not picky about the soil type or pH, although well drained soils work best.  It is just at or slightly out of our cold hardiness range which is 9 – 11. The leaves are quite striking as they are dark green on the top and a deep purple on the bottom.  It can grow in partial shade to full sun but produces better flowers in full sun. Some people develop it as a single trunked tree while it is most often found in multi-stemmed forms similar to crape myrtle.    

Coral Bean

Q:  I noticed the red seeds from the coral bean plant in your demonstration garden.  Please tell me more about this interesting plant. 

A:  Erythrina herbacea, Coral Bean, is a native shrub which rarely exceeds a height of 8 feetCoral Bean in the north Florida. The Coral Bean has compound leaves that are semi-deciduous, light to medium green in color and have prickles on the underside of the leaflet. Scarlet, tubular flowers are produced from April to June. These flowers are attractive to hummingbirds. The showy fruits of the Coral Bean are drooping pods that split in the fall to reveal the beautiful, scarlet seeds.  This plant grows in part shade/part sun and it tolerates a wide range of soil types.  It is highly drought tolerant and moderately salt tolerant.


Q:  I just purchased a plant and wanted to know how to take care of it once I plant is outside. 
A:  The photo you sent me was of one of the croton, Codiaeum variegata, varieties probably ‘Gold Star’.  Crotons are truly topical plants which thrive best in south Florida in cold hardiness zones 10-11.  Nassau County is in cold hardiness zones 8b-9a.  West of I-95 is considered 8b while east of I-95 is 9a.  The larger the number the farther south the plant should be grown; the smaller the number the farther north the plant belongs.  This croton is an unlikely candidate for long term survival in this area.  You might consider keeping it as an office or house plant instead.  Give it plenty of light and avoid the most common mistake of overwatering by giving it water only when the soil is dry to the touch.  Local garden centers sell this plant because of its attractive foliage.  The label on the plant may only say is it a topical plant, which usually indicates we are too far north for it to survive outdoors in our colder temperatures.  There are exceptions, of course, but consider using hardier, more cold tolerant alternatives such as gingers or cast iron plant for outdoor plantings.  These plants provide attractive foliage but are able to tolerate our cooler climate.  At a time when all of us are thinking about “tightening our belts”; replacing plants can be an expensive enterprise.  As good stewards of the land, we might consider choosing sustainable perennials rather than high maintenance annuals. 


Q:  I would like to grow Daphne odora here, what can you tell me about it?

A: Daphne odora is also called Winter daphne or Fragrant daphne, Daphnewhich is a small evergreen plant that grows at a slow or moderate rate. It only reaches heights of about 4 feet and about the same width. Pale pink flowers appear in the late winter or early spring. Winter or Fragrant daphne can have leaves that are solid green or variegated. The variegated variety is very attractive especially when the flowers are in bloom. According to North Carolina State Extension the only problem with this plant is its tendency to be short-lived. I suspect this may be why our local nurseries do not stock it. Our cold hardiness zone is between 8b-9a and Daphne thrives in zones 7-9. However, I wonder if it is able to take our long season of heat and humidity since there are considerable differences in the climates of Northeast Florida and North Carolina. On the other hand, if you really like it then it won’t hurt to give it a shot now that you know it may be a bit risky. You might consider keeping it in a pot for the first few years just to see if it can become acclimated to Northeast Florida. Good luck and keep me posted on its progress. You never know, there are always exceptions to the rule and you might have that special “green thumb” that will make the difference.

Elephant Ear

Q:  My elephant ear plant was frozen during the last few freezes.  Will it come back? 

A:  Elephant Ear, Alocasia spp., is extremely hardy and I would be surprised to hear itElephant Ear did not return from the cold.  We will be better able to determine the full extent of the cold damage once summer is fully upon us. You may cut away and dead tissue now. The large leaves come up from the ground without any stem and can reach lengths up to 3 feet. There are many varieties ranging from solid colored to variegated to new cultivars with purple hues. Some of the Elephant ear cultivars are of concern to those monitoring invasive plants. We would suggest homeowners be mindful of selecting this plant especially those living near a green belt area, a nature preserve or waterway. Landscapers use this plant as a back drop for other tropical perennials or around specimen trees.  Elephant ear has the potential of growing 10 feet tall and 10 feet wide therefore it is important to allow enough room for growth.  In addition, you can see this would not be the best plant to put under windows of any home or business. The cold hardiness zone is from 8B to 11, which means it can be grown throughout most of Florida.  Elephant ear tolerates partial sun and shade but it will show signs of burn in full sun situations.  It prefers a moist, well drained soil but requires no specific pH range.  Elephant ear is an easy plant to grow and thrives with little or no attention once it is established. 

Florida Anise

Q:  I noticed commercial sites are starting to use a plant called the Florida anise shrub.  The leaves smell like licorice.  Is this the same plant used in cooking spice cookies? 

A:  I am so glad you asked this question before ingesting the plant. Pleasyellow anise fruite do not use any part of the Florida anise or the yellow anise plant in cooking.  The yellow anise, Illicium parviflorum ( produces small yellow flowersand pale, green leathery leaves. This is the shrub you are seeing used more often at commercial sites.  The Florida anise, Illicium floridanum, ( produces red flowers.  Both of the above mentioned shrubs are commonly planted in our landscapes as they are perfect for our cold hardiness zone.  Florida anise and yellow anise are very easy to grow, require minimal irrigation and have few pest issues. Both plants reach heights of up to 15 feet with a slightly larger spread of up to 20 feet.  It is important to consider the potential mature size when using it in your landscape. The shrub which produces a spice used for teas and cooking is from the spice plant called Chinese Star Anise, Illicium verum. Notice, all three have the same genus (first name) but the species names are quite different. 


Q:  My gardenia is not doing well and I am thinking the soil pH might be the problem.  How can I get it tested? 
A:  Go about 6-8 inches deep and take several samples from around the root area placing the samples in a bucket.  Mix the soil and bring us one sample - about a cup is fine.  Master Gardeners man the Yulee satellite office on Fridays 10am - 2pm and can run a pH for you at no cost.  Call us at 904 530-6351 for directions to the Yulee satellite office.  You can also drop the sample through the letter box on the door and we can run it anytime during the week.  Now, just a few things other things to consider regarding your gardenia shrub:
1.  Gardenias should not be planted by the foundation of a home or near the sidewalk, driveway, or walkways as these concrete structures leach and have a tendency to raise the pH to uncomfortable levels for these acid loving plants. 
2.  Planting them under the eaves of the house encourages leaching too and often the plant will get too much water off the roof if there are not gutters.  Too much water can create the prefect environment for disease such as fungal leaf spots and root decays. 
3.  Some cultivars of gardenia do better with morning sun exposure and afternoon shade. 
4.  Keep lawn grass as far away from any tree or shrub as the things we do to lawn grass we should not do to trees or shrubs.  Be careful about applying lawn grass weed killers around the roots of trees or shrubs. 
5.  Keep mulch off the trunk or any tree or shrub.  Allow for an area around the base of the trunk which contains only soil and air.  Mulch should be only 2-3 inches deep.  Never use rock as it can compact the soil and retains heat – neither is good for trees or shrubs.  Pine products are preferred. 
6.  It is critical to ensure the shrub is not planted too deeply.  You should be able to find the large roots coming off the trunk in just an inch or so of soil.  More than a few inches of soil on the roots is too deep.
7.  Watering the shrub twice a week like the lawns can be excessive and they hate it. 

Q:  When should I prune my gardenias? 

A:  Gardenias, like azaleas, would need to be pruned after they are finished flowering which will be sometime late spring or early summer. If they are pruned in late winter, then we will reduce the number of flowers produce as the buds for flowering have already been formed. Gardenias and azaleas really require very little pruning except to improve their shape and/or remove broken or diseased stems. It is possible to prune azaleas or gardenias to increase flower production but keep the removal of stems to a minimum. Selectively prune a stem by hand rather than use a motorized pruning utensil. Hand prune the stems selectively by cutting back to a bud and be sure the stems are cut at a proper angle. Cuts should be made about ¼ inch above the bud. Remember, gardenias like well-drained, acid, organic soils. It is important not to water them as often as we do lawns. Avoid using heavy rock mulch around the root area as this will cause compacted soil. Consider using pine straw or pine bark as a mulch. Leave an area about 12-18 inches around the trunk with nothing but soil and air, which is an excellent practice for any tree or shrub.     

Q:  Why does my gardenia have leaves turning yellow and then dropping off? 

