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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: My Arizona Ash trees have long dark streaks running down their bark, and blobs of off-white or yellowish goo at the top of each streak. Is this a bug or a disease? I've had an unusually small outbreak of tent caterpillars this year-- about the only sign of insect problems I've seen. These trees are between 20 - 30 years old. Please tell me what, if anything, I can do to get rid of the problem and save the trees.

ANSWER: Old Arizona ash trees in Southwest Texas are prone to have borers under the bark and into the wood layers. This sounds like a wound response--lots of sap oozing out (yellow material), perhaps fermenting along the way, with liquid dripping down the bark leaving the dark wet streak. You must be in an area with lots of summer rainfall this year. Considering the age of the trees and suspected borer damage, you should expect them to decline rapidly within the next year or so. They will have to be removed. Get at least 3 bids from dependable tree trimmers when the end comes.

QUESTION: I want to plant a vegetable garden in my back yard. The site I've chosen is located directly beneath a security light. This light comes on at dark and goes off at dawn. Will the constant light, day and night, inhibit the growth of my vegetables? (Tomatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, fall and spring vegetables) We live in Northwest San Antonio.

ANSWER: Absolutely no effect. The longer light period may in fact be beneficial even though it may attract more caterpillar-laying moths and June beetles.

QUESTION: What causes my cucumbers to become bitter-tasting?

ANSWER: Any stress on a cucumber plant, such as high temperatures, low moisture, low fertility or foliage disease can contribute to bitterness. Bitterness is usually associated with fruit harvested late in the season from unhealthy, poor-yielding plants. Once a plant produces bitter fruit, remove it from the garden because all subsequent fruit will be affected in a similar manner.

QUESTION: I love figs, but I have never prepared them myself. My neighbor's tree is loaded right now and they are falling on the ground. I have about 5 pounds in my dehydrator right now but they don't appear to be getting brown like those dried figs in the market. Please advise me if I'm not taking all of the steps. I want to get more figs before the birds get them.

ANSWER: Do not worry about them getting darker. They will take 15-20 hours in a dehydrator and 4-5 days in the sun. Unless you are in a very low-humidity area, sun drying is not practical The oven should work. Set it at 120-145 degrees F. I am told that a 1-minute exposure to boiling water will help the process. You want to dry them until leathery, with flesh that is pliable, yet slightly sticky, not wet.

QUESTION: Last October, we put down St. Augustine grass in our yard, so it is not quite 1 year old. During the past several months we have noticed more and more Johnson grass. What can we do to get rid of it? Will it over take our St Augustine??

ANSWER: The only herbicides (weed killers) which you can use on St. Augustine and not kill it are Ortho Weed-B-Gon for Southern Grasses and Greenlight Wipe-Out. For Johnson grass, you may have to spot treat (spray or wipe on each individual plant) the plants with a glyphosate herbicide such as Roundup, Ortho Kleanup or Finale. After you get rid of the rhizome Johnson grass, and the St. Augustine gets well established, you should not have this problem again.

QUESTION: Can you help me with a tree question? My Magnolia tree is in terrible shape! I live in east Dallas in a home built in the 40's. I suspect my tree is around the same age as my home. It has almost no flowers on it (and has not all year), and the leaves are droopy. The tree is very large, over thirty feet high and none of my local nursery people have been able to help me. Can you?

ANSWER: Magnolias will naturally shed last year's leaves and replace them with new leaves. However, the severe drought of '96 damaged the root system of most magnolias. Some died. If yours is re-sprouting and just dropping leaves to re-adjust the top portion to the bottom portion which was lost, it will grow out of this problem in a year or two. There is little you can do; if you want to deep water around the tree once every several weeks, that might help. This is a common problem this year.

QUESTION: Two weeks ago I planted 15 striped maiden grass along with about 100 other plants All of the plants are doing fine, with the exception of 7 of the maiden grass. They are wilted and turning yellow. They were watered daily the first week, and now I water every other day. I put one tablespoon of fertilizer in the bottom of the hole, and nothing else. Any thoughts on what might be happening to that half of the maiden grass?

ANSWER: Maiden grass should be easily established but is VERY sensitive to over-watering. Being "watered daily the first week and now watering every other day" has rotted the root system. STOP watering!!! And water only when you cannot feel moisture around the root system of the plants when sticking your figure in the soil next to the plants. I imagine that by now, some of the stems can be pulled from the clump and should show a rotted area at the base. It is possible that the clump will initiate new growth if the damage is not to severe. They are very drought tolerant once established, but moisture must be carefully monitored during the establishment period. The fertilizer did not do any harm.

