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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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Questions for the Week


"We would like to plant a live oak tree but we don't want to wait 10 years for shade." Have you caught yourself saying that? This is a very common comment from new homeowners who want to plant shade trees.

Of course, everyone would prefer a fast-growing tree. I can understand that. We don't want to wait. We need shade today -- not tomorrow --for that patio, porch or roof.

But what about the "fast" versus "slow" growing trees? The fact is, with proper care, trees that may otherwise be considered slow growers might not necessarily be slow growers at all. It all depends on the care they receive.

Super shade and ornamental trees such as the live oak or Spanish oak should not be overlooked just because they are labeled "slow growers." There are several things that you can do to speed up the growth of any tree.

First, before you plant, take time to properly prepare the soil. If the soil where you plan to plant the tree is poorly drained, compacted, infertile, or full of caliche, take time to modify it to better suit the trees' requirements. Many soil additives and amendments are available, and when incorporated into the soil, they can greatly improve the physical condition.

Next, consider the nutrient supply in the soil. If the soil is naturally infertile, periodic applications of a complete fertilizer can greatly enhance the rate of growth of your trees.

Consider the spot where you will plant the tree. Most trees make maximum growth when planted in full sun. Don't plant any tree in the shade and expect it to grow quickly.

Use mulch around the tree to reduce soil temperature, especially if you plant it in full sun. Mulch can insulate the tree roots and reduce soil temperature, thus creating a more favorable environment for root growth.

The last 2 points to consider are probably the most important. 1) Never disturb the root system and 2) reduce competition to the tree. Even though trees have a few very deep roots, most of the root system is very shallow. Any digging or hoeing around the tree can damage the roots of the tree can slow its growth considerably.

Finally, keep the grass cleared from the base of the newly planted tree for as long as possible. Research indicates that competition with grasses can reduce the root growth of young trees by as much as 50 percent. This severe reduction means the tree gets less water and nutrients and growth is restricted.

Maximum growth of any tree is the result of how well you help meet the optimum growing conditions of the tree. If you will follow these suggestions, that desirable, slower growing shade tree may well grow just as rapidly as one of the "fast growers." And by planting a quality tree, you will have added a valuable and lasting investment to your home landscape.

Have an overall plan or objective for planting a tree. Do you need shade, protection from wind, screening, a pedestrian barricade, or a colorful accent?

Remember to consider the tree's ultimate height and spread in you're planning. Beware of planting trees too close to houses, buildings, streets or powerlines.

Know your soil and climatic conditions. In our alkaline, rocky, caliche soils, several tree species that do excellent in other areas of Texas, do very poorly around here. Our sudden temperature fluctuations in the spring and fall actually kill many non-adapted trees each year.

When shopping for trees at the nursery, small trees (6 to 8 feet heigh) may be your better investment, since they recover more quickly from transplant shock than do larger specimens. Container-grown stock is generally the quickest to re-establish, followed by balled-and-burlapped and bare-rooted trees.

It's best to avoid the really fast growing trees, since most are quite prone to pest problems. These include willows (borers, cotton root rot, heat stress), cottonwood (borers, heat stress, cotton root rot), Arizona ash (borers), sycamore (lace bugs, heat stress, anthracnose), mimosas (mimosa webworm, mimosa wilt), and fruitless mulberry (borers, cotton root rot, heat stress).

For the San Antonio area, some of the best large trees are live oak, Texas Red oak, Chinkapin oak, Bur oak, cedar elm, and Montezuma cypress. Some of the higher quality small trees include the hybrid crape myrtle, the Texas (Mexican or Oklahoma) redbud, the Texas mountain laurel, and yaupon holly.

For recommended trees and plants for all parts of Texas, go to:

And look under the section entitled "Landscaping".


QUESTION: I have 50 acres of pecan trees. After 30 years of producing Western nuts in our sandy-clay soil, the soil is now very poor in organic matter. This season, I am considering one of the following 4 alternatives:

A) Plant any 2 of the following cover crops: Companion grass, that requires little water and fertilizing and only 1 to 3 mowings per year. Or, a specific seed from Germains cover.

B) Incorporate mowed legumes mowed to raise the nitrogen and bacteria levels.

C) Incorporate organic compost (composted rice hull) with a tractor, irrigate it and then seed one of the cover crops described in (A).

D) Open air pores, add 1 pound per acre of polyachrilamides and then proceed as in (A) or (B).

If you have any experience or documented field test evaluations, please let me know.

ANSWER: Unfortunately you are describing a very common problem in all pecan orchards. But I don't believe that you can effectively increase organic matter in an orchard by planting cover crops including clovers. Organic matter does improve the soil structure and water and nutrient holding capacity. However, it is very short-lived in the southwest due to our intense heat.