A:  Gardenias can tolerate a wide range of light conditions but flower better when exposed to some direct sunlight.  Gardenias also prefer a slightly acid soil between the ranges of 5.0 – 6.5.  When we tested your soil the reading was 7.5-7.8 which is alkaline. When looking at a pH scale it is important to note the higher the pH reading of the soil, the more alkaline the soil. Since you planned to transplant the gardenias and start all over again we can give you a few suggestions on ways to lower the pH on a temporary basis. It is important to alter the whole bed and not just the hole in which you plant the gardenia. Consider mixing together composted material, peat and sand completely going down 8-12 inches in the soil. Be sure the bed is aerated to allow air to reach the roots. Change your mulch to a pine product such as pine straw, pine nuggets or pine bark. Keep the mulch away from the trunk of any tree or shrub and be sure it is only about 2-3 inches deep. The shrubs will need to be hand watered daily for several weeks, then every other day for several weeks until they are watered only once every few weeks. This is important for the establishment of roots which will determine their future strength and health. Water them at the root area only keeping water away from the leaves. Fertilize this September using an acid loving fertilizer for azaleas, camellias and gardenias which can be found at any garden center. Use the same type of fertilizer every March and September annually after establishment. Prune only dead branches now but light pruning can be done after flowering has finished. Avoid pruning after September or next years blooms will be diminished. The new transplants may drop more leaves when you move them but do not let that scare you – be patient.  Next year you will probably have the most beautiful gardenias in the neighborhood.  Good luck and keep me posted on your progress. 

Q:  My gardenia plant has yellowing leaves.  It is planted next to the house near the down spout.  Do you think it is getting too much water?  What fertilizer should I use?

A:  I believe you have diagnosed the problem yourself correctly.  The gardenia is indeed experiencing some stress.  The dark green veins with yellowing between the vein tissues indicate a nutrient deficiency.  It is difficult to determine exactly what nutrient might be lacking without a tissue sample but we can try a few things to determine what might be the cause.  Gardenias, like azaleas, camellias, and evergreen plants generally prefer well-drained, acid soils.  The heavy amount of water this plant has been receiving has contributed to the stress. In addition, there is a possibility the soil pH is too high as gardenias prefer the pH between the ranges of 5.0 – 6.5.  Often soils in our area are higher than this range which means the plant is unable to absorb the required nutrients from the soil efficiently.  When the plant is unable to take up the nutrients through the root structures the leaves will eventually start to yellow. If you just add iron sulfate or magnesium sulfate the plant
leaves may respond but it will probably only be a temporary fix.  My suggestion would be to relocate the plant to an area where it will not be exposed to heavy amounts of water. In addition, use a pine mulch product which will help alter the soil texture and lower the pH temporarily. Keep the mulch light (only a few inches deep) and be sure it is not touching the trunk of the shrub.  This is true for any tree or shrub.  When fertilizing use a fertilizer specifically formulated for “acid loving” plants.   Be sure to follow the directions on the label. 

Q:  My gardenias as showing yellowing leaves. My neighbor told me to add iron sulfate.  Will it help?

A:  Adding iron sulfate to the soil around the root area of the gardenia may help if the problemGardenia is a deficiency in iron. Yellow leaves may be the result of low nitrogen levels or high pH soil among other things. If the pH of the soil is too high then even the presence of enough iron will not solve the problem completely. You might consider working materials into the soil such as peat moss or coffee grinds which will lower the soil pH on a temporary basis. Consider using pine products for mulch as they also help lower the soil pH. The “sulfate” part of iron sulfate can also temporarily lower soil pH so the plant is able to absorb the nutrients it needs. It is best to use an acid loving fertilizer on plants such as azaleas, camellias, gardenias and holly as it should contain the element sulfur. Recognize the sulfur? Yes, you are correct; this also lowers the pH slightly on a temporary basis. Did you also notice I have stated several times the pH is lowered on a “temporary basis”?  Lowering pH or trying to make it more acid is difficult and can usually be done only for a short span of time. The natural tendency of alkaline soil is to stay alkaline. Any Extension office will be glad to run a soil test for you to determine the soil pH.  Please call the Nassau County office at 548-1116 or 530-6353 to determine the best time to drop off your soil specimen. This test is free of charge but please limit the number of samples you bring in to no more than 2-3.  Take your soil samples where roots would be growing rather than just skimming the top of the soil.  The attached photo is from Clemson University. For more complete information regarding soil pH, check out the University of Florida publication titled “Soil pH and the Home Landscape or Garden”:
For additional information on growing gardenias in Florida look at the following publication:


Q:  What can you tell me about the red Hawaiian ginger plant? 

A:  The information I am sharing with you has come from the Cooperative ExtensionGinger Service in Hawaii.  Red ginger, Alpinia purpurata, is a tall, upright, herbaceous, evergreen plant.   It is native to New Caledonia, New Hebrides, and British Solomon Islands and widely cultivated in the tropics and subtropics. This ornamental ginger was introduced to Hawaii as an ornamental before 1930, and is naturalized there in valleys and on the windward sides of the islands. Hawaiian red ginger grows well in rich soil and in wet habitats, but it can grow in dry areas as well in full sun to partial shade.  Although there are some lucky people who have it here in Northeast Florida, it is better suited for cold hardiness zones 10 – 11 (Central and South Florida).  The red spiked flower does attract butterflies and bees and works well in cut flower arrangements.


Q:  As a resident in Fernandina, I'm wondering if Heliconia rostrata will be winter hardy if planted outside now. I want to get something large enough to fill a 5 foot gap and partially disguise the telephone pole and a big green cable company box. The area is mostly shaded and in the right of way. Could you also provide me with information on various citrus varieties, such as which are good for this area, which need pollinators and which don't, sources to buy them, etc. I am also interested in varieties of all small fruit that work locally including: rhubarb, blackberries, raspberries, strawberries, currants, and others you could suggest that are locally proven. Thank you so much.

A: Our zone is 8-9 and Heliconia rostrata Heliconiais classified as a tropical plant which is recommended for Central and South Florida only.  I have a friend who is successful at growing this in Central Florida in a partial shaded area, but he keeps it in a pot and brings it inside during the winter.  I would not advise you to plant this in the ground in North Florida because we do have some very cold temperatures in which it will probably not survive.  You might consider other shrubs which are much hardier for this area.  I have supplied you with a few websites to investigate.  Go to any local nursery to obtain the cultivars recommended by University of Florida, if they don't have them I am sure they will be glad to order them for you.  Good luck.  The other information you requested should be supplied in the publications below.  Regarding sources for citrus, any local reputable nursery should be able to order the citrus suggested in the UF publications.  Growing cold hardy citrus can be a very rewarding experience, I hope you decide to pursue your interest.







Q:  The buds of my hibiscus are turning yellow and dropping off.  What is wrong?

A:  After opening one of the yellowing buds we discovered the hibiscus bud midge maggot, Hibiscus Bud MidgeContarinia maculipennis.  The female midge deposits eggs on the tips of the newly forming buds and within 24 hours the maggot develops and starts to feed on the bud.  It takes about one week for the insect to mature to the next stage; then they drop to the ground to pupate. The soil must be moist, which is generally not a problem in our landscapes.  It will take about 2 -3 weeks to mature into an adult. The adult midge is very small – similar to a mosquito. Although hibiscus is the favorite, the bud midge has been known to also infest tomatoes, jasmine, plumeria, other vegetables and ornamentals. There are other reasons for flower buds to turn yellow and drop off such as over watering, too much nitrogen, thrips or aphids, and very hot, dry weather.  However, since I found the maggot, I am going to blame it on the bud midge.  The best thing for homeowners to do is to be sure to clean up any buds and leaf litter which have dropped to the ground.  If the hibiscus plants are in the ground they may not need supplemental watering aside from what we get with rain.  Remember, the midge requires moist soil to pupate.  Contact chemical sprays don’t work well since they cannot penetrate the bud. 



Q:  What can you tell me about cape honeysuckle? 

 A:  Cape honeysuckle, Tecoma capensis, originates from the Cape of Good Hope region of South Africa.  This plant might be a little tender here as it prefers cold hardiness zones 9b – 11.  Remember, Nassau County Florida is generally classified as being in zones 8b – 9a.  This means, if we get typically cold temperatures in the winter – this plant might not survive. Cape honeysuckle shrub puts out a cluster of deep orange flowers in the spring through the fall. Treat as vine with support but it can be pruned into shrub form. This plant can attract hummingbirds and butterflies. The cultivar, 'Apricot' is smaller and more compact with orange flowers. 'Aurea' has yellow flowers.  You might consider planting a trumpet vine, Campsis radicans, instead of the cape honeysuckleas trumpet vine plant can be grown in zones 4b -10a. Trumpet vine is also a Florida native and it also attracts hummingbirds. Like many vines, trumpet vine flowers best in a full sun location. It grows but flowers poorly in a shaded location. It will do fine in any soil except those kept continually wet and flooded.There are several cultivars: 'Atropurpurea' - large, dark red flowers; 'Speciosa' - bushy growth habit; 'Flava' - yellow flowers; 'Praecox' - blooms earlier.


