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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 Mom, who lives in Houston, swears that she has what looks like saliva appearing on several different plants in her tropical flower garden. The substance is not sticky, and has no obvious source. Any ideas what it is and how to get rid of it?

ANSWER: Has some pervert been spitting on your old Mama's plants!?!?!? Or is it just a bunch of little disgusting insects disguised in a spit-like substance and consequently called spittle bugs?!?!? Spittlebugs are sucking insects of the order Homoptera, family Cercopidae. They are not true bugs but rather closely related to leafhoppers and are sometimes called froghoppers. The remarkable thing about spittlebugs is the frothy mass (children call it frog spit) enveloping the nymphs. This spittle is a combination of a fluid voided from the anus and a mucilaginous substance secreted by glands on the 7th and 8th abdominal segments, mixed with air drawn in between a pair of plates under the abdomen. The mixture is forced out under pressure, as from a bellows, to make uniform bubbles. The tail, going up and down, operates the bellows and deeps the bubbles coming. As soon as the first bubbles are formed, the nymph reaches back with its legs and hooks onto the globules, dragging them forward to its head. The greenish nymph is soon hidden under a mound of snow-white foam, protected from sun and preying insects. Many spittlebugs are relatively harmless but several are economically injurious to plants. Spray with methoxychlor, Malathion, or endosulfan or use systemic insecticides such as Orthene. I hope you did not read this answer either soon after or directly before consuming a meal -- if so, I apologize for the graphic description. See, your Mama wasn't imagining things!!!

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: Mesquite are deep plowed out with bulldozers pulling the huge plow on rangeland. So either "deep digging" or use of a chemical such as Ortho Brush-B-Gon or Ortho Brush Killer to be absorbed into the stump are your only choices.

QUESTION: My oleanders have an orange caterpillar looking bug with black spines that eats the oleanders. What are these bugs called. What will kill them...they can soon kill the plant.

ANSWER: You have identified the Oleander Caterpillar, Syntomedia epilais juncundissima (Dyar), the worst pest of oleander, especially in Florida. The larva is orange with tufts of long black hairs scattered over the body, 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 two teaspoons of a liquid detergent (Joy, Ivory Liquid) per gallon of spray since oleander leaves are so waxy.

QUESTION: My garden is becoming over run by "pill bugs." They even ate the last seeds I planted. What can I do to get rid of them. I prefer to use organic methods, if there are any that work.

ANSWER: Simply search PLANTanswers for the answer and you will find:

QUESTION: I'm not sure of the name. When I was a kid we called them doodle bugs. They are grey, armor plated insects with at least six legs. When threatened, they roll into a tight ball. They hid under my mulch and ate my young okra plants, bush beans and even my periwinkles. Do you have any non-chemical suggestions?

ANSWER: You are describing what are called pillbugs, rollie-pollies, sow bugs and, yes, maybe even doodle bugs. They are night feeders and feed on organic matter. They usually do not damage plants unless it is young, tender and close to the ground. Garden centers sell pill bug bait which they attack and devour. When consumed, the bait containing some sort of insecticide (whether it is organic in origin or not!) kills them. You can make your own bait using an organic insecticide in mushed-up bananas or any decaying food material. Some people put large lids or boards in the garden area and pour hot water on the pill bugs after they have congregated. You can co-exist by protecting young seedlings with a band of insecticidal dust which allows maturing of plants before devouring by bugs. The more organic matter you have, the more rollie pollies you will have. Some gardeners recommend ducks or guineas.

QUESTION: I have a nice yard with various types of grass. and 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 5-7 days or the St. Augustine as high as the mower blade can be set every 7-10 days, burr plants cannot 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. Stickerburr 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. For the complete program of grass burr elimination, see:

QUESTION: Why doesn't my wisteria bloom?

ANSWER: Youth could be the problem since seedling plants require several years to flower and sometimes fail to flower at all. Grafted plants, the kind purchased at nurseries and garden centers, should not have this problem.

Reluctance of wisteria to bloom abundantly is usually due to a lack of one or more of the following cultural requirements: full sun, good drainage, and light fertilization in the fall, not spring. Another essential is annual pruning, which can be done by shortening new shoots to five buds in summer. If a grafted or cutting-grown Chinese wisteria refuses to flower in three or four years after planting, or a Japanese wisteria is barren after about seven years, prune it heavily and fertilize with superphosphate. If this fails to produce blooms root-prune by driving a spade into the soil 24 inches from the trunk around the plant OR beat the devil out of the trunk!!!

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 no 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 leave 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 1/4 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 getting 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 with the hardiness of these plants says that they are frost tender and only hardy 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.

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 which 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:

Here is the answer given to a previous question about Polypodium polypodioides:

Question: Wife gave me some "resurrection fern" bulbs. Can you tell me how to plant them and how to take care of them?

Answer: Finding information on growing this fern is next to impossible. It is an epiphyte getting its nourishment from the air. Therefore, it may be very difficult to grow it by "planting it". This web site has some images of the Polypodium polypodioides var. michauxianum and this is what it has to say:

Resurrection Fern - Native Closely packed clumps of open green or curled dry fronds are a common sight on rough tree bark and rock in hammocks and forests throughout Florida and the Southeast. The common name comes from the fronds' ability to curl up and appear dead when low in moisture, then and open quickly and "green up" after a rain.

