GARDENER'S MAILBAG

Crape myrtles can be planted year-round

By Neil Sperry | Published Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Dear Neil: The crape myrtles have been so beautiful across Texas this summer. When is the best time to plant them?

You can actually plant crape myrtles successfully 12 months out of the year. My preference for planting all woody plants is October, because it gives them the longest possible time to become established before the next summer arrives. However, crape myrtle selections are at their best in nurseries in early and mid-summer, so you may prefer to buy and plant then. You just have to be mindful not to let the new plants dry out. Hand-water them every three or four days for their first couple of years in your landscape.

Dear Neil: I have a gardenia plant that bloomed heavily in spring, but all of the flowers were small. In the past, it has produced larger flowers. What can I do to get the larger blooms back?

When trees and shrubs produce more flowers (or fruit), it’s quite common for them to be smaller than when it produces fewer. That’s why fruit crops like apples, peaches, plums and pears should all be thinned. It’s all about how many ways the water and nutrients have to be shared. Other than keeping the plant well watered and nourished, there isn’t much you can do to increase the flower size. That’s probably just its genetic potential.

Dear Neil: We have hibiscus plants on both sides of our deck steps at our home in South Texas. However, in the three years since we moved into the house, the plants have never bloomed. What can we do to encourage better flowering?

The plant looks quite healthy. But it also looks like it’s growing in a lot of shade. Hibiscus plants flower best when they’re in full or almost full sunlight. You may need to move them at the end of next winter, just before they begin their new season of growth. They bloom on new growth, so keep them properly nourished with nitrogen, and water them regularly.

Dear Neil: My Satsuma tree has sprouted a branch that has lots of thorns on it. It looks like it’s coming directly from the trunk, but otherwise it looks like the other branches. Is this normal?

It is not normal. That’s probably the rootstock or a mutation of one sort or another. Trim it off before it overtakes the desirable part of the tree.

Dear Neil: I am sodding about 250 square feet, but the center portion has never been able to sustain new grass. I have replaced the soil down to 10 inches. I have watered it carefully, but when I examine the new grass a month or two later, it isn’t taking root. What would cause that repeated failure?

Excessive shade. You have just written the story of my earlier horticultural life – until I realized that new St. Augustine has to have five or six hours of direct sunlight daily to spread and four just to survive. Unless there are other facts I don’t have, with all of the other work you have done to provide a good home for the new grass, that’s the only thing I can think of that would continue to be a problem.

Dear Neil: My oaks have an outbreak of little red berries on the undersides of their leaves. We have oak wilt in the neighborhood. I’m terribly worried about disease on these trees. Any idea what these might be?

These are harmless galls caused by insects stinging the leaf tissues and implanting their eggs. The plant tissues are stimulated to grow and surround the larvae. Eventually, the adult insects will emerge from these galls and the cycle will start over again. There is no preventive treatment for the many types of galls that bother oaks, but as stated, they do no damage. There is no call to action on your part.

Dear Neil: You recently mentioned that it was OK to remove dead branches as needed to reshape a Texas mountain laurel. Does that also apply to living branches that extend out too far? Would the same answer apply to redbuds, vitex and crape myrtles?

You can certainly remove dead branches at any time of the year. If you’re removing branches that are alive, that can also be done at any time, although winter is the best time, because you would be able to see completely through the bare plants, to determine which branches most need to be removed.

Have a question you’d like Neil to consider? Mail it to him in care of the Wise County Messenger, P.O. Box 149, Decatur, TX 76234 or email him at mailbag@sperrygardens.com. Neil regrets that he cannot reply to questions individually.

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