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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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Questions for the Week


The romantic renaissance of country decorating has brought with it a return of the craft of drying flowers. Whether used in bouquets, pressed flower pictures, in potpourri, on hats, wreaths, kissing balls, shadow boxes, hearth brooms, Shaker boxes, window ornaments, door swags, or whatever-- dried flowers inspire us to recreate a gentler time of beauty and elegance in our homes.

The inspiration to grow and use dried flowers is as close as the nearest garden center or greenhouse this spring. Many of the common annuals like zinnias and marigolds are easily dried. Look for transplants of these potentially everlasting flowers. These are the ones most often used in dried-flower crafting. It's so easy, they almost dry themselves!

Some of the names of "everlastings" to look for include strawflower, globe amaranth, cockscomb (both crested and plumed), statice, baby's breath, money plant, Chinese lantern, and bells-of-Ireland. Plus, there are 3 with unpronounceable Latin names and no common name: ammobium, helipterum, and xeranthemum. Take them home and give them names you can live with, like Harry or Florence. Various ornamental grasses, such as love-in-a-mist seedpods, blue sage (and it's white-flowered variation), larkspur and yarrow are also easily dried.

All of the above flowers and plants are air-dried. This merely involves cutting them when the dew is gone, tying several stems together with string or pipe cleaner after the leaves are removed, and hanging in a cool, dry, dark and well-ventilated place. Drying time will vary. Check how they feel after a week or so. When they feel crisp, take them down and store them in boxes or paper bags.

Most of these can be used just as they are, but strawflowers and a few others will need wire stems to use them in bouquets. To wire, cut off the flower stem and thread a length of 20-gauge florist wire through the center. Make a 2-inch hairpin bend at the top, and gently pull it through the center of the flower. Wire the new stem with floral tape.

Preserving other garden flowers requires a drying agent. Use sand, fresh kitty litter, a white cornmeal-and-borax mixture, or, for best results, silica gel. This is commercially available and sold under several different trade names at garden centers.

Pick flowers in the middle of the day and cut stems ½ to 1 inch long. Fill the bottom of a flat dish or cardboard box with 1 inch of the drying agent. Put in the flowers. It's usually best to place flat flowers, like daisies or pansies, face down. Most of the flowers with many petals like zinnias, marigolds, calendulas, mums, and aster do better facing up. Experimenting is the only solution. Spikes of flowers like snapdragons and scarlet sage are placed horizontally. Now, carefully add more drying agent until the flowers are completely covered. The drying time varies, but check after several days. Dry petals will feel like paper. Store in boxes with a little silica gel to absorb moisture in the air. If using the dried flowers in arrangements, wire the stems just like the strawflowers.

You can speed up the drying-agent process by using a microwave oven. Prepare a few flowers at a time in a small dish. Put them in the microwave along with a cup of water. "Cook" on medium for 10 seconds to 3 minutes, depending on the thickness of the flower. Again, you must experiment with timing because conditions are so variable. After microwaving, allow them to cool in the drying agent for anywhere from a few hours to up to a day or so.

Flowers with flat faces like pansies, petunias, violas, and daisies are good to press and use for decorating stationery, bookmarks, place mats or for making pictures. Simply place the flowers between sheets of blotting paper and put in a flower press, or weigh them down with bricks or books. Check them after a week. Fern fronds are also good for pressing.

Potpourris are made by drying petals on screens or trays in a dehydrator, gas oven with a pilot light, or in an electric oven on the lowest setting. Rose petals make up the bulk of the mixture, with other flowers, herbs, spices, and citrus peels adding additional fragrance and color. To enhance the scent, add 10 drops or so of an essential oil and 3 tablespoons of ground orris root as a fixative to each quart of dried material.

More Tips:

There are many summer flowering annuals which are excellent for drying. Marigold, salvia, cosmos, zinnia, coreopsis and gloriosa daisy are among the most popular; though ageratum, dahlia, calendula, chrysanthemum, dianthus, aster and daisies also make fine dried specimens.

Drying flowers is such a rewarding experience because it is easy to do. The flowers usually dry remarkably well, and they last for many years. Flowers can be preserved in several different ways, by hanging, pressing or with various drying agents.

