DEAR JESSICA: If I see some dead crabgrass, is it a good idea to pull it or let the killer and fertilizer take care of it?
Patrick Biesty, via email
DEAR PATRICK: Herbicides and fertilizers won’t “take care of” dead crabgrass, so you’ll need to eliminate it on your own.
Weeds always pull up more easily when the soil is moist, so wait to do this on a day following rainfall — or water the area a day before tackling the chore. If your dead crabgrass is small, simply grab it firmly as close to the soil as possible and pull it out of the ground, taking care to get the entire root system. If plants are larger, however, the root system will be more established and more difficult to pull up; chances are you’ll wind up with a fistful of leaves and leave broken roots behind. So, instead, insert a spade or weed knife down into the soil next to the roots, and shimmy it back and forth a bit. Move the spade around each bunch of crabgrass until the entire root ball is loosened, then pull up.
Cover the resulting bare patches with a half-inch of compost and grass that’s been cut to fit from a piece of sod or removed from an inconspicuous area of the garden. Alternately, you can apply grass seed to bare spots and water them well — just once — then sprinkle daily until growth is one-quarter-inch tall.
DEAR JESSICA: Your article on pruning was very helpful. I have a follow-up question on when is the best time to prune a 20-foot plum tree, now or after flowering?
Kevin Conologue, Massapequa
DEAR KEVIN: You should prune your plum in late spring, after it flowers. This way, you’ll have a clear idea of where the fruit will be and can work around those areas.
DEAR JESSICA: I’m thinking of moving an azalea bush from my front yard and replacing it with something more interesting. When is the best time to move it, and do you have any suggestions as to what to replace it with? The house has a northern exposure.
Also, you’ve advised not to fertilize until Memorial Day, however I’ve typically fertilized early (March or early April) with Halts Crabgrass fertilizer to help prevent the crabgrass I typically get in my front lawn. Any reason to wait so long to fertilize?
Al Quackenbush, via email
DEAR AL: Northern exposures don’t typically receive sufficient direct sunlight for sun-loving plants, and are better suited for shade-tolerant ones, such as your azalea. Rhododendrons and azaleas are among the most popular flowering shrubs for shady spots, and although they’re beautiful, I can understand your desire for something more interesting.
I’m partial to hydrangeas, and there are some very interesting ones available. They’re fairly low-maintenance once established, and many of the newer varieties bloom all summer long. Here are some of my favorites:
Tuff Stuff reblooming mountain hydrangea is a lace-cap variety that blooms from early summer through frost, and its flowers range from pink to blue, depending on the soil’s pH (pinker hues are seen in alkaline soil; blues in acidic.) It grows 2- to 3-feet tall and prefers moist, well-drained soil. Pruning is seldom necessary.
Annabelle arborescens hydrangea puts forth showy white flowers (up to a foot wide!) regardless of soil pH, and blooms from late spring through the summer’s end. Stems are strong, so those heavy blossoms won’t weigh them down, even after heavy rain. At maturity, Annabelle will be five feet tall and wide, so plan for that when planting. Prune in spring as new growth emerges, and feed with a general purpose fertilizer before spring growth begins.
Incrediball Blush arborescens hydrangea is the biggest of the bunch, growing to 48-60 inches tall and wide, with basketball-sized, blush-pink flowers that change to green color as they age. Stems are sturdy enough to support them, even after heavy rain, and they make a statement in a vase indoors. Prune in late winter/early spring and apply a controlled-release fertilizer at the start of each growing season.