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Welcome to the "Ask Janet Carson" portion of our website. Here you will find Janet Carson's current "In the Garden" Questions and Answers found weekly in "The Arkansas Democrat/Gazette" Saturday edition. Have fun reading these pages and check back with us weekly. This page is constantly updated and new questions are added on Monday following their appearance in the paper. So stay tuned...

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In the Garden with Janet B. Carson


July 15, 2017


Attached are pictures of two different plants:  one a "mystery" tree we haven't identified and the other of a weed that is taking over our centipede lawn.  Can you help identify these species and how can we eradicate the weed from our lawn.  Our neighbor has the same problem we were told to use "weed and feed" and it would get rid of it.  It didn't. 

Picture of royal paulownia

Picture of weed lespedeza



The tree in question is one I get asked about frequently because it just appears in the garden.  It is commonly called an empress tree or royal paulownia – Paulownia tomentosa.  As you can see in the photo it produces woody seed capsules that will pop open in the fall, scattering the seeds.  Many of the seeds germinate and when young, the tree can grow quite rapidly and have huge leaves.  As it ages, the leaves get normal size.  Then it will begin to produce beautiful clusters of purple blooms in the spring, followed by the woody capsules. It grows fast, has weak wood and thus falls apart with age.  I classify it as a trash tree because of the afore-mentioned things plus the fact that it can be somewhat invasive. Your weed is lespedeza.  This weed can be difficult to control, particularly in a centipede lawn since centipede is more sensitive to weed killers than is Bermuda or zoysia.  When you have lespedeza in the lawn it often indicates you have insufficient nitrogen fertilizer.  Two applications of a product such as Ortho Weed B Gon at the rate for southern grasses is the best you can do. Make them 30 days apart starting now, but watch the temperatures.  It would have been better to do when it was a bit cooler


I need help! My hollyhocks are dying at the base and they have these yellow spots all over them. Is it an aphid? What can I do to save them and stop the spread?

Picture of hollyhock rust


I would say you have a bad case of hollyhock rust.  Hollyhock rust tends to become more severe as the summer progresses, and has hit early this year with all the rain and humidity.  When you have the disease on a plant spores are carried to other plants by splashing rain and wind.  Sanitation is critical.  Clean up as many diseased plants as you can and spray your healthy plants with a product containing chlorothalonil (Daconil or Bravo) or myclobutanil (Immunox).  This fall make sure you cut back all the old foliage to the ground and dispose of it.  If you have had this problem in the past, be proactive and spray when the plants begin growing to prevent infection.  Once you have a disease firmly entrenched in a garden it is hard to control it.  . 


My Iris and daylilies have "pods" on them. Can they be used for propagation?



Both iris and daylilies can be grown from seed, but in my opinion is a fairly slow process to get a blooming plant. Plant breeders do crosses of daylilies and that is how we get the new varieties with plants that grow from those seeds.  You need to allow the seed pod to totally mature and then grow them from the seeds. It usually takes two years before you see a flower.  Both daylilies and iris can easily be divided if you need more plants, and they should bloom the next season.


I have 2 black lace elderberries about 10 years old.  They have bloomed wonderfully every year, but thanks to my haphazard pruning over the years, the plants have a haphazard shape.  The plants are 7'-8' tall, and about that wide, with each having several trunks ranging in size from 1/2" to 2" in diameter.  Can you give me some pruning ideas?  



You have a few options.  You can thin out some of the older canes at the soil line and then lightly shape the ones you leave.  Normally pruning is done after bloom unless you are trying to grow the fruit. If you are treating it as an ornamental, you can enjoy the flowers and then prune next year, or do a little shaping now and the bulk next season.  If your main goal is just the black foliage, prune it hard next year before growth begins.  A little pruning can be done now but we are in the hot, dry part of summer and recovery will be slow. I would wait until a more accommodating season.


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