5 Steps For An Easy, Accurate Way To Apply Liquid Fertilizer

Follow these instructions for healthier, prettier, happier plants with more flowers.

It’s called a “siphon mixer,” and there are several brand names such as “Syphonex” or “Syphonject.” I have used this device for over forty years and it is perhaps my favorite grower’s tool. The tool fits on the outdoor faucet (hose bib) and pulls fertilizer concentrate out of a bucket at a rate of 15:1. (about 1 tablespoon per gallon of water) I bought my latest siphon injector from Amazon. What I got looked like this:


The easy way to apply liquid fertilizer to your plants.

Here’s how the device is used:

There are many different kinds of water-soluble fertilizers on the market. (I will include a link at the end of this article that will tell you about choosing the right fertilizer). For demonstration purposes, I am using a Miracle Gro product which is readily available at nurseries and big box stores. The fertilizer package contains four pre-measured packets of the fertilizer and I have found that one of these packets will contain just the right amount of fertilizer for a five-gallon bucket.


You will need a water soluble fertilizer.

I use a clean, chemical-free bucket and empty the packet of fertilizer into it. This will make a concentrate. The amount is not totally critical, so if you want less concentrate, only use half of the packet and use only two and a half gallons of water instead of five. At this rate, the fertilizer should provide good results with no danger of fertilizer burn. So, dump in the fertilizer and fill the bucket with water. Stir well


Dump a packet of fertilizer into the five gallon bucket and fill it with water. Stir well

The next step is to hook up the Syphonex as shown in the picture. The end of the plastic tube should extend to the bottom of the bucket. A hose will fit on the siphon device and will deliver the fertilizer solution to your plants.


Siphon attachment ready to work. Turn on the hose and fertilizer water comes out the other end.

One instructional note is that the device restricts the water flow in order to cause suction through the tube. Other restrictions on the delivery hose will cause problems and the system will not work properly. This means that you will not be able to apply the fertilizer through a sprinkler or an adjustable hose nozzle. If you look at the picture at the beginning of the article, you will see that the kit includes a Dramm water breaker that is the proper size to use with the siphon device. This water breaker will fit on the end of your hose or on your “water wand.”

And now comes the fun part. With the water breaker on the end of your hose and the plastic tube from the siphon device sitting in a bucket of fertilizer concentrate, you may turn the water on. After a bit of sputtering while the air is removed from the line, you will see pretty blue fertilizer coming from your hose and ready to apply to your plants.


This is the reason blue dye is added to fertilizer–so the grower can tell if it is mixing into the system.

If you are serious about your plants, I’m sure that you will enjoy one of these tools. I use it on flower beds as well as on potted plants. It helps to get the fertilizer solution all over the leaves, too. This is called “foliar feeding” and it is very good for the plants. Did you know that a plant can take in at least 60% of its nutrient needs through its leaves?  During the growing season, I like to apply liquid fertilizer every couple of weeks.


The siphon feeder pictured at the first of this article was purchased at Amazon. Click Here To Follow The Link

To answer your questions about choosing the right fertilizer, check out this article:  How To Choose The Right Fertilizer


Be sure to share this article with your plant growing friends. They will thank you.



Margot And Grandpa Make a Garden For The Elf Man–A Story

Because Grandpas can’t hear an elf man but a little girl can.

One nice summer day, Margot’s momma and daddy had to go somewhere important. Grandma needed to go to a meeting. Margot’s momma said, “Now, Margot, you and Grandpa can play in the yard together. Please try to keep Grandpa out of trouble.” Grandpa had a funny look on his face.

Grandpa and Margot held hands and walked around, looking at all sorts of nice flowers and a mirror on the fence that looked like a window but it wasn’t.


The two of them planted some flowers in pots. Grandpa asked Margot to water some flowers. He had a watering can that was just her size. Time went by.

watering can

Margot wanted some rocks to play with, so she and Grandpa gathered up some pretty ones from here and there. Margot said, “I want to make a mountain and a road. She put the rocks near the corner of the deck.


Grandpa said, “I think I would like to go inside and have a cup of coffee. Would you like something, Margot?”

“No,” Margot said, “I want to make a mountain for the elf man.”

Grandpa said, “That’s nice, I’m sure he will enjoy it.”

