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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: I have a question about impatiens. My plant has what appears to be deposits of "salts" on the stems. Is this natural and what is it called?

ANSWER: Assuming deposits of sand grains have not been splashed onto the plants during a recent downpour, your next best bet would be that these "grains of sugar or salt" are honeydew secreted either by scale insects or aphids ?? probably aphids. Use a general purpose insecticide and insure complete and thorough coverage and you should eliminate your deposits of grain problem.

QUESTION: Can you recommend a good way to eradicate mesquite roots, preferably without resorting to chemicals? The roots grow so deep that the mesquite keeps coming back no matter what we do!

ANSWER: On rangeland, mesquite is "deep-plowed" out with bulldozers pulling a huge plow. So either "deep digging" or the use of a chemical that can be absorbed into the stump are your only choices. Try Ortho Brush?B?Gon, or Ortho Brush Killer.

QUESTION: My oleanders have an orange, caterpillar-looking bug with black spines. They seem to be eating the oleanders. What are these bugs called. What will kill them before they soon kill the plant?

ANSWER: You have identified the Oleander Caterpillar, Syntomedia epilais juncundissima (Dyar). In Florida, it is the worst pest of oleander. The larva is orange with tufts of long, black hairs scattered over the body, which is about 1 ½ inches long. The adult is called Polka Dot Moth because of the white spots scattered over the blue?black body and wings. Its shape resembles that of a wasp. Most insecticides will control the pest. Try Orthene or DiSyston, or even the Bt sprays such as Thuricide or Dipel. Be sure to use a surfactant such as 2 teaspoons of a liquid detergent (Joy, Ivory Liquid) per one gallon of spray since oleander leaves are so waxy.

QUESTION: My tomato plants look great. They are dark green, vigorous and healthy. However, flowers are not forming any fruit. What is the problem?

ANSWER: Several conditions can cause tomatoes to not set fruit. Nighttime temperatures over 70 degrees F., low temperatures below 50 degrees F., irregular watering, insects such as thrips, or even planting them the wrong variety may result in poor fruit set. While any of these conditions can cause poor fruit set, combinations can cause failures. If Extension recommended varieties are used, the main reason tomato plants do not set fruit is because they are not planted where they can receive 8 to 10 hours of direct sunlight daily. Any less direct sunlight will result in a spindly growing, nonproductive plant that has healthy foliage.

QUESTION: My tomato plants look great. They are dark green, vigorous and healthy. However, flowers are not forming any fruit. What is the problem?

ANSWER: Several conditions can cause tomatoes to not set fruit. Nighttime temperatures over 70 degrees F., low temperatures below 50 degrees F., irregular watering, insects such as thrips, or even planting them the wrong variety may result in poor fruit set. While any of these conditions can cause poor fruit set, combinations can cause failures. If Extension recommended varieties are used, the main reason tomato plants do not set fruit is because they are not planted where they can receive 8 to 10 hours of direct sunlight daily. Any less direct sunlight will result in a spindly growing, nonproductive plant that has healthy foliage.

QUESTION: I have a nice yard with various types of grass. Now the sticker burrs are trying to take over. Help!!!!!

ANSWER: Sticker burrs (also called grass burrs!) are a result of a thin stand or sparseness of the grass-of-choice for your yard. Burrs cannot compete with a properly maintained bermuda turf or St. Augustine grass. When you mow the bermuda closely every 5 to 7 days or the St. Augustine as high as the mower blade can be set every 7 to 10 days, burr plants will not survive. It is only when adverse weather (dry) and poor culture (do not fertilizer bermuda monthly or St. Augustine twice yearly) diminish the desired grass growth do burrs get started. Of course, in new lawns burrs compete with the chosen turf until it is crowded out. Sticker burr eradication requires several methods of attack. BEFORE sticker burrs germinate and to keep them from germinating, use a pre-emergence herbicide such as Balan, Betasan or Portrait beginning in February, again in May and again in July. If grass burr plants emerge, mow the grass-of-choice at the appropriate height on a weekly basis before burr plants can produce and mature seed burrs. If small burrs are detected at mowing time, use a grass catcher to eliminate possible mature burrs. MSMA or DSMA herbicide can be used on bermuda grass turf ONLY to kill grass burr plants. Image can be used on both bermuda and St. Augustine to kill grass burr plants even though some stunting and/or yellowing may occur. Fertilize, mow and water to cause optimum growth of the chosen turf grass to crowd out the grass burr population.

