Ask the Practical Gardener, December 2010

By on 3 December, 2010 in Gardening, Mark Montoya, Outdoors with 5 Comments
In addition to his regular columns providing gardening advice, our own Practical Gardener, Mark Montoya, has agreed to start answering questions as a semi-regular feature here at Midtown Montgomery Living. If you have a question for Mark, email it to us at midtownmontgomeryliving[at]!

Dear Practical Gardener,

My azaleas seem like they are out of control! Is it okay to cut them back now?

-Ginny, Montgomery

Dear Ginny,

The general rule in regards to pruning azaleas is to wait until after they have bloomed. You have until the end of May to do it. If you want to cut them back very hard, do it immediately after they bloom. A very severe pruning is called restorative pruning and makes old azaleas actually fill out much more. Of course, they will look terrible for a while and your neighbors will think that you have lost your mind. If you cut them back now with frost on the way, you will have no new growth develop. Without that, you will have no flowers, and you will probably have to trim them again in the spring to find live branches that could be rejuvenated.

Dear Practical Gardener, I feel like I failed at growing hydrangeas this year. I planted two last fall. It was so hard to keep them watered during the drought, and they never really flowered after their first flowers early in the summer. What can I do over the fall and winter to try and make sure they have a better year next year? – Roger, Montgomery

Dear Roger,

Some varieties of hydrangeas cannot take the extreme heat that we in Montgomery have had week after week in the summer. It is not just the water. For now, you can cut off the dead blooms and dead canes. Do not trim any live branches, because that is where the foliage and flowers will come from in the spring. Loosen the soil around the plants and add some rich top soil and some clay. The clay should be the red type like you find in Forest Hills, Capitol Heights, and Dalraida areas. Clay helps to keep moisture in the ground. Fertilize and work some aluminum sulphate into the soil around them now.

Dear Practical Gardener,

What are those weird green ball-type fruits that look like brains falling around here in the fall and winter? I’ve always been curious.

-K.S., Montgomery

Dear K.S.,

What kind of brain looks like a MOCK ORANGE? These trees out west are called Osage oranges. Farmers used the very hard wood for fence posts in the olden days because it would not rot – instead, they take root. Southern and southwestern old folks have both told me this. That is why these trees they border so many  pastures. They also have thorns which keeps cattle from  escaping. This could just be one of those stories — like the other one that I heard as a child which was that as houses get older, they move closer to the street.

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There Are 5 Brilliant Comments

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  1. Jay Croft says:

    About the Osage oranges–

    I’ve also heard that the oranges, when placed in sheds, etc., will keep roaches away. Any truth to this?

    I enjoy your blogs, Mark. Thank you!

    • Mark Montoya says:

      Dear Jay ,
      I have never heard this but I can’t imagine that it could be true. When mock oranges begin to rot the smell and decay is disgusting. It seems to me that this would invite roaches. I am one that will try anything once but I have to tell you I just don,t find this tip at all worth the efforts. Maybe mock oranges could produce ethanol or beer. You would think that by now someone would have come up with some use for them.
      Thank you for your comments, Mark

      • Elizabeth Ann Brown says:

        I have a colleague who tried the mock-oranges-for-roaches suggestion and got what you suggest, stinky rotten mock oranges when she got back from vacation. It might keep roaches away, but everyone else, too. Has anyone ever tried to dry them? I love the color in table arrangements in the fall when they’re fresh.

  2. Jay Croft says:

    Dry the roaches? Oy veh!

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