Culprit is pine shade, not pine needles

Question: I recently planted a new yard. It looked great for a while, but now pine needles are killing my grass. I have raked them up, but they are falling fast. Do you know what I can do?

K.W., Tyler

Answer: Pine needles won't kill or even hurt grass. The shade of the pine trees will. You may need to switch from grass to mulch or groundcover under the trees.

Question: My neighbor has a beautiful crape myrtle that hangs over my driveway. Something drips all over my car that is sticky and hard to clean off the window.

Someone told me that bugs may be causing the sappy stuff. Do you know what this could be? My neighbor is willing to work with me on this.

A.R., Dallas

Answer: The dripping is the waste or honeydew of small insects called aphids or plant lice. They can be eliminated temporarily with strong sprays of anything, including water. Adding compost tea with orange oil or other plant oil products to the water helps.

A strong spray rips the pests off the plants, leaving their mouth parts stuck in the plant tissue and killing most of them. But they will reappear unless the stress in the trees that attracted them is removed.

Stress can be caused by too much or too little water, too much or the wrong kind of fertilizer, soil contamination caused by herbicides and other chemicals, and soil compaction.

One of the most common causes of stress in trees is planting them too deeply. The root flare should be exposed and visible above the ground. You can remove the excess soil if you work carefully, but you also can hire a certified arborist to remove the soil with a device called an Air Spade.

Question: We planted a cottonless cottonwood tree about seven years ago.

During the last two or three years, we have seen yellow leaves falling around this time of year. This year, it seems to be worse than ever. Is this normal? Right now, our back yard looks like the first freeze in November.

D.C., Richardson

Answer: The cottonwood is a lowland tree and needs moist soil. I do not recommend it for residential use in North Central Texas. Get rid of it and plant a red oak, Canby oak, bur oak or native pecan.

Question: My neighbor has a buckeye tree that is loaded with buckeyes. I've heard that buckeye seeds can be planted to grow a tree.

How should we prepare the seed? If you let it dry, it gets as hard as a rock. Is there anything special we should do?

B.H., Euless

Answer: Texas buckeye is easily started from seed and best planted immediately after collecting. If the plant is an Ohio buckeye or some other variety, I would store the seeds in the refrigerator for about 60 days and then plant them just under the soil surface in organic potting mix or directly into the ground.

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