Selective pruning best for crapemyrtle

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Q: I noticed that most crapemyrtle trees are topped and pruned. Is that how they should be done or would selective pruning be a better alternative? Miguel Rodriguez, Richmond County

A: Selective pruning is much better for the health of the plant. Although crapemyrtles will bloom even after being pruned to an ugly knob, the knobbing is done by landscapers more interested in lowering labor costs than in preventing powdery mildew and aphid attack in summer. I have several references and pictures at

Q: I would like to know if Sichuan peppercorns could be grown in Georgia. Will Norton, email

A: Sichuan pepper comes from trees native to Asia whose seeds are used in food to produce a mouth-numbing, tickling sensation. I've enjoyed it at local Chinese eateries. The genus of the trees is Zanthoxylum, the same as the native prickly-ash (toothache tree), Zanthoxylum americanum, and Hercules club, Zanthoxylum clava-herculis. The peppercorn tree is cold hardy in our area but I don't know if it could tolerate our summers. Complicating matters is that there are separate sexes, so you'll need a female tree to get flowers and the spice-producing seeds. Look online for seeds and report back!

Q: I've read about planting moss lawns, but can't find anyone in Atlanta that knows about it. I have a very large tree in my front yard that doesn't allow for grass growing. Lynne Tem, Norcross

A: Having a moss lawn is tempting when your grass dies due to shade, but its care is almost as exacting as a lawn. There are several online sources of information. Remember that moss loves excess moisture, clay soil and shade: the same three things grass abhors. That's why grass won't grow under your tree. Your two biggest chores will be providing constant moisture in summer and being persistent about weed control. If you can provide the right conditions, your mossy area can be very attractive.

Q: I have a question about mowing in the dormant season. My bermuda lawn is more than three inches high. Is it okay to cut it now or should I wait until spring? Corey Sargent, Gainesville

A: Much depends on how much grass will be left after you mow. The dormant foliage protects the crown of the bermuda plants from cold damage. If only grass stems would be left after mowing, I'd leave it alone and wait until early April to remove the brown leaves.

Q: I planted two Ruby Slipper hydrangeas in one pot when they were small. They grew a whole lot faster than I had anticipated. I need to separate them but they are close together and I am afraid of damaging the main taproots. Pat Paine, Auburn

A: 'Ruby Slippers' is a standout oakleaf hydrangea. Although the blooms open white, they quickly change to pink, then rose, and stay that way for weeks. I think December is a fine time to divide the plants. Having no leaves, they should be easy to hoist from their pot and shake the dirt loose from the roots. They can be planted in a new spot and watered once to settle the soil.