GARDENER'S MAILBAG: Should I prune my loquat trees?

By Neil Sperry
Special to the Herald Democrat

Dear Neil: We have loquat trees on property in South Texas. They were damaged by the prolonged freezing temperatures in February. However, as you can see, there is a lot of green growth interspersed with the brown leaves. Do we need to prune these trees, or will the brown leaves fall off as the new growth progresses?

Loquats frozen

It looks like you should be able to prune them selectively for branches that have not come back vigorously. In most of the state, loquats were hurt worse than this, so you’re very fortunate. I would expect that the brown leaves would fall within the next month or two.

Dear Neil: What are the best privacy shrubs that would grow to 6 to 8 feet, but not any taller?

Dwarf Burford holly, although it would take many years to grow that tall. My preference from the hollies (my favorite shrubs because of their dependability) would be Willowleaf holly. I have several, and after 40 years of not pruning them much at all (because I have them out in the open), they are 9 or 10 feet tall. I could easily have kept them at 8 feet with just one or two prunings over that whole period of time. Standard abelia and elaeagnus are two other candidates. Of those two, abelias survived the winter in far better shape.

Dear Neil: Our neighbor’s eucalyptus tree died back in the freeze, but now it’s trying to send out new shoots at its base. Are the top branches dead? Do they pose any danger of breaking?

Eucalyptus frozen

If they haven’t leafed out by early to mid-June, they’re almost assuredly dead and will need to be pruned out. With power lines involved, you should contact the utility people. Most professional arborists won’t work around power lines in such close proximity.

Dear Neil: We had landscaping done recently at our South Texas home, and shortly thereafter these strange patches showed up in the lawn. Do you have any idea what they might be and what we need to do about them?

Brown patch In St Augustine In spring

In this year of strange happenings, even with all the cold, it looks like the brown patch fungus (now called “large patch” by Texas A&M) has become active in the cool spring weather. It’s usually far more common in fall. If you pull on the blades they will come loose easily from the runners. You’ll be able to see where the decay has occurred. The runners and roots remain attached – they’re healthy. Only the blades are affected. As it gets dry and warm the disease will lessen, but you can apply the fungicide Azoxystrobin to slow its spread if you feel the need.

Dear Neil: I’ve been reading all of your notes on various plants and the impact of the February freeze on them, both here in your column and on your Facebook page. I haven’t seen any mention of golden raintrees. Ours is not putting out any leaves at all. Is it possible that the cold killed it?

If you have southern golden raintree (Koelreuteria bipinnata, otherwise known as Chinese flametree), yes, the cold was extreme enough to have killed it. It’s sub-tropical by its nature. Northern golden raintree (K. paniculata), by comparison, should not have been damaged. It is winter-hardy clear to the Great Lakes. It should not have been damaged by the cold.

Dear Neil: Can you help me in getting rid of seedlings of paper mulberry and golden raintrees? They’re coming up everywhere.

Those should be easy to address. Use a broadleafed weedkiller spray (containing 2,4-D) in turf areas. Read and follow label directions to avoid damage to trees and shrubs nearby. Apply with a tank sprayer specifically to the tree seedlings for most precise control. Use a well-sharpened hoe when the soil is barely moist to scrape off the young seedlings in beds. Mulches will also work wonders in preventing seeds from germinating.

Dear Neil: I’m sure you’ve been covered up with questions about palms surviving the cold three months ago. How much longer should we wait to make the decision on windmill palms? I have two smaller ones that are sprouting out new green leaves, but the tallest has nothing yet.

Keep waiting. I’m seeing new growth showing up on palms around Texas with each passing day. Wait 6 weeks or more if you have to. There’s no real reason to rush.

Dear Neil: Should I be concerned with this split in the trunk of my 9-year-old plumeria? It’s been this way for the past couple of years and the plant is putting out new leaves normally this spring.


If you haven’t worried about it for two years, I wouldn’t worry now. It appears to be dry tissue. That’s important. You don’t want to see soft, decaying internal wood. I would just leave it to its own accord to see if it tries to produce new bark tissue across the wound. A plumeria that old should actually have a larger trunk. Hopefully it will be able to catch up. They require perfect drainage.

Dear Neil: Is there anything that can be done to help Italian cypress trees that have gradually been turning brown over the past several weeks? Is this because of the cold?

Italian Cypress

I’ve been seeing this from all over the state. Yes, it’s from freeze injury, and it has taken the plants a while to display it. I’m afraid it’s going to take the plants out, and there isn’t anything that can be done to turn things around now. I’m sorry for the bad news. They are vulnerable to temperatures into the single digits and low teens, especially when the cold comes and stays for several days.

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.