Learning the differences in holly trees

By Neil Sperry | Published Wednesday, January 10, 2018

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Dear Neil: I bought two yaupon holly trees for my yard. One has a great crop of berries every winter. The other has never had the first berry. What can I do to get it to bear fruit?

My bet would be that there is nothing you can do. You probably have one female (fruit-producing) and one male (pollen-producing) tree. You wouldn’t have any fruit at all on the female plant, if it weren’t for the male plants in your neighborhood. If it makes you feel any better, you’re doing a great service by providing pollen to all the hollies around you. When you buy a yaupon tree, it’s critical that you either buy a named variety that’s been propagated from cuttings so that it would have fruit reliably, or that you see fruit on the plant at the time that you buy it. Most hollies work this way, with male and female flowers on separate plants. Burford and dwarf Burford, Willowleaf and Nellie R. Stevens hollies are notable exceptions. All of them bear fruit on every plant once the plants grow to mature size.

Dear Neil: If I remove a 4-inch root that is trying to lift my sidewalk, will my live oak with an 18-inch trunk (a) be weakened enough that it could die or (b) become unstable in the soil and fall in a windstorm?

Good questions, and I think the answer to each would be “No.” A live oak of that size would have many more roots to support its top growth, both in terms of water and nourishment, also in terms of strength against wind and ice. Plus, new roots would start growing almost immediately to fill in the void. Two suggestions do come to mind, however. You might want to have a certified arborist look at the situation with you. His or her advice and experience could prove invaluable. Also, remember that sidewalks aren’t that difficult or expensive to sledgehammer out and rebuild a few feet away. So there’s bound to be a good solution in there for you somewhere.

Dear Neil: Can I dig up runners of English ivy and transplant them to get a new bed started?

In theory that would work, but they typically don’t have enough roots to sustain the leaf growth. It’s better to cut the runners into short pieces, each containing one or two leaves. I actually root them in 4-inch pots filled with a loose potting soil, but you might try sticking them directly into a well-prepared garden bed. By doing this over the winter, they might be able to form roots before the spring growing season kicks in.

Dear Neil: We have a lot of mistletoe in our trees. How can we eliminate it?

The answer is simple. Putting it into effect is the tough part. Mistletoe is a parasitic plant that develops roots into the host plant’s branches. There is no spray that will kill it without harming the host tree. Therefore, pruning is your only means of removing it. It’s best to remove clumps while they’re in their first year and still small. By the time they’re as large as the ones in your tree, you’re going to have to remove some significant branches. The fact remains that that’s the only good way to get rid of them. Your only other option is to use a long-handled pole pruner to nip off the growth of the mistletoe to keep it from sending out sprouts and fruit. You’ll never kill it, but you can keep it from spreading.

Dear Neil: We have 1.5 acres in Central Texas, and we have vitex, Esperanza and crape myrtles. I’ve heard all kinds of varying advice on how and when to trim them. Some say cut one-third. Some say cut them to the ground. What is best for all of the plants?

That would be like asking a barber to choose one hairstyle for three different people. Each needs special attention. With vitex and crape myrtles, I prune to remove rubbing or damaged branches for the most part. However, the farther south you go in Texas, the more trimming people will do to promote a second round of flowering late in the summer. But during the winter you should prune them primarily to maintain a good growth form.

I’m a native Texan, so I feel that I have the right to critique work done by other Texans. What we do to crape myrtles makes no sense at all. There is no justification for topping crape myrtles. It ruins their natural growth form. It delays their blooming and results in over-sized, top-heavy flowering. It offers no benefit. Some will contend that it reduces the plants’ height if they’re growing too tall, but they grow right back, so I’ve adopted the slogan: “If they’re too tall, either move or remove ’em.” So once again, I do very little pruning on my own crape myrtles, and then only to remove damaged branches. Esperanzas are sub-tropical plants. Where your property is, they will make it through many winters without damage. When they do suffer cold injury, you can trim to remove it. Farther north they will usually be hurt by the cold and people will have to cut them completely to the ground, and still farther north, they won’t survive most winters at all. So you play that one by ear.

Have a question you’d like Neil to consider? Mail it to him in care of this newspaper or e-mail him at Neil regrets that he cannot reply to questions individually.

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