If you would like to dry your own bouquets, cut the blossoms when their color is at its peak. Remove the leaves and try one of the following methods:

Hanging: Air-drying or hanging is the easier and best method for preserving many flowers. As a general rule, flowers need only to have the leaves removed and to be hung upside down in a warm, dry, dark place until the moisture content is evaporated. An attic, closet or pantry is a good place to hang flowers for drying.

Pressing: Easy and quick, though the contour is lost and flowers will be flat. For pressing, use unglazed paper, such as newsprint or an old telephone book. Place the flowers so that they do not overlap between several thicknesses of the paper. Weigh down with a heavy object. The time required for drying can be anywhere from 2 to 4 weeks.

Drying Agents: Flowers can be dried by burying them in materials such as sand and borax or corn meal and borax. These materials are successful for certain flowers, but undependable for others.

More recently, a drying agent called silica gel has been used. This compound has the capacity to absorb large quantities of moisture and can quickly dehydrate cut flowers. Flowers, minus leaves, are buried in the gel in a closed container and left for about a week. Silica gel can be used over and over by re-drying the gel in a warm oven.

Silica gel should be available at florist or hobby shops.

Microwave oven: The versatile oven, which has proven itself so useful to the chef, also has the capacity of drying your favorite flowers. Microwave drying is quick and relatively simple.

Whichever method you choose, using dried flowers for "permanent" arrangements can be colorful and rewarding, and surprisingly inexpensive.

After you've dried your flowers, put a strand of No. 2 florist's wire through each flower's head, securing the wire by bending it into a hood at the flower-head end. The final step is to wrap all wire with green floral tape and, presto, you're ready to be creative.


QUESTION: I have just planted two Bradford pears. They are about 10 feet in height. My question is, are they damaged or killed easily by strong winds? In the location they are planted, they seem to be exposed to strong gusts and usually a constant breeze. Should I move them before they get established to a less windy more sheltered location? Or, do you think they will be OK? I live in northern Maryland, and it is starting to get cold in the evenings.

ANSWER: The Bradford Pear is a fruit tree so it's not going to be as strong as some of the hardwoods. However, I would think that short of a hurricane they should be OK in the location where you have them.

QUESTION: I would like to learn about specific companion plantings, especially connected to vegetables. I live in Winter Park, FL (Zone 9). I am growing Swiss Chard (the white type), tomatoes, Bush Beans, cucumbers, squash (esp. spaghetti, scalloped, zucchini and the mild non-sweet yellow squashes), lettuce, radishes, etc. I love growing herbs and plant many each year. I also grow a variety of flowers. But I am interested in the various companion plants that can be used in both beds and containers.

ANSWER: I would recommend that you go to your library and check out a book by Louise Riotte entitled Carrots Love Tomatoes - Secrets of Companion Planting for Successful Gardening, published by Garden Way Publishing. Their address is: Storey Communications, Inc., Pownal, Vermont, 05261. As an example, under "carrots" this book says: "Carrots grow well with leaf lettuce and tomatoes but have a pronounced dislike for dill."

QUESTION: Are cowpeas the same thing as black-eyed peas?

ANSWER: Here in Texas, these, along with field peas, are all the same thing. However, there are different types, namely blackeyes, purple hulls, creams and crowders. They are classified by their pod and seed characteristics.

Back in the days of the Wild West, Southern gentility and Northern hostility, our celebrated black-eyed peas were used strictly for feeding cattle in the South. During the Civil War battle of Vicksburg, the town was under siege for over 40 days. No supplies went in and none came out. The entire town was on the brink of starvation. So they ate those humble "cowpeas," thus starting a southern tradition. Nowadays black-eyes are eaten every New Year's Day to bring good luck for the coming year. All the way back to the days of the Pharaoh, black--eyed peas have been a symbol of luck and fortune. The superstition is that those who eat black-eyes, an inexpensive and modest food, show their humility and save themselves from the wrath of the heavens because of the vanity they might have. Black-eyed peas are neither a pea nor a bean. They are lentils.

Then you will know that cowpeas are black-eyed peas and why they were called cowpeas.

QUESTION: I would like to know how often and when are the best times to apply pre-emerge herbicides to control dallisgrass.

ANSWER: The use of pre-emergent herbicides alone will not control dallisgrass because it is a perennial. This PLANTanswers website gives information on dallisgrass and its control: publications/weed14.html

QUESTION: I am looking for any and all information concerning deer and their likes and dislikes of plants. I am especially interested in perennials and annuals. I have heard some theories about color?

