Strawberry production in home gardens is an
interesting phenomenon. More people are happier with strawberry
plants that produce less fruit than any other crop they grow.
Why? If a tomato variety produced only one serving every two
weeks -- which is common for the ever-bearing strawberry types
-- gardeners would rapidly abandon it. Yet, I constantly encounter
gardeners who criticize my renaming of the "ever-bearing"
strawberry to "never-bearing strawberry." You should
consider the effort of watering, insect, disease and weed
control involved, and the potential yield of the "ever-bearing"
strawberries before wasting valuable time and space on strawberry
Yet, after all is said and done, gardeners
still want to grow strawberries! Why? The strawberry is the
first fruit ready to harvest in the spring and, most important,
they are good to eat. Strawberries can be grown in this area
if the right things are done at the right time with the right
The right time to plant strawberries is September--
NOT in the spring or after the Poteet Strawberry Festival
in April. Gardeners who procrastinate until late November
reduce yield potential. Poteet strawberry producers use an
8-month system -- plant in September, harvest in April and
destroy the plants in June. This system differs from the conventional
strawberry production system used by our northern neighbors
who plant in February and enjoying the best harvest 14 months
later in April or May. Again, that term "efficiency"
pops up. Which is more efficient, the 8-month or the 14-month
system? Especially when yields are the same.
None of the strawberry varieties which you
see in mail order catalogs will perform as well as the plants
which are sold in local nurseries in September. Just be sure
to remove all blooms and runners that are produced in the
fall until Christmas so that strong "Mother" plant
growth is encouraged.
Now you know the right time and the right plants
to use. The most difficult task is yet to come -- doing the
right things to insure adequate yields. Gardeners will always
successfully produce strawberries if they keep one basic fact
in mind. Strawberry plants detest, abhor and generally don't
enjoy growing in the material located in the backyard which
is loosely termed "soil". Strawberries are commercially
produced in sandy soil and while they will grow in our soil,
that doesn't mean that it will necessarily be producing efficiently.
Strawberry plants thrive in acid soils -- ours is alkaline.
Strawberry plants yield more, and sweeter berries, when growing
in sandy soils -- ours is clay. Strawberry plants enjoy soils
high in organic matter -- ours is extremely deficient.
Sound bad? The situation may seem hopeless,
but for the die-hard gardener, NOTHING is impossible. For
you stubborn, do- or-die-trying gardeners, start digging!
You need to excavate the bad soil and replace it with the
good. "Good" strawberry soil means sandy. Washed
sand or Poteet red sand can be purchased from local sand-and-gravel
companies (check the yellow pages in the telephone book).
Specially formulated mixtures can also be purchased from commercial
formulators. If digging is not your pleasure, a raised bed
filled with sand will do the trick. Be sure to locate your
bed where the plants will get sun all day, or at least for
Plants should be spaced 12 inches apart for
yields. If you already have an established strawberry bed,
now is the time of year to thin plants until they are twelve
inches apart to insure production of large berries next spring.
If "land-moving" does not suit your
fancy either, a simple answer is to grow strawberries in containers.
Whiskey barrels, hanging baskets or any well-draining container
filled with potting mix -- not garden soil -- will produce
an abundance of strawberries.
The difference is the yield per plant caused
by optimum growing conditions. A container that drains well,
filled with a potting mix, offers the ideal situation for
berry production. Potting mixes are acidic in nature and drain
well. This ideal growing condition may cause strawberry plants
to yield as much as a pint of berries per plant. I have produced
more strawberries from plants growing on one hanging basket
than I have from plants growing in a 100-square foot area
where there is alkaline soil!
Of course, the larger the container, the more
plants can be planted and, subsequently, more berries will
be produced. At this point, forget about prohibition and tee
totaling, and use a whiskey barrel. One gardener told me that
emptying a whiskey barrel is one aspect of gardening where
he has no problem soliciting participation! Once the ceremony
of barrel emptying is complete, the person who can still hold
a drill steady should drill 2- inch diameter holes in the
sides of the barrel. Space the holes 10 to 12 inches apart
around the barrel, and make sure that holes are offset (not
directly above one another) between rows. Drill smaller holes
in the bottom of the barrel to insure adequate drainage.
