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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


"One person's trash is another person's treasure." That saying is especially true when it comes to pecan by-products.

Many confused people have the notion that pecan leaves should not be used in the garden. Pecan leaves CAN be used in the garden and will cause no problems at all if decomposition has occurred. The old wives' tale (or persons' tale, for the more sensitive of my readers) about pecan leaves not being suitable for use in a home garden must have resulted from the fact that the walnut tree, a close cousin of the pecan, does secrete a phytotoxic substance called juglans, which is especially harmful to tomatoes and members of the Solanaceous family. However, dried pecan leaves do not contain this substance and are perfectly safe to use in the garden.

In fact, I have talked with gardeners who live on the south side of San Antonio, where pecan trees are plentiful (and pecan leaves are even more so), who have used an abundance of pecan leaves for 30 years with no detrimental effects. However, the stem and midrib of pecan leaves contain quantities of tannin, which preserves it. It is a good idea to allow all leaves to decompose before use. Other than that, pecan leaves are safe to use.

I have heard some irrational, misinformed people say that the reason pecan leaves are not used is because they put too much acid into the soil. This reason is totally WRONG. First, all organic material produced from an alkaline growing condition is mainly alkaline. Since pecan trees are growing in alkaline soil types, the decomposition product unfortunately will be alkaline. Even if this were not true, pure sulfuric acid can be applied to the soils in this area and the soil will neutralize the pure acid and not be significantly altered because area soils are so basic (alkaline).

Five pounds of sulfur, the amount recommended for 100 square feet of garden space, releases 15 pounds of pure sulfuric acid. It would take the decomposed remains of several semi-trailer truckloads of leaves, regardless of the type, to produce that much sulfuric acid. Our soils need all of the acid that they can get, and if pecan leaves produce more acid, then that is one major advantage to using them -- BUT THEY DON'T.

What about pecan shells? The millions of pounds of pecans processed in Texas every year results in a lot of shells lying around. Someone should be picking them up by the truckload and bagging them for back yard barbecues as well as to for use as one of the most attractive mulches available. For years in the Southeastern U.S. (Tennessee and Louisiana), people have been cutting green pecan limbs off small pecan trees or saving pecan or wood to barbecue with. For some people, the hickory and mesquite currently on the market seem to overpower the flavor of meat. Pecan shells, which have the same characteristics as pecan wood, will enhance the flavor. It gives the meat a soft, sweet flavor.

The only pecan shell product currently on the market is packaged in Louisiana and called "Cajun Sweet Smoke", in recognition of the sweet aroma and flavor given to meat prepared with pecan shells. The shells are put through a shaker screen, dried, and then further processed to thoroughly clean them before packaging.

As one of the nation's largest pecan-producing states, Texas has an abundance of the raw product. The product works equally well with an electric grill, a gas grill, a regular charcoal grill or a smoker.

So as you devour all of those pecan goodies, don't overlook the best parts -- the leaves that fall on the ground and the shells that are the by-product of a lot of good eating.


QUESTION: We picked pecans last week in San Antonio and after cracking many them, we find them either rotten or very soft. What happened to the pecan crop this year? The outer shell looks perfectly normal, but inside they are terrible. Last year we got pecans off these same trees and they were wonderful.

ANSWER: This year has not been kind to the pecan crop. First it was "powder keg" dry until late June and then the area was inundated with rainfall. This alone caused great tree stress and nut drop. Then the stink bugs and schuck worm attacked the nuts. Along the way, the deluge of rain led to leaf drop from downy spot disease. Without the leaves, nutfill will be poor at best. So the rotten nuts inside were caused by a combination of stink bug feeding and tunneling of the shuck worm in the green shucks. Leaf drop contributed to poor fill and/or the softness of the kernels. Allow the nuts to totally dry out before shelling. If the nuts are wet, this also contributes to the spongy nature of the nuts. The problem is that the wet weather does not allow for nut drying to take place. You almost have to place the nuts inside of the house where the humidity is lower. But the nuts need to be in containers which breathe, ie not plastic. Suspending the nuts in mesh sacks in a dry garage works well.

QUESTION: I was told that you can grow a beautiful green plant from an onion bulb. I have one rooting in water and shooting up scallions right now, but that's all it's doing. Is it true that a green plant can be grown from the bulb? And, if so, how?

