Q. Dear Neil: My lawn looks terrible. It has these patches all over it. What is the problem, and what can I do about it?

1.04.21 Brown patch in mid-winter.jpg

A brown patch in grass during mid-winter.

A. This is a great example of how a lawn looks in mid-winter when brown patch has hit the prior fall. Brown patch attacks the leaf blades and causes them to turn yellow, then brown. The fungus attacks the blades where they attach to the runners. Only the blades are affected. There was not enough time for the grass to send out new growth this past fall, and so the circular brown patches are still visible. Your lawn should come out nicely in the spring, but next October you need to be on the lookout for early signs of the disease to return when the weather turns cool. Apply the fungicide Azoxystrobin at first evidence of a problem so that your lawn won’t get into this situation a year from now.

Q. Dear Neil: I planted two small Japanese yews a year ago to act as privacy screening plants. They have grown well, but I can already tell it will take too long for them to give the privacy I need. Can you suggest a fast-growing shrub or vine that would be better?

1.04.21 Nellie R. Stevens holly in author's home landscape.jpg

Nellie R. Stevens holly in Neil Sperry's home landscape.

A. If you need something 8 to 12 feet tall I would suggest Willowleaf holly. For a taller screen 12 to 16 feet tall, Nellie R. Stevens holly. Plant the shrubs two-thirds as far apart as they will be allowed to grow. For example, if you want them to be 12 feet tall, space them 8 feet apart. Both of these plants are suited to sun and shade and to all types of soils in all parts of Texas. Water them very deeply by hose every two or three days from April through October for their first couple of years to get them rooted well into your landscape before you count on sprinkler irrigation to carry them through. For the record, fast growth does not equate with quality. Fast-growing shrubs soon outgrow their space and cause you big problems. Stay away from plants whose sole attribute is that they grow quickly. Start with larger plants at the outset to get privacy faster.

Q. Dear Neil: We bought a home that has large blackberry bushes. They produce outstanding berries, but we don’t know how to prune the plants. They have sent out very tall canes. Do we trim them? When and by how much?

A. Upright blackberries produce their fruit on canes that grew the preceding year. Those canes will never bear fruit again. That means that you want to remove all old canes immediately after they bear fruit in late spring by cutting them off with lopping shears flush with the ground. Leave the new shoots that will be springing up within each clump. They will be the source of the fruit the following spring. You may want to pinch out the growing tips of those new canes to encourage them to produce side branches and stay shorter and more compact in the process. All of that said, I realize that you may not be able to determine which are canes from this past year and which might be older canes at this point in the winter. Wait until spring and you’ll be able to tell. It may take a little extra time to get them all tidied up and at peak production.

Q. Dear Neil: We have several live oaks in our yard. We recently noticed that the trees in the backyard have numerous gray/green galls on the small branches all over the tree. What causes these? Are they harmful? What can I do to remedy them?

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Woody oak gall.

A. Those are called “woody oak” galls, and they are the result of stings of a wasp-like adult insect. She lays her eggs in the small twigs and the plant responds by producing all this woody gall growth. The larvae develop within the galls, later hatching and starting the process over again. I see this on perhaps 15 or 20 percent of our live oaks. There is nothing that can be done to prevent or cure the issue, but the good news is that it is purely cosmetic. The galls do not harm the tree.

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. Neil regrets that he cannot reply to questions individually.

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