Q: I have a Lady Banks rose growing over a fence and arbor, and the for first several years, it was great – masses of small flowers in the spring, and easily controlled. As I’ve been told, one good pruning after the spring blooms kept it in check. But lately it’s gotten completely out of control. One problem is that it is going across the top of the garage door. In the fall, it starts shooting out long branches and can send one up a foot and a half in one week. Two summers ago I began trimming these back in the fall. The result was no blooms in the spring. And again last year, it sent up a whole bunch of these stalks, which I had to cut back, so I’m expecting another bloomless spring. Is there anything I can do about this monster?
A: The best way to bring your Lady Banks rose back under control and also enjoy its flowers again is to get mean this spring and prune it way back – basically, to points much less from where you think its rightful boundary should be. Such a drastic snipping will leave room this fall for those shoots you mentioned to stretch out and remain in place. And since Lady Banks’ blossoms form on old wood, next spring you should see a nice improvement in its flower show without worrying about this ramblin’ rose eating the garage.
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Q: The garden in front of my house faces northeast and receives very little sun except for early morning. As a result, the ground stays moist longer than any other area on my property. This past summer/fall, the mulch developed “Mother Nature’s Artillery Force.” The front of the house in this area is stone with three big vinyl-clad windows. Needless to say, I’ll be cleaning the windows and vinyl as soon as the weather permits, but I need to know what to use instead of the mulch.
A: The “MNAF” you refer to is commonly called artillery fungus because when mature it explodes brown spores in every direction, besmirching any light-colored surfaces in the way with tiny, dark, hard-to-remove dots. And it breeds in decaying organic matter, such as old mulch. There are no fungicide “magic bullets” available, so another way to solve this problem is not to have old mulch there. Every spring, thoroughly rake up the existing mulch and add fresh chips. Large pine bark nuggets and cypress seem to resist the formation of artillery fungus better than other organic mulch materials. If you want to avoid this swapping-out chore every year, clear the area of wood chips and add decorative gravel or shredded rubber mulch, which are fungus resistant. Some purists might think such alternative mulches are visually distracting, but so are spore splats.
Q: I am going to turn over a large, sunny area of my backyard for a vegetable garden this spring, and I was going to buy a tiller. I wonder if you think a front-tine tiller would be better than a rear-tine tiller for the job.
A: Front-tine tillers tend to be smaller, which makes them easier to store and generally cheaper, but if you will be busting up new ground, I would go with a rear-tine, especially if your yard has clay soil. A rear-tine tiller has better leverage and usually plenty of power to allow deeper, more thorough cultivation in stubborn, unturned soil. If storage is a problem, consider renting a rear-tine tiller for your first big dig in your new garden. You don’t have to wait until spring, when rented tillers will be in high demand. Late winter is a good time to break fallow ground, too. Just hold off a week to 10 days after any rain to allow the soil to dry out a bit, and then have at it!
L.A. Jackson is the former editor of Carolina Gardener Magazine. Send your garden questions, including the city where you garden, to: firstname.lastname@example.org.