ture aids the decomposition. I recommend converting conventional sprinklers to drip irrigation, and then cover the area with a three inch layer of mulch and wet it. Be careful not to bury the new plants in the mulch! The entire conversion process should take a about day once all the materials have been secured. Sheet Mulching's other purpose is to turn barren or unproductive hard soil into new planting areas. This can be done in the open ground or within a raise bed. It will take several growing seasons for the whole process to be completed, but it is worth the time and energy. To revitalize your soil, first place a thick layer of cardboard and/or newspaper on the ground. Next, top it with eight to twenty-four inches of organic material, bark, straw, grass clippings, along with household kitchen waste. Spread the material evenly in alternating layers. Start small, as you’ll likely need a significant amount of organic material. This technique is often referred to as “Lasagna Gardening.” LIQUIDAMBAR TREES AND POLLEN When does a Liquidambar starts to produce pollen? I’m trying to figure out if it could be the source of our daughter’s severe spring allergies. Help! Liquidambar trees bloom in March. They produce both male and female flowers as two separate structures about the same time as the leaves are emerging from dormancy. Plant pollen moves around by insects and the wind. Wind pollination requires light pollen and lots of it that can travel great distances. This is the troublesome kind because it is abundant, easily inhaled, and likely to cause allergic reactions. Flowers that depend on bees, wasps, butterflies, moths and beetles for pollination tend to produce heavy, sticky grains that are somewhat airborne. My gut feeling is that your Liquidambar is not the culprit. Instead, there may be multiple sources based on the plants in your yard. Foundation plants, especially next to windows and doorway entries, can be an immediate source of problems to those predisposed to pollen allergies. Birch, Oaks, Cedars, Walnuts and Olives, as well as Junipers, Privets, Podocarpus and even Lilacs are problematical for those allergic to pollen. My suggestion is to purchase a copy of Tom Ogren’s book Allergy Free Gardening. In Tom's book, he has developed a system of rating plants based on allergy severity and sensitivity. The Ogren Plant Allergy Scale (OPALS) assigns plants, including edibles, a rating from one to ten, with one being the best for allergies and ten being worst. Hopefully you can now identify the problem plant(s)! Of course, this assumes that you know the names of the plants in your yard. If not, take samples or high-resolution pictures to your favorite garden center and ask the nursery professional for help. 'HELLISH' HEAVENLY BAMBOO My Heavenly Bamboo plants are out of control. They’re small towers, standing about six feet tall and are quite top heavy, which causes the branches to sag away from the plant at extreme angles. Is there a problem with severely pruning them back to a much smaller size? In my neighborhood, I see several plantings that are much smaller. The Sunset Western Garden Book describes Heavenly Bamboo, Nandina domestica, as a slow to moderate growing shrub six to eight feet high, spreading three to four feet. It has a clumping habit and spreads by shoots or runners. There are several options you can use to control the top heaviness and the spread. You can stake the clump and tie the staggering stems to it with green plastic tape or cut off the top-heavy or all the canes at ground level as new shoots will appear from the base. The new growth can be sheared annually like a hedge to keep it the right height. You can also reduce the tree's width by removing a section of the clump with a shovel. Finally, your last option is to replace them with the shorter growing varieties. Nandina Domestica Firepower, Harbor Dwarf, and Sienna Sunrise are three varieties that do not grow beyond four feet. Heavenly Bamboo does not produce lateral shoots, so reducing the height is the best way to obtain a shorter, compact plant. Q. A. Q. A.
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