Indian Hawthorne

Q:  I love the large Indian Hawthorn with the pink flowers.  I was thinking about planting some of the smaller shrub varieties and was told a few can easily get an ugly leaf spot.  I would like to avoid them.  Which ones are they?  Majestic Beauty
A:  Indian hawthorn, Rhaphiolepis spp., comes in flower colors ranging from deep pink to white.  The tall variety is called ‘Majestic Beauty’ which we have in our demonstration garden is the beautiful pink color and can grow to about 10 feet tall.  The other Indian hawthorn varieties are considers shrubs with most grow no taller than 4 feet with an equal spread.  It is important to keep overhead irrigation off the leaves of any tree or shrub. Wind and water can spread the spores from the fungi to surrounding leaves causing the unsightly leaf spots. Indian hawthorns are drought tolerant plants so they should not be irrigated as often as lawn grass. If you do have them on an irrigation system, consider putting them in a different zone and reducing their water to once every few weeks. Or change the system to a drip irrigation to keep the water off the leaves. According to Clemson University the following are a few varieties to avoid as they are highly susceptible to endomosporium leaf spot:   'Enchantress' also known as 'Pinkie', 'Fascination', 'Harbinger of Spring', 'Heather', 'Spring Rapture', 'Springtime' and 'White Enchantress'.

Q:  I keep seeing the dark blue berries on the Indian Hawthorn shrubs.  Do they attract birds?  I see these plants all over commercial areas but I never see any birds eating them. 

AIndian Hawthorn, Raphiolepis indica, is an evergreen shrub that produces an abundance of fruit during the fall and winter months which indeed attract birds. The reason you may see few birds may have something to do with heavy foot and automobile traffic at these commercial sites, although I have no scientific research to back up that hypothesis. Indian Hawthorn shrubs are extremely hardy, they can handle most any type of light condition, are highly salt tolerant and moderately drought tolerant, which is the reason they are used so often at commercial sites. They grow at fairly slow rates reaching mature heights around 6-8 feet but can spread up to 15 feet. Several cultivars exist which may be better choices for home or commercial sites such as ‘Ballerina’ which only reaches 1- 2 feet in height; ‘Jack Evans’ with double pink flowers; or ‘Snow White’ produces white flowers with a spreading growth habit. For other cultivar suggestions and more information on this plant see the attached University of Florida/IFAS website developed by Dr. Ed Gilman:


Italian Cypress

Q:  My Italian cypress is dying and I want to replace it with a shrub that will stay thin.  Can you recommend something? 

 A:   It is not uncommon for Italian cypress to start showing limb dieback especially if they are in the same irrigation rotation as lawns. These plants are drought tolerant and really do not need to be irrigation weekly.  My first thought is for you to consider a specific cultivar of podocarpus called Podocarpus macrophyllus var. angustifolius. This particular plant is a narrow, columnar tree with curved leaves, 2 to 4.5 inches long.  It is very hardy but you will need to cap the irrigation head for this area so it will also not develop disease issues.



Q:  What is wrong with my hydrangea leaves? 

 A:  Your plant is showing signs of Cercospora leaf spot which is a disease caused by the fungus Cercospora hydrangeae. The spots will start out as small circular purple dots which later will turn tan or grey. Small spores will be in the center of the spot and can be easily spread by water or wind. If the infestation is heavy, the whole leaf will turn yellow and drop off. Any of the common landscape hydrangeas, including bigleaf, oakleaf, panicle and smooth-types are susceptible to this disease. Although plants are not killed by leaf spot, it can cause premature leaf drop which may reduce flowering and plant vigor even for next year’s flowers. Cercospora leaf spot is favored by warm weather with frequent rain showers – well we have certainly been receiving plenty of rain to produce these problems. Clean up any leaves dropping to the ground.  Be sure your plants have plenty of room so air can easily circulate around them and keep them dry. Apply a fungicide for ornamental plants on any new growth, but be sure to rotate and use a different mode of action each time.  Remember, the fungicide will protect and help reduce the future leaves from developing spots but it will not cure the disease currently found on the leaves. Avoid over-head irrigation on any shrub or tree – none of them like it.  Right now, be sure your irrigation system is off and place it on manual mode.

Q:  I heard you talk about a different hydrangea than the normal French mop head.  What is it? 

 A:  Hydrangea macrophylla, also called bigleaf, mopheads or French hydrangea, has either pink or blue flowers. Flower color is determined indirectly by the soil pH, which affects the availability of aluminum in the soil. In acid soils the flowers will be blue; in alkaline soils the flowers will be pink. Aluminum is available to the plant in acid soils. Research has determined   the actual mechanism of color variation is due to the presence or absence of aluminum compounds in the flowers. For blue flowers, maintain a soil pH between 5 and 5.5. Apply aluminum sulfate or sulfur to reduce the pH to this range when you see new growth emerging in April. For pink flowers, maintain a soil pH of 6 or more by liming your soil. “Lace cap” was the other type of hydrangea you heard me discuss.  The "lacecaps" have a center of fertile, relatively non-showy flowers and an outer ring of showy, sterile flowers, which together form a pinwheel effect.  Hydrangea requires shade (either continuous shade or morning sun and afternoon shade), moist, but not wet soils, and cool winters. After plants are well established, French hydrangea is moderately drought tolerant and moderately salt tolerant. For more complete information on growing hydrangeas, please check out this University of Florida publication:


Q:  I have heard about a new variety of hydrangea which is supposedly quite different from the normal hydrangea which produces large rounded flower heads.  I am told they come in a larger variety of colors.  What can you tell me about these hydrangeas? 

A:  I am attaching the newest research document from the University of Florida to give you Ladecap Hydrangeathe best perspective on these new hydrangeas. Hydrangea plants will do extremely well here but I would plant them in areas where they will be protected from direct, summer afternoon sun.  Morning sun will suit them well. Lace cap hydrangea, Hydrangea macrophylla, which is the same genus species as the mop heads. The lace cap hydrangea get there name from the structure of the flowers which have center, small, bud-like structures surrounded by large, open individual hydrangea flowers. I recently purchased three to add to my landscape and I am extremely happy with them. The photo is of one of my recent additions, Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Mariesii’.  Not long ago, I was asked why ‘Lady in Red’, which is a current popular hydrangea cultivar, had pink flowers and not red flowers.  She is called ‘Lady in Red’ because the flower petioles or stems are red. This particular hydrangea stem provides a nice contrast against the large green leaves and pink flowers.

Q: Can I prune my hydrangea now?

A: Pruning hydrangea, Hydrangea macrophyllathe ones with the large globe-shaped flowers would be a mistake this time of year. It will result in fewer if any flowers next May or June. Pruning can be accomplished at two different times. Late summer is more desirable, since most of these hydrangea types flower only from the end buds of upright or lateral shoots produced during late summer and fall of the previous season. Prune as soon as the flowers have faded and strong shoots are developing from the lower parts of the stems and crown. Remove at the base some of the weaker shoots that are both old and new. Always try to keep several stems of old productive wood, with a sufficient number of stout new stems that will flower the following season. Flower color is dependent upon the pH of the soil in which it is grown: blue if acid; pink if alkaline. There are also several white flowered cultivars.

Q: I have always heard that the old fashioned mop-head hydrangeas bloom on old wood.  I love them in the house. Does that mean that each time I cut a blossom this year, I am robbing next year's bloom? 

A: This pruning information comes from Connell University Extension: Hydrangea "Pruning can be accomplished at two different times. Late summer is more desirable, since most hydrangea flower only from the end buds of upright or lateral shoots produced during late summer and fall of the previous season. Prune as soon as the flowers have faded and strong shoots are developing from the lower parts of the stems and crown. Remove at the base some of the weaker shoots that are both old and new. Always try to keep several stems of old productive wood, with a sufficient number of stout new stems that will flower the following season. Early spring pruning (March), although acceptable, will result in the sacrificing of bloom for that growing season. Pruning this species too late in the fall (after September) is harmful. New growth, both vegetative and reproductive, will not develop proper maturity."

Q: This year, we noticed that one of the hydrangeas was not fully blooming, and then my hubby noticed mites/aphids underneath the leaves.  Some of the leaves at the very ends look almost burnt or fried and the hydrangea looks so unhealthy.  We have sprayed all hydrangeas with horticulture soap on days when we know that it will not rain.  The other 7 are blooming but through-out each one, you can see random leaves that are burnt or fried at the ends also. We hope it will not infect the others as much. Thanking you in advance of your information.

A: I am not certain but I suspect you have a blight called Botrytis Blight which often causes the blooms to die before they open.  Botrytis blight is a fungus that can affect leaves, stems, crowns, flowers, flower buds, seeds, seedlings, bulbs, and just about any other part of a plant with the exception of the roots. This disease is especially prevalent during warm, wet seasons (similar to what we have been experiencing).  The plants may be too close together; therefore you might consider moving them during their dormant season (late winter or early spring) to allow for better air circulation.  Avoid watering late in the day, morning hours are best.  Avoid overhead irrigation on any of your ornamentals; it only increases the chance of spreading disease.  Hydrangea prefers a moist, but not wet, organic rich soil.  However, it is important to remove leaf debris as soon as it occurs.  You may prune a few inches below the dead area, but use sterile methods (clean your pruning shears with a weak bleach solution or alcohol between each cutting).  Destroy any of the diseased pruned plant parts immediately.  The cultural methods listed previously will help curb the disease, but ethylene bisdithiocarbamate by be applied if you feel it is necessary to spray a chemical.  In addition, you can continue to apply insecticidal soap and/or horticulture oil to control the aphids.

Q:  I want to be sure my pink hydrangeas stay pink and my blue hydrangeas stay blue.  I have been adding lime to make the flowers pink and aluminum sulfate to turn them blue.  What I want to know is - what time of year is best to amend the soil?