QUESTION: I don't know if this is in your line of work, but how do you propagate mesquite trees? I live in Elephant Butte in New Mexico and we have plenty of mesquite bushes, but their tap roots go down so far, that if you try to dig them up, they die. Any suggestions?

ANSWER: Planting seed or digging very small seedlings would be your best techniques.

QUESTION: I eat a lot of broccoli. But I eat it a different way--I cut off the stem just below the flowering part and eat only the flower. I discard the stems. Is there just as much nutritional content in the flower, or is it all in the stem? Is there a percentage of how much nutritional value is in the flower and stem separately expressed as a ratio to the overall nutritional content? In other words, does the flower have say, 50% of the nutritional content and the stem has the other 50%, or is the nutritional value spread equally throughout the plant? What I'm concerned about is that I may be throwing away the real nutrients in broccoli. But then again, I go through a lot more packages of broccoli than the normal person, which means more profit for broccoli growers. And lastly, is there more nutritional value in fresh, uncooked broccoli than broccoli which has been boiled? And what about the difference between frozen and fresh?

ANSWER: The stalk contains a significant level of Vitamins A&C and other nutrients. The florets have a higher concentration of these nutrients, but only about 20% higher. This is based on raw product. The stalks have to be cooked longer for tenderness, therefore the nutrient level will be reduced. I don't have exact figures on how much. A dietician may have this information. The American Dietetics Association also would be a good contact.

QUESTION: I know how to treat poison ivy as a rash, and I know how to kill the plant. My question is, how do I know if the plant in my back yard is poison ivy? I know it has 3 leaves branching from the same place on the stem, and that it can be everything from a small plant to a large vine. However, almost all the ground cover in the back yard fits this description. Are there any other plants that resemble poison ivy (Virginia Creeper) that are really harmless, and how do I know for sure?

ANSWER: The two plants most commonly confused with Poison Ivy are Virginia Creeper and Box Elder. Virginia Creeper leaflets arise from a central point on the leaf stalk resulting in a whorled or palmate arrangement. Poison Ivy leaflets arise opposite each other on the leaf stalk with the terminal leaflet having a longer stalk than the 2 laterals. Box Elder leaves are arranged opposite on the branch whereas Poison Ivy leaves arise from the branchlets in an alternate fashion. They say a picture is worth a thousand words. I recommend that you go to the library and look at some field guides that compare the plants mentioned above.
--Paul Cox, San Antonio Botanical Garden

QUESTION: I have 6 tomato plants that are right under the edge of a black walnut tree. I'm afraid that in time, the tree is going to kill them. The plants are setting fruit already. I am using only horse manure on them. Do you have any other suggestions what to do to keep them going?

ANSWER: First, you should know what will eventually kill your tomato plants. Roots of black walnut trees release a substance called juglone, which kills roots of sensitive plants. Tomatoes happen to be among the most sensitive, and should not be planted within at least 50 feet of these trees. Juglone is emitted from living and dead roots and can persist in the soil for over a year, so avoid areas where juglone producing trees have grown for 2 to 3 years after removing the trees. Shade can also be a problem -- productive tomatoes need 8-10 hours of direct sunlight daily. For more information about growing tomatoes, see the write-up at this website:

It sounds to me as if you have done everything humanly possible to have a tomato crop near a walnut tree.

QUESTION: My tomato fruit have small yellow specks on the surface. When the tomatoes are peeled, those yellow specks form a tough spot that must be cut off before eating the tomatoes. What's wrong?

ANSWER: The yellow-speckling is caused by sucking insects such as stinkbugs or leaf-footed bugs. Early control of sucking insects that feed on the fruit is helpful in alleviating the problem. The stinkbugs have been plentiful this year.

Then there is always the problem of plant stress -- any of which causes the fruit to be smaller and the skin to be tougher. Very hot weather, which causes the plant to slow its reproductive growth, or being constantly wet or often dry (the plant wilts severely) all cause stress and, consequently, tough-skinned tomatoes.

Find some Surefire tomato plants and plant them now for an abundant fall harvest. Fertilize them heavily (mix Osmocote slow-release fertilizer pellets into your container mix) and often. Water with a water-soluble fertilizer such as Miracle-Gro, Rapid Grow or Peters 20-20-20 EVERY time you water. Then, get ready for some good eating come October!