ANSWER: Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. What you are calling scallions is the 'green plant' of the onion family and is what you should expect from your endeavors.

QUESTION: I have an orange tree in the back yard that is bearing fruit, but the oranges split just as they turn orange and fall off the tree. I do not know when to pick them.

ANSWER: Uneven water regimens cause the fruit to split. In other words, conditions were super dry and then you got a lot of rain which caused the fruit to expand and burst. A regular watering schedule and mulch will help reduce this problem. The fruit should be fully colored before picking. However, try a few as they color up and see if they are ready to eat. If so, go ahead and pick a few and leave the rest on the tree until you are ready for them.

QUESTION: My mother use to have a bedding plant in front of her house that looked like clover and had small pink flowers (I think I remember seeing one group with white flowers). I am wondering what they were called. She always called them the critter bushes because insects loved to hide under their cover, and you could also always find earth worms for fishing near them.

ANSWER: I'm sure that what you are referring to is a plant commonly called Wood Sorrel (Oxalis sp.) and probably is Oxalis crassipes. The white variety is Oxalis crassipes alba.

This information is from the Botanica CD-Rom:

Oxalis Family name: Oxalidaceae

Common name(s): Wood sorrel

This is a large genus of 500 or so species of bulbous, rhizomatous and fibrous-rooted perennials and a few small, weak shrubs. Though found around the world, the greatest number of Oxalis species are native to South Africa and South America. Some have become garden and greenhouse weeds which, though pretty in flower, have given a bad name to the genus; most species listed here are more restrained in growth and make choice additions to the garden. The leaves are always compound, divided into 3 or more heart-shaped or more deeply 2-lobed leaflets in a palmate arrangement (like clover). The funnel-shaped flowers are usually pink, white or yellow and are carried in an umbel-like cluster on slender stalks.

Hardiness zone from 3 To 11; Plant Spread approx. 30 cm; Plant Height From approx. 30 To 60 cm; Flowering colors: Blue, Mauve, Orange, Pink, Purple, Red, White, Yellow; Flowering season: Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter; Garden type: Bedding Plant, Woodland, Small Garden; Position: Sunny, Shaded, Semi-Shaded; Propagation season: Autumn; Soil: Sandy Loam, Medium Loam.

Oxalis Cultivation: Most species grow from bulbs or corms, which multiply readily. A position in sun or part-shade suits most, along with a mulched, well-drained soil and moderate water. Propagate by division of the bulbs or from seed in fall (autumn).

QUESTION: Do you have a recipe for a potting soil mix that includes sawdust, sand, peat, etc., and that is suitable for transplanting the seedlings of bedding plants?

ANSWER: There are probably as many recipes for potting soil mixes as there are greenhouses. One of the major concerns you must confront is a disease of bedding plants called damping-off. Damping-off is caused by fungi in the soil which kills the young seedlings. This fungi is introduced by the use of non-sterilized materials such as sand, soil, sawdust and such. See the Pennsylvania State University Cooperative Extension article on Bedding Plant Diseases that can be found at this web site:

That having been said, the Aggie-Horticulture article found at this web site gives some growing media recipes:

QUESTION: I would like to know if yaupon holly can be propagated from a cutting or grown only from seed. .

ANSWER: Jill Nokes, in her book How to Grow Native Plants of Texas and the Southwest, has this to say about propagating hollies: Semi-hardwood cuttings from the current season's growth root best. Cuttings should be taken from mid to late summer. High concentrations of Indolebutyric acid (IBA) should be used and the cuttings should be kept under intermittent mist. Cuttings should root within 2 months.

Also, see this University of Georgia article on Propagating Shrubs from Cuttings which can be found at this web site:

QUESTION: I have planted some hydrangeas in my yard. They are in a southwest exposure where they get plenty of sun in the summer. They are also on a slow drip watering system that provides sufficient water. They never bloom except for maybe one flower each year. I suspect it has something to do with Utah winters and when and how I should prune them. Do you have any ideas or answers about when and how to prune hydrangeas for winter?