A:  Good question, I was not sure myself so I did a little investigation.Hydrangea Generally, most gardeners suggest adding the amendments just before the leaves or flower buds begin to develop or flush out – possibly late February or early March. Altering the color of the flowers only applies to the mop head hydrangeas which are often called big leafed.  We will not be able to change the color of the oakleaf hydrangeas – only those species - H. macrophylla or serrata. I would also caution you about using too much of any amendment because over applying can create problems.  Lime can take up to 3 months to increase the soil pH, so just because you do not see an immediate reaction does not mean it is not working. Be patient. It is possible to cause other nutrient deficiencies, such as iron chlorosis, when adding lime to ornamental beds and lawns.  Remember, adding lime raises or increases the pH making the soil more alkaline. If you wish the flowers to be blue, then add aluminum sulfate. Lastly, there are some genetic boundaries which even adding amendments cannot alter. 

Japanese serissa

Q:   What is the name of this plant and what can you tell me about it? 

A:   I was glad you were able to show me a close-up photo of this plant.  Although it took me a little while to remember it, I finally realized the shrub was Japanese serissa or Yellow rim, Serissa foetidaJapanese serissa It can be grown in cold hardiness zones 7-9, which means anywhere in Nassau County, Florida.  Generally, it is classified as a semi-evergreen with small white flowers appearing in the spring.  Sadly, the flowers have no fragrance. The small green leaves have a thin outline of yellow – which is where it gets the common name Yellow rim.  It can be grown in most any type of well-drained soil in full sun to partial shade.  It would be considered a dwarf shrub as it reaches heights of only 3-4 feet with the same size spread.  However, it has a tendency to sucker similar to yaupon holly.  This means you may need to occasionally clip it at the bottom to keep the suckers in check.  It truly has no serious insect or disease issues if NOT over-fertilized or over-watered. This means it should not be in the pathway of any irrigation system.  Once it is established – usually just a few months – it is practically care-free.  Japanese serissa shrubs make a nice backdrop for perennials such as African iris, coneflower or yellow bulbine.  We will have a few of these shrubs at the spring sale on Saturday, May 7 from 9am to noon at the James S. Page Governmental Complex.  Remember these plant sale funds are used to provide us with professional development and help us maintain the two demonstration gardens.  Please come out and support us - see you there. 



Q: Can you tell me what is causing the orange spots on my anise and ligustrum leaves? 

A:  I had a strong suspicion I knew the culprit but I wanted to confirm it with some of my Green Team colleagues.  We all came to the same conclusion – overhead irrigation from your well water was causing the pitting.  These shrubs, once established, do not require heavy irrigation.  If you watered them once a month or never again – they would be fine with it.  Watering them when they are growing in harsh, parking lot median environments, similar to most commercial sites, is beneficial.  But in your situation, a typical home landscape with dappled lighting and mulched pine-straw areas, these shrubs really require little care.  We really cause so many disease and environmental problems for our hardy shrubs by overhead irrigation and too much water. Cap the irrigation heads or turn off the shrubbery watering zones. Unfortunately, the damage on the leaves is permanent since these are evergreen shrubs, but ultimately, they will add new leaves and get taller and these ugly leaves can be removed little by little. Don’t strip them all now, that would cause too much stress for the plant – remember leaves provide food for the plant. One other thing, these shrubs really want to be tall shrub/trees.  Please consider letting them grow taller than 3 feet. They will bring much more value to your landscape if you let them develop into 8-15 trees. It will take a few years to get them into the final shape you desire but the results are stunning and well worth the effort. Or, think about taking a couple of them and letting them grow to see the results – then call me back and let me know what you think.  I believe you will then allow the others to grow tall too.  Anyway, those are my suggestions to you - some food for thought. Plus, I would love to know how much you are saving on your water bill once you make the change. Call me and let me know.  Water is one of our most precious commodities and we really need to conserve this natural resource. 


Q:  I am embarrassed to say I don’t know this, but I feel comfortable asking you.  My landscaper will be replacing some of my hedges and he wants to use a plant called Jack Frost.  I don’t know what he is talking about – can you give me some information about this plant? 

A:  Never feel embarrassed, none of us came into the world with instant knowledgeLigustrum Jack Frost but we learn everything little by little as we grew older.  Plants are very complex with thousands of varieties making it impossible to know all of them.  In addition, the older I get the less I am able to retain the names of things – so you are in good company!  I believe your landscaper is talking about a special cultivar or variety of ligustrum, Ligustrum japonicum ‘Variegatum’ called Jack Frost. It should have all the same characteristics of the standard ligustrum but the leaves will be glossy green with a creamy white edge. Remember if you decide to use them as a hedge they should be clipped as tall as possible and they should be kept smaller on the top and wider at the bottom which is more of a traditional tree shape. This tree/shrub can grow up to 12 feet tall and spread as wide as 25 feet so allow plenty of room for the width. Pruning shrubs wide at the top and thinner at the bottom is a poor pruning practice which will ultimately cause shrubs to be spindly and bare at the bottom. Keeping them wider at the bottom allows for a larger area of leaves to be exposed to sunlight which encourages the shrub to grow full and bushy. One other important thing to remember – most of the disease issues on ligustrum and other common shrubs are caused by too much water. After establishment, most woody shrubs do not need to be irrigated weekly in the same manner as lawns. For more information about the variegated form of ligustrum please read the University of Florida publication:



Q:  I have a group of loropetalum shrubs which are not doing very well.  What could be wrong with them? 
A:  Several people have called in telling me they are experiencing problems with this shrub. Loropetalum While some of the species seem to be doing quite well, others appear to be dying limb by limb.  First, be sure the shrubs are not planted too deeply.  You should easily be able to pull the soil off the major roots coming directly from the trunk.  Remove excess soil from the top of the roots which will enable them to have access to oxygen.  Leave an area about 18 inches or more with nothing but a few inches of soil and air – keep mulches away from the trunk tissue.  The mulch depth should only be about 2-3 inches. Change out any over head irrigation heads so the water only reaches the roots allowing the leaves to stay dry.  Watering shrubs once every few weeks would be sufficient for any established woody ornamental.  Loropetalum has been encountering problems within the last few years which include stunting, defoliation and sometimes even death.   We currently recommend planting 'Burgundy', 'Plum', or another cultivar with similar characteristics (e.g., red/purple new growth, pink flowers) to 'Ruby', since there have been no reports of widespread decline for these cultivars in Florida. Loropetalum 'Ruby' is a small (3-5 ft tall), rounded plant with leaves that are more rounded and pink flowers that bloom year round. Loropetalum 'Burgundy' (also called 'Sizzling Pink') will stand more upright than 'Ruby' and grows to be 6-10 ft tall. Loropetalum 'Burgundy' has elongated, pointed leaves that turn bright red in the fall and flowers that bloom intermittently. For best results, UF/IFAS suggests an application of a 5-2.5-100 Cu/lime mixture. To create this mixture, add 5 lbs powdered copper sulfate pentahydate and 2.5 lbs fresh hydrated lime to 100 gallons of water. Spray each individual plant thoroughly. When using any foliar Cu treatment, avoid spraying surrounding plants as phytotoxicity may occur. These materials can also cause damage to metal surfaces such as cars, lawn furniture, etc. In addition, applicators should wear appropriate personal protective equipment when applying foliar Cu sprays. This information came from a publication for Central Florida but we have been experiencing the same issues here in Northeast Florida.



Q:  I am planning for plants around my pool and want a tropical look. What can you tell me about the papyrus plant? I have purchased three 3 gallon pots and want to know how quickly they spread. I live in the Callahan area

A: Since you live in Callahan, you fall under zone 8 which does put a limit on the type of tropical plants you can use.Papyrus I am not sure which type of papyrus you have, but there is an umbrella papyrus, Cyperus involucratus, which prefers boggy sites but can survive in drier areas. Another common papyrus is Cyperus papyrus, which would survive better if placed in a watery environment. However, both papyruses are found in common man-made ponds and water gardens which have recently become so popular. The umbrella sedge reaches heights of 2-6 feet and is classified as a tender perennial, which means it will die back in cold temperatures but should return once spring occurs. Both are very attractive, grow quickly, propagate easily and are easy to find in nurseries. We also discussed bamboo, which I strongly suggested you confine your choices to the clumping variety to avoid angry neighbors and law suits. I of course say this in jest, but truly running bamboo often does not stay confined to one area and will end up in your neighbor’s yards. Therefore, choose wisely! When you go to the nursery ask for tropical plants that will survive in your zone. You might consider a native hibiscus too. The bloom is beautiful and certainly lends a tropical flare.


Q:  My pittosporum shrubs have nodules along the stems where new branches are formed.  What is causing this? 