ANSWER: Here are a couple of PLANTanswer articles listing deer resistant plants. I would emphasize that these are only "deer resistant".

QUESTION: I have a place in Wimberley, Texas. I have just cleared an area of brush and cedar trees. There are bare spots that I would like to cover over the winter. Would fescue grass be acceptable? If so, what kind? Will it go away next spring so that I might sprig St. Augustine?

ANSWER: If your intent is to just plant something to hold the soil for the winter, winter rye is commonly used for this. This is a cool season annual that will die in the heat of the summer or can easily be killed with a herbicide for earlier elimination.

QUESTION: Near Whitesboro, Texas (North Central Texas), there is a pasture with many "fruit trees". These are similar in size and shape to peach trees. They look as though they may have originally been planted, and then spread. They have been there for 40+ years. My husband's grandmother called them "wild lemon trees". He does not remember her ever picking and using them, although his family "put up" almost anything edible. They are the size of a golf ball. They are basically round and a mottled yellow in color. They have the appearance of a lemon inside, but smell like a grapefruit. One fruit yielded approximately 20 seeds. Any idea what they are? If so, how would I best plant the seeds?

ANSWER: I think you either have a bunch of trifoliate orange seedlings or Changsha tangerines. Changsha has a very seedy fruit can survive a lot of cold. Still they would have had to have frozen to the ground a few years ago. The trifoliate orange is also very cold hardy and has tremendous thorns. The leaf also has 3 leaflets so it would be easy to distinguish. This fruit is essentially inedible and the tree is primarily used as a rootstock.

If indeed the trees are citrus trees, then all you have to do is take the seeds and place them in a container with a well- drained potting soil mix in a warm location. The seeds will come up in a couple of weeks as citrus does not have a dormancy requirement.

QUESTION: I recently purchased a plant called "Cassia corymbosa" at a local garden center. It is supposed to be native to this area, but other than that, they could not tell me anything about it, and I cannot find anything on it in any of the books I have on South Texas plants. Would very much appreciate any info you can provide regarding this particular plant.

ANSWER: Cassia corymbosa, or Flowering Senna, is not a native Texas plant. It is a native of Argentina. However, it does quite well here in South Texas as a small ornamental in normal years, getting to approximately 6 feet tall. In an extreme winter they can be killed (I lost one last year when the temperature fell to 18 degrees). They are striking plants with glossy green foliage and clusters of yellow flowers from early summer to fall. I would recommend that you keep it as a potted plant, protecting it from any freeze, until next spring, and then plant it out in a sunny location and enjoy it.

QUESTION: I inherited what I call a pencil tree plant from a former neighbor. It has grown quite large, up over the gutters on my house. I also have lost some branches in a section just above the middle part of the plant. It looks as though I have 2 plants with the bare spot. My question is-- can I cut this plant in the bare area and re-root the top half, or will I ruin the plant if I do. I love the plant, but it's starting to look like some of the pine trees around my house-very long and tall.

ANSWER: Not having the botanical name of your plant, I can't be sure what it is. However, if you break off a small part of it and it bleeds milky sap it is probably Euphorbia tirucalli. I would take a small cutting, let it dry in a shaded location for a couple of weeks to form a callous, and then try to root it in a very well-drained medium. If this is successful, then get more ambitious.

QUESTION: I'm trying to grow vines from sweet potatoes and I need to find out exactly how to do that. I have the potato under water, but the vine doesn't seem to be growing very fast. Any ideas, hints, etc.?

ANSWER: I'm not sure whether you are trying to propagate slips for sweet potato vines or just grow an ornamental vine from the sweet potato. If it is for the propagation of slips, check this PLANTanswers website:

It provides this answer:

"To produce slips, sweet potato roots should be laid on their sides in hotbeds about a month before the nighttime temperatures stay above 60 degrees F. Cover the sweet potato roots with 2 inches of moist sand and keep the hotbed between 75 degrees and 80 degrees F. When the sprout develops, remove them with a twisting tug. Additional transplants (slips) will form from the bedded sweet potatoes if left in place."

If you just want to grow a vine, only about ½ of the potato should be under water. You can do this by placing toothpicks into the side of the potato and suspending it in a jar or glass of water.

