Q. Dear Neil: We have a row of Xylosma plants with three years’ growth. We were hoping they would get tall enough to block the view of homes behind us. It looks like this winter ruined them. Will they come back? If they do not, what is a good holly that would fill the space? We need it to grow about 12 feet tall.
A. They won’t come back. I’m sorry for that bad news. I remember a lovely planting of them on the Texas A&M campus when I was an undergraduate there. It wasn’t too many years until a severe cold spell took them out, too. Your best replacement would be Nellie R. Stevens hollies. They grow to 12 to 15 feet tall and are extremely durable. They are also adapted to both sun and shade. For anyone who needs a screen that would be slightly shorter, Willowleaf holly grows to 8 to 10 feet tall.
Q. Dear Neil: What kind of fertilizer should we use on our lawn this year? My wife read we should use organic because the lawn may have been shocked by the cold. I have always used a commercial fertilizer. Any advice?
A. Turfgrass does not differentiate as to the source of nutrients that are coming into its root systems, so “shock” or not is immaterial. Organic fertilizers (manures, etc.) have lower analyses and are typically slower to dissolve (become “available” for uptake by the roots). Inorganic fertilizers, notably those containing high percentages of water-soluble nitrogen, could burn roots of plants. Perhaps that’s what she read. But a high-quality fertilizer, which is what I will normally recommend for all of our landscapes and gardens, contains upwards of half of its nitrogen in coated or encapsulated slow-release form. That will work for almost all of your plantings.
Q. Dear Neil: What will control this clover-like weed? Can you please mention a brand instead of the chemical name?
A. I’ve made it my policy for all of my journalistic career not to mention specific brands unless they were the only one on the market. That way no one will ever accuse me of showing favoritism. In this case there are many. You need a weedkiller containing 2,4-D. I would include one drop of liquid dishwashing detergent per gallon of spray to help it hold onto the waxy leaves. I prefer to apply broadleafed weedkillers with a dedicated pump sprayer. If you have further brand-specific questions, a Texas Certified Nursery Professional would be a great person to help you.
Q. Dear Neil: I have a 7-foot-tall Norfolk Island pine outside in a large pot. Its branches are brown, but they’re still pliable. Is it a lost cause?
A. If it was outside during the arctic chill, yes. They can’t withstand freezing temperatures, let alone the extreme cold Texas faced in February. They’re native to the tropical South Pacific.
Q. Dear Neil: Will years of oak leaves accumulating on the soil smother Asian jasmine and keep its roots from grabbing the ground?
A. Asian jasmine sends its runners across the surface of the soil. They rarely if ever root into the ground. But you also don’t want excessive amounts of oak leaves on top of the soil. They could inhibit normal absorption of water and fertilizer into the ground.
Q. Dear Neil: What has happened to my oak tree? It seems like it showed up overnight.
A. You should have a certified arborist look at your tree and perhaps have samples sent to the Texas A&M Plant Disease Clinic for culturing. This looks like it might be Ganoderma wood rot. It can cause deterioration of the heartwood and weakening of the tree to the point that it could fall almost without warning. Fungal conks (bracket funguses) often develop on the outsides of the trunks when the Ganoderma fungus is present. Please know that I am not making a definitive identification from just the photo, but if it isn’t that, it still is something serious that should be investigated immediately. Once the tree leafs out, spring winds can put a lot of pressure on the trunk.
Q. Dear Neil: We have an orange tree that has only been repotted once in 10 years. It needs it again, but it’s in bloom. Should we wait until it produces and repot in the summer, or would it hurt to repot it now?
A. Do it now. If it sets fruit they won’t mature until much later in the year. The tree could use the increase volume of soil it would get from being in a new and larger pot. If you notice that roots are wrapped around and around in its soil ball, cut them once on each side with a knife or with pruning shears to break up their circular growth.
Q. Dear Neil: We have a grabby weed that I believe is called sticky willie. How can we eliminate it? Will a pre-emergent help?
Its stems are easily cut with a sharpened hoe, but do so immediately, before it flowers and sets seed. In the lawn you can simply mow it off and it will probably not come back. The pre-emergent herbicide Gallery applied September 1 will prevent its germination. (It is a cool-season weed.) You could also use a broadleafed weedkiller spray containing 2,4-D in late in winter to catch any stragglers that still showed up. The weed is also called “cleavers” and “Velcro plant” because of that grabby habit you mentioned.