Once the barrel is drilled, it is planting
time. Barrels cut into halves are easiest to handle and get
the best growing results. Whole barrels sometimes do not drain
properly, and plants in lower holes die. A center core of
a porous material surrounded by a well-drained potting mix
will insure success. I find that a wire mesh of hardware cloth
formed into a 10 to 12 inch circle, placed in the center of
the barrel and filled with perlite or coarse bark will insure
proper watering of lower plants.
As the potting mix is poured into the barrel
and firmed, strawberry transplants are planted in the drilled
side holes from the inside of the barrel.
Lack of continuous fertilization for container-grown
fruits and vegetables is one mistake that most gardeners make.
To insure adequate fertilization, add a cupful of Osmocote
slow release fertilizer pellets to each layer of the strawberry
barrel. Also, feed container plants with a soluble fertilizer
(20-20-20) every 7 to 10 days. Most potting mixes contain
no fertilizer elements. Regular waterings wash out nutrient
elements that must be replenished if plants are expected to
Four heavy-duty coasters can be attached directly
to the bottom of the barrel so that it can be rotated to so
that all plants will receive adequate sunlight, insuring uniform
plant growth. Don't worry about protecting plants during the
winter because they won't freeze!
The only insect threat that you will have to
contend with are spider mites, controlled by using Kelthane
or sulfur, and pill bugs (sow bugs), controlled by using bug
baits, 2 bricks or a heavy foot! Foliage diseases can be controlled
by using a foliar fungicide that contains daconil.
So as you see, strawberry production is simple.
Transplant strawberry plants now into a sunny
location that has sandy, low pH, high organic soil. Remove
all of the blooms and runners that are formed between now
and Christmas, and prepare for an abundant harvest of luscious
berries in April. It's as simple as criticizing your in-laws
and having them enjoy it! Some of the "ole"-timers
are wondering if I have gone completely bananas encouraging
gardeners to go to such trouble to produce strawberries. Many
have transplanted the plants in regular soil and harvested
strawberries every year. That's probably true, but the real
question is how many strawberries are harvested. Each, and
I repeat, EACH strawberry plant should yield AT LEAST one
pint of berries per season!
QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS FOR
FIRST WEEK OF SEPTEMBER. 2002
QUESTION: We have an American Elm (Liberty DED-resistant)
planted in our backyard which develops a brown "leaf
curl" and leaf drop every summer. Other branches show
new growth, without any leaf anomalies,and our native American
elm in the front yard shows no signs of these symptoms. Adding
to the puzzle is that the Liberty elms we purchased for our
city's park are doing well - and display no problems. What
is going on here?
ANSWER: Elms, and yes even the Liberty Elm(!!), can develop
leaf spots such as:
Black Leaf Spot (fungus -Gnomonia ulmea): Small,
yellow spots appear first on the upper surface of leaves,
then gradually develop a shiny black appearance. Heavy spotting
causes leaf yellowing and early defoliation in wet seasons.
Usually, defoliation does not occur much before normal leaf
fall so control is not warranted. If trees have been seriously
affected in previous seasons, apply fungicidal sprays when
leaves are unfolding, when they reach full size, and again
2 weeks later. This will help prevent serious defoliation.
Raking and burning fallen leaves will also reduce inoculum
for future infection.
Other Leaf Spots (fungi - Gloeosporium sp.,
Cercospora sp., Phyllosticta sp., and others): Dark, elongated
spots develop on midribs, veins and margins of leaves, or
spots of various shapes and colors may develop on any portion
of leaf surface. Destroy the fallen leaves and control as
for black spot.
