GARDENER'S MAILBAG: I don't think my yaupon holly is a yaupon holly....

By Neil Sperry
Special to the Herald Democrat

Dear Neil: I’ve had this small tree for years thinking it was a yaupon holly. This year, however, it has developed these fruit. Now I know it’s not a yaupon. Can you tell me what it is?

Texas Persimmon Tree

You have a Texas persimmon (Diospyros texana). It’s native to the Hill Country and Southwest Texas and into Mexico. It’s a lovely large shrub/small tree that does bear a good resemblance to yaupon hollies except that its leaves are semi-evergreen and somewhat fuzzy. But the black fruit on female specimens is the giveaway. This little tree is a handsome landscape addition where it can be grown. Unlike yaupons, which tolerate wet soils and shade, Texas persimmons need great drainage and full or nearly full sunlight. They’re also winter-hardy only to Zone 8B, meaning that they will freeze when temperatures drop into single digits.

Texas Persimmon Fruit

Dear Neil: I have some iris and narcissus bulbs that I need to transplant. Is it too late to do so?

If you’re talking about bearded iris tubers (by far the most common iris), they can be transplanted at almost any time. Late September is ideal, but you could still do so now. Of course, they won’t bloom much (if at all) next spring, but they will establish and be ready the following year. As for the narcissus, I would hold off until August. They are already well into producing roots and growing for next spring’s bloom time.

Dear Neil: Do pecan hulls make good garden mulch?

Pecan Hulls As A Mulch

Yes. Outstanding. They look terrific, plus they lay flat. Don’t rototill them into the soil, however, of they’ll end up tying up nitrogen. Your plants will develop pale foliage and will grow lethargically. After a year they will have broken down enough that that won’t be a concern. If you have a good source of the hulls, give them a try.

Dear Neil: I have what I think are mealy bugs on two of my patio plants (Chinese evergreens) that I have brought indoors for the winter. How can I get rid of them?

Aglaonema Chinese Evergreen

Those are a soft-bodied type of scale insect. There are insecticides that are labeled for use in killing scales but treat your plants out in the garage or on the patio, not in the house. For plants that have large leaves, many people prefer to use cotton swabs dipped in rubbing alcohol to rub the adults off and to kill the nymphs. Mealy bugs will spread to other plants, so control is critical. You’ll probably need to treat for them three or four times to bring them under control. If a plant seems overwhelmed by them, discard it rather than trying to save it.

Dear Neil: I have a very large Boston fern hanging basket that I’d like to divide into pieces. Is that better done in the spring, or can I do it now?

My vote would be for the spring. You’ll need to extricate it from the basket somehow, then cut through the soil ball with a large knife or machete. Cut it into perhaps four or eight pieces, depending on how large it is currently. Replant them into pots filled with a loose and highly organic potting soil. Trim them back to restore some degree of symmetry. Apply a high-nitrogen fertilizer. Once they have started to grow and fill back in, you can choose however many of them you’d like to put into new baskets or share with friends. All of this would be difficult to accomplish in the dark indoor conditions of winter.

Dear Neil: As I’m collecting tree leaves this month, can I work them into my garden soil? I can get some from neighbors’ yards, too, if that’s a good plan.

They’re a great source of organic matter but do be careful not to overdo it. They decay very rapidly, and in that process they can tie up nitrogen so that your plants won’t be able to get it out of the soil. Run them through the mower to shred them, then spread up to 1 inch of the shredded leaves over the garden and rototill them into the soil to a depth of 5 or 6 inches. Before you start planting, you’ll also want to work in several inches of compost, rotted manure, finely ground pine bark and sphagnum peat moss. If you’re preparing a clay soil, also include 1 inch of expanded shale as you till.

Dear Neil: I have some type of three-leafed clover with a purplish cast that is taking over my zoysia lawn. It forms a clump, but I can’t find a stem to pull out. Broadleafed weedkiller sprays applied three times haven’t really done much. What can I do at this point before it takes over?

Let me begin with the basics. Since it obviously is not a grass, it’s in the category of broadleafed weeds. That means that broadleafed herbicides (containing 2,4-D) should eliminate it. However, that is what you have already tried. I suspect the spray may have beaded up and rolled off the leaves, as many types of clover have waxy foliage. If you did not use a tank sprayer the other times, you likely would get better results if you tried one. Set the nozzle to a fairly fine mist and coat the leaves with the herbicide just to the point of runoff. The hose-end sprayers tend to apply large droplets that don’t adhere well to the foliage. Add in one drop of liquid dishwashing detergent per gallon of spray, and spray down onto the foliage. Apply the herbicide between mowing cycles so you get maximum leaf coverage and repeat in three weeks as needed. It will take a while for the results to become visible. You may have to repeat when it warms up next spring.

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