Question: Now that we've cut down a tree to the stump just at ground level, how do we go about killing the roots without harming the lawn area?
Answer: Never cut a tree flush to the ground unless you plan to have a machine called a "stump grinder" chip up the roots and turn them into sawdust. Many tree companies have stump grinders. Stump grinders will not damage the surrounding area because they can be tipped down onto the stump and remaining roots, but they really fluff up a soil with sawdust that needs to be treated with extra nitrogen fertilizer so it does not steal nutrients from the surrounding soil. Raw, untreated sawdust can be toxic to plants.
If you don't plan on grinding, you want to leave about three feet of trunk so you will have leverage when it is dug out. Rent a "come-along" or cable hoist to winch out stubborn stumps.
Although products are sold that supposedly dissolve trunks, I have never heard of one that works. Pioneers used to slowly burn them out, but that is not advised either. At this late date, your only choices are to have the stump ground or spend a very long time digging it out.
Q: Do you have any tips on planting small seeds, as in turnips?
A: There are many gadgets sold for planting small seeds, but I have yet to find one that works as well as simply mixing the seed with sand. It makes the seed easier to handle and lets you see where you are putting it, whether you are planting seeds in rows in trays or in pots, or are scattering them over the ground.
Use a fine-grained, even sand, such as the white silica sand sold for children's sandboxes, available at building supply stores.
Q: My zinnias are the prettiest ever--electric pinks and neon yellows--and almost 4 feet high. The problem is the leaves. They have white spots, almost like salt deposits. Today when I picked some, the leaves all had it. Any suggestions?
A: If you lived closer to the coast, you would know that this disease was powdery mildew. In cooler, coastal climates, it's to be expected on zinnias, while in the warmer, drier valleys, it's almost unknown. But because the summer was cooler than normal, mildew affected zinnias in the valleys this year too. And in many areas, mildew is common in the fall.
When mildew comes in the autumn months, there is no point trying to treat it, since the zinnias are almost finished for the season. Earlier in the year, you could try one of several fungicides available at nurseries (such as Sulfur dust or Fungi-Fighter), but I doubt you'll have the problem next year, unless we get a repeat of this summer's unusual weather.
Write to Robert Smaus, SoCal Living, Los Angeles Times, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles, CA 90053; fax to (213) 237-4712; or e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.