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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 would like to share my large pampas grass plant with a friend. How can I safely give her a cutting that will hot damage my plant? I would like to give her a good healthy starter plant.

ANSWER: Pampas grass can be propagated and is done so commercially by root or clump division. This is easiest done during the early spring, when the top of the plant is being removed because of winter damage. Simply dig out sections of the main clump on which roots are attached. It will not damage the Mother clump. Size of sections can be from one root per section to larger clumps with many roots. The smaller the clump section, the longer the plant will take to enlarge, obviously.

QUESTION: We have been looking for an easy answer to the question "What is the difference between a pea and a bean?"
While both are part of the legume species, we have not found an answer to what would seem a simple question.

ANSWER: Bean is the name of many herbs of the Legume or Pea Family and their edible pods and seeds. But bean is also loosely applied to the pods or seeds of various trees and shrubs (as tamarind?coffee). In America, when used without qualification, the term refers to horticultural varieties of Phaseolus. The term pea refers only to the genus Pisum when used for the true peas. These are closely related to the very popular southern pea in that both are legumes (Family: Leguminosae). Southern peas are actually beans (Vigna sinensis) Also, peas have tendrils and beans do not. Also, vine growth patterns are different. Seed food storage structures (cotyledons) on beans emerge from the soil whereas on peas, they do not.

QUESTION: All summer my photinias have looked terrible. What is wrong with them and what can I do to help them now, and to prevent it in the future?

ANSWER: If the photinias are yellow with black spots on the leaves, the plants are in a highly alkaline planting area and will never get better??only worse. Plants in such an area should be removed and replaced with an adapted shrub such as Standard Yaupon or Burford holly if a screen of shrubs is desired. Photinias in good condition (and they may be just feet from a sickly plant) can remain and will perform well. Once a photinia begins to show signs of "a bad location", no amounts of iron supplement or fungicide spray will solve the problem.

QUESTION: I recently became the owner of a Hoya plant. It has light pink with dark, red-centered flowers. It has light to medium green leaves about 2 to 3 inches long and fairly thick. The leaves have brown spots that do not come off, like something has been eating them. Is this something that I can cure?

ANSWER: Since hoya is a tropical evergreen, and a mostly climbing shrub that belongs to the Milkweed Family, there is a very good chance that some insect larvae (worm) or beetle has been eating them. For larvae control, you can use the organic insecticide that contains a Bacillus (Bt) and sold as Thuricide, Dipel or Biological Worm Control. This product will not work for beetles, so if you use it and the damage continues you will have to get something for beetle control. If the pattern is irregular and does not look like it's been eaten, the damage may be fungal rather than insect. Use Ortho Daconil every 7 days for 3 consecutive sprays and put a teaspoon of a liquid detergent such as Joy or Ivory Liquid per gallon of spray. This should prevent the damage from spreading, but will not cure the already damaged leaves. If these suggestions don't work, get a new plant!!!

QUESTION: I had a Locust tree (thorny variety). I cut it back close to the ground. This tree has an extremely aggressive root system. It appears that the tree had sent out roots in all possible directions all over my yard (even the back yard) and in my neighbor's yard. Even though I have chopped off the tree, the below-ground root system is continuously sending out small seedlings all over my yard. There are literally hundreds of these seedlings sticking out all over my yard. I am trying to pull them out one by one but it gets to be very tiring. I added a 'brush killer' concentrated on the stump of the cut tree but that did not seem to work. How can I stop these little seedlings from coming off ? Also, these seedling's growth rate is extremely vigorous. Within 3 to 4 days, they grow to be about 3 to 4 inches tall. Somebody suggested to paint each individual seedling with a weed killer. But again, painting hundreds of seedlings each time they come out will be an enormous task. Is there any simple way to inactive all the root system?

ANSWER: You did what I would have suggested (use concentrated Ortho Brush Killer on the stump) but I would have suggested you do it immediately after cutting the tree and drill holes 4 to 6 inches deep into the tree and continue to fill the holes with the herbicide as long as they emptied. With a tree know for this type of sprouting, you could have also drilled slanting holes all around the trunk of the tree and fill with the tree herbicide. With this method, allow the herbicide to circulate throughout the system of the tree and actually kill the tree before you cut it. (Note: You will have to be very careful that the root system of the tree you are killing is not intermingled with the root systems of desirable trees or their roots can be damaged also.)

Now that the chemical cannot be circulated, I am afraid you will have to continue to mow the sprouts every 5 to 7 days before they can feed their roots with the photosynthesis of the leaves. Eventually you and your neighbors will weaken the remaining root system until it will no longer have the energy to sprout.

QUESTION: I live on a one-acre lot in a subdivision in NW San Antonio. I have planted a row of fruit trees at the rear of the lot (the lot is on the top of a hill and slopes slightly from front to rear). I presently have 2 each of peach, pear, and plum and want to add a few more. My specific question is, can I build a raised bed around these trees when I plant the additional trees without digging them up and replanting them? I know that if you put very much, if any, dirt around the base of live oaks that you can kill them. If I can apply additional soil and/or mulch, how deep can I safely apply it around the existing trees? I forgot to mention, the trees are only 6 months in the ground, and are approximately 1 to 1-1/2 inches in diameter.

