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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: Is it true that you can treat sodium (Na) damaged soil with calcium (Ca) products such as calcium carbonate (CaCO3)? Would a product that consisted of 80% (CaCO3), 16% corn starch, and 4% Ca (NO3) be harmful for treating a sodium (Na) damaged soil? Would the corn starch in this product create any potential problems in a sandy loam soil for vegetation?

ANSWER: Usually we use a neutral calcium source in an attempt to counter act the sodium. In this way the soil pH will not be altered. The most common source of calcium used is gypsum or calcium sulfate. If calcium carbonate (CaCO3) is used the pH will probably be raised by the carbonate as it will take hydrogen ions out of solution. The cornstarch would not cause a problem.

QUESTION: I would like to know if English ivy can be rooted in water?

ANSWER:Yes, English Ivy can be rooted in water. If the water starts to look bad, you should change it for fresh water.

QUESTION: Have you ever heard of a Silver Dollar flower? Its' seeds come in an oval "angel-wing" type container and the seed itself is round and brown.

ANSWER: The plant you refer to as silver dollar plant is probably the Money Plant (Lunaria annua). Its round, flat seed pods are used in dried flower arrangements.

QUESTION:: What is the best way to start clover seeds (with the white flowers)?

ANSWER See this Michigan State University web site on cover crops for information on white clover:

QUESTION: What is the least amount of sun a tomato can get in order for it to produce amply-at least, produce some green tomatoes?

ANSWER: See this PLANTanswers web site for information on tomatoes. This is what it says about sunlight:

Tomatoes and fruiting plants MUST HAVE 8 to 10 hours of direct sunlight DAILY or fruit production WILL BE DIMINISHED or ELIMINATED.

QUESTION: Can I top and shape a tree, which is presently 15 feet, so that it has a more rounded appearance? It is close to my house and I would like to control its growth but I don't want to damage it either.

ANSWER: Try not to TOP the tree though. Rather, cut it back to a major limb which is growing laterally or spreading. In this way growth will be forced into the limb you leave at the angle you leave it. Still, when you make a cut over 1 inch in diameter, the tree will compensate with sprouts at the cut back point. Hence, to maintain the growth the way you want, you will have to rub these shoots off when they are small or you will have to cut them out later. The more you work with the tree, the more successful you will be. However, as long as the tree is healthy and growing well, you will not hurt the tree by cutting on it.

QUESTION: I have been told there is a way to break down the caliche in the soil. Is this possible? I thought caliche is like clay, how can it be broken down for a plant's better use?

ANSWER: The most important thing to do to improve the quality of your soil in this area is the addition of organic material in the form of compost. See this PLANTanswers web site on soil preparation:

QUESTION: I have two crape myrtles they are about are about 6 to 8 feet apart. One is growing slender and tall the other has spread out much wider. I have been in the home for only 2 years and they were already here. Any suggestions on how to make both grow wide?

ANSWER: It is likely that you have two different crape myrtle cultivars and regardless what you do, their growth habits will probably be different. Crape myrtles are quite forgiving when it comes to pruning and you could cut the tall slender one back to the ground and it would probably put up several shoots which you could tip prune to get them to branch out. However, it may better to just replace it with one with the same growth habit as the other. Your favorite nursery can advise you on which to buy. Also see this PLANTanswers web site that is a very good article on pruning. It includes specific instructions on pruning crape myrtles:

QUESTION:Our crape myrtles are in a rock garden with climbing roses and a few other plants. The rock garden has become infested with weeds. Is there any thing that I can put on the rocks that will kill the weeds and not damage the crape myrtles and roses?

ANSWER: In reference to weed control, you can use one of the glyphosate herbicides such as Roundup or Finale to control the weeds. It will not harm your ornamentals so long as you do not get it on the foliage of the roses or crape myrtles.

