In about a month, bulbs and other early spring flowers will be making their show, and gardening will become a top priority. But you aren't waiting for those sorts of seasonal signals to ask your questions.
QThe previous owner of my home planted English ivy around the foundation. The ivy is spreading into the surrounding woods, and I want to eliminate it before it dominates the natural woodland environment. I have tried three applications of Roundup (glyphosate salt) and two applications of Brush-B-Gone (tricolopyr salt), both mixed and applied according to directions. The ivy suffered but did not die. Do you have a suggestion of a better way to deal with this invasive pest? -- Doug Miller
AThere is a bill in the Virginia Senate right now (S.B. 1300) that will declare English ivy a noxious weed. Your problem is an example of why they are taking this step.
Unfortunately, ivy doesn't disappear with legislation. The fail-safe way to control ivy is to cover it with black plastic or landscape fabric for one year. When you remove the fabric, the ivy will be gone. Then you must keep it away by regularly pulling it wherever you see it emerging.
I am surprised to hear of your repeated failure at controlling ivy with an herbicide. Brush-B-Gone should not be used over the roots of trees, but I have had success with a single application of Roundup, following labeled directions, and spraying at a time when the ivy was growing vigorously in spring or summer.
Is core aeration required every year? -- Dottie Edwards
Healthy turf depends on sun and the condition of your soil. I like core, or plug, aeration twice a year to condition the soil. It is the best way to get nutrients, air and moisture to the roots of the lawn. If you sprinkle or spread organic material in the form of compost to fill the aeration holes each time you aerate, your soil will soon be a rich medium. In several years, you could aerate and add organic material as needed, perhaps every spring or less.
When is the best time to transplant crapemyrtles? I have two that are six-feet tall, and they haven't bloomed much since I planted them five years ago. -- Susan Lawes
Transplant crapemyrtles in spring before they leaf out. They are fairly easy to transplant, and you should have good soil moisture, but not soggy, for digging a root ball in early spring. Keep watered during dry spells, especially the first growing season. You should see a definite improvement in the first year of growth, as long as you transplant to a sunny location. You do not have to prune the plants when transplanting. If they need pruning, wait until they begin to grow leaves. To ensure flowering, do not prune throughout summer unless necessary.
My Eastern redbud "Forest Pansy" is 10 years old and about 15-feet tall. The past two years it bloomed beautifully but then the leaves came in very sparsely and small. It was planted by a landscaper the way it came from the nursery, with a wire cage on the root ball. Is there something I can do to help it get healthy? -- Ann Wright
Leaving the wire cage on the root ball is the correct procedure. Also, the fabric on the root ball must be natural burlap that decays quickly in the soil. I have seen fabric that looks like burlap but is made from plastic and will not decay. That must be cut away, or within about 10 years, it could restrict roots to the point of stunting the tree. The only way to know is to clear the soil and mulch away from the base of the tree at the flare of the trunk. When you do this, also check to see if a rope or string that should have been cut away when it was planted is tied around the trunk. It could also cause a stunting problem.
Now dig down carefully just outside where the wire basket would have been. You should find no solid fabric. The roots should have grown well outside the boundaries of the rusting wire basket. As soon as you see that it is okay, stop digging; don't disturb the roots any further.
If you saw fabric intact under the rusting wire, that was the problem, and you need to do as much as possible to tear and cut it away from the roots. Replace the soil you dug away with a 2-to-1 mix, soil to compost. Do this in March, before the tree flowers.
Another explanation for the stunting of leaves you describe is the redbud's susceptibility to several diseases. There is no remedy for these diseases, except for better cultural conditions, including good drainage and a soil high in organic material. You will help these conditions when you check the roots and backfill with the soil compost mix.
My wife received a blooming amaryllis for Christmas. The stalk with the blooms died, and I trimmed it off near the bulb. I am now left with the bulb and several, very long, green leaves and am confused about what to do now. -- Michael Furr
Grow the amaryllis indoors until you can put it outside. Keep moist but not soggy, and put it in a bright spot but not direct light. When you can put it outside in May, keep it in a shady location. By summer the leaves will often die and the plant can be stored for several months in a cool dry spot. Sometimes the foliage doesn't decline until the plant is about to flower. Then in October a flower spike will emerge, and the process starts over. You can separate and transplant the bulb after two years of blooming.
I have impatiens in a shady area along the driveway, but last summer the deer made short work of most of them -- a nibble here and a nibble there. Is there another annual that I can plant in this mostly shady area that the deer will ignore? -- Barbara Herring
There is not one shade-tolerant annual I know that would fill the gap left by deer eating your impatiens. Several perennials that are deer-tolerant and will return every year to give you a coordination of bloom and some evergreen foliage are hellebore, tiarella, evergreen wood fern (Dryopteris marginalis), dwarf mondo-grass, forget-me-not (Myosotis), astilbe, hardy begonia and bleeding heart. Plant them in groupings. Don't plant one of each.
I planted a fig tree named "Celeste" against the south side of my house, about 12 inches from the bricks. It has done extremely well, and we get large fig crops. I have noticed the roots it produces on the surface. They are very strong looking. Could the roots penetrate the joints in the masonry of my basement (cinder block) and allow water to enter? -- David Woolf
Your question about fig roots is a good one. The facts are that tree roots won't push into your basement wall as long as the wall is dry and well drained. Drainage is accomplished by having soil higher at the wall of the house than in the yard.
I just turned my compost heap. The basic ingredients I put in it are lawn weeds, leaves, vegetable scraps and egg shells. The heap is not covered, so it got pretty wet. When I turned the soggy mess to move the heap to another location, it was churning with what looked like maggots -- pale, writhing, wormy creatures in huge clumpy masses. I used to get lots of healthy worms. Does this sound like a healthy heap to you? Can I use it on my vegetable garden? -- Renee Dunham
Compost happens! The larvae you see are as much a part of the decay process as earthworms, water and air. The excessive masses of them, especially fly larvae (maggots), indicates that the pile might have had some meat or fatty food scraps. When you see this, cover the maggots with soil or leaves. Turn the pile more often in summer to increase heat, and keep meat and fatty and cooked foods out of the compost pile. That should fix things.
It is good for the pile to be wet but not soggy. Material that decays in boggy conditions does not get good oxygen and won't offer the same nutrients as compost that has gotten lots of air. When your compost appears dark and friable, with a fine texture, it's okay to use in your vegetable garden.
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 at www.gardenlerner.com