Live oak twig damage

Squirrels are the reason this live oak twig is no longer part of the tree.

DEAR NEIL: My mother passed away in Mississippi in February. She had a lovely Japanese maple beside her house (see photo attached with my letter).

In getting the house ready to sell I discovered a small seedling from that tree which I dug and have grown in a pot since then. Now we hear that the new homeowners have cut down the mother tree and we are crushed.

How can I best keep my little seedling alive here in Texas? How large should it be before I plant it into my landscape? It’s only a few inches tall now.

Dear Reader: I’m with you. Your mom’s house was beautiful, as was the purple-leafed Japanese maple. Perhaps they were concerned about foundation problems — I have no explanation, either.

Your little seedling looks like it’s doing well. Leave it in a 1-gallon pot for another six months, then repot it into a 2-gallon container for a year or so. By the time it’s 18 to 24 inches tall you’ll be able to plant it into a shaded location with rich, highly organic soil.

For the record, the farther west you go in Texas the more challenging Japanese maples become, due entirely to the lower humidities.

DEAR NEIL: My 20-year-old pecan tree has been very healthy, but this year branches are falling off with what appears to be girdling. My local nursery says we should not have this in Texas. What should be done?

Dear Reader: You have two different things going on, as judged by your photos. You have standard twig girdler damage to pecans. If you plant a pecan tree you can expect to have twig girdlers. They come as “factory equipment” with them.

Luckily they don’t do much damage, cutting off only those tip ends in the process of laying their eggs. The female that does this is only there for a short while, so there’s not much you can do about it except to pick up the cut ends and send them off with the trash. The developing larvae will go along for the ride.

Your bigger concern, however, is for the base of your tree, probably at the bud union. That doesn’t look healthy. Again, there’s not much you can do about it other than hope the tree will grow over and around it. Some part of the graft didn’t take properly, but the vigor with which the top is growing suggests the tree may come out of it.

DEAR NEIL: Why would small branches of my live oaks be falling to the ground?

Dear Reader: Unlike the twig girdler damage discussed earlier, this is almost always done by squirrels. For whatever their reason they seem to love live oak twigs. You’ll see large trees with numerous dead twigs up in the leaf canopies. As with the twig girdlers, there’s not much you can do. The live oaks will be fine.

DEAR NEIL: What are the best native trees for a rural Texas property? Do bois d’arcs sprout from the apples?

Dear Reader: The answer to the first part depends completely on where the property is located. (Sometimes people ask on behalf of their friends and relatives.) For big parts of the state, my list would begin with cedar elm, pecan (deep, moist soils), live oak, Shumard red oak, chinquapin oak and bur oak. For conifers I would use native junipers such as Eastern red cedar or Ashe juniper.

In East Texas you could add in water oak and willow oak, also loblolly pines. This, however, is a very truncated list. There are many other fine choices. As for the bois d’arcs, the seeds are contained within those fruit, so yes, that’s how new trees get started.

DEAR NEIL: I’m new to the area. Where can I find out the best varieties of roses to grow here?

Dear Reader: There will be lots of help. Consulting rosarians from your local rose society will have accurate localized advice. You’ll find good information from the website of the American Rose Society.

Many independent retail garden centers will have good selections in the spring and will be able to guide you. Do a Web search for EarthKind roses from Texas A&M to find those varieties deemed to be the most dependable for our state following many years of research. Do pay attention to rose rosette virus and whether it is a problem in your area.

DEAR NEIL: A friend said he would apply my pre-emergent weedkiller for me since I don’t have a spreader. However, he’s had heart surgery, and now I’m wondering if it’s too late. Also, do I need a spreader, or can I spread it by hand?

Dear Reader: It’s far too late to apply pre-emergent weedkillers. Timing for the winter weeds is the last week of August or the first week of September.

As for whether you can spread granules by hand, that’s really not advisable. There is absolutely no way you could do that uniformly. You would end up applying the granules to great excess. Rotary spreaders don’t cost all that much. It’s an investment you need to make.

DEAR NEIL: What will kill this vine? They’re coming up everywhere.

Dear Reader: This is a wild morning glory. You can always identify them by their unusual cotyledons (“seed leaves”). Look at the “V-shaped” seedling leaves down toward the ground in your photo.

Wild morning glories are just as you described – tough to control. I’ve always had the best luck trimming them off, then covering my beds with landscape weed-blocking fabric for a year to kill out their roots. I can’t tell from your photo if that’s edging or a large pot, but the landscape fabric would work for either of those just as well.

Have a question you’d like Neil to consider?Email him at mailbag@sperrygardens.com. Neil regrets that he cannot reply to questions individually.

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