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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


This is a transient society we live in. People are changing jobs, moving from one town to the next, and many times, leaving those they love the most--their plants. The loss of one's loved ones--their plants--can be a traumatic experience, and it's a loss that is really unnecessary. If you are a mobile person, why not keep your plants portable too? Porta-growing is the answer! Grow your plants in containers. Even if you're not the rambling kind, keeping plants moveable can offer certain advantages. The mobility of porta-plants allows you to move them to protected areas during periods of adverse weather. Such protection enables production during your area's normal "off-season" and allows you to grow plants that without protection would be damaged by the cold winter temperatures.

Porta-growing in containers is actually easier than perma-growing in soil. Much of the Texas soil that people try to culture plants in lacks some of the basic necessities for healthy, productive plant growth. These basic necessities include drainage, organic matter, optimum soil pH and freedom from pathogenic organisms as well as the common problems of insufficient and imbalance and/or unavailability of nutrient elements. Porta-growing in containers eliminates most of the common problems involved with perma-growing in soil. Why? Because the needed cultures, such as growing medium, location and fertilization, can easily be controlled and managed.

Porta-growing requires a container. Suitable containers vary from wire mesh hanging baskets to bushel baskets, gallon cans, wooden boxes or even such oddities as old hats, styrofoam coolers, and discarded toilets. The best containers are the ones that fulfill your requirements of size, portability, endurance and cost. Optimum container size will vary according to the plant to be grown.

Obviously, a lettuce plant can be grown more successfully in a very small container than can a dwarf peach tree. The ultimate size of the plant at maturity should be directly correlated with the size of the container used. The size of the container, plant size, container location and the choice of soil-less mix will determine the frequency of watering and intensity of cultural management. Obviously, a larger container with a greater quantity of potting mix will retain more water, fertilizer elements, etc. than a smaller container. However, the larger the container, the less portable.

Regardless of the container you choose, adequate drainage is a key to success. A soilless mix which drains rapidly should be used. Ideally, when you pour water around the base of a porta-plant, water should soon be coming out of the bottom of the container. This not only indicates proper drainage, but also enables the leaching of fertilizer salts that, if accumulated, can damage a plant's roots. Soilless mixes should be just that--soilless. Absolutely no soil! Regardless of how wonderful you think your soil is, when soil is put in a container it loses many of its beneficial qualities. Soil in a container becomes compacted, causing poor drainage and insufficient aeration. Micro-organisms such as nematodes and pathogenic fungi may also contaminate the root system of the porta-plant if non-pasteurized soil is used.

Many suitable types of soil-less mixes are commercially available. A soilless mix should be disease and weed-free, retain adequate moisture after watering, yet is lightweight and drains well. You can mix a soil-less growing medium by using 50 % organic materials ( ½ peat moss and ½ shredded bark), 25 % perlite or vermiculite for drainage and aeration, and 25 % washed builder's sand.

Once you have formulated or purchased a well-draining soilless mix in which to grow the porta-plant, be sure that the container has adequate drainage capabilities. If you are using a water-tight container, drainage holes will have to be drilled. A 3 to 5-gallon container should have at least 4 drainage holes. When considering drainage holes, the old saying, "the more, the merrier" definitely applies. Also, don't worry about lining the bottom of the container with course gravel or charcoal to expedite drainage. Recent research indicates that such a gradient in materials actually impedes drainage. If a loose soilless mix is used, water drainage through drain holes will not be a problem.

The taller the container, the more difficult it is to obtain even water distribution. Some people use whiskey barrels as containers. The half-barrels are the easiest since plants in the bottom section of full-size barrels either don't get enough water or drown from too much water from the top. To insure an even distribution of water throughout the container, as well as reducing the amount of soil-less mix needed, construct a center core of a rapid draining material. I have had success using a cylinder of concrete reinforcing wire filled with coarse bark. Soilless mix is added around the cylinder from the bottom of the barrel as transplants are placed through drilled holes in the side. Watering is always done in the center core so that plants at the top as well as the bottom have equal access to moisture.

