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Agriculture Today

Hackberries — a wildlife favorite

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South Texas Gardener
September 18, 2013 | 4,075 views | Post a comment

Q: Why would anyone ever want a hackberry to grow in their landscape? The trees are ugly, they fall over easily, are short-lived, and worst of all they reseed everywhere! Once they sprout is there any way to kill them except pruning them to the ground two or three times each year?

A: Two questions to answer. Why plant hackberries? Hackberries plant themselves in most cases, usually with the help of birds. The berries that carry the seed are a favorite wildlife food. It is one reason we plant them. Further East (East Texas and beyond) hackberries can produce a nice-looking, long-lived shade tree.

Once you cut the hackberry seedling growing on the fence line or in your rose bed, apply a product with Triclopyr (Stump and Vine Killer) to the fresh cut area. The chemical translocates to the roots and kills the plant.

There are several products with the active ingredient Triclopyr. One is called “Stump and Vine Killer” and some are applied from a container that looks and works like a glue applicator.

Q: What are some shade-tolerant shrubs for a hedge?

A: The hollies work well: Burford (8 feet), dwarf burford (5 feet), yaupon (20 feet). Also look at viburnum and standard pittosporum.

Q: Why would anyone use chemical fertilizer rather than organic fertilizer? I have a great landscape and garden and only use compost and manure.

A: There are a number of reasons that manufactured fertilizers are used. The manufactured fertilizers release their nitrogen much faster, which is important for annual vegetables and flowers with short production periods. The nutrients in manufactured fertilizers are also less expensive. Divide the amount of nitrogen in a manufactured fertilizer into the cost and compare it to an organic source. Another reason is that organic sources are harder to obtain and more difficult to use. Consider the bulk and smell of manure compared to a granular lawn fertilizer.

Q: Should my tomatoes be setting fruit yet?

A: They will begin to grow aggressively and set fruit a short time after nighttime temperatures fall to about 72 degrees and daytime temps fall to about 90 degrees.

Q: Which oak produces the tennis ball-size acorns? Is it a good shade tree?

A: Bur oak. They will grow to make a huge tree and are rated as a good shade tree. The large acorns are matched by large leaves that are prone to drop early in hot dry weather. My bur oak took about six years to become established but is now growing at a rate of 3 feet per year.

Calvin Finch is a horticulturist and the director of the Water Conservation and Technology Center at Texas A&M-San Antonio. Hear him on “Gardening South Texas” on KLUP 930 AM radio Saturdays noon to 2 p.m., and 1-3 p.m. Sundays. Or, email him at

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