GARDENER'S MAILBAG: Should I prune my vitex?

By Neil Sperry
Special to the Herald Democrat

Dear Neil: My vitex plant (unknown age) had sparse leaves and a few small blooms following the February cold spell. Should I prune it back, take it out, or just wait and see what happens?

Vitex Should Bloom Like This If Healthy

Vitex plants were hurt significantly in many parts of Texas. If you have branches that you are sure were killed you can prune them out over the winter. Otherwise, wait until early spring to see how vigorously the plant puts out new growth. If it’s lethargic you’ll have plenty of time to replace it from spring nursery inventories.

Dear Neil: I have a very large, old pecan tree in our pasture. Seedlings have come up beneath it. Do you think I can pull or dig some of them up and replant them? Will they survive the process?

I don’t know if the mother tree is an improved variety or just a native pecan, but these seedlings most definitely would be natives. Not that there’s anything wrong with native pecans, but you don’t have any way of knowing what type or quality of fruit they will produce until they start bearing (if they do). As to digging the seedlings, if they’re short enough (less than 4 or 5 feet) and if you lifted them carefully with a sharpshooter spade to move them, you might do pretty well. Hold soil around their roots, and trim their tops back by half after the dig to compensate for the roots that are lost. It’s going to be quite a shock when you dig them. Honestly, if you simply want native pecans, you would get bigger trees faster if you were simply to plant pecans that you gathered from beneath the tree now. Plant them an inch or two deep and 40 or 50 feet apart and exactly where you want them, preferably not in straight rows.

Dear Neil: My daughter is forwarding a photo of my poor little maple tree here in the Texas Hill Country. Is there any chance it will survive the damage done by last winter’s cold?

Maple Appears To Be Weakened By Cold

With all the foliage already off the tree (as judged by the crape myrtles behind it as well), it’s really difficult to tell how vigorous the maple might be. However, those vertical cracks in the trunk are not good signs. Give it until spring. If it doesn’t offer to grow normally at that point you probably should replace it with a type of tree that is well suited to the surroundings you have for it. Perhaps a redbud or Mexican plum would be a good fit.

Dear Neil: Is there any correlation between the extraordinary number of galls on my live oak leaves this fall and the cold of last winter?

Perhaps, but they’re still not anything you need to worry about. If there is any relationship, it could be because there was so much new, succulent growth last spring that might have been more vulnerable to the adult insects’ stings as they deposited the eggs. Perhaps the predatory insects that feed on the adults or their larvae were hurt by the cold. Whatever the case, it’s nothing to keep you awake at night. There still is no way to prevent or control them.

Dear Neil: Should I remove the seedpods off my crape myrtles? What about cutting them back in general.

No, and NO! In fact, you should not remove much of anything from the tops of your crape myrtles. I see that homeowners and a few landscape contractors have already started topping crape myrtles. That is a horrifically barbaric act that ruins their shape forever. When people say it’s because the plant has grown too tall, I just have to turn away. There are more than 125 varieties of crape myrtles, and they range in size from 3 feet to 33 feet tall. If a person has a crape myrtle that’s too tall, it needs to be relocated or removed and a smaller type planted to replace it. Also, for the record, topping slows and diminishes the flower production in summer. There is no redeeming reason ever to top crape myrtles.

Dear Neil: Is there any reason I shouldn’t use oak chips as a mulch beneath my shrubs? We had a dead tree taken down and they left us a big pile of the chips. Is there anything in them that would harm the shrubs?

Some people worry about tannic acidic in oak or pecan wood, but there are hundreds of thousands of square miles of oak forest land in the United States, and those forests have some of the most fertile leaf humus (natural mulch) that you’ll find anywhere. Just don’t put fresh chips on more than 1 or 2 inches deep. They may compact, and that might act to retard penetration of water and nutrients into the soil.

Dear Neil: How far south in Texas can you successfully grow a Japanese maple?

Japanese Maples Just Finished Dropping Their Leaves In Estern Third Of The State

It’s not just temperatures that govern their success or failure. It’s also humidity (better in East Texas) and soils (prefer acidic, so again, better in East Texas). The farther you come down I-35 in Central Texas the more difficult they will become, and as you go west in the state they soon become very challenging. They’re native to parts of Japan that are cool and humid.

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.