Dear Neil: You recently suggested dwarf hollies as good plants for the shade here in Texas, but when I looked at the plant tags, they said "full sun." What are your thoughts?
As a guy who spent one frustrating year of his life trying to write text for nursery plant labels (given 17 words per label to do so), and who was charged with making them usable over the entire United States, I do understand. And, as a guy who has grown more than 35 types of hollies in my own shaded Texas landscape for the past 38 years, I can tell you that they are some of the best-adapted shade plants that we have. Curiously, almost all hollies do equally well in the sun. Let a Texas Certified Nursery Professional guide you as to the best types for your situation and needs.
Dear Neil: I bought two cedar elms in March. I water them three times a week, and I fill their basins each time. Is there anything more I can do to help them? Their leaves are only as big as dimes. I don't think they are going to make it.
You bought really big trees. I'm sure they were dug and sold to you "balled-and-burlapped." As such, there was significant loss of roots in the process. What you're seeing is transplant shock (although that's about the normal leaf size for cedar elms). If these were my trees, I would probably remove one-third of the top growth to compensate for the root loss. Apply a liquid root-stimulator monthly this first growing season, and keep watering as you have been.
Dear Neil: I live in a smaller town and I'm having trouble locating a certified arborist. How can I find one?
Most certified arborists tend to gravitate to major urban areas, because that's where they find the most work. I would recommend that you talk to a local independent retail garden center or to your local county Extension office and ask for a referral. A friend who has been satisfied with work done by a tree specialist might also be a good source of help.
Dear Neil: We had an oak planted professionally in fall 2015. It has done very well until this spring, but now all of its leaves are dry and crisp. What could have caused that? It leafed out normally, but now they are brown.
If the entire tree was impacted suddenly and dramatically, the problem has to reside either in the trunk or the root system. If you see no damage to the trunk, then it's possible that the tree sat in waterlogged soil for too long this spring. A weed-and-feed fertilizer or a gas leak could either have caused the same problem. I wish I could be more definitive, but you may need the get an arborist on-site to look at it.
Dear Neil: How can I kill crabgrass in my bermuda without killing the bermuda?
There is no way (short of hand-digging) to remove crabgrass from bermuda without doing equal damage to the lawn. Your only option is to prevent germination of the crabgrass seeds in the spring. Apply Dimension, Team, Halts or other pre-emergent herbicide two weeks before the average date of the last killing freeze in your area. Repeat the treatment 90 days later. Do be sure, however, that you're referring to medium-green crabgrass (short runners and seed heads that resemble helicopter rotors) as opposed to the perennial weed dallisgrass (dark green clumps of leaves and black, peppery specks on the seeds).
Dear Neil: We planted two Krauter Vesuvius plum trees three years ago. They did equally well until this year. The one that gets more southern sunlight has dropped most of its leaves. The falling leaves showed no signs of any kind of damage. Now there is new growth at the top, but it is showing chlorosis, not the deep purple the other tree continues to have. Why the difference?
Purple plums of all varieties are notoriously short-lived - often barely making five years. Peach tree borers (also attack plums) may have invaded the lower portion of the one tree's trunk, or it may be infested with bacterial stem canker. The problem is almost assuredly not in the leaves, but in the roots or trunk. The sun exposure has nothing to do with it.
Dear Neil: My sister has told me that a vinegar, vegetable oil and dishwashing detergent combination will kill weeds where I want to make a path with gravel. Do you recommend such a treatment?
You won't find me recommending home remedies. Having grown up in a Texas A&M environment as the son of an Experiment Station scientist, I am a firm believer in documented, repeatable research results. I doubt if you will get the results you really want. My recommendation would be a spray of a glyphosate-only herbicide. It will kill the existing vegetation efficiently without leaving any residue in the soil.
• If you'd like Neil Sperry's help with a plant question, drop him a note in care of The Eagle, P.O. Box 3000, Bryan, Texas 77805. Or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.