Pruning Trees

AgriLife Logo

I took the opportunity during the sunny weather last weekend to do some pruning on my trees.  Actually, I recruited my dad to help me do some pruning.  I pointed and he cut, and I certainly got the better end of the deal.

January is a great time to prune because many of our trees have lost their leaves, making it easy to see the limb structure.  Late winter is a good time to prune for the health of the tree because it is right before they put on new growth.  You do not want to prune late in the spring after the new growth comes out because a tree uses a lot of its stored energy to put on new growth.  Pruning off the new growth can stunt the tree.

When you prune, be sure to make clean, smooth cuts.  Do not leave stubs and avoid tearing the bark.  When cutting heavy branches, use a three-part cut.  Saw an undercut from the bottom of the branch about six to 12 inches out from the trunk and about one third of the way up through the branch.  Then make a second cut from the top, about three inches further from the trunk.  This undercut will stop the bark from peeling when you make the second cut.  The second cut removes a lot of weight from the branch so you can make a clean third cut.  Use the third cut to remove the stub back to the branch collar.

The branch collar on trees is an interesting intersection.  The branch collar is the swollen area of trunk tissue that forms around the base of a branch.  The collar is an area of tissue that contains a chemically protected zone.  In the natural process of decay on a dead branch, the decay advances downward until it meets this protected zone in the branch collar.  The dead branch falls away at the collar, leaving a very small zone of decayed wood in the collar that the tree can wall off.  What a neat natural protective process for the tree!

A good pruning cut is not flush with the trunk but is slightly angled to avoid the branch collar.  Leave the branch collar so the tree can quickly wall off the damage from the cut and heal over the wound.  You can tell a tree is covering over a wound when the rounded edge starts growing over the cut.

A lot of folks want to use pruning paint to help trees heal quickly.  Research shows that pruning paint can slow down the healing process.  We only recommend painting your cuts on oak trees to prevent the spread of oak wilt through the Nitidulid beetle.  When pruning oaks, paint the wounds within 15 minutes of making the cut.

Some pruning jobs require the help of professionals, for your safety and the safety of whatever might be underneath a large branch.  For big jobs, I recommend hiring a certified arborist who can help you determine what to prune and do it correctly.

For more information on lawn and garden topics, contact Kate Whitney, Horticulture Extension Agent, at 512-943-3300.

Red Tip Photinias

AgriLife Logo

This week, I received a question from a concerned home gardener about a disease on red tip photinia.  Before I saw the pictures included in the email, I had a good hunch about the culprit.

Red tip photinias became popular in the 1960’s as a privacy screen.  This large shrub has beautiful spring color and can be found lining many fencerows in older homes.  Unfortunately, red tip photinia faces a devastating disease issue called entomosporium leafspot.

Entomosporium leafspot is a fungal disease that affects woody ornamentals in the rose family.  Indian hawthorne is another shrub impacted by entomosporium leafspot.  This fungus does the most damage when we have frequent fall and spring rainfall, temperatures are between 60 and 80 degrees, and the plant is actively growing.

The first symptoms are bright red spots on the new leaves that can join to form large maroon blotches in heavily diseased plants.   The fungus might just cause leaf drop in minor infections, but over time it can kill the whole plant.

If you have a light infection of entomosporium leafspot, you can help slow the spread by removing fallen leaves to reduce fungal spores.  Try not to allow the foliage to remain wet, so water in the morning and use drip irrigation if possible.

New growth increases the susceptibility of the plant to infections, so limit pruning and excessive fertilizer to prevent a lot of new growth.  Fungicides such as thiophanate-methyl and myclobutanil can be sued when conditions are favorable for the disease.  You have to time the application to cool, wet weather.  Fungicides are not effective during hot, dry weather.

Unfortunately, entomosporium leafspot is destructive for red tip photinia and Indian hawthorne.  If you have this fungus for long, you might consider removing the shrubs and replanting with other options.  The “Grow Green: Native and Adapted Landscape Plants” guide has some great recommendations for our area of Central Texas.  You can find it free online or at most local nurseries for purchase.

For more information about lawn and garden topics, contact County Extension Agent Kate Whitney at the AgriLife Extension Office at 512-943-3300.


Texas Onions

AgriLife Logo

Nothing starts the new year off right like a good conversation about onions!  Onions are fun to grow and even more fun to harvest.  If you want to give them a try in your garden this year, now is the time to start preparing!