Grandpa went in the house and got his coffee. He thought, “I was told to not leave her alone, but there is a big fence all around the yard and she’s busy playing with rocks. What could go wrong?” He sat down in his chair and picked up his morning paper.

There was a big, loud,
Grandpa said, “AWWWW, Man,” and walked out the door.

Outside, Margot was squatted down, looking under the deck. She was talking very quietly. Grandpa glanced around and that was when he saw that his brand new flower pot had been broken. A rock sat next to the pieces

elfman 1

Grandpa quietly said, “What has happened here? Now who could have done this?”

Margot stood up, looked at grandpa and said, “The elf man did it.”

Grandpa asked, “Where is the elf man?”

“He’s under the deck. I was talking to him. He said he’s sorry he broke your pot. He was trying to make a garden just for him and the rock was too heavy. He’s really sorry and he doesn’t want to get in trouble.”

Grandpa smiled gently and said, “It’s all right. He won’t get in trouble. Elf men are special. We will have to be nice to him.”

Margot smiled and squatted down to look under the deck. “He said it is all right, mister elf man….what? …OK, I’ll tell him.”

She stood up and looked at Grandpa. “He said that he is sad because he doesn’t have a garden to play in.”

Grandpa looked at Margot

He looked down at the space under the deck

He looked at the broken flower pot.

He looked back at Margot, smiled gently, and said, “Then why don’t we make a garden for the elf man?”

Margot jumped up and down and clapped her hands. “Yayy,” she said, “the elf man will be happy.”

Margot watched as Grandpa got a bag of potting soil.

“But Grandpa…” she said, “The flower pot is broken.”

“It’s all right,” said Grandpa, “The elf man left us this rock to fix it with.”

Grandpa put the broken part of the pot inside the pot and propped it up with the rock. It looked like this:

elfman 2

Grandpa put potting soil into the pot and patted it down. He put more potting soil into the pot and mashed it down hard.

elfman 3

“There,” said Grandpa as he finished putting the soil into the broken pot. “Now it will all hold together.”

“I think the elf man will like it,” said Margot.

elfman 4

“But,” said Margot, “but how is the elf man going to get up into his garden?”

Grandpa put his finger up to the side of his head and thought about it. “How about if we put something there for him to climb up on?”

“He would like that,” said Margot.

“Ok,” said Grandpa. Here’s a vine for him to climb up on. It’s called a ‘sedum.’” Grandpa planted it in the pot over the rock.

elfman 5

“Yes,” said Margot, “He can climb up that vine. He will like that.”

Grandpa said, “I guess we will need a tree. I have a nice one, it is called a ‘jade plant.’” The jade plant looked like this:

elfman 6

Margot stood on a stool and helped Grandpa plant the tree. He showed her how to pack the soil around the roots so that it wouldn’t fall over. “oooooh,” said Margot, “now the elf man can climb up into the tree and see all around.”

elfman 7

Grandpa looked at the garden. “Maybe we need to find him a dead tree trunk to sit on and a rock. Would the elf man like that?”

“Oh, yes, elf men love having dead trees to rest on and rocks to climb on.”

So Margot and Grandpa walked around the yard and found just the right dead tree and just the right rock. They put them into the garden in just the right places.

elfman 8

Grandpa and Margot found a couple of other plants to put into the garden. Grandpa said, “the one on the right is called a ‘jewel of the nile,’ the other one is something I picked up at the store. I don’t know it’s name, do you?

Margo said, “I think it’s name is ‘Fred.’”

She helped Grandpa plant the new plants in just the right places

Elfman 9

“There,” said Grandpa. “This is turning into a nice garden for the elf man.”

Margot looked concerned. She glanced up at Grandpa and said, “but, Grandpa, what if he wants to go fishing?”

Grandpa put his hand up to his forehead. “Oh, No,” he said, “How could I have forgotten about how much an elf man loves to fish. What will we do? Wait a minute. I’ll be right back.” Grandpa went into the house and came out with something in his hand. “Look,” he said, “Grandma was going to throw this away. It’s our lucky day.” He had a mirror. “What do you think, Margot? It’s not a real lake, but I think it will do.”

Margot smiled and said, “It’s all right, silly Grandpa. Don’t you know that everything is real to an elf man? If he wants it to be a lake, it will be a lake.”

Grandpa put the mirror into the garden.

elfman 10

“How’s this?” he asked.

