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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: My tomato plants look great. They are dark green, vigorous and healthy. However, flowers are not forming much fruit. The flowers and the stem on which they are attached turn yellow then drop off leaving a stub which looks as if something has cut or eaten the bloom off. What is the problem?

ANSWER: Several conditions can cause tomatoes to not set fruit. Planting indeterminate (large growing varieties) and/or non-recommended varieties, nighttime temperatures over 70 degrees F., low temperatures below 50 degrees F., irregular watering, insects such as thrips or planting the wrong variety may result in poor fruit set. Any of these conditions can cause poor fruit set, but 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 8-10 hours of direct (SUNBATHING) sunlight daily. Any less direct sunlight will result in a spindly growing, nonproductive plant with healthy foliage. When the bloom aborts, it leaves a stub on which it was attached.

QUESTION: It seems every website I visit for gardening identifies the flower information with its Latin name, but does not have the corresponding common name. Is there somewhere on your website or other websites) that has an online dictionary for translating a flower's common name to their Latin name?

ANSWER: There are so many plants that share common names that the use of their botanical names is much better in the long run. However, I understand your frustration if you do not recognize these names. It is better when both are used.

QUESTION: I believe that I have St. Augustine grass in my yard. 1) Is this carpet grass? 2) The grass itself is green but seems to be kind of thin and you can see a lot of dead grass underneath. This is thatch, correct? What do I need to do to get rid of it? Oxbow subdivision. Babcock and DeZavala Rd..

ANSWER: St Augustine is commonly referred to as 'carpet grass'. Thatch is only a problem in those lawns that have been over-fertilized and over-watered. Your description does not indicate this. Probably what you see is just the dead remains of last year's growth. The heat of the coming summer will take care of it. If you haven't already fertilized your lawn, it is now time to do so. The spring application isn't applied until you have cut green, growing grass twice. The recommended fertilizer is one that has slow-release nitrogen and a ratio of 4-1-2 or 3-1-2 such as 19-5-9. Your lawn will need supplemental irrigation of about 1 inch per week in the absence of rain. See this PLANTanswers web site for more information on St Augustine:

QUESTION: Could you give me the recipe for bread-and-butter pickles you mentioned?

(Just about the best on earth!)

6-10 medium cucumbers
One onion, sliced thin (I cut the onion in quarters before slicing thin)
1/4 cup of pickling salt
2 cups cider vinegar
2 and one-half cup of sugar
3/4 teaspoons of mustard seeds
3/4 teaspoon of celery seeds
one-half teaspoon of tumeric
Wash cucumber and drain. Slice thin, as for table use. Mix all other ingredients and pour over slices. Mix together lightly. Place in glass jars in refrigerator. Can be eaten after 24 hours. Nice and crispy. Good with hamburger.

You can use whatever glass jars you have. They don't necessarily have to be canning jars.

QUESTION: How can we control ticks?

ANSWER: Control efforts for ticks should include pet protection and treatment of backyard areas and high traffic sites on the farm. The best time to treat is mid morning (8:00-11:00 am) when ticks emerge from protection to seek a host. Sunny mornings bring out the largest numbers of ticks, hence are the best days to treat. Treatments include permethrin formulations applied to 10-20 bands along pathways, or as a broadcast treatment to yards and play areas.

Tick life stages present right now include both overwintering nymphs and adults. Seed (larval) stage ticks normally occur in May and June.

Probably the best on-animal treatment right now is Frontline (fipronyl). This product reportedly gives excellent control for up to one month. Frontline is available through veterinarians only. A pyrethroid insecticide, lambda cyhalothrin, is available as a spot-on treatment through pet stores, and should also provide good control.

QUESTION: I am trying to kill what I believe is Bermuda grass in St. Augustine without resorting to ChemLawn tactics. I have tried Atrazine, but at label rates it only stunts the Bermuda --- the St. Augustine does not grow in fast enough before the Bermuda recovers. If I do go the Chemlawn route, what will they use? It seems that they have access to something that will do the job since my neighbor does not have this problem.

ANSWER: I know of nothing that will kill bermuda grass without also killing the St Augustine. You can help the St Augustine to predominate but I doubt that you can ever rid your lawn of it completely without total kill of all grass.

Bermuda needs a lot of sun. If you cut your St Augustine high (3 to 3 ½ inches) the shade it produces will help control the bermuda. Also, bermuda needs more fertilization that does the St Augustine. So by reducing your fertilizing to once per year and doing it in the fall will help to suppress the bermuda.