Porta-plants require adequate fertility for vigorous growth and, if you are growing fruit and vegetables, high yields. Soilless mixes are lacking in sufficient nutrient elements for optimum plant growth. Fertility can be provided in two ways. The most common technique is to periodically water with a fertilizer solution. Commercially prepared, water-soluble formulations are available in local nurseries. Follow label directions when mixing solutions.

A home-made nutrient solution can be made by dissolving 2 cups of a complete garden fertilizer (no weed-and-feed formulations, please!) such as 10-20-10, 12-24-12 or 8-16-8 in one gallon of warm water. This solution will be your base solution. From this base solution, you will prepare the porta-plant nutrient solution. To make the actual nutrient solution, mix 2 tablespoons of the base solution into one gallon of water. Never sprinkle granular fertilizer in porta-plant containers as plant damage can occur.

Fertilization requirements differ according to the type of plant, soilless medium used and growing location. For instance, most people do not want houseplants and foliage plants to produce excessive growth, so low maintenance levels of fertility should be used. Conversely, successful production of fruit trees and vegetable crops depends on rapid, continuous growth and plant vigor. So high levels of fertility must be maintained if quality production is expected. Lettuce is a good example. If lettuce is not grown with high levels of fertility, the leaves will be extremely bitter. For this latter group of high-maintenance-fertility plants, I recommend the use of slow-release fertilizer pellets mixed into the soilless medium at planting time, or applied around an established plant. This is in addition to the use of water-soluble fertilizer several times weekly. Use the longer release (3 month) formulations of the slow-release fertilizer pellets such as Osmocote and follow label instructions for application or mixing.

Research indicates that constant feeding (using water-soluble fertilizer) plus the addition of slow-release fertilizer produces a better plant. It seems that slow-release formulations insure that optimum nutrient elements are available during periods of potential deficiency when soilless mixes have dried after being watered with the standard nutrient solution. Slow-release fertilizer is also good, inexpensive insurance against memory loss--we might forget to fertilize often enough! Also remember, porta-plants are like children. As they grow larger, they require more feeding. A full-grown, heavily loaded tomato plant in a container needs a water-soluble fertilization treatment daily.

Porta-plants have a mobile advantage, but also the disadvantage of a limited, confined root system. Because culturing plants in containers severely limits their root spread, frequent watering and fertilization are essential. As emphasized earlier, the well-drained soil-less mixes--necessary for good aeration--need frequent watering. As plants grow larger, more watering is required because water is being absorbed and transpired. As temperatures increase, more water is evaporated from the mix and transpired from the plant. Young porta-plants growing in cool weather may require watering only once every 2 or 3 days. Check the moisture level of the mix with your finger before watering. That is, water the mix, not the plant. If you feel moisture with your finger DO NOT WATER! More plants are killed by over watering than by being too dry. Larger producing plants may require watering 2 or 3 times a day. Remember, container size and the soilless mix you use will have a lot to do with the watering regime that you'll follow.

The same principles of success which govern perma-growing in soil apply to porta-growing in containers. If the plant's requirement is a full-sun condition (8 to 10 hours daily), a porta-plant of this type will not perform optimumly if grown in the shade--regardless of the love and care provided. Also, remember that a porta-plant can shade itself and should be rotated periodically to insure exposure of the entire plant to full sun so that uniform foliage and fruit formation will occur. If a foliage plant or flowering plant such as begonia requires a partial shade growing condition, putting such a porta-planted plant in full sun dooms it to failure. Follow plant tag recommendations for light requirements. Generally, those plants which produce an edible fruit such as tomato, pepper, eggplant, blackberry, peach, apple, etc., require the full-sun condition. Those plants which are grown for foliage such as herbs, leafy crops (lettuce, cabbage, greens, spinach and parsley), caladiums, coleus, etc. tolerate or even require shading.

Flowers have different requirements depending on the variety. Placement of porta-plant containers is also very important. Even if a plant requires a full-sun condition, afternoon shading of the intense western sun may be beneficial. Also remember the wind. Wind can be devastating. I have found that a northeastern exposure, if available, is the best because of the protection it allows from prevailing strong southern winds and hot evening sun. Protection should be provided when weather cold fronts cause northern wind gusts.

