Question and Answer January 2011

Neil answers questions of the greatest general reader interest here each month. Plant IDs are generally of interest only to the person sending the photo. Please accompany your question with a photo that we can use in e-gardens. Don’t have a photo? Neil invites you to call his radio programs.

Question: I’ve attached a photo of a plant that was given to me at my mother’s funeral. Everything else was cutflowers, so this is the only living thing that I have. The main trunk is about 1 inch in diameter, with two smaller branching trunks. It’s obviously happy in this location, but it’s leaning. Would I distort it if I cut it back? I want it to look natural, and I could move it beneath a SolaTube, if that would help. Please advise. It’s very important to me. T., Garland.

Answer: Your dracaena does what all happy dracaenas do – it has grown. I’d probably leave it right where it is. What I’ve always done with my dracaenas, including one that was my mother’s own plant, is to cut them back fairly severely to encourage rebranching, fuller growth and new vigor. I accompany the trimming with repotting into fresh potting soil, and I often cut the stems that I remove into short 3-inch sections. They, too, can be rooted if they have at least one dormant bud per section of stem. The dormant buds look like b-b-sized swellings in the axils of the leaves. You could straighten the plant at the time that you repot and reposition the plant. If it were my plant, I’d tidy it up for now by removing all the drying leaves. I’d save the extensive trimming and repotting for March or April, and I’d probably cut this plant back by 60 percent. But, it’s so special to you that you need to follow your own heart. The plant will be pretty durable about it all, whatever you decide.

Question: I’ve attached a photo of my Blue Point junipers. I have one hundred of these planted around the perimeter of my property. They’ve done well for nine years – until 2010. I have them fertilized and sprayed by a commercial service. However, they have started dying randomly. I have trimmed out the browned portion and have managed to save a couple, but I’ve lost 10. A local specialist says it’s just a watering issue. I think it might be a disease. My neighbors are having the same problems. What can I do? M.M., Parker.

Answer: I’d bet your plants have been hit by Phomopsis twig blight. It’s common with junipers, often reaching serious proportions following periods of wet summer weather like we had in May/June 2007 and again in May/June 2010. Here is a pretty exhaustive explanation from the Cooperative Extension Service in Alabama:, and here is a Web forum I found discussing Blue Points and this particular problem. Scroll about halfway down to see if those very good photos don’t look similar to what you faced with your Blue Point junipers this past year. It’s a very serious disease, and I’ve seen a lot of it on Blue Points around Collin County and DFW. This disease has also been severe on Leyland cypress during 2010, causing serious spotty die out and branch loss.

Question: I am putting in an outdoor kitchen in my Rockwall home and need to move one of my 20-foot-tall Washingtonian palm trees. I am uncertain of their age but it is at least 5 years old in this location. Our landscape architect says it’s not difficult to move one, but I would consider other designs if we might risk losing it. B. McK., Rockwall.

Answer: Beautiful setting! The good news is that palms are fairly easily moved, so long as you do so during warmer months. We’re so clued in to moving trees and shrubs during the winter dormant period, that we find it difficult to bring ourselves to transplant palms in warmer months. But, that’s what we need to do. I don’t usually recommend my radio and magazine advertisers as parts of my answers here, but you’re so close to Covington’s Nursery in Rowlett. Why don’t you visit with their people about doing the moving for you. They’re accustomed to transplanting large trees, and they do a good many palms.

Posted by Neil Sperry
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