by Robert and Hoberley Schuler


Q: Last year I planted a camellia bush on the north side of my house. It has grown well, been fertilized, and in January it began to bloom. However, all of the flower buds sprouted from the ends of the stems and caused the plant to droop. Some of the buds bloomed but many just fell off of the stems. How can I get the plant to have blossoms at other spots on the stems? Does it help to prune the camellia bush? Fritz Lee, Bakersfield

A: This can be caused naturally if the plant has excessive buds; by camellia petal blight; over-watering or poor drainage. Low humidity; poor soil; or even hail can cause this to happen. Plant sanitation caused by dropped blossoms which have not been removed from the ground can also be at fault.

A camellia variety from Japan called “Dylakagura” is noted for bud drop. A light spraying of copper sulfate should be sprayed on the ground around the bush after the blooms are gone. This should help next year’s flowers. If not, remove the bush and plant a new variety. A light pruning before it puts on new growth would be helpful.
Camellias require good drainage; several deep watering applications in the summer will help rid the soil of salts. Brown edges on white and pale pink flowers can be caused by the sun or wind as well as excess salts in the soil. Yellow leaves with green veins need a treatment of iron chelate.

Q: What is the difference between a calla lily and a canna lily? My lily is a beautiful yellow and orange color. George Wright, Rancho Cucamonga

A: They are both perennials that grow from rhizomes and do well in areas where it does not freeze.

Calla lily (zantedeschia aethiopica) Common Calla, originated in South Africa and grows 1 to 3 feet tall with a white flower (spathe) 5 to 9 inches long. It is popular with the florist trade. They have arrowhead shaped leaves with the flowers usually blooming above the leaves. Plant in good soil; keep moist in full sun (they tolerate some shade in hot summers). There are many new varieties with beautiful shades of yellow, orange, spotted and of course the robust “Green Goddess” with a white base with green towards the top of the flower.

Canna lily (Cannaceae) is native to the American tropics and subtropics. The leaves resemble banana or ginger plants, growing in full sun to a height of 4 to 6 feet. The leaves range in color from a rich green, bronzy red and the new variegated with veins of yellow/orange and green. The flowers are irregularly shaped on long spikes and come in red, orange, yellow, pink, cream shades and bicolor. They bloom from spring to fall. There are many dwarf cannas available with vibrant shades of color and purple foliage. Canna flowers do not last long, whereas the Calla flower lasts for days or even weeks.

Q: Is it too early to plant tomatoes in the garden. What variety do you recommend? Elisabeth, Fresno

A: Vegetable plants need warmth to develop their roots and foliage. The soil temperature must be at least 60ºfor best results. April is the earliest to plant most summer vegetable unless they are protected from cold weather. Night temperatures of 60º or more are recommended. May or even June is usually a better time to plant tomatoes. A common trick is to place an inverted clear plastic milk bottle with the bottom removed and the cap left off over the plant (if temperatures are above 70º, remove bottle). This should protect tomato and eggplant plants planted early. Remember to purchase the right tomato plant for your area.

Do you like heirloom, a large or a small cherry type tomato? An indeterminate tomato (fruits develop over a longer time period of time) plant is vine like, and needs trellising. I like Celebrity, Early Girl and Big Boy. However, there are so many new varieties available now that you should try a new one as well. Try some of yellow and white small cherry tomatoes as they will ripen earlier.

Determinate plants are bushier and usually produce the fruit over a short period, such as Romas. Romas are great for canning or making sauces. If you find plants at your nursery, let them get a head start in the warm day sun and shelter them at night.

It is best to rotate most vegetable crops, as they can deplete nitrogen and add nematodes and other diseases to the soil. Most new tomato varieties have been hybridized to resist fusarian wilt (F) and verticillium (V).

A: The Abutilon (Malvaceae), is a tropical bush, commonly known as the flowering maple, Chinese bellflower and Chinese lantern, is a native of the warm areas of the world, especially South America. Hybrids have produced very showy flowers in white, yellow, pink, red, and a variety of bicolor on arching branches.

Although March and October are the best time to prune, you can prune back as much as one-third of the growth and clean out any spindly twigs that remain. It is best to prune regularly every two months. If you mass prune it will take time for the bush to recover and bloom. It is really best not to prune more than 25% of the tree at one time. Don’t forget to compost the trimmings!

Do you have a garden question? Email giving your name, city where you live to:
Robert H. Schuler, M.G.

By Robert and Hoberley Schuler
UC Davis & OSU Master Gardeners and NGC & CGCI
Garden Study and Landscape Design Master Consultants