GARDENER'S MAILBAG: How long can I wait to clean my palms post storm?

By Neil Sperry
Special to the Herald Democrat

Dear Neil: I’ve been listening to you on the radio and reading you here. We’ve cleaned up most of the other shrubs and ground covers that were killed by the February cold. How long do we need to wait on palms?


Oh, those don’t look good, do they? The real answer is hidden down in the crowns of each plant. That’s where the new growth originates. If the crown is lost, the plant is lost. Palms don’t really grow until it gets warm, but these look like it’s going to take more than just warm weather to get them to grow again – it’s going to take a miracle. Wait another 4-6 weeks if you can.

Dear Neil: I wrote to you earlier about my lost xylosmas. I suspected they were gone, but I still hated to read your confirmation. You suggested two hollies, but they appear to be more formal than what I had wanted. Do you have any other shade-tolerant plant you could recommend that would be more open in its habit? We only pruned the xylosmas when they began to get too tall.

I don’t think that Nellie R. Stevens hollies would disappoint you if you let them grow basically unpruned. However, if you wanted something even less structured, you might try rusty blackhaw viburnum. It’s native to much of the eastern half of the state. It thrives in the shade, growing to 12 to 18 feet tall, but it can be trimmed to shorter heights without making it look formally pruned. I have one at the corner of our living room (15 feet away from the house), and it’s been a great servant to our landscape for 25 years. Lovely plant that is well suited to shade.

Dear Neil: We had 8 Japanese blueberry plants that did not fare well during the cold. Would Willowleaf hollies be good replacements for them?

All of a sudden I’m getting lots of questions about Japanese blueberry plants (not related to edible blueberries). They are sensitive to cold temperatures that most of Texas experienced this past February, and yes, if you’re looking for a great shrub in the 8-9 ft. range, Willowleaf hollies would be great choices. There are others as well. Take photos to a Texas Certified Nursery Professional and let him or her advise you as to the ones that best meet your needs.

Dear Neil: My crape myrtles’ trunks have black moldy growth. What can I do to stop it?

That’s sooty mold, a fungus that grows in the honeydew excretion of either aphids or scale insects. To control it, you must actually control the insects. Use a systemic insecticide (Imidacloprid) applied mid-May as a soil drench. General insecticidal sprays and horticultural oils are not nearly as effective. For the record, neither of the insects or the sooty mold causes any serious damage to the crape myrtles.

Fall Color Fruit Of Rusty Blackhaw Viburnum Fall

Dear Neil: My wife insisted that I help her cover some of our azaleas, camelias and fringe flowers back in February with frost cloth. I told her that it would be just as cold beneath that thin cloth as outside it, but the plants that were protected look great and those that were not covered look pretty rough. Please help me understand how that happens.

Frost cloth blocks the cold winds. It also helps the warmth of the soil stay around the plants’ canopies much as a bed cover will keep body heat around us when it’s cold. I was not a believer the first time I used frost cloth 25 years ago, either, but the proof has been dramatic every year since, and most of all this year! White frost cloth also does not heat up quickly on sunny, cold mornings like green materials do. People who used green types reported just as much damage as people who covered their plants with plastic film (also not good).

Dear Neil: I had 18 Sasanqua camellias I had sculpted for 25 years. The cold killed all of them and I am just sick. Would you plant more, or should I move on to something else?

Cast Iron Plants Aspidistra Almost Undamaged After 4f In Sperry Landscape Thanks To Frost Cloth

If you had them for 25 years successfully, they might be good investments again in your part of Texas. We shouldn’t panic into planting only for 100-year cold spells. On the other hand, we shouldn’t plant shrubs, trees and ground covers that are likely to be lost in just a couple of years. I’m especially timid about recommending larger plants such as shade trees that I know come with a risk of freeze loss. But next time, as you saw in the prior question, protect your plants with frost cloth.

Dear Neil: I’ve decided to replace my dead wax myrtles with Nellie R. Stevens hollies as a screen across my back fence. Is there a fertilization schedule that will let me do that as quickly as possible?

Fairly Open Habit Of Nellie R Stevens Holly When Allowed To Grow Without Formal Pruning

Whatever the plant that you’re growing, nitrogen promotes leaf and stem growth. Use a high-quality, all-nitrogen lawn fertilizer every 8-10 weeks starting now and running into early October to keep them growing actively. Even more importantly, water them by hand with a water wand and water breaker. Sprinkler irrigation alone will not be sufficient. The better the job of watering, the more quickly they will grow.

Have a question you’d like Neil to consider? Mail it to him in care of this newspaper or e-mail him at Neil regrets that he cannot reply to questions individually.