GARDENER'S MAILBAG

Find varieties of plants nurseries need

By Neil Sperry | Published Wednesday, February 28, 2018

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Dear Neil: If I wanted to grow trees to sell wholesale to nurseries, what types would be best?

That’s a great question, and it’s one I’ve asked myself over the years. I paid for the birth of one of our children by doing just that. I chose shrubs because they offered a quicker return. What you need to know in this day and age is that you’re up against some huge growing operations on the West Coast, Texas and southern Gulf Coast. They have nursery production down to a science, so it’s going to be difficult to compete against their specialization and mechanization. I would suggest talking to several retail nurserymen and asking if there are any specific plants that they have trouble finding. A leading nurseryman in the Dallas-Fort Worth area told me years ago that he had the hardest time finding really good copper plants. A would-be grower had asked him that very question, and he mentioned the copper plants. They had a business deal that lasted for years.

Owing to my love of crape myrtles, I would seek out the very best varieties in each of the colors and be known as a source for them in 7- and 10-gallon pots, if I was doing this.

Wholesale growers typically sell the fast-growing types (Natchez, Tuscarora, Muskogee, etc.), but those aren’t necessarily the best. The really good ones may not grow as rapidly, so they can’t be turned as quickly. But they have other superior attributes. Arapaho, Sarah’s Favorite White, Glendora White, Catawba, Twilight, Velma’s Royal Delight and the lovely old dwarfs in the Petite series are types that I’d want to grow.

Dear Neil: My 8-year-old magnolia tree has more flowers than leaves most years. How can I get it to grow more?

That’s what might be called “survival of the species,” where a plant blooms heavily as it is struggling just to stay alive. You’ll see it commonly on peach trees that have been hit by a bad outbreak of peach tree borers. They will bloom and set a good crop of peaches, only to die the same year. In the case of your magnolia, nitrogen and regular watering will help. For folks in areas with alkaline soils, adding iron and a sulfur soil-acidifier will also be beneficial.

Dear Neil: When should I dig my daylilies that have become so crowded? How far apart should I plant them?

Late September and early October are the best times. Late winter is a good time, before they really start growing.

Spacing will depend on the mature size of each variety. Most of you would want to plant the fans 16 to 18 inches apart into well-prepared garden soil. You will have a lot of extra plants. Give them to friends or put them into the compost. Just don’t overcrowd them as you replant.

Dear Neil: I have been using pieces of welded wire mesh to keep squirrels out of my vegetable garden, but it’s a real pain. Can I use a foul-smelling snake repellent? Would it have any effect on the flavor of the vegetables?

I doubt it. The more critical question in my mind is whether it has label clearance for use around edible plants. Read the label carefully to see if it has been given that designation. My limited experience has been that these materials must be reapplied frequently, especially during periods of heavy rain or irrigation. I’ve had the best luck in deterring snakes by removing hiding places like piles of stones and lumber nearby. I also had to give up a small in-ground water garden that really seemed to attract them.

Dear Neil: How much cold will bougainvilleas tolerate?

Not a lot. They might survive a frost or very light freeze. They aren’t reliably winter-hardy to most of Texas. In fact, they suffer chill damage, wilting of leaves and floral bracts, when temperatures drop below 45 degrees.

Dear Neil: We just moved into a house that has two peach trees in the backyard. It appears they have never been pruned. They are probably 15 or 16 feet tall and wide. I know they’re supposed to be much shorter. Can I trim them to the recommended shape now?

Probably not. Your goal with peach and plum trees is to establish three scaffold branches about 2 feet from the ground. You need to start doing that at the time that they are planted. You prune the new tree at 24 inches. You train branches to radiate out at roughly 120-degree angles around the trunk. Each winter thereafter you remove any strongly vertical shoots as you strive to develop a tree that is shaped like a large cereal bowl. When you have a mature tree that has never been pruned, it would be too damaging to try to retrofit it to this form. Do what you can to remove some of the upright branches. That will take the weight off the branch crotches as the fruit develops, so they’ll be less likely to split. Otherwise, just enjoy them and when you plant more, train them correctly.

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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