ANSWER: The standard recommendation is no more than 2 inches of soil on the root system of an established tree. I have seen much more and the tree survives after a prolonged period of root readjustment. The problem you will have with trees that haven't yet established a good root system is damage to the trunk. If I were you, I would spade a circle around the trees about 2 feet out from the trunk and about 2 feet deep. I would then lift the plant up to the desired level without breaking the root ball around the tree if possible. After only 6 months in the ground, the trees do not have that extensive a root system. Be sure to water well after the digging process.

QUESTION: I was just looking at some information on this web site about mums. It said they bloom once and then should be discarded. This has not been my experience at all. My mums have been in the ground since last fall, and have bloomed 3 times. I would like to know how many times, and when, to pinch them back. Also, should they be cut back in the winter, or left alone?

ANSWER: The comment about discarding mums after they have bloomed was meant for florist mums-like the blooming ones normally bought gifts, table center pieces etc., or that we use when we need the instant gratification that pots of blooming flowers give. Florist mums are normally not garden hardy. However, the garden mums that most nurseries sell are certainly a fine addition to any garden. They are normally fall bloomers and that is when we expect the most spectacular display of blossoms. They do bloom sporadically at other times as well, but it is not something that we can depend on. You should start pinching the growing tips when the plants are about 6 to 8 inches high. When the new growth gets about 4 to 6 inches long, pinch again. Continue this until the last pinching is done about mid-July.

I would just leave the plants through the winter unless they get to looking too bad. They should be cut back severely just before the new growth starts in the spring. You can do this about Valentine's day when you are doing the majority of your other pruning. Here are a couple of web sites with quite good articles on chrysanthemum culture.

QUESTION: I have just planted several columbine in a partial shade area of my garden. They are growing nicely, but they do not have any flowers yet. Also, the leaves have developed a strange, light-green, flat, string-like condition on the tops of the leaves. What is that? Is it harmful? And why have they not gotten any flowers?

ANSWER: The 'Texas Gold' Columbine should be planted in the shade of a deciduous (loses leaves in winter) tree so it will get summer shade and winter sun. Hopefully your "partial shade" is enough shade or the plants will burn and die. Columbines bloom only in early spring after the plants are a year old. If the plants survive this summer, they will bloom beautifully next spring. It has been called to my attention that what you are describing as "a strange light green flat string?like condition on the tops of the leaves" is caused by a small larvae (worm) called leaf miner which actually mines the green pigment from the insides of the leaf. The resulting damage resembles trials or "string?like" conditions. The only control would have been a weekly application of a systemic insecticide such as Orthene. The unsightly foliage can be removed to allow the new foliage not affected to replace it. This is commonplace on columbines.

QUESTION: Is there a way to make compost without the use of store bought chemicals or animal manure?

ANSWER: Sure there is! Just pile organic material like grass clippings, leaves, weeds, kitchen vegetative waste and etc in a pile and let it rot. That is the simplistic answer. Certainly your compost production can be more orderly and sophisticated than that. See this excellent primer on composting:

QUESTION: My husband and I bought three crape myrtles. are We planted 2 last year and 2 this year and they are doing very well. How do we take care of them? Do they need to be pruned? I don't want them to turn into huge trees, because as trees, they don't get the full pretty blooms that you see on smaller bushes/trees. A friend told me that if we cut off the old flowers, it will keep making newer ones. Is this true? How do we protect it from any fungus? Do we need to fertilize it often? I don't know what type of crape myrtle they are. I looked at your listing when we bought them because they were only tagged with their color.

ANSWER: Crape myrtles need only be pruned to remove dead or broken branches, crossing branches that rub, branches that are in your way, or those branches that are rubbing your house or causing a safety problem. Yes, you may get more blossoms by cutting of the spent blooms before they set seed, but since they bloom on new wood, they will bloom next year whether or not you cut off the seedpods. The best way to control the size of a crape myrtle is to buy a variety that you can determine its growth habits. They come in all sizes from ground cover type to large trees and to try to prune them to a size that is abnormal for that variety is not a very good solution.

There are also many powdery mildew resistant varieties available.
Those that are only marked with their color are probably not of the resistant type. These must be planted in a location with full sun and good air circulation to keep the mildew to a minimum. Otherwise it is going to take a spray program with a fungicide that is labeled for powdery mildew. Your nurseryman can assist you with this.

Fertilizing the crape myrtles when you fertilize your yard is sufficient. Use the same fertilizer t hat you apply to your yard. You will know if the trees get thirsty, because you will see wilting leaves. Otherwise, no additional water is required. See this fine PLANTanswers article on proper pruning techniques. It includes a section on pruning crapemyrtles:

QUESTION: I have a problem with a row of crape myrtles along a street and sidewalk. They seem to wilt all the time except after rain or watering them. They are mulched in an area about 6 feet wide by about 40 feet long, next to a sidewalk. I thought they were a xeriscape plant.

ANSWER: Crapemyrtles are fine xeriscape plants. However, that doesn't mean that they can go without water. They are as quick as any tree to show their displeasure by wilting, aborting their blossoms and looking very sad. I am afraid that in that small area where they are planted, you are going to have to supplement their water frequently in the absence of rain.