QUESTION: I was in Midland recently and saw some beautiful pine trees. They are dark green, 35 to 40 feet tall and shaped like an oak. I called a nursery there and got two answers: Ponderosa pine or Eldarica pine. Do you know which it may be and whether it will grow in the red, sandy loam of western Denton County? P.H., Dallas
ANSWER: It could be either of those, but I'm guessing it is an Italian stone pine. This is the best pine choice for North Central Texas.
QUESTION: I recently heard one of your radio listeners mention a plant that could be used as a substitute for sugar. What is it? M.W., Dallas
ANSWER: Stevia is the herb we discussed. It is easy to grow and extremely sweet. It can be used fresh or dried, but most users cook it into a sweet liquid. Stevia is covered in my Herbs for Texas book.
QUESTION: We had maple trees cut down and ground up. The shavings sat for a few weeks, and then we spread them under our shrubs as mulch. Someone said the natural acids of the tree may kill the shrubs. Should we rake the mulch off immediately? P.C., Dallas
Whoever told you that is goofy. Tilling fresh wood chips into the soil would tie up the nitrogen, but, used on the surface, they don't pose a problem. If you toss a little compost onto the chips, the plants will do even better.
QUESTION: How short should I cut Bermuda grass? I have been told to scalp it in the spring. J.S., Dallas
Scalping is a bad idea. It's hard on the lawn equipment and on you, it wastes time, it removes valuable organic material, and it exposes bare soil to sunlight and wind. This causes loss of moisture, loss of carbon and loss of beneficial living organisms. The bare soil allows weed seeds to germinate, and the loss of organic matter and microbes reduces the fertility of the soil.
QUESTION: Scotts is making an "organic" fertilizer that is sold at Home Depot. I left the Dallas area two years ago and have been searching for a high-quality organic fertilizer here in Mississippi. Do you know about the Scotts product? L.H., Petal, Miss.
ANSWER: I'm not familiar with it, but if it is truly an organic fertilizer, it will be fine. However, the Scotts company is mainly in the chemical business. Acceptable organic materials are listed on my Web site.