Ask a Master Gardener

Got a Gardening Question? Just Ask!

Got a gardening question? The Guadalupe Master Gardener’s Office is open and staffed from 9 am until noon, every Monday, except for holidays.  The Office is located at the Mary B. Erskine School in Seguin at the corner of East Krezdorn and North River St. Call 830.379.1972 or 830.303.3889 to get your gardening question answered (you can leave a message) or come by the office and take advantage of the library of gardening reference material. You can also e-mail your question to guadalupecountymastergardeners@yahoo.com

Following are answers to recently asked questions:

August 2014 Q & A: Finding Space for Growing Tomatoes

ripe tomatoeQ: I really don’t have a space to plant a vegetable garden but I sure like the flavor of homegrown tomatoes. What can I do? A: Almost anywhere—a patio, a balcony, a doorstep, a windowsill, near the pool or the hot tub—is a good spot for vegetables grown in a container. There are many advantages to growing in a container. One is mobility. The container can be moved to follow the sun. It can also be moved inside in case of a freeze or can be more easily covered. Another advantage is the height of the container. The other evening I took photos of a house surrounded by vegetables in containers. The gardener told me that he could be watering one pot while weeding another. If you have children, each child could be responsible for taking care of his or her own “vegetable garden.” Another advantage is that it is easier to find pests and eliminate them with a container that can be seen from all sides. Soil borne diseases and poor soil conditions are not as prevalent since you should fill your container with a growing medium that is free of plant disease organisms and weed seeds. A nice soil mixture (suggested by Dr. Masabni of Texas A&M) can be made up of equal parts of peat moss or compost, pasteurized soil, and vermiculite or perlite. Then add composted cow manure as a nutrient source. Almost anything can be used as a container: clay or plastic pots, wash tubs, wooden planters, hanging baskets, old half barrels, bushel baskets, even old stock tanks. Be sure there are drainage holes in the container and place one-inch coarse gravel or broken clay pot pieces in the bottom for better drainage. Many types of crops are suitable for containers: beans, beets, carrots, cucumbers, eggplant, lettuce, onions, parsley, peppers, radishes, spinach, summer squash, Swiss chard, and tomatoes. Proper watering is essential when you have a container garden, but proper drainage is also essential. If the soil becomes soggy, plants will die from lack of oxygen. There are several hints that tell you there is poor drainage and excessive water: the plants yellow from the bottom and they wilt although it may seem like sufficient water is present. After your seeds germinate and the plants emerge, you can use either time-release or water-soluble fertilizer following the application directions on the label. Enjoy eating your homegrown vegetables. For more information go to aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu on the Internet.

July 2014 Q & A: Chiggers! Gardening through the Golden Years

Q: My back yard is full of chiggers. I am getting bitten when I go out to garden. What can I do?

chigger on edge of dime coin to show sizeA: On the Texas A& M web site under “chiggers,” I found a number of articles. One article said that chigger infestations are less common in maintained turf grass and landscape environments. The article went on to say that keeping grass cut short and vegetation well trimmed can raise soil temperatures and lower humidity enough to make lawns less hospitable to chiggers. Also, wild animals can help sustain chiggers in your backyard. Remember that fireants eat ticks and chiggers. I suppose this means that we should not eradicate our fireants around the house completely. Lawns can be covered in dusting sulfur although one person has told me that this did not help. To keep chiggers off of you, spray with a repellant (read the label of your mosquito repellent and see if it will also keep chiggers off) and wear loose clothing. Tuck your long pants into your boots. Do not lie down or sit on the ground. Immediately after exposure to chiggers, make sure you take a hot soapy bath to kill and remove the larvae. Your clothes should also be washed. An antiseptic can be put on the welts. Try as hard as you can to keep from scratching.

Q: I’m getting older and less able to handle a large garden. Do you have suggestions for the older gardener?

