Your questions are a window into what you are thinking, and you are obviously thinking of spring. Cabin fever already?
QWhen is the best time to prune crapemyrtles to stimulate good flower growth? When is the best time to prune a blue hydrangea and my white tardiva hydrangea? Can I prune climbing roses now? How? -- Mary Ann Elliott
AFollowing are some pruning tips:
Crapemyrtles should be pruned in spring as growth begins, first by cutting off wood that died from winter kill. Then, shape them. If you leave several large trunks and prune off lower limbs and suckers, they will grow into a tree with beautiful bark. If you cut out the large trunks, new growth will emerge from the base and develop into low-growing, woody shrubs. Do not prune again, other than a wayward branch, because the crapemyrtle flowers on new growth.
Blue hydrangeas (H. macrophylla) flower on buds that formed on canes that grew last year. Prune in January for a bumper crop of flowers next year, if you don't prune it again. White tardiva hydrangea (H. paniculata) benefits from hard pruning in late winter or early spring because it will grow back vigorously and flower on the current year's growth.
In July or August, after the climbing roses flower, leave the older canes that are growing where you wish to train them. Cut the side "flowering" shoots back to about 4 to 6 inches, leaving two or three buds per side shoot. Do not prune again until after they flower the next year. When a climbing cane gets very old and forms a furrowed, woody bark, cut it to the ground to stimulate new growth.
I have about 200 square feet of wire or Bermuda grass that is gradually taking over my lawn. What can I do? -- Syd Swartz
Manually weeding wire or Bermuda grass can make it stronger. Everywhere you break a root piece, new blades of grass will emerge. It must be treated when green and actively growing in spring. Spray with a systemic herbicide such as glyphosate. (A couple of the names it is sold under are Roundup and Kleeraway.) You might need a second application to ensure total eradication. Glyphosate must be used carefully because it is a non-selective herbicide and will kill actively growing plants. An alternative to chemicals is to use landscape fabric or black plastic. Cover the Bermuda grass throughout the next growing season. Then, next October, lift the fabric, scratch up the soil, rake off debris and spread a veneer of compost. Then seed with a mix of cool-season grasses, such as bluegrass, creeping fescue and rye grass, or a blend of compact, turf-type tall fescues. To ensure complete coverage with new grass in the fall, you can carpet the area with sod instead of seeding.
The strip between my sidewalk and the street is under a large oak tree, where it's very dry. The strip gets foot traffic. Grass won't grow there. I wonder if you have any suggestions for what might be planted there. I tried ajuga, but it died for lack of water. -- Barbara Roberts
This illustrates perfectly that plants that don't receive rain must be watered during the first year or two of establishment. In addition, no plant will stand up to heavy foot traffic. In place of plants, provide a walking surface that will support human activity. One idea is to use concrete pavers, bricks or flagstone. Lay them in a checkerboard pattern, and the alternating squares can be left open and planted with a low-growing groundcover for some greenery. There are many possibilities for plants. A couple of suggestions are dwarf mondo grass, lawn, ajuga, lamium or plumbago (C. plumbaginoides). Water during the first year or two of establishment.
I am looking for some native plants that would flower in different seasons on a partially wooded lot. -- Bob Craig
For a list of nurseries that sell native plants, go to www.vnps.org/nurslist.htm. For hundreds of thousands of other resources and ideas, search "native plants" on the Internet. Learn about these plants at your local garden center to decide if they will meet your needs. In case you can't look them up online, here are some ornamental native plants that should thrive on your partially wooded lot:
* Small flowering trees: serviceberry (Amelanchier arborea), Eastern redbud, common dogwood, fringetree (Chionanthus virginicus) and sourwood (Oxydendron arborea).
* Shrubs: spicebush (Lindera benzoin), azalea (Rhododendron viscosum), arrowwood viburnum (V. dentatum), Virginia sweetspire (Itea virginica) and sweetshrub (Clethra alnifolia).
* Perennials: snakeroot (Cimicifuga racemosa), ostrich fern (Matteuccia), tiarella, boltonia and black-eyed Susans.
I have peach borers in my weeping cherry tree. What should I do? -- John Canova
Peach borers are devastating to many plants in the cherry family. The preferred chemical for controlling them was Dursban, which has been largely removed from the shelves for homeowner use. Since sprays must be used continuously for even a modicum of control and cherries are also susceptible to plenty of other insect and disease problems, the only practical time to address this problem is when acquiring the tree. Plant in well-drained soil with good air circulation and sunlight. Avoid wounding the tree with a lawn mower, string trimmer or other tool. Prune dead wood and suckers when necessary, and enjoy the cherry for however many years of ornamental value it will give you.
What are my options for controlling poison ivy and other weeds that grow through the fence from my wooded area? -- Gerald Rose
All your weeds should be cut at the fence to be kept on your property. I use glyphosate in spring when weeds are actively growing to create a buffer zone and kill poison ivy along the edge of our woods. This will kill all actively growing plants that it comes in contact with, roots and all. As they grow back, you can create a mowing strip along the fence, spray the returning weeds again later in the summer or weed-whack along it when necessary. If you clean it up this winter, wear gloves and be careful of poison ivy. It's tougher to identify without leaves.
Do you know how to deter woodpeckers? For the past two years a woodpecker has visited our front door. Last year he pecked a small hole in it. This year he pecked a very large hole in the framing of the door. There doesn't appear to be any insect infestation in the door. -- Audrey Grosenick
It sounds like woodpecker damage, all right -- or sapsucker, a type of woodpecker. It's certainly one of the more unique stories of wildlife damage. The bird would only have returned if it found a sap or bugs it liked. The hole needs to be filled with a plastic wood, and the door painted. Keeping it painted discourages them.
Joel M. Lerner is president of Environmental Design in Capitol View Park, Md. His e-mail address is email@example.com; his Web page is www.gardenlerner.com.