Margot studied it from the front. She went around to the other side of the garden and looked. She pointed and said, “I think the elf man would like the lake better if it was back here.” So they moved it

elfman 11

“That’s much better,” said Margot. “Now he can sit under the tree and go fishing. But…”

“I know,” said Grandpa, “It needs grass around it and a rock for him to sit on.”

“Grandpa, sometimes you can be smart.” Said Margot.

They walked around the yard and found some moss that looked just like grass. They put it around the lake.

elfman 12

They found just the right rock for the elf man to sit on and they put it in just the right place. “There,” said Margot. “He is really going to like that.”

elfman 13

“But, Grandpa…He doesn’t have a path to get to the sitting rock and the lake.”

“Oooookaaay,” said Grandpa, “Let’s make him a pathway. We can line it with shiny rocks.”

“Yes, Grandpa. He will like that.”

elfman 14

“Look,” said Grandpa, “I have some aquarium gravel to use for the pathway so the elf man won’t get his feet dirty.” They put the tiny rocks into the pathway and smoothed it out. Margot reached out and walked up the path with her fingers. She smiled.

“It’s easy to walk on, Grandpa. I tried it out. The elf man will like it.”

elfman 16

Margot and Grandpa worked on the garden for a while longer. They got everything just as they thought the elf man would like it. They stepped back and looked at their creation. Grandpa put it near a flower bed. “The elf man will like this,” said Margot.

Margot knelt and peered under the deck. She whispered something, then, after a moment, Grandpa heard her whisper again, “Ok, I’ll tell him.”

She stood up and said, “Grandpa, the elf man wants us to walk around the yard so we won’t see him go to the elf man garden.”

So, Margot and Grandpa walked around the yard for a few minutes. Then they went back to see if the elf man liked his garden. Margot bent over the garden and whispered something. She waited, listening, and then whispered again, “Ok, I’ll tell him.”

“Grandpa, the elf man wants you to move the garden over there.” She pointed. “Oooookaaay,” said Grandpa. He moved the garden.

elfman garden


Later, Margot said, “Grandpa, I know an elf man poem. Would you like to hear it?”

“Yes, Margot, I would,” said Grandpa.

Margot put her hands on her hips, looked up at Grandpa, and said,:

I met a little elf man once
Down where the lilies grow
I asked him why he was so small
And why he did not grow.

He cocked his head
And with his eye
He looked me through and through.
I’m quite as big for me he said
As you are big for you.”

“That’s very good,” said Grandpa. “Now, I think I’ll have some coffee.”

–poem by John Kendrick Bangs–

12 Steps To Install An Easy and Successful Flower Bed in Fifteen Minutes. No Digging Required!

My wife asked me to plant a small flower bed in the front yard. I was feeling tired and lazy on a Sunday afternoon. The dirt in the front yard is brick hard and I really didn’t feel like digging any holes—plus, I knew that the flowers wouldn’t do well there anyway. The only good part was that she had already bought the flowers so I wouldn’t have to go to the store.

instant 1

How do you plant flowers in brick hard dirt?

I looked around at all my “yard stuff” leftovers and grinned. I took the rake out front and raked the pine straw back to the shape I wanted for two beds, one larger than the other. The larger bed looked like this.

instant 2

I raked the pine straw away from the area to be planted.

I had been grinning earlier because I realized that I had four bags of this garden soil. It had been on special at four for ten bucks at the box stores the week before. This is really some pretty good stuff—it seems to be a mix of decomposed wood products and it stays where you put it. I’m sure that it needs fertilizer and lime, but I’ll get to that shortly.

instant 4

Instead of digging down, I’m going to build up.

I had enough of the garden soil to pile it up to a depth of about five inches. I have found that if I do this, the earthworms will work under it and till it into the bad dirt for me. At any rate, the plants will grow in these mounds of  manufactured garden soil.

instant 5

I pile up the soil. The worms will till it in for me.

I used the back side of the rake to smooth the top of the mound. I want to maintain a four or five inch thick pile of soil. I’ll bet I use the back side of the rake as much as I use the tines. It is a versatile tool.

instant 6

Smooth lightly. The depth should still be four to six inches.