QUESTION: I am considering Meyer Zoysia grass for my lawn in Austin, TX.. The yard is approximately 1 acre. Three questions: 1) If my neighbors have Buffalo and St. Augustine respectively, will their turf infiltrate the Zoysia? 2) Is there a way to quantify the water usage of Zoysia versus St. Augustine? 3) I prefer Zoysia but do not know if the price premium over St. Augustine in worth it.

ANSWER: Are you familiar with the characteristics of Meyer Zoysia? It has been likened to steel wool and can not be properly mowed with a normal rotary mower. I do not recommend it as turf. Emerald Zoysia is another fine bladed turf that has much better color, but the same problem with mowing. When mowed with a rotary mower, these grasses will form tufts and will never look properly manicured. Another Zoysia that lends itself better to the typical maintenance of the urban/suburban yard is El Toro or Jammer. These grasses have wider blades, is softer and can be successfully mowed with a rotary mower.

To answer your questions: (1) Buffalo will probably never successfully invade a Zoysia lawn. St. Augustine could invade but is quite easy to prevent or remove. Periodic edging with MSMA herbicide will prevent any invasion of St. Augustine. (2) The basic difference between the water requirements of St Augustine and Zoysia is that in the lack of rainfall or irrigation Zoysia will go dormant, turn brown and will recover when moisture is received. St Augustine if allowed to go for an extended period without water will die. How long is extended? It depends on many factors such as soil depth and quality. To look good, both require approximately the same amount of water. (3) My opinion would hinge on the conditions of your yard. If it is predominately sunny, I do not recommend St Augustine. The Zoysias are able to tolerate much more sun that St Augustine and will grow in about the same amount of shade. Floratam St. Augustine is the most drought-tolerant of any St. Augustine -- more drought tolerant than Prairie Buffalo Grass or El Toro zoysia.

QUESTION: I have a weed in my yard that I hope that you can identify and help me eradicate it. It is a vine, has thorns similar to a rose and has heart shaped leaves. My daughter says its a dicot. I have tried Finale and have tried digging it up but it is very intertwined below the surface.

ANSWER: Your daughter is to be commended for learning her botany. Have her explain to you the difference between a dicot and a monocot.

I'm sure that the vine you describe is one of the species of Smilax which are commonly called Greenbriar. It is extremely difficult to eradicate since it reproduces itself from an underground tuber. The best means of attack, if you cannot dig out the tuber, is to cut it back to the ground and continually cut off the new growth. It will eventually run out of stored up energy and succumb.

Greenbriar, Smilax spp. is also called bull briar and cat briar. The green woody stems are armed with long sharp spines which readily tear clothes and flesh. It moves as a vine and will completely cover the edge of a woods or a blueberry field. As it weaves itself together it becomes impenetrable. As a member of the lily family it has a bulb situated deep in the ground. Control is virtually impossible except by continued cutting. Attempts to dig up the bulb have been unsuccessful.

QUESTION: We live in Boerne and had to cut down a lot of dead trees. Can you suggest any fast growing trees to replace the old ones?

ANSWER: The accompanying list of trees are those recommended for South Central Texas and are found at the PLANTanswers web site shown. As you are aware, I'm sure, Boerne is in the middle of oak wilt infestation and this may be what killed your trees. When planting new trees it would be prudent to include varieties other than those which are susceptible to oak wilt. I'm not saying that you shouldn't plant some trees that might be susceptible as when you take care to insure that they are not wounded, and if they are, to immediately paint the wound with some kind of paint they should do fine. It is the old live oaks with their interconnected root systems that are in most danger.

Also you should be aware that the faster a tree grows, generally speaking, the more problems it is going to have. Some good ones to consider are Cedar Elm, Chinkapin Oak, Montezuma Cypress, Monterrey Oak, Large Crape Myrtles such as 'Basham's Party Pink', and Texas Redbud.

If you want to use an oak, use any member of the white oak subfamily (Leucobalanus?) as listed in order from the Paul Cox and Patti Leslie book Texas Trees:

Gambel Oak (Quercus gambelii)
Harvard Shin Oak (Quercus harvardii)
White Shin Oak (Quercus sinuata var. breviloba)
Durand Oak (Quercus durandii)
Lacey's Oak (Quercus laceyi)
Chinkapin Oak (Quercus muhlenbergii)
Post Oak (Quercus stellata)
Bur Oak (Quercus macrocarpa)
White Oak (Quercus alba)
Overcup Oak (Quercus lyrata)
Monterrey Oak (Quercus polymorpha) This is not true Leucobalanus, but close enough)

REMEMBER: No oak is immune!!!!!!