QUESTION: Are there any sources of gum tree (Eucalypt) seeds or seedlings? I would assume that some of the species native to the higher elevation areas of the eastern Victoria and southern New South Wales states of Australia would tolerate our hot summers and occasional winter freezes. Any hints of varieties and sources?

ANSWER: Sometimes Eucalyptus trees are found for sale in local nurseries. However they are not among the recommended trees for any part of Texas. Planting one in our area would be a gamble at best. If you can find one in an Austin area nursery ask the nursery manager if he will guarantee its survival and growth.
See this PLANTanswers web site for recommended trees for Texas:

QUESTION: : We have a young Ginkgo biloba tree that was given to us last year. It is still in a pot, but we want to plant it in the ground. Can you help us?

ANSWER: The Ginkgo biloba, while not on the recommended list of trees for South Central Texas, will grow here if there is sufficiently deep soil. This is what Michael A. Dirr in his book Manual of Woody Landscape Plants has to say about the ginkgo: "prefers sandy, deep, moderately moist soil but grows in almost any situation; full sun; very pH adaptable; prune in spring; air-pollutant tolerant; a durable tree for difficult landscape situations; displays good soil salt tolerance.
Slow to medium growth rate, probably 10 to 15 feet over a 10 to 12 year period."
See this Aggie web site for more information on the ginkgo:

QUESTION: : I would like to know the best times to fertilize my lawn, and the best type of fertilizer for me to use. I have St. Augustine grass, commonly known as carpet grass.

ANSWER: St Augustine lawns should be fertilized twice per year. The first fertilization is done in the spring after you have cut green growing grass twice with a fertilizer that contains slow-release nitrogen and has a 4-1-2 ratio. The one most commonly sold has the numbers 19-5-9. It is packaged under many different brands. Unless you wait until you have cut your grass twice, you will be feeding the winter weeds and not the grass. However, your grass should be actively growing now and you can go ahead and apply the fertilizer. If it doesn't rain on it soon after application, it must be watered in to be effective.
The second fertilization is done in the fall between October 1 and November 1. This application is with a 'winterizer' fertilizer with a 3-1-2 ratio. Again there are many available. The common ones are 18-6-12 and 15-5-10.
This PLANTanswers web site provides links to many turfgrass articles:

QUESTION: : I am working on my lawn and need some advice. I want to put in a lawn that then kids can play in, i.e. green and "soft". What is the best grass to use? My lawn area is unshaded, about .5 acre size. I have heard that Bermuda is/would be the best for me. What are the fertilizer and watering requirements?

ANSWER: Bermuda would certainly be the most economical way to go. It can be established by seed at a fraction of the cost of sod. It is also a very wear-resistant turf as evidenced by the many sport fields that are bermuda. It is drought tolerant in that it will not die if it is deprived of water for a significant period of time. It will go dormant, turn brown and green back up when it does get water. Like all other turfgrasses, bermuda will require about 1 inch of water per week from rainfall or irrigation to look good. It should be fertilized at least twice per year and preferably 3 times - in the spring after you have mowed the growing green grass twice, a light fertilization in mid-summer and the third application about mid-October. At this PLANTanswers web site you will find links to many articles on turfgrass:

This is the one on bermuda:

QUESTION: : We were told that mushroom compost is ideal for a flower garden and would make it much more lush. Is this true and would this be better than peat moss and manure mixed in with the earth. Would the mushroom compost also be beneficial for vegetables? We grow everything -- potatoes, squash, asparagus, tomatoes, etc.

ANSWER: I do not know that mushroom compost is going to give you a better product than the peat/manure mix you mention. However, it is a fine product for use as a soil amendment or as mulch around your plants. However some caution must be observed due to the high salt content of mushroom compost.

See this Oregon State University web site on mushroom compost:

QUESTION: : What can you tell me about Packman broccoli? I'm most interested in maturity days from transplant.

ANSWER: You should expect to be able to harvest your broccoli in approximately 60 days after transplanting.

