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Milberger's Nursery and Landscaping
3920 North Loop 1604 E.
San Antonio, TX 78247

Open 9 to 6 Mon. through Sat.
and 10 to 5 on Sun.

Three exits east of 281, inside of 1604
Next to the Diamond Shamrock station
Please click map for more detailed map and driving directions.

Click here


Herbs are plants that are used as flavoring agents. The common herbs used in cooking are referred to as culinary herbs. Whether mild or savory, herbs impart a delicate flavor to food; while the stronger or pungent herbs add zest to foods. These herbs are attractive and varied so their ornamental value is also important.

The ornamental value of herbs enables them to be used in flower beds, borders, rock gardens, or corner plantings. Some herbs are annuals while others are perennial, coming come up year after year. You can locate annual herbs in your annual flower garden or vegetable garden. The perennial herbs should be located at the side of the garden where they won't interfere with next year's soil preparation.

You'll care for your herb garden much the same way as your vegetable or flower garden. Select a sunny, well-drained location. Apply a slow-release fertilizer at the rate of 2 pounds per 100 square feet.

Water as necessary during dry periods. Generally, about 1 inch of water per week. Mulching will help conserve soil moisture and also reduce weed growth. The mint herbs prefer moist soil so they will require more frequent watering.

Annual and biennial herbs can be established by planting the seed directly in the garden, or by starting seeds indoors for later transplanting. You can save seed produced by the herb plants for next year's crop or obtain seed from your local garden center or seed catalog.

To save your own seed, harvest the entire seed head after it has dried on the plant. The seeds should then be allowed to dry in a protected location that is cool and dry. After the seeds are thoroughly dry, thresh the seed from the seed heads and discard the trash. Store in labeled jars in a dark, cool, dry location.

Some herb seeds such as dill, anise, caraway or coriander can be used for flavorings.

Perennial herbs can be propagated by cuttings or by division. Divide plants every 3 to 4 years in the early spring. The plants should be dug up and cut into several sections. You can also cut 4 to 6 inch sections of the stem and root them by placing the cuttings in moist sand in a shady area. In 4 to 8 weeks, roots should form on these cuttings. Herbs such as sage, winter savory, and thyme can be propagated by cuttings. Chives, lovage, and tarragon can be propagated by division of the roots or crowns.

The leaves of many herbs such as parsley and chives can be harvested for fresh seasonings. On these plants, gradually remove some of the leaves as you need them. Don't remove all the foliage at one time. These plants will produce over a long period of time if they are well cared for.

On rosemary and thyme, clip the tops when the plants are in full bloom. Usually, leaves and flowers are harvested together. Basil, fennel, mint, sage, summer savory, sweet marjoram, tarragon, and winter savory are harvested just before the plant starts to bloom.

Chervil and parsley leaves can be cut and dried anytime. Lovage leaves should be harvested early, during the first flush of growth.

After harvesting, hang the herbs in loosely tied bundles in a well-ventilated room. You can also spread the branches on a screen, cheesecloth, or hardware cloth. If you are only using the leaves, spread them on flat trays. Keep dust off the herbs by using a cloth or similar protective cover that will still allow moisture to pass through.

Many of the herbs we grow today are from the Mediterranean region of the world so hot, dry summer weather suits them perfectly. All too often gardeners lose herbs because they don't have good enough drainage (they really do best in a raised bed) or because they don't have them in the right exposure. Most require sun. a few others, such as mint, will grow well in shade or partial shade.

The following is a list and description of some of the commonly used, adapted herbs for our area:

BASIL - This is one of the easiest of all herbs to grow. It is rather strong, but it's delightful when chopped fine and mixed with butter. In addition to the standard green forms, there are purple-leafed basil and lemon-scented basil. Basil is quite tender, so you can expect to lose it at the first sign of frost.

CAMOMILE - This herb makes one of the best herbal teas. There are two varieties--English and German camomile. The dried blossoms of either variety can be used to make tea. You'll need to experiment with the amount you want to use, but try pouring boiling water over about 1 tablespoon for each cup, steep for about 10 to 15 minutes, then filter this through a tea strainer.

CATNIP - This herb is interesting to grow, especially if you have cats. The cats like to roll all over the catnip as well as any surrounding plants, so you'll probably find it's best to grow this herb in a hanging basket. Although it is sometimes used to make a hot tea, catnip's main attribute seems to be known only by cats.

LEMON BALM - This herb is a member of the mint family and it can be a very rank-growing plant. The leaves have a strong lemon odor and make a delightful tea, or use them to flavor regular teas. Because of its extreme vigor, it's probably best to grow this plant in a confined beds or in containers.

MARJORAM and OREGANO - These herbs are quite similar, although marjoram is considered the milder of the two. They're both easy to grow and can be used year-round. Except during extreme winters, they generally look better in fall and winter than in mid-summer, when growth begins to slow. Oregano is the familiar herb used in pizzas, and one plant would make lots of pizzas.

