Dear Neil: You wrote not too long ago about Chaparral weeping mulberry. Where can I find one?
A: I never feel secure answering a question like that about a really uncommon plant. Availabilities are so unpredictable. In this case, I see them in nurseries every spring, but I rarely see more than a few of them in any one garden center. They have to be grafted, and they're somewhat slow to fill out as young trees, so they're fairly pricey. Nurserymen know they'll sell a few, but they don't want to get stuck with a lot, so inventories are seldom really big. You will definitely need to buy through a local independent retail garden center, not the national retailers. Locals are the sorts of places where you'll find the unusual plants. They also will be willing and able to work with you in special-ordering one for you. They're fairly commonly available through online searches, but it's always far better to buy locally if you possibly can. Good luck with the search. Talk to your favorite nurseryman.
Dear Neil: I have crape myrtles that are three years old. When should they be fertilized, and what should I use?
A: It's simpler than you might think. Crape myrtles bloom on new growth, and nitrogen promotes such new growth, so you can use the very same fertilizer you apply to your lawn. Just be sure that it doesn't include a weedkiller component. Timing will be the same as for the lawn. The crape myrtles will leaf out about the same time that lawns really start growing, so early April works for both. Repeat early June, and you're good to go. You'll be making an early fall feeding to the lawn also, and that certainly won't hurt the crape myrtles. Easy enough?
Dear Neil: I have a very nice redtip photinia that seems to be dying. Its outer leaves have turned brown. I've cut it back, but it continues. How can I stop it?
A: "Brown" just means, as you surmised, that particular part of the plant is dying. It doesn't give a lot of clues. Of course, standard things like drought, weedkiller damage and mechanical injury from a line trimmer are all possibilities. Redtips are also susceptible to cotton root rot and fire blight. However, the overwhelming cause of redtip deaths all across America has become a fungal disease known as Entomosporium leaf spot. It begins with maroon "freckles" all over the leaves. Individual branches will vary in the intensity of the outbreak initially. It will then lead to yellowed, even white leaf blades that start to turn brown and crisp around their edges. At that point, the plant begins to die, several branches at a time. The disease is rampant all across Texas, and the saddest part is that there is no spray or systemic fungicide that offers any help at all. Compare your branch samples to what I've described and also to photos you can find online. If that's what you have, you really need to start thinking about a replacement. I hope it's something else. Sorry I couldn't nail it down more specifically.
Dear Neil: I have some yaupon hollies that have begun to encroach on Indian hawthorns in our landscapes. Can yaupons be moved? If so, when is the best time?
A: Dig them during their winter dormant period. Hold as much of their root system intact as you use a sharpshooter spade to dig the balls of soil. You'll need to trim them by 40 to 50 percent to compensate for the roots that will be lost as you dig them.
Dear Neil: We are in the process of clearing rural land, and there are numerous wild mustang grapevines in the tops of many trees. They have disfigured many of the trees. We'd like to get the grapes out of the trees, then redirect their vines onto arbors we plan to build. Is there any certain way to do that pruning to maximize the health of the vines? Some of them are 10 to 12 inches in diameter.
A: My strong opinions -- I would never mess with the old vines (way too much trouble). The best thing to do is to cut them out of the trees and also to get rid of the old root systems, either by pulling the stumps or with a broadleafed weedkiller poured at full strength into holes you have drilled into the stumps. Then, if you want grapes over your new arbors, you would simply plant whatever type you want on the supports. You'll get much better plants much more quickly if you start with vigorous, young plants. Remember, too, how large those old vines are as you build the new structure. Grapes require large and substantial supports.
• 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.