A:  These growths are galls formed by fungi or bacterial organisms.  Pittosporum GallThese organisms generally enter in when the plant is pruned or there is a crack in the bark resulting from freeze damage.  Most likely it occurred when pruning in order to keep this large shrub/tree, which would like to be over 8 feet tall, at a 2-3 foot height.  I have recently seen this same gall formation on hydrangea. Notice they form at the juncture of where new growth of stems and branches would occur. You mentioned you were thinking of moving these shrubs but I do not think they are the best specimens for transplanting.  I would purchase smaller pittosporum (in 1-3 gallon containers) and plant those instead.  Allow them enough space to reach the height and width they desire and they should produce a beautiful hedge.  If you need smaller specimens there are dwarf varieties of pittosporum, Indian hawthorn, and holly which would be a better choice for limited spaces. 

Q: My Pittosporum has light brown or tan spots on the leaves. What is causing this?

A: Angular leaf spot, caused by Cercospora pittospori Plakidas, Pittosporum leaf spotwas first described in 1949 and is common in field and landscape plantings of Pittosporum that are not routinely sprayed for its control. Symptoms of angular leaf spot are light-yellow to pale-green and tan angular spots, developing first on upper leaf surfaces. Leaf spots have straight borders (angular) due to the restriction of fungal growth through the leaf by veins. Leaf lesions commonly have indistinct margins, with spot patterns similar on the leaf undersides as well. Severe infections on immature leaves occasionally result in leaf distortion and may cause severe drop of lower leaves. The key to recognition of this leaf spot is the characteristic angular shape. Warm, wet weather favors leaf spot development as well as overhead irrigation. Weekly applications of fungicides may be necessary to control this disease. Since C. pittospori produces spores solely from the lower leaf surface, it is extremely important that all fungicides be applied evenly to both leaf surfaces for rapid and effective control. Be sure to follow the directions on the fungicide label and spray just after each new flush of growth. Clean away leaf and twig litter and use sanitary methods when pruning shrubs. I just discovered this disease on the Pittosporum at my office shortly after all the rain we had from the hurricanes. I suspect we will see more of this disease this year than ever.


Q:  I have several plumbago shrubs in my yard but one of them is white.  Do I have a mutation? 

APlumbago, Plumbago auriculata, is most commonly found with blue flowers however one of the specific cultivars of plumbago, ‘Alba’, produces white flowers.plumbago

Plumbago is a perfect plant for low growing hedges or a nice backdrop for smaller perennials or annuals. It can grow up to 5 feet tall with an equal spread. Flowering will occur best when planted in full sun although this shrub will tolerate some light shade. Plumbago requires little watering after it is established but it would need supplemental watering if your area experiences a drought. It has few disease or insect issues which make it a nice plant for people who are not full time residents.  Some pruning might be required to keep it off driveways and sidewalks.

In Northeast Florida, it will die back during colder temperatures but return during the spring. This year, in the UF/IFAS Nassau County Demonstration garden, I have seen the plumbago full of adult butterflies which are drinking the nectar from the flowers. Because of its beauty and ability to attract wildlife, please consider adding this plant to your garden. Attached is a link to more information on the plumbago from the University of Florida:

Q:  Why is my plumbago shrub not doing well?  I have seen the one in the UF/IFAS Nassau County Demonstration Garden and the ones at your Yulee satellite office.  They all look beautiful.  What am I doing wrong? 

A:  It helped to have a clipping of your shrub because I was able to detectPlumbago mites which contributed to the shrub’s decline.  Consider some light pruning to remove heavy infestations on the limb tips along with horticulture oil sprayed directly on the plant leaves and stems. In addition, applying imidacloprid as a soil drench around the root area should help you control the mites. This chemical is taken up by the roots and goes through the vascular system ending up in the leaves and flowers. When the insect feeds on the plant tissue they take up the chemical and die.  We would not recommend you use this on all your plants but only those having insect infestations.  Both the horticulture oil and imidacloprid can be found at most any garden center. Plumbago, Plumbago auriculata, is best grown in zones 9-11.  Remember those of you along the east part of I-95 are in cold hardiness zone 9a while those of you on the west part are in 8b. This means plumbago may die back completely if temperatures become too cold for long periods of time.  In your case, since you are in zone 8b, this plant is slightly out of its comfort zone. This may place some undue stress on the plant making it may be more susceptible to insects or disease.  But do not be discouraged as it may well survive in your area although it does have one strike against it. Be sure to protect plumbago if temperatures drop below 32 degrees, especially during its first few years in the ground. Allow for plenty of room as it can reach heights of up to 10 feet with an equal spread. This makes it a poor specimen for directly up against the house. Plumbago prefers part shade to part sun but I have seen it planted in full sun with some success too. Its periwinkle blue flowers are unusual in the plant kingdom making it a prized plant. The flowers bloom from spring through the fall. Plumbago is slightly drought tolerant but does not need to be watered as often as lawn grass.  It can live in most any soil condition making a wonderful plant for new home sites. However, if the soil pH is too alkaline the leaves will turn yellow from mineral deficiencies. There is a white flowered plumbago cultivar called ‘Alba’. 

Q:   I love the blue flowers of the plumbago, but I like planting natives and plants that attract butterflies.  I am torn, should I add it to my garden?

A:  Absolutely, feel free to add this lovely plant to your landscape. While it is not native to Florida, it does behave itself, have very few disease or insect issues, and the butterflies and hummingbirds love it.  Well, quite frankly, I am a fan too.  When I say, it behaves, I mean it does not escape and end up in our wildlife areas, overtaking native plants and altering the natural habitats. Diversity is very important, and although we advocate for native plants, we should be equally open to include those trees, shrubs and flowers which would provide additional benefits to our local wildlife.

Q:  How can you tell the difference between the native Florida privet and the invasive Chinese privet? 

Chinese privetA:  Both have shiny leaves which are attached to the stem directly across from each other (opposite). The most distinct difference will be the flowers.  The native Florida privet, Forestiera segregate, has small flowers with almost no petals and each flower contains greenish yellow or reddish purple stamens (male flower parts).  The Chinese privet, Ligustrum sinense, has long clusters of white flower petals.  It can easily reproduce from suckers and if disturbed can reproduce quickly in addition to its large seed production.  Chines privet is native to China and was introduced into the United States in 1852 for use as an ornamental shrub. Generally, it was planted as a hedge and mass plantings and sometimes as a single specimen for its foliage and profuse small white flowers. The variegated form, which can ultimately revert back to its solid green relative, continues to be widely sold in nursery and gardening centers although it was recently be placed on the Florida Noxious weed list.  This plant successfully overtakes native species then alters the flora and fauna balance.  It becomes especially abundant along fencerows, streams and it has the ability to invade forests.  Truly, this is a plant no one should have in their landscape. 


Queen's Wreath

Q:  My friend brought me this beautiful vine from south Florida.  She says it has clusters of purple flowers on it from late spring through the fall.  What can you tell me about it? 

A:  This plant identification would have been difficult had you Queen's Wreathnot brought a sample to the office – especially since it was not blooming at the time. The plant is commonly called Queen’s wreath or Sandpaper vine, Petrea volutbilis. According to Dr. Ed Gilman, professor, UF/IFAS, this plant is a fast growing vine which originated from the Caribbean. It is a vine with a similar overall look of Chinese wisteria when viewed from a distance. The leaves are rough to the touch which is where one of its common names was derived. Queen’s wreath also comes in a pure white flowered variety. This plant is a true tropical, belonging to cold hardiness zones 10-11. This means the vine should be grown only in the southern most parts of Florida although it is possible for it to survive here in some isolated areas. Therefore, please be careful about planting Queen’s wreath in areas around wildlife preserves and conservation greenways as it can become weedy and in some cases it is considered invasive. Photo from University of Connecticut.  


Q: I have a large hedge of red tips and some of them are dying. Can you give me some idea of what might be causing this?

Red tip photinia A:It is often difficult to determine the cause of declining woody ornamentals without inspecting the site. After visiting your home and digging around the root system it became a little easier to find a suspect.Red tip photinia, Photinia X fraseri, are beautiful hedge plants that can reach heights of up to 20 feet. They are easy to grow, like full sun and well drained soils.After discovering the shrubs had very small and weak root systems for their size, I believe the irrigation system you have on them has probably caused a root rot. Some of the shrubs will not recover from the damage, but the others have some hope if you remove the water hoses from around their root systems.Once these shrubs have been established, which usually takes about 3 – 6 months you no longer need to water them on a regular basis. Normal rainfall and lawn irrigation should provide enough water to keep the shrubs healthy. You might have to apply more water if we develop a drought situation, but watering them weekly is really unnecessary. Watering only the first few months of establishment should hold true for most of our landscape shrubs with the exception of our flowering shrubs such as azaleas, gardenias and camellias.

Saint Andrews Cross

Q:  Can you identify this shrub for me?  I found it in the woods behind my house and it is really a small shrub. 
A:  The clipping you brought into the office along with your photos made the identification a little easier.  This yellow flower belongs to the St. Johns’ wort family and your plant is most likely St. Andrew’s cross, Hypericum hypericoides.  It is found throughout most of the states east of the Mississippi river; as far north as New York state and native to these areas. This low shrub with a thin, open, upright growth habit is common in dry woods.  It looks very similar to Hypericum stragulum, and to make things even more confusing this plant is also called St. Andrew's cross.  But the leaves on this shrub are wider at the top.  Both plants have four narrow petals of the bright yellow flowers which form a cross hence the name - St. Andrew’s cross.  This low shrub is fairly common in dry woods where it prefers partial sun. St. Andrew’s cross tolerates most any type of well-drained soil.  It can be propagated by seed and generally takes 1 - 3 months to germinate.  When the seedlings are large enough to handle plant them in the ground sometime in late spring once the threat of frosts are over. If they become overgrown and division is required it is best to separate the shrub in the spring. 