The fronds are a few inches long, dark green, narrowly triangular and deeply divided into several pairs of narrow, straight-sided, rounded lobes. The rhizomes are long, thin and often difficult to detect because of their sturdy attachment to the host plant. When drying out a frond's tips curl inside towards its upper surface, giving a fiddle head look.

Several form around the end of the lobes and the underside of each frond is covered with tiny brown scales. This species may occasionally form terrestrial colonies in well-drained soil.

This is what it says: "Overhead, the aerial flora of the park puts on a fascinating display. This is Resurrection Fern, Polypodium polypodioides. When there has been rain, the fronds of this fern unroll, become green, and produce spores. During dry spells, they turn brown and curl up. This plant is a true epiphyte: it grows on trees but takes nothing from them other than support." The only mention of growing in a planting medium that I found was in the first reference above, last sentence; "This species may occasionally form terrestrial colonies in well-drained soil." It does not tell how to do it, however.

QUESTION: I have a crapemyrtle. It has multiple trunks, 2 inch to 3 inch diameter, about 12 feet tall. During two days it has dropped 50 percent of it's leaves. Leaves are GREEN and look very normal. Even the leaves that are laying on the ground are green and look normal. There is a little powdery mildew...not much. If you shake a limb the leaves fall like rain. There is no sign of cupping, no discoloration, no margin burn, no insects. I did notice that someone has used some herbicide across the alley. It appears that the herbicide hit only the grassy weeds...since some broad leaf weeds are growing right in the middle of the kill. This is the only tree (shrub) in the area that is having the problem.

ANSWER: Crape myrtles show their thirst much more than many other plants. The normal reaction for trees and shrubs is to abort a lot of leaves. This may be what is happening to your crape myrtle. If you see no other herbicide damage, you can probably rule that out.

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/efficacy ( or lack of) of using Epson Salt as a means of supplying micronutrients. If the idea does have any merit, please advise also on the amount to 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 I could find comes from Rodale's Garden Problem Solver which calls for 1 cup Epsom salts dissolved in one gallon of water and applied either as a foliar spray or directly to the soil. I find nothing that says that 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 F.

QUESTION: I am interested in learning more about growing Tea shrubs and Tea trees in Texas. I really don't know where to start but I would like to know if tea is grown commercially in Texas as well as where one might turn to for more information on this subject.

ANSWER: I know of no cultivated tea in Texas. Here are a couple of web sites which will provide links to many articles on tea for your information: Info

QUESTION: My neighbor has two lovely hibiscus plants but they have grown tall and sparse. She needs to know exactly how, where and when to cut them back. I understand this is the way they grow in the wild but she would prefer a bushier plant. Also, one plant tends to lose its buds before it has a chance to bloom.

ANSWER: The hibiscus should be pruned back quite drastically to force new growth and bushiness. This needs to be done periodically to keep the plants from getting in the shape they are now in. It can be done anytime, but is best done just as you are bringing it outside from the winter protection. While this article does not address the pruning of tropical hibiscus it has lots of good information on pruning in general. It can be found at this PLANTanswers web site:

There are a couple of reasons for a hibiscus to lose its buds before they open. She needs to check for thrips. Have her cut some of the buds open and tap them on a piece of white paper. If she sees tiny, slender insects crawling on the paper, the plant has thrips and they will keep the buds from opening. They can be controlled using a systemic insecticide such as Ortho's Orthene. Another reason that hibiscus will abort their blossoms is getting too dry. They do not like to dry out.

QUESTION: I would like to know a method of preserving 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; for drying, place leaves on a wire rack in a warm, airy place, then store in an airtight jar.

QUESTION: I moved to southwest Austin (Oak Hill) recently and bought a new home. I have the fun of planting all of my favorite plants with the exception of those that don't do well in this area. I have installed Prairie Buffalo grass in my yard and have come across conflicting recommendations regarding its watering and fertilizing schedules. Please advise. I also bought an eastern redbud tree. I've been told that it's the one used by landscapers in this area. Why don't they plant Texas redbuds? Can I expect it to do well?

ANSWER: You will get as many opinions on buffalo grass as you ask horticulturists. In my opinion, buffalo grass is a fine prairie grass and that is how you should let it grow. It should never be fertilized or mowed and should be watered just enough to keep it green. When it is manicured like a typical lawn grass, it will be overtaken by bermuda grass if there is any in the vicinity. Our recommendations for ornamental trees can be found in the list of Outstanding Landscape Plants for South Central Texas at this PLANTanswers web site:

You will note that in the list of small trees we include the Mexican redbud and the Texas redbud. The two just mentioned have a much thicker and smaller leaf. It seems to be able to withstand the extremely hot, dry summers we have much better than the thin leaf of the eastern redbud. As to why the landscapers don't plant the proper tree - probably because the customer doesn't demand it!