See this PLANTanswers web site for frequently asked questions about broccoli:

QUESTION: : I recently went to the garden and dug out my parsnips after leaving them over the winter. I was told they would taste better if left over the winter. Someone told me, however, that if the parsnips started to grow green leaves again, they would be poisonous and unfit to eat. Can you tell me if this is true?

ANSWER: See this Michigan State University web site on growing parsnips:

As you will see, it says that second season parsnips will be woody, but not poisonous.

QUESTION: : I was wondering if you could tell me where I might purchase plant-growth hormones. I am particularly interested in gibberellins.

ANSWER: Commercial gibberellins are made by Abbott Laboratories in Illinois. I do not have a specific contact, but they probably can be found on the web. Small quantities of gibberellins (at relatively high prices) can be obtained from Sigma Chemical Company in St. Louis (800-325-5832)--they also likely have information on the web.

Pro-Gibb can be purchased from the following locations:

Estes Incorp., Wichita Falls, TX 817-766-0164

Wilbur Ellis, Edinburg, TX, 210-383-4901

BWI, Texarkana, TX, 903-838-8561

QUESTION: :I was given some poppy seeds by a friend. All I know are that they are large flowers yellow to orange in color. I don't know exactly when to plant and where. I live in Connecticut. When and where should I put them?

ANSWER: I do not know what poppy you have and there are many varieties. However, most are annuals that are planted in early spring for spring and summer bloom. All poppies should be planted in a sunny site. I would advise you to contact your friend from whom you received the seed and ask her how and when she plants them.

QUESTION: I have a white chalky substance on my roses and crape myrtles. What is it and how do I control it?

ANSWER: Powdery Mildew (fungus - Erysiphe lagerstroemiae): Powdery mildew is very common on crape myrtle. It is particularly active in the spring and fall months. White-to-grayish moldy growth develops on leaves and new shoots. Dust or spray with a recommended fungicide at first appearance of mildew. Dallas red is an old variety with good mildew resistance. Check on availability of newer varieties with mildew resistance.

Powdery Mildew (fungus - Sphaerotheca pannosa var. rosae): A white powdery growth occurs on leaves, buds and twigs causing them to be distorted and dwarfed. Young, tender growth is most susceptible. The disease is more likely to occur during cool, dry conditions and can spread rapidly since a complete life cycle can occur in 72 hours. Thousands of spores are produced on a single plant with each having the ability to cause disease. Varieties differ in their susceptibility. Use an appropriate fungicide during times when disease pressure is high.

The powdery mildew can be combated on both of these plants by the application of a fungicide that your favorite nurseryman can recommend. However, since they are quite susceptible, frequent spraying may be required to maintain control.

QUESTION: I was recommended an Over-The-Top Fertilome product that was created to eliminate crabgrass. I was wondering if this product will also eliminate quack grass, and if it is dangerous to use around ornamental plants. The active ingredient in the product is monosodium acid and metharearsonate.

ANSWER: There are "over-the-top" herbicides sold under many trade names. Most contain the active ingredient fluzifop. They are safe to use around the ornamental plants listed on their labels and will control most of the grassy weeds. You will have to go to the place where the herbicide you mention is sold and read the label carefully. The actual product name is Over-the-Top and is a grass-selective herbicide that kills grasses only.

QUESTION: Can you tell me how to propagate a bald cypress from a seed pod?

ANSWER: This is what Jill Nokes in her book How to Grow Native Plants of Texas and the Southwest says about propagating the Bald Cypress (Taxodium distichum) from seed: "Propagation of bald cypress is achieved primarily by seeds rather than cuttings. Germination is delayed by a dormant embryo. Seeds may be sown outdoors in the fall or stratified for 60 days at 41 degrees F. Germination is also sometimes inhibited by the resinous coating of the seeds, which prevents imbibitions of water. Before sowing or stratification, remove the resin by soaking the seeds or unshattered cones in a one percent lye solution with water or in hot water just under the boiling point.
Sow the seeds in a deep seed flat or well-worked bed containing loose sandy soil with a high percentage of organic matter. Peat moss and perlite are suitable for indoor sowing. Plant the seeds 1/4 to ½ inch deep and keep the seedbed continuously moist. Germination usually takes place in 40 to 90 days but may be as short as 15 days (USDA 1974). Partial shading of the seedlings is recommended. Seedlings must not be allowed to dry out."

