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Garden Docs: Should I get rid of my troublesome Photinia?

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Antonio R. asks: We have lived in the same house for many years and 10 years ago planted a Photinia hedge that’s now 6 feet tall. It has become too labor-intensive and costly to keep it trimmed to an attractive and tidy hedge. Its early spring reddish leaves however, have always complemented our gray house. We feel it’s time to remove the hedge and choose something that has red tones to the leaves. We would appreciate your recommendations on a replacement shrub for the same location that is much easier to maintain.

Loropetalum, Chinese fringe flower shrub, is the perfect replacement shrub for you. Please refer to a recent column, June 15, where many of the different varieties of Loropetalum are discussed in addition to noting their mature height, widths and attributes. The variety, “Plum Delight” might be the perfect selection since it is often used as a hedge with its upright growth. The foliage has silver-purple tones and colorful pink blooms that should complement your gray house. Little to no pruning is necessary and certainly no repeated shearing should be used that will destroy its attractive natural form. Practice selective pruning instead, infrequently needed, by eliminating overcrowded branches. This will allow the sunlight to reach the inside of the shrub.

The goal is selecting the “right plant for the right place” and making sure you select the mature size cultivar that will fit into the designated planting site, eliminating the need for future maintenance.

You may have to ask your local nursery to special order your selected variety. Give them the length and width of your planting site and they can advise you on the number of plants to buy.

Loropetalum is moderately fast growing, so one gallon plants are adequate for creating a hedge.

Allen asks: Is there a recommended apricot variety for our area? How much wood should be pruned out each year? What is considered adequate irrigation for good fruit production?

Two types that are often recommended for the North Coast are: Moorpark that bears in late June and Royal (Blenheim) that also bears in late June. The best rootstock for apricots is “Citation” that is more dwarfing and tolerates wet feet.

Apricots are sometimes disappointing when planted in microclimates that don’t receive consistent heat. Apricots bloom in February and March and prefer drier and warmer spring conditions.

Prune 20% of last year’s growth and plan on giving the tree 14 to 20 feet of space when planting. Irrigate every 2 to 3 weeks and fertilize with 30 to 50 pounds of compost spread around the drip line and watered in well. Spraying with sulfur is harmful to the tree. Fixed copper is recommended instead.

If your growing site is questionable and won’t fulfill the cultural requirements of an apricot tree, perhaps it would be wise to choose another type of fruit tree that thrives in our particular climate such as a plum or apple.

Janice asks: Is the groundcover periwinkle poisonous? I have an area in my garden and my daughter is concerned about being poisoned by ingesting the plant.

Yes, all parts are poisonous. It is always important to teach children at an early age to never eat or chew on plants in the garden.

Lydia Jensen writes: Our cypress tree appears to be in trouble. There is some unusual twig die back that we never noticed before. Do you have any idea what could be the problem?

The problem could be one of several things and not having a sample or seeing the tree makes a diagnosis almost impossible. However, here are a few possibilities:

Cypress canker (fungi): There are areas of brown dying foliage. Canker (resin) is visible on limbs and trunk. If your tree generally appears healthy this may not be the problem.

Cypress tip miner: There is a browning of tips beginning in fall and worsening in late winter to spring. In the spring, silvery tan moths appear out of cocoons. Shake the tree and moths will fly up and settle down again.

Cypress bark beetles: Twigs are killed back about 6 inches from the tips. Dead foliage hangs from the tree. Prune back the damaged tips and strive to keep the tree healthy.

We suggest you take a photo and sample to the UC Extension office for proper identification. Samples can be sent in for accurate diagnosis and suggestions offered for how to address the problem.

Dana Lozano and Gwen Kilchherr are garden consultants. Send your gardening questions to The Garden Doctors, at pdgardendoctor@gmail.com. The Garden Doctors can answer questions only through their column, which appears twice a month in the newspaper and online at pressdemocrat.com

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