MINTS - There are many varieties of mints. Spearmint is one of the most popular and easiest to grow. Peppermint is more difficult to grow. There's a pineapple mint, an apple mint, an orange mint (so vigorous it soon becomes a weed) and many variations of these basic fragrances. All mints appreciate moisture and do best where they get afternoon shade. A good place to plant spearmint is at the base of a downspout.

ROSEMARY - This herb comes in many forms-- from a bush that grows up to 4 feet tall, to a low-growing groundcover variety. The fragrance is rather strong but rosemary is typically used with many meat dishes, especially chicken.

Now, here is a sampling of the many herbs that can be grown in this area. Parsley, chervil and chives are best planted in the fall for winter growth.

Basil - Many varieties and flavors are available. The most common in Sweet Green Basil. More unusual varieties are Lemon, Cinnamon, Licorice, Globe, Purple Ruffled, Japanese Sawtooth, Holy, Cuban, and Thai. Not all of these are used in cooking. Basil is the herb to use in all tomato dishes. Add fresh chopped leaves to vinegar, crushed garlic and olive oil to make an excellent dressing for sliced tomatoes. Add to pork, roast chicken, scrambled eggs, eggplant and squash dishes. It's easy to grow from seed.

Chamomile - Generally, chamomile is available from Fiesta brand spices in the form of dried flowers known as Manzanila. It makes an effective tea for calming the nerves. To hide the bitter taste, add lemon and sweeten with honey. It's an easy plant to grow from seed that you'll find at nurseries. The tea can be used as a hair rinse. Roman Chamomile is a low growing ground cover.

Catnip - Catnip is one of the mint varieties, and has an affect on cats. Some love it, some hate it, few ignore it. For humans, it can be made into a calming team. It's best grown from transplants. Grow in hanging baskets to keep curious felines out.

Chives - This is the smallest member of the onion family. Chives are easily grown from seed or transplants. Use in any way that you would use onions. It's a perfect topping with sour cream on baked potatoes. Add to cottage cheese, omelets and sauces. Chives are a good garnish for almost any dish.

Coriander - This herb is also known as Cilantro or Chinese Parsley. It's well known in this area because the leaves are used in Mexican cooking. It is always available in the produce section of the grocery store. The leaves have a very strong, "clean" flavor. Use only young leaves since the older ones tend to be too strong. The seeds have a flavor similar to orange and are used in pastries, sausage, cooked fruit. The seeds are also an important ingredient in pickling spice and curry powder. Easily grown from seed, you can sometimes find it growing wild in this area. Sow seeds every few weeks to have a steady supply of young leaves.

Dill - This is one of the easiest herbs to grow from seed. It will easily become a weed if the seed heads are allowed to dry on the plant. Use dill in picking, or add it to cottage or cream cheese, most vegetables and fish. The dried seed can be added to bread dough for a caraway-like flavor. Also add dill to vinegar to make salad dressings. The large green caterpillars that love to eat dill will turn into swallowtail butterflies, so plant enough for both you and them.

Lemon Balm - This herb is a member of the mint family and can be started from seeds, cuttings or roots. Once established, it will spread and self-sow, so give it plenty of room. Use the fresh or dried leaves to make cold or hot teas. It's a good addition to fish dishes.

Marjoram - A woody cousin of Oregano with a more delicate, sweet flavor. There are several varieties and forms such as Sweet marjoram, Winter marjoram, Pot Marjoram, and Creeping Golden Marjoram. All forms can be used in cooking. Use marjoram in any dish that you would use oregano or sage. Add to roasts, stews, stuffings, gravies, and spaghetti sauces. Great for roast pork and chicken. It is best grown from transplants or root cuttings.

Mint - One of the hardiest and easiest herbs to grow. Grow from cuttings, roots or transplants. Mint can be grown from seed, but it's sometimes difficult. Mint comes in an almost endless variety of types -- Peppermint, Spearmint, "Mint-the-Best", Applemint, Grapemint, Watermint, Orange Bergamont Mint, Pennyroyal Curly Mint, Pineapple Mint, and on and on. Mint plants cross-pollinate easily, so hybrids abound. Spearmint and peppermint are most commonly used as culinary herbs. Mint is used to make teas -- both hot and cold. Also add it to green peas. Make a sauce of mint leaves, vinegar and sugar to serve with roast lamb. Most of them are tough, hardy plants for this area.

Oregano - The name oregano has been given to several unrelated plants that share the same or similar flavor. The most common two in this area is Origanum vulgare, a low spreading Oregano used in Italian or Greek cooking. The other is a bushy shrub we call Mexican Oregano ( Lippia graveolens, or Lippia palmeri). Both are available in local nurseries. Even the common, native Doveweed is an excellent substitute for oregano. Oregano is a basic ingredient in Italian and Mexican cooking. It can be used to season all meats, stuffings, stews, soups, spaghetti sauce, and pizza. Use dried leaves for best results.

