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Questions for the Week


QUESTION: I would like to find a delicate ground cover similar to a moss or Baby's Tears to plant in a moist, heavy shade area adjacent to a pond with a waterfall. It needs to be low growing and non invasive unlike Asiatic Jasmine or English Ivy. Preferably evergreen. Any such thing? Will Baby's Tears or Soleirolia successfully grow in our area?

ANSWER: Baby's Tears (Soleirolia soleirollii), unless in a protected location, will most likely freeze and die in most San Antonio winters. Another possibility is Water Clover (Marsilea macropoda). This plant is used quiet extensively at the San Antonio Botanical Gardens in the entrance to the Conservatory. Another is a plant that many think of as a weed around here; Horseherb or Straggler's Daisy (Calyptocarpus vialis). This is a low growing perennial that will freeze in the winter but come back from the roots. Both of the plants mentioned above are in Sally Wasowski's book Native Texas Plants -Landscaping Region by Region.

QUESTION: A local gardener has asked me to find out if growing Artemisia absinthium is legal. He says a common name is "wormwood". I have found Artemisia in Parks catalog and have Master Gardeners that are familiar with varieties such as Silver King and Prowess Castle. County Extension Agent-AG. Lamar County, Paris, Texas.

ANSWER: I know of nothing making the possession and/or growing of Wormwood (Artemisia absinthium) illegal. The liqueur Absinthe, which was made in part from an extract of Wormwood, came into disfavor and was ultimately banned in the early 1900's because its chronic use was believed to produce a syndrome, called absinthism, which was characterized by addiction, epileptic attacks, delirium, and hallucinations. At this web site:

you will find this information concerning absinthe and Wormwood: "Although it is banned in most Western countries, absinthe isn't controlled as a drug but as a food. As with many other things considered poisonous, you aren't allowed to commercially make food or drink containing more than trace amounts of thujone. However, simple possession of thujone-containing ethanol solutions will probably not get you into legal problems. Presumably you would be legally liable for any possible damages if you gave absinthe to others to drink. Artemisia species are completely legal and are attractive perennial ornamental plants.

In the United States of America, absinthe was originally banned by Food Inspection Decision 147 in 1912. Now, thujone is banned as a food additive according to Section 801A of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act of August, 1972. Wormwood was included on a list of unsafe herbs which the FDA released in 1975."

In North Dakota Wormwood is considered to be an introduced weed as shown in the NDSU Extension Service publication on Absinth Wormwood Control found at this web site:

Wormwood is available commercially both as plants and as seed and is grown by many for its ornamental value as a herbaceous perennial. Southern Perennials & Herbs, 98 Bridges RD.., Tylertown, MS 39667-9338, Telephone: (601) 684-1769, E-mail: offers plants for sale at this web site:

Artemisia Absinthium, (Absinthe, Wormwood). Perennial herb with very aromatic, lacy foliage. Used commercially in cosmetics, vermouth, absinthe. Give excellent drainage and full sun. Europe. 4-inch $3.50 each.

QUESTION: I saw an article in the San Antonio Express News Food Section concerning 1308 variety cactus (believe it was 1308). Can this spineless cactus survive here in Kerrville? If so can you give me a source for the plants? Final Question-does it contain the same vitamin content as regular prickly pear?

ANSWER: This is a cold-sensitive cactus which must be protected and grown in a greenhouse during winter, even in San Antonio. The Texas A&M 1308 variety of spineless prickly pear is the result of research done at Texas A&M -Kingsville. One of the major researchers was Dr. Peter Felker.

At the following two web sites you will find more information about the cactus:

And at these two web pages you will find a listing of the products that are being made from the 1308 and sold. Perhaps one of these would be able to tell you a source for the plants: (O'Coy Cactus Farm, Inc.) (Wagonwheel Farms located in Kingsville)

QUESTION: I just received a Ramona Clematis from Park Seed and would like to know if I should plant it in a pot the first year or in the ground, also if you have an instruction sheet on the care of it.

ANSWER: San Antonio does not have the growing environment that the large flowered clematis prefer; that is a well-drained, humus-rich, permanently cool soil with good moisture retention. Therefore, with the exception of the small flowered, fall blooming Sweet Autumn Clematis (C. terniflora or paniculata), they are not commonly recommended for planting here. To give your Clematis 'Ramona' a chance to provide you with several years of partial satisfaction, plant it in the ground somewhere its roots will be shaded but the vine can grow into the sunlight. A heavy mulch over the root zone will also help.

