Dear Neil: This winter we aerated and put compost on our front lawn. We have two red oaks and one elm in this part of the yard. About a month or so after aeration and compost, the sprouts or weeds started to appear. As you can see, they have taken over. In the 28 years since we planted these trees, this has never happened even though we have aerated and composted on other occasions. What happened? How do we get rid of them?

A: You may remember the many questions people have asked about the extraordinary number of acorns that fell last autumn. Most of us have never seen anything like it. You aerated and applied compost at the perfect time to help them. But this will prove to be a short-term problem. Almost all of these will go away after you mow one or two times. You could apply a broadleafed weedkiller spray containing 2,4-D, but I really don’t think that will be necessary. Mowing alone should do the job.

Dear Neil: What is difference between a pin oak and a water oak? I’ve moved here from Pennsylvania, and what we called pin oak doesn’t look like what my daughter calls a pin oak in her yard in East Texas.

A: I’m a native Texan, but my degrees are from Ohio State. I understand your confusion. The true pin oak is botanically Quercus palustris. It has leaves with pointed lobes, and it resembles Shumard red oak (Quercus shumardii), both in growth form and leaf shape. In fact, growers often mislabel those two trees. But East Texans, for whatever the reason, often refer to water oaks (Quercus nigra) as pin oaks. Its leaves don’t look even vaguely like those of either of the other two oaks that I’ve mentioned. Water oaks’ leaves are smaller, and they have rounded lobes that somewhat resemble your middle three fingertips pressed tightly together. Their leaves taper to their bases. For what it’s worth, water oaks and pin oaks are well suited to the acidic soils of East Texas, but when you get toward I-35 and beyond you’ll want to stick with Shumard red oaks. The others will develop severe iron deficiency.

Dear Neil: I have a low, groundcover-like weed that looks like clover, except instead of having four leaflets, it has three. It also has small yellow flowers. It makes a dense mat that leaves an empty space when I dig it up. What can I use to kill it?

A: That sounds like bur clover. It’s abundant in Texas lawns right now. Broadleafed weedkillers containing the same 2,4-D I mentioned for the tree seedlings will kill bur clover very efficiently. Read and follow label directions for the best results. It should be gone within days. Your permanent lawngrass will quickly fill in.

Dear Neil: I planted this and one other ginkgo tree three years ago. I knew they would be slow growing, but they really haven’t grown at all! I’ve seen them elsewhere, and I really like the looks. What can I do to get better growth?

A: It’s great that you knew going in that the ginkgos would be relatively slow growing. I have two in my own landscape, and I have found over the past 30 years that if I give them ample water and nitrogen, they grow at a steady pace. I would commit to watering them with the hose every 2 to 3 days this summer. Fertilize them monthly with a high-nitrogen, lawn-type fertilizer. I think you’ll see good results. They’re great trees that ought to be used more often. And their gold fall color is absolutely astounding. Good luck!

Dear Neil: I really like the aroma of old-fashioned honeysuckle flowers. Does it make a good vine in the landscape?

A: It’s a very willing grower, but it is terribly invasive. Those flowers turn into multitudes of purple-black seeds that birds love. They’ll plant them everywhere and soon they’ll be coming up in shrub beds and woodlands all over town. There are many better choices. Let your nursery professional help you.

Dear Neil: I planted these three crape myrtles 20 years ago to create a screen. As you can see, I have never topped them. However, they look very bushy, and I’m wondering if I can remove some of the internal trunks and stems to open them up?

A: You absolutely can. However, I have a couple of concerns. First, many of the trunks are quite congested, and it will be difficult to get a saw in between to do the pruning. Use a narrow-bladed hand saw for the best results. Use lopping shears to remove a lot of the twiggy internal growth. You will basically be converting these large shrubs into attractive tree-form crape myrtles. My other concern is that you will be giving up even more of their screening capability. Concurrent with this pruning, you’ll probably want to plant a mid-sized evergreen holly such as dwarf Burford holly.

If you’d like Neil Sperry’s help with a plant question, drop him a note in care of The Eagle, P.O. Box 3000, Bryan, Texas 77805. Or email him at mailbag@sperrygardens.com.

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