As I mentioned earlier, the same principles of success which govern perma-growing in soil apply to porta-growing in containers. If you don't plant the best varieties of plants for your area, you are doomed before you begin. The names of best-adapted plants can be obtained from experienced growers, the county Agricultural Extension agent or trustworthy nurserymen. Smaller growing or determinate varieties are best suited for porta-planting because of the limitations of container size. Many times the best plant varieties are expensive hybrids. Since fewer plants are needed for a porta-planting anyway, purchase transplants instead of seeding directly into the container. The use of transplants insures proper spacing and early production. The dwarf fruit trees, or regular varieties grafted onto dwarfing rootstock, are excellent choices for porta-planting. Be sure to determine the maximum size of the mature plant you are considering before you make your purchase.

You should also consider only those plants that will offer maximum benefits from a limited growing space. For instance, the porta-plant grower of vegetables should consider the fact that crops such as broccoli, celery, collards, green onions, herbs, Japanese eggplant, kale, mustard, parsley, pepper, spinach, swiss chard and tomato offer multi-harvests over a long period of time. Conversely, cabbage, cauliflower, garlic, lettuce and radishes are a one-time harvest. However, the aesthetic value of certain plants must also be recognized as well as their production potential. For instance, carrots are a one-time harvest crop but the beauty of the fern-like carrot tops make them a super ornamental porta-plant for several months during their growing season--even for interplanting. Likewise, the genetic dwarf fruit trees produce only one crop per year, but their large green, dense foliage will rival any ornamental during the non-fruitful period. Flowering plants should also be evaluated for foliage as well as bloom potential and persistence.

After selecting the best variety, you must carefully avoid over planting. Remember to consider how large the plant will be at maturity. Balance and the number of plants you use is especially critical in a hanging basket or a container which is to be moved regularly. Excessive weight on one side of a porta-plant caused by an increasing fruit load could also be disastrous.

Pruning helps. Hanging baskets pruned into a ball-shape are more attractive than baskets with vines hanging long and unrestrained. Periodic pruning encourages more side shoot growth and promotes a thicker, more attractive plant. Tall growing plants in wooden baskets, boxes or cans should also be supported. Tie the stems to stakes or enclose them in small cages of concrete reinforcing wire. The size and height of cages are determined by the size and height of the container and the mature size of the plant. Such support makes the porta-plant more compact, more attractive and, most importantly, easier to move.

Other common sense cultural practices must also be exercised with porta-plants, just as with perma-plants, if you expect success. The timing of plantings can mean the difference between success or failure. Plant tomatoes after the temperatures of summer have become excessive and you are guaranteed failure. Plant caladiums too early in the spring and the bulbs will rot in the pot. Plant lettuce late in the spring and it will produce a flower spike surrounded by leaves as bitter as quinine.

Porta-plants will be attacked by the same insects and disease organisms that attack perma-plants. Most egg-laying insects have wings and most disease organisms are wind-blown. So just because your porta-plant is hanging or mobile doesn't mean that it can escape. Inspect plants periodically for disease and the presence of insects feeding on foliage and fruit. Extension Service recommendations for fruit and vegetable pest control should be followed or, consult a reliable nurseryman. Follow label recommendations exactly as to control techniques including rates and timing of sprays.

Porta-plants are completely dependent on the grower for correct amounts of water and nutrients. A perma-plant in the soil can be neglected for several weeks and Mother Nature's water and nutrients will probably carry the plant through. The porta-plant is a different story--neglect the plant for even a day and you can kiss it goodbye. It will die! But because of this life-or-death bondage between grower and plant, because of this daily interaction, the porta-plant becomes the most precious, loved plant of all. All of the work and worry culminates as you harvest that first juicy peach, crunch that first red apple or bite into the first, red-ripe tomato of the season. When you do, you know, without a doubt, that you grew this--it would not exist without your love and determination. Porta-plants forever!!

For more information about container gardening, see:


QUESTION: Every year I grow cayenne to string for the holidays. What's the best way to keep them nice and shiny red until I get enough to make a string. They're in the crisper now but mom says they're going to mildew.