Mark Black, Extension Plant Pathologist, writes:
Is your tree more shaded than those planted in the city park?
That might result in foliar diseases.
Other diseases to consider would be powdery
mildew (look for white to gray to tan fungal growth on the
lower leaf surface, with tiny white then yellow then tan then
black (with age) fruiting bodies. In severe cases, leaves
might turn brown and curl up. Some individual specimens will
be much more susceptible to powdery mildew than others, so
just by chance you may have selected the wrong one.
QUESTION: Two years ago I planted some good-sized Arp rosemary
in the same site as another upright variety (the stronger
pine-smelling rosemary). It did very well in this location
up until this summer, when it has shown signs of severe stress
(drying and browning). One looks dead and the other 2 are
not far behind. The other variety is going gangbusters. What
gives? Too much rain this spring for Arp?
ANSWER: Some say that the South Central Texas
heat is too much for rosemary, but most of us think that,
because of the way they die -- fast and still holding dead
leaves -- they are being killed by a root rot fungus. Regardless,
there is nothing that can be done except get new plants next
year or this fall.
Mark Black, Extension Plant Pathologis,t adds:
Poor soil drainage and excessive rainfall are definitely enemies
of rosemary. If you replant with rosemary, incorporate washed
builders sand or other clean sand/fine gravel in the soil
mix, building up a berm for planting. Avoid planting near
the drip line of a building, or where water runoff accumulates.
Another problem is a green worm (lipidopterous larvae) that
feeds near the growing point, killing individual leaves.
QUESTION: I have 3-year old dwarf Burford and a dwarf yaupon
in another bed that my landscaper said to prune in February.
I've done that every year and they are looking good, but need
shaping. Is it OK to shape these shrubs now?
ANSWER: Pruning of evergreen shrubs should be
done in early spring (February - March) so they will re-leaf
faster. If you prune now, it will not hurt the plant but you
will get to "enjoy" the baldness for several months
until next spring.
QUESTION: I have been raising peppers (as is my usual custom).
They have what seems to be leaf spot, but otherwise look healthy
and prosperous, with one small exception. They are blooming
vigorously but the blooms are not setting fruit and are turning
brown, frequently withering, and falling off. I have been
watering regularly as we have not had rain in my part of town
for about one month. I've also maintained a regular fertilization
plan, supplemented with foliar feedings with fish emulsion
once per week. I have been using an organically based copper
fungicide to control the diseases and an insecticidal soap
(all applied once per week in regular rotations). This has
been a problem all season, and is also affecting my eggplant
and tomatillos. The only regular producer is my okra, which
is going to town, and one Habanero plant (which is potted
and 2 years old). Is this a disease problem, a heat related
phenomenon, or simply a drought problem? Is there a treatment?
Am I killing my plants with kindness?
ANSWER: I think you are seeing a condition by weather that
is too hot. It was cloudy and cool in the spring, which was
not conducive to setting pepper fruit. Then, it turned hot
as hell!!! If the plants are healthy and disease and insect
free, they should start setting when the temperatures cool
this fall. NOW, I am assuming these plants are in full sun,
getting 8 to 10 hours of sun every day. Too much shade will
also cause peppers to drop bloom.
QUESTION: I have about an acre that I've been cultivating
for 13 years. It was covered with Bermuda grass when I moved
in. I have added many beds, ground covers, etc. However, the
Bermuda grass continues to return and I hate Bermuda grass!
It is a maintenance nightmare! It demands water and mowing,
and it invades every bed relentlessly. I'd love to kill it
all and replace it with buffalo and more shrubs and natives.
I mulch and I weed. My life is spent pulling out Bermuda grass.
What can I do?
ANSWER: LEARN TO LOVE WHAT YOU'VE GOT!!!! There
are lots of folks who have prayed for Buffalo Grass and yet
would trade back for that cursed Bermuda grass in a minute!
