GARDENER'S MAILBAG

Prune hibiscus, lantanas after first freeze

By Neil Sperry | Published Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Dear Neil: When should I have pruned esperanza, plumbago, hibiscus and lantanas back to the ground? Was I not supposed to leave them over the winter?

Hardy hibiscus (which die to the ground, in spite of their name) and lantanas can be trimmed back to within an inch of the ground as soon as they freeze in the fall. Esperanza and plumbago will survive light freezes, so prune them only if you’re sure they have died back.

Dear Neil: I’ve been fighting a losing battle with oxalis in my hybrid bermuda lawn. I’ve applied a couple of products that have oxalis in their target lists but to no avail. One expert I asked recommended using a vinegar product but said that would kill the grass as well. Short of tearing the affected areas out and replacing that grass completely, are there any good options?

Oxalis is admittedly a difficult weed. That’s why some of the products will have a starburst and the call-out wording “even controls oxalis!” That lets you know it’s a weed that will put up a fight.

I would suggest using one of the 2,4-D products in a pump sprayer. Add one drop of liquid dishwashing detergent per gallon of spray to help the mix stay in place on the waxy leaves. Apply it with a fine spray pattern on a very still day. Ideally, the oxalis will have had several days to produce new growth following mowing. The herbicide goes in through the leaves and is carried throughout the plant. It will take a couple of weeks before you’ll see the best results.

By the way, oxalis seeds are thrown out from the tiny fruit almost explosively. That spreads the population quickly. I’ve used the process I described many times and have had good results. As for the vinegar, that is not a product I’m willing to recommend.

Dear Neil: I have a pomegranate bush that is about 5 years old. When the fruit appears to be ripe, it looks beautiful on the outside, but when I cut it open, it is mostly rotted inside. Is there some type of treatment I can apply to avoid it?

Anyone who has raised pomegranates has seen this, especially in more humid parts of Texas. Texas A&M’s Extension horticulturists have prepared a useful fact sheet that you can find online by searching “Pomegranate E-613 Texas A&M.”

Here is the portion that really pertains to your question: ” soft rot or heart rot is caused by the fungus Rhizopus arrhizus and induced by too much rain during bloom and the ripening season.” Look through that online publication and see if you might want to try one or two of the new varieties.

Dear Neil: I had brown patch last fall. I fought it and finally won before frost. I actually had another problem earlier in the summer where the grass turned brown due to what a neighbor called drought stress. What can I do to get my St. Augustine to come back well this spring?

Keep it watered thoroughly (as water curtailments allow), and apply a high-nitrogen or all-nitrogen fertilizer to it. You probably had chinch bugs in mid-summer, so learn their symptoms and how to watch for them. They usually return to the same full-sun parts of the yard. Brown patch shows up in fall. There is no call to action for either of these problems at this time.

Dear Neil: We would like to buy a Chinese pistachio tree, but we don’t want the fruit. Every nursery has the trees, but no one can tell us whether their trees will produce fruit or not. Is there any way for us to know ahead of time?

Chinese pistachios are raised from seeds, so you never know what you’ll be getting. You will always have the 50-50 chance of getting a female (fruit-bearing) tree. The only way around the issue would be if nurseries were to start grafting male (fruitless) selections, but no one is doing that commonly as far as I know. The seedlings are easily eliminated, if that helps relieve any angst you might have in planting one.

Dear Neil: What shrub would you recommend to me for the corner of my house? I need one that will grow to be 5 to 7 feet tall, and I’d also like color.

If that were my landscape, I’d choose from intermediate hollies such as dwarf Burford (grows to 5 feet) or Willowleaf (grows to 7 to 8 feet with extreme age), also standard abelias, Italian jasmine (both somewhat arching), standard nandina (grows to 6 feet tall and stays fairly upright), or Sea Green juniper.

If you could come out just a little farther, an intermediate crape myrtle (growing to 10 or 12 feet) would be handsome. Oakland hollies are excellent Christmas-tree-shaped evergreens.

Note that these plants are very diverse in appearance and that not all of them produce flowers or fruit. (You can add annuals and perennials to accomplish that.) Take a photo with you when you go into your local garden center, and let them show you the options.

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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