QUESTION: I have a bald cypress, and the roots are coming out of the ground all around the yard. Some are close to the tree and some are far away. The roots come out of the ground for about 12 inches or less and then go back into the ground. How can I keep this from happening? Can I cut the roots that are already protruding without hurting the tree? K.E., Fort Worth
ANSWER: This is a characteristic of bald cypress. Their roots always do this to some degree, especially when the ground stays moist to wet. Improving the drainage and reducing your use of water will help, but the only way to eliminate the protruding roots is to remove the tree. I would suggest instead that you use mulch or plant a groundcover around the tree so you won't need to mow over or around cypress roots.
QUESTION: I have a lot of red-tip photinias in my yard. Two of the shrubs are dying. It started with yellow leaves, and then the leaves died. I have put a fair amount of lawn fertilizer around the plants, and I used fertilizer stakes around the two that are dying the quickest. One person told me that photinias live a certain length of time and then die. He suggested I dig them up and replace them. D.P., Dallas
ANSWER: You've been getting bad advice and using bad products. Photinias have a built-in weakness in their root system that causes health problems, but they often can be saved with an organic approach. Here's the plan: Stop using synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. Make sure the drainage around the plants is good and that you are not overwatering.Next, aerate the shrubs' root zone by poking holes in the ground with a stick or metal rod. While the holes are open, apply 1 inch of compost and the following amendments over the area around the shrubs: 80 pounds of lava sand, 100 pounds of expanded shale, 10 pounds of dry molasses, 10 pounds of horticultural cornmeal, and 40 pounds of Texas greensand per 1,000 square feet.
After applying the amendments, water the area well and cover it with shredded cedar mulch. Finally, spray everything (foliage, stems, trunks and the ground) with my Garrett Juice formula with garlic oil added. (See Resources to request recipes.) Photinias that are dead cannot be revived, but those that are merely sick often can be brought back to health. Independent garden centers have employees who can help you with organic amendments and gardening advice.
QUESTION: I have access to lots of peanut shells from several peanut mills in my area. Are the shells a good mulch, or would they be best for compost? J.W., Childress
ANSWER: Peanut shells are lightweight and won't stay in place as well as mulch. Peanuts also are treated heavily with pesticides, so it would be best to compost the shells with other organic matter before using them in your garden.