GARDENER'S MAILBAG

Winter chill likely spells end for Esperanzas

By Neil Sperry | Published Wednesday, April 4, 2018

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Dear Neil: My Gold Star Esperanzas may have frozen this past winter. I have yet to see any green growth. I cut the tops back to the ground and still have them mulched in pecan leaves. Should I give up on them?

It’s not looking good for them. Normally winter-hardy in the southern third of the state and occasionally farther north, Esperanzas were really hurt by the cold this past winter. It does vary from one city to the next and site by site. If you don’t see new growth emerging soon, you’d better think about replacing them.

Dear Neil: I have a row of nandinas beneath some of our windows. I’ve tried to trim them evenly, but the ones on the ends are really scraggly and mostly stalks. Should I trim them back to the ground or do something else?

If these were mine, I would selectively prune the tallest canes back to the ground, probably one-third to one-half of the total number of canes. They will send out new sprouts from below, and those will fill in the growth. You must never trim nandinas part way up their stems. They will try to branch there, and that will leave you with really odd-looking plants. Apply an all-nitrogen fertilizer after you trim them and water them deeply to encourage vigorous regrowth. This would have been better if you had done it six weeks ago, before any of the new spring growth had begun.

Dear Neil: I’m planning to fertilize my St. Augustine beneath my live oaks around May 1, as per your recommendations. What fertilizer would you suggest?

Most tests on Texas soils show that we need to add only nitrogen to our lawns, trees, shrubs, flowers and vegetables. Most soils accumulate phosphorus to excessive amounts. In the absence of a current soil test, that would be my suggestion. Half or more of that should be in slow-release form. Mid-April would be a good time for the first feeding with a second feeding in early June and a third and final fertilization in early September. I normally don’t recommend feeding St. Augustine in July and August since nitrogen promotes gray leaf spot fungus.

Dear Neil: I have a particularly aggressive weed that has taken over my flowerbeds and yard. In one bed I have removed all the soil and replaced it with bagged soil, but it’s back again. How can I eliminate it?

Your photo is of a broadleafed weed, perhaps a mint relative of some sort. I’m not sure how it came back into the bed where you removed the soil unless you didn’t dig deeply enough to get rid of all the roots. It may just be so aggressive at spreading via its rhizomes that it came right back. You can use a broadleafed weediller spray (containing 2,4-D) to eliminate it in turf areas. If you can wipe it onto the leaves in your beds that might also help there. Roll-type landscaping fabrics can be cut and fit around shrubs to stop it in beds. Overlap the seams by several inches. Cover the roll material with bark mulch to make it more attractive.

Dear Neil: The white pear trees that were in beautiful bloom a few weeks ago were gorgeous. Are they good landscaping trees?

No. Most are Bradford pears. They are brittle, narrow-branched and weak-wooded, usually splitting down the middle after 10 or 15 years. Adding to that, the rootstock, Callery pear, sets fruit, and the seeds germinate in wetter parts of the state, making it invasive in those regions. As pretty as they are, there are much better trees.

Dear Neil: We received this redbud tree from the Arbor Day Foundation. This is the first year it has bloomed. Should we encourage the trunks to grow together?

Your thumbnail photo is very tiny, but I can see enough detail to help. You want to remove the left trunk in the photo flush with the other one. The branch angle is so tight (just like the ornamental pears I just discussed) that the two trunks will never grow together properly. Encourage strong, almost right-angled branching.

Dear Neil: The blooms on one of my dogwoods are under-sized and greenish in color. What can I do in the next year to have prettier flowers?

There is some genetic variability from one dogwood to the next. That’s where we’ve ended up with all the improved strains of dogwoods even with unusual colors. Remember that dogwood “flowers” are actually floral bracts (modified leaves) just as you’ll find on poinsettias and bougainvilleas. As the bracts begin to develop, they will be green. The ones in your photo may just not have had enough time to mature and turn to a purer white. They may be behind the others in your neighborhood in their development. Otherwise, there’s nothing special you need to do other than just to take good care of your plant.

Dear Neil: I am needing to remove this huge cottonwood stump with an 18-inch chain saw. Do you have any tips on how best to approach it?

Cut it out one piece at a time. Keep the teeth from making contact with the soil (instant dulling). Use a long-handled ax if you have to. I would cut down into the stump first, then in from the sides to remove it piece by piece.

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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