Rosemary - This is a hearty, tough plant that thrives in our hot dry climate. You can also find it available as a landscape plant at nurseries and garden centers. One of the oldest herbs known to man, it has a long history of uses. There are many varieties and forms, all of which can be used in cooking. Rosemary is a natural for pork and poultry dishes. Use a branch of Rosemary as a basting brush for barbecued chicken. Place a few rosemary leaves on top of roasts or baked chicken. Rosemary is a strong herb.

Parsley - Without a doubt, parsely is the most widely used yet least eaten herb in the world. Millions of pounds are used to garnish everything and then promptly thrown away. This is a shame because parsley is loaded with vitamins and minerals. Parsley comes in two forms: the flat leaved or Italian parsley, and the curled or French parsley. There are many hybrids of each and you'll find them available as seeds or transplants. Seed is slow to germinate, but worth the wait. Parsley can have problems with root maggots in this area. It's a biennial, producing leaves the first year and flowers the next. Not only is parsley a garnish for any dish, it is also excellent dipped in a batter and deep fried. Brown with butter and garlic for a sauce to baste grilled meats.

Sage - This is another herb that doubles as a durable landscape plant in this area. Very drought resistant, it can be killed by over- watering. Sage is best started from transplants or cuttings, but also can be started from seed. There are many varieties of sage available, including Garden, Golden, Blue, Pineapple, Tri-color, and Clary. All can be used in cooking. Sage leaves should always be dried before using. It is a must in stuffing for poultry. Roast it with pork, or add it to butter for sautéing chicken. It goes well in egg and cheese dishes. Try a little crumbled, dry sage over a bowl of black-eyed peas. Dried leaves will keep their flavor for years.

Thyme - With over 400 species available, this herb is another valuable plant to use in beds, rock gardens and as landscape accents. The varieties that are available locally include Common, Woolly, "Mother-of-Thyme", Lemon, English, Silver, and Golden. Thyme goes well in most meat dishes, poultry, fish, soups and vegetable dishes. Add a pinch of thyme to 1 tablespoon of honey and add to drained cooked carrots and onions. Thyme is a key herb used to make Cajun gumbo. Thyme, along with Sage, Rosemary, Marjoram, and Oregano should be considered the basis of every herb garden.

For more cultural information about herbs, see the cultural information section of this website:

Herbs and Herbal Tea

A well-known singer touts in a television commercial, "I love me, that's why I'm caffeine free". She joins many other men and women who have shunned caffeine drinks for decaffeinated coffee, the "uncola" and the very popular herbal teas. Although they're called "tea", they contain no tea from its traditional source-- the tea plant (Camellia sinensis). Instead, they are made from the leaves, flowers, seeds or other parts of any of a number of herbs. What's really fun about them is that it's easy to make your own!

Herbal teas have been around for a long time--as far back as when man thought to combine herbs with hot water, and certainly long before teas were shipped to us from the Orient. They have been treasured for their taste and for certain healing qualities attributed to them through the centuries. Today their popularity is resurging as a healthy and tasty drink.

If you like to experiment, try these herbal teas.

Chamomile tea, made from the chamomile flowers, has long been a popular hot beverage. But teas made from calendula, hibiscus, goldenrod and rose flowers are equally as good.

Herbal leaves are the basis for most teas. Depending on your preference, you may want to try the annual herbs, such as borage, dill, marjoram, basil, coriander or summer savory. Or use the perennials such as beebalm, catnip, horehound, mints, rosemary, thyme or sage or the biennial caraway. Feel like something lemony? Use lemon balm, lemon verbena or lemon grass. Like licorice? Try anise or fennel. For something different, try the cucumber taste of burnet. For added zip, you can add a dash of orange or lemon peel, cinnamon, cloves or blackberry leaves.

To make herbal teas, start with 1 tablespoon of fresh herbs or 1 teaspoon of dried herbs. You can adjust the amount as you try different combinations and find what amount works best for your taste. Using a non-metallic teapot or individual cup, steep the tea in hot water for 5 to 10 minutes, then strain and enjoy! You can purchase pots and cups in specialty China shops that are made for brewing fresh tea and contain strainers.

Creating an Herb Garden

Whether you pronounce it "urb" or "hurb", an herb is a plant that has a place in or near every garden. In addition their flavor, many of the plants have a rough sort of beauty and character, with a pleasing aroma and historic value. Aside from their traditional uses, herbs should be appreciated for their ornamental qualities. The wide range of foliage colors, textures, decorative flowers and attractive plant forms also contributes to their appeal.

You can construct an herb garden in a traditional "knot" or "wheel" design, or plant a design of your own creation. But a unique design is not necessary. Herbs can be successfully incorporated into the landscape with other plants. Use them as fillers, in a rock garden, as ground covers, as low hedges or edgings, or grow them in containers either outdoors or indoors.