A: Actually, there is a book out called “Gardening through your Golden Years” by Jim Wilson in which he interviews older gardeners to get their views. One person says he uses long handled tools. Another gardens in raised beds. Another gardener worried about getting injured so got rid of all his power tools – the chain saw, the lawn tractor, the edger, and the lawn mower – and just hires someone to do the heavy work. And then there is the opposite: the man who used getting older as an excuse to buy fancy power equipment to make his life easier – a garden tractor, a better wheelbarrow, a front end loader. I can tell you what I’ve done. I’ve bought garden tools with easy to grip handles and cutters that spring open by themselves after each cut. My lopper has compound levers to multiply the force. I also use kneepads when working on a bed. A friend of mine bought one of those wheeled garden seats. I work in the morning or early evening and try to stay in the shade. I wear my hat, sunscreen, drink plenty of water, and know my limitations. At the first comment from my back or my wrists, I stop and do something else. I’ve already discovered that my arthritis does not like the vibration of the weed eater. Listen to your body and you will be gardening for years to come.

June 2014 Q & A:  Zucchini and Squash Vine Borer

Q:  I planted zucchini this year because of all the comments about its productivity.  Out of nine plants, four succumbed to squash borer.  Help!

Squash vine borer damageA: I don’t know if I’m really the one to answer this.  I have a terrible time growing squash.  Basically the squash vine borer starts as a “clear wing” moth who lays eggs on the plant near the base.  After hatching from the eggs, the larvae penetrate the plant stem and burrow toward the base.  There they feed which destroys the inside of the stem and causes the plant to die.  I’ve always been told that you can cut open the stem, remove the larva, and pile soil up over the cut; however, by the time I find the problem, the plant is already wilted and gone. On the Internet, aggie-horticulture says that there is much variation in the susceptibility of squash and pumpkin varieties, and lists hubbard as being highly susceptible.  Another website, the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service (www.attra.ncat.org/attra-pub/squash_pest.html), lists twelve squash with their degrees of resistance to squash vine borer attack. Butternut and green striped cushaw have the most resistance, then summer crookneck and Dickenson pumpkin, then acorn and white bush scallop, then zucchini, small sugar pumpkin, Connecticut field pumpkin, golden delicious (hubbard type), Boston marrow (hubbard type), and finally, with the least resistance, blue hubbard.  So, this means that you can actually try to be more selective in the type of squash you plant. Next, keep the ground under the squash plant free from mulch so that bugs won’t live there or overwinter. Several biological methods to cut down on borers are suggested.  The first is to keep the eggs off of your plants.  (Squash vine borer eggs are disk-shaped and dark-reddish-brown; they are laid singly on the plant near the base.)  There is a suggestion in some of the literature that planting later in the season also helps with a borer infestation.  Another suggestion that really works for pest management is to use row covers over your baby plants.  Of course, the cover would need to come off for pollination.  Diatomaceous earth dusted on the stems is the next level of protection; the use of neem oil could be the next step. Aggie-Horticulture lists the use of pyrethrins as a spray.  Remember to read, understand and follow the label; read the precautions.  Although pyrethrins come from the chrysanthemum, the spray is toxic to bees.  Be very careful; if you or your pets get sprayed, it is still a poison and can result in a variety of symptoms.  What it does to the insect is to inhibit cellular respiration primarily in nerve and muscle cells causing death.  This is why I usually do not put poisons on my plants, or if I do, I use the least lethal, wear gloves, don’t breathe in, and, of course, read the label and use the proper precautions.

May 2014 Q & A: How Do I Start a Compost Pile?

Q: I would love to start a compost pile but am afraid that I would do it all wrong. Help!

hands holding compostA: Let’s look at what compost really is. Compost is a dark, crumbly and earthy-smelling form of organic matter that has been through a decomposition process. It can be used to enrich and loosen the soil. Also, if you have sandy soils, compost can help retain moisture and nutrients. Aggie-horticulture says that the word “compost” comes from the Latin verb meaning to put together. So composting involves putting together a mixture of different organic materials to form humus. First, you should find a spot in your yard where a compost pile will be out of the way. (My husband prefers that our pile also be out of sight.) If the pile is in the sun, it will decompose faster. If it is in the shade, it will remain moist longer. You do not have to have a structure. The decomposing material can just be placed in a pile on the ground. Or, you could build a wire cage, a wooden box, a turning barrel, four wooden palettes on edge, or any structure that is well ventilated for good air circulation. One of our Master Gardeners uses the inner drum of an old dryer. Start your pile with a six-inch layer of brush trimmings or wood chips. Next add a six-inch layer of leaves, straw, hay or a mixture. Water the pile. Add a nitrogen source such as an 8-8-8 or a 10-10-10 fertilizer. Then put about a fourth inch of soil over the nitrogen. Water. Then add a two to three inch layer of high nitrogen material such as vegetative kitchen scraps, grass clippings, etc. Then add another thin layer of soil. Keep adding layers and remember to water. Do not add animal products or milk products (such as butter, bones, cheese, chicken, fish scraps, lard, mayonnaise, meat scraps, peanut butter, salad dressing). Also, do not add animal manures or feces (except for herbivores like cow or horse manure). Loosen the pile with a pitch fork now and then. Now, all these good instructions aside, I put grass clippings, leaves, and vegetable scraps in my pile and water it. I very rarely turn it, and yet, it turns into compost in spite of me. Aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/extension/compost/compost.html has a number of chapters on compost, including one on building your own container.

