GARDENER'S MAILBAG: Is there a connection between the loss of my plants?

By Neil Sperry
Special to the Herald Democrat

Dear Neil: We have several waxleaf ligustrum and cherry laurel plants at our place in East Texas. They have been going downhill for a couple of years somewhat like the boxwoods you described in a recent column (dead spots 15 to 18 inches in diameter). Could this be related to boxwood blight?

No. The plants are not related to one another, nor are they related to boxwoods, so the possibility of any given disease attacking all three species is extremely remote. They may have been declining due to old age, repeated pruning or some other factor or factors. The February freeze certainly hastened that process. I have seen thousands of waxleaf ligustrums that would fit the same description. Cherry laurels fared better, but even they were hurt.

Dear Neil: Can trumpetvine and pink salvia be kept in pots over the winter? We wanted to plant the trumpetvine in our yard, but we heard it was invasive. How can we “winterize” them?

Orange Esperanza

They can be grown in pots, but you lose about 20 degrees of winter hardiness when you have plants growing in pots above ground. I would suggest planting the salvia directly into the ground. Most types will survive our Texas winters.  Granted, it’s late in the season to be planting it, but mulch over its crown after the first killing freeze. And your “trumpetvine” is actually an orange Esperanza, or Tecoma ‘Orange Jubilee.’ It’s a sub-tropical plant that can get very large. But, yes, it will need to be grown in a container so that it can be brought into the garage whenever temperatures fall below freezing.

Dear Neil: We thought our Satsuma tree had died as a result of the February cold, but it has developed two very strong new shoots. Is it salvageable?

Satsuma Sprout

I sent your photo on to Dr. Larry Stein. Larry is a longtime friend who is the leader of all Extension horticulturists for Texas A&M. I know he worked with Satsumas from the outset, and I asked for his advice. He said what you have, unfortunately, is the rootstock and not the Satsuma you bought. You will either need to graft an improved type onto the stems or buy a new tree. Unless you are experienced in grafting, it will probably be a lot easier to do the latter.

Dear Neil: My sword ferns came back after the freeze, but they were extremely stunted (4 to 6 inches). Will they return to full glory next year? Is there anything I can add to the bed to help them? Should they simply be replaced?

Even my southern wood ferns did that same thing this year. They ended up about two-thirds as tall as normal. By the time I realized they were through growing it was too late to do much to encourage more growth for this year. I will be applying a high-nitrogen lawn-type fertilizer to their bed just before they start unfurling their fiddleheads next spring, and I’ll repeat the application in late May or early June. That would probably work for your sword ferns. I definitely would not replace them.

Dear Neil: Is this tree worth keeping here (see photo attached)? I really need a tree in this spot where an old Arizona ash died and had to be taken out.

Common persimmon seedling

The closer photo you sent looks like a “common persimmon.” That’s the accepted name for the native persimmon (Diospyros virginiana) that grows from Central Texas east and north across the eastern half of the United States. It’s a rather pretty tree with dark green leaves that turn colorful fall shades. It produces fruit that attracts birds, raccoons, squirrels and other wildlife. However, the fruit, and the tree in general, are messy. Tent caterpillars love it, for example, and can drape themselves over entire trees within just a few days. If my ID is correct, your location seems very close to the building in the near background. I would plant a better species of tree a few feet farther out.

Dear Neil: I have whiteflies on my fall tomatoes. I’ve tried an insecticide, but they’re still there. Any suggestion?

Whiteflies are among the most difficult insects to control. Fortunately, they are much more of a nuisance to us as gardeners than they are damaging to our plants. A big part of the problem in controlling them is that they reproduce so quickly. Even if you kill the adults, there are eggs waiting to hatch. If you have found an insecticide that is legitimately labeled to control them (as opposed to home remedies), I would keep using it. However, you might also try the yellow sticky traps you can buy from local organic garden supply stores or online. Whiteflies are attracted to the yellow color, and they get stuck to the traps and die. Unfortunately, so will other insects. As late as it is in the fall garden season, however, I’m not sure I would bother with any of this.

Dear Neil: We found small black ants on our mimosa tree. My husband put Vaseline on the trunk so they wouldn’t be able to climb it, but now it looks dead. Sprouts are coming up around its base. He thinks he must have smothered its trunk.

The ants were innocent bystanders. Something internal killed the mimosa top. Mimosas’ life expectancy is short anyway. If you want to save the straightest of the sprouts as your new tree, you could do so, but cut the rest down. Better yet would be to replace it with a longer-lasting tree.

Pink Salvia

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