IN THE GARDEN

Posted: July 14, 2018 at 1:48 a.m.

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette storm damaged tree illustration.

Q I have a very, very large hickory nut tree about 34 inches in diameter that is dying. When the tornado went through Cammack Village some years ago, several small limbs were twisted and broken off at the top. About three years ago, a 60-mph straight wind broke off a couple of large limbs, which were sawed back. Any suggestions?

A Unfortunately, storms can take a toll on trees. When major damage is done to the tops of trees, it leads to a lot of internal decay, which further weakens a tree. Once the decline begins, it is very difficult to turn the tide. Water is the best recourse. That might help while it is so dry. If you see dead limbs, they can be removed, but if more than one-third of the tree is affected, I doubt you will have much luck saving it.

Q I read your recent piece in the paper about taking care of plants. I have a problem regarding fertilizing my hibiscus. For years I have bought two or three hibiscus for my patio. The patio is covered, facing south, and some of them get morning sun and some evening sun. I have never known what fertilizer to use. I researched on the Internet and even called two large garden centers in Little Rock. Everybody tells me something different. Some say high phosphate and some high potassium. Last year I used Vigoro Bold Blooms (15-30-15), and they didn't bloom much. This year I was using Scott's flower and vegetable (10-10-10), and I just have one or two blooms every now and then, so I stopped that. Just not having any luck. I'm going to go by what you say.

A You could line up 10 horticulturists and get 10 different answers when it comes to fertilizer and what to use. Gardening is not an exact science, and there are very few things that have hard and fast rules. I typically run from a speaker who says this is the only way to do something in the garden. I think the key to successful blooms on tropical hibiscus is full sun, water and regular fertilization. Tropical hibiscus plants bloom on the new growth. If they are in containers and you are watering daily because of this heat, the nutrition is leaching right out. I try to fertilize my container plants every week during the summer, using frequent, light applications. I also make sure the plants are not stressed when I fertilize. I usually select a complete fertilizer -- something with a fairly even balance of nitrogen, phosphorous and potash, aka N-P-K (10-10-10 is an example, but so is 12-12-12 or 13-13-13). I buy different brands with variable numbers. In the big picture, nitrogen leaches out the quickest, while phosphorous tends to last the longest. Nitrogen is needed for the plants to grow. I don't think one product is going to make that much difference, as long as you are using fertilizer and regularly. One application a season is not going to cut it, but you also don't want to overdo it at one time as you can burn the plants. Some gardeners love water-soluble fertilizer, while others opt for granules. I think they both work fine. For those gardeners who save their tropical plants from year to year, the plants often don't grow as quickly during the second season, and blooming can be reduced if they aren't pruned back, repotted and fertilized when they are moved from indoors to outdoors in the spring.

Q Is this poison ivy? [The reader sent a photo.]

A No, this is Virginia creeper. This plant is often misidentified as poison ivy, especially when young. Poison ivy has three leaflets, while a mature Virginia creeper has five leaflets. When young, the Virginia creeper has three leaflets as well, which makes it confusing. Look at the leaf arrangement. Virginia creeper leaflets are all attached at the same point, while poison ivy typically has the bottom two leaflets attached together and a smaller stem on the middle leaflet.

Q I planted a good-size lilac plant in late spring. Just lately some of the leaves are wilting. What should I do?

A Lilac plants are not big fans of hot, humid weather. The fact that you have a new plant and it is fairly large means it needs a bit of TLC this summer and extra water. It does not have an extensive root system yet, and so it will wilt frequently, especially if it gets a lot of afternoon sun. Mulch the plant well and water more frequently this year to aid in root establishment. They prefer morning sun and afternoon shade -- or to be planted in Michigan!

Janet B. Carson is a horticulture specialist for the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service. Write to her at 2301 S. University Ave., Little Rock, Ark. 72204 or email her at

jcarson@arkansasonline.com

Young Virginia creeper vines have leaves in clusters of three, but the mature creeper’s leaves are in groups of five.

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