There is no grass that will grow in orchards that does not require very little water, fertilizer and limited mowing, because of the deep shade the orchard creates.

Your best bet is to do a soil analysis to determine what nutrients you are lacking and then apply accordingly. Certain nutrients, such as phosphorus and potassium, will require incorporation. When these nutrients are incorporated, you could use composted rice hulls as well. However, the cost of purchasing and appling the rice hulls may dictate how useful they will be to you.

Make sure the orchard is not crowded. Ideally the orchard would be 50 percent sun and 50 percent shade at high noon. Many times nut quality and production declines because the trees are too close. So, your problem may be more a matter of shade and competition rather than a lack of organic matter.

Nitrogen is still the element that is most often lacking in pecan orchards. A good general rule of thumb is 150 pounds of actual nitrogen per acre per year. The way to apply is in split applications usually March, April, May and June.

Finally, crop-load management is a critical aspect of crop production. In heavy crop years, part of the crop will require thinning in order to produce quality pecans. This involves shaking the trees in late July to remove part of the crop.

QUESTION: This year we have had a terrible case of rusty color soot on the nutmeats of our Choctaw pecans. The pecans are still tasty, but you can slightly taste this "soot" and it gives them a very unaesthetic appearance. It has not affected our Desirables or Mahans. By the way, we were about to give up on our old Mahan due to poor quality of the nutmeats the past 5 years, but they are excellent this year - filled out and tasty.

ANSWER: You are describing a stress phenomenon common to large pecans like Choctaw, Mohawk, Kiowa and Mahan. Usually, this stress is caused by the lack of water. I realize that it is hard to believe this when you look at your "off the chart" water bill, but it is true. Certain pecan trees can put on more pecans than they can fill, regardless of how much you water and fertilizer them. So, even though you watered well, there was no way that the tree could adequately fill all those nuts. The stress they experienced was from the lack of water-- but only because there was too many pecans on the tree. This is precisely why we need to remove these large, hard to fill pecans off our recommended list.

Your next question should be, "well what am I going to do with my tree?". Commercially, we are experimenting with thinning the crop load in July by shaking. This seems to be working well. So, in heavy crop years, some of the pecans will need to be removed. The ideal way is just to pull nuts off the tree leaving one nut in a cluster. Or, use a stick and literally beat them off. The last, but poorest alternative, is to remove entire limbs via cutting. Crop load management will be the key to producing quality pecans on these large nutted varieties.

QUESTION: I am interested in learning more about requirements for planting and growing safflower. I visited eastern Washington and saw large fields of safflower growing adjacent to wheat fields. The area resembled parts of Texas. I wonder if there is currently anyone growing safflower in Texas. Can you also tell me about the economics of safflower production-it uses, market value, etc.

ANSWER: Safflower is the common name for Carthamus tinctorius, or False-saffron, an annual that is grown for its orange flowers which are used for dyeing and rouge-making. It is commonly produced in very arid climates, either in wheat fallow rotations or under irrigation. Data from Texas Agricultural Experiment Station studies conducted in the High Plains about 40 years ago indicated that it is a very low-profit margin crop which must be produced under low humidity conditions; otherwise diseases make production impractical.

QUESTION: In Connecticut, I have a southern azalea that lives in a large pot in the shade of my garden during the summer months. In late September each year, I bring it into the house where it thrives and blooms from late December through the month of February. Unfortunately, what was once a small hous plant now has become a rather large bush. I would like to know when is the best time to prune the bush.

ANSWER: Basically, the rule of thumb on pruning spring blooming plants is to do it soon after the completion of the spring bloom. A very good article on pruning can be found at this PLANTanswers web site:

It gives this advice for azaleas: If a shrub is grown for its flowers, time the pruning to minimize disruption of blooming. Spring flowering shrubs bloom on last season's growth and should be pruned soon after they bloom. This allows for vigorous summertime growth and results in plenty of flower buds the following year.

Some examples of shrubs that bloom on last seasons's growth are:

Cercis canadensis - Redbud
Chaenomeles japonica - Japanese quince
Chionthus virginicus - Fringe Tree
Forsythia spp. - All forsythia
Lonicera spp. - Honeysuckle
Rapheolepis indica - Indian hawthorn
Rhododendron spp. - Azaleas and Rhododendrons
Rosa spp. - Rambling rose species
Spiraea spp. - Early white spirea species
Viburnum spp. - Viburnum species

QUESTION: The leaves on my poinsettias are starting to ripple on the outer edge of the leaf, and it is not from insects. Would it be a lack of calcium? Would misting them with calcium chloride or calcium nitrate help them?

