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Organic Gardening & Living Advice

Let your vitex tree grow naturally
March 27, 2014
By Howard Garrett

Question: Should a vitex tree be cut back? A.L., Lucas

Answer: Not if you can avoid it. Try to maintain the natural form of the tree, a small, blooming tree that was planted in Texas in the 1600s. Vitex agnus-castus is also commonly called chaste tree and Texas lilac. There is no horticultural reason to cut vitex or any other tree back severely.

Question: I have a pine tree on my property. Can I chip it into mulch and use it? C.C., Azle

Answer: It's fine to use if you grind up the entire limbs or the whole tree. Bark alone is the problem mulch. It does its job of protecting the trunk from pathogens, but it isn't good for the soil microbes. When mixed with all the other parts of the tree, it's fine for bark to be present in mulch.

Question: My 15 acres has lots of native grapes. One produces pea-size fruit and the other regular-size grapes. Can these be grafted? If so, where would I acquire grafting stock? J.L., Gatesville

Answer: Check the Texas A&M website and other agricultural university websites. "Varieties" and "grafting information" are some of the topics to search for your answer.

Question: We live near a water treatment plant. Should we have our water tested for chlorine or other chemicals for drinking purposes and for watering our organic garden? B.B., Arlington

Answer: You could use A&L Plains Laboratories in Lubbock or Texas Plant and Soil Lab in Edinburg. The chances are very high that the water does have chlorine and fluoride and should be treated with a charcoal filter. Water Event (
waterevent.com) is a Dallas company that might help with testing and filtration.

Question: My Satsuma orange is 6 years old and has produced fruit only once, two years ago. It gets plenty of sun and I feed it organic fertilizer. It's only about 4 feet tall and has a thin trunk. It froze back twice in its early years. What can I do to get it growing and producing? L.W., Victoria

Answer: Even though you are in South Texas, protecting the plant in harsh weather would have helped. The floating row covers are now made into big socks of various sizes that fit right over plants and containers that need 4 to 5 degrees of protection from cold and wind. A regular feeding of Garrett Juice also should help. The free formula for making your own batch is under Guides on the home page of

Question: I have always admired your push for organic and other nonsynthetic measures. I am, however, appalled by your recent online newsletter about Knock Out roses and rose rosette disease. The only thing you got right was about monovarietal culture. You did not mention how serious rose rosette is to the Dallas-Fort Worth region. Second, you didn't mention it is an incurable viral infection carried by wind-borne eriophyid mites, which are virtually impossible to see. Your prescribed control measure will likely lead a rose grower to spread this disease to other roses that are downwind. The only reasonable recourse is to dig up and destroy infected plants. This is the recommendation of Texas A&M, and I believe it behooves you, as a graduate, to pass this along. This is a case where I believe misinformation is worse than no information.  A.B., Dallas

Answer: I didn't mention that rose rosette is incurable because it is curable. It has been eliminated in several situations locally with the program I recommend and, in some cases, with fewer steps than what I outlined in the newsletter. 

Saying that "the only reasonable recourse is to dig up and destroy infected plants" is myopic, at best. Why not try my method first? Then, if the rosebushes don't get better, you can destroy them. Even if my methods fail (which they won't, unless applied improperly), money and time won't be wasted because the soil will have been improved for the benefit of whatever else is planted next in that location.   Finally, I am not an Aggie.


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