Tuesday, February 26, 2008


Hi Anne, How can I get rid of grass that is entangled in my Daylillies? I also have St. Johns wort, that I planted 3 years ago, it is spreading but no yellow flowers yet. Any suggestions?

Tracey E.

Anne's Response:

There are herbicides labeled as grass killers for use in ornamental flowers. Ornamec was one trade name but there are several others. Follow the labels very carefully to kill the grass without harming the day lilies. The only other way is to handpull the grass. St. John's Wort seems to need quite a bit of morning sun for flowering. It does not bloom very well if it is fertilized with a lot of nitrogen. I've found that using a good organic mulch is all the fertilizer mine needs.


Dear Ms. Clapp,

I have a cherry blossom tree and three Bradford pear trees and would like your advice on how to fertilize them, similar to the advices for the fig bushes. I really appreciate it.


Anne's Response:

f the cherry tree and the Bradford pears have been in the ground for more than 5 years and are mulched with a 2 or 3 inch layer of organic mulch such as composted leaves or pine bark there is really no need to fertilize them. The organic material in the soil and in the mulch will supply most of the nutrients for mature plants that are not fruit producing. If they have been planted for less than two years you may want to fertilize them with a slow release nitrogen fertilizer just as the leaves appear in the spring.

Oleander Help

Dear Anne,

I apologize if you've already answered this question for another gardener, but I was not able to find anything on your site. I have an Oleander plant that I bought in September - I transplanted it then and have been watering and fertilizing once or twice a month with miracle grow. I have had it in the house now for three or four months because of the cold. Until a few weeks ago the plant has been doing wonderfully - it had new growth and even clusters of flowers. However now the flower buds seem to be turning black at the base and dying before they ever open and a new development of on some of the leaves, a black, brownish rot look sort of has started appearing. I'm not sure what's wrong. Is the plant lacking light? Fungus? Bugs? Any advice you have would be most helpful and of course solutions. Thank you very much!

- Dorothy, Georgia

Anne's Response:

I think your oleander is suffering from an excess of fertilizer. It is not happy as a house plant although it will grow as a greenhouse plant with a lot of light. The plant has a natural dormant cycle in the winter and would like a rest period with enough water to keep it alive and a short time when it does not bloom. It does have leaf spot diseases and that is probably what you are seeing as brown spots on the leaves. It helps to pull off the infected leaves and when it is warm enough to take the plant outside for the day you may want to apply a fungicide such as the one made by Bayer that acts as a systemic fungicide.

Is there a cheaper store to get rain barrels?

I have looked online, and most companies are charging alot of money for even a basic wooden rain barrel. Plus you have to buy separately the accessories to go with it. A few years ago I saw one at Walmart for about 40 dollars. Needless to say when I went back it was gone and the store wasn't getting any more. I would like to purchase 2 for saving water by using them for my garden.

I hope you can help me.


Valinda S.

Anne's Response:

Rain barrels are not cheap these days. The demand is quite high with the drought. The best buys are available from some of the city and county agencies. The City of Raleigh is selling some at their facility on Peace Street. Apex has some available. You could check the website RainWaterSolutions.com for their product.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Catching the rain


With the current water restrictions I don't see how I can plant my garden this year unless I have a system for capturing large amounts of rain.

I suppose many of the swimming pool installers are not getting much new business. Seems like pools for holding large amounts of captured rain water would be a good new business area for them.

Have you heard of any swimming pool installers moving in that direction? Or do you know of anyone in the business of creating large, economical containers for holding captured rain?

Jim A.

Anne's Response:

There are several firms marketing and installing cisterns and rain barrels in this area. You might check the website for RainWaterSolutions.com. The enclosed systems are better than an open “swimming pool” because you don’t have problems with mosquitoes.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Privacy border trees

Hi Anne,

We moved into a new home last summer and between the summer heat and the extreme drought, we haven't done much to improve the yard. We need a privace border for our back yard as we live on a corner with all the subdivion traffic passing right by our back deck. We like the way Leyland Cypress look, but hesitate because they may vary in height from one another. We have a 4 foot fence and would like to plant about 25-30 feet along it on the side yard and about 35-45 feet across the back fence line. Any suggestions for low maintenance, quick growing privacy?


