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GARDENER'S MAILBAG: Can I get more from my blackberry plants?

By Neil Sperry
Special to the Herald Democrat

Dear Neil: I have two blackberry plants that have been very productive. I’d like to plant more. Can I get more plants from the two that I have?

Blackberries were our most productive home fruit crops.

Absolutely. That’s the way they are propagated. You can either dig the existing root sprouts that have formed around the two mother plants, or you can use root cuttings from large roots. They will develop their own roots and top growth. Winter is the best time to get your new plants going.

Dear Neil: I recently bought some land that has very old live oaks. They are in dire need of pruning, and we have targeted January as the best time. Oak wilt is within a couple of miles of our property, so we want to take all necessary precautions. Do you recommend applying pruning sealant in the winter?

Yes! Pruning sealant is pretty much non-negotiable when you’re trimming oaks, no matter what time of year. Do your homework ahead of time. Read all you can find online from Texas A&M’s Horticulture and Pathology departments, also look through the data from the Texas Oak Wilt information website: texasoakwilt.org.

Dear Neil: Do I need to be worried about the fluffy moss that’s growing on some of the branches of my pecan trees?

Those are probably gray-green lichens, and if so, they’re a tandem growth of funguses and algae nurturing one another. They also will develop on boulders, so they’re obviously not parasitic. I will say, however, from a life’s career of observing lichens, they do seem to be more common on branches that are dead or dying. It wouldn’t hurt to have a certified arborist look at your trees.

Dear Neil: We have tall nandinas that really ought to be trimmed back from our windows. How can we do it? The plants have lots of berries. When can we prune them without ruining the berries?

Nandinas after tallest canes were cut to ground.

It sounds like you have the old-fashioned standard nandinas. There is an odd pruning technique that is rather specific to them. You want to sort through their stems and select the tallest one-third of the stems. Cut those canes clear back to the ground, leaving the other two-thirds intact. Those cut canes will send out new sprouts that will fill in from beneath, giving the plants a fresh, rejuvenated look. If they’re really overgrown, you could even cut the tallest half of the canes back to the ground.

Dear Neil: When do we need to fertilize our asparagus bed? It’s been planted for two years and we should get a good harvest this year. What should we use?

Apply an all-nitrogen fertilizer such as 21-0-0 at the rate of 1/2-pound per 100 square feet of bed space. Fertilize in early to mid-February, in anticipation of the new growth. Water the fertilizer in deeply, to get it immediately to the plants’ roots. You can also make a similar application after you finish harvesting. Otherwise, just keep the plants well mulched and moist.

Dear Neil: Can I trim a purple sage that’s grown too tall? If so, when and by how much?

Texas sage (ceniza)

You can take up to one-third of the stem growth off a Texas purple sage (ceniza), and late January or early February would be the best time. Use hand tools, rather than doing a formal shearing. Do consider, too, replacing it with one of the dwarf sage selections.

Dear Neil: When and how do I cut peach trees back?

Prune peaches and plums similarly, both during the winter. Your goal is to develop flattened trees with bowl-shaped branching. Hopefully the trees were pruned soon after planting, to encourage the growth of 3 or 4 “scaffold” branches arising from their trunks 22 to 26 inches above the soil line. Remove any strongly vertical shoots that develop after that time, leaving horizontal branches intact. This will make harvesting easier, plus it will allow sunlight to reach the ripening fruit.

Dear Neil: What can be done to eliminate three acres of goatheads? Our granddaughter and her husband have their new house, and they say it is inundated with goatheads. Their dogs are miserable.

Many times, people ask simply about “stickers” or “burs,” and I’m not sure whether they’re talking about goatheads or the far more common grassburs. Since you were so specific, I’ll tackle goatheads. They are a broadleafed weed with coarse, ferny-looking leaves. They are also warm-season weeds, meaning that they germinate, grow and die, to complete their life cycle all in one growing season. They could apply a pre-emergent weedkiller two weeks prior to the average date of their last killing freeze, then repeat it 90 days later. The one to use for non-grassy weeds would be Gallery granules. For a lower cost, they could also apply a broadleafed weedkiller spray to kill existing goathead plants during the growing season. However, they need to read and follow label directions carefully, to avoid damaging trees and shrubs that share the same soil with the weeds. They could use a burlap bag partially filled with sawdust ballast for weight to pick up the seeds that are out in the lawn now.

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