GARDENER'S MAILBAG

Fire ants don’t kill trees

By Neil Sperry | Published Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Dear Neil: I have lost a couple of trees recently. When they were cut down, we found populations of fire ants. Do they kill trees?

Fire ants do not kill trees, but they will certainly move into moist, decaying tissues to build their nests. As difficult it is for me to say it, fire ants were just innocent bystanders in this case. Just “hangin’ out.”

Dear Neil: I have a large crape myrtle that provides the only shade to my small backyard. It has two trunks, and they are now becoming one trunk as they grow together. Is that anything I need to worry about?

Probably not, if they are growing straight and side by side. It’s when one might wrap around the other or significantly cut into the center of the adjacent trunk that you could have problems.

Dear Neil: My Easter lilies have always been late to bloom. They were planted from a funeral years ago. This year they were hurt by the late freezes, and when they did bloom, they were orange instead of white. Is that drought, freeze damage or what?

It’s neither drought nor freeze damage. Neither of those would lead to a color change.

Honestly, it’s extremely rare for Easter lilies to survive more than a couple of growing seasons in the Texas climate. We all want to plant them in our gardens, thinking that they will establish and bloom every year. They may bloom weakly the first year (always several weeks later than Easter), but they usually give up because of the Texas climate.

I would strongly suspect that you have another type of lily or daylily that is growing in that same space.

Dear Neil: I can’t figure out what happened to my Texas mountain laurel. It’s 6 years old, and I’ve tried to train it to be a small tree. This spring, however, a big portion of it turned brown. Should I prune it or wait to see if it will come back?

You should be able to tell by now if the affected branches are going to leaf out again. Based on your photo, I would doubt that that’s going to happen, so you should be just fine in trimming and reshaping the plant.

You may discover what caused this to happen as you’re removing the dead trunk. There was freeze damage this winter in colder parts of the state, but freeze damage usually looks more uniformly spread over the plant. This looks like a plant that has suffered some type of mechanical injury and the subsequent loss of broken stem tissue. I wish I could be more definitive.

Dear Neil: What would cause centipede grass to be pale yellow with spotty growth? We planted it two years ago to replace some that died away with the last drought. The new grass looks like it hasn’t rooted. We have an irrigation system, and I know it hasn’t gotten too dry. What options do we have?

That’s really hard to tell. I’m assuming it’s in full sun (or at least eight bright hours). If not, that would be a big issue. I would suggest digging a piece of the declining (not dead) grass up, to see if you can determine what’s going on in the root system. Without a photo or more to go on, I just can’t get a lot closer.

Dear Neil: Is there a spray to get honeysuckle and Virginia creeper out of a jasmine groundcover bed?

Not exactly. First off, I’m assuming you’re talking about Asian jasmine. My comments are based on that assumption. Please do not take the following to be my recommendation, as there is no official information on the product label to this effect, but many landscape contractors use a glyphosate-only herbicide to kill bermudagrass in an established Asian jasmine groundcover bed.

Used at the rate for killing bermuda, the glyphosate does not affect the Asian jasmine once it has become dark green and leathery by mid-June. Whether glyphosate sprays would kill honeysuckle and Virginia creeper or not, I don’t know, and the risk, should you choose to spray, would be totally yours.

I just wanted to comment on the one specific use of glyphosates that many of us have found to be helpful. I have never experienced any damage to my Asian jasmine.

Dear Neil: What would be causing my Indian hawthorns to be dying a section at a time? Many of their leaves are turning yellow.

This is a really unusual photo. Usually, when I see hawthorns dying off, it’s Entomosporium fungal leaf spot (same disease that is ravaging redtip photinias). That’s not the case here, however. This looks more like some type of chemical injury from a weedkiller that was misapplied, gas leak, etc. The leaves are showing dark green veins, typical of iron deficiency, but this is not iron deficiency. So until proven wrong, I’m going with a chemical issue.

Dear Neil: What native grass would hold the soil best over 100 acres of rural property?

Common Bermuda grass. Your county extension office would have lots more information.

Have a question you’d like Neil to consider? Mail it to him in care of the Wise County Messenger, P.O. Box 149, Decatur, TX 76234 or email him at mailbag@sperrygardens.com. Neil regrets that he cannot reply to questions individually.

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