Anne's Response:

Pruning will keep plants at a similar height so Leyland cypress will workin sunny areas as well as anything else if you keep it pruned. Another choice for a sunny spot might be Nellie Stevens Holly. For sunny or shady areas Camellia sasanqua makes a dense hedge. Florida Anise is also a fast growing choice for shade or sun.

Pruning Inkberry bushes

I live in Delaware and we are remodeling a three season room and in the process the contractors will need room to apply siding to the room. I need to cut back the Inkberry bushes to give them room to work. The bushes are about 5 feet high and very straggly (if that's a word). I really have only two choices cut them back or remove them and start over. If I can cut them back , how far can I go? Some told me no more than 3/4 of the Height.

Anne's Response:

Inkberry holly (Ilex glabra) is one of the hardy evergreens that can be drastically pruned. It takes some time for them to recover but a healthy plant can be cut back to 10 inches. In some cases new growth will come from the base of the plant and at times some of the stems that are left will not leaf out, but there will be enough plant remaining to be a presentable plant by the third season.

Transplanting mature Nellie Stevens


I have a Nellie Stevens Holly that was planted way too close to my house. It is about 12' tall and I would love to transplant it. A tree spade will not work because it is too close to the house to remove it with the spade. I heard the tap root is enormous. Is it possible to transplant without hurting the tree?

Anne's Response:

I would not try it. The root system is very large and although the plant can be cut back drastically so the top is easy to manage the rootball is large enough to need a treespade or a frontend loader to handle what will be over 300 pounds.

Growing Bamboo


I've been seeing more and more "wild" stands of bamboo popping up everywhere, and I was wondering if you had any advice on growing this plant. I've even seen some large varieties growing at the NC zoo and I'm just floored by their beauty.

Best Regards,

Anne's Response:

My advice is not to grow it. It takes constant cultivation to keep the plant in a controlled area. I have been fighting it on some commercial property where it has grown under a 60 foot wide parking lot. The safest way to grow bamboo is to use an underground enclosure to keep the roots contained.

Non-blooming hybiscus tree


I have a hibiscus tree that bloomed the first year I had it and has not bloomed since, I have tried different fertilizers repotted, everything the nursery workers have suggested but still no blooms the plant is healthy and leaves are beautiful but doesn’t have any bud or signs of bloom. I have had it probably 6 years, just waiting for that beautiful bloom but getting tired of keeping it through the winter if it isn’t going to product.


Anne's Response:

The plant may have had too much nitrogen fertilizer so that it prefers to grow rather than to bloom. If the plant is moved outdoors too quickly and is shocked by cold air the blooms are damaged. If it is in full sun, watered on a regular basis, and fertilized once a year just as the new growth starts on the plant in the spring it should bloom.

Leland Cyprus Turnign Brown near Trunk

I have a row of beautiful Leland Cyprus trees across the back of my yard that are approximately 30 feet tall. They have been in place for approximately 10 years. I just noticed this month that the inside portion of the trees nearest the truck that all the needles are turning brown while the outer limbs and tips remain green. Is this normal or am I looking at some form of disease attacking my trees. We have been in a drought here in North Carolina for over a year and I am wondering if they are reacting to the drought conditions. I would appreciate any help you can provide.

Dan B.

Anne's Response:

Leyland cypress have a hard time in very dry conditions but if the plants have good air circulation and are mulched they should be able to withstand the drought we have had in North Carolina. If the brown growth is just on the inner part of the limbs it is probably old growth that is usually replaced by new growth in the spring. I would not fertilize the plants unless we have rain this spring.


Hi! I live in Panama City Beach Florida (panhandle) and want to transplant a gardenia that was here when we bought the house. How and when is the best time?

