Sperry: Lawn aeration might not be necessary | @Play

Dear Neil: I hope you can shed some light on my crepe myrtle problems. It had some dead branches early last spring. I cut it out and it bloomed, but not as well as usual. Now it dropped leaves much earlier than other plants in other people’s yards on the street. I’ve attached a second photo so you can see them in comparison. Any suggestions?

Reply: There is a simple explanation that could cover it all. You may have another strain that reacted differently to last winter’s extreme cold. Some of the larger varieties, including Tuscarora, Muskogee, Natchez, Sioux, and Country Red, have been injured by the cold in many parts of our state. They have lost significant parts of their peak growth. In fact, the same thing happened in the one extremely cold phase of last winter. Hopefully this winter will be more normal and your plant can grow normally again next spring.

Dear Neil: When is the best time to aerate my lawn? Should I do this before or after fertilizing for fall / winter?

Reply: My answer may surprise you. I never felt the need to ventilate my own St. Augustine, even though it grows on extremely heavy clay soil. Ventilation consists of pulling core plugs out of the soil, cutting through any accumulated straw (undecomposed organic matter that has accumulated on the soil and under the runners). Bermuda lawns are more likely to develop this straw. Also, any compaction that might require ventilation usually follows heavy pedestrian traffic, such as in a park or an event site. If St. Augustine grew there, it would be pulped as all of its runners are on the ground. Bermuda has runners both above the ground (“stolons”) and underground (“rhizomes”). If St. Augustine has so much traffic that the soil is compacted and needs ventilation, you will likely need to replant the grass anyway so you can rototill as well. And finally, it’s too late to fertilize St. Augustine anyway (although I typed my answer to your question within 36 hours of your posting). This must be done by the beginning of October each year. I agree that you will just be stuck at this point until spring.

Dear Neil: I have access to tree leaves and wood shavings. Would these be good to add to my yard this fall so the ground is ready for early spring plantings?

Reply: Shredded tree leaves (run through a mower and wrapped) would be great. If you work 2 or 3 inches of this into the top foot of the soil with a rototiller, they will deteriorate in winter. At the same time, you’ll also want to add an inch of well-rotten compost, well-rotten manure, and 2 inches of sphagnum peat moss each. The wood chips (and sawdust) are not good additions, however, as they tend to lock up nitrogen in the soil and make it “unavailable” for your plants to use for a period of time while bacteria work on it. Much better to put it in the compost for a year or two. The same should be done with fresh manure so that it decays so far that it is no longer recognizable.

Dear Neil: In a recent column you wrote about Purpleheart, you failed to mention how invasive it is. How can i kill it? Even weed-blocking agents haven’t discouraged it.

Reply: I rarely hear this from people. I think the first point would be to plant it in a bed with a border to accommodate it. This border should protrude 7 or 8 inches into the ground. A broad-leaved weed control spray (which contains 2,4-D herbicide) applied to its leaves would kill it, although the best control would be if applied to vigorous new growth in mid-spring (late April or May). I prefer the sprays that only contain 2,4-D because they don’t contain any other components that are active in the soil. Use a foam rubber brush to apply the herbicide to the leaves. It would be helpful if you added a drop of liquid dish detergent per gallon of mixture to keep the spray on the plants’ waxy leaf surfaces.

Dear Neil: Can you tell me how to get rid of this invasive weed? It pushes into my floor cover beds.

Reply: It’s a fun little world. This is a close relative of the purple heart just described. It is one of the day flowers related to wandering Jews. All of its stems are above ground, but wherever you break there is usually enough tissue left to start a new plant. I would start by physically removing as much as possible. It’s not difficult to dig when the ground is wet. Then, when sprouts show up, treat them with the same 2,4-DI just mentioned. The little foam rubber brush method I discussed should work very well.

Dear Neil: Can’t splitleaf philodendrons be obtained from cuttings? Can it be done in water?

Reply: Grape varieties can, but self-headed varieties (that grow on stems without vines) like Philodendron selloum cannot. I’m not a fan of cuttings in the water. It is better to use light potting soil from the start.

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