Herbs are easy to grow if your meet a few basic requirements. Most herbs do best in a sunny location. The herbs' essential oils, which produce flavor and fragrance, are produced in the greatest quantities when herb plants receive 6 to 8 hours of sun per day. However, some herbs, particularly those in the mint family, seem to do quite well in a shaded area, though they prefer light shade over heavy shade. Their requirements also include adequate moisture and relatively fertile soil, which rules out locations where tree root competition would be a problem. Any good garden loam will prove to be satisfactory for most herbs. A soil pH of neutral to slightly alkaline is best. Well drained soil is essential, and poorly drained soils should be improved with the addition of sand and organic material. Once established, most herbs prefer dry soil and require water sparingly. Only a few herbs, such as mint, angelica and lovage do best in moist soil.

Fertilization is usually not necessary except for the heavily harvested herbs such as basil, chives and parsley. Too much water and/or fertilizer will produce lush foliage, but not enough of the essential oils. Therefore, they'll have little flavor or fragrance.

Except where seeds or roots are the end product, the leaves or tops of most herbs should be harvested when they are fresh and green, usually before or during full bloom. When cut at this stage, plants will continue to produce new shoots, thus prolonging the harvest.

Herbs are dried by one of several methods: hanging upside down in bunches, or spread thin to dry on racks. Dry them in a cool, shady spot to retain color and oils.

The most commonly asked question about herbs is when to plant them. Most of the herbs can and should be planted now. If the particular herb that you want to plant is susceptible to cold, it will still have time to produce before the first hard freezes of December. Most herbs are cold tolerant but perform poorly in the extreme heat of summer. For that reason, at least in our area, you get more-for-your-money if you plant now. BE SURE that you have uses for the herbs you plant--otherwise you can rename the herb; it will be called "weed"! Live long and prosper while enjoying your herbal life.

People who grow herbs and want to save some for winter should harvest after flower buds have formed but before they bloom. High concentrations of oil in the leaves make flavor most intense at this time. After flowering, plants produce seeds or woody stems, thereby weakening their flavor.

Harvest herbs on a warm, dry morning after the dew evaporates, but before the sun is high in the sky. Perennials such as rosemary and thyme should be picked with care, leaving about 2/3 of the leaves intact. If clipped conservatively, they will yield greenery throughout a mild winter. Rinse picked herbs in cool water and discard damaged leaves.

Here are some methods for preserving herbs:

FREEZING - Delicate annuals such as dill, basil and chervil have volatile essential oils that won't survive drying. To keep their flavor alive, freeze them instead. For large-leafed herbs like basil, pick the leaves off the stalks and pack around 12 leaves in small plastic freezer bags.

Pack sprigs of small-leafed herbs such as dill and tarragon. Parsley and chives can be frozen too, though both will live in the garden through winter in many parts of Texas. Use frozen herbs in the same proportion as you would fresh.

DRYING - Drying is effective only with those herbs whose oils do not readily vaporize, such as oregano, mint, sage and a few others. Though drying in bunches is the traditional method, it is not the best.

Herbs will dry more evenly if you place a single layer on a muslin-covered ventilated rack in a dry, airy room. Allow 2 to 4 days to dry completely. To dry seeds, put them in a dry place, cover with paper and leave them 10 to 14 days.

When herbs are dry, remove the leaves and store away from light in tightly covered containers. Home-dried herbs have more flavor than ones commercially prepared and packaged, but even so, they are best if used within 6 months.

Overall, dried herbs have more flavor intensity than fresh. Use ½ to 1/3 the amount of fresh herbs called for in a recipe.

HERB VINEGAR - Perhaps the easiest way to preserve herb flavors is in vinegar. If you have enough cuttings, stuff a jar full, crushing them with a wooden spoon. Fill the jar with white, cider or wine vinegar. This method will give the vinegar a highly concentrated flavor of herbs.

If fewer cuttings are available, use 6 tablespoons of chopped herbs to 1 pint of vinegar. Steep in a brightly lit area, but not direct sunlight, for 2 weeks. Use vinegar on vegetables, salads, meat and anything else you would season with salt and pepper.

HERB BUTTER - Blend 2 to 4 tablespoons of finely chopped herbs into a stick of softened butter. Shape into a roll, cover in plastic wrap and freeze in an airtight freezer bag.

For more about herbs and herbal recipes, see:

and the recipes at:

For information about pest control on herbs, see:

and the information at:


QUESTION: A friend has a passion flower vine which is bearing fruit. She said she will give me some seeds from it but does not know when to pick the fruit , to get the seeds. How do you know when the fruit is ripe and how do you do it to get the seeds and plant them?

