Don't whack big pieces off the crape myrtles


QUESTION: I have three 20-foot-tall crape myrtle trees in my back yard. Do I have to prune them? I trim the low branches and suckers, but I like my trees tall. However, everyone tells me that I should cut them back because that's what they see other people doing. That doesn't seem like a valid reason to me. Also, can I add more dirt and compost on top of the roots? Some of the crape myrtle roots are on the soil surface. M.M., Dallas

ANSWER: The people who are giving you advice on pruning don't know what they are talking about. Crape myrtles should not be heavily pruned. Even the dry seed pods are decorative and provide food for birds. Having the root flare and some of the roots showing is a good thing. Most crape myrtles are planted too low in the ground. Do not add soil over the root zone.

QUESTION: My husband and I have property in Mena, Ark., where we are planning to build a house. The site is on top of a hill and is very rocky. The trees surrounding the site include oaks, hickories and pines. We will be using a septic tank, but the washing machine and the bathroom sinks won't drain into the septic tank. They will drain into a pipe that expels waste water in the forest. Will this drainage of soapy water kill the trees close to the drain pipe? S.E., Dallas

ANSWER: Yes, there will be damage. Soaps and cleaners, especially when concentrated, damage and even kill beneficial microorganisms in the soil. The constant wetness also will damage tree roots. I hope you have another alternative.

QUESTION: We purchased a house in September. The previous owner planted pennyroyal in the shady side yard, where it has flourished. I don't want pennyroyal because I consider it too dangerous for a yard where children play. I would like to replace the pennyroyal with mint, but how can I make sure I've eliminated the pennyroyal? L.C., Arlington

ANSWER: Pennyroyal has a distinctive fragrance and should be easy to identify. If we ever have a real winter, freezing temperatures should kill it.

I recently acquired an azalea bush from my mother's funeral. I would like to plant it, but I have heard that azaleas are difficult to grow in North Texas. K.K., Sherman

ANSWER: Plant the azalea in a large pot backfilled with an equal mix of compost, coconut fiber and expanded shale. Make sure bound roots are cut or pulled apart and that the root ball is sopping wet before planting. Use my Garrett Juice formula as a natural root stimulator (see Resources to obtain instructions).

QUESTION: Any suggestions on how to rid planting beds of moss without harming other plants or upsetting the soil balance? S.C., Leland, N.C.

ANSWER: Vinegar sprays will kill moss, but don't spray plants you hope to keep. Moss likes moist areas. I like moss unless it is causing a waste of water; there's no need to kill it.

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