QUESTION: I'm trying my hand at container gardening but not having much success with my tomato blossoms. I'm trying to grow Beefmaster, Roma, and Big Boy plants on my balcony.

ANSWER: You have chosen the wrong varieties for container gardening -- next time try Patio or Surefire. Even Merced would grow smaller (determinate or semi-determinate) than the Beefmaster and Big Boy which are indeterminate, meaning you cannot figure out when they will stop growing. The Roma is a large growing plant but you may be able to prune (cut it back!) and control the vine. For more information on Growing in Containers, see the PLANTanswers site:

QUESTION: We recently purchased 4 acres near Fredericksburg, Texas and plan to move there next year. We would like to have a small orchard of 6 to 8 trees, but our soil is not deep. Our lot is on a slight ridge. The lot has hundreds of live oaks, some red oaks and other kinds of oaks. If there is enough soil for the oak trees to grow, is it likely that we will be able to grow any type of fruit tree? There are several large open areas that we had think might be possible locations for fruit trees. We will be going there in a few months and can do some digging to establish the depth of the soil. What is the minimum depth we would need to grow peaches or other fruits?

ANSWER: Live and red oak trees are native to very shallow soil. So their presence it not always a good indicator of what you can grow. On the other hand, areas where mesquite trees grow are usually very good soils. However, I think you will be able to grow the 6 to 8 trees that you want to grow just fine where you are. The deeper the soil, the better the trees will so, but usually 18 to 24 inches is sufficient. If the soil is only 12 inches, you may want to build a raised bed or terrace with the native soil so that you have at least 2 feet on which to grow the trees.

QUESTION: How do you plant a Sago palm? Two years ago I cut three small plants from the bottom of a large palm and planted the new plants in a new bed. The leaves of the transplants stayed green and got bigger, but there were never new leaves. The old big plant usually puts on new leaves twice a year. Do you have to turn the transplants upside down for them to put on new leaves? I have some new small plants again and I would like to plant them to grow!

ANSWER: From reading the article on the propagation of Sago Palms (Cycas revoluta) by offsets, it appears that what you did wrong was to keep the leaves on the pup when you transplanted it. See this good article on Sagos by one of the primary growers in our area. It is located at this URL:

This is what it says about propagating from the offsets: "Offsets, or "pups", growing at the base or along the sides of mature Sagos, are an excellent source of new plants. Remove them in early spring by using a hand trowel to pop small ones from the trunk side, or a sharp?shooter shovel to dig and gently crow?bar large ones from the base of the plant. Remove all the pups' leaves and roots, then set them aside to dry for a week or so. Plant in well?drained soil or a sandy mixture so that half the ball or trunk is below soil level?water thoroughly. Allow the soil to become nearly dry until roots begin to form and the first leaves appear several months later. At that time, apply a mild dose of fertilizer and water when almost, but not completely dry. Allow the new plants to form a good root system before repotting into a larger container or planting in your garden or landscape. Warning! Removing pups can be very hard work on large Sagos with lots of babies.

New leaves emerge all at once in a circular pattern, and are very tender until they begin to harden several weeks later. Do not disturb or repot the plant during this process and allow the plant to receive good overhead light; low light will produce long leaves, while bright light will produce shorter leaves. If light is coming from a window, give the plant a quarter turn each day until the new leaves harden, otherwise they may lean toward the light source. Do not allow the plant to become excessively dry when new leaves are developing, otherwise new foliage may wither and die, or become yellow and stunted."

