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Ask Dr. Hort: Pruning viburnum, caring for frost-damaged foxtail palms

Properly pruning sweet viburnums

Q: I planted some sweet viburnums for a privacy hedge early last year. They are growing fast, but many times when I trim a branch to encourage lower shoots, that branch tends to die off. Because of this, some of them are really leggy and don't really produce new shoots from the bottom. It is very aggravating! I feed them, they get partial sun in the spring, full sun in the summer. I don't know if my pruners are too dull and should be washed with alcohol and sharper?

Also, I was told at a nursery that if you cut some of the white blooms it will help them grow faster? Is that true?

One more question: The new shoots that look like suckers growing out of the inside bottom part of the shrub, I don't know if I should cut them in half to produce more middle branches or let them grow?

Anna Ramsey, St. Petersburg

A: Sweet viburnum, Viburnum odoratissimum, grows plenty fast whether it has flowers or you prune them off. Take advantage of the fragrant blossoms, then prune. Cutting the internal suckers back halfway is a great way to help fill in the plant. And last but not least, when you prune shoots, always cut back to a leaf. Where there is a leaf, there is a bud; this is called a node. It is from this node that a new branch will appear. The distance between nodes (leaves) is called an internode, where no buds appear (and therefore no branches). It is this area that dies back when improperly pruned.

Caring for frost-damaged foxtail palms

Q: Being a palm fan, I bought a dozen or so foxtail palms, about 8 to 10 inches in diameter and about 8 to 10 feet high, 18 months ago and planted them with love and care in Clearwater, across from Ruth Eckerd Hall. After six to eight months, the trees started to crack vertically. I hired an expert who said to use less water and fertilize with 13-3-13 palm fertilizer, which I did. Also, I sealed the vertical cracks with the pruning seal "Spectracide," which has worked so far.

This past winter, all the fronds were frosted, but now the trees have new shoots. Some of the new fronds break from the stem and don't stay upright as they should. Two of the trees have no fronds at all and the stem seems hollow and almost dead. How can I better take care of these palms?

Mike Dabiri, Clearwater

A: Great choice in palms, wrong winter. Cracks in palm trunks can be caused by changes in water (too much or too little) or by planting too low at the onset. Dig down and see where the surface roots are; they should be on the surface, not buried 6 to 12 inches below. Tree straps at planting and freezes both can cause cracking. Usually these causes are not harmful; think of them more as stretch marks. Painting with pruning seal, research shows, is not a good idea. Like you, the palm does not appreciate asphalt, xylene and mineral spirits poured in or on a wound; let nature take its course. Your after-freeze fronds will gradually improve in color, structure and length, one by one, until they are back to normal. Remove the two with soft trunks to discourage insects and diseases from moving in.

Palms still show signs of freeze damage

Q: Our Christmas palms took a pretty hard hit this past winter. They seem to have survived, but new growth seems to have changed. New fronds that normally came in as spears to several feet in length and then opened are now coming out an inch or two and coming out opened and a bit deformed. Thank you for any help you can offer.

John Lovitz, Clearwater

A: The winter that wiped out Christmas palms is still showing its ugly face. The freezing temperatures damaged the bud or growing point that houses many fronds in their juvenile state. For many palms, the entire bud was damaged, resulting in the death of the plant. In your case, certain infant fronds were damaged, but fortunately not the entire bud, resulting in random mishaped fronds. Each new frond should look better than the last. Now is the time to fertilize with a micronutrient mix; I suggest SA Essential Minor L, available at your local garden center. The new growth will be in immediate need of iron, manganese, boron and zinc, which a quality micronutrient fertilizer will provide.

Need help? Greg "Dr. Hort" Charles answers questions about landscape and garden pests. E-mail your questions to [email protected] or to [email protected] (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: Pruning viburnum, caring for frost-damaged foxtail palms 08/20/10 [Last modified: Friday, August 20, 2010 4:30am]
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