Identifying a vine, moss in lawns and zucchini trouble

Don Kinzler
Forum News Service

Q: We started noticing this weed in our trees. It has a horrible spreading root system, and vines above ground that choke everything that it wraps around. It has five leaflets and turns red in fall. What is the best way to get rid of it? – Pamelyn Galeghe.

A: The vine is called Virginia creeper, and it’s a very prolific perennial vine, living from year to year with roots and branches that are very winter-hardy. It spreads tenaciously, as you’ve found.

Virginia creeper, and its close brick-climbing cousin Engelmann Ivy, are useful landscape vines in the right location. Virginia creeper, kept in bounds, creates a living fence when planted on chain link. But when they establish in unwanted places, they are invasive.

For control, there are two approaches. You can pull up as much as possible, trying to locate the spot where the vines are originating, which kills the vines above that portion. This at least slows the vine down. The other alternative is to use an herbicide that is translocated throughout the vine, such as glyphosate, which is the active ingredient in original Roundup. Because the vines cling around trees and shrubs, spraying can be difficult or dangerous. Instead, mix the glyphosate in a bucket according to label directions, and then dip the vines into the solution, letting them soak for a few moments. Because the vines are woody, and tend to be rooted in many places, this method will also take time for total control, but with persistence, the vine can be greatly reduced.

Q: My backyard is being overrun by moss. It started at the shadiest edges under bushes and hostas, but it has now spread into the yard. I recently lost a big tree and the yard will have more sun now. Will that help? Any suggestions? — Lynn Tkachuk, Moorhead, Minn.

A: The removal of the large tree will help. Moss grows in shaded locations and where soil is moist and compacted. Improving sunlight and aerating the soil will diminish the moss.

If possible, have the lawn core aerated in early September or next May, which removes little plugs of soil and thatch. This will improve airflow into the lawn, loosen compacted soil and make conditions more favorable for the grass, while diminishing the moss. Vigorous raking or power raking helps also. In addition, moss-control products that specify lawn use are worth trying, but sunlight and aeration are key. One of the main ways to fight moss is to have a super healthy and thick lawn by core aerating, fertilizing Memorial Day and Labor Day and over-seeding thin areas between Aug. 30 and Sept. 15.

Q: My zucchini and yellow summer squash are getting brown and mushy on the ends as they develop. The plants look healthy otherwise. Is this a blight of some kind? — J. Anderson, Fargo.

A: A common cause of these symptoms is the disorder called blossom end rot, which is common on tomatoes, but summer squash, peppers and other vegetables are susceptible as well. It’s not a disease, but rather caused by internal plant problems.

Certain plants have difficulty utilizing soil calcium, although our soils are generally high in calcium, causing the plant to suck calcium out of the developing fruits. Root disruption from cultivating too closely to plants and irregular soil moisture are common culprits in plants’ inability to access calcium. Tomatoes, squash and peppers will often work themselves out of the situation in time, but mulching around the plants is a great way to avoid too-close cultivation and keeps the soil more uniformly moist, allowing better calcium uptake by the plants. Mulching garden plants before fruit development is a great preventer of blossom end rot.

A reader asks Don about this weedy vine and how to get rid of it.