Q. Dear Neil: This weed has invaded my bermuda and St. Augustine turf. Is there a weedkiller I can use that will control it without harming the lawn?

A. I’m not sure what the weed is. For a brief moment I thought it might be khakiweed, also known as matt chafflower. Luckily, however, it’s not that terrible invader. I would suggest using a sharpened hoe with square corners to chop the plants out now that we’ve had our first bouts of cold weather. Come spring you can apply a broadleafed weedkiller containing 2,4-D to the new growth to kill the plants while they’re young and tender. Those products are labeled for use on various types of turf until it gets really warm. At that point you have to be more careful around St. Augustine.

Q. Dear Neil: Will blood meal keep rabbits away from pansies, or is that just a myth?

A. Blood meal seemed to work for me in my limited trials of it, plus it’s also a good source of organic nitrogen for those who prefer to go that route. However, my tests were cut way short when our three dogs were attracted to its smell and started rolling in it. Unfortunately, that meant that they also were rolling in the pansies. Whether it will work for others or not, I found that planting ryegrass elsewhere in my yard (I overseed my bermuda) gave the rabbits something to eat that they very much preferred to the pansies. And I also switched over to growing my pansies in large decorative clay pots that I feed with a water-soluble, inorganic plant food every time that I water them. It’s been a lot easier than trying to stay ahead of the rabbits.

Q. Dear Neil: There are several sycamore trees in a park in our city. I’ve just noticed how pretty their trunks are now that they have lost all their leaves. Are they a good tree in general?

A. Sycamores are average trees on good days. As fast-growing trees go, they’re much better than types like cottonwoods, willows, mimosas, fruitless mulberries and ashes. But they still have their share of the problems. They need copious amounts of water during dry spells. Without it they start shedding their large leaves as early as mid-summer. They’re also prone to lace bugs (turn their leaves pale tan) and anthracnose fungus (causes entire branches to die very suddenly with the brown leaves hanging in place for weeks). But I agree on their trunks. They’re absolutely gorgeous.

Q. Dear Neil: We are replacing an old wooden fence. It has a large Madame Galen trumpetvine growing on it. Will we be able to save it?

A. Yes. However, you may have to do some serious pruning if it has pushed its way into the old fence. Winter is a good time to be doing all of this because if you have to prune the trumpetvine this gives it the longest time to regrow and establish itself on the new fence. Trim the stems back to 6 or 8 ft. in length. That’s likely to remove most of the top growth, but not to worry. As soon as you have the new fence erected attach the stems with plant ties to create an attractive spray against the wood. Train it to grow up and over the top of the fence as spring emerges. Since you will have done nothing to disturb its roots it should take right off and start growing.

Q. Dear Neil: Should I be afraid to use pecan leaves in my compost pile? I’ve heard that the tannins in them will kill my plants.

A. You’ll hear that about pecans, walnuts and oaks among other plants. And perhaps to some degree it might be true. But if you’re grinding up your pecan leaves with the mower before you put them into the compost, they’re going to decay very rapidly and any oils will quickly dissipate. I’ve been using oak and pecan leaves in my own compost for all of my gardening life and I’ve never observed any kind of effects on the plants I’ve grown using that compost. Go for it!

Q. Dear Neil: I’m doing some pruning after recent wind damage. How important is pruning paint? I hear conflicting thoughts.

A. Research that I see from reputable sources shows that trees heal their wounds more quickly when they are left unpainted. That assumes, of course, that the cuts are made correctly by leaving just a short length of the branch collar in place. You never want to leave a stub over which the plant won’t be able to produce its roll of new bark. And the one noteworthy exception in all of that is with oaks. Because the oak wilt fungus can invade the trees through cut surfaces, it’s imperative that all cuts larger than an inch in diameter be sealed.

Q. Dear Neil: I have a bed of liriope that was damaged by dogs and by a vehicle that was parked on it several times last summer. I’d like to trim it to even it all up. When is the best time to do so?

A. You could actually do it anytime from now through mid-January. If you trim it now you’ll be looking at the stubble until new growth begins in late winter. But if you wait, you’ll have to be careful not to wait too long. You don’t want to risk cutting new “candles” of growth shooting up out of the middles of the clumps. You probably won’t want to cut it much lower than maybe 4 inches.

Have a question you’d like Neil to consider? Mail it to him in care of this newspaper or email him at mailbag@sperrygardens.com.

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