How to transport wintercreeper

By Neil Sperry | Published Wednesday, January 24, 2018

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Dear Neil: How can I start new plants of wintercreeper? I want to get a new bed going this spring. Can I transplant it as runners?

Perhaps, but it’s always rooted from cuttings by nurserymen. Choose 4-inch shoots and stick three or four of them into a 4-inch pot filled with loose, highly organic potting soil. They root fairly easily if you do this in early spring as new growth is just about ready to start. Keep them very warm and moist. Wait until they have rooted well and have put on a couple of inches of new shoot growth before you set them checkerboard-style into well-prepared beds on 15-inch centers.

Dear Neil: This is the first year that I have grown Texas star hibiscus. It looks like the plant died completely. Will it come back in the spring? The stems look completely dead.

All of the hardy hibiscus, Texas star included, die to the ground with the first killing freeze in the fall. You can cut that frozen stem tissue back completely. It will not green up again. I normally leave a couple of inches of it in place as a marker so I’ll remember where the plant is. They are late to put out new shoots from their roots, so don’t be impatient. They always do come back if they were healthy and vigorous going into the winter.

Dear Neil: The edges of the leaves of my rabbit track plants are browned and the leaves are curled and folded. Is that normal for them?

Those are marantas, and most of us who have grown them have had the same experience with them. They’re fun plants when you see them in greenhouses, but they don’t take well to dry indoor environments. Trim off the dead portions using sharp scissors and move the plants to the most humid (but bright) part of your home. If you still fail, don’t blame yourself. Many of us have gone before you!

Dear Neil: I see marks around the bottom of my apple trees that almost look like it has been gnawed. What would have done that, and how can I stop it? Will the tree survive?

Rodents do that. Disgustingly, it’s often rats, and in some settings where water is nearby it can even be beaver relatives, even in Texas. It’s best to put some kind of loose collars around the trunks to prevent them from being able to bite into the wood. But the collars need to be able to expand as the trunks grow larger so you don’t end up girdling the trees. Be very careful, too, with lawnmower wheels and line trimmers. Humans do more damage than animals in many cases.

Dear Neil: Is shredded newspaper good as a mulch or in the compost?

Only modestly so. It adds very little organic matter and it tends to soak up moisture and pack down to form an impenetrable barrier. It’s better to send it to the recycle bin to be made into other forms of paper and whatever recyclers do with it for future use.

Dear Neil: Do I need to pick off the seeds from my pansies and pinks after the petals have fallen?

No. Plant breeders have provided us types that continue producing more and more flowers without this type of “deadheading.” That frees you up to do a ton of other, more productive work.

Dear Neil: Is it practical for a homeowner to rent a front-end loader and dig a live oak with a 4-inch trunk? A friend is adding a room to his house and has offered the tree to me.

It is absolutely worth digging and moving the tree, but don’t try to do the digging with the front-end loader. Use it only to lift the tree onto a flatbed trailer for the actual move to your house. You need to dig the tree by hand (and foot!) using sharpshooter spades to cut a trench 30 inches deep at a distance approximately 20 to 22 inches out from the trunk in all directions. Cut lateral roots carefully with a handsaw so that the soil ball will remain intact. Use a larger shovel to dig a “ramp” out of the hole by which you can roll or gently pull the soil ball once you have it completely formed and wrapped tightly in burlap. It would be best if you had someone familiar with digging trees and also with handling the machinery help you with all this. It will take four or five hours to finish the task, at which point you’ll want to be sure you have the tree at the same depth at which it was growing originally. Stake and guy it with wires padded to protect the trunk to keep it completely vertical. Water it deeply, and thin the top growth by 40 to 50 percent to compensate for roots lost in the digging.

Dear Neil: Our ryegrass lawn that we planted for temporary cover at our new house has turned yellow with the winter’s cold. When can we fertilize it to green it back up?

At almost any time now. It grows in the cooler weather, and it will take off quickly during the first upcoming warm spells. Use a high-quality lawn food at half or two-thirds the recommended rate and water it into the soil deeply after the feeding.

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 Neil regrets that he cannot reply to questions individually.

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