ANSWER: Leave the fruit on the vine until the outside skin becomes light tan, orange/yellow or pink depending on the variety of the passion flower vine. It will also shrivel up some and the skin will become tough. Remove the seed from the fruit and let them dry in a cool dry place. Then, store them until next spring in a cool (cold), dry, place such as the garage. You can then sow them anytime between February to May. Prior to sowing, the seed should be soaked in warm water for 24 hours to speed up their germination.

Sow them in a seed flat or in individual pots in a good quality, moist potting soil or seed starting medium. The seed should be covered by about 1/4 inch of the soil. Cover the container with clear plastic wrap and place it in a warm (65 to 75 degrees) location until the seedlings appear. Keep moist, but not overly wet, and do not let the temperature go below 65 degrees.

Do not plant them outside until all danger of frost is past.

QUESTION: Suddenly, all the leaves on one of my large, old pecan trees are brown. I think it happened rapidly, within just a week or so. It's been a hot summer, but I have been watering the lawn around the tree. The other pecans in the yard are okay. There are no visible bug infestations, and no evidence of toxic substances (everything else nearby is healthy). Any ideas?

ANSWER: More than likely, the stress from the drought weakened the tree sufficiently to allow the invasion of a fungus called cotton root rot on the root system. Essentially the fungus destroys the roots and the tree dies overnight. When a tree dies from cotton root rot, the dead leaves continue to hang on the tree. If the leaves dropped off the tree when it died, then it may have just been the dry weather. If the dry weather killed the tree back, then it should recover when it rains again, although major limbs will be lost. If cotton root rot is the culprit, there is no cure. The tree will need to be removed. It is best to not replant a tree in the same site since pecans are fairly tolerant to the fungus. Hopefully it was just the dry weather.

QUESTION: I have been clearing cedar from a 2-acre lot near Hwy. 281 and Hwy. 306. I am starting to feel guilty about some of the old growth. I am interested in the history and behavior of the tree. Some appear to be over 100 yrs old and more than 30-feet tall. Is this the same species that forms a brush so thick you cannot walk through it? It looks like the same stuff but sure grows differently. I have several big old oaks that are doing poorly because 8 or more large cedars that are 6 to 10 inches in diameter were growing in the drip line right up through the branches and other oaks that I could not walk up to because they were surrounded by young trees 1 to 3 inches thick. There is lots of new growth everywhere. Which came first-the oak or the cedar, and how did the oak get this big if cedars can choke them out? I have 200 feet of Rebecca Creek frontage and the cedar bushes were starting to encroach on the cypress trees along the creek bank before I assassinated them with a brush cutter. In counting growth rings, can a cedar get multiple rings in one year from dry or wet extremes? I have one that would vary from 70 to 120 years of age, depending on how I count these minor rings.

ANSWER: Dr. Jerry Parsons forwarded me your question. I am Mark Peterson, Regional Forester for the Texas Forest Service, and I will be your guide through the interesting and confusing world of Juniperus ashei, commonly, but mistakenly, called "cedar" in these here parts.

History and Behavior

Don't let any local tell you that junipers were introduced. The fossilized pollen records go back at least 25,000 years. Besides, if they were introduced, where did they come from? They're not called "Chinese" or "European" cedars.

Junipers are an early successional species or a "pioneer" species. These species are drought tolerant, fast growers, and relatively short lived (although they can live up to 100 to 120 years). In other words, they have evolved to rapidly re-vegetate a disturbed area. Disturbed areas include those with recent fires, soil exposed by construction or floods, and heavy grazing.

Before Europeans arrived, the juniper population was kept in check by fires, both natural and those set by Native Americans, and by dense grass. During the past 150 years, fire suppression and fenced grazing has allowed the junipers to expand their ecological niche.

Junipers have few major pests. The ones that I am familiar with are root fungi, bark beetles, bagworms, and spider mites.

Are the different forms the same species?

The answer is yes, although just east of Austin, there is a mingling of J. ashei and J. virginiana. The ones that are more tree-like are probably the result of branch-shedding by fire, shade, or previous mechanical removal.

Which came first - juniper or live oak?

The answer is both. Live oaks are reproductively rhizomacaeus, that is, they reproduce by root sprouts. Over the years, ranchers have favored live oaks, but they seldom removed all of the juniper when they were "chopping cedar". Therefore, although many times live oaks had a head start because they could grow quickly from small root sprouts, enough junipers were around that they could compete equally with the live oaks. Furthermore, junipers can establish a stand quicker and thicker than can live oaks. So, sometimes live oaks won; sometimes the junipers won. However, live oaks had an advantage because ranchers had a prejudice against junipers, and were constantly removing them until only very recently.

Some of my large live oaks are suffering?

The answer is maybe. Many people forget that we had 3 decades of abnormally wet weather in the '60's, '70's and '80's. Only now are we getting back to "normal". Therefore, the large live oaks may only be reflecting recent weather patterns. On the other hand, live oak also is considered an early- to middle-successional species, and therefore does not tolerate dense competition. Generally, if the live oaks can be above the junipers, and not be totally surrounded by junipers, they tolerate them.

