Dear Neil: My forsythias didn't bloom well this spring. What can I do for better flowers next year?
A: Blame dry weather, a couple of odd late-winter cold spells that might have frozen the buds and generally unfavorable conditions. We all had the same experience. They'll be fine other years without intervention.
Q: Looking ahead to summer, how effective are water-absorbing polymer granules?
A: They absorb great amounts of water, but research is needed to determine how they perform in large landscape beds.
My concern is that they may absorb too much water: What do you do when plants get so much water that they're dying from a lack of oxygen? I would be cautious about a big investment until you are comfortable that that question has been answered.
On the other hand, in container gardens, they seem more logical.
They are not common in commercial horticulture, and there may be a reason. After all, they've been around for 20 years or longer. Probably the best advice is that you test them and decide.
Q: I planted wintercreeper euonymus last year, but it really didn't cover very well. How can make it look better?
A: Fertilize it with a high-nitrogen, lawn-type plant food and keep it properly watered all season.
Most trailing ground covers spend their first years just getting established. The real covering usually comes the second year, and then the build-up to the mature height happens the third full growing season. That's always been my observation with the various ivies, Asian jasmine and also with my own wintercreeper. In the meantime, some of your plants may produce runners that extend above the rest of the planting. You can either trim them lightly with a line trimmer to keep things more tidy, or you may be able to tuck them down against the ground, again, to speed covering.
Be patient. It will reward you.
Q: I have a narrow area behind our rear fence and in the alley. We all have rear-entry garages, so there is a lot of traffic in the alley. What plants would look good out there? It is difficult to water it.
A: If there is enough sunlight to grow turf grass, common Bermuda grass is the best option. It stands abuse better than any other grass, yet it can be kept neat with minimal effort. If you forget to water it once or twice, it won't die out altogether.
You could also plant a vine outside your fence. Let it grow up and tumble over the fence so you see it from inside your yard. You'll get the beauty without the stem stubble showing. Madame Galen trumpetcreeper, crossvine, and Lady Banksia and other climbing antique roses are some of the best choices. Their roots will eventually grow under the fence and get water when the rest of your landscape does.