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LifestyleColumnistsJessica Damiano

Late morning glories, pear rust and deformed hibiscus blooms

Flowering morning glory.

Flowering morning glory. Credit: Fotolia

DEAR JESSICA: Every October, I pick and save seeds from my morning glory pods. (I do leave some on the plants.) Coming back from Florida late this year, I didn’t sow until the third week in May. They did grow very full up on the fence — 18 feet by 6 feet, and another 4 feet on a bush. Yes, they get watered. Yes, they get fed. Yes, they’re in full sun. It’s just a wall of green back there. Each previous year, they flowered.

— Tom Pennacchio,


DEAR TOM: Morning glories typically take about 120 days from seed to bloom. So if you planted them during the third week of May — let’s say May 15 — my math shows your vine will bloom on Sept. 12.

Of course, there could be other variables, such as planting extra-late blooming cultivars (but you’ve said you grew the same ones last year), insufficient sunlight (you say that’s not the case), fertilizing (you indicated you’ve fed them, and nitrogen encourages green, leafy growth at the expense of flowers; that’s a problem).

If it makes you feel any better, mine propagate themselves, dropping seeds that germinate on their own the following spring — and they didn’t bloom until mid-August.

Still, to get an early jump on them next year, you can start the seeds indoors in late March. Soak them in water overnight, then scar them a bit with a small nail clipper before planting, and cover with plastic wrap, keeping the soil moist but not soggy. Uncover when sprouts appear and set by a sunny window or under grow lights. Then plant outdoors at the end of April or beginning of May, taking care to acclimate the seedlings to outdoor temperatures gradually over the course of a few days (leave them out in a shady spot for an hour the first day, two hours the second day, three hours the third, then plant them outdoors in a sunny spot).

If you’d like to try to rush blooms a bit, you can then give them a dose of fertilizer that contains only phosphorus (the middle number of the three-number ratio on the package; look for a product labeled 0-10-0 or 0-20-0, etc.).

DEAR JESSICA: Every year we had hundreds of pears, this year none. Maybe the two frigid winters did damage? I noticed the leaves are spotted with black and orange. Hoping you know a remedy.

— Jo Petruzziello,

Glen Head

DEAR JO: Many pear (and other fruit) trees take a year off, usually every second year, to build up energy after producing a nice harvest. The off years will still yield some fruit, but not in large quantity. It’s possible your tree is simply resting after last year’s production, but it’s also possible a late frost nipped your tree in the bud, so to speak. Did you do any pruning in spring? If so, you might have removed buds that would have become fruit. You also should consider the possibility of thieves: A few years ago, I left my fruit-filled pear tree for a weeklong vacation in July and returned to fruitless branches and no sign of the culprits — squirrels!

Pear trees should be fertilized annually in spring, after new growth starts, but not if they have a history of fire blight, which yours does not appear to have.

It does, however, appear to have rust, a fungal disease. On pears, rust presents as orange spots on the upper surface of leaves, and later in the season masses of brown spores appear on leaf undersides. In rare cases, fruit is also affected.

There really isn’t any effective (food-safe) treatment that will cure your tree after rust takes hold. Removing affected leaves can cause more harm than good, so leave them alone.

Your best defense in this case would be a good offense: Clean up thoroughly around the tree after leaves have fallen in autumn, removing all plant debris from the soil around the tree and discarding it in the trash. Next year, apply a pre-emergent fungicide in spring, before trees bloom. Look for a product, likely sulphur-based, that is labeled as safe for edibles, and follow package directions carefully.

DEAR JESSICA: Do you know what is wrong with my hibiscus? I have never had this problem before and I have planted hibiscus in this planter every year for 20 years. The first blooms were perfect, but three weeks later the flowers were normal size, though the edges were curled up. Three weeks after that, the next blooms were smaller and curled up.

— Kathy Meade,


DEAR KATHY: Your plant looks (otherwise) very healthy, so I don’t believe thrips or other insects are responsible. Rather, it seems your plant was reacting to the long heat wave we had in August, around the time you sent the photo.

Although they are tropical plants, hibiscus do not take kindly to extended periods of hot, dry weather, and they require consistently moist soil. They don’t like soggy roots, however, so they should be watered to the point of saturation roughly three times per week, adjusting for the weather. During the extended heat spell, this could have meant daily, or even twice daily, depending on where your plants are located.


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