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Palm trees for the area
Q. What is the best palm tree for our area? I don’t want to plant one if it is going to freeze two winters from now.
A. The Texas Sabal is an attractive palm tree, once it emerges from its juvenile stage. It is not a palm tree that is used as much as its cold hardiness and mature form would merit. In the nursery, young trees are a mass of leaves with little or no trunk, which may explain its lack of popularity.
The best choice for a thin-trunked upright palm may be the California fan palm (Washingtonia filifera). It grows relatively fast to 35 feet tall and is a common tall palm in San Antonio. California fan palm is cold-tolerant to the low teens.
Q. My tomatoes are loaded with large green fruit, but I also notice that there are small webs and discolored leaves which I fear are from spider mites. Is there anything that will keep the pests under control until the tomatoes ripen?
A. Probably not. You may be best off if you harvest all the full-size fruit and let it ripen in the kitchen. If you leave the fruit on the plants, you will lose some to birds and squirrels without any improvement in the fruit. Discard the spider-mite-infested vines far away from the garden, or even in the garbage.
Q. Which is the best St. Augustine grass? We have light shade, and various salesmen are wearing me out saying that their variety is best.
A. I don’t sell grass, but think Floratam is the best choice. It scored highest in drought-tolerance and drought-recovery tests in research conducted by San Antonio Water Systems (SAWS), Texas A&M, and the Turf Growers of Texas. Floratam even scored better than zoysia grass. All St. Augustine grasses have about the same shade tolerance.
Q. About five years ago, I planted a red oak tree in my front yard. Last year, the leaves turned light green and fell off early. This year, they came out light green and deformed, and many leaves did not form at all. The leaves are turning brown around the edges. I do not think water is the issue. Can you tell me what the problem is? I live in Leon Valley. It looks like the tree is going to die.
A. It sounds like your tree is a Schumard oak, probably purchased from a big box store. Unfortunately, they originate from a seed source grown in acidic soil and are incapable of long-term survival in our alkaline soils. If you replace it, find a Texas red oak. The name in the nursery trade indicates that the tree is from seed grown in alkaline soil.
Q. In our area, we are experiencing a major defoliation of cedar trees. Can you tell me what is causing this and maybe what I can do to help it along?
A. We have received similar reports. We think it is a combination of competition, drought, and lingering damage from spider mites. Even junipers (cedars) are affected by major droughts.
Calvin Finch is a horticulturist and the San Antonio Water System’s project director of regional initiatives and special projects. Hear him on “Gardening South Texas” on KLUP 930 AM radio Saturdays noon to 2 p.m., and 1-3 p.m. Sundays. Or, e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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