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Ask Dr. Hort: Growing new palms from heads and seed

Choosing ground cover for a steep slope

Q: I have a steep sloping portion in my back yard that I want to fill with some ground cover. I want to prevent erosion but can't use grass due to the steep slope. I would like to plant perennial peanut, but I have heard that during cold months it dies down and is brown. I also was thinking of sunshine mimosa, but I don't know much about it. Which one should I plant? Can I mix the two?

Jana V. Nythruva, Orlando

A: You have chosen two wonderful ground covers in perennial peanut, Arachis glabrata, and sunshine mimosa, Mimosa strigillosa. You could use both, but I would plant separately as the peanut will overgrow the mimosa. They both look a little rough in the wintertime but will still keep your soil from eroding. In conjunction with your ground covers you might also add some upright, clumping grasses such as zebra grass, Miscanthus sinensis 'Zebrinus'; maidenhair grass, Miscanthus sinensis 'Gracillimus'; Chinese fountain grass, Pennisetum alopecuroides; red fountain grass, Pennisetum setaceum 'Rubrum'; pampas grass, Cortaderiera selloana; and last but not least, muhly grass, Muhlenbergia capillaris, our superb native clumping grass. These can also look a little rough through the winter, but do a great job in holding the soil on your slope. If you'd like butterflies, plant or direct seed blanket flower, Gaillardia pulchella, a super native wildflower that will reseed, along with red salvia, Salvia coccinea. These choices would make one gorgeous summer hillside.

Growing new palms from heads and seed

Q: I read your article on becoming a "sago surgeon" (Dr. Hort, May 22) and will save it for future reference when mine starts a new head. My question is, can the same surgery be done on a ponytail palm? I have two in my yard that had a lot of "babies" last year. They are again producing new growth and I would love to start new plants. Another question: I have a roebelenii palm that is in bloom. Can the seed pods be planted to start new plants?

Linda Carsell, Spring Hill

A: Yes, you can remove the shoots that arise from the base or the main stem of the ponytail palm. Plant in builders sand, just as you would do with sagos. Now, about the pygmy date, Phoenix roebelenii, in flower. Most palms have two flower stalks on the same plant (referred to as monoecious). The cream-colored stalk is the male; the green one is the female. After pollination and fertilization are complete, seeds will form on the female. As they ripen, they will turn brown, like a coffee bean. Clean off the brown flesh, plant the seeds in a sterile media (such as Pro-Mix), water and wait. In about six weeks you should have roebelenii babies.

Simple steps may help camellia bush bloom

Q: I planted a small camellia bush in a filtered sun area three years ago. The first season I had many lovely flowers. Last season, just a few. The bush has not flourished and now is developing brown spots on the margins of the leaves with some of the tips turning brown. I have applied fertilizer several times since planting. Can you help?

Patti Boylan, Dunedin

A: First check to see if you planted the camellia too deeply. Dig down with your fingers; the surface roots of the camellia should be right on the surface of the existing soil. If that is not so, dig the plant out and reset accordingly. Then, make sure any mulch is pulled back 2 to 3 inches from the crown of the plant and your fertilizer placement is outside the drip line, not up against the stem. The browning could be from improper fertilizer application. Do not overwater, and hopefully you'll be bloomin' next winter!

Problems inherent with reclaimed water

Q: Can you tell me where I might get a list of plants, flowers, etc., that are compatible and not compatible with reclaimed water in the West Pasco area?

Josie Crane, New Port Richey

A: You can go to your local extension service for advice. However, in dealing with reclaimed water for the past 20 years, I only saw some problems with azaleas with overhead irrigation. During drought times, when water is low in the system, soluble salts, usually chlorides, can go up and can cause some leaf scorch. Reclaimed water is also not recommended for vegetable gardens. But the biggest problem, by far, that I see with the use of reclaimed water is people use way too much, which leads to a very unhealthy landscape.

Need help?

Greg "Dr. Hort" Charles answers questions about landscape and garden pests. E-mail your questions to or to (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: Growing new palms from heads and seed 08/06/10 [Last modified: Thursday, August 5, 2010 1:59pm]
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