Neil Sperry

Neil Sperry: FAQs of the season

Mondograss as turf replacement in shade
Mondograss as turf replacement in shade Special to the Star-Telegram

Gardeners certainly are an inquisitive lot. I was talking to a couple of nurserymen friends a couple of days ago, and they were describing the same life I live: dozens of questions each day, many of them repeaters.

Now mind you, I make my living answering questions, and they make their livings selling plants and products — and answering questions about them. So we’re not really complaining. It’s just the way our lives roll, especially in the spring.

With that said, I’ve accumulated the ones that seem to be on everyone’s mind right now. These are the Hit Parade Top 5 Questions of late spring.

“What grass will grow best in the shade?”

I know you and I have visited about this before, but the question keeps coming up. If your trees have grown so large that grass has died out, you may not be able to grow grass there at all. Let’s assume you’ve already tried St. Augustine (requires six or more hours of sunlight daily), and let’s assume you don’t want to remove any more of the lower branches.

Then it’s time to consider a shade-tolerant ground cover like mondograss (“monkeygrass”), purple wintercreeper euonymus or Asian jasmine. If we plant trees, almost all of us get to that point eventually, at least for a part of our yard.

“How can I eliminate the weeds in my lawn?”

If you’re talking about winter grasses that have become luxuriant, they will die with the first hot weather of late April and May. There is no way to eliminate them now, or for that matter, after they germinate in early fall. Apply Dimension, Team or Halts pre-emergent granules between Aug. 25 and Sept. 5 to stop them before they get started.

For broadleafed (nongrassy) weeds, apply a product labeled as a broadleafed herbicide. Most will contain 2,4-D as a clue to get you started, and there are many different brands.

“Why did my wisteria fail to bloom again this year?”

This is a more complex question that may involve several factors. Wisterias need full sun to bloom to best potential. They won’t bloom as well if nitrogen is applied in the fall. They set their flower buds in late fall and early winter, so nitrogen will tend to keep them vegetative. And by that same token, you must not prune them during the winter. If you do, you could be trimming away all of their flower buds.

One thing that might help — root-prune their roots in September. Use a sharpshooter spade to cut a slit around the plant. Stand facing the trunk and push the spade into moist soil 12 or 14 inches deep. The slit should be 15 to 20 feet out from the trunk. The shock of that cutting of the roots sometimes will trigger wisterias to change over to reproductive growth and set flower buds.

“How can I tell if my roses have the rose rosette virus? What should I do with them if they do?”

There are several telltale symptoms that will appear in some or all of the branches. New growth will be rank and misshapen, resembling herbicide drift. Many of the stems will have five to 10 times the normal number of thorns. The plants will be stunted, and the flowers won’t open properly, browning around the petals’ edges instead.

And it also further nails it down if you live in the Metroplex or surrounding counties. The virus has become an epidemic here, while not being as commonly observed once you get farther away from DFW.

If you do have the virus in your roses, you must pull them out immediately, put them in plastic trash bags and send them to the landfill. There is no control for the disease, and no way to stop the spread of the microscopic mite that transmits it. This has become a really serious problem for rose lovers, as they’ve had to remove entire plantings.

Finally, I’m asked also for plants “…that will give the same look as roses.” Unfortunately, roses are unique garden flowers and nothing else is a good match. Your best bet will be to swing over to annuals and perennials. But keep an eye on rose research. Hopefully the scientists will come up with something before long.

“Should I aerate my lawn?”

Unless you have soil that’s been compacted by pedestrian or vehicular traffic, or unless you have a serious accumulation of thatch (undecomposed organic matter that packs and mats beneath the runners and on top of the soil), you will probably not need to aerate.

I have never felt the need to aerate my own lawn in the 46 years that we have lived in North Texas. But if I ever did, I would rent an aerator that actually pulled plugs out of the thatch and out of the soil.

Neil Sperry publishes Gardens magazine and hosts “Texas Gardening” from 8 to 10 a.m. Sundays on WBAP/820 AM. Reach him during those hours at 800-288-9227. Online: http://neilsperry.com.

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