ANSWER: Let the cayenne dry as much as they will on the plant. With the dry summer we've had that should not be much of a problem. After harvest, remove them from the plant by cutting them so that a short portion of stem remains on the fruit. Wipe them with cloth dipped in rubbing alcohol, or dip the peppers into a bath of 1 part Chlorox and 9 parts of water. Lay the peppers so they don't touch each other. Dry for 3 to 4 weeks inspecting and discarding any that start to spoil.

QUESTION: What will take bermuda grass out of zoysia grass?

Since both bermuda and zoysia are grasses, I fear there is nothing which will kill bermuda and not fatally damage zoysia. You may have to spot treat the bermuda with a glyphosate herbicide such as Roundup, Otho Kleanup or Finale and have a kill-zone in which you control the invading bermuda. You might want to try a product called Vantage, Poast or Ortho Grass-B-Gon which has been used to control Bahia in Centipedegrass lawns -- even though these are both grasses and should be killed by this product which kills only grasses and not broadleaf plants, it may be more active on bermuda than zoysia. Spot treat an invaded area with half-strength (lowest dose recommended by the label) Poast and wait 30 days to see what happens. It may kill both grasses just as using a glyphosate product would BUT it might not completely kill zoysia either. You should do this SOON since both grasses will be going dormant soon.

QUESTION: This spring I planted 2 forsythia bushes in a new landscape setting. I prepared the planting site with a mixture of sandy loam and peat moss. I have watered weekly since the rains stopped and fed with a compost tea (horse manure and water slurry) once a month since planting them in late February. The plants now look wilted and the leaves are turning brown. What can I do?

ANSWER: Forsythia is a hardy deciduous shrub which is not particular as to soil, and do well in partial shade as well as in the open. However, if kept too wet, they can develop root rot. I would quit watering this year and see if the plant recovers. If the roots are badly rotted, I am afraid the plant is doomed. Sorry. You can put another one back in the same place IF the drainage is good and you don't over water it.

QUESTION: I planted 4 large pots of fall tomatoes, planting 2 plants in each pot (I read in a TAMU publication that this was a recommended procedure for fall tomatoes as it increased yield). The plants appear to be doing very well, but I am concerned about the density of the foliage in the pots. I do have cages in the pots. On the subject of thinning plants, I have always heard you say "don't do it if they are caged". Will enough sunlight get to the center of the plants? I fully intend to pick the tomatoes when the blossom ends turn pink and then let them ripen indoors.

ANSWER: It is best to use smaller growing (determinate) varieties such as Surefire or Heatwave. Granted, if you are fertilizing a lot -- which you should be doing when you are growing tomatoes -- you will have a lot of foliage. As long as the plants are located in an area where they receive 8 to 10 hours of sun daily, the dense foliage will produce a crop of fruit. It will not damage the plant if you want to cut some stems out of the plant to allow more air circulation and enable some light penetration.

QUESTION: I recently had the pleasure of visiting Vancouver, B.C. As you may know, the gardens there are magnificent!!! The locals commonly use a type of English yew for hedges, pot plants, etc. that has much smaller foliage than the Japanese yews that are commonly used as landscape plants here in South Texas. What is your opinion of yews in general, and do you think this type of yew would grow here? I have a new home on a large, one acre lot in an established residential area of northwest San Antonio. I need an evergreen landscape plant to install around the back yard fence perimeter to hide the multiple privacy fences from view. The only other plant I have seen that appeals to me is a wax myrtle.

ANSWER: Wax myrtle is not a bad choice, or you could use standard (tall growing) yaupon or Burford holly. There is a list of recommended plants for South Central Texas at the bottom of the Publications section of PLANTanswers. Most Yews do not do well here in Texas. The reason things look so nice in Canada is the cool nights and moderate day temperatures with periodic moisture -- NONE of which South Central Texas enjoys. But let's compare our winters!!!!!!

