Gardening Q&A

Plant Q & A

Q. We have a Texas mountain laurel that has been growing attractively for five years in the front yard. Now, however, two of the five main branches are dying back. My neighbor who is a Master Gardener says it is because of poor drainage. Is that possible? Why now after five years? He pointed it out to me that there was puddling at the base of the plant.

A. Yes, it is possible. Were there any cars parking in the area, or construction? We also were subjected to some heavier doses of rain this spring that may have finished off root damage that was limiting root development. It is never a good sign when a puddle forms and persists at the base of a Texas mountain laurel. Try digging some drainage channels away from the base to relieve the remaining roots.

Q. Our neighborhood has experienced the same rain lilies, coreopsis and Indian blanket wildflowers that you have described. We also had a good growth of bluebonnets. There is a plant now with upright bloom stalks that are a light lavender color. Based on my wildflower handbook they seem to be “bee balm.” Tell me about bee balm.

A. Bee balm, as you have identified, is a wildflower that blooms later in the cycle. It is another favorite of pollinators and is included in most Texas wildflower mixes. It blooms over a relatively long period in sun or shade. You did not mention Salvia coccinea? It is another wildflower that comes into bloom late. It blooms from now to winter in both sunny and shady sites.

Q. What can I spray to protect my tomatoes from insects, birds and other pests? It breaks my heart to have the wounds and worm holes in the fruit.

A. To reduce damage due to mockingbirds and other birds, pick the fruit as soon as it shows any orange color. The fruit will complete ripening on the kitchen counter. You can also place agricultural fiber on the tomato cage to keep the birds and even some of the insects away from the ripening fruit. To eliminate squirrel and rat damage you will have to capture or poison the offenders. Make a search everyday to locate caterpillars. They can be removed by hand. As you can see there is not an all-encompassing action to protect the fruit from every pest that seeks to share it with you!

Q. It is time to apply the second dose of preemergent herbicide to prevent sand burs. The problem is that it is now hard to find Amaze because of a factory problem. What are our options?

A. Yes, the factory apparently was destroyed in a fire. Call around to make sure that there are not some limited supplies still available. XL is the same product so look for it, too. Another option is to use another crabgrass preventer or Dimension to replace the Amaze.

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