THE DIRT GARDENER THANKS FOR ASKING I would like to germinate the seeds of Protea, Eximia, Cynaroides and Leucospermum, if they’ll grow in this area. Can they be grown in large containers and then transplanted into the ground later? In addition, I have a disk of Smoke Primer but I’m not sure if it’s necessary? Native to Australia and South Africa, Proteas can be grown throughout the warmer areas of the Bay Area. They produce some of the most exotic flowers that one can use in arrangements. They're an excellent landscape or container plant. Of greatest concern in growing them is water, soil pH, nutrients and the winter cold. Proteas love full sun and they’re a water-wise landscape shrub, as long as they're not over watered. With our clay soil, I'd hand water them instead of using an irrigation system to control the moisture. They like a soil that drains well, so being planted in a container is ideal as the drainage is perfect. Proteas are mostly acid loving plants with a desirable pH around 5.0, however, some varieties prefer an alkaline condition, 8.0. It is variety specific, so you need to know ahead of time what their needs are. Potting soil tends to be around pH neutral, 7.0, so it would be beneficial to purchase a simple pH kit to determine what you have and then adjusted for the specific variety. Soil Sulfur, Magnesium Sulfate will lower the pH while Hydrated Lime increases the pH. You’ll need to follow the directions on the packaging for the amount you’ll need to add to make the necessary change. Proteas require little fertilizer containing NPK, about an eighth to a quarter of the amount given to a typical ornamental plant(s), although, they like higher levels of Magnesium, Iron and Sulfur. Cold weather damage occurs with Proteas when the temperature falls below thirty degrees and few varieties tolerate temperatures below twenty degrees. Thus it's easier to protect those plants in containers verses the ones planted in the ground. The container size is determined by the ultimate growth habit of the variety; a one gallon to twelve inch pot for the small to medium size varieties and fifteen gallon or twenty-four inch pot for the larger ones. The seedling will need to be transplanted several times until it reaches the final size. The Smoke Disk Primer is not only necessary for germination, it's a requirement. Proteas produce dormant seeds and need very specific conditions for germination. In 1990, researchers realized that the chemicals in smoke from the South African bush wild fires called fynbos, and not just the heat of the fire was responsible for breaking seed dormancy and stimulating germination. The smoke seed primer solution contains a combination of natural substances that overcome dormancy and stimulate seed germination. So, I'd put it to use. Other than the root rot problem from water, Proteas are pretty easy to grow with few if any pests or diseases. I’d like to know why my Sun Azaleas are so tall and leggy. They flower okay but only at the ends of the long stems. What must I do to make these plants more compact? Sun Azaleas are not a low growing compact plant. They typically reach a height of four to six feet, depending on the variety with the flowers on the end of the branches. Being a leggy grower is a common compliant with Sun Azaleas. You can correct this by pruning the plants after flowering to reduce the height about fifty percent and then feed them with the Azalea, Camellia and Rhododendron Food to encourage the new growth. This doesn’t have to be an annual task. They going look a bit ragged for a while but they do recover. If this is still too tall you may want to replace them with a different plant. I have a six year old dwarf Meyer lemon tree. It is about six feet tall and has been producing lemons all these years but now I see no new buds. In addition, some of the leaves are falling off. I have been feeding it regularly with Miracle-Gro Shake n Feed but I’ve noticed that the pellets have not dissolved. Someone told me that maybe the pellets are too old. What should I be doing? A L I V E E A S 20 T B A Y m a r c h 2 0 1 6 BUZZ BERTOLERO Q. Q. A. Q. A.
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