2012 July Q&As

Question:  I want to grow saffron in raised beds.  If successful in a few years, I would like to sell some but, how and where would I go about doing that.  I live in central Texas and need a reliable place to buy high quality bulbs.  My idea is that if this becomes a reality, it’s not only Texas grown but locally grown.  I could deliver the saffron to businesses within a 3 to 5 city area to help keep the price down.  Any advice would be welcomed.

Answer:  I don’t want to put a damper on your enthusiasm but before you jump into this extensive research, but there’s a reason why saffron is so expensive.  It requires hundreds of flowers to produce sufficient stigmas to be commercially useful and as one web site says “210,000 stigmas to make 1 pound of saffron.”  That is 70,000 crocus plants.  The harvesting must be done by hand when the flower first opens and then the stigmas must be dried.  They need a dry, hot summer.  I’m not sure what happens if you receive rain at an inopportune time.  Also, it is questionable, because of your warm winters, whether or not the corms will naturalize and multiply.

Question:  How often do you spray seaweed on tomato plants?

Answer:  Liquid Seaweed applied every 3-5 days helps minimize spider mite populations.

Question:  Can you tell me what the prickly looking balls on my angel trumpet plants are.  I have a black angel and one that is a light lemon color.  Both have “ruffled” petals in the center.  If they are seeds inside the balls, can I replant them for more flowers?

Answer:  The plant is Angel Trumpet, Datura metel.  You have the one with the double flowers.  The knobby & prickly balls are the seed pods that are left after the pollinated flowers fall off.  You can allow the seed pods to dry on the plant and save the seed for planting.  Treat them as you would pepper seed in the garden.

Question:  My sweet green peppers are getting brown spots on the bottom of them while they are still very small.  The spots are soft but the rest of the pepper is firm.  What is it and how do I treat it.

Answer:  This is called ‘blossom end rot’ and is a physiological problem usually caused by excessive soil moisture fluctuations (letting the soil get too dry between watering).  Consistently moist soils which are well mulched will minimize this.

Question:  We are filling in our swimming pool with soil and don’t know what grass to plant.  The area has shade in the morning and sun in the afternoon.  We would like something that is heat tolerant and requires little water after establishment.

Answer:  You should use either Bermuda which can be established by either seeding or sodding or zoysia grass which is established by sod.

Question:  What is making round holes on the leaves of my rose bush and what can I do about it.

Answer:  This is the work of leaf cutter bees.  See the information at http://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/archives/parsons/misc/leafcutterbees.html.

Question:  Is the firebush plant the same as the Mexican plant known as ‘madura platano’ which is used for healing hard to heal skin ulcers?

Answer:  One of the common names given for Firebush, Hamelia patens, is ‘madura platano’ or ‘ripe bananas’.

Question:  My tomato plants are getting very tall, almost 6 feet.  My son says I need to top them.  Is that true?  They are full of blooms and I hate to cut them down.

Answer:  I don’t know what variety your tomato plants are.  There is no need to cut them back regardless.  If you have them in cages, or if they are staked, the plants will just droop over the side.  If they are a variety of large tomato those blossoms coming on the plant now aren’t going to make tomatoes as it is too hot.  If they are cherry tomato plants, they should continue to produce fruit.

Question:  I found a caterpillar on my Satsuma orange tree which obviously has been chewing on some leaves.  It is about 2″ long, colored alternate black and gray bands, wider at the head than back. Any ideas on the type of caterpillar it is?  I just don’t want to indiscriminately kill it, if it isn’t a true pest.  A few leaves are a small price to pay for some butterflies.

Answer:  If the caterpillar resembles bird poop, it is the larva of the Tiger Swallowtail, Pterourus glaucus.

Question:  I am slowly but surely trying to change my yard over to Xeriscaping.  How cold hardy are Agave attenuata and Agave chiapensis?

Answer:  Both of these agave species are said to be cold hardy to 28° F.  However, I would protect them from any freezing temperatures.  

Question:  My father has a Red Oak tree that produces fruit that is spotted red and looks like a small plum.  It’s slightly bigger than a quarter and smaller than a golf ball.  The tree also produces tiny acorns.  I have never seen a Red Oak tree that produces fruit.  Can you tell me more about it?

Answer:  I am sure that these are galls that are produced by a small wasp like insect.  They are not harming the tree other than being unsightly.

Question:  When is the best time to plant Pride of Barbados here in San Antonio?

Answer:  They can be planted just about any time especially now, since they are widely available.

Question:  My Texas Mountain Laurel trees have been ravished by caterpillars.  What should I do about this and will it affect the trees?

Answer:  These caterpillars appear every year, sometimes much worse than others.  Treatment with Bt, Bacillus thuringiensis, such as Thuricide, is recommended at the first sighting of the symptoms.  This is not a contact insecticide and must be eaten by the caterpillars so should be sprayed on the leaves.  The trees may not completely recover until next spring but they will put on new leaves and you won’t even be able to tell that they were ravaged.  Don’t worry about long-term effects on the tree health.

Question:  Is it too late to plant another crop of bush green beans?

Answer:  It is too late for spring planting or too early for fall.  See the planting guides at

http://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/archives/parsons/fallgarden/falldirect.html and


These give the optimum planting dates for most vegetables.


David Rodriguez is the County Extension Agent-Horticulture for Texas AgriLife Extension Service in Bexar County.  To get questions like these answered, call the Bexar County Master Gardeners Hotline at (210) 467-6575, e-mail questions to info@bexarcountymastergardeners.org, or visit our County Extension website at:  http://bexar-tx.tamu.edu.


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