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Ask Dr. Hort: Fight nematodes for your figs

Help figs fight off nematodes with irrigation, fertilizer, organic mulch

Q: I purchased three turkey brown fig tree bushes last year and planted them in large pots. I had tried them before in the ground, but nematodes attacked.

The bushes are growing, but they have long, lanky stems with many leaves, and did not bear fruit in the fall. When I had them in the ground, at least before the nasty bugs got to them, they produced fruit within months.

I was wondering if I should cut them way back to the base to strengthen or just leave them alone. Your help will be greatly appreciated. Jayne Benz, Seminole

A: Figs put out an extensive root system, and they may be too restricted in your pots. They also need to be in full sun with ample moisture so they don't become leggy.

Figs normally fruit in the spring on the previous season's wood and again in the fall on new growth. It is best to prune figs after they fruit, so as not to interrupt their cycle. You might want to try again in the ground, but this time water and fertilize more.

You are right about the nematodes. They love figs. Grow their roots faster, ahead of the nematode attack. You can purchase drip (low-flow) irrigation kits. Create a drip ring around your fig to give it ample moisture. Then, really push your figs' growth with an 8-0-12 fertilizer, or similar (with 50 percent being slow-release) in February, May and October, plus an addition of Essential Minor Elements in August. A good organic mulch, like the cities' recycled yard waste, 2 to 3 inches deep over the root system, will help drive the nematodes down, as they don't like organics. You should get several years of fig production. You'll just have to fight the birds for your crop!

Baby your desert rose plant till spring

Q: There is something infecting my wonderful, large desert rose plant. It has had beautiful blooms. I do not want to lose it. I have sprayed with a "flower and garden" spray, to no avail. It has had black spots but no fuzzy or noticeable bugs. Do you have any suggestions? Marcia

A: With the chilly nights, desert rose, Adenium obesum, wants to be deciduous, that is, lose its leaves. With the yellowing and small leaves, before it releafs this spring, a healthy dose of soluble fertilizer would be in order. The spots are secondary at this point. Sweep up leaves and discard. Bring the plant inside if the temps drop below 40. Your little jewel is just going to look a little naked for the next couple of months.

Cut with disinfected shears

Q: I have a beautiful desert rose plant. Right now it looks like it is in bad shape. Should I wait until spring to cut it back or prune? I'm hoping it will come back. Grace Goodrich

A: I am assuming that it froze in December. If so, it would probably be best to cut it back to live tissue to ward off bacterial diseases. Dip your clipper in a solution of 1 part bleach and 10 parts water between cuts to ward off disease. Make sure to cut back to crunchy green wood. It should branch from that point.

Need help? Dr. Hort (Greg Charles) answers questions about garden problems. E-mail him at drhort@tampabay.rr.com or mail questions to HomeLink, Features Department, St. Petersburg Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731. Describe problem in full, and include your name, city of residence and contact information. If possible, include a good-quality photo. Fuzzy ones won't do. Photos cannot be returned.

Ask Dr. Hort: Fight nematodes for your figs 01/14/11 [Last modified: Friday, January 14, 2011 3:30am]

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