Welcome to Ask A Master Gardener
Ask a Master Gardener. It occurs to us maybe you need to know what a Master Gardener is, since this is our first biweekly column in Lagniappe. The official answer is someone completing a training course and volunteer hours leading to certification by the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, armed with science-based gardening information as defined by the Extension system. (Well, maybe that’s the officious answer, but you get the idea.)

Some Master Gardeners just can’t get enough and go on to join the Mobile Master Gardener Association, a volunteer group formed to promote home and community gardening and the ACES. On our gardening information “helpline,” 1-877-252-GROW (4769) we take calls about home gardening. In other words, we are trained volunteers who know how to look up stuff. We thought about calling the column Master Gardeners: We can look it up … but then, well, we were afraid you’d look up your own stuff.  
Master gardener
This column won’t answer every question; apparently there are space limitations. Who knew?
We count leaflets and leaf lobes, but … words? Not so much. We’ll try. We do promise to address broad-interest questions and provide answers using ACES’s scientific information and a seasonal focus so you’ll get gardening information at the time you can use it. We promise information for our unique Gulf Coast corner of the world. And we will shamelessly promote gardening, be it for food or beauty, for exercise or fun or therapy, to build communities or families.

Email us your questions at mailto:CoastalAlabamaGardening@gmail.com or call (toll free) 877-252-4769, the Master Gardener Helpline answered by Mobile and Baldwin county Master Gardener volunteers. (We can look it up.)

We’ll keep you posted about community gardening events we sponsor, and next spring we’ll let you know how you, too, can become a Master Gardener.

Now that we know each other and have squeezed in our promo, we promise less gab and more gardening next time, so we’ll stop here and Ask a Master Gardener:

Q: My Loropetalum have gotten too large despite trimming each quarter. I did not plant the smaller version and they are too large as foundation plants. Is there a way to trim them that retains their natural flowing look? When I trim them they look like balls!

A: Your experience has given you part of your own answer. Good for you! As you say, they are too large for foundation plants, unless you need a botanical fire escape from your second-floor window.

Loropetalum are beautiful plants with red-colored leaves and cheerful pink fringe blooms in spring, but under the old “right plant, right place” rule, they are not good foundation plants. A mature, untrained Loropetalum can reach 18 feet tall, about right for a second-floor fire escape but not for a corner planting.

Consider alternate foundation plants: dwarf yaupon holly, “Soft Touch” holly, dwarf abelia, Kurume hybrid azaleas or Japanese hollies. To reduce your pruning burden, save your Loropetalum for that spot begging for a small blooming tree.

You can reduce the sprouting vigor of Loropetalum. Select a long limb and follow it down inside the canopy where it originates. Cut at the branch union, inside the canopy. Every summer after Father’s Day all those shiny new electric shrub trimmers buzz around town. Just don’t use them to shear your Loropetalum into a ball.Cutting all the stems to the same length creates mid-branch cuts that cause more new limbs to branch out, and then your plant has even more sprouts you’ll have to cut, in a never-ending cycle. Pruning back to the branch origin decreases new shoots and the time needed to prune, and helps retain the natural shape of the plant.

Upcoming Master Gardener Events

When: Thursday, Aug. 6,
9:30-11 a.m.

Where: Jon Archer Center, 1070 Schillinger Road, Mobile

What: “Arrangements Using Greenery from Your Garden:  What Works and What Lasts” presented by Rachel Bond, owner of Pine Hills Floral in Pass Christian, Mississippi  

When: Monday, Aug. 17,
noon to 1 p.m.

Where: Jon Archer Center, 1070 Schillinger Road, Mobile

What:  “Seed Saving” presented by Alabama Extension Horticultural Agent Ellen Huckabay