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Milberger's Nursery and Landscaping
3920 North Loop 1604 E.
San Antonio, TX 78247

Three exits east of 281, inside of 1604
Next to the Diamond Shamrock station
Please click map for more detailed map and driving directions.

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Weekly Gardening Column


QUESTION: Which Nandina is it that seems to get about 4 to 5 feet tall and doesn't seem to spread? Only a nice clump that seems to be only about 8 inches in diameter at the bottom and plumes upward to about 12 inches? Comprised of many canes, but doesn't seem to send up new plants. This is exactly what I need to fill in several strongly vertical areas I have which doesn't have room for a lot of top spread. I have seen them in neighbors' yards and was noticing my parents have several which are over 30 years old and are nice and compact vertical.

ANSWER: I do not have personal knowledge of a Nandina that does not spread by underground rhizomes. However, Sunset's New Western Garden Book has this to say about a variety named 'Stribling Little Princess': Dense, tight clumps 3 to 4 feet tall; very slow?growing, slow to spread. Other than that, my suggestion would be to query your neighbors about where they might have bought their plants and what they were called.

Nandina height, and to some extent its breadth, can be controlled by cutting the tallest canes to the ground. This will force new growth and keep the bottom filled in.

QUESTION: I am interested in knowing if the berries of Nandina plants are poisonous. We have several such plants around our yard and would like to know how careful we need to be with our little boy.

ANSWER:According to this North Carolina State University web site, the berries of Nandina have a slight toxicity. It would appear that there is little danger:

Scientific Name, Nandina domestica

Common Name, Nandina, Heavenly bamboo

Family , Berberidaceae

Plant Description; Evergreen shrub; leaves alternate and clasping at base, 2 to 3-pinnately divided; flowers white in a terminal cluster; fruit bright red berries.

Origin. Japan

Where Found, Weedy in disturbed areas; in landscape, cultivated ornamental woody shrub, persisting after planting and escaping.

Mode, Ingestion. Poisonous Part, Berries, caution.

Symptoms ? No cases reported in humans, but berries are possibly toxic to cats and some grazing animals.

Toxic Principle, Unknown.


QUESTION: We have some Oleanders that are in BAD need of pruning, and were previously cut back/pruned about 2 years ago. I do not recall, but when is the best time to prune these plants? And how much?

ANSWER: Oleanders may be pruned as severely as you desire. However, if the blossoms are important to you, I would wait until they have finished their first flush of blooms to do your pruning. At this PLANTanswers web site there is a fine article on pruning. You should follow the instructions given for pruning broad-leafed evergreens:

Broad-leaved evergreens such as gardenias, camellias, azaleas, pyracantha, hollies and photenias require very little pruning. Lightly thin broad?leaved evergreens grown for their showy fruit such as pyracantha and holly during the dormant season if needed for shaping. Remove old or weak stems. This group can go several years without pruning except for some slight cosmetic pruning to keep them neat. If too much wood is removed from these plants at anytime, summer or winter, the amount of fruit is reduced the following season. When these plants become old and straggly, cut them back 6 to 8 inches from the ground before spring growth begins. Don't cut them back too early, however, because a flush of growth could freeze and set them back. Prune only after the danger of the last killing frost is past. Such pruning stimulates the growth of new shoots from the base of the plant. Many gardeners prefer to remove only about 1/3 of the branches at one time and retain the general contour of the plant.

QUESTION:: Is it feasible to grow Pampas Grass from seed? I have some left over from last year's plant.

ANSWER:A general indication of the ease with which a plant can be propagated by seed is whether or not you can find seedlings around the mother plant. I have never seen a pampas grass seedling that has come up volunteer. In Lewis Hill's book Secrets of Plant Propagation, he recommends that pampas grass be propagated by dividing the clumps in early spring. He makes no mention of propagating by seed.

QUESTION: I need the following information about the pecan tree for my high school Biology class:

Kingdom Plantae
Phylum (in plants it is division) Magnoliophyta
Class Magnoliopsida
Genus Carya
species illinoensis
Habitat Native to Texas and the Mississippi River
Is it endangered? No

QUESTION: I am in need of information that will help me to properly place herbs, flowers, and vegetables so that insects, bugs, etc. are minimized. I plant to planting the following: tomatoes, jalapeno peppers, crookneck squash, butternut squash, garlic, onions, bell peppers, chamomile, spearmint, oregano, chocolate mint, rosemary, dark moss curled parsley, lavender, cilantro, Italian sweet basil, daisies, sunspot sunflowers, marigolds & zinnias.