Have you ever heard Garth Brook's song, "Thank God for
Unanswered Prayers"?!?! Bermuda is the easiest of all
grasses to control and weed. The product MSMA or DSMA will
kill EVERYTHING in Bermuda, but not KILL the Bermuda. You
and every golf course in the country can maintain (at any
level you desire!) a pure, beautiful Bermuda putting or playing
turf. Invasive Bermuda grass can now be controlled with the
selective grass killer named Poast or Ortho Grass-B-Gon. They
kill ONLY grasses and will kill Bermuda out of everything
from flowering annuals to watermelons, and NEVER KILL ANYTHING
but the Bermuda. If you want a complete kill of Bermuda and
other weeds, any glyphosate herbicide such as Roundup, Kleanup
and Finale will take care of that problem. If you have nutgrass
(nutsedge) in Bermuda, you can use Image, which kills the
nutgrass and even stunts the Bermuda so you won't have to
mow as often. Believe me, if you have ANY of the above-mentioned
problems with your beloved Buffalo Grass, you are just in
a heap of trouble. LEARN TO LOVE IT because it IS the grass
of choice for sunny, dry areas.
QUESTION: My name is Jo Toland Ackman, and I am the Secretary
of the Gonzales County Historical Commission, P.O. Box 446,
Gonzales, TX 78629. I am seeking expert advice regarding the
maintenance of a historical tree. Gonzales County is the home
of a Sam Houston Oak, a native Quercus virginiana that is
estimated to be 200 years old. History indicates that Sam
Houston sat under this tree in 1836 and gathered the Texians
after the fall of the Alamo. We are in an "opinion quandary"
over how to care for in and looking for more information.
In 1993 this tree was listed as one of the most endangered
trees in Texas. With the latest rains, it is looking much
better than it has in recent times.
The tree sits out fairly alone in an area of the pasture.
There are electrical lines about 100 feet from the drip line,
plus other trees in the pasture. At this point, the tree has
not been fertilized or watered other than what it receives
naturally. We want to protect this tree as much as possible
to insure its life and future history.
I am hoping you can help. If this is not your field of expertise
please direct me or forward this letter. This information
is needed as soon as possible.
The Gonzales County Historic Commission is going to bat for
this tree, but we need expert advise to insure a safe future.
Here are our questions:
1. Is it advisable to install lightening rods in this tree.
ANSWER: ABSOLUTELY. A tree with this historic
value should be protected from the coincidental occurrence
of lightning. Better safe than sorry!! I have a similar size
oak tree in Tennessee which went for at least 100 years without
a lightning strike, but last year was struck and half the
tree was killed. The answer to this question is not maybe,
BUT HECK YES!!!!
2. Would there be a negative response to fertilizer and watering
this type of tree? Would this type of care domesticate the
tree, taking away the historic significance?
ANSWER: If Sam Houston were still alive (by some miraculous
means!), would we feed and water him?!?!?!?! Even though the
food of our time is not exactly the same as the food he was
used to enjoying, I'll bet old Sam would love a Big Mac and
fries!!!!! If there is no reason to make this very old, very
precious tree suffer, I would recommend food and water!!!
I would install an above ground sprinkler system to be used
during periods of low rainfall and I would apply one pound
of a slow-release fertilizer per inch of trunk diameter EVERY
spring. I can even get the fertilizer donated if you use Easy-Grow
3. When is the proper time to trim out the
small dead limbs?
ANSWER: The best time to trim ALL dead limbs
is during its dormant season in December or January. I would
hire a professional arborist who has a passion for history
and is well respected.
Here is additional information from Mike Arnold,
horticultural teacher at Texas A&M University, College
Station, Texas. He writes::
I agree with you on all points of your reply
requesting information on the Sam Houston oak (bet you don't
hear that often). The only suggestion that I might reiterate
is that I would not recommend the installation of an irrigation
system if it would require trenching anywhere within approximately
2 times the diameter of the drip line. I think that this is
what you were referring to regarding above ground irrigation
system, but think it worth repeating.
