Critter-proof your shrubs before they're just stumps!

With the Holidays behind us and spring on its way, I've been receiving a number of e-mails from readers who are already working on ideas for the planting season just ahead. You can always send your questions and comments to me at snipped-for-privacy@landsteward.org and I'll do my best to help.
QUESTION: "Something ate my Snow Queen and Dooley Hydrangeas... and even the Burning Bushes! There's just stumps left. Do you suppose these will grow back in the Spring? We have both rabbits (lots) and deer (mainly across the street) here. In retrospect I suppose I should have put chicken wire around them or something. It didn't occur to me as all my mature grown hydrangeas are never touched." Inger
ANSWER: It could be a combination of both animals. Unfortunately, a deer repellant will be of no use to you this season if the plants are no more than stumps. Both the Hydrangea and the Burning Bush should come back from the roots if they are protected. I would also consider protecting your mature hydrangeas as a safety measure. During the winter the critters are always looking for a source of food, and now the young plants are gone the mature Hydrangeas might look a lot more appetizing!
QUESTION: "At an estate sale this weekend, I picked up a "Plant Nurse" electric air machine model 300. I'd guess this is from the late 70s or early 80s. It is an aerator for indoor plants. It has an 8" tube that injects air into the root system. It recommends running it for 15 minutes after you water your plants. My question is.....does this actually produce noticeable results? I've not encountered anything like this sold today, so I don't know if it was a flop or what happened to them." Rachel Campbell
ANSWER: Certainly, aeration is good for the roots of all plants. Without it they cannot survive. I had not heard of the "Plant Nurse" so, like you, I'm guessing it was a flop as a retail product. I would imagine that the cost of the machine when it was new was the reason for its failure. I have seen large aeration machines in commercial applications to bring back trees from going south.
Most of the time soil that has good drainage will provide enough oxygen just with H2O. Water is the vehicle to bring oxygen to the roots of plants. But go ahead and try it... and tell us all about the results!
QUESTION: "I have a large (wide and high) railroad tie retaining wall on my property. What kind of plant can I use to climb up (or drop down) the wall to detract from its massive blackness? Thank you for any help you can muster." Sylvia
ANSWER: There are several plants that come to mind. A combination of some of the following could turn that black eyesore into an attractive focal point: Magnolia Vine, English Ivy, Creeping Rosemary, Wooly Thyme, Clematis, Trumpet Creeper, Climbing Hydrangea, Morning Glory Vine or Japanese Hydrangea Vine. Vines such as English Ivy can be quite invasive, but that can actually be a benefit in the case of your black wall! Just keep an eye on it to be sure it doesn't spread beyond the railroad ties.
Here's another idea: You could also attach window boxes to the wall with different types of plants to color it up during the growing season.
QUESTION: "I'm having a problem trying to get rid of wild strawberries. We've sprayed and they died (or so I thought!) but they come back. What can I do to rid my yard of this stuff? We have a few perennial beds and plan to make more but every time I look... the wild strawberries are there! We've weeded, sprayed hand pulled... BUT THEY COME BACK! Francyne
ANSWER: I wish I could recommend a permanent cure. I would wait until spring or early summer and spray with a product called Remuda. Then each time it rears its ugly head, you'll need to spray again. I have done this myself with Peppermint and it has worked effectively. Perhaps some other readers will suggest their own remedies!
The Plant Man is here to help. Send your questions about trees, shrubs and landscaping to snipped-for-privacy@landsteward.org and for resources and additional information, or to subscribe to Steve's free e-mailed newsletter, visit www.landsteward.org
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