Ask Dr. Hort: How to protect snow bushes from decimation

Starting amaryllis from seed pods

Q: My neighbor gave me two seed pods from a lovely amaryllis. They are really fresh. Please tell me how to get some plants started from these.

Roberta Garrison, Dunedin

A: All you will need is time and patience. Once the pod has turned yellow and split open, there lie waferlike black discs, inside of which is a tiny black seed the size of a poppy seed. To propagate, purchase a soil-less mix (Pro-Mix, Miracle-Gro), which is mostly peat with some perlite, vermiculite and a wetting agent. Fill some shallow pots that have good drainage. Scatter discs on the media surface and lightly cover (about ½ inch) with your mix and place in a bright, but not full sun, area. Water every couple of days, keeping the mix moist but not wet, and in three to four weeks you'll have sprouts that look like grass. Plant in individual pots, in the same mix, when 1 inch tall. The plant will take three to five years to bloom (most of that time is spent developing a bulb). It may not look like the mother plant because most amaryllis are hybrids, but it will be fascinating to see what the kids will look like!

Weeds crowding perennial peanut

Q: In October 2009 we planted perennial peanut, in full sun, to fill a 10-foot-wide strip along the curb in front of our house. We have watered regularly and have hand weeded, but have never been able to keep the weeds at bay. An unidentified creeping weed, sand spur, crabgrass, dove weed, goose grass and others are well established now, and we're faced with using chemical weed control. Our goal was to use fewer chemicals and less water and now we are feeling a bit discouraged. We would appreciate your opinion.

John and Paula LaBrake, St. Petersburg

A: Some herbicides are labeled for use in ornamental beds of perennial peanut: Fusilade for grassy weeds, Image for sedges, and the amine form of 2,4-D, not the ester form, for broadleaf weeds. A surfactant (spreader sticker) added to the 2,4-D helps it stick better to the weed leaf; dish soap will work. Always spray a small section first to make sure you don't injure your ground cover. These products can all be sprayed over the top of your perennial peanut. All perennial peanut grows by rhizomes; the cultivars 'Arblick' and 'Ecoturf' are the most widely used because of their dense, flat growth and numerous flowers. Unfortunately it appears that where you planted your peanut was loaded with weed seed. Using some herbicides up front will help your peanut to establish, and once you have a good cover the weeds will be choked out. Don't give up!

Protect snow bushes from decimation

Q: We have numerous snow bushes in our yard; some we have had for years, though most of them are newly planted. All of a sudden there were hundreds of yellow/black-striped caterpillars all over them and they were eaten within days. Most of them are totally bare now. 1) What on earth caused them to come, 2) what can I do to rid of them, and 3) will my plants come back? Do I need to cut them back, do nothing or replace them?

Maureen Welsh, Largo

A: Not to panic, your plants will leaf back out, but then you will have to remain vigilant and arm yourself. If leaves are on the plant, keep them covered with products containing Bt or spinosad, which are bacterial products and safe for the environment. If there are no leaves or the situation gets out of control again, spray caterpillars directly with Sevin, a low-toxicity insecticide. You have, interestingly enough, snowbush caterpillars, which turn into navy blue moths with white-tipped wings that span 1 ½ inches and a red thorax. These moths also are day fliers, whereas most moths come out at night. Caterpillars seem to be quite prolific this year, probably due to our unusual winter. Perhaps their predators were harmed by the freeze. If you need to do some corrective pruning to shape or reduce size, now would be the time.

Bermuda grass difficult to seed and maintain

Q: I tried planting some "Vigoro" Bermuda grass seed 3 ½ weeks ago. I followed the instructions on the bag (plant in 2 to 3 inches of soil and water twice a day). I haven't seen one blade of grass. Do you have any suggestions for trying this again?

Roger Gingras, Seminole

A: Seeding a lawn in Florida is quite a challenge, and Bermuda adds another degree of difficulty. Is this a small area or an entire yard? Another question is why Bermuda? This is the most difficult grass to maintain of the four types for our area. But, if Bermuda is your choice, it should be seeded at a rate of 3 pounds per 1,000 square feet, raked in to a depth of ¼ inch and irrigated with ¼ to ½ inch of water per day. Germination should take 10 to 30 days. Sod is much quicker, but, of course, much more expensive. You might want to contact your local Extension Service to get more details on starting a yard in Florida. You can find your local office online at solutionsforyourlife.ufl.edu.

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: How to protect snow bushes from decimation 08/27/10 [Last modified: Thursday, August 26, 2010 4:40pm]

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