QUESTION: I bought a "resurrection" or "passion plant" at a local plant sale here in San Antonio, and my question is, do I have to move this plant indoors in the winter? I planted this out in my garden and it is doing quite well, and I was wondering if I left it out in the garden if it would come back next year after winter. Can I get "cuttings" off this plant to give to my friends? Any special procedures to get cuttings to survive? This plant has the most spectacular blooms I've ever seen !

ANSWER: There are two plants that have the common name "resurrection plant"; Selaginella lepidophylla and Polypodium polypodioides. I think, because you have the plant growing in your garden that it is the former. The only reference I can find on the hardiness of these plants says that they are frost tender and hardy only in USDA Zones 9 thru 11. We are in zone 8 here in San Antonio, so your plant is probably not going to survive outside in the winter. You note that I said probably because I do not know for sure. Maybe you should split it, potting up half to bring inside for protection and leave the other half outside in the ground to see what will happen. See this University of Connecticut web site for more info on the Selaginella:\960023.htm

Common Name: Resurrection Plant, Rose of Jericho; Family: Selaginellaceae Milde.

Description: The Resurrection Plant, Selaginella lepidophylla, is native to certain arid regions of Texas, Mexico and Peru. Mature plants form a flat rosette of densely tufted branched stems with stiff scale-like leaves.

S. lepidophylla shows an interesting xerophytic adaptation. In response to severe water stress, the plant contracts and curls up. In this semi-dehydrated condition it is able to tolerate long periods of drought. During subsequent irrigation the plant rapidly unfurls and resumes active growth.

The response can be effectively demonstrated in the classroom. Simply soak a specimen in water for one or more hours. The plant will unfurl and remain in this condition as long as moisture is available. When allowed to dry, the plant will again curl up.

This Aggie web site says that it can be propagated by tip cuttings but gives no further information:

Plants that can be propagated from stem cuttings include the following:

Selaginella (Resurrection Plant) - tip cuttings

Instructions on rooting cuttings can be found at this PLANTanswers web site:

QUESTION: My question concerns using Epson Salt (magnesium sulfate) as a source of magnesium for tomatoes and flowering plants. Several friends know 'Old Folks' who use Epson Salt around tomatoes to stop blooms from dropping -but, no one knows how much to use. I was thinking of using it as a water-soluble solution. I would greatly appreciate your thoughts on the wisdom of using Epson Salt as a means of supplying micronutrients. If the idea does have merit, what amount would I use?

ANSWER: The addition of organic material (compost) to the soil and the use of mulch usually supplies the necessary magnesium to the soil. The only dilution rate on Epsom salt I could find comes from Rodale's Garden Problem Solver which calls for 1 cup Epsom salt dissolved in 1 gallon of water and applied either as a foliar spray or directly to the soil. I find nothing that indicates this will prevent blossom drop. Blossom drop in tomatoes is caused mainly by temperature. Tomatoes will not set fruit when the night temperature exceeds 75 degrees or the day temperatures exceeds 92 degrees.

QUESTION: I would like to know how to preserve Lemon Balm leaves after harvesting.

ANSWER: This web site on Lemon Balm gives this advice:


Harvest: before the plant flowers, pick leaves as needed, or cut entire plant to 2 inches above the ground. To dry, place the leaves on a wire rack in a warm, airy place, then store them in an airtight jar.

QUESTION: My eggplants have a small, black, weevil-like bug eating them. They leave only lace-like remnants of the leaves. What can I do? Do you have a pesticide and non-pesticide solution?

ANSWER: Your eggplants are being attacked by flea beetles. You can treat the foliage with Sevin, Malathion or Thiodan. Or "organically", you can try Sabadilla or Rotenone.

QUESTION: I'm confused about deadheading annuals and perennials? It seems that in some cases you're supposed to take just the flower head and in others you cut all the way down the stem. Is there a rule? How do I know what to do on which plants?

