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GARDENING Q&A

GARDENING : Dropped Fruit Is Normal for Most Citrus Trees

August 21, 1994|JACK E. CHRISTENSEN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

QUESTION: I have dwarf orange and grapefruit trees that are about 3 years old. About the time when fruit sets on, it all falls off, especially the oranges. Can you tell me what's wrong?

ANSWER: It is normal for citrus trees, especially orange trees, to take one to seven years to start fruiting properly. Since your trees are only 3 years old, chances are you have nothing to worry about.

The UC Cooperative Extension Service says that even mature citrus trees normally drop a fairly high proportion of the fruit they set, and that it is nature's way for the trees to balance themselves. Their research and experience show that excessive or abnormal fruit drop can be kept to a minimum by watering the trees carefully, avoiding excessive pruning, and keeping pests under control. If you're OK in these concerns, all your trees need is time, the hardest treatment of all.

What Soil Best Suits Azaleas and Camellias?

Q: Considering the water situation here in Southern California, what is the best soil for planting camellias and azaleas?

A: Azaleas are not drought tolerant: they need a constant supply of moisture and air in their root zone. Hence, in our climate I would recommend planting azaleas in leaf mold in a shady garden spot that gets plenty of water. Camellias thrive in the same conditions, but established plants that are vigorous and more than 3 years old can survive adequately almost on natural rainfall. When planting camellias, be sure to keep the top of the root ball at or slightly above ground level. Camellia roots suffocate, and the plants will eventually die, if situated any deeper.

What Kind of Grass Grows Well in Shade?

Q: I am at my wit's end with my back yard. It's a heavily shaded area with a large liquidambar tree and other dense shrubbery shutting out most of the sunlight. I've tried dichondra and plugged in St. Augustine grass several times, but even they refuse to take hold and spread. Do you know of any grass that prefers shade and would resolve my problem?

A: I spoke with several turf growers who were surprised that the St. Augustine would not grow. Usually this grass will readily take root and grow, even in shady conditions. This leads to a few questions. Perhaps the soil in this area is hard and compacted. Was it rototilled or loosened (then smoothed) prior to planting? Was the soil moist to several inches below the surface at planting time? Were the plugs watered at least twice a day after planting, so they could take root? If you answered "no" to any of these questions, that is probably the problem that needs to be addressed.

But if your answers were all "yes," your problem will require other solutions. For instance, after loosening the soil and leveling it, you could plant one of the several available brands of "shade blend" grass seed; and you may need to replant on an annual basis every fall, but this could give a satisfactory lawn.

Or if this is an area that will only receive occasional light foot traffic, you might consider planting an attractive, low-growing, shade-tolerant ground cover as a lawn substitute. Possible selections include:

Herniaria glabra, also called "Green Carpet"--a trailing plant with dense, tiny, bright green leaves; it spreads well but won't grow out of control; foliage turns bronze-red in cold winters.

Lysimachia nummularia, "Moneywort" or "Creeping Jennie"--evergreen creeping plant with long runners that root at joints. Forms pretty light green mat of roundish leaves; needs considerable moisture to be at its best.

Potentilla verna, "Spring Cinquefoil"--Bright green tufted creeper 2"-6" high; yellow flowers; resembles tiny strawberry plants without fruits.

But if your back yard is a play area or is used a lot for entertaining, you might also want to consider putting in flagstones or other pavers with one of the above-mentioned ground-covers planted between them.

Can Crape Myrtle Blooms Be Prolonged?

Q: My Crape Myrtles are in full bloom right now and are gorgeous, but the blooms only seem to last for a few weeks. Is there anything I can do to prolong their beauty?

A: Crape Myrtles are especially beautiful in our Southern California climate, where some begin blooming in July and others bloom through September. I have read that pruning back the old flower clusters as soon as the blooms lose their appeal encourages the plants to re-bloom in a few weeks; otherwise, they put their energy into forming seed capsules. It sounds reasonable to me, and I think this is definitely an idea worth trying.

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