QUESTION: Last fall, I purchased and planted about 15 standard Burford Hollies intending to hedge them against my rear fence. They were growing in small 1 or 2-gallon containers at the back of a nursery and were really tall, some almost 6 feet. I planted them and cut them back to about 4 feet. During mid to late-summer, the lower, older leaves on several of the plants turned brown and fell off. On several plants, the only green growth is at the very top, so can I cut them back severely and expect them to grow back out? How much? What caused the older leaves at the bottom to turn brown and fall off? Water stress?

ANSWER: Water stress from transplant shock or from lack of sufficient watering could have caused the bottom leaves to fall. Fear not!! The Burford holly is one of the best and will come back. I would cut them lower in February or early spring just prior to the initiation of new growth. This will result in re-foliation lower on the shrubs.

QUESTION: My property has several large cedar trees around the house. I have heard that the cedars use more water than most trees. Is that true?

ANSWER: No doubt that junipers use water, but I do not think it is more than other trees. Juniper covers a large portion of the Hill Country, thus robbing the native grasses as well as the recharge zone of water. By removing the cedar, we leave more water to enter the aquifer.

QUESTION: I have several cypress trees on the property. One has a diameter of approximately 7 feet. Is there any way to determine the age of the tree short of counting the rings. I have heard age estimates ranging from 150 to 500 years.

ANSWER: Counting the rings is the only way I know of to determine the age of a tree. Some of the very large trees have been cored to determine how old they are. I am sure the tree in question is over 500 years old.

QUESTION: We recently moved into a house and there is a Montezuma Cypress in the back yard. The tree went several years without care and we wanted to know how to go about tending to it. It looks like it needs pruning, but we aren't sure when or how to do it. What tips do you have?

ANSWER: You are BLESSED to have a Montezuma Cypress -- they are one of the fastest growing, carefree trees available. Leave them alone and let Nature take its course. The only pruning I have ever done to my Montezuma Cypress is to remove a fork that appeared in the top of the tree --I wanted a tree growing straight-up!! Other than that, I have not touched the tree for 15 years and it has averaged about 4 feet of growth per year -- give it LOTS OF ROOM!!! Think about the along the San Antonio River Walk -- it will grow that big and larger in about 100 years.

QUESTION: We just purchased a house and we plan to move in about 45 days. My mother sent me some iris bulbs to plant, but I will not have my garden ready until next spring. Can I put them in large pots and transplant them next fall after my gardens are ready?

ANSWER: That is a good idea. Perennials which bloom in the spring are divided/planted in the fall so if you plant the bulbs in containers, you should have blooming iris in your containers next spring.

QUESTION: I am looking for an oleander I saw in a book of "new" plants coming out. The flowers look just like a child's pinwheel of red and white. I'm hoping someone knows where I can purchase one.

ANSWER: Try these sources:

Louisiana Nursery
Route 7 Box 43
Opelousas, LA 70570

Logee's Greenhouses
141 North St
Danielson, CT 06239

Carolina Nursery
739 Gaillard Rd
Moncks Corner, SC 29461

QUESTION: I've been growing ornamental peppers that had a tag that read "not edible" when I bought the plant. A friend of mine saw an employee eating the same peppers at a local nursery and now I'm wondering if they are just simply not so tasty or if there is some other reason for the "not edible" label. Of course I grow a variety of peppers for eating that are delicious, but always want to try something new and I'm wondering if I may be missing out!

ANSWER: Most ornamental peppers are edible but retailers do not want to take the chance of someone possibly eating one, getting sick and filing a lawsuit. These peppers were not bred for eating but rather ornamentals. Some peppers such as the Rio Grande Gold is ornamental as well as edible.

Dr. Ben Villalon, world-famous pepper breeder has this to add:

CHILLI = chile = pepper = Capsicum = chili = Aji = Axi =the same thing. None mean hot. Chilli is the NAHUATL (Mexican Indian) spelling. It is also the most widely used spelling in the whole world - ASIA, AFRICA, INDIA, MEXICO, and some parts of Europe. All chilli is edible, whether wild or domesticated.

Mark Black, Extension Plant Pathologist, adds this caution:

Many pesticides used in ornamental nurseries for insect and disease control are not labeled for use on food-bearing plants, especially those that are greenhouse-grown. Therefore, fruit from newly purchased ornamental pepper plants should not be eaten due to the potential risk from pesticide residue.

