DEAR NEIL: This plant grew from a 3-foot stick that was given to me last year. I’m told its name is angel trumpet. I’ve cut it back to a 2-foot trunk and have wrapped it for the winter. Will it survive the cold?
Dear Reader: This is a Brugmansia, close relative of the native jimson weed (Datura) that is also commonly known as angel trumpet. The various Daturas hold their flowers at a more or less upright habit, while Brugmansias’ flowers hang downward.
Your plant will withstand some light freezes, and wrapping the trunk may help it pull through depending on how cold it gets the balance of the winter. Luckily, they’re fairly commonly sold if you should happen to lose this one.
By the way, you may want to know that parts of this plant are quite toxic. I don’t make a huge issue of it, because so are azaleas, tulips, daffodils, Carolina jessamine, hollies and many of our other common plants (but not poinsettias), but I thought you might want to know.
DEAR NEIL: We have property in Central Texas. What would be a good groundcover to hold the soil on slopes during periods of wet weather?
Dear Reader: My own personal choice would be purple wintercreeper euonymus if it’s a sunny location and either mondo grass or maybe liriope if it’s shaded. All will need to be watered during the dry times, but they’re excellent at holding the soil.
DEAR NEIL: Where in Texas will Satsuma oranges do well?
Dear Reader: Satsumas are among the cold-hardiest of the many types of citrus, but they still are limited to the warmer parts of the state. They’ll do well with infrequent protection from record cold in the southern third of the state. In the middle third of the state you’ll need to protect them much more often, and in North Texas they really ought to be left in pots that can be wheeled into protection when the temperature drops into the mid- or low 20s.
Texas A&M has several fact sheets available online talking about their work with Satsumas over the past 25 years. A new introduction called Orange Frost has shown superior cold tolerance into the mid- to low 20s if it’s given protection in its first few years of establishment.
Of course, we have to remember that this is always Texas, and records are made to be broken, cold extremes included.
DEAR NEIL: We just moved into a new home a couple of months ago. The builder laid new Bermuda sod down on top of clay soil. There is rock just below that. Is there anything I can do now, after the fact, to help improve the soil?
Dear Reader: No, other than to keep the grass properly nourished and watered regularly. Even if you were able to add organic matter to the soil prior to planting that’s not a critical improvement.
Organic matter does loosen clay soils, but it also decays over a period of a year or two and disappears from the soil. In doing so, it leaves you with just what you started with originally.
Your Bermuda will take hold and do well. You may have to fertilize and water it more often than you would if it were on deep, rich soil, but otherwise, it will be fine.
DEAR NEIL: I had two beautiful Boston fern hanging baskets on my front porch this past summer. I brought them in once it got cold. I have them growing in my sunroom, but they’re dropping leaves faster than I can vacuum them up. What is causing that, and what can I do to stop it?
Dear Reader: There are several possibilities, but a change in lighting is by far the most likely cause. We think of ferns as shade-loving plants outdoors, and to a degree that’s true. They don’t tolerate our Texas sun very well at all.
However, when we bring them indoors we have to give them the brightest light possible. In fact, I have mine growing in my greenhouse with a minimal amount of shade fabric overhead. They tolerate the winter sun quite well.
And from all that we deduce that they will start dropping leaves if they don’t get enough light. Ficuses, scheffleras, crotons and many other tropical plants behave the same way. They’ll also drop leaves if they’re allowed to get too dry or if we put them in hot drafts indoors.
DEAR NEIL: I have beds of monkey grass and Asian jasmine groundcovers. Can I dig plugs from them like I do grass and move it like sod?
Dear Reader: You can do that with monkey grass, also known as “mondo grass,” but Asian jasmine doesn’t form roots along its stems, so it would be very damaging to your planting of jasmine to try it with it.
Actually, with the mondo grass I dig tennis ball-sized clumps and replant them 7 or 8 inches apart checkerboard-style. That lets their leaves overlap slightly for a more established look, and it lets the bed fill in very quickly. I have needed a good bit of it over the years, and my old beds have served as my source every time.
DEAR NEIL: Can I stick cuttings of stems of my crape myrtles in the ground this winter to create new plants?
Dear Reader: Those are called “hardwood” cuttings. They’re taken in February and carefully stuck into well-prepared garden soil so that the end that was closer to the roots is always inserted into the ground.
The cuttings should be 7 or 8 inches long and you’ll want to cover them with a large glass jar for a few weeks to hold in the sun’s warmth.
Actually, the easier way is to root softwood cuttings in early summer. Use tender new shoots 2 inches long. Stick them into loose, highly organic potting soil and cover them with dry cleaner’s plastic to keep the humidity at or near 100 percent while they’re forming their roots.