Q: I would like to know what the bushes are along the roadside. They were blooming white flowers but now they have produced fluffy, white tufts that look similar to the dandelion.

A: The shrub you described is probably the Eastern False-Willow (Baccharis hamilifolia)Saltbush or Saltbush. It blooms in the fall between September and October then produces the cottony fruiting heads containing the seed which are seen in November through December. It is a woody, evergreen shrub which grows 1-4 feet tall and the plant is dioecious meaning has either male or female plants. The heads of the male shrub are yellow-green while the female produces the white flowers and plums of white seed heads. This shrub is found throughout Florida often along edges of salt and freshwater marshes, old fields and various disturbed places, both wet and dry. False-Willow is considered a desirable browse species for white-tailed deer although it has not been shown to be of value to any other wildlife and in fact may be toxic to certain animals. It is unpalatable to cattle but may replace palatable plants often used by cattle.

Shrimp Plant

Q:  What is the plant just outside your office door?  It did not seem to have any trouble making it through the winter this year. 

A:  The plant you noticed outside the Nassau County Extension satellite office is the shrimp plant, Shrimp PlantJusticia brandegeana. There are several varieties of this plant which range in color from yellow to red.  Part of the reason it did so well was we planted it in a protected area. It received warmth from the building and the sidewalk.  It can be grown in any part of Florida.  In warmer climates, shrimp plant is considered an evergreen but for those of us in the northern areas, the plant will die back in the winter and return during warmer temperatures. This is such a popular plant it is found in many summer gardens across the U.S and Europe. At maturity, it reaches heights up to 3 feet forming a large mound.  Shrimp plant prefers consistently moist soil but not wet.  At the office, the shrimp plant has the root area covered with pine straw mulch.  We seldom add additional water except during extreme drought.  Hummingbirds and butterflies are frequent visitors enjoying the nectar it provides. You do not need to purchase a large number of shrimp plant; in fact, our grouping came out of the yard of one of the Master Gardener volunteers.  It started with only about 2-3 plants.  Shrimp plant requires very little attention so it is a perfect plant for the novice gardener. 


Q:  I would like some dwarf, evergreen shrubs to plant in the front of my house.  I do not have much space but I also do not want to be spending a great deal of time pruning them to keep them short. Do you have any ideas? 

A:  The following list of shrubs will grow to about 4 feet tall with a spread of about 3-6 feet. Try any of the following evergreen shrubs for smaller areas such as Rose Creek, Francis Mason, Prostrata, Sherwoodii which are dwarf varieties of Abelia for full sun areas. These shrubs are evergreen as long as temperatures stay above 10 degrees Fahrenheit. Pittosporum cultivar called Crème de Mint is a variegated form reaching heights of only 3 feet with about the same width. Poet's Laurel, Danae racemosa, produces pretty orange berries in the fall for those shade to partial shady sites.  Prostrata; Radicans Variegata are some examples of dwarf gardenia which will provide fabulous, fragrant flowers if you have partial sun to partial shade and acid soil. Indian Hawthorn cultivars Olivia, Eleanor Taber, Indian Princess, and Gulf Green will grow in full sun to partial sun areas.  These particular Indian Hawthorn shrubs are resistant to the pesky leaf spot which plague so many other shrubs in this family.  Although they are not evergreen, there are several dwarf varieties of crape myrtle which we often overlook.  Consider one of the following: Chickasaw (3 ft tall), Firecracker (3-5 ft), Ozark Spring (3-5 ft), Pocomoke (3 ft.), or Victor (4 ft). Then, of course, consider some of the smaller bush or drift roses. We have plenty of choices so there is no reason to plant one of the standard tree varieties of viburnum, ligustrum, holly or pittosporum as they would prefer being 12 – 20 feet tall.  Trying to keep them at 3-4 feet is brutal. 



Q:  I need to block out the view of my neighbors yard.  What kind of shrubs grow best in this area? 

A:  You mentioned Red Tip Photinia but as you have noticed many nurseries have stopped stocking them because they can contract a serious disease called fire blight.  However, we have several other plants that grow quite tall and should provide you with a good screen cover.  Think about wax myrtle, viburnum or pittosporum.  Southern wax myrtle, Myrica cerifera, takes a variety of soils, grows in full to partial sun and can reach heights 12-15 feet.  Plant should be placed 10 feet apart, watered well at establishment but will then need no further care.  Wax myrtle is moderately drought tolerant but can tolerate salt spray.  It may have an occasional worm defoliate leaves but those can be easily pruned out to control any potential infestation.  Sweet Viburnum, Viburnum odoratissium, grows quickly in full sun or partial shade in a wide variety of soils.  It is moderately drought tolerant but it is a poor choice for salty areas.  This plant can reach heights of 18 feet and will spread about the same width. It is generally free of pests and easy to maintain.  Pittosporum, Pittosporum tobira, grows in partial shade to partial sun on a variety of soils.  They can reach heights of up to 12 feet with a 12-18 feet spread. Plant should be placed 3-5 feet apart.  It is highly drought tolerant so little water is needed after establishment.  Consider using all three and staggering them between each other.  They all have different colored leaves and the growth habits are complimentary.  These are just a few choices but they should be enough to get you started.

Q:  After attending one of your lectures I realized I had planted several shrubs too deeply on my property.  They were put in the ground about two months ago.  Should I dig them up and replant them or is it too late? 

A:   Go ahead and replant them although they will probably go through a slight shock.  You may see some yellowing of the leaves and potential leaf drop but don’t be too alarmed.  Be as gentle as possible when pulling it out of the ground as the real harm comes in disturbing the fine hair-like absorbing roots near the surface.  Add soil to the bottom of the hole and place the shrub back in the same hole.  The top roots should be just above soil level.  Remember to add no soil amendments or fertilizer and slowly put soil back into the hole to avoid forming any air pockets.  You can add some water once the hole is about half full then fill in the rest of the soil.  Water it well and treat it as a new transplant, which means you water frequently for several weeks.  Add a light layer (2-3 inches) of mulch (pine straw or pine bark).  Keep the mulch away from the trunk leaving an area of about 10-12 inches bare soil so the water can reach the root area easily.  It may suffer a little initially, but in the long run the plant will have a better chance of survival and be a healthier looking plant. 

Silverleaf Croton

Q: I am finding this plant all over my beach front property.  It is invasive? 

A:  I appreciate you bringing in a clipping of this plant which always makesSilverleaf Croton it much easier to identify. It is not an invasive plant but rather a native coastal plant called silverleaf croton, Croton punctatus. It is also know by other common names such as Gulf Croton and Beach-tea. It is classified as an annual or a short-lived perennial reproducing by seeds.  I have attached a photo of the seedhead which was taken from Mr. Duncan at the University of Georgia. Silverleaf croton loves the sandy soils of coastal beach areas and is extremely drought tolerant. Silverleaf croton is one of many important sand dune plants essential for reducing erosion by keeping the sand dunes in place.  It can provide shelter for small animals and invertebrates. 



Q:  I found this evergreen shrub at one of our beach public access areas.Silverthorn  I would normally not have noticed it but with most of the plants brown from the winter it happened to stand out.  Can you tell me what it is? 

A:  Since you brought in a clipping of it I was able to better identify it.  The shrub is most likely Silverthorn, Elaeagnus pungens. This plant is a non-native and has been classified as a Class II invasive which means it is a plant to watch as it has the potential for becoming a problem in wildlife areas. Most likely, the local government would be interested in removing it from the public site and this is the time of year to best control it as it is easy to locate.


Q: We moved here in April and have this wonderful bush in front of our house.  However, we don’t know the name of it and have not been able to find it in any of the books we have looked through.  Plus, we have some questions about it. Is it native to this area? How tall will it become? Can it be easily moved?  If so, what time of year is best? Does it need a lot of water? Will fertilizer cause it to loose its variegated color? This is a wonderful specimen and we want to take the best care of it.  Our house is about 4 years old so it hasn’t been here a long time. Thanks for any information you can offer.

A: This lovely shrub is called Snow Bush, Breynia nivosaSnowbush Snow Bush prefers to grow in Central and South Florida, but it might survive here a few winters if it is protected and if we do not have a true hard freeze.  A hard freeze occurs when temperatures go below 28 degrees for more than 4 hours.  It is possible in warmer climates for it to reach a height of 8 feet with a 4 foot spread.  It is planted under a tree however it does best in full sun.  There is no indication that Snow Bush is drought tolerant however we know it is not salt tolerant.  The flowers it produces are green and inconspicuous but you should see pretty red berries, which are almost an inch long.  If you choose to move it I would suggest you do so in the late winter, perhaps February.  You should prune the roots of this shrub 10-12 weeks prior to transplanting it into another area.  Continue to water it during that time in order to encourage the shrub to grow new roots.  When transplanting the shrub into a new hole, dig it 2 to 3 times the width of the root ball.  Add nothing to the new plant hole (no fertilizer or organic soil).  After planting your shrub at the same depth it was previously planted simply water it for several weeks until it is established into its new environment.  Do not fertilize until 2-3 months later.  You may use the same fertilizer you use on azaleas or camellias, but do not over do it.  Follow the directions on the fertilizer label.  Adding fertilizer around the root area should not alter the color of the leaves; they are naturally variegated in colors of white, green, red and pink.

