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Ask Dr. Hort: Become a sago surgeon

What is that pretty little flower?

Q: What are the red flowers at Eagle Lake Park?

Jeff Rodgers, Clearwater

A: I am glad you asked because they are blooming all over town, from vacant lots to urban landscapes. It is one of our most colorful, native wildflowers, Gaillardia pulchella. Being a wildflower, it does reseed, so be careful of its placement in your landscape.

Become a sago surgeon

Q: My 7-year-old sago plant, which had been growing with a single head, has begun developing a second head in the past two years. Now the plant looks like the letter "Y." Is this desirable? Personally, I think it looks unbalanced, and I'd prefer the single head version. How do I trim it? Can I plant the second head and get a new sago?

James Farrow, Weeki Wachee

A: Major surgery may be performed successfully with both the patient and the head surviving. With a pruning saw, cut the secondary head off at a slight angle so water will run off the remaining surface. Spray both open wounds with 1 part bleach to 9 parts water to help discourage disease problems. Cut all of the fronds off the severed head and plant in a pot with straight builders sand. Water weekly and hopefully in about two months you will see a new whorl of leaves shooting up to the sky. Like with any other major surgery, the large pruning wound left will be a potential entry site for disease and you've got about a 50-50 chance that the surgery will be successful.

Starting fringe flower

Q: I have put in three sets of loropetalum in my front yard to contrast with my snow on the mountain. They seem to take off well but suddenly begin to have dry leaves that fall off, and the plants die. Do you have any idea what might be happening? The first two sets I watered well for a week or so. The last set I left alone after I planted them because the nursery said they like to be dry. The bed has a cloth liner to keep out weeds, and over the cover I put pine bark nuggets. The bed faces east. There's no real shade for the plants until late afternoon.

Virginia Walker, Dunedin

A: Don't feel alone! Fringe flower (Loropetalum chinense) can act a little finicky getting started. Their USDA hardiness zones are 7 to 10, which means we are on the southernmost end of their growth range (zone 10). They actually like it a bit cooler. Because of this, they prefer some shade. They are also fussy about being planted too deeply. Make sure the top of the container root-ball is at least level with the surface soil, if not an inch or two above. Even though it is drought-tolerant, after establishment, it still requires a fairly long watering-in period. For a 3-gallon-size plant, build an earthen (soil) saucer around each plant and fill with water every other day for the first month, then twice a week for the next month, followed by once-a-week irrigation.

Need help?

Enter Greg "Dr. Hort" Charles, who for more than 30 years educated gardeners through the Pinellas Technical Education Centers. He answers questions about landscape and garden pests. E-mail your questions to drhort@tampabay.rr.com or to features@sptimes.com (put Dr. Hort in the subject line). Mail questions to HomeLink, Features Department, St. Petersburg Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731. Describe your problem in full, and include your name and contact information. If possible, include a photo. We will print his advice on Saturdays in HomeLink.

Ask Dr. Hort: Become a sago surgeon 05/21/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 25, 2010 2:12pm]

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