ANSWER: At this Aggie web site, you will find descriptions of the most common poinsettia disorders and the recommended control for each:

You're description sounds like it may be this:

Leaf Crinkle and Distortion - This problem often occurs in the early stages of a poinsettia crop. Leaves appear to have an extremely rough texture often compared to alligator skin. In severe cases, leaves become extremely misshapen. Although the cause for this disorder is still unclear, it is thought that rapid changes in humidity (i.e., when vent fans come on in early morning) causes salts to accumulate along leaf margins and veins. As cells in these areas become injured their growth is impaired and leaf growth is distorted. Most poinsettias will outgrow this condition.

Additional information is found at this Aggie web site:

There you will find this information:

Leaf Distortion: Symptoms include leaves appear to be crinkled, having the texture of "alligator skin". Also, leaves drawn up at the mid vein inhibiting leaf expansion. Leaves may be unusually shaped with no apparent damage or injury to the margins.

This physiological problem typically occurs during the first 4 to 5 weeks of production. Although researchers are currently suggesting that calcium may play some role in the problem, there is still no clear-cut reason for why leaf distortion occurs. In most cases, plants will out grow this problem and no treatment is recommended. In fact, foliar applications of calcium or other nutrients may cause secondary leaf injury.

QUESTION: I have several potted spaths and can't figure out how to encourage them to bloom. I have used several different fertilizers, but nothing seems to work. They just flower when they want to, and unfortunately, that is too seldom.

ANSWER: While the Peace Lily is considered to be a low-light houseplant, it requires considerable light to be a consistent bloomer. This description is found in PLANTanswers at:

It says: Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum 'Clevelandii') likes soil with high organic content. Its leaves are sent out from the base of the plant and its spathes, or `flowers', resemble a flattened Calla Lily. Normally blooming in the summer and fall, the Peace Lily makes an excellent potted plant for the home. It requires warm temperatures and soil should be very moist at all times.

QUESTION: I live in northeast San Antonio and I would like to know that if I plant a north fork pine tree, would it survive this climate. Also how large would it grow?

ANSWER: Norfolk Island Pines are only hardy to USDA Zone 10. Therefore, it would not be practical to plant it here since the first winter would get it. Information on this plant can be found at this PLANTanswers web site:

QUESTION: We fell in love with the Beauty Berry on a trip to Brookgreene Gardens in Myrtle Beach and were thrilled to find one at a local nursery when we returned home. It was doing well but now has lost its leaves - the berries are hanging on but the bush appears to have gone into winter dormancy. Is this normal? I cannot find any information on this bush and am not sure what it should be doing throughout the year. We had a very dry summer but I thought we had watered pretty well when we planted in mid-September. Could you recommend a good reference book for native American plants?

ANSWER: The American beauty berry (Callicarpa americana) is indeed a deciduous shrub and probably looks just like it should. I am surprised that the birds haven't already cleaned the berries off your plant. It does appreciate supplemental water when the rains don't come. It can be pruned back quite severely if it begins to get woody and leggy. I recommend doing this just prior to its leafing out in the spring. Here in South Texas, we would do this about Valentine's day. Then, or a little later, should be fine in Maryland. Here are several web sites with additional information on the beauty berry shrubs:

I cannot recommend a book on native American plants. I have several but they are restricted to native Texas plants. I think that you would find one on the natives of Maryland or the East Coast (Mid-Atlantic) to be more beneficial, and recommend that you contact the Native Plant Society of Maryland to get their advice on a particular book. You can reach them through this web page and you might find some of the links there to be of value also:

QUESTION: We are considering buying a home that has a well-grown Arizona ash tree in the front yard. A friend of ours said that this type of tree is notorious for getting its roots into the water pipes of houses. It concerns me enough that I'm reconsidering buying the home. Is this true about this type of tree? Also, is there anyway to tell if its roots have already done this?

ANSWER: With today's plumbing, I would think that it is unlikely that the roots of any tree would get into the water pipes. It is possible that they could get into older sewer lines and if so, the result would be indicated by stopped up sinks, bathtubs or toilets. This is one of the most common trees in many parts of San Antonio. If you have concern about its roots, I suggest that you contact an arborist for advice. You can find them located in the phone book yellow pages under Tree Care.

QUESTION: I would like to know if there is an ideal temperature for ripening and/or storing bananas. For instance, I was told that bananas are ideally stored at 58 degrees F., but I do not know if there is an optimum ripening temperature for them.

ANSWER: Bananas are sensitive to chilling injury. This can take place at temperatures above freezing; so the ideal storage temperature is 58 degrees F. The ideal ripening temperature is about 68 to 75 degrees F. Maximum ethylene evolution takes place at 68 degrees. However, if the temperatures are too high, the fruit will ripen too fast.

