GARDENER'S MAILBAG: Where are the mimosa trees?

By Neil Sperry
Special to the Herald Democrat

Dear Neil: Why is it that nurserymen don’t sell mimosa trees any longer? When I was a youngster my folks planted several and the butterflies loved them. They’re graceful, fast-growing trees that are very colorful. Why don’t we see them like we used to?

Mimosa Trees Blooms Are Colorful

I grew up with mimosas all through our neighborhood in Texas, too. In fact, I dug seedlings and grew them in my backyard nursery while I was in high school. But we consumers have become savvy about our shade trees. We’ve learned that other factors outweigh fast growth and flowers. Longevity and freedom from pest problems come to mind first. Mimosas’ average life expectancy is probably 15 or 20 years. While some would be willing to settle for that, most people expect more from their shade trees. And mimosas only bloom for a couple of weeks, followed by messy spent flowers and seed pods. A nice planting of annual flowers can keep the bees and butterflies happy for many months by comparison and with a lot less mess.

Dear Neil: My Gold Star Esperanza produced a bunch of what look like seed pods at the ends of its stems. Can I plant those seeds and get more plants?

Gold Star Esperanza was a particular selection made after extensive testing and trials by Greg Grant as well as Dr. Jerry Parsons and others with Texas AgriLife Extension of Texas A&M. One of its chief attributes is the fact that it starts blooming in spring and blooms all the way through until frost. Regular yellow bells, which you will get from your seedlings, usually wait until fall to start flowering. Gold Star Esperanzas are propagated from cuttings to be sure the genetics remain the same. That won’t be the case with your seedlings at all. They aren’t worth the gamble.

Dear Neil: My fig ivy has been thriving for seven years on the south wall of our house. This past winter’s cold caused it to freeze badly. It’s greening up, but the dead leaves still persist. Could I take a broom and lightly sweep them away?

Fig Ivy Before Freeze Damage

Yes, and that would probably be the best way to accomplish the task of cleaning the wall up. You may have some dieback of the stems clinging to the wall. In that case, you’ll want to clip and remove them as you also sweep the dead foliage.

Dear Neil: I am looking for a small evergreen tree that will grow to be 8 ft. tall and 6 ft. wide. I need it for screening purposes at property in East Texas. Would Blue Princess holly be suitable?

It would be good since you would have acidic soil, although Oakland holly, Willowleaf holly and other intermediate selections would be other candidates. They might grow slightly larger than you want and therefore could need shearing periodically. I grow 30 or more types of hollies in my landscape and have tried a dozen others over the years. The “blue” hollies haven’t done as well for me, because I have alkaline conditions. That’s why I tend to recommend types that aren’t as particular as to their soil requirements.

Dear Neil: Foxtail ferns did beautifully in our flowerbeds last summer, but they turned brown with the cold. I know they’re not real ferns, but some kind of asparagus, so I’m hoping they’ll come back. Will they?

Not with the temperatures most of Texas experienced. They’re from the less winter-hardy side of the asparagus aisle. They really do better if they’re grown in pots so you can set them out of harm’s way in times like that. Sorry to disappoint you.

Dear Neil: Something, perhaps a squirrel, is gnawing at the base of my young Japanese maple. What would have done this, and how can I stop it? Will the tree recover?

Japanese Maple Being Gnawed By Rodent

Rodents often chew on trees’ bark, sometimes quite high in the branches. It’s frequently a means of keeping their teeth shortened and sharpened, since their teeth continue to grow much as human fingernails do. In other cases they actually feed on the bark. When it’s close to the ground as in your photo there’s also the disturbing possibility that rats may be involved. Your tree has definitely been assaulted, but it doesn’t look like the animal has fully girdled the trunk, meaning that it hasn’t eaten the bark away all the way around the trunk at any given location. Buy one of the protective trunk wraps that are sold in hardware stores to guard trunks from line trimmers. It will also be able to keep the rodents from chewing on your tree’s bark.

Dear Neil: What would cause dwarf Burford hollies to turn brown in different areas? It first appeared last spring and the leaves appeared to be mite-infested. I treated the plants, but they just got worse. Now the entire row of hollies is being destroyed. What can I do?

Oh, how I wish you had attached a photo. I have grown dwarf Burford hollies for 50 years and I have never seen mites bother them, either in my landscape or in anyone else’s. One possibility would be leaf miners. They will leave small trails in the leaf surfaces, but they are basically harmless. In all honesty, hollies are much more likely to have been hurt by drought than by insects. Excessively dry soils will either kill entire plantings or cause isolated plants or parts of plants to die out.

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.