9.07.20 Gold Star Esperanza.jpg

Gold Star Esperanza.

Q. Dear Neil: My Green Cloud Texas sage plants are four years old. They suffered in the hot, dry weather last year. I’ve been more careful in taking care of them this year, but now I see yellow leaves with purple spots. Is this a disease?

A. This is not a disease. If you’ll notice, these are all older leaves that are farther down on the stems. They are merely about to be shed by the plants. I see no cause for concern. Keep on caring for your plants as you have.

Q. Dear Neil: What type of grass do you recommend for a lawn that is shaded by many trees? I currently have St. Augustine.

A. I would recommend what you already have. It is our most shade-tolerant turfgrass. If there is too much shade for St. Augustine, however, we have to shift to a groundcover that can survive in even less sunlight. That puts mondograss (“monkeygrass,” a groundcover and not a true grass) and other shade-loving low and spreading plants into consideration.

Q. Dear Neil: We just had zoysia planted in a 1000 square-foot area. When should I apply fertilizer and weed inhibitor?

A. Fertilize new turfgrass after you mow it the second time. I always recommend applying the fertilizer at half the recommended rate since the grass still has shallow roots. Do not use any kind of a weed prevention product until after the lawn has been through its first winter.

Q. Dear Neil: We have a couple of weed vines including briars coming up in our Indian hawthorns. I know I can’t spray them. How can I eliminate them?

A. You are correct. Any spray that would kill the vines would also do serious harm to your shrubs. The tricky part comes in where the vines originate. If they came with the shrubs (in other words, were growing in the pots), you may have to reach in and dig them out with a sharpshooter spade. However, for the bed in general, you can use one of the roll-type mulches. Cut it to fit around the shrubs, overlapping the seams by 3 to 4 inches. I use pine bark mulch as the final covering to conceal the weed-blocking fabric. I can tell you from personal experience that smilax briar is tenacious. It may be able to penetrate the fabric. I would probably try to dig as much of it out ahead of time as I possibly could.

Q. Dear Neil: You mentioned in the recent article wrapping up lawn care we should not apply a pre-emergent to a new lawn until it has been through its first winter. I sodded St Augustine earlier this year. Does that apply to my lawn?

A. Yes. It applies to all new lawns. That’s why I didn’t single out any type of lawngrass as an exception.

Q. Dear Neil: Are the berries in this photograph poisonous? It is growing in the woods on our property. Although it’s beautiful, I don’t want to leave it there if it’s going to cause a problem.

A. This is American beautyberry (Callicarpa americana). It is a jewel among native Texas shrubs, and it will cause no problems for you. Indeed, there are many of us who have gone out of our ways to plant more in our landscapes. It does best in highly organic soils and in moist, semi-shaded locations where it receives bright light in the morning and protection from the hot afternoon sun in the summer. Birds love the berries, as do raccoons and squirrels.

Q. Dear Neil: This plant (see enclosed photo) was a Christmas gift in 2018. I have it growing in a 6-inch pot and it is now 12 inches tall. It gets indirect light all day with one hour of direct sunlight in the morning. The side facing the sun sometimes has droplets of water on the tips of its branches. I’ve heard that is from root pressure. Do I need to repot it into an 8-inch pot?

A. Hats off to you as a gardener! To have kept this plant doing so well in a 6-inch pot for almost two years is remarkable. The plant in your photo is Norfolk Island pine (Araucaria heterophylla), native to the tropical island of that name in the South Pacific. Yes, I would suggest repotting it to give it a bit more root room. Keep it slightly potbound, however, to keep it from outgrowing the space you have available for it. The water droplets are called “guttation,” and they’re a byproduct of soil moisture and high humidity, but they are not of any concern. Norfolk Island pine cannot be grown outdoors here due to freezing weather, and its potential mature height is a mind-blowing 60-80 feet tall. “Slightly pot-bound” is a good thing! Eventually it will outgrow its welcome, but hopefully you can enjoy it for many years.

Q. Dear Neil: I have four Esperanza plants in my backyard. I’ve had them for four years, and not one of them has ever bloomed. Do you have any secrets you could share with me?

A. I’m assuming that they are in full sun? Without that, flowering will be severely impeded. Otherwise, apply a high-nitrogen, lawn-type fertilizer and keep them growing actively. Occasionally growers will propagate them by seeds and will not get the highly improved Gold Star Esperanza plants. Those lesser types tend to bloom only one time, that being in the fall. Perhaps you got some of those. If that’s the case, it’s time to replace them (next spring).

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

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