ANSWER: Hydrangeas bloom on 1-year old wood. Therefore, if you prune them anytime other than soon after they bloom, you will be cutting off the bloom buds. If there is severe winter damage, this will also kill the buds (and perhaps the branch). So you should prune to shape immediately after flowering (no flowering, no pruning), and prune out any dead material in the spring. See this previous Q & A, which can be found at this PLANTanswers web site:

Question: I have some large, healthy hydrangeas that refuse to bloom other than maybe one large bloom per year. Any ideas on what the trouble might be?

Answer: Hydrangeas require full sun and adequate moisture for best bloom. If you are meeting these needs, the only other obvious cause for a lack of bloom is improperly timed pruning. Prune the plants immediately after bloom, so that new growth will be able to develop flower buds in the fall. Pruning in the spring or early summer removes the flower buds developed in the fall, preventing them from blooming that year..

QUESTION: Can you tell me what our first expected freeze date is for San Antonio this year? I've got plants to put in the greenhouse and have not yet had time to do so, and I'm getting worried.

ANSWER: I have jokingly predicted first freezes in the past but would never commit to such on paper! At this web site you can find climatology information for San Antonio:

FREEZE DATA: Average date of earlier freeze-December 1
Average date of last freeze-February 25

QUESTION: I have an English ivy in a large pot outdoors that I am training into a conical shape on an upside down tomato cage. Will this freeze? I don't remember the ivy in my beds freezing during the winter. I also have a huge pot that I want to put plants in for winter color on the patio. Since it's so big, I don't think pansies alone will carry work. I thought about putting a small evergreen in it for height. Do you have any recommendations? Will it be okay in a pot outdoors through the winter?

ANSWER: The ivy should be fine in the pot. If we have a severe freeze (15 degrees F. or so for an extended period) the pot should be moved into a protected location against a south-facing wall if possible.

For the large pot, a favorite combination is the larger snapdragons (16 to 20 inches) in the center, and pansies around the outside. I prefer this combination to one that includes a shrub.

QUESTION: Where can I buy non?hybrid vegetable seeds? I want to be able to use the seeds from the past years' harvest.

ANSWER: Many non?hybrid seed are available from any of the major seed company catalogs or even from the seed racks that you find everywhere. Basically, all of the hybrid seed will be labeled as such. Here are the web sites of a couple of seed companies with quite extensive non?hybrid selections. (all non?hybrid)

Also, here are some web sites that provide information about saving your seed from year to year.


QUESTION: We are looking for some information on planting and growing sugar cane.

ANSWER: Information on growing sugarcane (Saccharum officinarum) is in extremely short supply on the Internet. The most information that I was able to find is in the Sugarcrop article at this web site:

This, in part, is what it says: "The cane plant is a coarse growing member of the grass family with juice or sap high in sugar content. It is tender to cold, the tops being killed by temperatures a little below freezing. In continental United States, where freezing may occur during the winter, it is mainly planted in late summer or early fall and harvested a year later. In tropical countries it may be planted at almost any time of the year since the plant does not have a rest period. The season of active growth in continental United States is 7 to 8 months while in tropical countries growth is near continuous until harvest. This results in heavier yields of cane and sugar under tropical conditions. For example, yields of cane and sugar per acre in Hawaii, where the cane is grown for about 2 years before harvesting, are from 3 to 4 times yields in Louisiana and Florida from one season's growth.

Sugar cane plants are propagated by planting sections of the stem. The mature stems may vary from 4 to 12 feet or more ill height, and in commercial varieties are from 3/4 to 2 inches in diameter. The stem has joints or nodes as in other grasses. These range from 4 to 10 inches apart along the above?ground section of the stem. At each node a broad leaf rises which consists of a sheaf or base and the leaf blade. The sheaf is attached to the stem at the node and at that point entirely surrounds the stem with edges overlapping. The sheath from one node encircles the stem up to the next node above and may overlap the base of the leaf on the next higher node. The leaf blade is very long and narrow, varying in width from 1 to 3 inches and up to 5 feet or more in length. Also, at each node along the stem is a bud, protected under the leaf sheath. When stem sections are planted by laying them horizontally and covering with soil a new stem grows from the bud, and roots grow from the base of the new stem. The stem branches below ground so several may rise as a clump from the growth of the bud at a node.


