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Past Questions and Answers | May 2006

This month's questions concern:

Growing avocados
Keeping cats from trees
Growing wisteria
Transplanting bougainvilleas

Please scroll down to read each one.

Question 1 Topic:  Avocados

Question:  Hi, I live in Acampo, CA and have tried several times to raise an avacado tree, they last from six monthes to one year and then die, I've tried them from seeds and bought them from nurseries, all my other fruit trees do very well, in the soil here, and I have a great deal of fruit trees, can you give me some advice on how to raise them, should I leave them in contaners for a year or two?    D.R., Acampo, CA


ANSWER: You have an interesting dilemma. I would think in your area that it would be too cold to grow avocados and I am surprised that your nursery would even carry them. They don't like the cold at all. Avocados are from warm climates, Guatemala, and Mexico. Guatemalan varieties grow in zones, 19 ,21, 23, and 24. The Mexican varieties are a little hardier and can take zones 9, 16-24. It looks like you are in zone 14 which would have lots of cold sinking air during the winter months.

Avocados must have excellent drainage also. They are highly susceptible to Phytophthora root rot and must have really good drainage to survive. They don't do well in areas with a high water table or in any kind of heavy clay soil.

I think your idea of container growing at this point would be the way to go. They do well in large containers and then you can move them to a protected area during cold spells. Just make sure you plant more than one if you want a decent crop of avocados. They have two types of trees. Type A and Type B. You'll need one of each to get pollination and harvest. I would suggest a Hass-type A with a Bacon-type B. But ask your nursery what they carry. There are several varieties out there with excellent flavor.

Feed only twice a year, once in the spring and again in the summer.

Avocados can be susceptible to a few pests, but those are mostly known to happen in Southern California and it doesn't sound like you have a pest problem.

I hope this helps.

Question 2 Topic:  Cats and Trees

Question:  There are two neighborhood cats that use my trees as scratching posts. What is the best way to keep them away?    P.C., Cambria, CA


ANSWER: I have the same problem myself, so I understand your concern. I have tried several things over the years, from repellents that really smell bad and have to be reapplied after getting wet by sprinklers, rain, or heavy dew, to white plastic milk jugs that supposedly scare them away. But here is the solution that I have found to be the best.

Try surrounding the trunks of your small trees with cylinders of hardware cloth. Cut the wire so that the cylinder is two or three inches greater in diameter than the tree trunk, and about two feet tall. Keep it in place for about a year. The cylinder not only prevents the cats from sharpening their claws, but can also prevent damage by other bark-chewing animals, like deer.

Question 3 Topic:  Wonderful Wisteria

Question:  I am interested in growing wisteria at my new home, and need advice. It is going to grow on the south side of the house. Have you any suggestions?    J.R.S., Nipomo, CA


ANSWER: Wisteria are great plants, but can be somewhat deceptive! They do require a little patience and work on your part. They are such spectacular vines once they get established. Make sure to buy grown cuttings or grafted Wisteria. Seedlings, or plants grown from seed, can take years before they start to flower, even under perfect conditions.

Also, keep in mind that wisteria should be given their own support to grow upon. Unfortunately, wisteria have a bad reputation of destroying house siding, getting under and prying up roofing materials, and promoting rot by keeping building wood too damp for too long. But as long as you provide them their own trellis you will be fine.

As for growing conditions, Wisteria can take just about any soil type, but they need it to drain well. They don't like wet feet. They can take full sun to partial shade, and are deciduous. They need to be pruned during the winter for shape and thinning.

When younger they like quite a bit of water and fertilizer, but when established, they need very little supplemental watering or feeding.

Question 4 Topic:  Bougainvillea Blues

Question:  I bought two standard bougainvilleas. I repotted them into large pots and put them in the sun on the patio, whereupon the bracts fell and the leaves curled. New growth also curls. One tree refuses to flower, and the other flowers only a little bit. What do I do?    C.L., San Luis Obispo, CA


ANSWER: Bougainvilleas are really tough to repot. They are as bad as ficus plants as far as being temperamental about being moved to a new location, in that they will lose all their leaves when suddenly moved. They have super touchy root systems, and most of them die after transplant due to shock. So the problem isn't necessarily anything you have done.

A couple of things to keep in mind; bougainvilleas don't like to be overwatered or overfed. Overwatering interferes with root development, and overfeeding can result in leaf curl and inadequate flowering or no flowering.

Also, you may have repotted them too soon. Ideally bougainvilleas should stay in their original small containers for two or three months after being brought home. Young standard bougainvilleas, such as you bought, should be kept in their containers for up to a year or more before gradually moving them to a larger pot. They will eventually end up in large containers or tubs, but only after progressing slowly.

Keep the soil moist during the summer, allowing the soil to dry out in-between waterings, but during the winter, water a little less, and give it no fertilizer. In the spring, begin to feed it again and water a little bit more again. This should help your bougainvilleas regain their vigor.

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Fertilize Container Plants

Because container gardens are usually grown to show off a lot color, the plants in them require more frequent fertilizing.

It's good to feed them every two weeks with a water-soluble complete fertilizer like a 20-20-20 or a hyrdolized fish fertilizer.

Regular feeding will help them fill in faster, and produce more flowers.

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