Dear Neil: While we were traveling around in North Texas a few weeks ago, we saw large fields filled with what I first thought was Queen Anne’s lace. I did research and concluded it was poison hemlock. Now I’m wondering why more wasn’t written about it in the newspapers at the time.

A: I think you’re mistaking beggar’s lice with poison hemlock. North Texas and many other areas had a year unlike any other with this weed that looks like wimpy Queen Anne’s lace. You can search for it online as Torilis arvensis. There was a good bit written about it (by me and many others), and I suspect there will be more as people begin to realize how awful its seeds are now that they’re beginning to dry. Animal fur will be filled with them, as will socks and other clothing. My bet is that people will keep it under better control next year if it comes back as vigorously.

Dear Neil: We have had trailing vinca groundcover in these areas for years, but I’ve never seen it die like this before. Could it be too much rain?

A: We’ve had rainy years before in many parts of Texas where vinca groundcover is used. This is damage of leafrollers. They’re obnoxious pests that roll themselves up in the leaves over a two- to three-week period. Usually they hit later in the summer, but for some reason they’re early this year. The leaves turn brown and soon fall off leaving browned stems like you’re seeing. The whole process doesn’t kill the vinca, but it takes it from looking fabulous to looking awful very rapidly. I would suggest trimming it to tidy the bed up, then apply an all-nitrogen fertilizer to promote new shoot growth. Keep it watered well the balance of the growing season so that new shoots will fill back in. It should look good again by fall. Then next year in late spring apply a systemic insecticide such as Imidacloprid three to four weeks prior to the time that you saw this damage this year. That should kill the larvae as they try to feed and fold the leaves over.

Dear Neil: I have an Oklahoma redbud that keeps getting a white fungal growth around the base of its trunk. I treat it, but it keeps returning. Is there a cure?

A: Hmm. A photo really would have helped. If it’s essentially at the soil line, it might be accumulated salt residue. It could be mineral deposit from irrigation water that runs down the trunk or from a male dog. If it’s spongy and extends out from the bark of the tree, it could be some type of mushroom, and that would suggest decay in the wood of the trunk, perhaps following an injury from a line trimmer or mower wheel. If it goes all the way around the trunk that might indicate internal decay, perhaps from a bud union that isn’t strong. I’ve seen several grafted redbuds break at that point this spring in the high winds. You might take a couple of really good photos to a Texas Certified Nursery Professional.

Dear Neil: I have had these hydrangeas on the north side of my house for five years. As you can see, one plant has no flowers and I see no buds. Why might that be? Also, how difficult is it to transplant hydrangeas?

A: If you ask a lot of other Texans, you’ve actually done quite well with your plants. Hydrangeas are very challenging. Failure to bloom can be due to excessive shade, pruning at the wrong season (you don’t want to prune in fall, winter or early spring), or freeze damage. As for digging and transplanting hydrangeas, it can be done. Winter would be the time to do so, but you’ll reduce the number of blooms you get the next year significantly.

Dear Neil: I have a zoysia lawn with some bermuda mixed in with it. How can I encourage the zoysia to crowd out the bermuda?

A: Honestly, I don’t believe there is any way short of spot-treating the bermuda to kill it. Bermuda is the more aggressive of the two grasses, so if you give great care to your lawn, it will win. And bermuda is the more abuse-tolerant grass of the two, so if you neglect things, it will win. Either way, bermuda wins. I would make a concerted effort to apply a glyphosate-only herbicide with a pump sprayer in a way that you don’t touch the zoysia at all. Sure, it will look bad for a while, and sure, it’s going to test your patience, but you can get there. You just have to stay the course until you get it where you want it to be. Your other option would be to rent a sod cutter and remove the bermuda sod from those areas where it’s solid and replant zoysia immediately. But be sure you’re using the same type of zoysia. You surely don’t want a mixture.

Dear Neil: I have this “bulb” growing on top of one of my amaryllis bulbs now that it has finished blooming. What is it, and what should I do with it?

A: Your amaryllis flower has set seed. Let the fruit ripen until this starts to split open. If you have a piece of plastic mesh or scrap of old pantyhose, tie it around to capture the seeds so they don’t fall to the ground. Then if you want to plant them and try growing your own bulbs you can do so. It will take several years before they become mature enough to bloom.

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

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