ANSWER: There are many books on companion planting. The veracity of their information, I cannot vouch. However, you should have fun experimenting. A trip to your library or bookstore should allow you to look at some of these books. Here are a few that I have seen;

Carrots Love Tomatoes ISBN 0-88266-988-5

Roses Love Garlic ISBN 1-58017-028-5

Rodale's Successful Organic Gardening Companion Planting

Also a search on "companion planting" on one of the internet search engines will turn up many references. I used the Alta Vista engine and got 891 sites. That engine is located at this URL:

QUESTION: I am a third grader. I would like to know why a sweet potato is considered a root, and a potato is not. This is part of a homework assignment.

ANSWER: The part of a sweet potato plant which is eaten is the swollen root. It functions as a root by up taking nutrients and water as it expands. The potato (Irish potato) is a storage structure called a tuber. During periods of optimum growth, the potato plant stores extra carbohydrates manufactured in the leaves during photosynthesis in the tubers. Also, the root of sweet potato has buds which will sprout into new plants on one end of the root; the potato sprouts new plants from randomly distributed structures on the tuber called eyes.

QUESTION: Last summer, I planted a Chinese Pistache in my back yard. It grew quickly grew straight up and what was a 5 foot stick is now 10 feet. But it's still a stick. It lost its leaves in the winter and now everything else is green and its little red buds are just sitting there. Is it a marshmallow stick for camp-outs or should I give it a few more weeks? .

ANSWER: Your Chinese Pistache should leaf out soon. It probably has a couple of whorls of limbs coming out of the main trunk. Select a whorl that is high enough up to walk under and cut the main trunk above that point. This will help the tree develop its crown. See this Aggie website:

This is partially what it says:

Ugly Duckling To Beautiful Swan

Although considered by many experts to be near perfect for this area of the U.S., the Chinese Pistache does have a couple of minor faults. First, young Pistache in 5?gallon containers (a nice size to purchase) are often rather awkward and gangling in appearance. Rest assured that after 5 to 6 years of tender loving care in your landscape, this "ugly duckling" will have been magically transformed into a most "beautiful swan" as its canopy develops and begins to mature. Secondly, shaping and pruning your tree when it's young may be necessary to encourage proper branch spacing and structure and for best crown development. Even without such pruning however, the vast majority of Pistache will eventually make very nicely shaped trees on their own.

QUESTION: What causes the "lumps", bumps, etc. on red bud trees. Mostly on the trunk and main limbs of red bud trees. Is this normal?

ANSWER: I examined several red bud trees and didn't find bumps such as you describe. One of those I looked at did have flowers all over the main trunk. Perhaps what you are seeing are the buds that are just about to erupt into flowers. If this in fact occurs soon, I certainly wouldn't worry about them and would just consider it to be a characteristic of the tree.

QUESTION: Please explain filtered light. Does that mean away from the window, with the blinds open and not necessarily in the sunlight?

ANSWER:By filtered light I mean that the plants are in good indirect light but getting no direct sunlight. This can be achieved through curtains, blinds or just positioning the plant where the direct sun doesn't hit it.

QUESTION: I will be 71 in a couple years and want to know how long I have to live until you will perfect some kind of rhubarb that will grow in Port Arthur, Texas. I was born in Ohio and raised in Michigan and know too well the joys of rhubarb pie and sauce. I have about 3 plants coming up now that they claimed would grow in region 10, but I am not counting on it. Expect they will die out as other plants and seeds that I have tried. Don't want to move to Missouri or any place north of there. Want to stay right here and harvest my own, rather than going to the market. Any hope?

ANSWER:Since you are sort of "in a hurry" for some rhubarb in Port Arthur, you should plan to grow it as a fall-planted, spring-harvested annual. Rhubarb is a cold-resistant perennial that thrives in the coldest winter weather Texas has to offer but dies where maximum daytime temperatures average above 90 degrees F. Therefore, it will not grow well during the summer in most areas of the south and only thin leaf stalks which are spindly and lack color will be produced. However, if planted in the early fall and fertilized heavily, you might get some semblance of rhubarb production. Otherwise, the supermarket is your best rhubarb "fix".

QUESTION: I realize spider mites are not plants, but they sure cause big problems with our plants. What would be a good way to keep from being infested and what do we do when we're infested?

ANSWER: Spider mites can indeed be a real pest. The secret is to not let the population build to problematic proportions. This requires constant vigilance on your part. Spider mites cannot tolerate humid conditions, so at the first sign of their presence, spraying the leaves daily (especially the underside) can help keep them in check. Also, the application of a horticultural oil can help. Since you did not specify what plants you are talking about, be sure that the label on the horticultural oil includes use on the plant in question. Also beneficial insects such as the green lacewing will help in controlling spider mites. If their population gets out of hand, the most reliable control is the use of a miticide.