QUESTION: We have 2 large yuccas in a raised bed that have thrived for 2 years in full sun. In the last 4 weeks, they have begun to turn brown from the bottom up, and one is now almost completely yellow. The only change that has occurred to their environment is the addition of a sprinkler head, adding to the water they receive. However, we called a Saturday morning plant show, and the host said the additional water should not be causing the problem. He told us to look for maggots (??), but we found none. There are mountain laurels and asters in the same bed, but they have been there all along. Do you know what could be causing the decline and what we can do to save them?

ANSWER: My first reaction would be that you have probably drowned them. Yuccas require a sunny, dry location with a well-drained soil and should not be overwatered. The Mt Laurel, the asters and the Katy Ruellia do not have identical moisture requirements to the yucca. They can all tolerate more moisture and in fact the asters and the ruellia will probably be happy to get it.

QUESTION: I am very interested in planting a Chinese Pistache in my front yard. I prefer to get a male plant, because I've read it can have a more dense foliage, and also because the berries of the female appear to be quite messy. After talking to some of my local nursery representatives, I'm extremely frustrated, because I haven't gotten a clear answer as to whether it is possible to obtain a plant that is known to be male. (In fact, I've mostly gotten ambiguous and contradictory answers.) If you have an answer, please let me know the following: (1) Is it possible to obtain a Chinese Pistache that is certain to be male? (2) If so, should I be able to find this in ordinary nursery stock, or will it require a special order? (3) What precisely should I ask for, so the nurseryman is able to fill my request with certainty?

ANSWER: The Chinese Pistache is diecious meaning it has a male tree and a female tree. Theoretically, from any group of seedlings, 50% will be male and 50% will be female. It seems that there are more female. The sex of the Chinese Pistache cannot be determined until it matures (5 to 7 years or longer) and begins to have fruit (the female) or not have fruit (the male). Since the Chinese Pistache is difficult to root and propagate from cuttings, the majority (or all!!) trees are seedlings that cannot be sexed at an early age. However, remember that the females differ in the amount of fruit they produce every other year (they are biennial bears as are pecans and oaks). The fruit on the female is considered by many to be an asset in providing fall color (beautiful red berries) and to attract wildlife (birds and squirrels LOVE the berries!!). I have never noticed a "mess" under any female Chinese Pistache because the birds get most of the viable berries and the non-viable berries (which never color) shrivel up and can be lawn-mowed into the turf. So, you have to realize you are getting one of the best trees in the universe and put this male chauvinistic attitude behind you!!! You really don't have a choice, since I have never heard of a nursery which is vegetatively propagating a male selection of the Chinese Pistache. I assume you are aware of the growth problem that a flush of juvenile growth on the tree can sometimes exhibit. If you have the problem (not all trees do it!), get back to PLANTanswers and we can help you solve this insignificant problem.

QUESTION: We own a house south of Seguin, in the "sand hills". As you would assume, the soil is very sandy. We want to plant a tall hedge along the road to shield our home from view. Preferably something which will grow 4 feet or higher and is relatively low maintenance. Is there anything we can plant now, that will survive the winter and grow next year? Do you have any suggestions?

ANSWER: At this PLANTanswers web site you will find a list of shrubs that are good for South Texas:

I would suggest that you look around at some of your neighbor's landscaping and see what is growing well that you like. Any plants from the list may be planted now and will spend the winter establishing a root system. I'm sure that the nice people at Green Gate Nursery would help you make a selection.

QUESTION: I have a plant that was saved from the trash and I do not know the official name for it. I have been told it is a corn plant. It is a single thin trunk with long green leaves. My problem is that its about 9 feet tall and is hitting my ceiling. Can I cut it down without killing it? I would like to cut it back a few feet. Will this cause a new stock to grow? We live in California.

ANSWER: The plant you describe is Dracaena fragrans and is commonly called a Corn Plant. Yes, it can be cut back to the level that you desire and new branches will sprout. The portion that you cut off can be propagated into new plants if you wish. To do this you remove the leaves from the severed section, cut it into small pieces, plant horizontally in your planting medium and cover them. You can also air layer the plant at the point you wish to cut it back to and then subsequently plant that top section in its entirety after it establishes roots. Here are some PLANTanswer web sites that discuss ornamental plant propagation: airlayer/ailayer.html