GARDENER'S MAILBAG

Pesky persimmons: No easy fix for fruity mess

By Neil Sperry | Published Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Dear Neil: Is there any way to keep wild persimmons from bearing fruit? We track the mess into our house, and they make the patio almost unusable.

I’m often asked that question relative to fruiting mulberries, and unfortunately, the answer is about the same for both. There is no mechanical or chemical means of preventing or removing fruit before it becomes messy.

While I don’t want to be the executioner for what might otherwise be very nice trees, your only recourse short of removing them will be to sweep or blow them away daily (or more often). I wish I had a more satisfactory answer for you.

Dear Neil: My wife has seen an ad for a grass that says it was “Bred in Texas to help save one of our most precious resources – water!” It says they will ship plugs to us and that we will need to ” get ready for a green lawn – in sun or in shade.” What do you know about this grass? Are its claims true or just hype?

I’ve rewritten my answer three times. I so want to caution you against believing extravagant claims. You do not want to buy turfgrass through the mail any more than you would want to buy new carpeting that way. Talk to a local sod vendor, and buy new turfgrass where you can see what you’ll be getting ahead of time. Buy it from someone who can refer you to a home where that grass has been growing for a year or two, so you can see how it is performing.

Although it’s a different type of grass, the ad you’re describing is very similar to the zoysia ads that have been running for many decades. This is not a grass that I’m comfortable recommending to you.

Dear Neil: I have a constantly enlarging ring of dead grass in my lawn. I tried insecticides, and I replaced the grass, but the dead circular area continues to spread. Any idea what this might be and what can be done?

I’ll give it my best shot, but I have to admit that without a photo and without even knowing what type of grass is involved, my shot is one taken “in the dark.”

I’m asked this same general question many times each year. When I delve into the details, I usually hear that there are trees involved, perhaps the side of the house and other things that are casting shade onto the grass. When it’s a circular area, that suggests to me that it might be the ground directly beneath a shade tree. As the tree gets larger, so does the shade pattern.

Even St. Augustine, our most shade-tolerant grass, requires at least four to six hours of direct sunlight per day in the growing season. Without it, it thins and disappears.

If you have a tree anywhere near the center of this dying area, shade is the issue, and it’s time to plant a shade-tolerant groundcover such as mondograss or its big sister liriope, English ivy or even purple wintercreeper euonymus or Asian jasmine. I hope that helps.

Dear Neil: You mentioned a product that could be applied to pears to prevent fire blight. What was that, and how it is applied?

Spray agricultural streptomycin onto the pears while they are in full bloom. That time has passed for most pears for this year, and with freeze damage to the pear flowers over so much of Texas, it would have been difficult to get it applied anyway.

Bees carry the fire blight bacterium from an infected tree into the flowers of a healthy tree as they are pollinating the blooms. That’s why this spray must be made at the flowering time. Agricultural streptomycin is a specialty product that you’ll seldom see in national retail stores. You’re much better off buying through a local independent retail garden center or hardware store. They can order it for you if they don’t already have it on hand.

Dear Neil: I need your advice on plant spacings. Let me know if any of these might be too close. A Natchez crape myrtle 7 feet from concrete piers under house and 8 feet from concrete stairs; a Choctaw pecan 23 feet from the piers and from the roofline; a Texas red oak 15 feet from concrete piers; a cedar elm 18 feet from the house and piers and 13 feet from a concrete porch and sidewalk; and a chinquapin oak 12 feet from a wood fence. I have no problems currently. Just thinking ahead.

You’ve been busy measuring. Those distances sound quite adequate to me. I have several of those trees in similar settings, although mine are closer. Your best bet is to have a certified arborist check the trees every couple of years. Watch for roots that could cause damage to become obvious.

Dear Neil: I know you work with crape myrtles. What is your favorite white type that grows as a tree?

All crape myrtles are shrubs genetically, but we train the taller varieties into tree forms with reasonable ease. I have several that I like a great deal. Sarah’s Favorite White is somewhat available, and it’s a superior selection. Glendora White is what I have at my home. It is not one of the newer hybrid types, but I really like its large, tight flower heads. But it has become difficult to find.

Kiowa is a newer selection from the U.S. National Arboretum’s breeding program, and it’s outstanding. But it, too, is not common in nurseries. Natchez is the one that most often shows up in garden centers. It does have lovely trunk character and color, but I think the reason it’s most common is because it grows faster than the others in the wholesale nurseries. Nonetheless, all are good.

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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