Did you know that Texas is well-known for its onion crop?  The Rio Grande Valley, Winter Garden area, High Plains, and far West Texas had 7,000 to 7,500 acres of onions in 2020.  Sweet yellow onions like the Granex and Texas 1015 are well known all over the world.

Sweet onions were first grown in Texas in 1898 when the Bermuda onion was planted near Cotulla.  By 1904, approximately 500 acres of Bermuda onions were grown in Texas to meet the enthusiastic demand in the United States.  In the 1920’s the demand for Bermuda onion seed was so great, the Canary Island growers could not send enough quality seed.  In 1933, the Texas Agricultural Experiment Station started an onion breeding program that eventually produced the famous varieties we enjoy today like the Granex and Texas 1015.

Onion seeds should be planted in October in Texas, or you start with onion transplants in mid-January.  First, an onion forms a top, and then it forms the bulb.  Each leaf on the top of an onion forms one ring of the onion.  The size of an onion bulb depends on the number and size of the leaves at maturity.

Onions mature based on day-length.  Long-day onions will quit forming tops and begin to form the onion bulb when daylength reaches 14-16 hours.  Short-day onions begin making bulbs when day-length is 10-12 hours long.  Short-day onion varieties are recommended for our area such as: Texas 1015, Red Burgandy, Granex, Early Grano, and Southern Belle.

Plant onion transplants about ¾ to one inch deep with four-inch spacing between plants.  You can plant them closer together if you want to harvest some green onions during the growing season.  Onions are ready for harvest when the tops fall over.

Onions require a high source of nitrogen like ammonium sulfate (21-0-0) applied at the rate of one cup per twenty feet of linear row.  Fertilize three weeks after planting and then every three weeks; water immediately after fertilizing and maintain moisture during the growing season.  Stop fertilizing once the neck of the onion starts feeling soft.

When you harvest onions, allow them to dry, and clip the roots and tops back to one inch.  Keep onions cool and separated to prevent bruising.  Onions can last a long time if you store them in a cool, airy location.

For more information about growing onions or other gardening questions, contact County Extension Agent Kate Whitney at the AgriLife Extension Office at 512-943-3300.


Possumhaw Holly

AgriLife Logo

During the winter months, there are a few plants that really get a chance to shine when our deciduous trees and shrubs shed their leaves.  I enjoy seeing the bright green leaves or pops of red from various hollies.

One of my very favorite small trees in the winter is the Possumhaw holly.  I love a plant with a good name, and this certainly has one.  The “haw” part of the name comes from the reddish fruit that looks similar to hawthorn fruits.  The “possum” part of the name comes from a certain furry critter that likes to snack on the fruit.

Possumhaw is native to a large area of Texas and can adapt to a wide range of soil conditions.  It can grow in shade to full sun, so it is a versatile plant for the landscape.  Possumhaw is really a large shrub or small, multi-trunked tree.  The height is typically eight to 12 feet, but it can reach up to 20 feet tall.  It grows six to 10 feet wide.

One of the things I love most about Possumhaw holly are the bright red or orange fruit that is a blaze of color in the fall and winter.  The small tree is deciduous, which means that the leaves fall off in the fall, but that only allows the fruit to show up even brighter!

Possumhaw is also dioecious, meaning that the male and female flowers are on separate trees.  To get good fruit set, a female plant needs a male plant nearby for good pollination.  The fruit sets on a female tree, and they are really beautiful when they are covered with bright berries.

Keep an eye out for the bright spot of color from a Possumhaw holly this winter.  For more information about lawn and garden topics, contact Kate Whitney, Williamson County AgriLife Extension Agent for Horticulture, at 512-943-3300.

Growing Citrus

AgriLife Logo

One of my favorite parts about wintertime is the fresh citrus available.  Have you ever received a box of Texas grapefruit for a Christmas present? Those are a great treat!

The Lower Rio Grande Valley is known for citrus production.  Orchards were established along the coast as early as the 1880’s.  The Ruby Red grapefruit was developed in the late 1920’s and patented in 1934, leading to a rise in the Texas citrus industry.  At its height in the 1940’s, the Texas citrus industry had more than 100,000 acres planted throughout the Valley.

