HOW TO BUY TREES
"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
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
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
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
For recommended trees and plants for all parts
of Texas, go to:
And look under the section entitled "Landscaping".
QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS FOR
FIRST WEEK OF DECEMBER, 2002
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
B) Incorporate mowed legumes mowed to raise the nitrogen and
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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: