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Ask Dr. Hort: Overwatered blue plumbagos, mysterious pepper plant eaters

Blue plumbago

Times (2010)

Blue plumbago

Plumbagos feeling blue

Q: In 2006, a landscaper planted blue plumbagos on one edge of our property. About a year ago, they began to die.

They get direct sun much of the day and indirect sun at other times. Our lot is graded, so the house is raised up slightly above the surrounding land, and the plumbagos are planted at the foot of the grade where water drains off our property. I'm thinking that they have root rot from too much water.

However, we live on an island and the soil is very sandy, so I would think that drainage is excellent anywhere. Is there anything I can do to save them? If not, what type of flowering shrub could I plant in their place?

Alex Richardson, Holmes Beach

A: Plumbago withstands all kinds of environmental conditions except wet soil, so you diagnosed the problem correctly. You have two options: Fix the drainage problem or choose plants that can handle the extra water during the rainy season, which natives are used to.

I don't know your specific cultural conditions, other than wet, so I'll give you some native plant choices that should work on your island that you could further investigate: Wild coffee, Psychotria nervosa, fire bush, Hamelia patens, or Walter's viburnum, Viburnum obovatum. They all have attractive flowers and/or fruits and are bird friendly.

A great seaside native is silver buttonwood, Conocarpus erectus var. sericeus. And, if a screening plant is needed, southern wax myrtle, Myrica cerifera, is perfect.

What's eating the pepper plants?

Q: I am having a problem with something eating the foliage on my bell and hot pepper plants, and it also seems to be eating the young peppers from the plants. Do you have any idea on what might be clearing all the leaves from these plants? Buzzy Misiura

A: It sounds like caterpillars. Check leaves for little black balls, which are frass (caterpillar poop). The tinier the poop ball, the tinier the caterpillar.

Cutworms are prevalent this time of year, which rest in the soil during the day and munch on foliage and fruits at night. They are black and brown and blend into the soil.

Spray Thuricide, Dipel or Bt, totally covering the foliage. Bt, Bacillus thuringiensis, is a bacterium that only kills caterpillars, especially when small and totally harmless to humans. As the caterpillar munches it gets a bellyache and dies.

Need help? Dr. Hort (Greg Charles) answers questions about garden problems. Email him at 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: Overwatered blue plumbagos, mysterious pepper plant eaters 12/17/11 [Last modified: Saturday, December 17, 2011 3:30am]
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