Ask the Gardener: Gardenias, arbor vine, hydrangeas and more

Posted on: September 28, 2019 | Written By: Doug Oster | Comments

Everybody Gardens editor Doug Oster gets asked a lot of questions. A lot. And he doesn’t mind offering gardening advice. But rather than just limiting those answers to the person who asked, we thought it might be a good idea to share that wealth of knowledge with everybody.

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(The questions may be lightly edited for grammar/clarity/etc.)


Question 1: Struggle with gardenias

Dixie: I bought a lovely gardenia plant. It had lots of buds, which the deer nipped off. I brought it in and was careful with watering. It gets bright window light and no sun, and I have not fed it, I’m not seeing any bugs, but it’s not doing well. I know gardenias are notoriously difficult, but I’m hoping to save it and may try spraying it with neem. Any suggestions?

Doug: As you said, gardenias can be difficult to grow. The first thing to look at is watering. Many gardenias are killed by kindness, too much water. Lift the pot to see if it’s heavy, and push your finger down in the soil to see the moisture level. If the pot is light and the soil is dry, it needs water. If the opposite is true, let it dry out.

There’s no need to reach for neem without sign of insects, and don’t fertilize the plant until spring. The days are getting too short for the plant to use the nutrients. Once you get the water right, keep the plant in that lighting and hopefully next year you’ll coax some buds out of it and then some fragrant flowers.

Question 2: Arbor vine

Carolyn: I’m very proud of my little five-leaf akebia. When and how much can I prune it? It is always dropping little pieces of dead branches. The is probably because I keep cutting off the long pieces that are growing down & hanging under the arbor where people walk through.

Doug: That’s a beautiful plant, one that’s new to me. So it’s always OK to remove any part of the plant that’s invading people space. The plant is aggressive and is best pruned annually right after the flowers fade. But it’s all right to prune during the season if it’s getting out of hand. The only time you really NEED to prune it is when it gets out of bounds.

popsicle hydrangea

Question 3: Popsicle hydrangea

Karen: Can you please tell me how to winterize a popsicle hydrangea so that we get the most blooms next year. It’s a panicled hydrangea tree (as opposed to a bush).

Doug: I believe it to be a type of Hydrangea paniculata, which blooms on new growth. I wouldn’t do anything special to the plant except give it some good organic fertilizer in the spring. Other types of hydrangeas need protection as they bloom on last year’s wood, so no worries for Popsicle.

Question 4: Planting grass after tree removed

Gene: In the spring I had a large blue spruce removed from my yard. The arborist ground out the roots and removed most of the debris. He then put down about one inch of top soil and planted grass covered by straw. It was watered faithfully and only a few small patches of grass grew. I have since roughed up the topsoil with a garden rake twice and planted more grass seed (Pennington) and watered faithfully. Still no grass. I have been told by a neighbor to put down some lime as the spruce probably left the soil with too much of an acid content to grow grass. Any suggestions on what course of action I should take next?

Doug: Your neighbor is probably right, but there’s no way to know how much lime without a soil test. Your county’s Penn State Extension will sell you a test for $9 that will give you all the information you need to get that lawn working for you. Once you get the results, there will be recommendations to let you know how much lime and/or fertilizer to use. Don’t give up, because there’s still plenty of time to plant grass seed.

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