Early spring is the time to begin spreading mulch to prevent weeds. It is also when you may notice a member of the woodpecker family darting around your yard.

Q. I have a holly that is over 20 years old in a planter by my deck. About a month ago it appeared that the entire top of the plant had died. I was told the problem may be "dieback." I have included a picture and was wondering what recommendations, if any, you might have. Should we cut the dead branches out or leave them and see what happens? A. S., Lynchburg

A. It looks like your plant is Foster holly, a tree rarely ever affected by dieback disease. Yellow bellied sapsuckers were migrating through here a month ago, and they probably visited your tree to feed on its sweet sap. To confirm that, you could look for a ring of holes around the tree's trunk or bark damage with a checkerboard pattern. You may as well cut out the dead branches. More dead branches might show up next year because sapsuckers return to their favorite trees on their annual migration north.

Q. Our question is not as much about gardening as it is landscaping. What kind of mulch is attractive, long lasting and functional and where would you recommend buying it? D. W., Lynchburg

A. Although mulches made of shredded hardwood pallets dyed red, brown and black are popular, my favorites include pine needles, pine bark nuggets and cypress blend. They meet your criteria and have a pleasant fragrance. You can buy them in bags at nurseries, hardware stores and large retailers, while local mulch dealers can also deliver pine bark by the truck load.

Tree care companies produce wood chips, which also make an excellent mulch, and you may be able to get them for free. Wood chips do not transmit diseases to the plants in your yard but they could contain seeds of woody weeds such as paradise tree (Ailanthus or tree of heaven) and royal paulownia. Be sure to wear a respirator when spreading your wood chip mulch or you may come down with a case of pulmonary mycotoxicosis caused by inhaling fungal and mold spores.

Q. Are any of the liquid spray weed killers effective in controlling hairy bitter cress? J.P., Lynchburg

A. Yes, most of the liquid weed killers made for selective control of broad leaf weeds in lawns will control it. Many brands are on the market.

Q. After reading the recent News and Advance article about bees, we wonder what potted plants would attract bees for those of us who live in apartments with small patios and balconies. M.B., Lynchburg

A. Some of the best bee plants are calendula, snapdragon, sedum, zinnia and lantana. Bees also like native plants including echinacea, black-eyed Susan, bee balm, aster and sunflower. Some of the small sunflowers suitable for containers are Sunray Yellow, Ms. Mars, Sun Spot, Sunny Smile, Teddy Bear and Big Smile.

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