Severe freeze is the most limiting factor in citrus production, and Texas has had its share of hard freezes throughout the last half century.  A few major freezes in 1983 and 1989, along with economic factors and urbanization, led to a decline in citrus acreage.  Today, Texas has about 27,000 acres of citrus production grown in a three-county area in the Lower Rio Grande Valley.

Occasionally, I receive questions from folks who want to grow citrus in Williamson County.  You have to be a little bit brave and stubborn to grow citrus this far north, but it can be done!  We have some new varieties now that can handle the colder temperatures, and with the right care you can grow citrus in your backyard.

Satsumas are a type of mandarin orange that can handle cooler temperatures in our area.  You can also look for kumquat, calamondin, and Changsa tangerine.  Limes, Meyer Lemon, and citrons can also grow here, but will be severely damaged if temperatures drop to 23-28 degrees.

Try planting citrus in large pots that can be brought inside during cold weather.  Citrus plants that have survived a few seasons in Texas might be put in the ground if you can find a sunny location that is protected from northern winds.

For more information about growing citrus, visit the Fruit and Nut page on the Aggie Horticulture website: or contact Kate Whitney, Horticulture Extension Agent, at the Williamson County AgriLife Extension Office at 512-943-3300.


Don’t Bag It!

AgriLife Logo

drawing of man with a compost pileI am the daughter of a county extension agent, further proof that the apple does not fall far from the tree.  In the late 1980’s, my dad worked on a project called “Don’t Bag It!”  that encouraged homeowners to leave their grass clippings in the lawn, rather than bagging them.  The goal was to help reduce landfill waste and use grass clippings to return nutrients back into the soil.

When it came time for my first public speaking contest as a young 4-H member, my parents dressed me up in green tights and a trash bag and I got to speak about the benefits of “Don’t Bag It!”.  I won first place, and that lesson about not bagging yard waste has stuck with me.  Wearing a trash bag tends to imprint important lessons on impressionable young minds.  Thanks mom and dad!

Did you know that leaves are also a great source of nutrients for your lawn?  Leaves contain 50 to 80 percent of the nutrients a plant takes from the air and soil during the season.  This means that you have a free, organic source of fertilizer right in your backyard!  You do not have to worry about raking and bagging leaves anymore, saving your back and your pocketbook.

Leaves can be used in the home landscape in a few different ways.  A light layer of leaves on the ground can be mowed and left in the lawn.  This is simple and fast, and you will barely see the leaves in the lawn after you have mowed them.  The leaves will continue to breakdown and be a good source of fertilizer for your lawn.

You can also use leaves as a mulch in your landscape beds or vegetable garden.  Mulches reduce evaporation from the soil surface, inhibit weed growth, moderate soil temperatures, prevent erosion and compaction, and release valuable nutrients into the soil. One easy way to collect and shred the leaves is to use the bagging attachment on your mower. Then you can put the shredded leaves wherever you need them, such as around trees and shrubs, in flower beds, or in between rows of your vegetables for a good walkway.  Leaves that have been mowed or run through some type of shredder will stay in place better and decompose faster.

Leaves can also be used to improve your soil.  A six to eight-inch layer of leaves tilled into heavy clay soil will improve aeration and drainage.  Fall is a good time to work the leaves into the soil of your vegetable garden or annual planting beds because the leaves will decompose over winter and be ready for spring planting.

If you plan to do some yardwork this weekend, remember: Don’t Bag It!  For more information about lawn and garden topics, contact County Extension Agent, Kate Whitney, at the Williamson AgriLife Extension Office at 512-943-3300.

Williamson County Wins Big at the Texas Pecan Show

Each year, the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service and the Texas Pecan Growers Association hosts the Texas Pecan Show.  The pecan show originated in the 1950’s as a way to teach growers how to grade their pecans for better prices, identify the most outstanding varieties for each region of the state, recognize and award the most successful pecan management programs, and advertise and promote Texas premium quality pecans.

Pecan shows begin at the county level when pecan producers bring a sample of their nuts from each variety.  A sample of 10 nuts are weighed, shelled, and weighed again.  The percent of edible kernel is measured after all the non-edible flaws are removed.  A judge evaluates each entry based on the percent edible kernel, kernel color, and nut size.  Winning entries advance to a regional show. Williamson County competes with pecans from the Central Region of Texas, which is a center slice of Texas that stretches from the southern tip of the state all the way north to the Red River border with Oklahoma.  Winners from the regional contest advance to the state-level contest for a chance to be the top pecan of Texas!