I like to use a time release plant food when I install a flower bed. This gives us months of steady feeding and is really a time saver. There are many different kinds of time release food, but remember, I was into just using what I had on hand.

instant 7

Time release fertilizer will make the plants take off and go

A lot of people ask me how much fertilizer to use. With the time release I find it easier to just point at a picture and say, “It should look like this.”

instant 8

Time release fertilizer, spread properly, will look like this

Now I was ready to plant. It had taken exactly six minutes to get the planting beds ready. I now had to plant about sixteen three-inch pots of begonias. I pulled the plants out of their containers and pinched the tops out before laying them into a carrying tray. (If you want to know why I pinched the tops out, Click Here to read my very popular article on the basics of pruning.) Anyway, here’s the picture of pinching a tip from a begonia.

instant 9

pruning is important

I have the plants ready to put into the soil. I can now dig a hole with my fingers—It’s more “forming” a hole because I promised “no digging.”

instant 10

It sure is easy with good garden soil

I put the plant into the hole and pack the soil firmly around and over the root ball. Note—try to have the plant in the soil at the same depth as it was growing in the pot. There are some exceptions to this rule but it is usually not good to plant too deep.

instant 10

It sure is easy with good garden soil

With two minutes to go I quickly scatter the straw back over the planting area. Sometimes I will spread the straw first and then plant  through it but I liked the way the pictures looked without doing it that way.

instant 12

At this point, “just add water.”

It is no trouble at all to call Sweetie out to take a look at the flower bed as I turn on our special sprinkler to water the area. These plants will be grown in and be beautiful in just a few short weeks. (If you like my home-made sprinkler, Click Here to get the assembly instructions. It is the best sprinkler ever.) I always try to heed the advice of my father-in-law, Bob Hicks, who said, “John, always remember—‘Happy Wife, Happy Life.”’

instant 13

Happy Wife, Happy Life And it only took 14 minutes and 58 seconds

Good Luck with your flower bed.

If you wish to see more of my wonderful writing, two of my books are available from Amazon in print or as ebooks. Here are the links:

Sweetie Drives On Chemo Days, Click Here

Requiem For a Redneck, Click Here

Assignment: Design and Build An Attractive Mail Box Planter That Is Both Drought Tolerant and Deer Proof.

Nancy has a beautiful home and yard in a very nice subdivision. She had decided that she wanted to maintain the wooded lot and to have a yard that would echo the statement of a lovely home to be crafted with stone and timbers. Years later she decided that it was time to deal with the “ugly mailbox.” She called and said, “This is a job for john the plant man.”

mailbox 1

We need to build a planting bed that will make this look better and that will fit into the landscape concept.

Nancy had given the project a lot of thought. We talked about it. She had bought different varieties of thyme—four varieties, six pots of each—to plant the project with. She had learned some things about living in her house

  • Deer like wooded lots and eat up landscaping plants
  • Deer do not like thyme
  • Thyme, once established, is a hardy, drought resistant ground cover.
  • Thyme prefers a prepared, raised bed in order to thrive.

We decided to build a raised rock-bordered garden. We started laying the rocks to form the enclosure for the bed:

mailbox 2

A row of rocks doesn’t look right. We can do better.

At this point, the job didn’t look quite right. We decided that we didn’t want just a row of rocks around a pile of dirt.

Nancy said, “I don’t know quite how to describe what I’m looking for.”
I smiled and said, “I think we want it to look like God dropped a handful of rocks and they fell in just the right places.”
“Yes, that’s it,” she agreed.

So, we took it all apart and started over. I had been looking at bags of cheap “topsoil” that were being sold in the box stores. Lowe’s had some on sale for a dollar a bag and when I examined it, I found it to be ground and mostly decomposed pine bark. If you add lime to this, it is a rather good growing medium. We looked around the property (which was blessed with stones) and carefully, one at the time, chose the stones to fit the concept. We added the “topsoil.”

mailbox 3

After working on the layout, we got the stones to look purposefully random.

The rock job was now totally different looking. The new design fulfilled the purpose of holding the soil together, and it looked a lot more natural. Nancy looked at it, smiled, and said, “And praise His Name, they all hit the ground without denting the mailbox.”  We spread a mulch of wood bark and started planting.

mailbox 4

This is going to look good. A topping of small pine bark will hold everything in place.

The mailbox garden fit right in with the natural front yard.

mailbox 5

The garden fits right in

We ran a few hundred feet of hose out to the road and watered the plants. The different kinds of thyme looked happy in their new home, and the fragrance was delightful.

mailbox 6

Different varieties of thyme will grow well and safely in this environment

A couple of weeks later, I stopped to check on the project. I found that all was well and the plants were growing as they should. The deer had turned up their noses and moved on to other treats.


mailbox 7

A couple of weeks later everything looks happy.

