Q: What flower is this? The flower is from a small tree near my house. It smells very nice. Could you please help me identify it, and how I can plant one in my yard?
A: That is a magnolia commonly referred to as sweetbay, laurel or swamp (magnolia), Magnolia virginiana. It is reasonably common, so check around to some garden centers; one should have it. It prefers a moist to wet location and full to partial sun. It grows fairly quickly and then stays as a small/mid-size tree. I have one and it has been easy to care for.
Q: I have tomatoes in 5 gallon buckets on my deck and there are these odd dark greenish to black things about inch long scattered around below the plants. Where are these coming from?
A: These are from tobacco or tomato hornworms. They eat a lot every day and get about 4 inches long. So they poop a lot, big droppings too. The tops of your plants will look like a deer browsed them off, if you don't pick them off or get rid of them in another way.
An effective and safe insecticide spray is one with spinosad as the active ingredient. Bonide's Captain Jack's Dead Bug Brew has it, as well as Fertilome's Borer, Bagworm, Leaf Miner and Tent Caterpillar Killer. The big ones are relatively easy to find, but the smaller ones can be challenging.
Q: It was so hot and dry that I didn't plant a flower bed. Are there any flowers that can still be planted as seeds and bloom decently?
A: Yes! Zinnia's are recommended with the saying to seed by Fourth of July. Most varieties are listed as 75-90 days, maturing in 75 days when planted late, as the warm soil will advance seedling development. So they will be nice in September. Another summer flower with similar maturity and liking warm temperatures is cosmos. Even more rapidly developing are sunflowers and marigolds. Consider single petal forms if you want to attract pollinators and butterflies, as they can access the nectar and pollen easier than with double petal forms. Pollinators appreciate late annual flowers as floral resources (typically) drop off in the fall.
Q: I have tomatoes in pots and they have given quite a few tasty fruits. Is their anything I should do so they continue to yield?
A: It would be best to liquid feed them weekly. Get a standard liquid feed product and follow the mixing directions for outdoor vegetables and do this weekly until mid-September. Once tomatoes have begun yielding, whether in pots or in the ground, they will benefit from additional nitrogen fertilizer. When in pots it is easier to do with the regular watering.
Q: I have a yew that had some foliage dieback the last year and has again this year. Is this a disease that is spreading, or something else? Some roses nearby got rose rosette disease, could that be at fault?
A: The rose rosette virus is specific to roses. It would NOT afflict a yew.
Winter injury is the most common damage to yew. It can reoccur in the same location and progress, if there is some aggravating factor there. I have a situation like that, where a dryer vents its moist/warm air into a yew bush. It took about two to three years to become obvious. Now I have a board in place to deflect the flow and it has helped. But I still have some damage to trim out every year.
If one carefully prunes out the affected foliage, that removes the unsightliness and hopefully the remaining growth recovers. If the area is quite shady then that recovering growth is less robust and it seems like the recovery is very tentative. A sample would need to be submitted to our diagnostic clinic to confirm a disease. The cost is $20.