Q. I have a hedge of privet bushes along the side of my yard. It was probably planted about 16 years ago. I keep it trimmed at about 3 1/2 feet tall. Last year, it started to show a few dead spots but not major, so I tried to ignore it. This year, there are many dead looking spots (dead twigs, showing no sign of life). I gave it a good dose of fertilizer, which seems to have helped bring it back to life but some dead-looking spots resist. Should I cut out those spots with the hope that the empty spots will eventually fill in, or is there something I can spray it to prevent further damage? Or is it just an age thing and destined to die?
— E. R. of Belleville
A. Privet (Ligustrum species) can live for a very long time if it receives proper care. Since you have had these plants for a long time, it is understandable that they can have dead spots. You can cut out the dead spots and there will be an open hole. The plant will grow into the hole, but how long it takes will depend upon how large the holes are. The larger the hole, the longer the time it will take to fill in.
There is one very important thing to remember in pruning privets: The plant should be broader in shape as you do down the sides of the plant. Do not prune them exactly vertical. If the lower branches are shaded by upper branches, they will eventually not receive enough light to keep the leaves for photosynthesis, and they will drop leaves and eventually die. Usually privets do not require any sprays to control insects and disease. By the way, if the privet plants are cared for properly, they can usually outlive the person who planted them.
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Q. My potatoes this year are producing “hands of small fruits” that look like tomatoes. What is this? I have never seen this before? Can I eat these like the tomatoes?
— J. W. of St. Libory
A. Potatoes belong to the Solanaceae (Nightshade) plant family which includes tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, petunia, but also Jimsonweed. This family seems to abound toxic plants. Although the tuber of the potato is edible, these small fruits are poisonous. Do not eat these fruits. The fruits were produced this year because we have experienced unusual spring weather conditions, which have allowed the potato flowers to bloom and they were pollinated.
Q. Every year we add new mulch to our garden beds to keep the weeds down. This year, we have yellow foam all over the mulch. The foam hardens eventually and dries up. What causes this and is it harmful?
— B.L. of Belleville
A. It looks like dog vomit, doesn’t it? This is a type of slime mold that lives on the broken organic material. It will not hurt anything but usually shows up when we have wet springs and later when the humidity builds up. It can also show up in the fall if we have more rain. Don’t be surprised to see some showing up in the summer as well. If slime mold’s appearance bothers you, use a shovel and move it to another area. But this is another method that nature helps to break down and recycle organic materials.
Charles Giedeman is a local contributing writer. Send your gardening questions to Lifestyle Editor Patrick Kuhl, Belleville News-Democrat, P.O. Box 427, 120 S. Illinois St., Belleville, IL 62222-0427, or email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Do it now
TREES: Prune off “water sprouts,” which sucker out of the base of trees.
ROSES: Continue to spray to control insects and fungal diseases.