At this point, let me also DESTROY a common myth regarding junipers. They ARE NOT "water suckers". They are, in fact, extremely drought tolerant. They do, however, prevent precipitation from reaching the ground because they intercept a high percentage of the rainfall. Therefore, it is important to thin junipers in order to increase soil percolation.

Multiple annual rings?

The answer is that many species produce what are correctly called "false rings". I don't know if junipers can produce false rings, but to be 10 inches in diameter and have rings indicating over 100 years old sounds very suspect to me. The tree would probably be dead from competition before it reachd that age.

Juniper Management?

New US Fisheries & Wildlife Department guidelines allow the removal of ALL juniper from non-habitat (i.e., open parklands/savannahs with less than 35% cover and pure stands of juniper with less than 10% hardwood) and all juniper less than 10 feet tall in probable habitats (i.e. steep slopes and along small streams). Special attention should be paid to "releasing" red and live oaks, that is, removing juniper from in and around these species.

My further recommendation is to keep some of the largest or best- looking junipers in the non-habitat area, BUT at approximately 50 to 100 feet spacings. This equals 17 to 4 trees per acre.

The bottom line is that if you want to reduce juniper in an area, then you must physically or chemically cut or burn to encourage more grass, which in turn reduced juniper germination.
--Mark A. Peterson

(Follow-Up) QUESTION: So how far apart should the trees be spaced?

ANSWER: I hope that I didn't mislead you regarding juniper spacing. I was speaking of general spacing per acre. Juniper does, in fact, make a fine privacy barrier. If you want to plant a few mountain-laurels for variety, then so much the better.

With respect to habitat, except for providing food and shelter for 3 to 4 birds species, and acting as shelter for all wildlife during cold fronts, juniper does not contribute greatly to wildlife. Thinning juniper does, however, increase the diversity of plant species, and thus, increase animal and insect diversity.

QUESTION: I have hackberry and chinaberry trees growing along my chain link fence. I would like some privacy in the winter. What kind of bushes can I plant with these trees?

ANSWER: Depending on the height that you desire, any of the evergreen hollies would do fine. See the list of recommended landscape plants for South Central Texas which you can find at this PLANTanswers web site:

QUESTION: My fiancee is an organic herb farmer whose main crop is sweet basil. He has more than 4,000 bushes at the moment that he hand-tends. We were advised last year to try a strong grade of vinegar to spray on Johnson grass in order to control it. He has no big problem with other weeds. Well, it's that time of year again when the rains, etc., have created a condition (field too wet to plow) where the Johnson grass is overwhelming and we want to pursue the tip for using vinegar that we were given last year via this website. (John Dromagle of Garden-Ville, I think was the source) The problem is we don't know what percent acidity vinegar to use, what kind, or where it can be obtained. Do you have any more information about using vinegar? Please advise. The farm is located about 8 miles West of Marble Falls.

ANSWER: I spoke with Garden-Ville founder Malcolm Beck about his formulation of the product named Organic Weed Control. It is made from an acetic acid (99 %) solution mixed at a ½ acetic acid to ½ feed-grade molasses. Regular vinegar is only 9 % and will not be effective. If you could find a vinegar with 12 to 20 % acetic acid content, you could use it undiluted, mixed with enough feed-grade molasses to color the solution and obtain the same result as the 99 % acetic acid product which is mixed half-and-half with feed-grade molasses before use. Remember that this product will solidify when temperatures go below 54 degrees F., but it is doubtful if the product would be used during such cold temperatures anyway. Garden-Ville sells the Organic Weed Killer for $14 per quart and $45 per gallon. Please realize this product is a contact, burn-back herbicide which will not kill the underground portion of the Johnson grass -- so reuse is required after re-sprouting has occurred. A glyphosate herbicide such as Roundup, Ortho Kleanup or Finale are systemic (goes into the plant's system) and completely kills the Johnson grass. Glyphosate could be applied with a wick or rub-on applicator to the foliage only of the target plant and not damage surrounding vegetation or be up taken into adjoining plant material. Garden-Ville sells these wick applicators for use with the glyphosate herbicides. The glyphosate herbicide would be cheaper and much more effective over the long run than would be the acetic acid herbicide. You decide what you want to use or maybe do test blocks for the sake of comparison.

QUESTION: You are probably my last chance of finding a particular vine. This may not be your area of expertise, but I don't know who else to ask. When I was 12 years old, my grandmother had a vine that produced purplish flowers shaped like a Dutchman's pipe. It also produced pods that held millions of tiny seeds. I still have some of these seeds but they are so old (I am 34 years old now) that they don't look like they're suppose too. The vine grows in the summer and dies back from cold. It's a beautiful coverage plant but no one knows what I am talking about when I go looking for it. According to my mom, my grandmother was the only one who ever had it. I don't know where it came from, but she grew it here in Florida. She's long-gone and the house was sold and no one has any information on this plant.

