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Neil Sperry: Options needed for adding privacy in tight space

Neil Sperry: Options needed for adding privacy in tight space

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Narrow space

The narrow stretch of soil between the fence and driveways limits the choices of plants available to add privacy there.

DEAR NEIL: We would like to get privacy from two-story condominiums on our west property line. Unfortunately, there is only an 18-inch band of soil between the fence and our driveway.

Do you have any suggestions that could give us the privacy without encroaching on the drive?

Dear Reader: You might consider Oakland hollies. They are fairly columnar, although they do grow wider than 18 inches.

You would need to start with smaller plants and train them to be thinner and more upright. You could also erect an attractive trellis and train Nellie R. Stevens hollies onto it espalier-style.

Carolina jessamine would make an attractive vine on a trellis, and it is evergreen. It would give you a nice year-round privacy screen.

And, from a completely different direction, you might look for Little Gem or Teddy Bear magnolias that you could train by removing lower branches to the height of the top of the fence. Teddy Bears are dwarf and very slow growing, so Little Gems might be more satisfactory.

You could then plant low shrubs or an evergreen groundcover beneath the magnolias to tie it all together.

DEAR NEIL: I trimmed my fig and found this moldy substance on one of the branches. I removed the entire branch. What is it? Is the tree OK to keep?

Dear Reader: This isn’t anything that would be of concern to me. It’s probably just some type of growth that has developed there after the cold weather and because of the moisture of late spring and early summer. You and your plant will be fine.

DEAR NEIL: We have three large Japanese blueberry trees at property we have in South Texas. The winter was unkind to them, but they are sending up sprouts from the ground. What should we do with the plants now?

Dear Reader: I’m going to have to leave that decision up to you. These will probably grow and fill in if you give them several years to do so.

If it were my landscape, however, I wouldn’t want to have to wait that long. I would be replacing them, almost assuredly with some other species that I knew would be reliably winter-hardy.

If you do decide to keep them, cut off all the dead wood by trimming them back to the shoots that you decide to leave.

DEAR NEIL: Friends away from San Antonio have xylosmas that tanked in the cold. I told them I’d ask for your advice on how they should handle them.

They would prefer not to cut them back unless there is no hope of their leafing back out. Is there a good replacement plant?

Dear Reader: Shrubs that have dead branches at their tops and new shoots down below are very unlikely to produce new shoots farther up.

If those parts of the plant were still alive and vigorous, that “apical dominance” you learned about in high school biology would be preventing formation of the new shoots at the bases of the plants.

You might as well trim out the dead wood and retrain the plants.

DEAR NEIL: We have a 16-year-old Leyland cypress that started getting brown branches last year. I was told to cut them off, but this year it is browning in larger areas.

They’re too high to reach, plus it would ruin the tree’s symmetry. What can we do?

Dear Reader: I fear that this may be Seiridium canker. This moved in on our Leyland cypress trees in Texas about 20 years ago and it has been killing them year after year since.

If you look closely at the trunk and see black ooze, that would be your confirmation. You’ll find good information on several southern university plant pathology websites, notably Texas A&M, Clemson and Oklahoma State.

Sadly, there is no spray to prevent or stop its spread. As much as I hate to tell you, I’ve watched thousands of them die out and be removed across Texas in the past two decades.

Eastern redcedar junipers are almost an identical replacement. They are not susceptible, and they grow quickly.

DEAR NEIL: We have beautiful St. Augustine with equally lush dollar weed with its large, glossy foliage. What can we use to kill the dollar weed that won’t harm the St. Augustine?

Dear Reader: You need a broad-leafed weedkiller spray. It will contain 2,4-D as one (or only) active ingredient, but it will also have the warning not to apply it when daytime temperatures exceed 85 or 90 degrees.

I would suggest applying it in late evening with a pump sprayer that will allow you to be very precise in your application so that you essentially apply it only to the weed leaves.

Set the spray nozzle to a small to medium droplet size. Your goal will be to coat the leaves without having runoff. It may help to put one drop of liquid dishwashing detergent into each gallon of spray mix to break up the surface tension.

Dollar weed leaves are so glossy that the droplets tend to bead up and run off almost instantly. It’s critical that they be absorbed through the leaves.

Be patient. It may take several applications over a couple of months. Start with a small trial area to see if you’re satisfied with the results.

Have a question you’d like Neil to consider? Email him at Neil regrets that he cannot reply to questions individually.

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