Southern Wax Myrtle

Q:  My Southern wax myrtle died and I suspect it was because it was in an area where water was standing for more than 24 hours.  What can I plant in that wet area?

A:  The site must truly have been too wet for Southern wax myrtle to have died as this is one plant which is normally able to handle occasional changes in soil moisture.  However, I know of no plant able to handle flooding to the point in which the oxygen is completely removed from around the root area. I suspect this is exactly what happened to your wax myrtle.  Too much water can displace the oxygen and cause the plant to suffocate. The best thing to do is redirect the moisture to another area which will allow other choices of plant material at the site.  Without altering the accumulation of water I am afraid nothing will succeed. Another possibility would be to bring in more dirt and fill in the area. Either way, the area will need to be altered if you plan to put landscape plants on the site. There are some possible choices if the site receives occasional moisture.  A few wet site tolerant plants are Oleander, Euonymus, Silverthorn, White honeysuckle, River birch, Bald cypress, Black gum, Lace bark, American Elm, Pindo Palm, Needle palm, Red maple, Windmill palm, Ligustrum, Tea Olive, Cast iron plant, Tree Sparkleberry, and Oakleaf hydrangea.


Q:  Can you identify this shrub for me?  

A:  It is in the genus Lyonia.  The portion you brought into the Yulee office appears to be a StaggerbushCoastal plain staggerbush.  It is found in Georgia, the lower portions of South Carolina and throughout Florida except possibly, the far western portion of our panhandle. It grows well along the edge of wetland areas as well as higher, flatwood pine sites. Pollinators and birds can be found swarming when the dainty, bell-shaped flowers are in bloom.  I love to see how active the insects are around it in the blooming season. It is a native plant, requires very little care and it appears to have few problems with any disease.  Lyonia is an evergreen shrub which can grow to heights up fifteen feet.  Some of the plants in the Lyonia family can cause minimal allergic reactions by producing a rash if the plant sap comes in contact with skin.  If you are sensitive, you might want to use personal protection such as a long sleeved shirt and gloves when pruning or working with or around this plant. 


Q:   What can you tell me about the Titi plant? 

A:  Swamp Titi, Cyrilla racemiflora, is a shrub/tree often found in wetland or Titi flowersswamp areas. It is known by a few other common names such as Swamp Cryilla or Leatherwood.  The wood is of no commercial value. If allowed to grow to its potential, Titi can grow up to 30 feet tall but most often grows to about 15 feet. Titi prefers moist, acid soil but it has been known to tolerate dry periods.  It is blooming now, in the late spring, here in Northeast Florida.  I have seen many Titi plants growing along the roadside especially on the west part of Nassau County. The shrub can be found growing from Virginia down to Central Florida over to Texas. The flowers are called racemes, which look similar to four to six finger-like structures bearing white to cream colored flowers. These racemes hang down from the tips of the branches providing a lovely display for passers-by. The leaves are oblong and dark green and the tree is often mistaken for Redbay trees. According to Virginia Technical University Extension, Titi flowers do not attract butterflies but the tree is used as a food source for white-tail deer.  Bee keepers prize the Titi as the flowers provide sufficient nectar for honey bees.  The honey made from the Titi flower is reported to be of excellent flavor. If you have areas in your yard, which periodically receive and retain water then this tree would be a good choice. 

Q:  What is the shrub growing along the roadside which has five finger like flower structures?  I have never noticed it before and it appears to be everywhere. 

A: Thanks for bringing in a clipping which made it easier for me to identify.  The shrub is most likely, White Titi (Cyrilla racemiflora L.).  This shrub is often called summer ti ti which is a common tree or small shrub, found in swamps and on stream banks from Alachua County northward.  It blooms May to July. It usually produces little nectar, but in heavy production years, like now, it is considered undesirable because the nectar and pollen are responsible for a condition known as "purple brood," which kills the brood, turning it a rich purple color. In areas where White ti ti abounds and there is a history of such problems (Taylor and Jefferson Counties), beekeepers routinely move their bees away when the White Titi is blooming. White Titi plant should not be confused with spring Titi, black Titi or the Buckwheat tree,Cliftonia monophylla.  The photo attached is of the White Titi tree. Let’s look at the trees a little more closely and make some comparisons.  White Titi is deciduous (drops its leaves in the fall) whereas the Buckwheat tree is evergreen. The flower of the White Titi has the long (3-6 inches), finger-like structures blooming downward in the late spring to early summer. The flowers of the Buckwheat are small, white to pink, 5 petals, occurring in upright clusters at the branch tips, 2 - 4 inches long, appearing in spring.  The fruit of the White Titi is long whereas the fruit of the Buckwheat tree is rounded and winged similar to a buckwheat achene. 


Sweet Allyssum

Q: What can you tell me about Sweet alyssum? I saw it in a hanging basket, draping over the sides, and it has such a pretty white flower cluster.
A:   Sweet alyssum, Lobularia maritima, is a hardy ground cover annual whichSweet Allyssum grows to about 10 inches tall and spreads about 1 foot wide. Dense clusters of tiny snow-white, pink or purple flowers bloom continuously throughout the growing season, which in our area is winter through early spring. The flowering time can be lengthened by pinching off any of the dead or dying blossoms.  There are several varieties and the one you saw has a spreading growth habit which makes it a perfect specimen for hanging baskets. Sweet alyssum thrives in partial sun to partial shade, in almost any soil however they will produce fewer flowers in full sun and poor soil conditions. For more complete information about the annual check out the attached University of Florida publication:

Turks-cap mallow

Q: I am seeing a rather large shrub right now which has red, flowers.  The do not spread open, but hang down.  It reminds me of a hibiscus that never opens. 

A:  I believe you are describing Turks-cap mallow, Malvaviscus penduliflorus.Turks Cap Mallow It is very easy to grow, tolerates most any type of soil but blooms best when exposed to full sun. In our area, it is a true perennial which means it will die back in the winter but should return once temperatures become warm.  It is in the mallow family which explains why it reminds you of a hibiscus.  Some people have called it the sleeping hibiscus.  The flowers will always hang down and never open up fully – they are supposed to droop, which is why the species name is penduliflorus.  I have roughly translated penduliflorus to mean - hanging flower.


Q:  What is causing these spots on my viburnum shrub?

A    I am glad you brought a clipping of the leaves to oneViburnum Backterial Blight of the plant clinics we conduct twice a month.  The spots in my photo have a watery edge around the spot which indicates the possibility of bacterial blight. Generally bacteria will stay confined within the net-like veins of the leaves.  Bacteria are normally present on plant surfaces and will only cause problems when conditions are favorable for their growth and multiplication. These conditions include high humidity, crowding, and poor air circulation around plants. Over-head irrigation of plants can provide a film of water on the leaves where bacteria can multiply. Too much, too little, or irregular watering can put plants under stress and may predispose them to bacterial infection. Other conditions that produce stress include low light intensity, fluctuating temperatures, poor soil drainage, heavy layers of mulch, deficient or excessive nutrients. Prune infected leaves, but avoid excessive handling of diseased plants. Clean pruning shears between each cut otherwise the disease will be transferred from one plant to another. If more than one third of the plant is involved, prune infected leaves over a period of time, since removing too many leaves at one time will put the plant under further stress. If the disease is systemic and has spread throughout the plant, affecting the stems as well as the leaves, the plant will most likely not recover. We recommend destroying the plant to prevent spread of the bacteria to healthy plants.


Q: I always get confused between viburnum and ligustrum.  They look the same to me.  Can you help me remember how to tell the difference between them? 

A:  Well, let’s start with how they are alike which is why telling them apart mayligustrum be causing you problems.  Viburnum and ligustrum are both evergreen (although there are some deciduous viburnum) shrub/trees and have glossy green leaves.  The leaves are arranged on the stem the same way which is directly opposite each other.  Both of them are commonly used as a foundation plants in home landscapes and commercial sites. Both of them can grow to heights of about 12 feet. We often see them pruned too short, 2-4 feet, but they would really like to be much taller. Both viburnum and ligustrum can be grown in full sun to partial shade, they require little care, but can both be troubled by fungal leaf spot and piercing/sucking insects. Viburnum has nearly 80 species growing here in the U.S., whereas ligustrum has a much smaller number of varieties. Now telling the difference will be easiest by looking at a leaf from each shrub. The edge or margin of the ligustrum leaf has no serrated edges or “teeth”.  When you look at the viburnum leaf you will notice the edge or margin of the leaf does show serration or teeth.  The flowers and fruit are different too but you should be able to see the leaves on either of the plants most of the time.  So now, you will always be able to tell the difference between the two shrubs.  It is a great tool to use for helping children or grandchildren become better at observing the world around them – even in your backyard!

