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Ask Dr. Hort: Go ahead and cut back bougainvillea

Papaya, Carica papaya

Photo by Dan Engelken

Papaya, Carica papaya

You can cut back bougainvillea

Q: I have a bougainvillea that has gotten long and has a lot of flowers at the top foot or so but is just bare canes after that. I live in west-central Florida on the Gulf Coast but about 7 miles from the water. Can I cut them back or just leave them alone?

Kay Flynn

A: You may cut your bougainvillea as far back as you like. It is a very fast grower and the more stems on the plant, the larger the flower show. Since bougainvillea blooms on new growth, usually a hard prune in the spring sends lots of new growth and, along with it, flowers. As the floral bracts (colorful part) fade, prune the branches back adding more new growth and along with it more flowers.

Oak leaves can be used in mulch mix

Q: We have a beautiful oak tree that produces a multitude of leaves. Could you please let us know if it is prudent to use these oak leaves as a portion of mulch for our raised bed garden? We were wondering if we might also put this abundance of oak leaves to some good use.

Jim and Jimmie Day

A: Oak leaves take quite a bit of time to break down, so as a portion of the media they should only comprise 25 percent of your mix, and make sure that they are well mixed with the other components. They work very well as a mulch between rows to keep down weed growth, and the rest should be composted. The following link will help you choose a composting method that works for you: Feel free to surf the Internet for other composting ideas. You will have a place for your kitchen scraps and oak leaves, reduce your waste stream and have a steady supply of cooked compost to add to your beds each season. What could be better?

That plant that popped up is a papaya

Q: Recently, a plant showed up on our porch planter, smack in the middle of a croton. The croton has been in the planter for over 15 years and never has a plant like this shown up in any of the enclosed porch planters. Would you please identify this plant and let me know if it is a weed or if we should let it grow?

Dan Engelken

A: The recent addition that popped up beside your croton (Codiaeum variegatum) is a papaya, Carica papaya, which will grow into a 15-foot tree (probably not the right plant for your interior planter). Who has been spitting seeds on the patio?

Need help? Dr. Hort (Greg Charles) answers questions about garden problems. Email him at or mail questions to HomeLink, Features Department, Tampa Bay 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. Please do not send plant samples.

Ask Dr. Hort: Go ahead and cut back bougainvillea 04/06/13 [Last modified: Friday, April 5, 2013 6:14pm]
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