Tuesday, October 20, 2015

FAQ: How far should I plant hollies from the house?

Photograph of Ilex cornuta shrub

Q. How far should I plant hollies from the house?

A. Typically, foundation plantings are installed too close to structures making building maintenance and pruning difficult. Humidity between the plants and buildings encourages mold and mildew on windows and walls. Tall plants growing too close can rub and damage soffits. Furthermore, ornamental trees and large shrubs can undermine and compromise the integrity of foundations.

To figure planting distance, determine the mature height and diameter of the species you intend to install. At minimum, determine the height and diameter you intend to keep it. Divide the diameter by 2 to figure the radius. Add at least 3’ to the radius. That point should be the center of your planting hole.

“But I don’t want the plants to be that far out in the yard,” you might protest. Well, choose smaller plants.

“I’ll keep them pruned,” you might convince yourself. Maybe you will; maybe you won’t.

“My neighbors’ foundation plantings are closer to their homes,” you might exclaim. Well, that’s their problem.

Design your foundation beds to a generous size. Your foundation plants can realize their potential. Your landscape will appear fuller and richer. 

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Monday, October 12, 2015

What is this growing in the back of my yard? Someone said it's a "Devil's Walking Stick."

Aralia spinosa - Devil's Walking Stick

Devil’s Walking Stick (Aralia spinosa) aka “Hercule’s Club” and “Angelica Tree” – is a mighty impressive native American plant. Six words – devil’s, stick, spinosa, Hercules, club and Angelica – should complete the picture. It grows in USDA climate zones 4-9 in slightly acidic to neutral soil with full to partial sun exposure.

There are some fascinating facts you should know about Aralia spinosa.
  • It should not be confused with False Aralia (Dizygotheca elegantissima) - pronounced "dizzygoTHEEKa" - though it might compare with the inelegant Dizzygoths some raise in their homes;
  • It is covered head-to-toe with nasty, fiery spines;
  • It is frightening, in its own way;
  • The name “Hercules Club” was probably given by some literate person who knew the awesome legend of Hercules and of the sculpture of Hercules with his club;
  • Species in the Angelica family often bear flowers with heavenly fragrances;
  • According to Wikipedia, “The sprinkling of it all around the outside of the home is meant for protection”;
  • If you cultivate Aralia spinosa around the perimeter of your garden, few trespassers will dare to enter;
  • Aralia spinosa is maintenance-free, needing no pruning;
  • Dizzygoths, however, should be pruned low and very often.

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Monday, October 5, 2015

Will Epsom salt kill an unwanted tree trunk?

Photo of Epsom salt crystals

Q. Will Epsom salt kill an unwanted tree trunk and keep it from re-sprouting? I was told it will.

A. You were told correctly. Epsom salt does this by drying out plant tissue. If you use enough, it will dry out the tree stump and kill it.

With a ½ inch or larger spade drill bit, drill holes at least 4” deep at 4” intervals into the top of the stump. Pack the holes with dry Epsom salt. Moisten the salt in the holes, being careful not to wash any out. Cover the stump with plastic, anchoring it down with a few bricks. In due time, the stumps will dry and rot.

The advantages of using Epsom salt are that it is inexpensive, natural, and arguably "eco-friendly." The disadvantage is that enough run-off can damage nearby plants, too. Use carefully.

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