Dear Neil: What would this be on a Texas mountain laurel? Is it threatening to the tree?
A: This is called “fasciation.” It involves plant tissues that divide in two dimensions. You may be familiar with the common annual flower called cockscomb (Celosia). Flowers of many varieties develop in the same pattern. This is not something that you especially want on a Texas mountain laurel, so I normally prune it off if it shows up on mine. I trim back into normal, healthy growth.
Dear Neil: I have to replace five shrubs (unknown type) that face west. I currently have a dwarf Burford holly on one end and a redtip photinia on the other. Of the five that died, three were in full afternoon sun, and the other two in some shade. I like both of the shrubs that have survived, although the redtip seems to have taken pruning better. Which would be the better replacement for the five that I lost?
A: It’s difficult to do a landscape plan just from those facts. There is no comparison between those two plants in their long-term quality. Redtip photinias are highly susceptible to a fatal fungal leaf spot (Entomosporium). Dwarf Burford hollies, by comparison, are some of our finest Texas landscaping shrubs. However, it’s also possible that you might want to do a redesign of your landscape and work a third kind of plant into the bed. Talk to your favorite local independent garden center for advice.
Dear Neil: I rescued this tree and planted it into a whiskey barrel. What is it, and do you have any suggestions to help me? It doesn’t look very good now.
A: It’s a weeping mulberry tree, probably the variety “Chaparral.” Your other photograph does look like it is in bad shape. Scratch some of the twigs and see if the tissue beneath the bark is still moist and green. If it is, there is still hope that you can save it. If the twigs have become brittle, then you have a more difficult challenge ahead. I would suggest thinning out the twig growth considerably to compensate for the root damage done as you dug it. Keep it moist all winter, and apply a liquid root-stimulator fertilizer monthly this winter. Evaluate it come spring.
Dear Neil: I have lost my rose bushes to rose rosette virus. I have dug them up and put them in the trash as instructed. Can I now replant with more roses? Some of the literature I find online says yes, but other websites say no.
A: If there is rose rosette virus in your neighborhood, other roses nearby still have it. The microscopic mites that transmit the virus via the wind will still be able to spread it back to your new plants. No one has the perfect answer for you. If you are willing to replant, knowing that your new plants may only last a couple of years, then go for it. Give the new plants good spacing to slow spread of the virus. Otherwise, you may want to find other replacement plants.
Dear Neil: This weed has begun to crop up in abundance in our lawn since the weather has cooled. What is it, and what can we use to eliminate it? The “nut” is about 2 inches below the ground.
A: Your thumbnail photo is extremely tiny, but I’m pretty sure that you have oxalis. You can control it with a broadleafed weedkiller spray containing 2,4-D. The leaves of this weed are very waxy, so control is better if you include one drop of a liquid dishwashing detergent with each gallon of your spray. Apply the herbicide with a pump sprayer in a fine droplet pattern. You don’t have much total leaf surface yet, so you’re probably going to have to treat several times to get enough of the weedkiller carried through the plants and into the bulbs to kill them. I believe this may be the cultivated type of oxalis. Mowing alone may eliminate it.
Dear Neil: I planted three dwarf apple trees two years ago. The trees are growing well, and they look healthy. However, the growth is only on one side of the trunks, that being the sides on which the buds were grafted. Does that cause the trunks to be weaker? Do I need to provide some type of supports so that they will not break in a windstorm?
A: What an unusual question. That really does look like a weak graft in your photo. I probably would put some kind of a stout pipe or post alongside the tree to provide an extra measure of support. I hope it will be able to grow over the decaying area and strengthen before it’s too late. It might also help if you thinned out the top growth to take away some of the weight until it can recover. Be sure to loosen any type of strap that you use to hold the trunk against the support. Do so each year so that it won’t girdle the trunk.
Dear Neil: I planted a Jane magnolia in February this year. It gets morning sun and shade in the afternoon. I watered it regularly, and it was fed at the time of planting and again in September. In July it began to look poorly. I stepped up the watering. By this fall there was new growth. The photo shows some of it at the base, but even that doesn’t look very good. Your thoughts?
A: Jane magnolia is the result of hybridization work done on deciduous magnolias at the United States National Arboretum in the 1950s. Several varieties, including Jane, Ann, Susan and others were introduced as the “Little Girl Series.” They are best adapted in the eastern third of Texas, where soils are acidic. Planting where they get morning sun and shade in the afternoon is ideal, so you’re spot-on with that. However, our state gets very hot — and by July, usually very dry. Just one dry spell can cause Jane magnolia to suffer a lot of leaf drop and root damage. I’m pretty sure that’s what you have encountered. Water your tree every week or two over the winter, and hopefully it will come out vigorously in the spring.
If you’d like Neil Sperry’s help with a plant question, drop him a note in care of The Eagle, P.O. Box 3000, Bryan, Texas 77805. Or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.