Thank you,

Anne's Response:

It is usually easier to transplant a gardenia in early fall as it is going into dormancy. That allows the roots to grow during the winter so it will be able to stand the heat of summer. You may want to prune the plant back after it blooms this year so that it is a manageable size then use a sharp edged spade to root prune the plant about 4 weeks before you want to move it. Root pruning is just taking the spade and stabbing it into the ground in a circle around base of the plant just under the tips of the limbs. This forces the plant to produce a new root system.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Otto Luykens

I have about 15 Otto Luykens in my backyard at the edge of my screened porch and deck. Most of them do extremely well. They have been in the ground 4 years.

This past year 3 of them died. The first sign of a problem is when the leaves begin to have a yellowish tint to them. Not as rich and green as the other bushes. Some of the leaves begin turning bright yellow and then brown. Eventually the whole bush turns brown and dies.

One bush, 1/3 of the plant died. There is about 6 trunks coming out of the ground. 3 of them died, the rest of the bush is beautiful.

They receive plenty of water. They receive full sun. In the past I have used a Bayer product poured around the roots to fertilize, protect from fungus and insects. It has worked well.

This year I used Hollytone and an Ortho spray fungicide/insecticide. The plants that died are surrounded on both sides by plants that are doing very well.
Today I replaced the dead ones. I'm concerned because two of the bushes, that have done very well, now have some yellow leaves on them.

My location is about 40 miles North West of Washington DC. Otto Luykens are everywhere and do well.

Any suggestions?????

Anne's Response:

Otto Luyken is a cherry laurel, Prunus laurocerasus, are quite sensitive to moisture levels in the soil. Too much or too little soil moisture produces the symptoms you describe. It is not uncommon for one or two plants in a row of otherwise healthy plants show signs of moisture problems. Too much water may come from uneven run-off from roofs or a pocket of soil that holds more moisture for longer periods of time. Soil that is too dry may be caused by gravel or lack of organic material in the soil; air pockets around roots caused by not getting good contact with roots and soil at the time of planting produce the same effect. Too much fertilizer around one plant may cause a problem and that can occur when the plants on either side of a plant are higher in the ground so that fertilizer runs to the lower plant. I don’t know of a root rot virus that affects Otto Luykens to produce the problem you describe.

Cactus plants

We live in South Carolina and would like to plant cactus around our pool area (no shade). Can you suggest some that will grow year round and are tolerant to our winter climate? Thank you, Deb B.

Anne's Response:

I am not willing to suggest planting cactus around a residential swimming pool. The spines on a cactus can be quite painful when they become embedded. We spend too much time around swimming pools in bare feet and exposed arms and legs that can brush against the plants or pick up thorns that have dropped to the ground from decaying plant parts.

Miniature apple trees

Hi Anne,

I have 4 miniature apple trees planted in 2006. Last year they were full off blossoms but we got a cold wind that blackened most of the flowers but the ones that survived produced fruit. They grew to about the size of a small tomato then they started to fall off the tree. This happened to all the fruit on all the trees. Could you please let me know why you think this happened and what’s the cure. Also when is the best time to put fertilizer around the trees? Also I have this other apple tree it has a male and female grafted together. It’s about 6 years old and never flowered once in all that time. I’m tempted to just remove it altogether. I would be grateful for your advice on these problems.

Thank you,
Mike J.

Anne's Response:

Apples trees drop fruit when there is too much fruit on the tree. Thinning fruit to an amount the limbs can support and providing the water and nutrients the tree needs to develop the fruit that is set reduce the amount of fruit drop from a plant. Pre-mature fruit drop is also caused by insufficient pollination. Sometimes there are enough visits to a single blossom for the plant to set fruit but not enough for the fruit to develop properly. It is important to avoid using insecticides on fruit trees during the time they are in bloom. Apples trees should be fertilized 3 times during the year: when the tree blooms, when the fruit sets and in June.

Planting season for flowers here

Hi, I am interested in adding some flowers to my yard. What is the best time to begin in the spring?


