Dear Neil: We were given a large bag of wonderful pecans for Christmas. We have really enjoyed them, but now we are wondering if it would be possible to grow pecan trees by planting some of them?

A: If you plant them most will germinate, and you will most certainly have pecan trees germinating in your yard. However, like most other fruit and nut crops, they do not “come true” from their own seeds. That means that the seedlings will not have the same genetic makeup. They probably won’t be of the same size or quality as the ones you were given. With fruit and pecan trees, it’s always far better to buy budded/grafted plants initially. The actual cost of the tree represents a small part of the final cost of producing the fruit or pecans.

Dear Neil: We are going to move in the summer. Can I dig my rose bushes this winter and grow them in pots until we change locations?

A: Yes. Do the digging by early February. Treat the roses like you would a shrub — that is, keep as much soil intact around their roots as you can. Trim them back by half or more to compensate for the shock of root loss. Keep them watered thoroughly as long as they’re in pots and even after they’re planted into your new garden.

Dear Neil: How can I start new Christmas cactus plants? My grandmother has a beautiful plant, and she’d like to give me a start.

A: They are started from stem cuttings. Once it has completely finished blooming (probably by now), clip off several pieces of stems, each consisting of three or four segments. Lay them on a paper towel for a couple of days to dry, then stick them into small pots (3- or 4-inch) filled with a mix of two-thirds horticultural perlite and one-third sphagnum peat moss. Moisten the mix thoroughly before you insert the cuttings. Use a table knife to make the insertion slits into the mix and stick the cuttings about halfway in. Keep the mixture moist but not wet as the cuttings root, and keep the pots in bright light but out of direct sunlight. It takes six to eight weeks for them to root, at which point you can apply a diluted plant food. Put them into a protected location on the patio. As they begin to grow you will probably want to put several smaller pots of the same variety into one large pot. From that point on, you’re on your way.

Dear Neil: You have recommended Carissa hollies as a replacement for Indian hawthorns that have been ravaged by the leaf spot disease. Where can I buy them?

A: Almost any independent retail garden center in Texas has them or will have them in the next month or two. Carissa hollies have become one of the most popular low shrubs (to 30 inches tall and 36 inches wide) for shade or part shade. They’ll handle full sun, although I wouldn’t plant them against a sunny, reflective, west-facing wall. They have about the same size and texture of Indian hawthorns, but they have no serious insect or disease problems. While they do have one spine at the end of each leaf, they aren’t a threat to people or pets.

Dear Neil: I have a 15-foot-tall live oak. Feral hogs have rooted around its trunk, and they have definitely unearthed many of its surface roots. Are they likely to have done damage to the tree, and what can I do to help it recover?

A: While you can’t do that kind of plowing around the root system of any tree, even a really durable live oak, without impacting it in some way, I doubt that they have hurt it measurably. We have them on our property as well, and most of their digging has been in the top 6 inches of soil. I’ve fenced our several acres to keep them off for the past four years, and our trees have done just fine through the process. Rake the soil smooth come spring, and keep the tree properly watered all season. Talk to your county Extension office about what you might do to keep them off your property or eradicate them. They are perhaps the nastiest and most invasive pests that we have here in Texas. Good luck with the battles.

Dear Neil: Over the past several years you have recommended applying sphagnum peat moss and then Azoxystrobin for take all root rot (TARR). When should these be applied? Is one better than the other? I notice that you do not mention Azoxystrobin in your newest book.

A: The recommendation of Azoxystrobin has only come about in the past 10 months, and the book is earlier than that. It will be included in the next printing. It should be applied on first evidence of TARR in the turf in mid-spring. That fungus is active only in cool spring weather, so treatment would only be needed in April or May. Some people make the mistake of applying that fungicide for other problems, including gray leaf spot, brown patch and even chinch bugs.

Dear Neil: During the warm winter spells, as well as through the entire growing season, we are visited by armadillos. Where can I find the humane trap you mentioned here a few weeks ago?

A: Farm supply stores and outdoor outfitters should have them. Big hardware stores probably will. I just looked online and found many matches using key words “humane raccoon trap.”

If you’d like Neil Sperry’s help with a plant question, drop him a note in care of The Eagle, P.O. Box 3000, Bryan, Texas 77805. Or email him at

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