DEAR NEIL: Does Yuletide camellia always bloom in November? That seems like an unusual time of year.
Dear Reader: It’s an older selection of Camellia sasanqua. That means it’s going to bloom a bit earlier than the Camellia japonicas, and it also means that it’s slightly more winter-hardy.
November and early December are its normal time to bloom. People love it for its semi-double red flowers with the conspicuous golden-yellow centers.
DEAR NEIL: Can I spray anything to make my sweetgum fruitless? I am really tired of the spiny fruit all over the yard.
Dear Reader: Unfortunately, no. They were sent out factory-equipped with those fruit and we’re pretty much stuck with them.
There is a grafted selection that is fruitless, but it’s not exactly the same as our standard sweetgums. My limited experience with it has been that it’s not as well-suited to less-than-ideal soils.
I guess we’ll just have to suck it all up and put up with the fruit as we enjoy their spectacular fall colors. Many gardeners in alkaline soil areas would be thrilled to have that chance.
DEAR NEIL: I planted purpleheart as a groundcover last spring. It was beautiful all summer, but it looks like it has died. Will it come back next year?
Dear Reader: Unlike most of its wandering Jew relatives, purpleheart is winter-hardy in Texas. As do many other perennial plants, it dies to the ground with the first freeze, but it always comes back reliably the following spring.
Trim and rake off the old stubble and wait for warm days of late March and April and you’ll be back in business. It’s a great plant.
DEAR NEIL: I have a tree yaupon holly that has never had any berries. What can I do to change that?
Dear Reader: Many types of hollies, yaupons included, bear their male and female flowers on separate plants. Next spring, when your plant is producing its tiny white blooms, look at a few of them with a hand lens. You’ll see little sacks of pollen.
Female plants, by comparison, bear flowers that have a structure in their centers that resemble tiny bowling pins. The bases of those structures later become the fruit.
Unfortunately, there’s no way to convert a male yaupon into a female, but you can take pride in the help that your plant is providing by pollinating all those lovely fruit-bearing trees you see in your neighbors’ yards.
DEAR NEIL: What can you tell me about growing a vanilla orchid? Are they fairly easy?
Dear Reader: Vanilla orchids are actually vining plants with glossy, very attractive foliage. I’ve grown a couple on tree fern poles from the nursery, and my wife and I have been to a vanilla plantation on the northeast side of the Big Island of Hawaii where we saw them growing on trellises.
Plant it in a very loose potting mix and keep it moist at all times. Apply a water-soluble plant food every few times that you water it. Early morning sun is good, but allow it no direct sun after mid-morning in summer.
Do not let the plant freeze. It’s doubtful that you’ll ever get it to bloom and produce pods.
DEAR NEIL: How well does Sky Pencil holly grow in Texas? I’ve seen it in a garden center, and I really like its looks.
Dear Reader: Sky Pencil is a hybrid selection from Japanese holly, Ilex crenata. As such, it’s adapted to East Texas, but not so well to the western 80 percent of the state.
It definitely needs acidic soil and consistent moisture. It also tends to splay out as it gets bigger, requiring staking or tying.
DEAR NEIL: How long can I leave plants covered with frost cloth? We’re going to be gone for almost three weeks, and I have several shrubs I’m trying to protect.
Dear Reader: Three weeks won’t be any problem at all as long as you have a lightweight fabric frost cloth.
Soak the soil thoroughly before you cover them. Be careful that you weight the frost cloth down against the soil.
This works well with shrubs, but I wouldn’t leave annuals like pansies covered that long, especially if there were any chance of snow or ice weighting the cover down.
DEAR NEIL: Can I apply any kind of weedkiller to get rid of dallis grass in the winter? Someone told me commercial people do that.
Dear Reader: They’re probably spot-treating with a glyphosate-only herbicide, taking great care as they do to put the spray only onto the dallis grass blades.
There may be a window of several days when the dallis grass has started to green up, but before your permanent lawn grass has shown any signs of life. Remember to use a product that only contains glyphosate (no other active ingredient), and treat only the area of the dallis grass clump by using a pump sprayer.
You do this at your own risk. I’m not comfortable making this as a general recommendation because people don’t always read all the directions carefully.