GARDENER'S MAILBAG: What about the huisache trees?

By Neil Sperry
Special to the Herald Democrat

Dear Neil: I haven’t seen you mention huisache trees and the effect the winter had on them in any of your writings. We have the one in the photo I’ve attached, and it doesn’t look like there is any green left in it. Is it gone?

Huisache tree

It certainly looks like it. Huisache trees are sub-tropical in their origins, and February pretty well did them in for many Texas gardeners. I wish I had better news for you.

Dear Neil: Our Asian jasmine has been in its bed for 35 years and was more than a foot tall in places. The freeze really did a number on it. I started to cut it back, but now I’m wondering if I did the right thing. Should I continue?

Trimming Asian Jasmine

I think I would finish the job, although it does look like there isn’t a lot of green growth left behind. It really should have been trimmed back in March, so you’ve missed a bit of the window. Follow the trimming with an application of an all-nitrogen fertilizer, the same type that you would be using on your lawn. Water it in deeply.

Dear Neil: My husband and I are restoring a historic home and, in about a year, will turn our attention to the landscape. We have cut down old ligustrums, other brush and weeds. Is there anything else we can do organically in the meantime to help prepare it for landscaping in a year?

Simply mowing it and trimming away vines will be a great start. I’m not sure that organic weed controls will work on the really tenacious vines like honeysuckle and trumpetvine, but you can probably discourage them with repetitive mowing. Save clippings and wood chips and get them into a compost pile so they can be decaying into compost that will be fit for your garden come next year. Without knowing your plans it’s hard to give you any more specific advice.

Dear Neil: What can you tell me about loquats and Texas sages now, 10 weeks after the freeze? I’m seeing a few new buds on the loquats, but no new growth on the Texas sage.

Loquats were hurt over much of the state, including South Texas where they are normally winter-hardy. Texas sage plants should have survived this intact in South Texas, but they, too, seem to have been hurt very badly over most of the state. All I can suggest on either plant is to wait another few weeks to see how they progress. You can always take them out later.

Dear Neil: We have an old 40-foot cedar elm that has developed deep cracks in its trunk. It’s had cracks in the trunk before, but never this deep. Some of its upper branches have failed to leaf out. Is this because of the cold, or is there some other problem going on?

I think most of this is because of the cold. Many species of shade trees are showing splits in their trunks. Foresters and arborists are telling us that many of the trees will be able to heal themselves, but there is question if older, less vigorous trees will be able to do so. Don’t try to do anything heroic. However, it would be a very good idea to have a certified arborist look at your tree.

Dear Neil: I have a small garden (everything in pots). I lost my Norfolk Island pine in the freeze. Is there another good small tree I could grow in a container with no bottom? Its roots will be able to grow into the soil beneath. Would a pomegranate be good?

Pomegranates were hurt by this past winter’s cold. I guess I haven’t gotten my courage back up enough yet. If it has to be able to withstand outdoor conditions, I’d consider a tree-form crape myrtle or holly. Perhaps a Mexican plum if the pot is 40 inches in diameter (large pot). Or you could use a fruiting plum such as Methley. The very dwarf Teddy Bear southern magnolia would be delightful.

Dear Neil: I am going to be buying plugs of St. Augustine to plant into my bermuda lawn. How far apart should I space them so they’ll cover this year? Will they completely crowd out all of the bermuda eventually?

The more dominant St Augustine is invading Bermuda

Space the plugs 16 inches apart in a checkerboard pattern. I have a square-bladed nursery spade that I use for that purpose, but a sharpshooter spade will also be about the right size. Plant them at precisely the same depth at which they were growing in the plug trays. For the record, you can also create your own plugs out of pieces of sod. That’s where the nursery spade really comes in handy. Use the soil you have just dug out of their planting holes to fill any voids. Tamp the loose soil down with your foot, then water the plugs with a water hose and breaker to get them settled in. Water them daily for the first couple of weeks and they should be good to go. They should have covered most of the ground by the end of this growing season, but turf growers will tell you that you’ll probably never get a completely solid stand that’s free of bermuda. Not to worry, however. The two grasses co-exist quite well.

Dear Neil: I was referred to you by a neighbor. Our lacebark elm has developed major trunk problems. You can see the cracks, and now it also has some kind of white growth beneath the bark. What is it, and what do we need to do?

Lacebark elm split trunk

Lacebark elms slough their bark as the trees grow, but it looks like some of this bark may have been peeled or trimmed away. That should not be done, as you don’t want the fresh wood exposed to sunlight. The white growth is fungal, but it’s probably not a serious concern. As with the cedar elm above, you need to have a certified arborist look at your tree soon.

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.