Dear Neil: I have property in South Texas and am looking for a plant that won’t have to be mowed. It’s a large property, and mowing takes two or three days. Clovers seem to grow well. We have sinkholes, so I believe there may have been an underground water system. What could I plant that would be the lowest maintenance?
A: I’m going to refer you to the agronomists with your local Texas AgriLife Extension office. This is clearly more in their domain than in that of an urban horticulturist (me). But my guess would be that it is still going to be some type of pasture plant/grass, because if you’re looking for any type of groundcover, you’re going to have monumental issues with weeds, trimming and other problems. If you go to clover, how will you spray for weeds that do show up? Let an agronomist help you.
Dear Neil: What is this plant I transplanted last winter? It seemed to be a shrub, but I’ve seen no flowers. Should I save it?
A: I normally don’t do plant IDs here because they’re usually of interest only to the person sending the sample in. You have a really fine shrub, however — a bridal wreath (spiraea) — and I figured if I didn’t reach out to save it, it might be gone before it got a chance to bloom for you next spring.
Dear Neil: What would the best groundcover be for a shady location with wet soils?
A: Mondograss, but try to improve the drainage if at all possible. Determine where the water originates, and reroute it off-site as much as you can. The reason I like regular mondograss in shade is because it has no runners to snag leaves in the fall. It’s far easier to blow it clean. It’s also quick to cover and comparatively easy to dig and divide.
Dear Neil: This weed has invaded my lawn, and weedkillers have not helped. What can I do?
A: You have Virginia buttonweed. It is notoriously difficult to eliminate. Use a broadleafed weedkiller by spot-treating directly onto the weed with a pump sprayer. You will need at least three applications on 2-week intervals. In areas where you have solid outbreaks you may even want to turn to a glyphosate spray. It will kill the turfgrass as well as the buttonweed, but if you use a glyphosate-only product it will leave no residual in the soil. You will be able to replant right away. Once you get rid of the weed keep it out as soon as you see any more trying to come back into your lawn.
Dear Neil: Trumpetvines are about to take over our yard. Is there any product we can use to stop or prevent them?
A: If you have access to the mother plant (if it’s in your yard, for example), cut it off just above ground level and drill holes into the stump. Pour broadleafed weedkiller (containing 2,4-D) at full strength into the holes. It will soak into the wood and be carried out to the roots. Use the same product mixed at spraying strength and apply it to the new growth of any sprouts that come up in your lawn. If it’s convenient, dig them out by hand. If the mother plant is next door, you’ll need to dig a 30-inch trench and install a root barrier. Or bribe the neighbor to remove it. (Peach pies would work with me.)
Dear Neil: The photos show the condition of my azaleas (silvery on tops of leaves and black spots on bottoms). Could it be mold from over-watering a month ago when it was also raining?
A: You’ve sent great photos. This is not a mold. Your plant has been hit by lace bugs. The adult insects that do the damage have clear cellophane-like wings, so we hardly notice when they’re there. But the black specks are their excrement. They suck the life out of the leaves with the resulting tan/silver color. Apply a general-purpose insecticide labeled for lace bugs to control them. Next year you could also apply the systemic insecticide Imidacloprid in late May to prevent their damage before it shows up.
Dear Neil: I have a fig tree that looks good overall. However, a few of the leaves are turning brown, and some of the figs are falling. Please advise.
A: I see so few leaves turning brown in your photo that I wouldn’t be too alarmed. It might just be that an animal has brushed into the plant and broken a small branch or two. Keep your plant well mulched and moist and it should be fine.
Dear Neil: Our Chinese pistachio tree has just started dying. The leaves quickly looked burned. Is there anything we can do to save it?
A: Whatever has gotten this tree is farther down and out of the photos you sent, either in the lower part of the trunk or in the root system. If it’s growing in an area with alkaline soil, it could be cotton root rot, although this tree isn’t highly susceptible to the disease. If the trunk has a lot of vertical cracks, it may be suffering from sunscald it faced when it was first planted. When their trunks aren’t protected by paper tree wrap for their first two years out in the open, pistachios (like red oaks and maples) often blister and crack. It’s also possible that a weed-and-feed fertilizer could have done this to it. I can’t tell just from the photos, but it doesn’t look good.
Dear Neil: I have my calendar circled for a “weed and feed” the last week of August or the first week of September for my lawn. Can you recommend a particular brand?
A: Good for you for marking the calendar, but please quote me correctly. I would never recommend a combination “weed and feed.” I think those two things need to be done separately. What you’re trying to do during that two-week window is to apply a pre-emergent weedkiller, and the three that are most common are Dimension (in most nurseries), Halts (in most hardware stores) and Balan (in many feed stores).
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.