If you grow the plants at home and do not apply pesticides, or apply pesticides according to the label, and use only those that are labeled for pepper, then enjoy!

Ben Villalon adds this comment:

Pesticides not labeled for peppers should never be used. If so, the plants should not be sold to the general public. That is another world. All capsicums are edible!

QUESTION: What do you do with the pineapple plant after it flowers and you pick the fruit. Does it put out more buds for a new plant or do you need to dig it up and start a new one?

ANSWER: Yes, it will put out 1 to 2 new shoots which have the potential to produce fruit. However, over time the fruit gradually gets smaller and you will need to start a new plant from the pineapple fruit or from new slips at the base of the plant. Commercially, 1 plant usually produces 3 fruit before a new plant is started.

QUESTION: Last spring I was given several tiny plants and told that they were "moonflowers". They are now 2 to 3 feet high and blooming. The heart-shaped leaves are approx 4 inches wide and 6 inches long. The blooms are white, trumpet-shaped, and are approximately 9 inches from the base of the bud to the tips of the petals. The open flower is approximately 4 inches. They bloom at night and close during the day. I can't find any information that sounds like what I have. Can you help identify this?

ANSWER: The plant most commonly called 'moonflower' is one of the morning glories (Ipomoea alba). However, I do not think that this is what you have as it is a vine that will grow up to 15 feet.

I think that you have one of the Daturas, most likely either Datura wrightii or Datura metelloides. These plants meet the description that you've provided. The flowers only last one day and, if pollinated, will be followed by a round, thorny seed pod. It is from this seed pod that they derive one of their common names - 'thornapple'. These seed are highly toxic and hallucinogenic and were use by Native Americans in their initiation rites and religious ceremonies. Another common name is Jimson Weed. See this web site for a picture of the Datura (the leaves on your plants may not be identical to these):

QUESTION: I don't understand why my indoor basil plant drops its bottom leaves. I pinch new buds in an attempt to make it bushier, but it appears to just grow taller because the lower stems are bare. The top leaves look very healthy, but I'm not getting much yield. The leaves turn yellow before dropping. The plant sits in an east window, but the house next door is 2-story, so it only gets a few hours of late morning sun. It is so hot here that I am afraid to set it outside. Any suggestions?

ANSWER: The problem with your basil is the lack of sunlight. They prefer to be in full sun. Fortunately for us here in Texas, I do not think that it can get too hot for basil as long as it gets adequate moisture. I would go ahead and set it outside on the patio or someplace where it can get much more intense light. Do not put it directly into a full sun location as you need to acclimate the plant to the sun. Morning sun should be fine and then gradually ease it out into full sun if you have it.

QUESTION: I purchased a Saucier Magnolia in January of this year. The nursery I purchased it from planted it. It has been kept watered and continues to put out new leaves, but the leaves quickly turn very brown and dry. What could be causing this? Is there some treatment or mineral it needs? I have noticed that a red oak in the same area also has leaves that are turning brown. I have also seen a lot of crickets and spiders in the bermuda grass.

ANSWER: I think that I would ask the nursery that planted your tree to come out and inspect it. It may be that they put fertilizer in the planting hole when they planted it and this could be burning the roots, causing the leaf burn. The leaves on the red oak are the result of the exceedingly hot and dry summer that we have had until the rains came. It should be okay. Crickets and spiders are not harming your trees.

QUESTION: We have a yard full of junipers. What is the best way to remove these 30-year old beasts? They are ugly and make our house the worst looking one on the block. We would like to plant a lawn and flowers once this ominous task is complete.

ANSWER: If there is a way to rent, borrow or otherwise get a front-end loader, I recommend tying a chain around the trunks of these plants and around the bucket of the loader. Using the hydraulic lift, pull them from the ground. If this isn't possible, perhaps you can do the same with a vehicle like a pick-up truck and pull them out horizontally. Otherwise, I guess that you will have to cut off the branches and grub out the roots, which sounds like a lot of work!