Metro-East Living

Go easy on plant fertilizer; how to care for hoyas and lemons

Q: The first few leaves of my newly planted Reliance Grape vines were dark green, but the newest top growth is white/pale green and the growth has slowed. They were planted in March and I added a 12-12-12 fertilizer. I added lime and a 10-0-10 fertilizer in April due to the slow growth. A few white leaves turned a little darker green but the growth has not improved. Apparently, my soil and I are not providing what they need.

D. F. of Albers

A: Take it easy with the fertilizer applications. Let at least a month go by before fertilizing an outdoor woody plant. Once you apply fertilizer and it becomes soluble with water, the plant’s roots absorb the fertilizer. Depending on its strength, the plant may become over-fertilized. Your plant’s leaves indicate this condition. In fact, the leaves can tell you that the plant is starving for nutrients or that it has too much. Once a plant absorbs too much, you have to wait until the leaves shed to get rid of the excess because they do not have kidneys like animals.

Obtain a soil test three months before planting outside. This test will indicate the pH. Maybe the lime application was not necessary. It will also indicate if phosphate and/or potassium is needed.

Usually a woody plant has a fertilizer application added to the media before it is sold. Because you added a nitrogen part in each of the fertilizer applications, you may also have burned the root hairs.

Q: My hoya plant (wax flower) is not looking good. I water it once a week. It’s in a south-facing window and in a clay pot. Any help?

L. P. of Belleville

A: A hoya plant is a vine and a succulent that can grow up to 16 feet tall if you let it. As a succulent, it will need a dry period during the winter months. The clay pot may give you some trouble. The water may drain through into the clay saucer, then be absorbed back into the plant, keeping it wetter than it needs to be. If your hoya (Hoya bella) has small leaves, it will need more heat and humidity but not as much bright light as the other hoyas (Hoya carnosa and H. multiflora), which have larger leaves.

Remember the three concerns with hoyas — once flower buds appear, do not disturb the plant; do not remove the dead flowers (They will fall off on their own); and finally, do not repot a hoya unless the container breaks because they like to be root-bound.

Q: I have lemon trees as house plants in an east window. Briefly tell me what fertilizer to use and other tips for general care.

V.R. of Mascoutah

A: Move your lemon trees to a south-facing window for the most light. The best amount of light is 12 hours. Rotate the lemon tree about a quarter of a turn every day to help it develop symmetry. Soil should have peat moss as a component because the lemon tree prefers a slightly acid soil. Feed it an indoor liquid plant fertilizer at half the recommended rate.

Keep the tree at 55 to 70 degrees. If the temperature drops below 54 degrees and the leaves will begin to fall off, just raise the temperature. The soil should always be moist to touch but not soggy. The Meyer variety is the best indoor type. If you want to pollinate, use a squirrel’s tail artist brush to move pollen from one flower to another to get the best smelling flowers and fruit.

Charles Giedeman is a local contributing writer. Send your gardening questions to Lifestyle Editor Patrick Kuhl, Belleville News-Democrat, P.O. Box 427, 120 S. Illinois St., Belleville, IL 62222-0427, or email them to

Do it now

▪  Prune all spring flowers and shrubs when they have finished blooming.