DEAR JESSICA: About 40 years ago, my husband put in a brick patio, in sand, in our backyard, using 900 bricks. We had eight children, and our yard was the neighborhood play yard. Now we have weeds growing between the bricks. About three years ago, I gave up trying to get rid of them by hand-pulling. Do you have any suggestions? — Germaine Crush, Levittown
DEAR GERMAINE: The best way to eliminate your paver-crack weed problem would be to pull up all the bricks, remove all the weeds, replace the bricks and use mortar to seal the spaces between them. As an alternative, lifting the bricks, removing the weeds and lining the area with weed-suppressing landscape fabric before replacing the bricks and replenishing the sand would be nearly as effective. Going forward, any weeds that take hold in the sand would be very easy to remove, as they would be shallow-rooted.
If neither of those projects is practical, and the backbreaking job of hand-pulling has become too burdensome, pouring boiling water from a kettle over the weeds will do the trick without exposing yourself, pets, wildlife or the environment and groundwater to toxins. This isn’t a permanent solution, however, as aboveground growth will die within a few days but roots may survive the assault, so it will likely need to be repeated a few times each season.
A more permanent solution — but one that comes with a few cautions — would be to dissolve one cup of salt into two cups of boiling water and pour that over the weeds. In this case, you can wait for the water to cool, but using hot water will kill weed foliage quicker. But be warned: Salt will kill any plant it makes contact with and make the soil inhospitable to future plants. If the patio is in an area where runoff will reach the lawn or garden plants, they will be imperiled. In addition, if you plan to lift the patio and plant anything in the area — even a few years down the road — salt exposure now could damage the soil and make that impossible. Never use the boiling-water or salt-water methods in garden beds or borders, on lawns, around trees or elsewhere in the landscape.
DEAR JESSICA: I bought two hanging plants last Mother’s Day and watered and fertilized them regularly. By August, one had died and the other lost all its flowers. I saw similar plants (I believe they are a hybrid of petunia called “mille bells” or something similar) hanging on light poles around Farmingdale, and they bloomed beautifully all summer. What did I do wrong? — Joe Giambalvo, Old Bethpage
DEAR JOE: Your plant sounds similar to Million Bells, a proliferous bloomer bred by Proven Winners to withstand heat better than petunias and flower nonstop from spring through frost. Actually belonging to the Calibrachoa genus, the plants require constant sunlight to bloom to their full potential. If exposed to part shade, even for part of the day, Million Bells won’t likely live up to its name, and you might find yourself with a potful of “dozen bells” instead. For best results, keep soil consistently moist and fertilize every other week with a fast-release fertilizer.
DEAR JESSICA: I am in contract to purchase another home and hope to move by March. I have a rhubarb plant from my childhood home that has traveled with me for more than 25 years, from an apartment to my present home, with a brief replant at a friend's home before I moved into the apartment. Since weather on Long Island can be unpredictable, should I remove the plant from the ground now and place it in a flowerpot before the soil freezes? Or should I leave it in the ground and hope the soil will be soft enough to remove it before I close on the house in March? — Ellen Parietti-Strojan, Valley Stream
DEAR ELLEN: I can't tell you what the weather will be like in March, but I can tell you the proper timing for digging up and transplanting rhubarb is in early spring, either just before new growth begins or when leaves are beginning to make an appearance. Early spring is exactly March, so you're in luck. It's also acceptable to transplant rhubarb in the second half of September, after the plant has gone dormant, but in your case that would be riskier, as you'd have to keep it alive in a dormant state indoors over the winter.
When the time comes, carefully dig up the area around each crown with a spade, ensuring there's plenty of soil attached so that roots are minimally disturbed. Place each in a pot and transport directly to their new home and plant each three feet apart with buds 1½ to 2 inches below the soil surface.