Q: I need a vine to cover a chain-link fence that runs along the back of my property to hide the view of a neighbor's junky backyard. The fence is theirs, but is on the easement. What would be a good vine for this? — Need a vine
A: Covering chain-link isn't easy. Different vines have different methods of climbing. Some lasso the support with twining tips, like morning glories. Others, like peas, have tendrils that wrap tightly around wire, string or trellising. Clematis climb by wrapping the leaf stem (petiole) around a thin support.
Woody vines usually attach themselves to a surface with little rootlets and sticky pads, such as ivy, woodbine and climbing hydrangea. Woody plants similar to that need a flat surface like masonry or wood to climb, so those are out for a chain-link fence. Vines that wrap by tendril make poor candidates, too, because they wrap around themselves instead of fanning out and offering coverage. Massive vines such as sweet autumn clematis, grapes and kiwi will provide the best coverage, by hanging in great mats.
All of these would be brown in winter. I think that I would plant shrubbery, either evergreen or privet type, to get a more permanent and satisfactory result. Maintaining a vine on chain-link is a lot of work. Also, if you plant inside the fence, instead of on it, that eliminates any ownership concerns.
Q: My beautiful, 3-year-old clematis with many buds dried up and died a couple weeks ago! I understand this happens. I have cut it down to the base. Will it grow back? If not, is it safe to plant another clematis in the same spot? — Janice
A: It happens more frequently to those with large flowers. The smaller flowered types, even Jackmanii, seem less susceptible to clematis wilt. It might grow back, depending upon how deeply you planted it. If the first set or two of leaf nodes were buried, it could regrow.
The spores overwinter in the soil and on plant debris. So if you replant, choose a smaller flowered variety and clean up the soil very well by raking out all debris. Keep the soil surface clean, and you might want to use a baking soda (10 percent) solution on the soil and lower portions of the plant.
Q: I was digging in my rose bed and my vegetable garden this week, and I found tons of grubs — at least one per shovel full. It might be the warm winter. I am looking for a way to kill the grubs without killing the earthworms. At this point, nonorganic is OK if I can kill the beasts. — Grumbling about grubs
A: I am wondering if you were digging up grass and weeds from the beds. Grubs feed on plant roots, especially grass. So, having that many grubs means they are feeding on something. Earthworms eat a variety of waste, animal waste, insect parts, rotting debris and dead things. Since earthworms do not typically feed on live plant roots, you should be able to use a systemic grub killer. It is applied to the plants, taken into the root tissue and concentrated there to kill the grubs as they feed.
That being said, you don't have a huge window of opportunity. They will be pupating soon, and it takes about 10 days for the poison to build up in plant roots. That's why it is typically applied in late summer to work on grubs that are feeding in September.
Incidentally, one per shovelful of soil is not really a heavy infestation; a dozen or more would be. So I would just ride it out, and wait for fall to treat them in the rose bed. And, of course, you can't use anything for them in the vegetable garden. But grubs are the least of our concern as vegetable garden pests go.
Q: I recently bought Whitney Farms organic planting soil and one of the ingredients is "poultry litter." Do you know what that is? — Confused
A: Poultry litter is a mixture of poultry excrement, spilled feed, feathers and bedding material from chicken farming operations. It is rich in nutrients and often used in organic gardening soil mixes and fertilizers.