Q:  What is wrong with my viburnum? There are spot on the new leaves only. 

A:  Thanks for bringing in clippings from your plant. I was not sure about this so I sent photoThrips samples off to the University of Florida Pathology Department in Gainesville. I was not able to discern the problem initially as I could not locate any fungal spores or insect bodies. One of my fellow agents from Southwest Florida, Jim Moll, had the same problem and e-mailed me immediately. It is so wonderful to have such a fine network of knowledgeable professionals watching my back. The problem is a very tiny insect called thrips. By the way, they are called thrips whether there is one or a thousand. Thrips scrape the plant tissue rather than pierce into the leaves and suck the fluid. The damage will show a browning of the plant tissue similar to a scar once the upper layer has been removed. The reason I was not able to locate any insects was they are residing in the flowers. Once I knew to look in the flowers and not just on the leaves the little critters were easy to find. I simply tapped the flowers over some white paper and sure enough I could see the tiny black adults and beige nymphs. There are several products available to control this insect so look for products with the active ingredient imidocloprid, pyrethroid or carbamate.  You might try applying horticulture oil to the flowers too. 

Q:  What can you tell me abut the ‘Awabuki’ viburnum? 

A:  ‘Awabuki’ is a specific cultivar of Viburnum odoratissimum or Sweet viburnum.  This cultivar has all the same characteristics of other Sweet viburnum but we do not plant it as often because it grows best Central and South Florida which are cold hardiness zone 9a-11. We are in zones 8b-9a. That does not mean it cannot survive here under certain conditions and in specific micro-climates. However, planting it here may put it under a stressful situation and cause it to not perform at its peak. ‘Awabuki’ can reach heights up to 20 feet with an equal spread. Allow for plenty of space otherwise you will spend too much time pruning which will cause you and the tree to be unhappy. ‘Awabuki’ tolerates most any sunlight and soil condition. It is susceptible to the same pests and disease of other viburnum – leaf spot being one of the more common problems. Like most any other woody ornamental shrub or tree, ‘Awabuki’ does not like to be watered by an overhead sprinkler system. The best method of irrigation is directly at the root area.  ‘Nanum’ is a dwarf variety which would work better in smaller landscape spaces.

Q:  What are these growths on my ligustrum and viburnum?
 A:  The growths on your plants appeared to be Oedema.  This condition occurs Oedemawhen roots take up water faster than it can be used by the plant or transpired through the leaves. Water pressure then builds up in the internal cells of the leaf causing them to enlarge and form tiny swollen blister­like areas. Oedema appears as small, sometimes corky blisters which will eventually harden to form white, tan, or brown wart­like corky bumps on the lower leaf surface. In severely affected plants these corky growths also form on petals, petioles, and stems. As injury continues, leaves turn yellow, droop, and fall off.  Plants may become spindly and growth ceases. This condition most often occurs on drought tolerant plants when we receive large amounts of water (rain) during short periods of time. In addition to the rain we received with the hurricane Fay we also had several rain showers in which did the water not drain quickly.  There is no chemical spray to correct the damage on the leaves.  Some light pruning to damaged areas might help the appearance of the shrubs or trees.  However, as long as the leaves remain green they continue to produce carbohydrates for the plant and are therefore useful.  Be careful not to remove too much of the plant canopy as this will cause further stress.  

Q: Are viburnum deciduous or evergreen? My gardening books list various species in both categories but my gardening friends and folks at the nurseries insist they are all evergreen. I'm so confused! Thanks for your help. I've downloaded much of your gardening information off the internet and it has been very helpful so far.

A: The gardening books are sometimes confusing because they are not entirely Viburnumdealing with Florida.  Viburnum is generally classified as an evergreen although one viburnum called the Rusty Black Haw is deciduous. Viburnum tolerates a wide variety of soils from alkaline to acidic. It adapts well to different light conditions from full sun or partial shade, which makes it a great plant to use as a hedge. Viburnum produces many pinkish-white, fragrant, early spring flowers, followed by ornamental blue-black fruit which attract birds. Young shrubs grow mostly upright, eventually spreading slightly to form a vase shape. Although old plants reach to about 20 feet tall, most grow no taller than about 12 feet. The upright, dense, evergreen form makes it a good shrub for background, barrier or screen plantings, especially if there is not much room for a wide spreading plant. Stems are strong, keeping the plant upright, even when in flower. This is a terrific plant that can be grown in all regions of Florida. Check out:

White Titi (Cyrilla racemiflora L)

Q:  What is the shrub growing along the roadside which has five finger like flower structures?  I have never noticed it before and it appears to be everywhere. 

A: Thanks for bringing in a clipping which made it easier for me to identify.  The shrub is most likely, White Titi (Cyrilla racemiflora L.).  This shrub is often called summer ti ti which is a common tree or small shrub, found in swamps and on stream banks from Alachua County northward.  It blooms May to July. It usually produces little nectar, but in heavy production years, like now, it is considered undesirable because the nectar and pollen are responsible for a condition known as "purple brood," which kills the brood, turning it a rich purple color. In areas where White ti ti abounds and there is a history of such problems (Taylor and Jefferson Counties), beekeepers routinely move their bees away when the White Titi is blooming. White Titi plant should not be confused with spring Titi, black Titi or the Buckwheat tree,Cliftonia monophylla.  The photo attached is of the White Titi tree. Let’s look at the trees a little more closely and make some comparisons.  White Titi is deciduous (drops its leaves in the fall) whereas the Buckwheat tree is evergreen. The flower of the White Titi has the long (3-6 inches), finger-like structures blooming downward in the late spring to early summer. The flowers of the Buckwheat are small, white to pink, 5 petals, occurring in upright clusters at the branch tips, 2 - 4 inches long, appearing in spring.  The fruit of the White Titi is long whereas the fruit of the Buckwheat tree is rounded and winged similar to a buckwheat achene. 


Wild Coffee

Q: My friend gave me a small shrub.  She said it is a native wild coffee plant.  What can you tell me about it? 

A:  Wild coffee, Psychotria nervosa, is a Florida native shrub which gets its commonWild coffee name from the small, red, fruit it produces. Fruit resembles the true coffee bean. The leaves of this plant are generally 6 inches long, with very distinct vein on the upper surface. There are fine hairs along the underside of the leaf main mid-rib.  The shiny, dark green foliage gives a rich texture to any landscape. The plant produces small, white flowers which occur at the end of the shrub branches during the warm months of the year. Wild coffee is a moderately drought tolerant plant which grows in partial shade or full shade and well drained soil. If it is grown in full sun, its leaves will be pale yellow. A plant in the full shade can grow into a small tree with an open canopy. It is better suited for cold hardiness zones 10b-11, which remember is south Florida.  Wild coffee will require protection during the winter if grown in our area. It looks very similar to the invasive plant called coral ardisia but coral ardisia is cold tolerant. 

Yellow Elder

Q:  Last year I transplanted a Tacoma Stans to a spot where it would get a little more sun and growing room. It rewarded the move by almost doubling in breadth, adding 30-40% in height.  About one week ago I saw one healthy 6 foot shoot with all of its leaves shriveled.  Frankly, I felt it was probably a borer or even a cut from the maintenance people. Yesterday morning the entire plant was bearing 1/2 shriveled leaves.  What could be wrong?

A:  Your plant is called Yellow Elder, Tecoma Stans, and it most likely has a root rot.  This plant grows well in poor, sandy soils with little water.  I suspect it is receiving too much loving care in your yard and is not accustomed to being treated so well.  Yellow Elder can become weedy and in some areas even an invasive plant, however I do not think you need to worry about that possibility.  It will probably respond better to even more sun if you can supply it so consider moving it again to a sunnier spot.  You may also want to allow it to grow in our native sandy soil.  

Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow

Q:  While in Huntsville, Alabama I read about an outdoor plant with sweet aroma flowers called “Yesterday, today, and tomorrow.”  Please tell me if you have any information about it.  Would it grow here in north Florida? I would love to hear all about it. 

A:  “Yesterday, today and tomorrow”, Brunfelsia grandifora,Yesterday Today and Tomorrow is an evergreen shrub which normally grows best in cold hardiness zones 9b-11 (Central and South Florida). The west part of Nassau County, Callahan, Bryceville and Hilliard, are in cold hardiness zones 8b.  However, you may be able to protect this tender tropical plant enough for it to survive.  It will be most susceptible to freeze damage the first few years it is planted in your yard. After that, it should be acclimated to the site and you would need to protect it only during hard freezes of 32 degrees and below. If you decide you want to try it, I would suggest you plant it in the spring to give it time to become acclimated to your site.  It prefers partial sun so be sure to keep it away from full afternoon sun. It can reach heights of up to 6 feet with 6 feet spread.  The flowers are indeed fragrant and change color from blue to white. All parts of the plant are poisonous so be sure to protect your curious pets if they are prone to eating plant seeds and foliage.