QUESTION: I have several crape myrtles on my property. I have
been fertilizing them with an all purpose fertilizer. Someone
told me that I should use an acid fertilizer, like Miracid.
Is this correct?
ANSWER: It is not really necessary, but it won't hurt anything
anyway. So-called "acid" fertilizers do little if
anything to acidify the soils that are buffered alkaline.
QUESTION: My plants developed a white powdery fungus that
I took care of with a fungicide (such as Greenlight Systemic
Fungicide with benomyl or Fungaway with bayleton). Now they
are developing a sticky black coating on the leaves. What
could this be?
ANSWER: It is the residue of an aphid infestation?
Many aphid species secrete a sticky substance called 'honeydew'
which is similar to sugar water. This energy-rich anal secretion
falls on leaves and other objects below the infestation. A
black-colored fungi called 'sooty mold' colonizes honeydew-covered
surfaces. As a result, sunlight is unable to reach the leaf
surface, restricting photosynthesis that produces plant sugars.
Honeydew also attracts ants, flies and other insects. Some
species are heavily dependent on ants for survival and dispersal.
The honeydew-loving ants 'tend' the aphids and prey upon natural
enemies of aphids and other-wise unhealthy aphids. Ants also
carry aphids to the non-infested parts of plants. Some ants
(Lasius spp.) even harvest and overwinter the eggs.
Aphids are important vectors of plant diseases,
particularly viruses. The cotton aphid is known to transmit
over 50 plant viruses and the green peach aphid, over 100.
QUESTION: This year, I decided to grow gardenias in my flower
bed. Since my gardenias require acidic fertilizer, I am wondering
if I should move my caladiums and salvia which are in the
ANSWER: Not only do your gardenias demand acidic
soils, they will die if they do not have an acidic soil (pH
5-6 minimum) WHICH ACIDIC FERTILIZER CAN NEVER FULLY FURNISH.
You have to use acidic parent material for your growing mix
so as decomposition occurs, the plants will consistently have
the ideal pH in which to extract minerals and nutrients from.
Your soil is so buffered (highly alkaline because of a calcareous
parent material) that just the addition of an acidic fertilizer
will never change the soil and keep the soil pH where it should
be. What you should do is excavate a volume of soil from the
planting bed and replace it with a mix of 2/3 spaghum peat
moss and 1/3 washed builders sand or potting mix. This mixture
can also be used for growing azaleas, gardenias or hydrangeas
in containers. Be sure that the planting location receives
morning sun and afternoon shade to insure optimum success.
You might want to add some Osmocote Slow-release fertilizer
pellets (follow label instructions for amount for volume of
bed) into this mix before you begin planting. Then, water
with your acid-based water soluble fertilizer( such as Miracid,
Miracle Grow or Peters 20-20-20) every week.
QUESTION: I have purchased some ornamental gourds and pumpkins
to decorate with for Thanksgiving. What can I treat them with
to prolong their beauty?
ANSWER: The attractiveness of ornamental gourds
can be prolonged with proper curing. Cut them from the vine
so that a short portion of stem remains on the fruit. Wipe
the fruit with a cloth dipped in rubbing alcohol, or dip them
into a bath of one part Chlorox and 9 parts of water. Lay
the gourds so they don't touch each other. Dry for 3 to 4
weeks, inspecting and discarding any that start to spoil.
When well dried, apply several coats of clear shellac to enhance
their color and preserve their beauty for several months.
QUESTION: We are experiencing problems with
our tomato crop. The fruit are hollow and shrunken on the
inside. Can you please advise us to the possible cause and
possible remedy? We are in South Africa.
ANSWER: Hollow fruit can be a function of 1) poor pollination
because of high temperatures, 2) plant stress because of unfavorable
environmental conditions. This condition also occurs more
frequently occurs in some varieties.
QUESTION: We have plants that are infested with mealy bugs.
