Ask the Gardener: Magnolia tree, cactus care, avocados and more

Posted on: September 10, 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.

There are three ways to send in your questions:

  • Email askdoug@535mediallc.com
  • Submit your question on our “Your Garden” section of our site
  • Send us a message on Facebook.

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

Question 1: Magnolia tree

Paul: I have a gorgeous yellow magnolia that seems very healthy. I raise the canopy a bit every spring and at approx 18 feet now, it is flourishing. This year, I noticed two of the branches have crossed, applying significant pressure on each other. I was wondering if I should remove one of those branches or leave it alone. Taking a branch would leave one side a bit bare, but it will fill in eventually and I want to do what is best for the tree.

Doug: It’s a beautiful tree for sure. If it was me, I’d be tempted to remove the crossing branch. I would wait until next spring, right after it bloomed unless you don’t care about the flowers on that branch, as the buds are already there.

Take your time and use two or three cuts. You start out away from the trunk for the first cut so that when the branch falls, it won’t rip off bark on the tree. Then you are left with a more manageable-sized branch to remove.

Question 2: Cactus care

Sharon: My cacti have loved the hot summer on the porch and done well. With cooler weather now, I will bring them in the house. How do I keep them happy since the heat won’t be the same as the sun? Just make sure they have lots of light?

Doug: The most important thing you can do is keep them on the dry side. They will be fine on the windowsill, but not as happy as out in the sun. Keep them very dry with no fertilization and then they will be ready to go outside again in May.

Question 3: Avocado tree

John: I have a 9-year-old avocado tree, about 4 feet tall that I grew from seed. The plant is in a ceramic pot that’s 8 inches high and wide. Its leaves are on the top 6 inches of the plant. The tree is a “house” plant, in a room that gets plenty of afternoon and evening sun with adequate water.

The leaves on the tree appear “wilted”, otherwise the plants look healthy with no indication of any disease. Allow the soil to dry between watering. Jack’s fertilizer is applied twice a year. Why do the leaves appear wilted?

Doug: Usually I would say it’s too much or not enough water, but you obviously know how to water indoor plants. I would be tempted to repot into a bigger container with some new planting mix. That’s a very small pot for such an old plant. When you do repot, look at the roots and see if there’s any sign of fungus or rot.

Question 4: Bleeding hearts

Carol: I’d like to move my bleeding hearts as they’re getting smothered by bamboo. Should I do this in the fall?

Doug: You could do it in the fall if it’s still standing or early in the spring when it emerges.

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Doug Oster is manager and editor of Everybody Gardens with a passion for gardening and a love of sharing is experiences with other gardeners. You will also find Doug’s gardening contributions in the Tribune-Review each week. He’s an Emmy Award winning producer, television host and writer. Oster is co-host of The Organic Gardeners Radio show every Sunday morning at 7 a.m. on KDKA radio in Pittsburgh. Oster’s Outstanding Documentary Emmy was awarded for Gardens of Pennsylvania, a one hour special he conceived and produced for the PBS affiliate WQED. Doug appears every Thursday morning on KDKA-TV’s Pittsburgh Today live at 9 a.m. “Gardening is fun, he says, enjoy every day spent outside tending vegetables, flowers, shrubs and trees.”