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Ask Dr. Hort: Trim plumeria at planting time

Plant, trim plumeria; explore ground covers

Q: I have a couple of questions for you.

• In the Seminole/St. Petersburg area, what would you suggest to plant or put under an oak tree for a ground cover? All we ever have had is sand. Also, we do not have a sprinkler system.

• We have several plumeria that were planted in the ground in containers. When would be the right time of year to remove the containers and replant?

• The same plumeria need to be trimmed. Is there any good or bad time to do this? Would trimming and transplanting at the same time be too much of a shock?

Jeff Redett, St. Petersburg

A: I'll start with the plumerias. Go ahead and do your trimming at planting time, making sure to plant flush with the existing soil grade. Water it well and keep watering for the first six weeks. Use a slow-release fertilizer when planting, placing the product on the surface, not in the hole. Start your planting around mid March.

Now, some shady ground covers for your oak: Boston fern (Nephrolepis exaltata 'Bostoniensis') is very easy, especially without irrigation. Over time, you'll need to keep it in bounds. Or better yet, try a great native fern, fishtail fern (Nephrolepis biserrata 'Furcans'). English ivy (Hedera helix) and all of its cultivars are always good-looking, but slow to get started. Spider plant (Chlorophytum capense), more commonly used as a hanging basket, makes a great ground cover as well. Or you can use some of the many terrestrial bromeliads. That should get you going and growing!

Knee high is right for oak-leafed hydrangeas

Q: When should I prune my oak-leafed hydrangeas? How much should I trim?

Pam Antinori, Tampa

A: Great plant selection! Since they can grow tall and leggy, cut them down to knee high. Pruning can begin now.

Roots of ornamental ginger are not edible

Q: I see quite a few ginger plants and wonder if the roots are edible. Thanks for your time.

Maureen Dunphy, Port Richey

A: Edible ginger, cardamom and turmeric are the primary culinary plants in a large plant family loosely called gingers. Unfortunately there are many very attractive ornamental gingers, none of which are edible even though the foliage, when crushed, has a ginger smell. Best get your ginger from the grocery and not the neighbor's yard.

Cutting travelers tree close to trunk is okay

Q: I have a travelers palm that is 8 years old this year. In my opinion, it is/was a beautiful specimen. However, with the freeze in 2008, the 12 to 15 fronds we had were knocked back to four. After working with it, we got it back to fullness and wham! The 2009 freeze hit. Now not even one frond in good shape. My question is, would it be safe to cut back all the fronds, as ridiculous as it would look, and wait for new ones? They are just dangling there and we can't stand looking at it any longer.

Also, is there a proper way to trim these? I try to keep a smooth look to them.

Harry and Barbara Garrabrant, St. Petersburg

A: It would be fine to behead your travelers tree. Cut the fronds back as close as possible to the trunk for cosmetics and wait. Soon your tree will be traveling once again.

a little direction

The time has come to prune plants back to their new buds. Clipping shrubs and trees down to a quarter of an inch above a new growth bud will help direct where you want the new shoots to grow. Most plants can be pruned and shaped this way. Look at the natural direction of the bud growth to see which direction you can send the new growth. And don't forget to compost your clippings.

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 and contact information. If possible, include a photo. We will print his advice on Saturdays in HomeLink.

Ask Dr. Hort: Trim plumeria at planting time 02/26/10 [Last modified: Friday, February 26, 2010 3:30am]
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