IN THE GARDEN: Patience, selective pruning can help lanky camellias recover their former, fuller look

Q I am sending a photo of my camellia shrubs. I have trimmed them once this spring, perhaps a 10%-15% cut. They have always been evergreen and healthy, my having planted them 30 years ago. Should I trim them again? Thanks so much.

A I wish my camellias looked as good as yours. You have a couple of choices. You can wait a bit and let them put on some more growth and then do some shaping, or you can go ahead and prune perhaps 10%-20% more. When you make your pruning cuts, stagger the heights of the branches you leave to allow more fullness when they begin to leaf out. Each week I see more signs of life in plants in the garden, but some are rebounding more quickly than others. I see no life on my sasanqua camellias, but I am not calling it quits yet. Wishful thinking, perhaps.

Q I believe that I have poison oak in my iris and peony bed. What can I do get rid of the poison oak without killing my flowers. I read that vinegar can kill.

A I believe it is poison ivy. Poison ivy has a variety of leaf margins, whereas poison oak has scalloped, oak-shaped leaves consistently. Either way, they are both noxious weeds. Since it is growing among desirable plants, vinegar is not a good idea. It is unselective and can acidify the soil as well. After one of our rains, wear protective clothing and try to pull the poison ivy out by the roots, or spot spray (only getting it on the weeds) with Roundup. Poison ivy is everywhere this spring, so beware.

Q My blood pressure goes up when I see my yard guys weed-eating my St. Augustine and zoysia lawns. Is it just me? I thought they were called that for their purpose and "lawn" mowers were for that use.

A Either you have a very small yard or you have a steep slope, if they are "mowing" your whole yard with a string trimmer. Typically, mowers make the job much easier, but in tight spaces or steep areas, they often use a trimmer.

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 Gallery: In the garden May 20

Q The winter took its toll on our Encore azaleas. I live in Northwest Arkansas. I see the smallest bit of green at the ground level of the plants. Should I cut all the dead looking branches off and let them grow back? Thank you for answering me. I know you have been asked and answered many times.

A By now, most azaleas have started putting on new growth. If all of your growth is still only at the soil line, you can start removing the dead top growth. Most Encore azaleas in Central Arkansas are putting on foliage at the tops, but some extra thinning is needed to get them to fill in some foliage on the interior as well. After pruning mine, there is only a modicum of foliage on the branches, but slowly I see dormant buds beginning to sprout. Look closely at your stems to make sure they are dead. Cut into one or two and see if they are brown or green. Then start pruning. Water well this summer when it is dry, and lightly fertilize. It will take time, but eventually you will have decent looking shrubs again.

Retired after 38 years with the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service, Janet Carson ranks among Arkansas' best known horticulture experts. Her blog is at Write to her at P.O. Box 2221, Little Rock, AR 72203 or email: