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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 some pine trees that I brought home with me from South Carolina. They have been in pots for 3 months now. They have not really grown too much due to the soil not being acidic like their natural environment. I was using Greenlight soil acidifier and I purchased some Jobes fertilizer spikes for evergreens. Will these options help my pine trees grow. I would like these trees to get a good start so I can somewhat try to grow this kind of tree in San Antonio.

ANSWER: You are trying to do the impossible as many before you have tried, but as you said the soil is NOT very acidic. If you desire to grow these trees then you will have to grow them in a container forever!! It is virtually impossible to lower the soil pH to a sufficient level in our area due to all the calcium in the soil, unless you excavate an area and bring in acid soil. However, unless you use rain water, then the water you apply will eventually cause the pH of this new soil to go up.

QUESTION: I read an article in the Dallas Morning News (May, '97) about galls with information from Dr. Mike Merchant, urban entomologist for the Texas Agricultural Extension Service in Dallas. The article stated that galls can be ignored with the exception of a pocket vein gall. A pocket vein gall was described as "a warty growth on the midrib of oak leaves caused by a specific type of fly. An overabundance of these galls can kill the leaves and interfere with photosynthesis in the tree."

I now believe that I was describing a pocket vein gall which is affecting my red oak. I can live with all the other galls on the tree, but I am concerned about this type since it curls the leaves. What signs should be noticeable if an "overabundance" is achieved on the tree? Defoliation? Can leaf vein galls be pro-actively treated with a broad spectrum pesticide? And what type? Dormant oils? Should I remove the affected leaves from the branches? And how should they be disposed of?

ANSWER: Pocket vein gall on red oak

Vein pocket gall is a deformity of red oak leaves caused by a tiny fly of the genus Macrodiplosis. It is a fairly common gall on red oaks in the north Dallas area, though relatively little is known about its biology and life cycle. It appears to have one generation per year, with adults active in early spring during the time that oak leaves are unfolding. The adults lay their eggs either on oak buds or on new, expanding leaves. The larvae begin feeding on these leaves as the leaves grow, causing the deformity to occur. Once leaves are fully developed they have the warty, misshapen veins characteristic of Macrodiplosis infestation.

Once vein pocket gall deformities are evident, there is little that anyone can do to control the fly. Developing larvae are well protected from both foliar and systemically applied insecticides. The only treatment that can be recommended for this insect is application of an insecticide during new leaf emergence. Orthene, as a systemic insecticide that can be applied to the foliage, is probably the best choice. We have no data as to the effectiveness of such treatment, but it is our best suggestion at present. Oil sprays at time of leaf emergence may or may not be effective; but because of the potential for phytotoxicity to the tender, expanding leaves, I do not recommend it at this time.

QUESTION: Where does chocolate and cocoa come from?

ANSWER: Chocolate and cocoa are manufactured from the fruit of the Cacao Tree, or Theobroma cacao. This tree grows in the moist areas of a tropical belt 20 degrees above and below the equator. Bahia, in eastern Brazil, and the Ivory Coast of Africa produce almost half of the world*s cacao beans.The cacao pods are produced along the trunk and branches of its tree. These pods are picked at maturity and split open with machetes to extract the 20 to 40 beans inside. These beans are heaped in piles or special crates and fermented for 3 to 14 days. This fermenting is where the characteristic chocolate aroma and flavor develops. They are then dried and bagged for shipment to chocolate factories in other countries.

At the factories, the beans are cleaned, roasted, and shelled. The pulp is separated from the shell fragments by winnowing leaving the larger pieces of pulp called nibs. These are crushed and ground where heat from the process creates a liquid product called chocolate liquor. This is where the manufacturing process begins to vary according to the products.

The chocolate liquor can be cooled at this point to become baking chocolate. Otherwise, the liquor is processed in a high pressure press to extract the fat content known as cocoa butter. The dry cake that remains in the press is ground into cocoa powder.

To make chocolate, the chocolate liquor is blended with more cocoa butter and sweeteners. White chocolate has none of the chocolate liquor added.

QUESTION: What can I do to control grasshoppers?! They are eating me out of house and home!!

ANSWER: The extra dry spring we've been experiencing in Texas has 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 named "Grasshoppers and Their Control," (L5201), by Dr. Carl Patrick can be downloaded off of the web at

QUESTION: I have a question about zoysia grass. I received a flyer in the mail from a place called Zoysia Farm Nurseries in Taneytown, MD. They are advertizing "Amazoy Zoysia Grass Plugs". It has may very admirable advantages over other grass types. My question is this: We are building a house in Minnesota and it will be done in August; I'd like to have zoysia grass but it looks like you can only get it in "plugs" to plant about six inches from each other - will the grass spread out to a nice full lawn quickly since there will be no existing grass? Will planting these plugs during August in Minnesota cause any problem to the grass? Is there no zoysia seed that you can plant?

ANSWER: The Amazoy plugs are a variety of zoysia named Meyer Z-52. While Meyer is one of the more cold hardy zoysias, it is not hardy in Minnesota. See this PLANTanswers web site on zoysia:

This is what it says about the areas of the United States where zoysia is adapted. "In the U.S., zoysiagrasses are adapted along the Atlantic coast from Florida to Connecticut and along the Gulf Coast to Texas. They are also adapted throughout the transition zone of the U.S. and in California."

In the same article you will find: "Zoysia japonica, often called Korean or Japanese lawn grass, was introduced into the U.S. in 1895. Zoysia japonica is more cold tolerant than the other species, but is also the most coarse textured of the three species. Zoysia japonica is the only zoysiagrass species that can be established from seed. Meyer zoysiagrass is an improved strain of Zoysia japonica.

QUESTION: We started our zucchini in the greenhouse and then transplanted them several weeks ago. They have bloomed and began producing zucchini. They get about 3 inches long, and begin turning yellow on the end of the zucchini, then rot. Why is this happening?

ANSWER: Your problem is incomplete pollination. In fact there was probably no pollination. The squash plant will have both male and female blossoms and you need both at the same time to have pollination and have the fruit develop. The female blossom has the fruit (ovary) attached to the blossom. If you see that you have both, then you have a problem of no pollinators (bees). If this is the case, then you can do the deed yourself by transferring pollen from the male bloom to the female. The easiest way to do this is to break off the male flower (the one on a long stem) and peel off the flower petals exposing the pollen covered male part. Then rub this on the female part of the female blossom. In a couple of days you will have an eating size zucchini.

QUESTION: The Victoria Advocate: I write a question/answer column for the newspaper. An elderly reader is looking for a source in Texas for huckleberry plant seeds or root stock. Do you know a source in Texas? I know this plant/bush grows wild in the College Station area, but I need a source.

ANSWER: I know of no sources in Texas, however, the following California nursery should be able to help you.

Clyde Rotin Seed Co.
PO Box 2366
Castro Valley, CA 994546

QUESTION: Is a purple leaf plum tree an edible fruit tree?

ANSWER: Yes it is. It produces a rather small, sour plum which makes excellent jelly or jam.

QUESTION: I have a Bradford Pear that was here when we moved in about 4 or 5 years ago here in Plano, TX.. It never needed any special attention so it has just gotten water and fertilizer that the yard gets. Within the last week the tree leaves have all turned brown looking like it is dying. Normally the heat, humidity, lack of rain, etc., doesn't effect it, and there are no bugs to speak of. There are a few leaves that are still green but they are on their way out. No other trees of this variety are looking like this.

ANSWER: You have a root problem of some sort; it sounds a lot like cotton root rot. If the dead leaves hang on the tree, then it is cotton root rot; if the leaves drop then it is something else. It is kind of early to see the affects of cotton root rot showing up. Fireblight can also kill them, but it has been a minor problem this year due to the dry weather.

The problem may just be dry weather although it is hard to believe dry weather can kill an established tree. However, many times certain trees are planted are very thin shallow soils and you only find out when conditions are at there worst. Since there doesn't appear to be any hope of saving this tree, you need to dig it up and let a plant pathologist examine the roots to see if the cotton root rot fungus is present. If present, then you need to avoid this area with future plants or plant a cotton root rot tolerant tree like Mexican plum or pomegranate.

QUESTION: I have some hot-banana peppers that are growing well, but when the blossom opens the buds fall off the plants. The stems of the buds turn yellow when they fall off the plant. I have not feed them anything in the last two weeks, just watered them about every three days. There are two plants in a six-gallon container and a completely soil-less mix. What seems to be the problem?

ANSWER: The problem seems to be that the blossoms are falling off. Now, what is causing the problem? Specifically I do not know. However, I do not think that you are watering them enough and probably not fertilizing them enough. You have two plants in a container that is just about big enough for one. Peppers, like tomatoes, need lots of water to do their thing. And plants growing in containers should be fertilized each time they are watered with a dilute solution of a water-soluble fertilizer.
For the exact instructions about growing plants in containers, see:

QUESTION: Our home is in Williamson County north of Austin. We have a 609 buffalograss lawn that is being invaded by wild bermuda. Is there any way to get rid of the bermuda that will not also get rid of the buffalograss?

ANSWER: To my knowledge there is nothing that will eradicate bermudagrass without also killing the buffalograss. However, there are several things that encourage the infiltration of bermuda. Water, fertilizer and mowing will all eventually cause a buffalo lawn to turn into a bermuda lawn. Also since bermuda seed can be introduced into the area, the application of pre-emergent herbicide is indicated.

Bermuda needs much more fertilizer than does buffalo, so I recommend no application of fertilizer to a buffalograss lawn. Nor do I recommend watering any more than just enough to keep it barely green in periods of no rainfall.

The bermuda that is there can be let grow in long runners which then can be treated with one of the glyphosate products such a Roundup applied with a sponge, wick applicator or similar means without getting the herbicide on the buffalo. Or you can spot kill the bermuda with the same glyphosate, realizing that you will kill the buffalo in that same spot.

See this PLANTanswers article on buffalograss:

QUESTION: I am located in Denton, 35 miles north of Dallas. I was wondering if it is possible to start a cherry tree from pits/seed? If it is possible to do this, can I use the pits/seeds from cherries I buy from the produce department at a local grocery store? Should I crack the cherry pit to allow the seed inside to grow? If it isn't possible to start a cherry tree from cherries from a grocery store produce department cherry, where could I get seeds for this purpose?

ANSWER: Yes, you can start a tree from the pits of cherries purchased at the grocery store. The only problem is that such cherries are marginality adapted at best in your area. Sour cherries will do better than sweet cherries though.

The pits require stratification or cold, moist chilling in order to germinate. Place the pits in a moist paper towel and then put this towel with the seeds in a zip lock bag and place it in the crisper of the refrigerator. Leave them in there for 6 to 8 weeks. Check them in 6 weeks and if some of the seeds have sprouted, then it is time to plant them. If none have sprouted leave them another 2 to 3 weeks. After this time plant the seeds in a containers with a well drained potting soil. The seeds should sprout in 2 to 3 weeks.

QUESTION: I have persimmon which would have some fruits in the early stage the size of a golf balls (these are non- astringent --khaki) than later they all drop and I have none left on for harvest. Chestnuts have lots of flowers then these Japanese beetles come and again I will have very few chestnuts to harvest. What kind of fertilizer do I use for both of them (these trees are 10 years old ) and what do use to keep the Japanese beetles off. Spraying is not possible as they are huge trees?

ANSWER: Stress is causing the persimmons to drop. You need to mulch around the tree with 6 to 8 inches of mulch spread to the dripline and keep the tree well watered. Seedless persimmon fruit are very prone to dropping from any kind of stress.

Without spraying the entire chestnut tree it is going to be very hard to keep the beetles off. You can try spraying the trunk of the tree with 80% WP Sevin as many times the beetles crawl up the trunk rather than fly into the tree. But again the chestnuts may just be dropping because of stress. Watering is critical in July, August and September on such trees.

QUESTION: I have planted cucumbers the last couple of years and they seem to do fine until I harvest the first ones. Then the vines begin dying at the root continue to grow until the disease moves up the runners to kill the entire vine.

