Along the sunny property line dividing my land from my neighbors, I used to have a row of lilacs. The neighbor persuaded me to let her remove all of the lilacs. Now that they are gone, I find I miss that natural demarcation. I want something that grows 8-10 feet tall and is about 4 feet wide. Any ideas besides more lilacs?

The first plant that comes to mind is the highbush cranberry. Hardy through zone 2, this large deciduous shrub is perfect as a screening hedge. It grows both tall and wide and after 5 years, produces flowers in the spring and cranberry-like fruit in the fall. The fruits hang on through mid-winter and are a valuable source of food for the birds. See more at

I recently wrote about planting ninebark shrubs and smoketrees to add fall color to your garden. These two would also be excellent border sentries. Native to the Chicago area, ninebark is hardy through zone 2. It provides year round interest with summer blossoms, fall color, showy fruit and flowers and attractive bark. Tolerant of drought and wet soils, this is one hardy shrub. The various cultivars range widely as far as size goes and all can be pruned to fit your area. A popular one is called Diablo and it features dark purple leaves with pinkish-white flower clusters. For more information, see

The smoketree is so named because its blossom clusters resemble puffs of smoke. According to the USDA, it is hardy through zone 4. Available with reddish leaves and striking dark pink to red “smoke,” the plant is also available as a more subtle green-leafed one with white smoky clusters. Google images mostly show the red plant, but there are a few white ones in there as well. The smoketree can be pruned to pretty much any size you want.

A serviceberry tree is also quite lovely and is also amenable to being pruned to fit your space. It has lovely spring blooms followed by berries, which are edible and delicious, and the birds love them.

Weigela is beautiful and is definitely a shrub and not a tree, although it can grow 10 feet tall. Sporting a variety of colors of spring flowers, depending on the cultivar, weigela could be interspersed among the trees and kept pruned to a lower height. See more information at

My potatoes look awful! They don’t grow and are shriveling up! Any ideas? The only decent one I have is growing inside my compost container!

I’m sure you know that around this time of the year, potato plants often dieback with leaves turning yellow, due to their natural life span (early or mid-season spuds), insect damage, particularly the potato leafhopper, or disease of some sort. But if your plants have just failed to grow all season, that is definitely worrisome.

Sorry to say but yellowing that occurs before the plant has matured could easily be from a dread disease. Both fusarium wilt and verticillium wilt exhibit with yellowing of the plant leaves and eventual plant death. For the best diagnosis, take (or mail), a sample to your extension agent for analysis. Meanwhile the descriptions on these websites might help you decide if you have one of these dire diseases. Interesting about the healthy plant in the compost bin. With different soil, it must have been safe from disease.

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Beverly Carney can be reached at