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Overgrown shrubs? Thinning turfgrass? Here are solutions to common gardening struggles

Want to plant a garden but aren’t trying to rip up your whole yard at once? Try this strategy

Learn a simple, add-as-you-go strategy for building a backyard oasis.
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Learn a simple, add-as-you-go strategy for building a backyard oasis.

Our pastor was talking about a member of a former church who had confided the error of his past ways by saying, “I’m going to have to make a full 360.” Scattered chuckles identified those mathematically inclined in the congregation.

There are times that we need to give up the old dreams and move on in opposite directions. At the risk of sounding negative toward my favorite hobby, I’m going to try to show you some quick pathways from frustration to fun. I’ll point out the ways I see gardeners struggling, and I’ll give the better alternatives.

Yellowed redtip photinias and Indian hawthorns, often with maroon freckles all over their leaves. This is Entomosporium fungal leaf spot, and to these plants, it’s a dead-end street with a big wall at the end. In spite of what some will tell you, there is no reliable prevention or cure. Your best bet is to acknowledge the issue and move toward replacements. If you need large evergreen shrubs for screens or hedges, Nellie R. Stevens or Willowleaf hollies are best choices where you had the photinias. Carissa hollies are ideal change-outs for the hawthorns.

Turfgrass has thinned badly beneath shade trees. This is due to insufficient sunlight. If you can trim the tree or adjacent plants so that more light will reach the grass, you might try that, but don’t disfigure trees in the process. Thinning of trees usually only works for short periods of time – until new growth fills back in. You need 5-6 hours of direct sunlight for St. Augustine, our most shade-tolerant grass, to survive. If you don’t have that much, it’s time to switch to a shade-tolerant groundcover.

St. Augustine has large areas of dead grass that failed to green up this spring and they’re in both sun and shade. This year was bad for the take all root rot (TARR) fungus. It attacks St. Augustine in cool weather of April and May, so it’s run its course at this point. If you have areas of dead grass, and if they get the prescribed 6 or more hours of direct sunlight, that was probably due to TARR. You’re going to have to dig plugs from elsewhere in your yard and replant to fill the voids.

A year ago Scott Peterson ran to his pickup as 70 mph straight-line winds ripped apart his greenhouse at Roots Garden Center and Landscaping. Today he credits Burleson neighbors with supporting his business allowing him to rebuild,

Bald cypress trees and some “red” oaks are dramatically yellow. This is severe iron deficiency brought on by our extremely alkaline soils, shallow caliche subsoils (very alkaline) and these trees’ needs for high levels of iron to sustain normal growth. Iron is insoluble in alkaline soil conditions, so these plants are unable to take it up out of the soil, even when we add iron to their root zones. And, to address the “red” oaks, true Shumard red oaks are well suited to our local alkaline soils. Unfortunately, a similar-looking tree, northern pin oak, somehow gets sold and planted locally. The issue for both bald cypress and pin oaks is that they get large enough that we simply cannot add iron fast enough to supply their needs. After 8 or 10 years we give up and take the trees out, but by then we’ve lost so much time that we could have been investing in better trees to be coming along.

Crape myrtles are misshapen, either by cold injury or by improper pruning. The past two winters have done serious damage to several popular varieties of crape myrtles in North Texas, notably Natchez, Tuscarora and Muskogee. Tops were killed or weakened, and plants have been slow to rebound. Meanwhile new shoots have come up from the ground. You may need to do some major pruning and reshaping to groom them back to good looks. And, if you have a crape myrtle that’s been mangled by being topped in years past, that same technique can work there, too. You can cut the old trunks back to the ground and work with the new shoots to train them into tall, straight trunks. It’s a dramatic undertaking, but it really does work.

Shrubs have grown up and over windows and into the eaves. This is a case of someone planting the wrong shrubs in the first place. We remodel the insides of our houses when things no longer fit our lifestyles. Maybe it’s time to remodel the outside of your house. Make plans over the summer to remove the overgrown shrubs and replace them with new shrubs in a new garden design. You’ll be really happy with the results.

The old lawn looks really ragged. You’re thinking about killing it all and starting over with new grass. That’s a really drastic step. Be sure you really need to do that before you proceed. The first thing to ask is whether the surface of the lawn is smooth, or if it’s marked with low spots and bumps. If it’s fairly smooth, you’ll probably be better off spot-treating weeds and encouraging your lawngrass to grow vigorously and cover densely. If, however, the lawn is really uneven, apply a glyphosate herbicide spray (no other active ingredients in the spray) to kill all the existing vegetation, then wait 10 days to allow it to do its work. Once all the grass and weeds are dried, rototill with a rear-tine tiller to pulverize the soil. Rake it smoothly and plant your new grass.