Trim back plants to concentrate their energy

QUESTION: "This spring we had a hard freeze mid April that killed all tree and shrub greenery. All have thankfully recovered but the growth now is mostly new stems and sprigs especially on the crepe myrtles, rose of Sharon, and lilac. Do I trim back the new growth this winter so that the shrubs are not bushy? I'd really like to have no more than 3 stems to the crape myrtles and one main stem to the Roses of Sharon and lilac." - Earlene
ANSWER: Simply select the stems you want to keep and trim back the others to the top of the soil. They should be fine and you will put more energy back into the remaining stems.
QUESTION: "I was wondering if you have a good solution for getting rid of ants that are all around and on my Tulip Poplars. I used Sevin on the lawn surrounding the tree but have been hesitant to use it on the tree. If you can help me it would be greatly appreciated." - Brenda Stevens
ANSWER: One of the ladies here in the office, also named Brenda, had a severe ant problem recently in her back yard as well. She used Spectracide Bug Stop Indoor/Outdoor Insect Control around the area and it took care of the ant problem. Brenda noted that she saw a huge difference after the first spray, but she sprayed a second time to make sure. You should be able to find it at most any hardware store. The ants are attracted to the sweet sap in the tree.
QUESTION: "Last year I purchased several plants, four of which were viburnum. They are doing great but starting to get "leggy". When is the best time to trim them back and is there any special way to trim them?
"Also, I have many Black Eyed Susans in my yard and they are all starting to have black spots on their leaves, mainly the leaves closest to the ground. Do I need to worry? The plants seem to be doing fine, just don't look as nice.
ANSWER: As you've found, viburnum is an easy plant to grow. In fact usually, the only issue is directing and managing the growth. As soon as possible after flowering, trim back and shape them to create a good framework while they are still young. Regarding the Black Eyed Susans, trim or pull away the affected leaves and you should be fine.
Now here are some comments from a reader responding to issues raised in previous columns...
"Steve, I read one person's concern that their peonies don't bloom. One thing that's certain to cause this problem is not enough sunlight. I bought an old house with lots of peonies on the half-acre grounds, and I think they were planted when the trees here were much smaller, giving the peonies more sun.
"I've also had some problems with peonies forming flower buds that don't open up. I've heard that the potassium in banana peels is good to remedy this. I dry all my banana peels during the winter, then grind everything but the stem with a coffee grinder, and keep the resulting powder in a tightly sealed jar for sprinkling around my peonies in the spring. I did get many more open blooms this year." - Holly Helmstetter
Thanks for sharing that idea, Holly. If you remember a recent column about remedies for brown spots on the lawn caused by dog urine, you might find this additional comment from Holly amusing:
"I don't have any pets (except for the wild birds at my feeding station) but I find that people walking their dogs in our pretty little village will actually let their leashed dogs go up onto my property and do their business. I made a cutesy but effective sign, ornamented with flowers, that says, 'I don't let my grandkids poop in your yard---please don't let your pooches poop in mine!'"
I hope your dog-walking neighbors take note, Holly!
The Plant Man is here to help. Send your questions about trees, shrubs and landscaping to and for resources and additional information, or to subscribe to Steve's free e-mailed newsletter, visit
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