Dear Neil: How tall does a weeping mulberry grow? I saw one in a friend’s landscape, but she didn’t really know. It looks really interesting in the winter. Does it look like a mulberry when it has leaves?
A: The most common variety sold is called Chaparral. Its mature height is in the 8- to 10-foot range, although it will remain shorter for a relatively long period of time. While its leaves are exactly the same as other mulberries’ leaves, its growth form is so unusual that it really doesn’t resemble them at all. It makes a fascinating accent tree to anchor a special bed or to highlight a pathway.
Dear Neil: We have a large yard and probably 20 trees. In the past I have blown and raked all the fallen leaves or paid someone to do so. Once or twice, I have even mulched them into my lawn. This fall, due to failing health and financial issues, I have been unable to do either. What would be the impact to my lawn if I left them until spring?
A: That is not a good plan. The leaves will pack down over the winter and trap moisture within the grass. That will foster fungal diseases, and eventually it could choke out the grass from excessive shade. It can also give the lawn unwanted protection from the cold. If a strong cold front were to blow through, it could blow the leaves away and expose the tender grass to freeze damage. You really need to keep the leaves cleaned up. Perhaps there is a young person who would like to earn a few dollars, or a scout or church group who would like to do a good deed.
Dear Neil: I just took a look at my 6-year-old peach tree and did some research online about how I should be pruning it. Apparently there should be three branches spreading out evenly to allow the sun to reach the fruit for better ripening. Could I safely remove the one branch that grows straight up? Do you have any tips?
A: That kind of pruning to develop a scaffold branching system really needs to be initiated at the time the tree is planted. However, your tree does appear to give a good, open angle at removing the one branch growing straight up. You would need a very thin pruning saw to be able to get into that small angle to make the cut just above the old hose. Do not leave more than 1/4-inch of a stub, and seal the open wound with pruning paint. Also, I am puzzled by what that hose and cable might be doing around the tree at this point, six years after planting. I can’t understand why you would still have it staked. There is a good chance that you could end up girdling the trunk.
Dear Neil: My dad has a beautiful magnolia tree, and I have noticed a small tree at its base. The sapling is about 2 feet tall. Is it possible to cut it away from the base of the mother tree and replant it, or will it do more harm than good?
A: The critical factor will be if it is a sprout from the bigger tree, or if it’s a seedling on its own set of roots. If it is tethered to mama, there is no way to move it as a new tree. Magnolias do not root from cuttings, which is essentially what you would have. However, if it is a free-growing seedling that just happened to germinate close to the mother tree, dig it carefully during the winter, while it’s dormant. Hold a ball of soil about the size of a volleyball around its roots. If very much of the soil falls away, you’ll probably need to trim the top back by half or more to compensate and to speed its reestablishment.
Dear Neil: You recently recommended that we use a “glyphosate-only” herbicide to kill bermuda grass in a bed. Is there a brand name you would recommend?
A: I typically prefer not to refer directly to brands, because that introduces the fear of “plugola.” Your local independent retail garden center or hardware store manager can show you several brands. He or she can also show you the fine print, to be sure you don’t get a product that also contains other weed killers you might not want to be applying.
Dear Neil: A friend has 15 or 20 large patio pots with some kind of good potting soil left over from last summer. Can I use that in my vegetable garden? She is planning on starting anew the next time she plants in them.
A: That would be wonderful soil for your garden. In fact, offer to buy her a nice plant in return for it, as it represents a valuable asset for you. Maybe she’ll do this every year or two, as that’s about how long potting soil will be at peak performance in a container. However, its usefulness in your garden will be years longer.
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 email@example.com.