Blackwelder column: What are those plants?

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 21, 2011

SALISBURY — With the change in temperature, homeowners have a natural tendency to migrate outside and contemplate maintenance chores. Pruning is always an issue with changes in the weather, whether it’s fall or spring. Many have called about pruning and other plant identification. Below are just a few.
Q: My mother planted azaleas that are too tall, approaching 5 feet. Can I prune them now and not kill them?
A: Pruning azaleas now may be a problem if the weather becomes unseasonably warm during the winter followed by very cold weather. This often happens, and when it does, it kills some plants back from new growth and completely kills others. The best time to prune azaleas is right after they bloom to the end of June.
Q: There is a big tree on the edge of our property with huge lime-green fruit the size of softballs. What kind of tree is this? Are these fruits edible?
A: The tree is an osage orange, which is more commonly found in the midwestern states. The large fruit has a lemon scent and ones have been known to crack a car windshield. Squirrels enjoy the seeds. Another distinguishing characteristic about osage orange trees is the plethora of sharp thorns. Before the invention of barbed wire, miles of hedge were constructed by planting young osage orange trees closely together in a line to keep cattle at bay.
Q: There is a dogwood tree and an azalea blooming in the front of St. John’s Lutheran Church in Salisbury. Is this a fall blooming dogwood?
A: No, that is a kousa dogwood and a coral gumpo azalea blooming out of season. Stress is usually the culprit causing plants to bloom out of season. Hot weather, followed by cool weather or rainy weather often confuses the biological clock of some plant species (flowering hormones, etc.). The plants will bloom again in the spring; however, it depends how much of the plants’ stored energy was consumed in determining to what degree.
Q: What is that holly that has a very fragrant bloom in the fall? My neighbor has one and I can smell it from my house.
A: The plant is not really a holly but fragrant Osmanthus (Osmanthus fragrans), which is entirely different from a true holly. The leaves of a holly (Ilex sp.) alternate on the stem while Osmanthus leaves are opposite of each other. The shrub is used as a hedge, border or screen. More information can be found at http://www.ces.
Darrell Blackwelder is the County Extension Director with horticulture responsibilities with the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service in Rowan County. Learn more about Cooperative Extension events and activities by checking Facebook, going online at or calling 704-216-8970.