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Agriculture Today

Combating webworms

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March 14, 2012 | 4,239 views | Post a comment

Q. My mountain laurel gets webworms on it every time it starts growing. I have been killing them with Sevin dust, but they come right back. They always eat the new growth. I have looked around at other laurels and have never found any webworms on them. How can I keep them off of mine?

A. The caterpillars that are eating the new growth on your Texas mountain laurel are not the same webworm that attacks pecans in our area. I call it a sophora worm. Yours is not the only plant they infest but you are right, some are infested more than others. To prevent damage next year, put a note on your calendar so you can spray Sevin before they begin feeding. Sevin mixed with water and sprayed with a pump-up sprayer should protect the plant for two weeks. The other option is to spray when you see any new growth. The spray is more effective than the dust for this job.

Q. Our mustard is blooming. Is it time to pull it up and put it in the compost pile? Can we still use the leaves?

A. At some point after mustard and other greens begin blooming, it is time to discard them, but you can use the leaves for a while. Slow down the seed-producing process by pruning out the blooms.

Q. What does it mean when our roses bend over? The flowers on our Mrs. Dudley Cross seem fine, but the stems don’t hold them upright. Is there a fertilizer to use?

A. Several varieties of old-fashioned roses experience the problem you describe. It appears to be in the genetics. Early stems are too flexible to hold the early blooms. It also doesn’t help that moisture in the air and rains add to the weight. Use them as cut flowers and be patient. The roses benefit by fertilizer, but it won’t keep the flowers more upright.

Q. My live oak is sloughing off its bark and the top has limited foliage. What can it be?

A. If there is a brown or gray felt-like layer on the bark, it is probably hypoxylon. Unfortunately hypoxylon is a fungal disease that is usually fatal. It attacks stressed trees. It is a common problem with the droughts of the last few years. Call your Extension agent or arborist to verify the diagnosis.

Q. We love peonies. Do they grow here?

A. Most peonies do not survive our hot temperatures and poor soils, although one San Antonio gardener I know has a Paeonia lactiflora that blooms in early spring every year in his shady backyard. The Paeonia lactiflora is the parent of the fancier hybrid peonies that grow so well up north.

Q. I planted rye grass this winter. It looks great. I realize it will die this spring. Can I plant Bermuda grass seed now to replace it?

A. No, wait until on or about May 1 to plant Bermuda grass seed. It takes warm soil and warm temperatures for the seed to germinate.

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

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