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Problem & Solution
January/February 2015

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Sandbox Garden
Problem: I have an old sand pile in my yard that was a huge sandbox for six kids. Then we let our chickens enjoy it for a while. Now I want to put a perennial bed there. Do I need to haul out the sand or can it be amended to make a bed for flowers? Love your magazine; it’s a wealth of information!

Michelle Frederick

Solution: Just like gardens in East Texas that abound in sand, you, too, can, over time, change that sand in the sandbox to healthy living soil by adding copious amounts of organic matter to the box. The more the better. For fastest results use compost or rotted manure. If you use material that has not been composted yet, such as wood chips or leaves, you will need to add some nitrogen to aid in the breaking-down process and allow more time for results to occur.

Planting Bur Oak
Problem: I am planting a 10’ bur oak. It’s in a 15-gallon bucket, to give you an idea of its size. I am thinking of topping it to give it a better shape and also to encourage more spread. What do you think? Is this a good idea? Would it be better to wait until it has rooted somewhat, say late winter? I appreciate any advice you can give. Always enjoy your magazine.

Betty Tindall

Solution: You can plant container-grown trees anytime but now (fall) is the very best time to set them in the ground. It won’t grow any new leaves or branches over the winter, however, because our winters are filled with lots of mild days. The new tree will start to develop a root system and have a big advantage over spring-planted trees. We do not recommend topping any tree. In fact, we wish it were against the law. Bur oak trees will develop into very large trees, so give your new addition plenty of room. And they will develop a nice shape, naturally, with little help from humans.

Onion Trouble
Problem: In late January, I planted 5 bundles of ‘1015Y,’ and one bundle of sweet Bermuda onion plants in a raised bed. I discarded all plants that were larger than a pencil.

The middle row has made large growth with very little difference top to bottom and almost no sign of bulbing. Ninety percent of this row is putting up seed stalks. The plants in the east row have made good progress, with a few bulbs as large a baseballs. The rows run north to south. The row on the west is still growing and the foliage is 24 to 30 inches tall. All plants were fertilized, mulched and watered the same.

Walking iris.

Granvel M. Wells

Solution: You were wise to discard the plants that were larger than a pencil because they could have been exposed to dormancy-induced temperatures (extended periods below 45 degrees) where they were grown, which could cause them to bolt and form seed heads. A cold snap in South Texas, where most onion transplants are grown, can mess up a lot of onion plants, mostly the ones that are 1/4-inch or larger in diameter. You don’t mention which varieties were planted in each row and that can make a difference, too. It is possible that some of the plants, in your case maybe the ones on the west side of the bed, were exposed to temperatures below 45 degrees after you planted them. The ones on the east side of the bed could have been shielded from the cold weather by the other two rows and that is why they didn’t bolt. The only thing you could have done was to wait a little longer to set your onions out in the garden.