DEAR JESSICA: I hope you can help identify this plant. It's a border plant at a business in my area, and I love it.
-- Mary Reistetter, Hauppauge
DEAR MARY: That's a lacecap hydrangea. Having the same growing requirements as their more-common mophead siblings, lacecaps can sport blue or pink blooms, often depending on the soil pH (pH levels below 5.5 result in blue flowers; readings above 6.5 yield pink). As with other types of hydrangeas, plant them in partial shade or in an area where they'll receive morning sun and afternoon shade. Too much sun will cause wilting and decline. As with all Hydrangea macrophylla species, lacecaps should be pruned only in late summer, as soon as the flowers fade, and never after September. Remove weaker stems from the base of the plant, being careful to retain several stems of old wood, which will produce buds for the following year's flowers.
DEAR JESSICA: I have a 21-foot-diameter pool that is buried about 24 inches down in my backyard. I would love to remove it, but a local landscaper told me I would need about 30 yards of topsoil to fill the hole at a cost of $2,600. There is no way I can afford that. Do you have any ideas how I can fill this hole without the huge cost?
-- Maryanne Farrigan, Farmingdale
DEAR MARYANNE: Ouch! I see your dilemma, but it isn't necessary to use top soil to fill the entire hole. As its name implies, you'll need it just for the top. The rest of the hole could be filled with the much cheaper dirt fill (chunks of hardened soil, rocks, stones and sticks that typically have been filtered out of top soil). If you were dealing with an in-ground swimming pool hole, up to 80 percent of the filler could be dirt fill, with only 20 percent composed of the higher-priced topsoil for the surface. But because your hole is only 2 feet deep, I'd recommend going half and half, with a foot of topsoil on the surface. If you'll only be planting grass in the area, you could probably get away with a few more inches of fill. You can have a supply yard deliver to your yard and dump the fill right into the hole, and you can spread it around yourself. If your yard isn't accessible and you have a big-enough driveway, you can have it dumped there. Over the course of a weekend, you can move the fill and topsoil to the hole yourself with a wheelbarrow, or hire someone to do the job.
There might be an even less expensive way out of this, if the pool is in a spot that would be accessible to a dump truck and if you're willing to do your homework.
Excavation companies and new-home builders routinely remove truckloads of soil from the earth and then pay to dump it elsewhere. Striking a deal with one of them could prove to be a win-win solution: They dump the soil in your yard without paying for disposal, and you get fill for free.
You'll need to be vigilant, however, about knowing the source of the fill, ensuring it's clean and that it doesn't include solid waste or hazardous materials (asbestos, drywall, metal, tiles, petroleum products, contaminated soil, etc.). You also should reject wood, which would decompose and sink over time.
You should know that scammers have been known to target unsuspecting homeowners, so it's best to avoid answering ads promising "free fill." If you accept contaminants, you may be fined and held responsible for a very costly removal. A good starting point would be to scout around your neighborhood for construction sites and talk with the construction manager, foreman or owner. Ask questions about whether the property has ever been contaminated and ensure you know all the sources of the fill before agreeing to an arrangement.