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Big plant failure is puzzling to a new Texan

Question: When I was a landscape contractor and nurseryman in California, I never had a gardening problem that I couldn't figure out. However, I am stymied in Carrollton.

Everything failed - my veggie garden and most of my new ornamentals.

I think it must be excessive pH (alkalinity) from the city water supply. It is 8.5 to 8.7.

B.A., Carrollton

Answer: Problems related to pH are greatly overblown. In North Central Texas, pH above 7.0 is common.

One of the great things about an organic program is that pH is rarely a bother. Organic products will help, especially compost tea, liquid humates, molasses and seaweed. Welcome to Texas!

Question: I have a poplar in my front yard. It provides no shade, and I dislike the runners it produces. I notice that in your book, Texas Gardening the Natural Way, you say that this tree is basically a weed and should not be planted. Would you recommend removing it?

I hate to lose a tree, but I am concerned about its age and would rather replace it now so a new tree would have time to get established before we sell the house.

C.W., Dallas

Answer: You answered your own question. This tree is giving you no benefit and is a pest. Have it removed and plant a good native tree such as cedar elm, Texas red oak, bur oak, chinquapin oak or Canby oak.

Question: When is the best time to trim the ball moss off live oaks in the Texas Hill Country?

C.L., Marble Falls

Answer: After the first frost, I would spray the tree with baking soda or potassium bicarbonate at a rate of 1/2 cup per gallon of water. Trimming the moss is too much trouble.

Then use my Sick Tree Treatment (see Resources to request handouts).

Question: I recently received a green Japanese maple that is approximately 10 to 11 feet tall. We were told that it should be planted where sunlight would not touch the top of it after noon. What would be the best location?

R.P., Mesquite

Answer: At a minimum, give the tree afternoon shade, but filtered light all day is ideal.

If the tree truly is a green Japanese maple, the mother plant of many fancy hybrid maples, it is very tough and can stand some direct sun. You'll enjoy this little tree no matter what variety it is.

Question: We've had a totally organic buffalo-grass yard for five years. It was beautiful until last fall. Patchy areas started to turn yellow and brown, then looked dead.

I treated it with diatomaceous earth and added lava sand and more corn gluten meal in the bare spots. It limped along all summer and now is dead in large areas.

We really tried to follow the common guideline of watering 1 inch a week. I also have noticed small black insects that I think may be chinch bugs.

Where did I go wrong? Is there any hope for the small amount of remaining grass?

N.B., Grand Prairie

Answer: An inch of water a week is way too much for buffalo grass. You shouldn't have watered more than once or twice this summer with the cool temperatures and all the rain we had.

There may be hope for the remaining grass if you follow an organic fertilization program and cut back on the water. Given time, the grass should make an effort to come back.

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