QUESTION: I have ivy growing in my yard, up my house and fence. It is uncontrollable. Pulling it up does not help because it just grows back faster and longer. I need help on trying to kill it.

ANSWER: English Ivy is very difficult to kill as you have already discovered. Dig as much of the root out as possible and treat young sprouts with a 2X concentration (mix twice as much of the product as the label instructs) of a glyphosate herbicide such as Roundup or Kleanup. Keep spraying the new sprouts until the root system in the soil is exhausted.

QUESTION: Recently I noticed fungus gnats in some of my houseplants. I have been watering every week to every other week because the air in our house is so dry with the heater on and stuff. They were the worst on two Dracaenas I have, each in 4" pots. I have heard that you can spray the plants with vinegar to get rid of the gnats. Is that true? Also, how often should I be watering?

ANSWER: I do not know about the vinegar. It is good for many household chores but I cannot recommend it for fungus gnats. In fact, I have heard that it can be used to kill plants and you would not want to do that. At this Aggie web site you will find an article about the most common houseplant pests:

Check the answer to a previous query on the same subject that can be found at this PLANTanswers web site:

QUESTION: How can I get my African Violets to bloom?

ANSWER:The most essential thing for blooms is bright, indirect light. At this URL you will find a good article on African Violets:

This is what it says: "African violets aren't just violet. And they're not found only in Africa.

They make excellent houseplants that are popular with gardeners throughout the world. Since their introduction to home gardeners in the 1940's, African violets have become one of the most cherished and widely grown indoor plants. Their popularity stems from their numerous merits, not the least of which are their abundant flowers and beautiful foliage.

African violets are also tough and durable. They are available in a wide range of colors and forms. Like munching on potato chips, growing African violets can become habit-forming. For the true lover of African violets, starting with just 1 or 2 plants can lead to a lifelong hobby.

Growing African violets can be fun and rewarding. But even though they are relatively easy to grow, pay special attention to their cultural requirements.

Light. Of all the requirements for success with African violets, adequate light is probably the most important. They prefer indirect sunlight most of the day, but since most homes do not possess enough natural light to support proper growth, supplemental light is usually required.

A simple way to measure light intensity is to hold your hand about 4 inches above the plant. If you see a light shadow, the plant is probably receiving adequate light. However, if the leaf stalks become elongated and plants fail to bloom, increase the amount of tight the plant receives.

African violets enjoy a minimum of 10 to 12 hours of light each day, so supplemental light will probably be needed for best results in most homes.

Growing media. Avid African violet growers with many plants usually mix their own soil using a variety of ingredients.

Containers. A variety of containers can be used for your violets. Plastic pots are lightweight, inexpensive and widely used.
Watering. African violets should be watered when the top layer of soil feels dry. Water plants from above by pouring water under the leaves near the inside wall of the pot. Allow the water to run around and down until water comes out the drainage hole below the bottom of the container.

Other watering techniques include the popular "wick" method and the use of specially designed water-holding containers.

Temperature. The temperature of the average home is well suited to growing most African violets. Try to maintain a daytime temperature of at least 65 to 70 degrees F. in the winter. Warmer than that is fine in the summer.

Fertilizer. There are several fertilizers on the market made especially for African violets.

Repotting. Plants require occasional repotting.

QUESTION: This year the grass burrs have over taken my yard. We have had a few out near the barn, but this year they have over taken the whole yard. What can we do, or is it to late?

ANSWER: A wet spring causes a lot of weed seed to germinate. At this PLANTanswers web site you will find more than you ever wanted to know about controlling grass burrs: