Cereal rye grass gives back

Question: We need to plant winter grass to control erosion around our new charter school. The soil is terrible and does not support much vegetation.

I have heard that cereal rye is a good winter grass because it also acts as a good fertilizer when it dies. In the spring, we plan to overseed with buffalo grass and blue gama grass.

What winter and spring grasses do you recommend if not those mentioned?

M.F., Dallas

Answer: Elbon or cereal rye is an excellent grass to plant in the fall. It will germinate fast, grow quickly and indeed help build the soil. It is a cool-season grass, so plan to plant something else in the spring. If you broadcast a thin layer of compost (61/4 inch), the rye and any other grass will sprout more quickly and evenly as well as establish faster.

Question: About midsummer, my English ivy started turning brown. Leaves, stems and all, with no first sign of leaf spot. About half the bed is dead.

The plants have been in the ground about three years and really just started taking off this spring. I have not used chemical products in the yard for the 10 years that I have lived here. The plants are in almost full shade under a large sweetgum.

B.H., Dallas

Answer: Dry molasses and horticultural cornmeal will help quite a bit, but the best long-term plan is to convert the area to Persian ivy. It is a better-looking ground cover and does not have disease problems. It generally has larger, smoother leaves than English ivy. One source is Redenta's Garden nurseries.

Question: I have two huge and lovely Texas ash trees in my front yard. They are probably 25 years old and won't live but a few more years, I am told. I want to plant another tree in the shade of each tree, so that when each ash dies, there will be something already established in the area. I want something that will grow pretty large to eventually shade the house.

I think I want maples (probably Shantung), but my "tree man" says they live only about 20 years, like the ash.

I don't want oaks because of the acorns, so my tree man suggested lacebark elm, but I've heard that elms are susceptible to mistletoe, and they're not as pretty in the fall as maples. Any suggestions would be appreciated. And is it true that maples live only 20 years? M.M., Dallas

Answer: Silver maples may be short-lived but not the maples I recommend. Lacebark elms have more problems than Shantung maples.

Lacebark elms will grow well in some parts of North Central Texas but not where cotton has been grown in the past (before the houses were built). This tree is highly susceptible to cotton root rot.

The oldest Shantung maples in this area are 40 years old and still growing. We have seen no serious problems with this extremely fast-growing tree.

Texas ash also will live considerably longer than 20 years. It sounds like you may need to get a new "tree man." Look for a certified arborist.

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