Q : I planted a juniper about a dozen years ago on the north side of the house [the reader sent a photo]. I'd like to move it forward to the right front corner of the brick bed to better frame the house and give it more sun now that a large dead privet has been removed. I also want to remove the brick border altogether including the tall portion that keeps the large yaupon holly bush in check on the left and expand the border outward in a more free-form shape. The bricks are breaking up in several places anyway so they're history in my mind. So, can I safely move the large juniper onto a small berm (half and half buried and bermed) with a large rock or two to complete the look? And then can I safely trim the holly way down to half of its current height? I figure I could then fill in the space under the window with blue rug juniper or something similar with maybe a few more rocks in there. Sound feasible?
A : The transplant season is upon us. You can safely move hardy, existing trees and shrubs from now through February. That being said, moving that juniper will not be fun. It is large, and junipers can tear you up. Prepare the new hole first, then dig up as large a root ball as you can manage. We normally don't like to prune junipers too severely -- no more than a third, and you have to leave green needles. Make sure the new site allows for growth all the way around the diameter. You can see it was planted too close to the house where it is, resulting in a lopsided growth habit. Get the yaupon through the winter, then prune it by half in late February through March.
Q: Quick question -- when wanting to try seeds over the winter in pots/containers, do you use potting soil or garden soil? I'm thinking that if dried seeds fall to the ground, it's a garden soil they overwinter in, but I'm just not sure that's what to use in pots/containers as it's heavier than potting soil.
A: I always recommend potting soil for containers. Garden soil is not only heavier, but it can harbor weed seeds, diseases and insects. Starting "clean" helps in the long run.
Q: My two azaleas are looking terrible. Wondering if you can tell me if they're worth saving and what I can do to help them survive. The first was planted last spring, and the other is quite old. It is probably 10+ years old. I water them weekly and fertilize them in the spring. They are planted 10 feet apart.
A: While most azaleas did rebound from last December's devastating cold, there are plants that are struggling. I am happy to hear you have been watering weekly, since I have seen so many yards that are brown and dry -- which will not help our shrubs head into winter. I wouldn't do anything now, but see what the winter brings and how they begin growing next spring. Then assess and see if corrective pruning could help. Let's hope we don't have a repeat winter, and that our plants get a break. They surely did not get one this year!
Q : We have a persistent problem with young plants in our vegetable bed being lopped off, often (but not always) near the soil. This has happened to spring pea shoots, summer string beans and fall lettuce. The damage is at night, and there is sometimes a hole and dirt pile near the damage. We tried B. thuringiensis powder and pyrethrin spray on the very young shoots, without much success. Moving the bed is not an option because it is the only part of our backyard with enough sunlight. Are cutworms the most likely perpetrators, and if so, do you have advice on how to get rid of them, short of (or even including) replacing the soil?
A: Cutworms can devastate early crops, and if you have them annually, numbers will continue to grow. BT (Bacillus thuringiensis) is a natural pesticide, but it works by the insects feeding on it, and then acts as a stomach poison to kill them. The larger the larvae, the harder they are to kill. If you are using transplants instead of seeds, you can make a protective collar around the base of the stem by wrapping it lightly with aluminum foil. The foil needs to be about ½ inch below and above ground. This doesn't work well with seedlings growing from seeds in the soil. For those, try putting some diatomaceous earth around the stems. You can also try crushed eggshells -- something sharp that will prevent the cutworms getting too close. While many gardeners have gone to the no-till approach to gardening, you might try tilling your soil a couple of times this winter. Most cutworm larvae overwinter in the soil and emerge in the spring to begin feeding and mating. Tilling can expose the larvae to predators or the weather, and can reduce numbers.
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 arkansasonline.com/planitjanet. Write to her at P.O. Box 2221, Little Rock, AR 72203 or email firstname.lastname@example.org