Bermuda grass is a good choice for grass replacement

Bermuda grass is a good choice for grass replacement

Neil Sperry

Dear Neil: We had a lovely zoysia garden until the hot, dry summer. In our 70s, we decided that our water bill was higher than we could afford ($300-400 per month). We replaced them with (expensive) river rocks. We killed all the grass and put in a good weed barrier. The problem now is to kill all the grass and weed seedlings that appear between the rocks. Can emergency solve the problem? (It's also difficult to walk on the rocks.)

a: Pre-emergent herbicides work if you are dealing with annual weeds that germinate from seed, provided you apply the granules at the right times. You can also eliminate almost all species while they are actively growing by only applying herbicides containing glyphosate during their initiation. A broadleaf weed killer (containing 2,4-D) will kill non-grass weeds, but you must be careful not to let them drift into existing shrubs, flowers and ground covers. As for walking on rocks versus walking on grass, you might consider another change. Common Bermuda is drought tolerant and is probably easier to maintain as well. Perhaps you might want to consider replacing parts of the rock with Bermuda. This combination will give you space to walk, and will also cool the landscape significantly.

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Dear Neil: I grow tomatoes, peppers and onions in large beds. I add compost, then finish filling it with soil. How long does the soil stay good, and is there anything I can do every year? I add fertilizer and stir it every year. I've been doing this for several years.

a: On the ground, we try to practice crop rotation so that we do not grow the same crop in the same part of the garden for years in a row. This reduces the chances of soil-borne problems accumulating. I would suggest you do it as much as you can. But that is not why we called for this meeting. In your view, organic matter (compost, rotted manure, shredded pine bark mulch, sphagnum moss) decomposes over time. It is the decomposition process that helps improve your soil mix. But it also ultimately removes the benefits of cultivated soil. Therefore, you need to add a few inches of high-quality organic matter between each crop. I will use a small tiller to mix it as much as possible, hopefully at least 7 or 8 inches. It should be the consistency of soil in the pot.

Dear Neil: We mowed our lawn and forgot to replace the screen around the magnolia tree I gave my wife several years ago. I discovered that a buck deer had torn down the tree, leaving only an inch of bark intact. Can the tree be saved?

a: The news is not really good. I'm so sorry, but the top will almost certainly die. The tissue inside the bark is called the phloem, which is a cylinder that delivers sugars manufactured from the leaves to the roots. The roots die and then the top dies. I've always wondered if it would be possible for a tree to sprout from its base if the top was quickly removed to an inch or two above the soil line before the roots “realized” that the bark above had been cut off. If this were my tree, this is what I would do and hope I could get through it. However, I'm still afraid you'll have to replace it.

Dear Neil: Something knocked down my tree a couple of weeks ago and left such damage. Larger branches (2 inches) were cut in two, while smaller branches were completely destroyed and removed. What would have caused this?

a: I look at the branches that remain with the surroundings. It looks like your power supply had to do a lot of pruning to keep this tree out of its lines. I see germs of previous cuts. This seed will never be strong, and decay often carries over into the tree. I would say that old pruning is definitely the cause of the breakage, but I wonder if it is worth the cost of having a certified arborist try to reduce the size of the tree. Genetics being what it is, it will grow back to the same size. They should really be removed and replaced with smaller types.

Dear Neil: I have a Schefflera plant that has grown very tall and unsightly. He appears to be healthy, but is only 4 feet tall. Is there any way to make it produce leaves further?

a: You may not know that in their native habitat, Schaefflera plants grow into very large trees. Like most trees, they eventually drop their lower leaves. However, one thing that works well with them, as long as they are still active, is cutting them close to the ground and allowing them to send up new shoots. I would wait until spring to do this, when you can put it in bright light outdoors. There is no direct sunlight, but very bright shade from all directions.

Dear Neil: A friend of mine gave me an envelope containing larkspur seeds from her old garden. When should I plant them? They are so beautiful every spring.

a: Nature plants them when the plants finish blooming and go to seed in late spring/early summer. They begin to germinate in the fall. That means you're kind of late now. I will try to plant part of it as soon as possible in freshly tilled, very organic garden soil. If a very cold snap is in the forecast, because you planted so late, you may want to place a frost cloth over the plants to help retain some of the sun's warmth. If this doesn't work, you may order another package next year so you can plant them in October.

Do you have a question you would like Neil to consider? Email it to the care of this newspaper or mail it to mailbag@sperrygardens.com. Neil regrets that he cannot answer questions individually.

    (Tags for translation)Botany

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