Bright yellow flowers are a bonus to the ground-covering abilities of Carolina jessamine. CONTRIBUTED BY WALTER REEVES

Carolina jessamine can be used to cover a bank

Q: I have a vertical red clay bank that is several feet high and twenty feet long. Is there any vine I can plant at the top or bottom to stop erosion? Cory Christy, email

A: I would compare English ivy, Confederate jasmine, Carolina jessamine, trumpet vine, crossvine, muscadine, and wisteria. All of these vines grow vigorously. I think I would plant them at the bottom of the bank, because they naturally grow upward. Go through every six months and use stiff wire to “peg” vine tendrils to the bank face. This would help them root into the soil and encourage upward growth.

Q: I am having some trees removed and would like to have them chipped up and spread around my plants and flower beds. Is this a good idea? Peggy Devoney, Sandy Springs

A: Arborist wood chips are an excellent landscape mulch! Unlike other mulch material such as pine straw, bark chips, and shredded wood, arborist wood chips are a mixture of leaves, bark and sapwood. As these constituents slowly decompose, they release nutrients to the shrub and tree roots underneath. And, like other mulches, wood chips suppress weeds and keep the soil moist. You can apply a layer two to four inches deep. The only caution is to keep the mulch three inches away from the trunk of the shrub or tree, to prevent potential damage to the bark. More at

Q: I have a heavily wooded lot. I take the fallen leaves off my grass and move them into an area with mature oak trees. The piles are four feet high when I’m finished. Is it better to leave the leaves whole or shred them? Curtis Watson, Newton County

A: I think the main question is whether the leaves mat down and prevent air and water exchange with the tree roots. Some leaves do this worse than others. A 4-foot pile doesn’t sound good but if it composts down to a thin layer after a few months I don’t think it would be harmful. I would experiment on a small area, putting a pile of whole leaves in one spot and mulched leaves in another and see what happens by summer’s end.

Q: We have lots of very healthy Lenten roses and autumn ferns. My husband wants to cut off all the leaves and fronds from the plants. I think they look great just the way they are. Is there any reason to cut them back? Anne Holifield, email

A: I’m on your side. I think Lenten rose plants look their best in mid-winter if the beds are sheared to the ground in the first couple weeks of November. That is the time when the old leaves are beginning to become black and spotted, before the new green leaves have appeared. The beds will look ragged for a couple weeks but by early December the new green foliage will look great. I don’t think autumn ferns ever need shearing. Some of the older fronds will turn brown during the year but they fall on the ground pretty quickly and are hidden by the new fronds.

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