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Ask Dr. Hort: How to care for grapefruit tree, palms

In search of palm and citrus tree identification, care instructions

Q: I am moving into a house that has one citrus tree and a few palm trees. I've never cared for either. What concerns me the most is the citrus tree. I think it has been more than two years since these trees have had any food. It has one section that appears to be dead. The tree is about 15 feet tall, has a lot of "sooty mold" and some rather small fruit that look like oranges. I have eaten some — the flesh is pink and it tastes like grapefruit.

I can distinguish two varieties of palm: One is quite tall with the kind of bark that appears smooth and gray; the others have a fuzzy-looking bark and they are quite short with several trunks coming from what may look like a single base. The palms look healthy, but the citrus does not. I want to save its life and enjoy its fruit. Vera Nielsen

A: It sounds like you have a queen palm, Syagrus romanzoffiana, single, smooth gray trunk, featherlike fronds with no thorns. The other appears to be clumping. If the frond is featherlike and has needlelike thorns at its base you most likely have a Senegal date, Phoenix reclinata. The best fertilizer for your palms is an 8-2-12 palm special applied in May and October.

For your grapefruit tree: Prune out the dead wood and continue pruning to reshape the tree. This pruning should take place now and the tree should be fertilized with the same fertilizer that you used on your palms. The fertilizer should be distributed from one-third inside the drip line (the outer edge of the crown of the tree) to two-thirds outside the drip line. Irrigate after application. Fertilize again in May and October with your 8-2-12 and supplement with essential minor elements plus sulfate of potash in July. Pinellas County's fertilizer ordinance does not allow nitrogen or phosphorus to be applied June through September so we need to be creative with the application of other nutrients. (For fertilizer restrictions in other areas, consult your city or county.)

Is grass dead? Alive? Get to the root of the problem

Q: I live in Weeki Wachee and have lost all my floratam grass because of frost damage. What should I select as a replacement? Claudia Farrow

A: Floratam St. Augustine grass shouldn't have died due to cold temperatures alone. It grows north of Florida. Are you sure your grass is dead? If so, have a professional find the real reason, grubs perhaps, before you replace your lawn. If, in fact, total replacement is warranted, rethink your entire landscape. Consider some plant beds, herbs, other edibles, fruit plants and trees, ground covers or maybe a rose garden. If turf is the choice, Bahia is a full-sun grass, whereas St. Augustine will take more shade. Weeds can be controlled either way. Bahia also requires much less irrigation. Get all of your questions answered by the professional, and then do some serious thinking. It's quite a project!

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.

Need help?

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: How to care for grapefruit tree, palms 03/19/11 [Last modified: Saturday, March 19, 2011 5:30am]

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