March 8 2008 Timely Tips

Question: David, we have a blueberry bush that has produced one season. Should I prune it now?

Answer: ‘Tifblue’rabbiteye blueberries require little pruning. Lower limbs can be thinned out to keep the fruit from touching the soil, and excessively vigorous upright shoots can be thinned out several feet from the ground. This keeps the center of the bush open and the bearing surface within reach. Spindly, weak, or dead branches should be thinned out annually during the dormant season.

Question: Is the Mexican petunia invasive? I bought a gallon size plant and it looks good, but I am worried about where to plant it — after I read it was invasive. Thanks for your kind response!

Answer: Some of the Mexican petunias (Ruellia spp.) can be invasive. They are prolific bloomers, producing an enormous amount of seed. These seeds are flung by the plant for many feet from the seed pod when the conditions are favorable. They also spread by underground rhizomes. The most invasive are the tall, purple flowered narrow leaf petunia. The white flowered petunias are not as invasive. Neither is the tall, broad leaf or the dwarf ones. Normally in our area, none of them are hard to control so long as one is vigilant and doesn’t ignore unwanted seedlings.

Question: Mr. Rodriguez, I was thinking of using grow-web or spun-web in my raised-bed vegetable garden this year to cut down on disease and insect problems. I remembered that some (most all) plants need insects to aid in pollination. Can I cover my small beds in spun-web and still produce crops, or will this only work with certain vegetables?

Answer: As you have stated, some plants, including all cucurbits, must have the help of pollinators such as bees or other flying insects to pollinate the female flowers with pollen from the male flowers. This means that the insects must have access to the plants to do this job. Other plants such as tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants have flowers containing both male and female parts. These plants are pollinated with the assistance of wind and gravity–as the pollen falls from the male parts onto the female parts. These plants can be covered with a horticultural cloth. To help with the plant’s pollination, give the plants a good shake daily when the flowers are present.

The cucurbits (cucumber, squash, and cantaloupe) can be covered if you assist in the pollination process. These blossoms are viable and open for a single day. For a successful pollination: fresh male and female blossoms must be present at the same time. If blossoms are present, take a fresh male flower and remove the petals. Then rub it against the female flower to transfer the pollen.

Question: David, I need to put some color in front of my house. What plant / flower would be best for South Texas?

Answer: How I wish it was that simple! I cannot answer the question since it is far too broad. I don’t know if you are talking about shrubs, perennials, annual bedding plants or something else. Nor do I know if you are planting them in the sun or shade. Right now the plant that will provide you color until late June is the annual bedding plant carpet petunia. I recommend that you look around your neighborhood at what others have and then visit your local nursery/garden center and talk to them about your needs and see what they have on display. Then you can make your decisions. You might also look at the information at:

Question: Mr. Rodriguez, I was given an Angel Trumpet last summer by a Master Gardener and he told me where to plant it. It was about two-feet tall and was forked with leaves on both forks. Several weeks ago, the leaves began to shrivel up and now they have completely died. I need to know if this is normal or if the plant has completely died. I cannot find the answer on the internet.

Answer: This is perfectly normal. The angel trumpet cannot withstand any freezing temperature. It has frozen to the ground and you can actually cut it off. It will return from its roots with the return of very warm weather.

Question: What fertilizer do I need to use to rid my lawn of weeds before I seed with bermudagrass? And how soon should I do this?

Answer: First, the Bermuda seeds cannot be successfully sown until the ground is constantly warm, usually around the 1st of May or thereafter. Second, fertilizer makes plants grow and herbicides kill the plants. I recommend that you water your lawn area well and continue to do so weekly in the absence of rainfall. This allows the weed seed to come up. Then about the first of April, spray the entire area with one of the glyphosate herbicides. Repeat this about the 15th of April. Now, rake all the dead material out, roughing up the surface and sow your Bermuda seeds.

Question: When can I plant dill seeds for pickling cucumbers?

Answer: This is a problem here in South Texas. By the time the cucumbers are ready for harvest, the dill has already bolted from the heat and made seed. Dill does best here when planted in the fall. However, you can go ahead and plant now. Just as the flowers start to open, harvest the leaves and freeze them to use in your pickles. The following is from Washington State University Extension: “Some herbs, like dill weed, are best frozen while still on the stalk. Place an entire bunch of dill weed in a freezer bag or container for freezing. When it is frozen, snip off bits as if it were fresh.”