ANSWER: The purpose of deadheading is to prevent the setting of seed. With annuals in particular, the plant needs to be confused into thinking that its purpose here on earth has not been fulfilled-- that is, propagation of itself. We do this by plucking off (deadheading) the spent flower blossom, thereby making it bloom again. It doesn't matter how this is done as it is really a matter of aesthetics. So what ever looks good to you!

QUESTION: It is necessary to use root stimulator on new plants? Does this help at all?

ANSWER: Let me answer the final question first. No, root stimulator is not necessary. However, it certainly doesn't hurt, if for no other reason than to force the plant owner to water the young transplants properly. I suspect that this may be what happened to your VIP petunias. Did you water the individual transplants at the rootball each day for about two weeks when you first planted them? Or did you depend on the automatic sprinkler system to do the job? Until the plants have time to establish roots into the surrounding medium, they are living within the small block of soil in which you bought them. Sprinkler systems seldom put the water in the right place to allow the root development. Therefore, it is necessary to hand water them.

QUESTION: We have been overrun by grasshoppers. What is the most effective way to salvage our garden?

ANSWER: Here is the answer given to a previous question which reflects the difficulty of controlling grasshoppers: "The reason you have been having trouble finding a control for grasshoppers is because there are none !!! The organics recommend Nosema locustae. It is a spore (Protozoan) used to control grasshoppers. The material is sprayed on the plants which grasshoppers ingest. The spores germinate inside the grasshopper, causing death. Control is extremely slow and homeowners may not be satisfied with results. Baits have proven more effective but are expensive and never controls the entire population. You can use plant covers for protection of fall vegetable crops. See the write-up at the PLANTanswers site:

Additional information can be found at this University of Nebraska web site:

Grasshopper management can be effective and practical if the area you are protecting is relatively small and isolated. However, protecting a garden from grasshoppers moving out of a large area of adjacent grassland or cropland may be impossible. Several strategies can be employed to reduce the problem, but in areas where the source population is large and outbreak populations are expected, the best strategy may be to plant early maturing vegetables. Also, some vegetables are less attractive to grasshoppers (e.g. tomatoes and squash). Row covers and screens can help protect the more valuable plants, but grasshoppers can eat through all but the heaviest fabric or window screen.

If timely rain or irrigation keeps the vegetation in the border areas green, grasshoppers will not migrate into the garden as readily. Tall grass provides food and shelter for the grasshoppers. Leaving these border areas not mowed will delay grasshopper movement into the yard and garden. Also, a trap crop of attractive plants (e.g. zinnias or some other lush flower or vegetation) can be planted around the edge of the garden. Trap crops will attract and hold grasshoppers and can be sprayed to reduce populations.

There are several natural enemies of grasshoppers, and some of these become more numerous when outbreak populations occur. However, they are not likely to effectively control populations moving into yard and garden areas. A few of the most common and effective predators of grasshoppers include robber flies, spiders, and blister beetle larvae (on egg pods). A common parasite of grasshoppers is the horse-hair or Gordian worm. These nematodes can be up to several inches long and will be present inside grasshoppers and crickets. A small red parasitic mite can lodge itself under the grasshopper wings. These mites may stress the grasshoppers, resulting in fewer eggs or shorter lifespan, but they are not likely to dramatically affect the populations.

The most effective and practical natural enemy for use in yards and gardens is poultry, especially guinea hens. However, some poultry may cause substantial injury to the garden. Even these predators may be overwhelmed during outbreak years.

Spores of the disease, Nosema locustae, are commercially available as a formulation on bran bait. The spores must be applied against the small grasshoppers in and near the hatching areas for maximum efficacy. This disease can be an effective control, but it will act slowly. It will have little or no impact on later instars or adult grasshoppers that move into your yard or garden.