In planting cane fields, mature cane stalks are cut into sections and laid horizontally in furrows. In continental United States sections with several nodes are laid while in tropical countries sections with 2 or 3 nodes are commonly used ? since temperatures for growth are more favorable. Usually only one node on a stem piece develops. a new plant because of polarity along the stem piece.

Planting is in rows about 6 feet apart to make possible cultivation and use of herbicides for early weed control. As plants become tall lower leaves along the stems are shaded and die. These ultimately drop off, so only leaves toward the top remain green and active. Between the nodes the stems have a hard, thin, outer tissue or rind and a softer center. The high?sugar?containing juice is in this center. More than one crop is harvested from a planting. After the first crop is removed two or more so?called stubble crops are obtained. These result from growth of new stalks from the bases of stalks cut near the ground level in harvesting.

Sugarcane planting takes place from September through January. Because sugarcane is a multi? species hybrid, the seed will usually produce plants different than the parents. Therefore, as with any other plant where this happens, parts of the mother plant must be planted in order to produce the desired daughter plant (also called a clone). Stalks, which ordinarily would be milled for sugar, are harvested from mature fields, cut into short 20 inch (50 cm) segments, laid in furrow rows 5 feet (1.5 m) apart, and then covered with soil. Cane stalks have buds every 2 to 6 inches (5?15 cm) and each of these buds has the capability to sprout rapidly when buried in moist soil. Within 2 to 3 weeks shorts emerge and, under favorable conditions, produce secondary shoots to give a dense stand of cane.


Machines top the canes at a uniform height, cut them off at ground level, and deposit them in rows. In most parts of the world, cane is mainly cut by hand. Leaves and trash are burned from the cane in the rows by use of flame- thrower type machines. An alternate method is to burn the leaves from the standing cane, after which it is cut and taken directly to the mill. Delay between cutting and milling in either case should be as short as possible since delay results in loss of sugar content. Machines are under development that will cut, clean and load the cane so it can be taken directly to the mill.

In continental United States, where winter freezing is a hazard, cane harvest must start earlier than is desirable for maximum yields. When plants are killed by freezing sugar loss occurs rapidly. While such plants are suitable for sugar extraction if harvested promptly after freezing, this may not be possible when large acreages are involved. In non?mechanized areas cane is still cut and the leaves stripped off by using cane knives. This is arduous and time consuming work."

QUESTION: I have 2 fig trees planted beneath the 2-1/2 foot overhang of the southside of my house, so they don't get much direct rainfall. They are also highly shaded by large oak trees to the south and they have not grown much in 3 years. I have 3 other fig trees planted in the southwest corner of the backyard that gets sunlight about half the day. I planted 3, thinking that one might survive. All 3 survived and are growing well, but are not producing figs. I think I planted them too close. The question is how and when can I transplant them, and what is the best location with regards to sunlight, soil conditions etc.?

ANSWER: As with all fruit-bearing plants, figs require full sunlight for best production. I would say lack of sunlight is limiting production. However, plant competition does not help either. The best time to transplant them is in January or February. Be sure to mulch both the plant and lower branches with a thick layer of leaf mulch to reduce the chance of cold injury.

QUESTION: I have red, pink and purple verbena in hanging baskets around my home and love how they look. In researching them on your site I found that there is a blue verbena called "Blue Princess Verbena". I live in Phoenix, Arizona, and it is not available here, how can I get some of these plants.

ANSWER: These can be ordered from Tony Avent at Plant Delights Nursery in Raleigh, North Carolina.

QUESTION: How do I winterize my canna lilies? I plan to bring them into my basement where it is cool, but do I cover them? Prune them back? Keep them watered or keep them relative dry? Any suggestions would be GREATLY appreciated.

ANSWER: I can't tell from your question whether your cannas are in pots or are in the ground. If they are in pots, I recommend that you leave them outside until after the first frost or light freeze. Then cut off the dead vegetation, bring them inside and forget about them until next spring when you take them back outside.

QUESTION: Over the past few years we have tried to no avail to store canna bulbs after the growing season. They either grow moldy or dry out. Can you please answer the following: When to store? In what media? Under what atmospheric conditions?

