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Ask Dr. Hort: Planting trees for shade and flowers

Planting trees for shade and flowers

Q: I'm looking for a recommendation on what type of tree I can plant in my yard to provide filtered light to grow bromeliads and possibly orchids. My yard currently consists of a variety of palms and a red bud and crape myrtle that were planted a couple of years ago. If possible I would like a tree that flowers at some point during the year. I am also looking for a tree that does not become as large as a live oak. Thank you for your help and consideration.

Suzanne Bogacki, Largo

A: It sounds like you have an interesting landscape. A much under-used and misunderstood tree is our native sand live oak (Quercus geminata). It is the baby version of the live oak, with all of the character, and only reaches 20 to 30 feet. One drawback is that it is very slow growing, but it would be a stellar anchorage for bromeliads and orchids. A second choice would be weeping elm (Ulmus parvifolia), even though it is not native. It has a great branching habit to hang your bromeliads. A deciduous tree to 30 feet with small leaves, it features a beautiful peeling bark, exhibiting gray, brown and reddish colors. Even though not known for their flowers, I think these choices are best for your application. A flowering choice would be the trumpet trees (Tabebuia spp.), which bloom in pink, yellow or white. These are 30-foot deciduous trees and with some age have a nice branching habit and a beautiful flower show.

Cut back perennials after a freeze

Last summer I planted a small bed of blue daze that grew rapidly and bloomed profusely. Then, the freeze followed in January, and the plants took a hit. Some had more cold damage than others, so I just "trimmed" each one, trying to prune out some of the dead. They're coming back, but I now wonder if I should have cut all the plants back completely.

Pat Bernitt, Lutz

A: It is always a good idea to severely cut back perennials, like blue daze and ground-cover-type lantanas, after a freeze. They will come back with tighter, more compact growth. Prune again lightly in mid summer to maintain shape and flowering habit.

For maximum color, choose impatiens

Q: I have a huge oak tree in my front yard. For years I had railroad ties around the tree and had flowers planted beneath the tree. When the railroad ties rotted and I took them out, I realized that this had caused the tree roots to remain very high (above and within the ties).

I've now planted Kimberly Queen fern around the base of the tree and it's doing well. I've put a black rubber border around the base of the tree to keep the soil in for the ferns. I want to plant something to hide the rubber border. I know I could plant monkey grass, but I'd really prefer something with some color.

Jo Cesta, St. Petersburg

A: If you are looking for maximum color, there's no better plant than impatiens (pictured) for the shade of the oak — all of the colors of the rainbow and as intense as fireworks. If you would like a more dynamic show of colors and textures, begonias (angel wing, oak leaf, trout leaf, rex, wax leaf) are limited only by how much time you want to spend gardening and collecting. Or you may want to kick back and plant a few perennials like firecracker flower (Crossandra infundibuliformis), flamingo flower (Justicia carnea) or shrimp plant (Justicia brandegeana).

Thrips do little harm to flowering plants

I finally found the right spot for the gardenia bush. However, I notice my plant and others in our neighborhood have these little bitty tiny black bugs on them. Any suggestions?

Barbara Turchiarelli, St. Petersburg

A: What you have are flower thrips. They do very little damage but do cause the petals to shatter prematurely. Lots of our flowering plants, like hibiscus, are favorites of thrips. No pesticide is needed.

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 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: Planting trees for shade and flowers 05/14/10 [Last modified: Friday, May 14, 2010 12:18am]
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