Landscaping and gardening problems (Google / News-Press)

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Stephen Brown: Landscape practices differ from gardening

QUESTION: Once again our community’s landscaping company came through all our yards and hard-cut our Ixora, Hibiscus and Thryallis shrubs that were all just beginning to get flowers. It is my understanding that hard pruning in April is too late. Now these shrubs will have no flowers at their peak blooming time. Is that correct? Or am I wrong? It is so frustrating and sad to see bushes ready to bloom reduced to sticks and little leaves, and see them like this all summer long.

– Sandra, e-mail

ANSWER: On many community properties landscaping, not gardening, is practiced. The landscapers are often bound by contracts that require the pruning of shrubs at set intervals, often as short as every six weeks. These landscape maintenance techniques were often formulated by individuals and boards not familiar with the plants they were charged to manage.

Many contracts require shrubs to be cropped to planes and angles rather than to allow them the freedom of growth and bloom. Thus, plants are often severely pruned just as they are about to flower, stifling their beauty. On landscapes and in gardens, plants will require pruning, but pruning can either detract or add to the beauty of ones surrounding. It should not always be done so as to leave the plants holding sticks.

Education of others in the community will also be essential so as to redefine “beauty plant.” While April is not the best time to prune, when done correctly it should hardly be noticed by the residents.

Q: I am again attempting to grow a foxtail palm in some poor soil in a new development. I planted two foxtails some time ago. One is healthy and robust; the other performed poorly so I removed it and planted a new one about eight weeks ago. On the new foxtail, two fronds have already died from the bottom up with leaves on two more starting to dry up. What is your opinion of adding mycorrhizal fungi to the soil?

— Martin R., Cape Coral

A: One of the most important activities of soil fungi is the association between certain fungi and the roots of higher plants. The association is called mycorrhizae, a term meaning “fungus root.” The fungus and the plant both benefit from the relationship.

In a natural ecosystem, mycorrhizae relationships are the rule, not the exception, and some plants cannot survive without this relationship. The mycorrhizal fungus obtains sugars directly from the plant’s root cells. In return, the fungus grows directly into the soil, extending the plant root system and capturing nutrients the plant’s own root hairs cannot absorb.

For this reason and more, the use of mycorrhizae has been a powerful tool in certain aspects of agriculture. Best success is obtained in nutrient-poor soils and in accurately matching the exact fungal species with the right plant species.

However, for palms and some ornamentals, the use of mycorrhizae has not been successful. Recent University of Florida studies using a variety of fungi have not resulted in significant attachments of the fungi to the roots of palms. These fungal products did not stimulate palm growth.

Growing foxtail palms will take free-draining soils and patience. After planting, many palms often lose their lower leaves. Foxtail palms in particular will not grow until its roots are properly established. That can take as many as two years.

Q: On our golf course, I noticed the leaves of a number of trees turning a rusty carrot color and falling. I wish I could tell you what the variety is but I don’t know. One would think they are dropping leaves because they are water-starved, but is it a possibility that they are deciduous trees and this is their time to shed some leaves?

— Rose Marie, e-mail

A: South Florida is replete with trees of tropical origins. While we expect orthern trees to bare their branches in fall and winter, most trees originating south of the Tropic of Cancer surreptitiously drop their leaves.


— Stephen Brown is a horticulture agent with the Lee County Extension Service. Submit questions by calling the horticulture desk at 533-7504 between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. or by e-mailing Visit his Web page at

Published by

Willem Van Cotthem

Honorary Professor of Botany, University of Ghent (Belgium). Scientific Consultant for Desertification and Sustainable Development.

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