ANSWER: Since down here it never gets cold enough to freeze the soil, we just leave them in the ground. So I had to go looking to find the information you requested. This information is from th University of Wisconsin Extension Service and can be found at the following URL:

After you dig up tuberous begonias, cannas and caladiums, air dry them in a well?ventilated area at 70 to 80 degrees F. Cannas and caladiums need 1 week to dry, while tuberous begonias need 2 to 3 weeks to dry. Once dried, remove any foliage. Cover the tubers and tuberous roots with perlite, vermiculite, peat moss or sand. Store the cannas and begonias at 40 to 50 degrees F. Store caladiums at 55 to 60 degrees F.

All the plants do best when stored in a cool, dark and humid place with good ventilation. Fruit cellars and cool basements work well. Don't store bulbs in an attic or garage where they may freeze. Store begonias, cannas and dahlias in shallow boxes. Check your bulbs throughout winter and discard any shriveled, diseased or insect?infested bulbs.

QUESTION: I have heard of a new spray that can be applied to trees that loose their leaves (such as hackberry or mesquite) to eliminate ball moss. Is such a product available? If so, do you know where I can buy it?

ANSWER: I don't know of any new spray for ball moss. However, many of the copper fungicides will kill the ball moss when applied at the proper time. It will not make the ball moss fall from the tree. Only time will do this since the dead ball moss will deteriorate and eventually fall. At this PLANTanswers web site you will find all you need to know about how to control ball moss:


Ball moss is an epiphyte. It is capable of manufacturing its own food from nutrients and moisture taken from the air. Unlike mistletoe, it does not derive its food from the host. Although often associated with plants that are in an advance stage of decline, it is not the cause of the decline. In some areas, the moss becomes so dense, that it possibly is restricting normal bud development. Although spread is somewhat restricted, the area of the state where the moss is found continues to expand. Roughly, ball moss is found within the area formed by drawing a line from Del Rio to Fredericksburg to College Station to Bay City to Corpus Christi and back to Del Rio.

Small seed are produced in a capsule on a slender 3 to 5 inch stalk. The stalk extends above the bunchy plant growth. When mature, the capsule opens and seeds are released into the air. They are carried by air currents until they contact the rough bark of the tree. The seed stick onto the surface and germinate. As the plant grows, root like structures attach the young plant to the rough surface. In the case of a tree this is the older bark. Although the structures extend down into the bark, they are not true roots. They are called 'hold fasts'. Although ball moss will attach itself to many different rough surfaces, property owners are most concerned about shade trees.

Control: Ball moss is controlled with foliar applications of Kocide DF, Blue Shield and Champion are approved by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). These products are most effective when applied in late winter. The time between February and mid May is suggested as the best period for treatment. A rain following treatment application is necessary for maximum effectiveness. It is speculated that the moss quickly takes in nutrients through its leaf like structures following rain or heavy dew. When evaluating the copper fungicides as a control for ball moss, an application was observed to remain on the tree for 7 months before significant rain occurred. Soon after that the moss was observed to die. Retreating is suggested if the trees are heavily infested. This is necessary because it's difficult to get complete coverage. It is suggested that the copper be applied at the rate of 4 to 6 pounds or Kocide DF or similar type product per 100 gallons of water. Spray trees to drip point with the spray directed at the moss infested limbs. Within a few months the moss will have a dry, gray unthrifty appearance. It be several months after the application, before the moss will begin to fall from the tree. The hold fasts will have to decay sufficiently to release the moss from the bark. Strong windstorms can decrease the time required for removal of the moss following its death.

Copper is a heavy metal and possibly acts as a poison that blocks the normal biochemical functions. Copper can cause foliage burn to some plants and should be used with caution around plants not listed on the label. Peach, plum, apricot and nectarine in leaf are especially susceptible to injury from spray drift. Apples and pears are not affected by the copper fungicides. Kocide and the other copper hydroxide fungicides are frequently recommended for the control of fire blight on pear and apple trees. The fungicides are approved on a local needs registration in the southeastern United States for the control of certain pecan diseases. A second concern is that spray drift can temporarily stain structures a light blue. Use precaution when applying the copper sprays. Spray on days when the wind is blowing away from sensitive areas. It will wash off when exposed to frequent rain.

Mechanical removal has been used successfully. However, new plants are quickly as new seed land on the limbs. Safety is also a concern, since moss is present on many of the small limbs and branches of a tree. This creates an unsafe condition when trying to remove the moss.