December 30, 2007

Meyer Lemon Tree Can Be Repotted Now or in Spring

Question I have a potted Meyer lemon that is 30 years old. It was an air layer done by my late father. It came from Florida but has lived in Norfolk 30 years. It is on a deck with south exposure and is covered during foul weather. We bring it inside during a hard freeze. My mother recently passed away, and I am guardian of the lemon. It is in a 23-inch-diameter pot and has not been repotted for 15 years. It bears fruit often and usually an impressive amount . Right now it has a very few 1-inch lemons but has just bloomed again and set a large number of fruit. It also has a moderate amount of new growth. I want to repot it. When do I do that? Do I root prune it first?

- Sture Sigfred, Norfolk

A. I'm not an experienced Meyer lemon caretaker, so asked Mike Andruczyk, tropical plant expert and Virginia Tech extension agent for the city of Chesapeake. He says to bring it indoors for a few weeks and remove the fruit before repotting. Some root pruning is a good idea - but not too much, since light and temperature levels are low now. You could wait until spring to repot it just before placing it back outdoors. Remove the loose old soil and replace with fresh potting mix as quickly as possible.

Tomato worms horn in

Q. I am curious where those big green tomato worms come from. I had two tomato plants in my backyard. One was removed a month ago. I was removing the other but discovered it had five big worms on it. How did they find my plant?

- Carin Henderson, Chesapeake

A. Tomato hornworm is the proper name for this culprit, says entomologist Peter Schultz, director of the Hampton Roads Research Center. The adult is called a sphinx moth and appears at dusk. It's about the size of a hummingbird. The female cues in on the odors of a tomato plant. Her young would not survive on anything but a tomato plant. Tomato hornworms can practically defoliate a tomato plant in a matter of hours .

To cut or not to cut

Q. I have a large old magnolia tree that hangs over my driveway where the birds use it to make a mess of my car. I want to cut the tree down to half its size and circumference. Is this feasible? I'd say the tree must be 50 feet high and over 50 years old.

- Joseph Smith, Virginia Beach

A. Can you park your car somewhere else? Tree authority Bonnie Appleton at the Hampton Roads Research Center says you cannot do what you propose. "It would totally ruin its form," she says. Your choices are to cut the tree completely down (which is not a good option for such a beautiful old tree) or park your car in some other space.

When to prune roses

Q. Can you please advise when is the best time to cut back my rose bushes? Also, is now the time to feed them?

- Sid Rosenbaum, Virginia Beach

A. Wait until your roses have dropped most of their leaves . Then you can prune back the main stems to 18-24 inches. This prevents wind blowing them around during winter and loosening their roots. At the same time, cut out all small twiggy branches that will never produce a flower. As to fertilizing, there is mixed opinion. Years ago, fall fertilizing was a no-no. Then Conard Pyle, the large East Coast rose grower, recommended a light fertilizing in the fall to give roses an earlier spring start. I've tried that and think it's a good idea.

Note If you want to achieve a beautiful green lawn next spring without synthetic chemicals or pesticides, go to The site is run by the SafeLawns Foundation, which advocates organic gardening.

Ask us

No gardening questions are taken over the phone. For a faster reply, e-mail [email protected] and include your city. Or, write to Robert Stiffler, The Virginian-Pilot, 150 W. Brambleton Ave., Norfolk, VA 23510. Fax to (757) 446-2963. Limit letters to one or two questions. For an earlier reply, send a self-addressed, stamped envelope.

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