Dear Neil: We are having foundation work done next week. They have told us that a row of dwarf Burford hollies will have to be taken up and then replanted. Is it worthwhile to try to save them?
A: Most folks do try to save their existing landscape plants during such repairs, but I would not attempt it personally. First of all, shrubs that have been growing side-by-side for more than a few years will be so intertwined and misshapen that it will be hard to fit them back together. Plus, digging any shrub this time of year is a very risky affair. This would be my opportunity to do a redesign of my landscape, to bring new layouts and plants into my life.
Dear Neil: I have several potted geraniums. Their labels say "Water every day. Fertilize every two weeks. 6 hours of sunlight." I have done all of that, and they look terrible - brown, curled leaves and no flowers. Is that too much sun, or what else might have gone wrong?
A: You're right on target. Geraniums really struggle with full sun in the Texas summertime. What you've described is exactly how they react, and it's why many of us prefer to use them primarily early spring into early summer. In fact, moving them into the shade doesn't help. They may not get as browned in the shade, but they'll get very spindly. Don't kick yourself for what has happened. Geraniums really prefer temperatures in the 60- to 80-degree range. (Doesn't sound much like Texas, does it?)
If you'd permit a personal comment: I spent one year of my life writing text for nursery labels, and it was unbelievably difficult, given no more than 17 words, to describe a plant and how it should be grown, and to have that information relevant nationally. Your best source of advice when you're considering plants will always be a local, independent nursery person.
Dear Neil: Attached is a photo of my pineapple plant with the small pineapple on top of it. Should I move it to a larger pot? I'm afraid that I'll damage the fruit in such a move. Also, I have some other pineapple plants that I started in water. What should I do with them?
A: Pineapples are bromeliads. You're familiar with many of the other members of this big plant family, if not by name, at least on sight. Many types, pineapples included, form their flower buds (and fruit) out of the center crowns of the growing stems. Once they bloom, there is no growing point left on that stem, and it eventually dies and withers away. In the process, new plants (called "pups" by bromeliad enthusiasts) sprout up around the base of the mother plant. Those can be potted up and grown in loose, highly organic potting soil. You should do that same thing with your rooted plants that you have in water. Repotting the fruiting plant at this point really isn't necessary.
Dear Neil: You mentioned in a recent article that Johnsongrass would go away if it were kept mowed at less than an inch or two. I don't think your idea is accurate. It comes back from its roots.
A: I appreciate your note, and I do acknowledge that Johnsongrass is a perennial with a very heavy, vigorous root system. However, I'll stick with my comment. It does not tolerate close mowing. That's why you'll see very little of it in well-managed, frequently mowed lawns. Dallisgrass, by comparison, is able to withstand closer mowing than even bermudagrass, so it will persist in its heavy, dark green clumps. As I mentioned in that prior answer, where you have clear access to Johnsongrass in beds and other open areas, a glyphosate herbicide will control it.
Dear Neil: I planted a live oak in 1997. It is now 25 or 30 feet tall and 10 inches in diameter. I see no evidence of any type of damage, yet for the past eight years, it has dropped leaves from April through the entire growing season each year. Why would that be happening? I'm tired of raking leaves. (See sample enclosed.)
A: There are no signs of insect galls or any type of disease on the leaves you sent. In fact, they just look like normal, brown leaves. It's difficult to tell what might be causing them to fall without seeing the tree, but it could be just that particular tree's reaction to higher temperatures and lower humidity. Live oaks vary more from one tree to the next than almost any other species. I would guess it's just a genetic difference. Keep it moist at all times, and see if the problem lessens at all next year. Good luck!
If you'd like Neil Sperry's help with a plant question, drop him a note in care of The Eagle, P.O. Box 3000, Bryan, Texas 77805. Or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.