QUESTION: Have two questions on fig trees. Mine is about 50 years old and still producing good, and I have been fertilizing and mulching the past two years. There are a lot of suckers coming up from the base area, should these be cut off at source, or let some grow and cut some of the older branches?

ANSWER: Wait until we know that winter is over to make your pruning decisions. There is a good chance that our plants will lose their cold hardiness with the warm weather we are having. And as you well know we can still have a lot of cold weather. If this happens it is not uncommon for the plants to freeze to the ground. So once we make it through February and early March you can make that decision. If the plant has not been damaged then you can leave the main trunk of the tree intact. If it has been damaged, then you will have to remove the main limbs back to where they are healthy. If the fig is getting too tall then you may want to remove some of the main branches back to the ground and let some of the suckers take over. However, if the plant comes through the winter in good shape and you are happy with the upper plant height and structure, then you leave the major branches and remove the suckers. If you want to lower the height, then you remove some of the upper branches back to the ground and let one or two of the suckers take over.

QUESTION: Sources list these 2 trees as growing about 30 feet tall. But the only nurseryman I've found who has Vasey oaks says: (Quercus pungens var. vaseyana) Vasey grows to 15 feet (Q. glaucoides) Lacey grows to 30 feet. I've read several books, but am hoping to find someone who actually knows about the traits of these trees. I'm trying to use xeric and native plants that are suitable for wildlife food and shelter. I don't want to cut down the wrong tree in 10 or 15 years.

ANSWER: There is really no way to tell what the mature height of these trees would be in your yard as their growth is going to depend, in large part, on the growing conditions there. I think that you can reliably assume that the Lacey (Quercus glaucoides) will always be larger than the Vasey (Quercus pungens v. vaseyana) given the same growing conditions.

Most of the references that I have checked give the height of the Lacey as being up to 45 feet with the national champion (located in Blanco County) being 58 feet tall. And the Vasey is said to grow to be 20 feet or less and more often being much less.

When live oak leaves fall, will they kill the grass if not raked up ? We were told that the decaying leaves are toxic to the grass roots. Is this true?

ANSWER: Not true! Leaving a layer of any leaves on the grass that would inhibit the free movement of air and light would not be in the best interest of the grass. However, if you mow those leaves where they lay, chopping them up into smaller pieces that can sift down to the ground under the grass it will be beneficial to the lawn. There is no validity to the oft-heard statement that oak leaves or pecan leaves are not good for compost or mulch. We should strive to recycle all of our leaves and keep them out of our limited land-fills. See the article on Leaf Management that can be found at this PLANTanswers web site:

QUESTION: I have a mature pecan tree and would like to start another tree from seed. Can you send me some information on how to do this?

ANSWER: The simplest way will be to dig up one from under the mature tree this spring. As soon as you find the seedling you need to dig it up as the root system will be twice as long as the top.

If you have pecans and want to plant them now is the time to do that. Simply place one to three nuts in a container with a well drained potting soil and water in well. Then set them outside where they will get watered occasionally and they should germinate this coming spring.

QUESTION: I have been wanting to try the Hinckley's ('Texas Gold') columbine. I have about a two foot bed around a pecan tree on a brick outdoor patio. In the summer bed gets sun in late afternoon and evening. Would it work? Tree is large and shades until about 2 p.m. What other plant could I use in this situation? Would Dusty Miller work with the columbine? Or another border annual? I have had trouble keeping something alive during the hot summer in this location (small button chrysanthemums have survived, but I don't like them.

ANSWER: The columbine should be fine in this location. You will, no doubt, need to supplement the water during the winter and early spring in the absence of rain. The columbine blooms in the early spring and during the hot dry part of the year, it will get to looking very ragged. It is also subject to attack by leaf miners which make it look even worse. At this time you can just cut them down completely and they will return at the appropriate time to provide cool season foliage and flowers.

There may be too much shade for the dusty miller (Senicio cineraria) but you will not know without trying it. The main effect of the shade would be to make the plant somewhat leggy. It would be worth a try. Another plant that you might consider is Pink Woods Sorrel (Oxalis crassipes). The heat of the summer might also cause it to go dormant much like the columbine but with a little extra water, it should be evergreen.


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