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Exposing root flare of a Japanese maple


QUESTION: I have a red Japanese maple that is planted too deep. It has lots of feeder roots near the soil surface. I disturbed the roots while removing soil from the root flare. Did I hurt the tree? How should I keep soil from washing back into the hole around the trunk? K.P., Greenville  

ANSWER: You have helped the tree. Leave the hole open, and the root flare gradually will grow to fill it. The damaged adventitious roots have been growing too high in the ground. Adventitious roots originate from shoots, not from another root.


QUESTION: I recently planted St. Augustine sod. What do you think about spreading corn gluten meal now to prevent weed seed germination and to fertilize? F.G., Irving  

ANSWER: Dry molasses is a better option than corn gluten meal now. Apply dry molasses at a rate of 20 pounds per 1,000 square feet. Most cool-season weeds have germinated, and corn gluten meal would provide too much nitrogen fertilizer for this time of year.


QUESTION: A big storm washed away some of our garden soil, so we added more. Awful weeds have grown in the new soil, and they cannot be pulled by hand. Should we spread corn gluten meal to kill the weeds? We are cutting them with a string trimmer and then covering the ground with black plastic to try to kill the roots.  A.B., La Porte  

ANSWER: Corn gluten meal does not kill weed plants; it prevents the germination of weed seeds. Weeds should be sprayed with a vinegar herbicide or dug out with garden tools.


QUESTION: How can I get the seeds of a red Japanese maple to sprout? I have been trying for several years.  M.H., Garland  

ANSWER: These trees are hybrids, and some – if not most – have sterile seeds. All I can suggest is to soak the seeds in a mixture of equal parts water and Garrett Juice for an hour or two before planting them in organic potting soil.


QUESTION: When we were building our house, we were inundated with gnats. A friend told me about an easy trick: Pour sweet wine into a bowl (I used a cheap blush zinfandel), cover the top of the bowl with plastic wrap, and then flip the bowl upside down to coat the underside of the plastic. Finally, poke holes in the plastic wrap with a skewer. Gnats are drawn to the sweet liquid and can't get out of the container.  C.H., Dallas  

ANSWER: Great tip. That's a good idea.


QUESTION: I am trying to plant bigtooth maples and red oaks in my Hill Country yard. I dug a 4-foot-diameter by 3-foot-deep planting hole in solid limestone. The area does not drain well. What can I do to improve drainage? Are there other shade trees that would grow well in these conditions? Would a bald cypress be a better fit?  P.S., Spring Branch  

ANSWER: The trees you mentioned will do well after their roots are established. The hole in the rock will make it difficult to balance moisture. Roots could easily become oversaturated, which would kill the trees. Breaking up the rock around the planting hole would improve drainage. If more trees are planted, set the trees on top of the rock and add soil to form a gentle berm up to the proper level on the root ball (the top of the berm should be just below the root flare). Don't plant bald cypress unless you are certain that the seed came from a tree growing in rocky, alkaline soil. Other good trees: cedar elm, Texas ash, Mexican white oak and chinkapin oak.



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