ANSWER: I forwarded your e-mail to Paul Cox, Assistant Director of the San Antonio Botanical Garden. Here is his reply:

"I suppose this is probably one of the Aristolochia sp., with the common name of Dutchman's pipe! A. durior is the most commonly cultivated, although down there, they could grow the more dramatic A. elegans. Elegans is available through most mail order catalogs that specialize in funky tropical plants, such as Glasshouse Works. Durior often is sold by perennial plant nurseries. These are good butterfly plants, being favored by the Pipevine Swallowtail."

Glasshouse Works has a web site where you can order a catalog. It is located at this URL:

Seed for the Calico Flower (Aristolochia elegans) are sold by Park Seed. They have a web site from which you can request a catalog. Find them at:

You can view an image of the Aristolochia elegans at this web site:\880141.htm

QUESTION: For the past several years I have been looking for a wax bean that will grow on a pole like the Kentucky Wonder green bean. I have a small garden and also, don't relish the idea of poking my hands in anything I can't see under! You just never know what you will get into. I have checked the catalogs and asked around and haven't come up with anything. Do you know if they even exist or if there is someone working on this plant? Also, I can't seem to locate any Grow-web around here. I understand it can be ordered but I don't know where one goes about getting it.

ANSWER: I don't know if there are others, but Johnny's Selected Seeds has a yellow wax pole bean called Goldmarie in their catalog. They have a web site where you can order a catalog. It is at this URL:

I do not know where you have looked for the grow cover (Grow-web), but it should be widely available in the nurseries and garden centers. If you cannot find it, here is an address where it can be purchased: Indeco Products Incorporated, P.O. Box 5077, San Marcos, Texas 78666 Telephone: 512-396-5814 or 1-800-782-7653 Ext. 173.

QUESTION: Do you know of any way to prevent female persimmon trees from bearing fruit?

ANSWER: No, not really. In certain years, a late season freeze will kill the flowers and therefore prevent fruit formation. However, there is no spray approved for knocking the fruit off the tree. Water stress will usually cause the fruit to drop, so you could withhold water after bloom. Ethylene-producing products would cause the fruit to drop, but none are labeled for use. So your best bet may be to get rid of the tree!! Wish there was a better answer.

QUESTION: I have 2 English walnut trees that are showing spotted and dark leaves. No nuts have been produced this year as we have had a dry summer. There are also webs that have some sort of larvae inside. Can you help with some sort of info about what I can do to keep from losing the trees. The leaves are falling off the trees probably due to dryness. This dark and spotty condition seems to be worsening with each year. No one around here seems to know anything about this variety.

ANSWER: I would say that you are right in thinking that the dry weather has hurt the walnut trees. However, I do not think that the trees will die. English walnut trees are very tough and durable once established. The trees need at least 1 inch of water each week to prevent this type of damage.

To make matters worse, in wet years there are certain disease problems that will also cause the leaves to blacken and drop.

So, your best bet to keep the trees healthy is to keep them well watered and fertilized. You need to apply 1 pound of nitrogen fertilizer (ammonium sulfate) per 1 inch of trunk diameter and apply 1 inch of water per week. If you cannot provide this much water, any amount that you can give the tree will be beneficial. Remember to put the water at the dripline of the tree so that it absorb it. Don't put it at the trunk of the tree.

It is not uncommon for fall webworms to feed on walnut trees. They are easily controlled with a Bt product.

QUESTION: I've been trying to find out the technical term for the strings on bananas. Can you help me?

ANSWER: If memory of plant anatomy serves me well, the "strings" that often adhere to the pulp after peeling a banana are the remnants of the vascular bundles (veins, if you prefer) of the fruit. You will notice that on an overripe banana (i.e., one with brown to black spots), these "strings" adhere to the pulp, while they tend to remain attached to the peel of bananas that are at the peak of ripeness before the peel becomes spotted.

QUESTION: I would like to know if the variety of Sage, "Blue Sage" is an edible variety. I have looked in several books about herbs but can't find any information about specific uses for this variety.

ANSWER: The salvia that is commonly called blue sage is Salvia azurea pitcherae and is normally used as an ornamental perennial. It is also available as Salvia azurea grandiflora which has a larger flower. I do not know if it is edible, but do know that it is not commonly used as a culinary herb.

QUESTION: We planted a Shumard red oak last fall. The tree is approximately 3 inches in diameter and 12 feet high. We noticed that it has borers. It has lost about 35% of the bark on the trunk and has 4 borer holes. We know it's borers because we actually pulled 2 adults out of the holes. The tree doesn't appear to be dying, yet. The leaves are green but have brown edges. We have sprayed it with a borer killer and sealed the trunk with a tar sealer. We have also watered it a lot. Our question is, should we dig it up and start over, or wait until next spring to see if it's going to survive? Once a tree has gotten borers, is there any hope for it?

