Q: We have a huge mulberry tree on our property. Because of its size, the tree cascades into our neighbor’s yard by at least 10 feet. Our neighbor is unhappy about the berries that fall onto his walkway and stain it—so we are forced to cut it back. Our concern is that the tree won’t be able to handle heavy pruning and that we’ll never see the enormous amount of berries this lovely tree produced in the past.
A: Not to worry: Mulberry trees are extremely hardy. You can easily cut yours back by 10 feet. That’s the good news. Prune it evenly to shape the tree, and by next spring, it will produce an abundance of new growth and lots of leaves. The bad news is you’ll have to skip a year to see berries again on those limbs that were pruned. In the second year, though, your tree will most likely produce more berries than in previous years.
Q: Every time I attempt to pull out a nasty dandelion or an invasive purslane or plantain, my father, who is in his 90s and a passionate organic gardener, points out that these lowly plants have their place in our gardens and often are beneficial. He tells me that there’s no such thing as a weed. What does he mean by that?
A: From a botanist’s point of view, everything that grows under the sun is a wildflower. What most people describe as a weed is usually a plant that has escaped cultivation and which is beyond containment. Your father speaks the language of a naturalist who makes room for everything that’s out there and at the same time recognizes the beauty and benefits. For example: Dandelion, purslane, and plantain are edible and are packed full of nutrients that people often seek in the form of a pill. You can harvest these “weeds” and turn them into salads or serve them cooked.
If that doesn’t do anything to change your opinion, perhaps it is possible to tolerate them in small clusters. This will benefit the soil and overall health of your garden.
Q: I have a long, winding concrete driveway that leads up to my house. It is flanked on both sides by a nicely kept lawn. My plan is to narrow the driveway by building up its shoulders and turning it into something like a country lane, with flowers growing on both sides. Have I lost my mind, and is this potentially very costly?
A: Depending on the length of your driveway, this project may take some time to complete. And yes, it could be costly.
You need to build a low retaining wall on both sides. This could be built out of interlocking stones or bricks, which don’t require messy cement mixes. An attractive wall, about six inches tall, provides just enough resistance to prevent the soil from running off, especially during heavy rains. You’ll need a lot of garden soil, some cow manure, and finely shredded mulch to serve as a base for all this. Aim for a built-up height of about 18 inches. The width of the bed itself should be about two feet. Budget permitting, the center of the driveway could be lined with crushed stones, which will also aid in retaining the raised bed. It may be easier to work a 10- to 20-foot stretch at a time. But once completed, I think the result is going to be a stunningly beautiful country lane.
Victoria M. Elder, a professional creator of residential gardens, answers frequently asked questions from Baltimore-area gardeners. You can e-mail her with your gardening questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.