Chemical control is often the best alternative for eliminating heavy infestations of grasshoppers. Adult grasshoppers are difficult to control with insecticides due to their size and decreased susceptibility to the insecticides. The best time to control grasshoppers is during the middle (3rd and 4th) instars. These stages will occur from late June through mid July. At this time most eggs will have hatched, the young hoppers will be more susceptible to the insecticide, and they will still be concentrated in the hatching areas. Grasshoppers will be concentrated in these areas and they can be controlled more effectively than when dispersed later in the summer. The sources of grasshopper infestations (i.e. surrounding grasslands, ditches and other untilled areas) should be treated before the larger hoppers move out.

Often homeowners do not own the adjacent areas, and treatment may not be possible. In this case the only option is to use protective sprays to protect as much of the yard and garden as possible. These insecticides will only have a few days of residual activity and repeated applications will be necessary. If most grasshoppers are adults, the best control will be obtained by using the maximum labeled insecticide rates. Table I lists insecticide options available for yard and garden use. Be sure to read and follow all directions and precautions on the label. (You will have to visit the web site to see the table of insecticides that they recommend.)

Here is a June, 1998 article on grasshoppers, issued by entomologist Mike Merchant:.

"The extra dry spring we've been experiencing here in north Texas and other parts of the state have contributed to a mushrooming grasshopper outbreak. In addition to being a pest of numerous agricultural crops, grasshoppers can be devastating to home landscapes and gardens. This is most evident as pastures and fields go dormant for the heat of summer and grasshoppers begin to search in earnest for other sources of green plant material.

Grasshopper control in backyards can be a lesson in frustration. During heavy outbreaks, insecticides may kill many grasshoppers but not fully protect plants. Recommended insecticides for protecting valuable plants include Orthene, liquid Sevin sprays (or dusts, but sprays should provide longer control), and permethrin. Of these, permethrin may provide the fastest and most effective control. Permethrin is available under the trade name Spectracide Bug Stop (a liquid insecticide), and others.

We have had inquiries about area-wide treatments for grasshoppers. Treatment over cropland, of course, must be guided by insecticide labeling for that particular crop. Sevin, Orthene, and ULV Malathion are all available for aerial application. Of these, Malathion is the most economical, according to Dr. Cliff Hoelscher. Sevin XLR (for extra long residual) is probably the best carbaryl formulation. Aerial applications should be reserved for emergency situations only.
Nolo, Semaspore, and Grasshopper Attack baits are commercial formulations of a protozoan parasite, Nosema locustae. They are sometimes listed as safe, "organic" treatments for grasshoppers. Nolo baits are usually applied aerially, particularly in large, area-wide grasshopper management programs. Unfortunately, on a small scale, such as in urban and rural backyards, such treatments are ineffective. Nosema locustae is mainly effective as a treatment for nymphal grasshoppers, and is inappropriate for use on grasshopper outbreaks.

Few bait formulations provide effective grasshopper control. If baits are used, they should be applied to areas of bare ground, where alternate food sources are unavailable. When applied to grassy or weedy site, grasshoppers will not locate and feed on baits."

A fact sheet on agricultural grasshopper control is available for distribution through the Department of Agricultural Communications. It is titled "Grasshoppers and Their Control" (L5201), by Dr. Carl Patrick. This publication can also be downloaded from this website:

QUESTION: I have a 4-year-old grape vine that is producing table grapes for the first time. I have learned from your web page that I should take some of the clusters off, but how many should I leave on? I am also getting conflicting advice on whether to cut the separate vines back to the clusters, or whether to just let the vine go.

ANSWER: Leave the vines intact. The leaves are what develops and matures the fruit. Leave one fruit cluster per shoot. Select the strongest and healthiest one on each shoot and remove the rest.

QUESTION: I have a pecan tree it is about 6 years old and the bottom of the trunk is splitting. What is wrong with it? It almost looks like it is growing too fast.

ANSWER: There is nothing wrong with your pecan tree !!! You are right in that the tree is simply growing fast, but that is not a problem. The outer bark is non-living tissue that the tree is sloughing off.