ANSWER: It could be the squash vine borer (See PLANTanswers for more detail -- SEARCH for squash vine borer) killing your plant or, if a disease, two diseases come to mind based on your description of symptoms:

1) Gummy stem blight, caused by the fungus Didymella bryoniae. Stem cankers develop in the cortical tissue, and a brown, gummy exudate is commonly produced on the surface. Small fruiting bodies may appear as black specks on the cankers. Stems may be girdled and seedlings killed. If infection occurs in older plants, lesions develop more slowly on stems near the center of a hill. Cankered vines usually wilt after mid-season. Fungal strains tolerant of benomyl (Benlate) and thiophanate methyl have prevailed in recent years, so choose alternative fungicides.

For control: use fungicide-treated seed; rotate so that cucumbers are planted no more often than every 2 years on the same plot; plant on a raised bed; use drip or furrow irrigation so that stem and foliage wetness is minimal; apply a fungicide on a regular schedule (decrease intervals during rainy weather) such as mancozeb or chlorothalonil (Daconil 2787) in home gardens (Quadris labeled for commercial large scale producers).

2) Charcoal rot, caused by the fungus Macrophomina phaseolina. Yellowing and death of crown leaves and a water-soaked lesion that girdles the vine at the crown and upwards for 2-6 inches. Symptoms usually appear just prior to harvest. There may be amber colored exudates that dry to a dark brown. The water soaked lesion develops a dry, tan appearance with stem cracks with numerous small black microsclerotia embedded in the diseased tissue.

There are no control efforts that are consistently effective. Avoid planting after green bean or other cucurbits.

QUESTION: My husband applied Fertilome Weed and Feed to our grass about 5-6 weeks ago. Our grass looks great! However, he also got it in our flower beds. After I planted petunias there, and they begin to die after 4 days, we realized what had probably happened. I waited two weeks and tried again. Same thing happened. How long will the Weed and Feed be active. They are dying from the bottom up, turning yellow and drooping. Is there any thing I can do or will I have to wait until next year to plant anything here.

ANSWER: You have experienced first hand the very reason why we never recommend the application of combination fertilizer/herbicide products. The herbicides in these products do not know the difference between your petunia, your shrub, your tree and the broad-leaf weeds in your lawn. Misapplication, and/or the translocation of the herbicide through the soil has resulted in many such accidents.

I do not know what herbicide is in the 'weed and feed' product that you used. My recommendation would be to call the manufacturer and ask them. They should be able to tell you how long you need to wait before setting out more transplants.

QUESTION: I'm trying to use garlic spray as a means to control pests in my vegetable garden. Do you have a recipe? I made a small batch using one tablespoon of garlic powder to a cup of water. I applied this to my tomatoes, pumpkin & peppers. The tomatoes didn't seem to like it; they seems to wilt some the next day (I then sprayed them down with water -- hopefully they'll bounce back to their previous vigor). Now I've taken the same 1 tablespoon of powder, boiled it in a cup of water and strained it through a coffee filter, hoping this makes it a little weaker and easier on the sprayer. But I'm nervous about using this solution. Is this an appropriate mix, or do you know of a recipe that you can recommend? Oh -- the main pests that I'm concerned about are whiteflies and aphids.

ANSWER: Here is a recipe for garlic spray that I found on the Internet:

"GARLIC SPRAY - Even though I don't like pesticides at all, there is a very mild one you can make at home. It's made from edible products that you can find in the garden or already in the kitchen. It's called garlic/pepper tea and I'll give you the formula for this insect and fungus control right after this. Garlic pepper tea is a great tool to help control troublesome insect and disease pests on ornamentals and food crops. Mix the juice from 2 large garlic bulbs. Use the whole bulb, not just a clove, together with the juice of 2 hot peppers - jalapeno, cayenne or habanero. I use a blender then strain the solids out and toss them in the compost pile. Add enough water to the juice to make 1 gallon - that's your concentrate - the juice of 2 garlic bulbs, 2 hot peppers and 1 gallon of water. Pure filtered water is best. Store in plastic container with a loose fitting lid. When you need to spray, use ¼ cup of the garlic/pepper tea concentrate in a gallon of water and spray foliage during the early morning or around dusk. For an even milder spray, omit the pepper. If you don't want to mix your own, 2 EPA registered garlic and pepper products are on the shelves in the nurseries."