Chad R.
Waxhaw, NC

Anne's Response:

The type plant you are putting in the ground determines what time of year it is planted. Cool season plants like pansies, snapdragons etc, can be planted in January and February. Roses can be planted in February and March. Flowering shrubs are best planted in the fall - late September and October. Tulips and daffodils are planted in the fall.

Petunias, marigolds, zinnias and similare annuals are planted after the danger of frost in April.

Yellow leaves

Dear Anne, I am a very new gardener. The leaves of my angel's trumpetsand iceberg roses are turning yellow and my camelias are not blooming. Please help! Kelly

Anne's Response:

I am going to assume that all of these plants are growing outdoors, probably in North Carolina. The yellow leaves at this time of year are expected although by February I would not expect the Angel's Trumpet to have any leaves. It should have been killed to the ground by cold weather. If the plant was mulched well it should start putting up new growth by May. The Iceberg roses may still have a few leaves if they were in a protected spot but again I would expect them to have defoliated by now. Roses get pruned back in late February. Camellia japonicas bloom in March most years although many have bloomed early this year with our mild winter.

Trimming back a Hibiscus


We have a hibiscus indoors in a large pot. At present it is about 3' high and 3' wide. The leaves are starting to fall off. A friend told us we should prune back the branches. We are not sure how much and how far back to prune them. Perhaps you could give us an idea of just how much to remove from the plant.

Thank you for your time,

Jerry K.
Centerport, NY

Anne's Response:

The leaf drop could also be from moving air from a heating system and a change in the moisture level in the soil. I do not like to prune a plant indoors until it is time for it to start its spring growth. If you leave the hibiscus outdoors during the summer you may wish to wait until the end of March or early April to cut it back. If the plant has been in the same pot and potting soil for three years it is probably time to repot the plant as well. If you repot, remove the soil from the roots and trim 3 or 4 inches from the rootball before you repot it. Make sure the plant is watered well so the roots have good contact with the new soil. It is easy to remove at least 1/3 of the top growth of the plant. Reduce the height by removing branches so that you thin the plant for better air circulation as well as reduce its size. I find the tallest stem in the center of the plant and cut it back to an adjoining stem at the height I want the plant to be. I cut back the other major stems in the same manner then I tip prune the side branches. You want to remove any broken stems, stems that rub against each other and stems that grow down from a main branch.

Saving my zoysia

Hi Anne,

I need your advice. I read that you have grown zoysia in Raleigh for many years. I have had zoysia in my yard for almost 6 years. It survived the drought of 4-5 years ago and continued to spread slowly but surely. I don't normally fertilize so it might have fully covered my large yard by now if I had. I also just now read about dethatching, which I have never done either. This year's drought was tough. Due to the drought and that we have a well, I have not watered at all this year, to conserve our well. But the last drought, the zoysia survived just fine. But in the last couple of months I've looked closely into the dormant grass and have now noticed many dead areas.

Can you advise me on how to save my zoysia from dying more and regrowing where it's died already?

Thanks for your attention,
Richard G.

Anne's Response:

Zoysia lawns are very resilient so I hope what you are seeing as dead patches are just dormant grass. My lawn has been in place for over 30 years and does not get watered. I cut the grass very short in late March or early April and rake it to remove the thatch. After the grass greens up in May I use a core aerator to keep the soil from being compacted.

Any lawn gets compacted with foot traffic from humans and animals and heavy lawnmowers compact it as well. Compacted soil keeps the roots from developing in the ground so that may the source of your lawn's slow growth. Every other year I top-dress the lawn when I aerate. I use composted manure to add organic matter and some nitrogen but some people use sand just as golf courses do on their Bermuda grass. In years of "normal" rainfall the lawn gets fertilized in June and August. Never fertilize the lawn if you don't expect to get rain but Zoysia does need a yearly application of nitrogen for a healthy lawn.

Friday, February 8, 2008


When is the correct time to put out nematodes to help control the Japanese Beetle larvae?