Thank you for visiting Johntheplantman’s blog. There are a lot of helpful articles on this site. WordPress has included a very efficient search engine which you will find at the top of the page. Give it a try—type in the main words for your gardening questions and see where it takes you.

Pruning Azaleas in May-June. Follow These Instructions For Better Shape and Many More Flowers.

Azalea two years later for blog

Two years after shaping, cleaning, and fertilizing our neglected azaleas we were rewarded with quite a show

Late May to early June is the time to work on azaleas. If you prune them, clean them up and fertilize them during this period, you will have beautiful plants with more blooms the following spring. Here’s the rationale:

  • Proper pruning will encourage the stems to branch out
  • Branching forms new stem tips—and lots more of them
  • Azaleas bloom on these new tips, so—more tips makes more blooms.
  • Most azaleas form new growth in the summer.
  • Fertilizer will help them to form the new growth.
  • They form flower buds for the following year in August and September.
  • The flower buds on azaleas must go through a cold period followed by a warm period in order to flower.

Years ago I wrote an illustrated article that explains “The Basics of Pruning.” The article is short, to the point, and informative. You will learn about what happens when we trim a plant and then you will have the ammunition that you need to become an expert on the subject.

Click Here To Read “Pruning As an Art Form, The Basics of Pruning.

Two years ago, Dekie and I pruned and shaped some large azaleas on the edge of our driveway. I wrote an article about it then. The picture at the beginning of this article shows the results of our azalea renovation.

Click Below to see the article on how it is done.

Prune Azaleas in May-June. Fertilize Azaleas, Avoid and Kill Poison Ivy

Azalea before pruning:

azalea before pruning

Not long ago the azalea pictured at the start of this article was all straggly and falling over. There were very few blooms.

Nice Plant, no Tomatoes? Cure or Prevent Blossom End Rot.

Sometimes you will have a nice looking tomato plant that is not setting any tomatoes. Like this:

Healthy looking tomato plant not producing many tomatoes?

Healthy looking tomato plant not producing many tomatoes?

Blossom end rot is a plant disease that attacks the blooms of the tomato plant as they attempt to set fruit. Just in case you need to explain it to a friend, when the bee fertilizes the flower, the base of the flower (containing the ovary) makes seeds. The fertilized ovary houses the seeds, makes nutrients for them and turns into the tomato that we eat. Blossom end rot causes the flower to turn brown and get droopy. The base of the flower (the ovary) will eventually drop off. It looks like this:

Blossom end rot on tomatoes looks like this. The disease attacks the blooms and the place where the ovary is attached to the plant

Blossom end rot on tomatoes looks like this. The disease attacks the blooms and the place where the ovary is attached to the plant

The problem is caused by a calcium deficiency. Long ago farm ladies would save egg shells and put them around the tomato plants. This takes a long time to react, though, so at the first sign of this problem on our plants, I went to my friendly hardware store and purchased the two items shown below:

You will need a spray apparatus and a bottle of blossom end rot treatment, the active ingredient is calcium

You will need a spray apparatus and a bottle of blossom end rot treatment, the active ingredient is calcium

The main ingredient is calcium. The product label says it has 10% calcium derived from calcium chloride. As with most chemicals, brand names don’t matter, read the contents on the label.

Here is a close up of the label.

Here is a close up of the label.

Mix the product at a rate of 2 tablespoons per gallon. Apply it in the morning while it is still cool. Spray the foliage and particularly the flowers of the plant(s). Repeat the treatment once a week for three weeks. Make sure the plant is well watered and not stressed before application. You will see a dramatic difference in tomato production.

If you see the problem on your plants, get right on it. It won’t heal itself.
Happy Gardening
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Gardening in Bales of Straw

My friend Joel loves his vegetable garden. He works in it nearly every day. I went to see him the other day and he showed me his latest project of interest—growing vegetables in bales of straw.

“That’s straw,” Joel explained, “as in wheat straw, not hay as in ‘animal feed that contains every weed seed you don’t want in your garden.’”

