GARDENER'S MAILBAG

Manually thin peaches to encourage growth

By Neil Sperry | Published Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Dear Neil: My father has a peach tree that’s 20 years old. It flowers, but the peaches never get bigger than an inch and a quarter. Last year the immature peaches fell off. It has been the pattern for at least five years. What might the cause have been?

Peach fruit need to be thinned manually when they’re about marble-sized. Leave enough that they are 6 or 7 inches apart on the branches. That allows them to develop to full size. Also, it’s not uncommon for peaches to abort fruit, whether due to poor pollination, late freezes, wind and hail or a sudden turn toward hot weather.

Dear Neil: I was told that I could dig a hole near one of my plants. Then I could punch small holes in the bottom and lower sides of a 2-liter bottle, put it down in the hole and fill it periodically with water to keep my plants hydrated. Is there anything about the plastic in the bottle that would hurt my plants?

Not at all. You could actually accomplish the same thing just by setting the bottom on top of the soil. That way the moisture would drain out quickly and be spread uniformly across the soil surface. Milk jugs have larger bottoms, so they actually might be better. Or you could just use conventional drip irrigation lines. They’re tidier and quicker.

Dear Neil: I’ve attached photos of my David Austin Sister Elizabeth rose. The same thing happened to two others last year in the same bed. I replanted with more of the same roses this year, and so far they seem to be doing fine. I don’t believe it was a weedkiller, but I’m wondering how they could go from just starting to turn brown to dead within a week. I have a soaker hose beneath mulch. Could there be too much mulch?

If the soaker hose is functioning properly, and if it’s beneath the mulch, it’s unlikely you could have too much mulch. I see in one of your photos that other plants nearby are doing just fine, while the rose plant is dying. Do check the soaker hose to be sure that it’s putting out the proper amount of water. I wonder if cotton root rot could be involved. That’s a soil-borne fungus, but it’s prevalent only in alkaline soil. Most of us put enough organic matter into our soils that it isn’t present. Still, roses are highly susceptible. Unfortunately, that’s about all I have to suggest.

Dear Neil: The photo attached shows a trouble spot in my St. Augustine. Three years ago, the grass in that area was thick and green. I’ve treated for grub worms and other pest problems, and nothing has worked. I water frequently early in the morning, so the area is not allowed to dry out. I had my soil tested by Texas A&M last year, and I applied all the minerals that were suggested. How can I get the grass back to being healthy and vigorous?

In my 40 years of this column and radio talk shows, this has always been my No. 1 question. You have done a great job of listing all the things people think might have caused their grass to die out. But, as almost everyone does (Me included for a year or two way back when!), you neglected the most obvious one. Over those three years, your trees have grown larger and their shade has become denser. Look at the shadow patterns on your grass in the photo. Even St. Augustine needs four to six hours of direct sunlight in summer, and when it doesn’t get it, it starts to die away just as your grass is doing. New sod has yet another disadvantage because not only is it trying to get itself established, but it also has lost much of its root system as it was being dug. You’ll either have to remove some lower branches from your trees to get more sunlight to the grass or you’ll have to switch over to a shade-tolerant groundcover. I went the latter route beginning 15 years ago, and I’m really glad that I did. Sure, I don’t have turfgrass, but it’s allowed me to develop an attractive and functional landscape.

Dear Neil: We have Texas mountain laurels that are probably around 18 feet tall. Our gutters are somewhere in the 12-foot range, and the mountain laurels clog them up with leaves and debris. Can I trim them back to stay below the gutters? (They are basically bare in their bottom 6 feet.)

Probably not. Hopefully they’re out away from the house by several feet, and if they are, you might invest in a type of gutter guard that allows leaves and other litter to wash off the roof and fall to the ground. I don’t think you’re going to like the look of whacked-back mountain laurels. Plus, they’ll just regrow.

Dear Neil: Our Satsuma is seven years old, and it has never borne fruit. This year, it set fruit, but they turned black and dropped off when they were about the size of peppercorns. Should we get another tree?

It sounds like it might have aborted its fruit, due to poor pollination. You must have bees working the tree while it’s in full bloom. Late frosts could also have been responsible. Either way, I don’t hear any call for replacing the tree.

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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