ANSWER: Generally speaking, borers that attack trees are secondary pests. In other words, the bark is usually damaged by a freeze or weed eater, etc., which allows entry for a borer into the tree. So your tree was probably damaged before these borers moved in. Since you indicate that 35 % of the trunk was damaged and you have now treated for them and sealed this area as well, I think you are in good shape. The biggest problem you have with the area is getting it to heal back over so the tree will not break at this point. Once this area is healed over, the tree should be fine. The browning on the leaf edges may be due to severe drought. So, I would leave the tree and hope for the best. I really think it will be all right. Remember to keep it watered well and fertilized next year.

QUESTION: How deep and how wide is the root system on a Bradford Pear Tree? How far apart should we plant them? What root stimulator do you recommend? Would there be a risk in planting near a septic line? How often do they need to be watered in dry weather?

ANSWER: Most tree roots are in the top 1 to 2 feet of the soil. However, there will be support roots deeper. I would plant the trees at least 15 feet apart. They can be planted closer if you want a tree hedge. Some also plant them in groups. Basically, you are looking at a small tree-- 15 to 20 feet high and with a similar limb spread. They are usually taller than they are wide. I am sure the roots will congregate around the septic lines, so it will be important to put the copper product in the system once a year to help keep the roots out.

October can be a prime planting month if you are planting container trees. The trees would need water at least once a week in extremely dry weather. If you plant them in October, you will not need to water them much until they leaf out next spring.

QUESTION: I am a culinary student at Johnson & Wales University. During a lecture about produce, our Chef / Instructor explained that the only fruits that will continue to ripen, once removed from the vine are Avocado, Mango, Kiwi, Apple, Papaya, Banana, and Pears. He explained that the reason they are able to continue the ripening process is that they all had a reserve store of starch, that could be converted into sugars.

Our Chef / Instructor noted that he was curious, as to whether these fruits had some other common traits which would account for why they were the only ones that did have reserve stores of starch.

My question for you then, is what, if any common traits do these fruits have?

ANSWER: I have your request for information on fruit ripening and Cornell University has several professors in the Department of Food Technology or Pomology who can describe fruit ripening "Climacteric" for you. Yes, in general there are 2 types of fruit when it comes to ripening--climacteric and non-climacteric. The non-climacteric will not continue to ripen after harvesting; these include strawberry, oranges, most peaches, nuts, citrus, grapes, and others. The climacteric fruit release a hormone gas, ethylene, which stimulates the rapid conversion of starch to sugar. Once the ripening is triggered, more ethylene is released and ripening accelerates. The classic climacturic fruits are banana, avocado, pear, apple, some plums, and others. A common academic question for some is what comes first, ripening or ethylene gas, in climacteric fruit.
--George Ray McEachern

NOW, ANOTHER ANSWER TO THIS SAME QUESTION: The premise is flawed because of a misunderstanding of the terminology of maturing and ripening. All fruits become physiologically mature "on the vine" and most also ripen "on the vine", with ripening being commonly considered to be the process of conversion of starches into sugars, i.e., the attainment of good eating quality. Mango, kiwifruit and papaya are very much like peach and nectarine in that they will ripen to good eating quality on the tree. However, the demands of marketing dictate that these fruits, like tomato, be harvested after they have matured but before the ripening process has been completed-thus, final ripening occurs in transit to market and final consumption. As such, the final quality of these fruit does not quite achieve that of tree-ripened fruit--because of detachment, the fruit can only ripen, and soften, with those constituents which it contained at harvest.

All fruits soften and otherwise begin the decay process after harvest. I am not certain that apple will continue to ripen after harvest, as I think it merely softens (and otherwise starts to breakdown and decay).

Avocado, banana and pear fruits mature on the plant, but will only rarely ripen on the plant. In the latter two fruits, ripening is accompanied by a change in color and firmness of the peel or rind, a softening of the pulp, an increase in sugars and volatile components (odors and flavors) and other biochemical changes.

Avocado, however, does not become sweet during ripening and it does not undergo any color changes--the fruit merely softens to good eating quality.

For the record, both mango and banana are rather commonly consumed green, both mature and immature, in parts of the tropics, raw in the case of mango and cooked in the case of banana.

Finally, if a reserve of starches were the commonality of which you speak, how do you then explain such edibles as potato, yucca and others?

In summary, maturation and ripening occur simultaneously, or nearly so, for the majority of fruits, including the mango, kiwifruit, apple and papaya of your list, while the two processes are separate in time for avocado, banana and pear. There are no apparent commonalities between even those three, as they represent vastly different origins taxonomically.
--Julian Sauls, Texas Cooperative Extension Horticulturist in Weslaco, Texas