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Ask Dr. Hort: Congratulations! Your ponytail is about to flower

Congratulations! Your ponytail has matured

Q: I am in a quandary. My 25-year-old ponytail palm has sprung several strange, towering growths. I have attached photos. Can you tell me what is going on?

Cindy Durant, Clearwater

A: This is a cause not for concern, but for celebration. Your ponytail has reached adulthood and is getting ready to flower. The flower stalk will continue to grow to 3 to 4 feet and will be covered with a panicle, or spray, of white flowers and, if you are lucky, some fruit will set, housing seed for your next generation. I hope you're young enough to see the next generation through adulthood. A note of clarification. Ponytail, Nolina recurvata, is actually not a palm at all, but is in the agave family along with century plants, dracaenas and yuccas.

Orchids easy to grow in a live oak

Q: Can orchids be grown on a live oak tree? If so, what kind would be best and where could they be obtained?

Cornelia Gallagher, Palm Harbor

A: Yes, you can grow epiphytic (without soil) orchids in your live oak tree. The trick is to mimic as closely as possible the orchids' natural habitat, including light, water, temperature and growth habit, with light probably being the most limiting. Schomburgkia, Oncidium, Encyclia, Epidendrum are genera that will take high light. Phalaenopsis, Cattleya, Brassavola, Odontoglossum and Dendrobium would do better in shadier parts of your tree. Mount them on the south side of trunks and branches for increased light and away from north winds. Use cotton twine to attach larger specimens, and hot glue or Liquid Nails to attach smaller pseudobulbs or rhizomes. The best time to mount orchids is spring to give the plants all summer and fall for the roots to attach. Mist daily if it doesn't rain, and in no time your oak will be full of blooming orchids. Talk to the professionals at Allison's Orchids in Seminole or the Art Stone shop in St. Petersburg for recommendations.

Too much fertilizer harms podocarpus

Q: I live in south St. Petersburg and had four 6-foot podocarpus planted in October. They did fine for the first few months, but now two of the four are turning brown on one side. I fertilized with 666 in March, sprayed triazicide for spider mites in May, fertilized with 888 in May and water once a week. What could be my problem? Jim Huston, St. Petersburg

A: Fertilizer is the culprit here. You're killing your podocarpus with too much care! Podocarpus should not have a spider mite problem and one fertilization in four to six months is plenty. Using a hose, rinse as much fertilizer as possible away from the plants and continue to water to leach as much fertilizer as possible through the root zone. Hopefully what's left will recover.

Starting from scratch in front yard

Q: We are in the process of purchasing a home in Spring Hill and would like to make the front yard a "low-water/low-maintenance" area. It is sandy and there is almost no grass, so it would need a complete "redo" in any case. Although there is a sprinkler system installed, we would prefer to conserve water and have an attractive yard without an expensive arrangement requiring a lot of maintenance.

Tom and Irene McCarthy, Spring Hill

A: I would hire a certified landscape contractor (look for the FCLC notation) for what seems like a large project, including retrofitting your existing irrigation system to a low-flow, water-conserving one. You will need to decide how much of the yard will be lawn and how much will be developed into plant beds and ground covers. While in the design phase, choose a theme like native plants or a butterfly-attracting yard. By using low-flow irrigation and grouping plants in beds based on water needs, your plant palette is endless.

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, city and contact information. If possible, include a photo. We will print his advice on Saturdays in HomeLink.

Ask Dr. Hort: Congratulations! Your ponytail is about to flower 06/18/10 [Last modified: Thursday, June 17, 2010 5:13pm]

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