Question: David, my neighbor has a large potted gardenia in her house. She wants to plant it outside. On the east side of her house she gets afternoon shade and on the west side she gets full sun most of the day. Which side of her house would be best to transplant her gardenia? And is there any special care for it once it is outside?

Answer: The gardenia should be planted where it will get afternoon shade. However, it is not going to like it wherever it is planted outside in your area. Gardenias prefer an acidic, deep, moist soil and that doesn’t exist in our area. She should either leave it in the container or follow the instructions given at for planting ‘forbidden plants’ in our soil.

Question: Mr. Rodriguez, I have several pepper plants from last year that appear to have made it though the mild winter. Will these plants produce fruit again, or do I need to replant? Should I trim the stalks back to promote new growth?

Answer: Since these plants are very likely to be infested with insects, disease or both, you will be ahead if you pull those plants up and start with new transplants.

Question: In our front yard, we have a huge tree that shades the yard for most of the day and when we have planted flowers in the past, the flowers do not survive. The plants that the builder planted have not grown much over the last few years either. Do you think that the soil is bad, or do the shrubs need more sun in order to grow? Also, what plants would you recommend for much shade yard?

Answer: Since I do not know what kind of flowers you have planted or what kind of shrubs are in your yard, I cannot tell you if they have done poorly because of the shade. You must remember that your huge tree is consuming a lot of moisture and if you are not watering regularly, it is probably getting the lion’s share of the available moisture. Good ground covers for shade are English ivy, Asian jasmine, Mondo grass, and Cast Iron plant (Aspidistra). Some summer shade flowers are impatiens, begonias, coleus and annual salvia. Some shrubs that do well in the shade are hollies, mahonia, aralia and viburnums.

Question: David is there any product that I can put in my vegetable garden so the neighborhood stray cats will stay out of. They are using it as an all day liter box and I need something that will keep them away and not harm the vegetables for human consumption.

Answer: If you do a web search on cat repellents you will find that many are advertised. However, I cannot vouch for the efficacy of any of them. Cats like your garden beds because of the ease of digging in them. If you take away this ease by using a thick layer of mulch (such as tree leaves) or put some chicken wire on the surface, they will find another place. However, it is not easy to break them of their habits.

Question: David, are ‘burpless’ cucumbers really burpless?

Answer: Yes, at least to some people. Some people have gastric problems which prevents them from enjoying fresh cucumbers. The ‘burpless’ types are milder.

Question: Mr. Rodriguez, how can you tell the difference between a slicing cucumber and a pickling cucumber?

Answer: Slicing cucumbers are dark green and are from 6-8 inches in length. Pickling cucumbers are lighter and are short and blocky. If you intend to plant pickles, grow pickling types. Pickling cucumbers were developed to go through the brining process and will generally produce a higher quality product. If you intend to use cucumbers mainly in salads, then rely on slicing types.

Question: Dave, what causes my cucumbers to often be misshapen and gourdy-looking?

Answer: Probably poor pollination. Improper pollination caused by lack of insects or pollen killed by hot temperatures can cause misshapen fruit. Moisture stress during development can also misshape fruit. Pollination did occur or the fruit would not be present.

Question: Why do my cucumbers bloom without setting fruit?

Answer: This is a pollination problem. Cucumbers have male and female blooms and for proper fruit set, the pollen must be transferred from the male to the female blooms. This is usually done by pollinating insects, primarily honeybees. If pollen transfer does not take place, fruit will not set.

Question: How do you tell the difference between the male and female cucumber bloom?

Answer: Female blooms have small immature cucumbers located directly behind the petals. Male blooms do not have immature fruit.

Question: Mr. Rodriguez, is a gherkin simply a small pickling cucumber?

Answer: No. Gherkins, also called West Indian or Burr cucumbers produce small, exceptionally spiny fruit used exclusively for pickles. The culture of gherkins is similar to common pickling cucumbers except the plants are smaller and require less space.

Comments are closed.