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Old newspapers can smother wild strawberries!

One of the best things about writing this column is the feedback that it generates from readers like you.

Recently, I included a question from a reader who was getting increasingly frustrated by the continued reappearance of wild strawberries that seemed impossible to eradicate. I asked if any readers were facing the same problem and if so, what remedies were they trying. A few days ago I received the following message via e-mail:

“In response to a previous question regarding wild strawberries, I am also trying to rid an area of them. I don't want to use chemicals so I am trying to smother them out by laying down newspaper (3 or 4 sheets thick, making sure it overlaps) then covering the paper with mulch or compost. Not only do I hope to kill the wild strawberries (only because it borders my flower bed) but I am amending the soil at the same time by adding organic matter. We'll see what happens come spring!” – Debbie Burgart

Thank you for the idea, Debbie. Please be sure to write again in the spring and report on your results. Meanwhile, I’ll pass on your idea via this column and my web site in case other readers would like to try it, too.

With winter upon us, don’t forget to refill your bird feeders and check that the water in your birdbath isn’t frozen solid. Birds will become regular visitors to your backyard once they know you’re providing a reliable source for their food and drinking water.

If you’re thinking of putting up your first bird feeder (or adding a new one) and need some suggestions, drop me an e-mail at [email protected] Now to some more questions from readers:

QUESTION: “I have three Bradford pears in front of my house, and it was suggested by a local tree trimmer that I have them trimmed back. Is this necessary? He was estimating about $400.00 to trim them, and I don't know if I should get other estimates. One has serious damage due to straight line winds we had last year.” – Karen M. ANSWER: If the wind has damaged or dramatically altered the shape, then I do suggest you get some professional help. I should point out that, under normal circumstances, Bradford pear trees do not need trimming unless they are beginning to impede the growth of other plants or perhaps getting close to power lines.

QUESTION: “What do you think of using dormant oil in addition to Diasiston in the control of insects? The expense of applying the dormant oil equals the expense of the Diasiston and I wonder if both treatments are desirable. In other words, is the dormant oil worth the money?” – John Martinez

ANSWER: The dormant oil smothers the eggs, not allowing them access to the oxygen they would need for a successful hatch. So yes the oil is a good thing. Your insecticide kills what has already hatched.

QUESTION: “Steve, a good portion of my yard/lot sits next to a large sloping hill. Although we moved into our house just over one year ago, the yard appears to have drainage problems year round, unless the ground is frozen. The grass is always wet and often drains onto our sidewalks, leaving mud in its wake. The lawn mower sinks into the soil, leaving tracks, the dog comes back into the house with muddy paws, etc. We don't even use our sprinkler system! Our lawn services has offered to install a french drain to solve the problem. However, I was wondering if you thought it would be better to try trenching several paths into the hill, which would feed the run-off to several storm drains at the base of the hill and edge of our yard?” – Rick

ANSWER: I understand a little about the French drains since we have them around our home. My wife Cheryl did not want to have a gutter system on our home so we went with the French drain for a different reason. Before you go to the expense of a French drain system you may want to look at some of the new soil conditioner products. Let me know if you want some information. To answer your question, though, I think the idea about extra trenching is a good one.

The Plant Man is here to help. Send your questions about trees, shrubs and landscaping to [email protected] and for resources and additional information, or to subscribe to Steve’s free e-mailed newsletter, visit www.landsteward.org