Joel takes pride in his gardening

Joel takes pride in his gardening

I had heard before about the practice of growing vegetables in straw bales—my brother tried it one year but he lives far away and I was not able to see the results. I was, however, rather impressed with the lush growth of Joel’s straw-bale garden. Joel, of course, was having a good time showing off. The plants looked large, green, and lush for the first of June.

“It’s best,” he said, “to get the bales in the fall and place them where you want them. This way they will have the benefit of the nutrient-rich winter rain and snow.

He told me that it takes a lot of water to get the necessary initial moisture into the straw bales, but after they have been wet it is easy to keep them that way. I saw a soaker hose laid out down the row of bales. “I sprinkle the straw with organic fertilizers, too,” he said, “because the wheat straw doesn’t really have much in the way of nutrients in it. The straw is really just a porous and sturdy base and planting medium. I try to add nutrients every few weeks throughout the growing season. The plants really love it.”

It looks like a bumper crop

It looks like a bumper crop

I could tell that the garden was about to produce a bumper crop of tomatoes. The plants looked good and I noticed a good fruit set. Some of them were about big enough for some ‘fried green tomatoes’—mmmmm.

I can almost taste the fresh squash

I can almost taste the fresh squash

One of the advantages that I immediately saw was that the plants are (of course) up off of the ground and, therefore, less prone to become infected with as many types of mold, fungus, and insects. I think that the main problem with this kind of gardening would be getting the necessary balance of nutrients (fertilizer) to the roots of the plants. I would also think that a good sprinkling of lime would be beneficial.

Swiss chard is a pretty plant

Swiss chard is a pretty plant

Joel and I both stopped to admire the Swiss chard. I will admit that I don’t know much about eating chard, but it sure is a pretty plant. Actually, I guess just about any garden vegetable and most flowers could be grown in this manner. As we looked through the straw-bale garden, I noticed one other benefit—there were only a few weeds and those were easy to pull. Joel bent over and pulled a few weeds and then stood up and held them aloft with a grin on his face that reminded me of a small, devilish boy showing off his trophy snake. It made me smile.

"I don't see many weeds and those that show up are easy to pull."

“I don’t see many weeds and those that show up are easy to pull.”

There are books on the subject of growing in straw bales, but I really don’t think there is that much to learn about the subject. I noticed that the bales had been placed sideways with the strings to the sides instead of to the top and bottom. This would keep the bales from falling apart. A vegetable garden, of course, needs a lot of sun and that would be a necessity. I thought the soaker hose was a good idea—both for effectiveness of application and for water economy. You could do this on the side of a hill, also, if you turned the bales so that the ends went down hill. That would keep them from turning over.

One other benefit—at the end of the season, the bales should be pretty well used up but the straw will have started to rot and will be full of good nutrients. This is the main ingredient in good compost. I’m going to keep watching to see what Joel does as the project continues.

A year or so ago we built a designer herb garden for Joel. I wrote an article that gives the construction details that you will find here: Building an easy-to-tend raised herb garden.  The herb garden is really looking good and I will write an article about it next week.

If you are a follower, you will know that I took a bit of a vacation from the gardening blog. I was working on two related projects. The big one was finishing a book from my cancer experiences about facing cancer with humor and optimism. The name of the inspirational book is “Sweetie Drives on Chemo Days” and it has been well-received as a good read, a comfort, and a thoughtful gift.

The other project has been the writing of what I call “quotes and notes.” I started last October writing with the promise to myself that I would write one a day for a year. You can actually sign up to get these short pieces of inspiration delivered to your email every morning. Check it out here: http://johnschulzauthor.com/

Thanks for visiting John the Plant Man
Everything is going to be all right.
John P. Schulz

What’s Wrong With My Gardenias? Yellow leaves, spots, rust…

Most people enjoy the beauty and fragrance of gardenias. My mother loves gardenias and that’s good enough for me. Gardenia plants are usually quick growers and easy to care for, but they do suffer from a few problems that crop up now and then. One of the reasons I write the johntheplantman articles is to answer frequently asked plant questions. A conversation came up on Facebook the other day and I am including it here. The conversation is edited and names changed for privacy.

Gardenias are beautiful and fragrant but they do have some peculiarities.

Gardenias are beautiful and fragrant but they do have some peculiarities.

