Bananas require additional care to be good producers – Orlando Sentinel

Question. My bananas are producing but only a few hands on each stalk remain green and the others turn brown. What is happening to the fruits?

Answer. While we may not like it, bananas are often lean producers in home landscapes. Your plant appears normal in an email photo with several hands of green fruits that should ripen later in the season. Typically under home production only a few hands mature and the rest of the fruits darken and gradually drop from the stalks before those that remain ripen.

Bananas need more care than most of us provide to be good producers. This includes light but frequent fertilizer applications and water to keep the soil moist. It also helps to maintain a three to four-inch mulch layer over the surface of the soil. Fruiting does depend on the weather and bananas do not like temperatures below 40 degrees. If you live in a cold area, good fruiting may only occur during the warmest years.

Q. I am looking for a plant to replace my declining boxwoods. I think you had a plant that was pest resistant. What is the name?

A. A look-alike plant for your ailing boxwoods is the dwarf yaupon holly. It is resistant to nematodes which are microscopic worms that cause the roots of boxwoods to gradually decline and rotate. The leaves are very similar and remain a good dark green color. Yaupon hollies are native plants and the most common dwarf selection is variety Schelling’s dwarf but others are available.

Dwarf yaupon hollies are durable and drought tolerant but regretfully they do have one problem that sometimes affects heavily sheared plants. During summer rainy months a fungus can cause leaf and stem decline. Allowing the plants to grow naturally with only light trimming and good air movement among the stems is the best control. Otherwise, fungicides can be applied if needed.

Q. I missed fertilizing my tropical fruits and citrus. Can I still apply the fertilizer even though some are flowering?

A. Catch the next feeding this month to keep citrus and tropical fruits on schedule. Normally these trees and shrubs receive fertilizer in March, May, August and early October. Use a fertilizer formulated for your fruits or select a citrus product and that should be suitable for most. Follow label instructions as to timing and amount to apply for the fruit-producing trees or shrubs. In some areas fertilizing during summer may be prohibited so check with your local University of Florida Extension Office for local regulations and care of each fruit type.

Q. Tomatoes started about three weeks ago in pots and are growing beautiful but huge plants. Do I prune them back to control growth?

A. There are bush-forming tomatoes and vining tomatoes. Most likely you have vining types known as indeterminate varieties. These want to grow and too much pruning is going to hinder good fruit production. Instead of trimming the plants, let them grow on stakes, trellises or within cages. Be ready for lots of growth as some attaining heights of eight feet but give bountiful harvests. Removing a few out-of-bounds shoots is permitted but no major pruning.

Q. An indoor foliage plant that is only moved to the patio for watering has an insect chewing leaves at the top of the plant. Do I apply a neem oil spray?

A. One small caterpillar found in an accompanying email photo was ravaging several leaflets. If it is only one, keep the sprays in the closet and pick it off as a control. Even if it is two, three or more, handpicking is still a good control. Somehow moths enter the home or patio to lay the eggs that become the feeding caterpillars. Quick action is the best way to control these pests. If needed, a natural control labeled for caterpillars such as thuricide or spinosad could be sprayed following label instructions.

Q. Now that my amaryllis are about done for the season when do I cut them back? What is the best way to keep them healthy?

A. You are growing minimal care plants with lots of options. Many amaryllis produce seed pods at the top of their flower heads. You can leave them to develop and sow the seeds or remove them. Whether they are removed now or when the seeds mature, the thick stalks are cut close to the plant.

Some gardeners like to remove floppy out-of-bounds leaves and those that have declined during the winter and early spring months at this time. Now would also be a good time to divide the bulb clusters if needed. Encourage good growth and bulb formation with feedings in May and mid-August using a slow-release fertilizer. Keep the plantings moist until October when they can begin to dry some to encourage future blooms.

Q. We have a sandy slope in our backyard that needs something besides grass. What would make a good ground cover?

A. Perhaps one of the most rapid-growing, site tolerant ground covers is the Asiatic jasmine. It grows in sun or shade, has an extensive root system and once established is drought tolerant. It grows about 10 to 12 inches tall but does need to be edged along walkways and clipped away from other plantings. Other good choices are perennial peanut and mimosa or sensitive plant. The later is a Florida native. Both grow best in full sun and tolerate varying soil conditions.

Tom MacCubbin is an urban horticulturist emeritus with the University of Florida Cooperative Extension Service. Write him: Orlando Sentinel, PO Box 2833, Orlando FL 32802. Email: Blog with Tom at

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