"I have tried something I read about to help keep the neighbors' seven cats out of my side flower garden where the soil is loose and rich with peat moss and they love that for their personal bathroom. "I go to an apartment complex near my house and gather up laundry baskets of pine cones and then spread them around in my garden. This seems to work. "I have noticed the fecal matter problem has disappeared since I started doing this. Of course, it will need a little renewal of the pine cones, but they seem to last and last. "I should say that I don't put them down really thick. I just sort of sprinkle them around the plants. The reason this is supposed to work is because the cats don't like the feeling on their little paws. I have done this for about ten years and it works for me!"
QUESTION: "My husband & I planted a Bradford pear tree in our front yard when we built our house six years ago. We don't have a sprinkler system and the yard gets direct sun most of the day. The tree has not grown much in this six year period. Our next door neighbor planted the same type of tree after ours and theirs is huge.
"We planted two autumn maples two years ago and they are not growing either. We are concerned that we did not dig the holes wide enough and that the roots are not spreading as they should. What do you think? If the holes are not wide enough, can we dig around the trees to widen the holes?" - Sheri Brooks
ANSWER: Maples are slow growing trees, so don't count on a lot of activity (at least noticeable activity) with them for awhile. Regarding the Bradford Pear, if it is producing any growth at all, then what you are seeing may be the plant's natural growth rate. Is the tree beginning to bloom in early spring, followed by normal leafing out? If it is, then it has settled into a slower growing phase.
All factors would be based on the environment, which will include maintenance, unless you have noticed any health issues with the tree. Although it is difficult not to make comparisons with your neighbor's tree, plants are living things just like people and will grow and develop at their own rate. I wouldn't recommend digging around the tree's root system as you suggest because you are likely to cut off growth that the tree has made over the past 6 years.
If you believe that there is a problem with the plant, you can contact your local Conservation District Office (also known as NRCS) which will be listed in your local phone directory under your state's department of agriculture.
QUESTION: "I have an amateur greenhouse and want to start some seeds. Every time I have started seeds in the past they come up spindly and I still don't know what I need to do to correct this.
"I have panoramic light, air circulation and regulated heat, as well as good humidity. All my plants I winter in the greenhouse thrive in these conditions. Thanks for any info!" - Bonnie Meador
ANSWER: When seeds are allowed to sprout and grow too fast they become spindly. Once the seeds have sprouted they need to be "tempered" by placing them into a less desirable environment. In your case you could try cutting back on the water and reduce the humidity by taking the extra hothouse-type screen off the top. The environment in the rest of the greenhouse works for your developed plants but is not good for your new sprouts once they come up. It just sounds as if you are babying them too much after they emerge. Just cut back some on the water and nutrients until they begin to fatten up.
The Plant Man is here to help. Send your questions about trees, shrubs and landscaping to firstname.lastname@example.org and for resources and additional information, or to subscribe to Steve's free e-mailed newsletter, visit www.landsteward.org