Sandra: Why are my gardenias turning yellow?
Roberta: Uh, oh, If it’s just a few leaves, they’re probably all right. If it’s all turning yellow, is it too wet?
Jo Ann: They almost died last year from the snow so they’re still fragile. A few yellow leaves and some with ‘rusty’ spots…
Dekie: johntheplantman can help you. I learned about it yesterday.
Jo Ann: johntheplantman, please help me save my gardenias! Any tips? I already know about wooden nickels.

I’ve been dealing with these and other problems with gardenias for years. I remember my grandmother telling me about the problems years ago. She was old (a young 70) and I was young then. (Now I am about to enter my seventies and I don’t think it’s old any more) Here’s a picture showing some of the problems:

What's wrong with my gardenia plant?

What’s wrong with my gardenia plant?

The first thing we see is yellow leaves. Yellow leaves on any green plant immediately shows a lack of nutrients—mainly nitrogen. This does not necessarily mean that we need to fertilize, though. Roberta’s comment above asking if it was too wet was a good one. When the plants are too wet, a root fungus could set in and the plant cannot bring nutrients into its system.

Gardenias are funny in this department. They do need the nitrogen. If you study the picture you will see a few totally yellow leaves but you will also see a yellow cast and yellow veining in other places. This is definitely a lack of nitrogen—but what causes it and how do we treat it?

Gardenias are picky in that they like to have their nutrients presented to them in a most particular manner. My grandmother told me to stir up the soil around the drip line of the plant, mix 3 tablespoons of Epsom salts with a gallon of water and then pour the mixture around the plants. I tried it. I found out that the old lady knew what she was talking about. The plant regained its vigor and color. I found later that I could also pour the Epsom salts mixture over the leaves and get even better results.  Try it.

A week after applying the Epsom salts, you will want to mix up a balanced water soluble plant food like Miracle Grow and pour it over the plant and around the plant’s roots.

Now, let’s look at that leaf a little closer.

Close up showing fungus on gardenia

Close up showing fungus on gardenia

Notice the hole in the leaf that has brown margins. Below and to the left you will see a leaf with a stripe that is brown fading into yellow. These are signs of a leaf fungus. There is probably nothing you can do to restore the infected leaves, but you can spray with a fungicide (not insecticide) that will keep the fungus from spreading. A fungicide with Daconyl is a good one. A good organic fungicide is sulphur, and your nurseryman may be able to suggest something else.

I don’t have a picture of it, but sometimes the gardenia plant will become covered and spotted with a black powder. If you look on the undersides of the leaves you will more than likely see evidence of aphids. It seems that the aphids excrete a substance which attracts and supports the fungus life. In this case, you need an insecticide and a fungicide. It is most difficult to get rid of aphids on gardenias. Check with your extension agent or a University near you.  With any insecticide you use, remember the bees.

If you really want to get organic with aphid control, you can import some ladybugs. Ladybugs eat aphids like pie. I think Auburn University has done some research on ladybug availability. I’ll have to check on it unless one of my wonderful readers beats me to it.

Thanks for visiting John the Plant Man. Do try the Epsom salts. You will get almost instant gratification. Of course, you may be one of those people who find “instant gratification” a bit too slow. Sorry about that.

One of the reasons I have been gone from this blog for a while is that I have been finishing off and polishing my new book, Sweetie Drives on Chemo Days. It is a funny, optimistic, and inspirational account of dealing with cancer. You may read about it here.

Humor and Optimism help the cancer victim.

Humor and Optimism help the cancer victim.

Repairing a Drainage Problem

Repairing poorly installed drainage can be a lot of work but it can also be a bit of a fun job. We must be flexible, also. For instance, I had to change my approach in the middle of this job. The problem I needed to tackle was that runoff was flowing through a carport that had not been designed for handling heavy rain.

The carport had apparently been added on after the original driveway was built. Water flowed across the driveway, around a front corner of the carport and down the inside edge. We studied the area and found that a low place in the concrete allowed this to happen. I originally thought we would need a concrete saw and a catch basin. So, I bought a catch basin (that’s that black box in the picture below) and rented a concrete saw. I learned long ago that an expensive part of the job is that you can rent the machine but you have to purchase the blade. Concrete blades do not have a very long life expectancy.

It's a slow and careful job to cut concrete but sometimes you just gotta do it.

It’s a slow and careful job to cut concrete but sometimes you just gotta do it.

There was a crack in the existing concrete right at the low spot. We decided that we needed to take out the entire portion in order to make the finished job as it should be.  Anyway, we cut the concrete. It was a nice job.

