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posted: 11/3/2013 1:00 AM

Tips to keep your plants healthy for next season

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By Mary Boldan

Q. Should I shear creeping phlox, and if so, when should I do it?

A. Creeping phlox, Phlox subulata, is a low-growing perennial that creates a striking carpet full of blooms in radiant hues of reds, purples, blues, pinks and whites in late April and May. Typically reaching a mere height of 6 inches, but often spreading to 2 feet, it is a great choice for a ground cover

These perennials should be pruned back some time after they stop blooming, which is Late May to mid-August. This helps maintain lush growth and also reduces the chances of pest problems. This should be repeated annually after each blooming period. Using garden shears, cut back the plant by a third or half.

Q. We live in Arlington Heights and have six Japanese Kerria shrubs. In the spring and the beginning of summer, they were very full and lush, but starting about the end of July, the leaves began turning brown and dropping. On most of the shrubs the leaves have dropped after turning brown, and now they also have many dead branches.

We don't know if the cause was weed killer that we think the neighbors behind us used, since the first ones to die back were nearest the property line, or some disease or a result of the drought last summer. We don't know if we should leave them as they are until next spring, cut them back or just cut out the dead branches. Any advice you could give would be appreciated.

A. The droughts we have experienced last summer and this summer can cause yellowing, browning and even death of leaves and stems. Water plants thoroughly whenever the top few inches of soil are crumbly and slightly moist. However, do not let the soil remain saturated with too much water, because the plant roots cannot function properly and will drown.

In addition, when a plant is stressed, it is more likely to suffer winter injury. With the lack of snow and below zero temperatures, many bushes, including the Japanese Kerria suffered.

Remove any dead growth and wait for the new growth to fill in next year. Time and patience on your part should result in some nice looking shrubs next season.

• Provided by Master Gardener Mary Boldan. Master Gardener Answer Desk, located at Friendship Park Conservatory, 395 Algonquin, Des Plaines, is open 9 a.m. to noon on Wednesdays. Call (847) 298-3502 or email

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