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IN THE GARDEN: This winter proved pineapple guava too tender for Arkansas

by Janet B. Carson April 29, 2023 at 1:31 a.m.
Most likely killed in the December freeze, pineapple guava (Feijoa sellowiana) was a borderline-hardy plant anyway and not always able to survive typical winters in Central Arkansas. (Special to the Democrat-Gazette/Janet Carson)

Q: Good morning. It appears the hard freezes have killed both my guava and banana shrub. Both have bark blown off at the base and no leaves or buds emerging. I plan on giving it another month but am pretty confident they are toast.

A: I, too, am still waiting for both of these plants to start to regrow. I am almost 100% sure that mine have died to the ground, but I am keeping my fingers crossed that they will begin to sprout from the roots. I am not out anything by waiting, but I am sad. Both of these plants — pineapple guava (Feijoa sellowiana) and banana shrub (Magnolia figo, previously Michelia figo) — were borderline for us in Central Arkansas, and Mother Nature might be telling us something. Everyone keeps asking if this is how winters will be from now on, but that is above my pay grade. Only time will tell. I always say, you aren't a true gardener if you never lost a plant — because you aren't trying something new. I think there may be many true gardeners this year.

Q: I wrote you some years ago about my 6-foot camellia that broke in half, and I put it back together with duct tape and plastic strapping. Well, it worked! In fact, the bush is about 15 feet tall now and was beautiful and fully budded out when the December freeze hit. Needless to say, all of the buds were killed and much of the foliage, but most of the leaf damage seems to be at the bottom, complete with dead branches. My question: Can I cut off the bottom limbs and make a Camellia tree out of it? From 3 to 4 feet up there seem to be no dead limbs and few dead leaves. What have I got to lose? And it sure would look better than it does now.

A: I would say go for it. As you say, you have nothing to lose. I am jealous that your camellia has no top damage. I still see no signs of life on my sasanqua camellias, on any part of the plants. In fact, they had started to put on some new leaves but those have died too.

Q: These shrubs were planted long before we owned the house. An online ID application says these are Japanese Ternstroemia, though I always thought they were red tipped photinias. I also thought they just got hit hard with the winter weather, but the leaves have brown spots. I see new growth coming out without spots. Any advice on how to reinvigorate these plants?

[Gallery not showing? Click here to see photos: arkansasonline.com/429shrub]

 Gallery: In the garden April 29

A: The plants are Cleyera. This is another plant whose Latin name changed to Ternstroemia, then back to Cleyera. "Cleyera" is used most commonly. They were often touted as a replacement for red tipped photinias when the photinias got hit by leaf-spotting diseases. The new foliage (depending on variety) does have a reddish coloration. Cleyeras took a bit of a hit from the winter weather. While they can suffer from the same leaf spot as photinias, we haven't seen it as widespread. In combination with cold damage, spot may have aided in the decline of the old foliage. You can spray with a fungicide now as new leaves are emerging and then see what happens. If the new foliage remains clean, let it grow. A light application of fertilizer can help, but go lightly.

Q: I have a few lantanas that have come back each summer for the last few years. Did our recent deep freeze most likely kill them? No hint of growth yet on any of them, although it might still be a little early to read them their last rites.

A: I would be surprised if your lantanas reappear, but stranger things have happened. Lantanas like warm weather, and warm soil. We have had a few warm days, but it has still been quite cool for us this spring. Be patient and see what happens. I am a somewhat impatient gardener, and even when my lantanas come back, I add new, because it takes them so long to start blooming.

Retired after 38 years with the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service, Janet Carson ranks among Arkansas' best known horticulture experts. Her blog is at arkansasonline.com/planitjanet. Write to her at P.O. Box 2221, Little Rock, AR 72203 or email jcarson@arkansasonline.com

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