QUESTION: I have an area in my yard set aside for a water garden which I envision as a series of pools which one day will be connected by a re-circulating stream. I would like to incorporate a bog garden into the scheme. I have a rubber liner that I am planning on using to contain the bog garden. My questions are:

Will the liner work for this?

What type of soil mix should I use--sand, clay, peat neutral or acidic?

How deep should I make the bog garden? I plan to dig down, install the liner and then back-fill with the soil. I will have an over-flow drain.

Should I keep the soil saturated, or do I actually need water standing on the surface for the majority of plants suited for my climate to do well?

Also, the area is completely fenced in with a screen at the base to contain wildlife. Any suggestions on what would be suited beside the frogs that have already found me?

ANSWER: On the PLANTanswers website, you'll find a write-up in the "Hort-Heroes" section about renowned water plant and pond expert Dr. Clyde Ikins of Bandera, Texas. He writes:

Question #1: Yes, the rubber liner will work.

Question #2: A clay type soil, pH neutral. No more than 10-12" deep.

Question #3: Water level should be no more 0-2 inches

Question #4: Frogs are sufficient

QUESTION: We planted a Shumard red oak last fall. The tree is approximately 3 inches in diameter and 12 inches high. We noticed that it has borers. It has lost about 35 percent of its bark on the trunk, where there are 4 borer holes. We know it's borers because we actually pulled 2 adults out of the holes. The tree doesn't appear to be dying-- yet. The leaves are green but have brown edges. We have sprayed it with a borer killer and sealed the trunk with a tar sealer. We have also watered it a lot. Our question is, should we dig it up and start over, or wait until next spring to see if it's going to survive? Once a tree has gotten borers, is there any hope for it?

ANSWER: If it is that young and has borers, start all over. It has been damaged (weakened) and will NEVER fully recover.

QUESTION: Do you have any information on the care of a Candle Tree. I am unfamiliar with the plant and know a lady who received one as a gift. It did come with a tag or care instructions.

ANSWER: The only plant I found that is commonly called Candle Tree is Parmentiera cereifera and I only found this information about it: small, spineless; leaflets obovate, to 2 inches long, entire or toothed; flowers white, to 3 inches long, calyx large, brownish; fruit pendent from the older branches, to 4 feet long, yellowish, resembling candles. Panama. Planted in the tropics and subtropics as an oddity.

It is possible that the plant is one that is commonly called Candlestick Plant (Cassia alata). If so, this is a tropical plant that is grown as an annual.

This is how Bill Welch describes it in his book Perennial Garden Color: "Cassia alata is a big, dramatic plant best reserved for the back of large borders. In fall, large, spike like racemes of golden flowers appear at the end of each branch. Individual plants may reach 6 to 8 feet in height and width. Seed planted in mid-spring can be very large by fall. If winters are sufficiently mild, C. alata can become a perennial. The large pods contain seeds that may be easily stored over winter and replanted the next spring."

QUESTION: What is the proper care of a hibiscus plant to winterize it? Does it have to be trimmed back? Does it have to be covered during the winter months due to the extremely cold winter weather we have here in Nebraska?

ANSWER: If your plant is a tropical hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis) and is in the ground, it cannot survive a Nebraska winter. You will need to dig it up and put it in a pot that you can move into a protected area. Your plant will need to come inside into an area with good direct light anytime the temperature is forecasted to dip below 34 degrees. If you cannot do this, then you will need to shuttle it back and forth between the protected area (such as the garage) when the weather is 34 degrees or below, then put it back outside during better weather. The tropical hibiscus cannot tolerate extended periods of time in low light conditions.

You should prune your hibiscus when it goes back outside for the summer.

QUESTION: A friend recently passed away and the family felt I would like to have her Christmas Cactus that she had in her home for 50 to 60 years. However, I don't know how to care for it. Any help you can give me would be appreciated. I need to know: Water?? How much??? How often Light?? Sun??Shade?? Feed??How much??How often Size of pot soil ?? Type How do you make it bloom?

ANSWER: See this Michigan State University article on growing the Christmas cactus which can be found at this URL:

Holiday cacti are easy to grow but are sometimes difficult to get to bloom. A medium light intensity and a soil high in organic matter are suggested. Do not allow the plant to dry out, water when the soil surface begins to feel dry. The plant may be kept drier in autumn. Any fertilizer may be used according to label directions. Cool temperatures or long nights are required to induce blooming. The plants bloom when night temperatures reach near 55 degrees and day temperatures are below 65 degrees.

Propagation is by cuttings.

For more information on the Schlumbergera (Christmas Cactus) see this Michigan State University web site: