GARDENER'S MAILBAG

Use netting to keep birds from fruit

By Neil Sperry | Published Wednesday, December 20, 2017

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Dear Neil: Something is chewing into my grapefruit and causing all the fruit to fall prematurely. What would do this?

It looks like fresh damage done by birds pecking into the fruit. Just the physical vibration of their pecking could also knock the ripe fruit loose. You might try a bird netting covering to see if that helps keep them away.

Dear Neil: How much fall do I need to get water to run around the side of my house? Neighbors have changed the drainage patterns of their backyard, and we’re having water come onto our patio after heavy rains. We do have a slight slope to work with.

It can be very subtle. I cut a swale that was only 1/2-inch deep for every 10 feet around one side of our house. I had to be really careful to maintain that fall as I worked landscape beds into the plantings. An inexpensive string level works especially well. You could also install an unobtrusive grate and 4-inch PVC pipe drain system if you have a low spot to which you could take the water to get it off your property. I’ve done that in three spots on our property. We have a dry creek bed behind our house, and I aim everything for it. It was amazing how easy it was for me to get this all done by myself, and it’s all been functioning for 35 years now.

Dear Neil: I think I have a mulberry tree that has come up as a volunteer in my yard. Do they all produce the messy fruit? Is there any kind of spray to make them fruitless?

If you have a mulberry seedling, you will have mulberry fruit. They are as dependable as the summer sun in Texas. And as much as I wish I had a spray or magic wand I could loan you to make your fruiting mulberry fruitless, there is no such thing. The fruitless mulberries people plant for short-lived, fast-growing shade trees is another type, and they are started from cuttings.

Dear Neil: Does mistletoe in a tree branch make it structurally weaker? I have one hanging over our garage. I like the shade it provides, but I don’t want it to come crashing down on the garage.

Have a certified arborist take a look at the specific situation. There are probably a lot of “moving parts” involved. The type of tree makes a big difference. To use three examples that are commonly hit by mistletoe, hackberry limbs are more vulnerable than cedar elms or bois d’arcs. Check the overall vigor of the branch itself. For example, did it produce several inches of vigorous new growth this past growing season, or does it appear to be dying back? Are there any noticeable cracks in the branch? Can any weight be taken off the far end of the branch so that it can still provide the shade you want without having so much weight pulling it down? Finally, is there any way the arborist could cable and brace that branch to another strong branch as a counter support?

Dear Neil: What time of year is best for re-potting a Norfolk Island pine? We have one that is about 3 feet tall.

Do so just before new growth begins in the spring (late February or early March). Choose a loose, highly organic and well-draining potting soil and step up the pot size by 2 to 4 inches in diameter. Know going into all this, however, that Norfolk Island pines grow to be 60 to 80 feet tall, so there will come a day when it will outgrow your home and you’ll probably have to dispose of it. It’s probably best not to encourage rapid growth before that time just so you don’t hasten its departure any more than you have to. (For the record, Norfolk Island pines do not withstand freezing weather at all, so they cannot be planted outdoors in Texas.)

Dear Neil: Attached is a photo of my lawn taken before the cold a week ago. I assume this is brown patch. I tried different products, but nothing seemed to help. Is there any point in treating now?

Indeed, your photo does show brown patch. You can always confirm brown patch by pulling on the leaf blades gently. If brown patch is involved they will come loose very easily and you’ll be able to see the rotted areas where they once attached to the runners. At this late date, there is no need to treat. Try to get ahead of the infection earlier next fall.

Dear Neil: The pest control operator told me that the mud tunnels in my photo are from agricultural termites, and that they were eating dead grass – that they would be harmless. Is that correct?

Your pest control person is spot-on. Unlike subterranean termites that attack wood in structures, agricultural termites feed on grass and other vegetation. They make mud tubes for protection during that feeding. They are generally considered to be of little concern.

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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