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Readers need help with prickly weeds and groundcover

You learn something everyday in this business. For instance, I’d never heard of “pricker bushes,” but they seem to be a problem for this reader!

QUESTION: “I am having a huge problem with pricker bushes. I have many of them growing in the hedge row of my lawn. I have tried yanking them out when the soil was wet and they died out for the season and I have also tried burning them. Nothing seems to get rid of them and it appears they are coming back two-fold the next season. Is there a way to get rid of them for good? I sure would like to know.”– Rachael Spearance

ANSWER: I’m not exactly sure what type of plant you’re talking about, but I’m guessing it is thistle. If it is, then I’m sorry to say that you will just have to keep digging them out before they go to seed. You will eventually rid your yard of them as long as the neighbors do likewise!

QUESTION: “I am looking for recommendations for a full sun ground cover for Zone 4 that would have the same moisture requirements as Pansies. Any ideas?” – Tammy Chisum

ANSWER: “There are a number of groundcovers that would do well in full sun. You could try any of the Sedums, such as Baby Tears, Dragon’s Blood or Tricolor. Other possibilities are Purle Wintergreen or some of the Creeping Phlox varieties. I should point out that the Sedums will require more watering than Pansies. For more information on groundcover choices, go to my Web site www.landsteward.org and click on “The Plant Man” link. There you’ll find two recent columns on the subject.

QUESTION: “I planted many trailing periwinkle last year. I want to give them a boost in growing this spring. What is the best fertilizer/plant food to use and when should I apply it? The plants are in a partially shaded/shade area.” – Ann McCarthy

ANSWER: Anytime now would be fine to apply the fertilizer. You can either broadcast a triple 13 balanced fertilizer or you could try liquid Miracle Grow. Just remember that if you use the granulated fertilizer you must be sure to rinse off the leaves of the plants with water.

Rather than a question, the following is a comment from a reader: COMMENT: “One thing you may want to remind readers about is that they need to be very careful about preparing soil or establishing "tree rings" around the base of their trees. If they use annuals and dig into the soil each spring in that ring around the base of the tree, they will also be disturbing, breaking, and opening up the small ground root of the tree to infection. I have seen several mature trees keel over after a few years of having those beautiful impatiens circles around their base. it may be much safer to not plant anything and use mulch, or if they really need to, perhaps a few carefully installed perennials.” – Jim

ANSWER: Thanks for the suggestion. I would imagine that planting around trees will do better by adding soil to the planting bed as long as you do not put the dirt right up against the tree trunk.

A sad footnote: Recently, I wrote a column with encouraging news about the healthy return of the American elm that had been nearly obliterated by dreaded Dutch elm disease. You can read more at my Web site in the archived Plant Man column titled “They’re back: American elms are on the rebound!”

In that column, I mentioned that a strain of disease-resistant trees had been developed from genetic material taken from one very special tree that lived in a graveyard in Princeton, NJ. Sadly, this strong old-timer has finally succumbed to the disease and had to be cut down and destroyed a few days ago to prevent the chance of infecting other trees. A count of the tree’s rings revealed that it was probably 278 years old. Fortunately, this old “mother elm” was able to provide us with hundreds of healthy “offspring” to carry on her lineage before she died.

The Plant Man is here to help. Send your questions about trees, shrubs and landscaping to

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