I would like a natural way to kill the mealy bugs, if possible,
and so that I do not have to resort to a harmful pesticide.
ANSWER: Please see:
which indicates that insecticidal soaps are
recommended for mealy bugs:
"Researchers have not yet determined exactly
how soaps work. Some soaps simply wash off the outer waxy
coating of the insect cuticle, destroying its watertight nature
and causing the insect to dry up and die. Other soaps have
additional insecticidal properties, which may affect the nervous
system. These soaps appear to have toxic activity only against
plant-eating insects and thus may spare beneficial insects
such as lady beetles, honeybees, lacewings and predatory mites.
Although a number of soaps tested have insecticidal properties,
only Safer's Insecticidal Soap is currently registered for
use on edible crops. It controls such pests as spider mites,
aphids, mealybugs, whiteflies, harlequin bugs, stink bugs
QUESTION: I am interested in the folklore of
mistletoe. Do you know of any stories or history on how this
plant became one of our Christmas traditions? When, who, why???
Or, where should I go look to find out more?
ANSWER: Mistletoe is associated with many traditions
and holidays, especially Christmas. Historians say the Druids,
or ancient priests of the Celts, cut the mistletoe which grew
on the sacred oak, and gave it to the people for charms. In
Northern mythology, an arrow made of mistletoe killed Balder,
son of the goddess Frigg. Early Europeans used mistletoe as
a ceremonial plant. The custom of using mistletoe at Christmas
probably comes from this practice. In many countries, a person
caught standing beneath mistletoe must forfeit a kiss. Interestingly
enough, the mistletoe of the U.S. is not the mistletoe of
Europe. The U.S. mistletoe is represented by the genus Phoradendron,
of which the species Phoradendron flavescens is used. It resembles
the traditional mistletoe (Viscum album) of Europe, which
for centuries has been a romantic Yule-tide symbol with vague
religious or sentimental significance. It is also the State
"flower" of Oklahoma. In the LANGUAGE OF FLOWERS
found on PLANTanswers that mistletoe means:
Mistletoe-- Kiss Me, Affection, To Surmount
Difficulties, Sacred Plant of India, Magic Plant of the Druids
QUESTION: It seems that I may have some leaf-footed stink
bugs on my plants, although I cannot seem to find any. How
big are they and should I use chemicals to get rid of them?
Are the tomatoes that have the yellow spots safe to eat? Also,
I have a lot of little black spiders on the plants and lately
they seem to be making webs or nests on some of the leaves,
spiders are usually good but are there any bad spiders for
ANSWER: Spider mites can be a problem as well
as stinkbugs or leaf-footed bugs on tomatoes. Elimination
of the old plants and replanting new ones is a good answer.
Cover with Grow-Web by Indeco (ordering address included on
The stinkbug (leaf-footed bug) damage does not
make the tomato inedible, but makes the skin tougher ?? simply
peel the fruit before eating.
QUESTION: For two years now I have had pests that suck my
flowers dry. The unformed buds are made into dry hollow shells.
I want to mix something into the soil that will eliminate
them this fall. Flowers I plant include snapdragons, mums,
ANSWER: These are the larvae of some insect
which feeds on the buds. There is nothing that can be mixed
into the soil to prevent or eliminate this pest, with the
exception of Disyston (Systemic Insecticide). You will have
to watch closely for the first signs of damage, and then use
an insecticide such as Orthene. Make three applications 7
to 10 days apart and be sure to get complete coverage.
QUESTION: Are dried, yard-long beans edible?
I was away for a month and most of my beans have dried and
gone to seed?
ANSWER: Absolutely, they can be eaten as you would any dried
QUESTION: Don't know if it's available or even possible, but
I would like some information on propagating Yucca Plants
from cuttings or any other method you might know.
ANSWER: Propagation of Yucca occurs from rooting
cuttings or dividing side shoots or "pups" which
arise from the base of the plant. Information on rooting cuttings
can be found at the PLANTanswers site: