Walter Reeves: Pyracantha may be tough enough to recover after much abuse

The splendid red berries of pyracantha make it a prized possession in a landscape. (Walter Reeves for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Walter Reeves

Credit: Walter Reeves

The splendid red berries of pyracantha make it a prized possession in a landscape. (Walter Reeves for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Q: What do you know about Gnome pyracantha? They are supposed to take full sun to partial shade, as a hardy low-maintenance shrub with red berries. I got it in June and it was thick with leaves. I put it in full sun for a few weeks, in partial shade for a few weeks, and in shade a few weeks, to see how it would do. In a matter of weeks, all of the leaves turned brown and fell off. Some small leaves are starting to pop back up. Brian Price, email

A: I think at some point the roots got too dry and the leaves fell off in protest. Your scheme to try the plant in different light levels was motivated by curiosity, which is a good trait for a gardener, but a few weeks in each environment is way too short. A couple of years of observation in each spot would be better. But here’s some good news: You have a couple of leaves that are sprouting, and pyracantha is a tough plant. I would plant it temporarily in a shady place that gets a little bit of sun during the day. Water often enough to keep the roots moist, but not soggy, at all times and see if it can recover.

Q: I have an insulated, 7.5-cubic-foot compost bin but I haven’t had much compost. I turn the compost once a week. Is that too much? Patrick O’Neil, Canton

A: I think there could be three problems going on at the same time: temperature, moisture and oxygen. Microbes that chew up your kitchen scraps always need a bit of warmth to do their work. Even though your composter is insulated, in fall and winter the heat naturally coming from the microbes can be quickly lost. Get a compost thermometer and check the temperature in the center of the pile. It should be at least 100 degrees Fahrenheit. If it’s not, mix up a gallon of houseplant fertilizer and get a helper to slowly pour it into the composter as you turn the contents. You’re trying to get the fertilizer into contact with every clump of compost. Put the lid back on and wait a week, with no turning. Things should be heating up by then. If it’s warm but not hot, close and wait another week. If it’s still not hot, check the moisture level. Ideally, moisture content throughout the pile should be comparable to a wrung-out sponge. You can fix a soggy pile by more turning. Eventually, you’ll get a feel for how often to turn the compost to keep the pile hot in the center. Turning at these intervals should introduce enough oxygen to keep the microbes happy and produce compost for you.

Email Walter at georgiagardener@yahoo.com. Listen to his occasional garden comments on “Green and Growing with Ashley Frasca” Saturday mornings on 95.5 WSB. Visit his website, walterreeves.com, or join his Facebook page at bit.ly/georgiagardener for his latest tips.

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