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GARDENER'S MAILBAG

Trust the soil test, apply fertilizer accordingly

By Neil Sperry | Published Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Dear Neil: I have just gotten my soil test results back from Texas A&M. They seem really odd because I want to work up a vegetable garden area, and the tests say I should add only nitrogen. Don’t I want phosphorus for vegetable production?

Yes, you do want phosphorus for roots, flowers and fruit, so your question is very logical. What the soil test has obviously discovered is that your soil already has excessive amounts of phosphorus. That’s extremely common in Texas soils, especially if fertilizers containing phosphorus have been added in the past. High levels of phosphorus can adversely impact the solubility of critical minor elements, resulting in poor plant growth. Trust the soil test. Apply a high quality, all-nitrogen plant food.

Dear Neil: Several of your columns over the past couple of years have suggested Halts or Dimension for crabgrass and grassbur control. I have found Halts, but online there appear to be several types of Halts. What would you recommend?

I think you are seeing the same Halts product (Pendimethalin), but combined with different types of fertilizers. I am not a big advocate of “weed-and-feed” combination products. It’s my opinion that the two processes need to be done separately because the timing is different.

You need to apply pre-emergent herbicides earlier than the first lawn feeding. You should be able to find the Halts by itself, without fertilizer added in. Dimension products are widely available through local independent retail garden centers, so they are another option. Those stores should be getting their early spring supplies in very soon.

Dear Neil: I have an oak with a cavity. Can I use some type of wood filler to fill it and even the surface out?

Certified arborists advise against that. Filling cavities adds no strength to the tree’s trunk, and it encapsulates any decay that might be present. You’re really better off just allowing the tree to form new bark across the open wound. If you see a roll of bark forming uniformly across the opening, you’re on your way. If it is not forming, and if the decay seems to be getting worse, you need to call a certified arborist for an on-site inspection.

Dear Neil: My creeping fig has frozen and turned brown. I can see green underneath. How can I get rid of the ugly brown growth on top?

I’m assuming that you’re talking about fig ivy that is growing against a flat wall, and I’m also assuming that the green that you’re seeing “underneath” is beneath all of the clinging runners. If so, you could take a stout push broom and try brushing the vines. The dead leaves might pull loose from the action and fall to the ground.

You could even brush across them gently with a large scrub brush to see if that would help. Don’t apply enough pressure to pull the vines off the wall. And the good news is that even if you decide to do nothing, the green leaves will quickly conceal the browned stubble starting in late winter. This won’t be a problem in six to eight weeks.

Dear Neil: My El Toro zoysia has thinned in patches due to extreme water restrictions and heat. Could I overseed the bare areas with bermuda? Would the two be compatible? What suggestions do you have?

Do not plant bermuda seed. You don’t want two grasses growing in the same space. It never works out, because they always behave and look very differently.

If you want bermuda, you would want to remove the zoysia either with a shovel or sod cutter, or by applying glyphosate herbicide once it has greened up and is growing. Then you could rototill the soil and plant either sod or seed of whatever bermuda variety you wanted. But I would not recommend that. It’s a ton of work, and El Toro is a handsome lawngrass.

If I had your lawn, once water restictions were lessened and if I could see my way clear to reasonable waterings, I would dig plugs from my El Toro and plant them into the bare areas. That way you’d be sure of a match.

Dear Neil: I have five very large redtip photinias. I need to cut them way back because they’re encroaching on my driveway. When and how do I do that?

Do it soon, before they begin their new spring growth. Use a pruning saw and lopping shears. Remove entire branches, cutting them flush with the remaining trunk or limbs. Leave no stubs. By doing that one branch at a time, you can reduce the size of a redtip by half or more.

By doing it before the new growth starts, you’ll take advantage of all the spring burst to fill the plants in once again. In the future, try to do moderate pruning all along, instead of extreme pruning like this. It will be better for the plants.

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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