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Mix shrubs with trees to retain soil on river bank

With winter fast approaching, and a fresh, new spring not far behind, it seems that even more readers than usual have questions and comments about trees, shrubs and all things landscaping.

I try to send a quick personal response to all e-mails I receive at steve@landsteward.org and then include some of them here in this column and in my weekly newsletter.

QUESTION: "I have a stream at the back of my property which runs for about 2,000 feet. It is about 6 feet at its widest and about 2 feet deep at its deepest. It has many rivulets draining into it, and the land around these rivulets is kind of marshy.

"I would like you to recommend some plants for me to plant along the edge of the stream, to hold the land intact. The land is eroding since the stream is constantly moving.

"Also, I would like you to recommend something to plant in the marshy part of the property, either to dry it or at least to firm up the land. I do not want any plants that have thorns!" – Jose

ANSWER: To go around the edge of the stream to hold the bank, I would go with a mixture of shrubs and trees to make it interesting. Most plants do not like standing in water but some will tolerate moist soils. A few of the shrubs that can be used are Silky Dogwood, Red Twig Dogwood, a few of the Viburnums, Cotoneaster, Fragrant Honeysuckle, Rose of Sharon Althea, Spicebush, Carolina Allspice, Magnolia Virginiana, a few of the hydrangeas, Butterfly bush, Chokeberry, Wisteria, Autumn Olive, Nanking Cherry, Sand Cherry and French Pussy Willow.

To add some interest, include some accent plants that love boggy soil such as Elephant Ears.

As for trees, consider Red Maple, Pin Oak, Water Oak, Willow Oak, hybrid Willow, hybrid Poplar, Weeping Willow, River Birch, Quaking Aspen, tree form Althea, Bald Cypress, Green Ash, and Dawn Redwood. Again, I would do a mixture of both trees and shrubs. If you’d like some suggestions about placement, e-mail me some photos of the area.

QUESTION: "Something is eating my flowers and shrubs! The only bug I have seen is a lot of grasshoppers. I have seen a couple of things that look like katydids. I caught one eating one of my mums today. A lot of the stems were missing the pretty flowers and left with just a stem. I squirted the thing with the hose. I have made a natural repellent with garlic, soft soap, water etc. Whatever they are, they seem to eat hostas and now they have started on the barberrys.

"Do katydids, grasshoppers and crickets eat flowers as well as leaves? I am stumped. I can usually pinpoint what is eating my stuff. I also have spiders and daddy long legs. They ate all the petals of my spider mum. I would like to get rid of this problem for good." – Mona

ANSWER: It does sound as if insects are the main problem. Try this: Mix about 2 tablespoons of sugar in about a quart of water and spray your plants. Insects cannot digest the sugar in this form and generally leave the plants alone. The sugar mixture will not hurt plants. In most cases, the plants will begin to look even better because of the spray. I have used it to rid my plants of the Japanese beetle and it works.

QUESTION: "I am writing to request additional information on how to sample my soil and where to take it. For many years up until the last two, I had Trugreen–Chemlawn take care of my lawn. But the last two years I have been doing it myself using Scott’s products. I am happy with the results so far, but in their program they mention applying lime. When I contacted them concerning this, they said I need to take a soil sample as well." – Mark Schmitz

ANSWER: One place that you can go that will not charge you very much (if at all) is your local soil water and conservation district office. It is one of their tasks to help homeowners like you. Here is a link to find the one closest to you. http://www.nacdnet.org/resources/cdsonweb.html You can click on a direct link from this column at my web site.

The Plant Man is here to help. Send your questions about trees, shrubs and landscaping to steve@landsteward.org and for resources and additional information, or to subscribe to Steve’s free e-mailed newsletter, visit www.landsteward.org