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Dry mornings are best time to 'jar' tomato pollen

Dry mornings are best time to 'jar' tomato pollen

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Dear Neil: I saw your suggestion of thumping tomato flower clusters to help them get pollinated. That was why my grandmother used to hit her tomato plants with her broom. How do I know the right time to do that?

A: You want to wait until any dew, rainfall or irrigation water has dried for a couple of hours. Otherwise, morning is best. You can do a more refined job by thumping the clusters with your middle finger (paper wad style) every other day. For anyone who missed the tip, this is a way of jarring the pollen loose when tomato plants are blocked from vibration of the wind.

Dear Neil: What can I use to eliminate these prickly weeds? We want our new home's yard to be safe for our grandson. Weedkillers that we've used haven't been very effective.

A: I had a little trouble making out the weed in the photo, but it appears to be a type of sedge. If its stem is triangular when you roll it between your thumb and index finger, that would be a type of sedge. (All grasses have round stems.) Some of the sedges can have rather raspy burs. I'm not sure if one of the controls for purple nutsedge would help with it. They include the original Image product as well as Sedgehammer. Take a sample to a Texas Master Certified Nursery Professional for help with the identification and a suggestion for control. In the off chance that this turns out to be some type of grassy weed, a pre-emergent applied before it germinates in early spring would help, but it would be too late for this year. Honestly, just mowing the lawn frequently and close will encourage your grass to crowd out most of the weeds in rather short order.

Dear Neil: You mentioned the problems petunias face in late spring and early summer. My wife and I have not had that experience. We let our old-fashioned petunias reseed. They bloom all summer. We dig the white ones out. We prefer the darker colors. It's a shame so many plants have been modified for the national retail trade.

A: Those are the old heirloom reseeding petunias, and I agree that they are tough as boots. You'll see them in gardens where they grow alongside reseeding larkspurs, hardy amaryllis, antique roses and other pass-along plants. In fairness to the hybridizers, they have brought us some stunning colors and much more compact varieties. There truly is something for everyone. Good comments. Thanks.

Dear Neil: We have lost several live oaks on our property due to oak wilt. What types of oaks are resistant to the disease? I'd like to replant with an oak.

A: The very helpful website notes that the red oak group of oaks, including Shumard red oak, Texas oak and others with pointed lobes (also water oak) tend to be most susceptible. The white oak group (bur oak, chinquapin oak and Lacey oak, among others) are bothered less often. Live oaks are intermediate. I would suggest you let a certified arborist guide you. You know you'll be safe with a non-oak such as cedar elm, pecan, redcedar, magnolia or Chinese pistachio.

Dear Neil: Is there a type of bagworm that feeds on apple trees? I've had them on my junipers, but this year I've had 20 or 30 that fed on my apple tree. They're hanging now from its leaf shreds. Is this some new type that I need to worry about next year?

A: Not at all. It's the same species of bagworms. Somehow, they either ran out of conifer twigs or they just found themselves across the yard with too far to walk. Hand-pick them now that they're through feeding for this year and send them off with the trash. You'll probably never see them on your apple tree again.

Dear Neil: How can I stop monkeygrass from growing out into my yard? I have edging, but it goes through it as if it were invisible.

A: Use the 4-inch metal edging, and drive it flush with the ground. I have several hundred feet of monkeygrass (mondograss), and that has kept it neatly in place for me for 32 years. In a couple of places, I have put a small piece of edging or a short section of black plastic at the seams of the green metal edging to keep the mondograss from creeping out through a crack. Of course, where it's already outside the boundaries, you'll need to dig it and replant the grass. You could try a herbicide, but it won't be as effective and you may or may not get complete control anyway.

If you'd like Neil Sperry's help with a plant question, email him at

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