We had to cut it into three pieces to remove the offending concrete. It was rather heavy.

We had to cut it into three pieces to remove the offending concrete. It was rather heavy.

Whoever had poured the concrete for the walk to the back door had fortunately put a four inch pipe under it. I was going to take the water to that pipe and channel it down the hill. That’s when I discovered that the water outlet on the catch basin would be too low to allow me to hook up to the pipe under the walkway. An old man told me one time, “Here in Georgia the water always runs downhill.” I have always remembered that. So, I had to go find some other way to channel the water downhill. I really liked the way things turned out. Below is the drain system.

A good drainage system for use in driveways and around buildings

A good drainage system for use in driveways and around buildings

I found that I could purchase just the components I needed at my concrete supply place. We lay the drain in just the right place and, before pouring the concrete around the basin,  fooled around with a couple of levels, making sure that the water would run into the drainage and not go around it. It pays to be careful when setting something in concrete.

When fitting drainage boxes to be poured in concrete, use the level over and over just to be sure.

When fitting drainage boxes to be poured in concrete, use the level over and over just to be sure.

The drain was fitted with a special piece that was designed to fit corrugated black pipe. There are two kinds of corrugated black pipe: “solid” and “perforated.” The solid pipe is used to move water from one place to the other and the perforated pipe is used to pick up and re-distribute ground water. Two things to remember when installing this pipe are:  1. The stripe goes up and, 2. The holes go down. In the picture below I have used the solid pipe to move the water to the back corner of the walkway. I then put in an eighteen inch piece of perforated pipe to pick up any moisture from the shrub bed itself. This is placed in a bed of gravel.

Driveway drainage system being hooked up after concrete pour

Driveway drainage system being hooked up after concrete pour

We filled around the pipe with pea gravel and raked the soil out to shape the planting bed. The gravel will keep the dirt from coming in contact with the siding on the building. Notice the rock at the corner where the driveway meets the drain. That rock has been carefully chosen and carefully placed to enhance the water flow.

drainage pipe covered with pea gravel for a good transition. perforated pipe is used at sidewalk

drainage pipe covered with pea gravel for a good transition. perforated pipe is used at sidewalk

The next job was to replant the roses, clean the bed well, smooth out the pea gravel, and spread pine straw. It was extremely cold at this point and I didn’t get a finished picture. Perhaps I’ll sneak one in here at a later date.

smoothing, planting, and mulching the improved shrub bed.

smoothing, planting, and mulching the improved shrub bed.

Thanks for checking out John the Plant Man. If you have a landscape problem that requires deep, analytic thought and amazing skills, get in touch with John by emailing me at wherdepony@bellsouth.net

An Ivy Plant Goes to Heaven

I rescued an ivy plant the other day. It had obviously been a gift from a florist at one time but had been relegated to a refuse heap. I made up a story about it:

After many adventures the ivy plant is happy

After many adventures the ivy plant is happy

A creative wholesale plant grower had decided to see if he could shape an ivy plant. He worked on it for a while and after a year or so it started looking good. A discerning florist visited the grower’s greenhouse and took a fancy to the plant.

A lady needed to get a gift for a friend “who had everything.” She entered the florist shop and decided that surely her friend didn’t have an ivy plant that had been so lovingly shaped. She bought it and the florist delivered it to her friend who also loved it.

The plant eventually “died” and was thrown away. An over-worked garbage truck worker accidentally dropped the plant on the side of the road and, instead of picking it up, kicked it into the gutter. A puppy that had gotten out of its fence found the plant, shook it around, and took it off to the woods.

After these and several other adventures, the plant ended up in a pile of leaves under an oak tree in some far-distant woods. It turned out that the plant was not all the way dead but was depressed from having to live inside a house so it became introverted and quit growing.

When the plant ended up in some leaves under an oak tree it was happy and it started stretching out its limbs and trying to be pretty again.

A crazy guy named John happened upon the plant and took it home to his wife. He said, “Sweetie, I brought you something that needs fixing.” His wife loved the plant and she knew just what to do and just how to do it.

Sweetie made an educated guess that the plant would like to live under the dappled sunlight of an oak tree and she made a place for it. She cleaned it up and put it in a well-drained pot. The plant was happy.

The ivy copies the oak tree and grows a nice trunk

shape 8

Tune in next week for more adventures of John the Plant Man.

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