The results from the 2019 Texas Pecan Show have been announced, and Williamson County did well!

Reserve Champion Native Pecan: David Patton

1st Place Melrose: Lisa Zucknick

3rd Place Podsednik: Lisa Zucknick

1st Place Shoshoni: Bobby & Wanda Shelton

1st Place Choctaw: Lisa Zucknick

1st Place Nacono: Robert Kaderka

Some of these state-level winners have their pecans available for sale at local farmer’s markets, and the harvest from 2020 is happening right now.  Be sure to find some of these great local pecans for your holiday baking and gifts.

The 2020 Williamson County Pecan Show will be held on Thursday, December 17.  Anyone with a pecan tree in Williamson County may enter pecans.  If you do not grow pecans, you can bake up your favorite pecan treats and enter the Pecan Food Show.  More information may be found on our website at:

Fall Vegetables

This year I have talked to a lot of folks who started vegetable gardens for the very first time.  The extra time at home has given families more time to enjoy outdoors, and gardening is a great activity to get some sunshine, exercise, and grow some fresh food.

If you started a garden this year, do not think that the coming of cold weather means the end of your garden.  Fall and winter is a great time for gardening in Texas!  The shorter days and cooler temperatures make this a great time to plant cool season crops.

A number of crops can be planted by seed or transplant in October and November: Asian greens, beets, chard, collards, garlic, greens, kale, lettuce, mustard, radish, shallots, spinach, and turnips.  One idea to consider is succession planting so you can spread out the harvest time.  Plant your seeds or transplants 10 to 14 days apart to distribute your harvest over a longer period.  Leafy greens can be cut a couple inches above ground level and left to continue growing for more harvest, or you can pull the whole plant for a one-time harvest.

We are on the tail end of planting season for cole crops like cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts.  Purchase these plants as transplants at local nurseries and plant them as soon as possible.  These might take a little longer to grow, but homegrown broccoli is delicious!

For winter crops, be on the lookout for cabbage looper and aphids.  Loopers can be controlled with a spray of Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis).  Aphids can be controlled with a strong spray from the water hose or a spray of insecticidal soap.  Be sure to keep an eye out for both pests so you stay ahead of them.

Remember that winter vegetables need to be fed.  Apply a complete fertilizer like 10-10-10 at planting and work it into the soil, and be sure to continue fertilizing as the plants grow.  You can find great fact sheets about each vegetable crop, as well as specifics for fertilizer and pest control at

Be sure to sign up for upcoming gardening classes at the Williamson County AgriLife Extension Office.  We have some great programs coming up in November about container gardening, herbs, and trees.  Call the AgriLife Extension Office at 512-943-3300 for more information.

Ornamental Grasses

In the gardening world, there is always something interesting to see, no matter what season it is.  During fall time in Texas, we get to see the beautiful colors of ornamental grasses.

Fall is generally the time that grasses bloom.  The inflorescence, or flowering part of the plant, opens and often has a soft, delicate color.  Ornamental grasses in the landscape can be a beautiful way to add some color, texture, and movement.

Just outside my office window is a field of King Ranch Bluestem.  Normally I would classify it as an invasive grassy weed to be eradicated, but I confess to secretly enjoying it this fall because the golden pink seed heads ripple like waves in the wind.

Ornamental grasses are easy to care for and most like well-drained soil in a sunny location.  You can cut back grasses in short clumps in early spring and consider dividing them every three years.  Grasses can also help prevent erosion and stabilize the soil, so they might be a good option if you have a sloped area in your lawn.  Ornamental grasses can be used as an accent plant in your landscape, but they are also a showstopper in mass plantings.

If you are interested in adding ornamental grasses, fall is the time to scope out the ones you like while they are blooming and make a plant shopping list for the spring.  They come in all shapes and sizes from Pampas Grass that can get up to 10 feet tall with showy white inflorescence, all the way down to Mexican Feather Grass that is one to two feet tall.  Gulf Coast Muhly is a Texas native grass that gets about three feet tall and has a pink inflorescence.

Have fun outside exploring some new plant ideas and enjoying the beautiful fall weather!

Tree Diseases and Problems

AgriLife Logo

Watch the Williamson County Master Gardener Monthly Meeting here.  Master Gardener Wayne Rhoden gave a great talk on Tree Problems and Diseases.