Thank you,

Anne's Response:

I don't think you want to put out nematodes. I think you want to put out Milky Spore, a bacterium that kills Japanese beetle grubs. I prefer to put it out in early September when the grubs are hatching near the surface of the soil and before they go down to lower levels of the ground for the winter. You can also put it out in early May before the grubs begin to metamorphose into beetles. With the warm weather this February I am seeing some signs of grub activity already so I am at a loss to know when the optimum time would be other than say mid-April might be a reasonable time.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008


What is the best shrub to plant in front of our home. we just had a new home put in and trying to figure out the best shrub to plant that don't grow 10 foot tall. i would like to go in between with some color too what do you think?


Anne's Response:

There is no one answer for shrubs in front of a home. It will depend on how much light the plants will have, whether the base soil is sand or clay, the style of the home and the size of the space to be covered. The current style is to use a combination of several types of plants rather than a row of the same plant. Many landscapers are designing the area with one set of plants next to the house, a second set of slightly shorter plants in front of those and then a groundcover at the base to fill in the space between the shrubs and the lawn. You can mix flowering shrubs such as azaleas, camellias, pieris, abelia and osmanthus with hollies, boxwoods, juniper, Otto Lutken Laurel and cryptomeria. The best solution is to go to a good independent nursery or garden center that has a good selection of plants and try some combinations to find something you like.

Raspberry Bushes

Dear Anne,

I purchase two raspberry bushes from my local home improvement store and both of them have new growth from the stems. My question revolves around the time for planting these outdoors. Should I wait until the weather warms or are raspberries hardy enough to survive hard frosts and still come back? Needless to say, I plan on planting them in a full sun location so there will not be much protection from the nightly frosts.

Gastonia, NC

Anne's Response:

I would keep the plants in pots in a protected area with a layer of mulch or chopped leaf mulch around the pots and new growth to keep the roots from freezing and to keep the new growth from freezing. If temperatures are predicted to go below 20 degrees at night I would cover them with burlap or a blanket - not plastic. They should be able to be planted in the ground by the first week of March but you will need to keep the mulch around the new growth.

Winter grass

I see grass that is bright green during the winter. What kind of grass seed do I need to purchase to have green grass during the winter and does this grass stay green during the summer?

Karen K., Charlotte

Anne's Response:

There are two types of “bright green grass” in the winter. The one that appears in spots in brown lawns and in gravel areas is Poa Annua, annual bluegrass. It dies out with warm weather but usually reseeds in the fall. It is considered a weed by most homeowners. The most common year-round green lawn grass in this area is fescue. It is planted in the fall and provides a bright green lawn in the fall, winter and early spring. By summer the heat does put the lawn under stress so it has to be watered frequently to keep it alive. With drought and water restrictions in North Carolina many homeowners are having difficulty keep fescue lawns green in the summer.

Centipede grass question

Dear Anne,

I have many weeds in my centipede grass that are difficult to control (nut sedge, clover among others). One that is relatively new that I can't get a handle on is (not sure if it's a weed or what) something that looks like centipede but grows from one spot and shoots out very long stems or "creepers" into many directions. They are located in many different spots in my backyard. If I find one, I pull up all the "extensions" and they seem to all come from one "host." Now that it is winter time, you can actually see all of the spots as the color is more tan (or just tan) than the rest which is more of a mix of brown and tan (dormant centipede). Any ideas as to what this is and how to get rid of it. Ripping it up does not seem to work as the roots are extremely difficult to pull out and then clear out totally. Your help is greatly appreciated.

Thanks, Adam, Winnabow, NC

Anne's Response:

I think you may be having an invasion of “Seashore Paspalum”, a grass in the same family as Dallis Grass and Bahia grass. In fact, it could be Bahia as the highway department has planted some as part of the right-of-way program. Seashore paspalum has been used on some golf courses near the coast so the seeds could have spread to your area. I suggest you take a sample of the grass to the country cooperative extension service and ask for an identification and a suggestion for a chemical that can be controlled it in centipede. I don’t know of a product that is available for homeowners to use but there are some that people with commercial pesticide applicator licenses can use.