April 2014 Q & A: How much fertilizer should I apply to my lawn? Should I use a weed and feed product? What herbs can I plant now?

man pushing fertilizer spreader across lawnQ: I know that you should apply spring fertilizer to your lawn after you’ve mowed the grass twice to make sure that it is actively growing and ready to use the fertilizer.  However, I’m not sure how much to apply.  I’ve been hearing about the overuse of fertilizer and the pollution of our creeks and rivers.  Exactly what is the correct amount?

A: You do not need to apply more than one pound of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet of lawn.  Doug Welsh in his Texas Garden Almanac, reminds us that we are probably loaded with phosphorus and should consider using a fertilizer with just straight nitrogen.  I had a soil test done in my yard to make sure, and he was right.  Nitrogen is all I need except for possibly some iron. Remember that the amount listed on the bag may be more than you really need.  Do not fertilize before a predicted heavy rain.  As Welsh reminds us, nitrogen and other fertilizer nutrients can easily run off into the storm sewers and then into creeks and streams.  This nitrogen in the river can cause an algae bloom that uses up the oxygen in the water and kills the fish.

Q: How do you feel about using a bag of weed-and-feed instead of straight fertilizer on the lawn?  Wouldn’t that save time and money?

A:  It may sound good, but it’s not.  The timing is off.  Pre-emergent herbicides should be applied in late winter for summer control, while fertilizer is put out in mid spring after you’ve mowed a couple of times.  In the fall, the timing is off again.  Pre-emergent herbicides should be applied to the lawn in late summer or early fall, while the fall application of fertilizer should be after the first frost and the lawn has stopped growing.  I am very careful with my use of herbicides because I do not want to lose shrubs, trees or my perennials.  I did use a pre-emergent when I was trying to get rid of grassburs in the lawn but was not satisfied with the results.  We eventually resorted to the tried and true method of digging them by hand.  (This only works with small yards and takes a couple of years to get them all.)

Q: What summer herbs can I plant now?

A: Your cilantro will bolt from the heat, but basil is a good summer substitute for your garden.  Try several different types and colors this year and sample the different flavors.  My dill came up this winter and is almost ready to cut and dry.  You can still plant it by seed in your garden.  Mexican mint marigold is a favorite of mine.  It has pretty yellow flowers and is drought and heat tolerant.  Oregano is a very hardy plant.  I’ve had mine for a number of years and it is spreading across the garden.  I have to prune it severely each spring.

March 2014 Q & A: Tips for Planting Tomatillos. Can I plant Goldenrod in this region? How much mulch should I buy?

ripe tomatillosQ: I want to plant tomatillos.  What should I know about them?

A:  You probably have to buy the tomatillo or husk tomato (Physalis ixocarpa) by seed.  There are lots of varieties available, such as Cape Gooseberry, Mayan Husk Tomato, and Rendidora.  When I was a kid growing up in Florida, everyone had a plant or two in their garden.  Now that I read the growing conditions, I see why.  Tomatillos like well-drained, sandy loam soils with a pH between 5.5 and 7.3 according to AgriLife Extension’s Masabni, King and Taylor.  This Mexican native is sensitive to the cold and likes 80 to 90 degree days and 60 to 70 degree nights.  It prefers low humidity and sparse rainfall and should do very well here.  Cuttings root easily. Masabni says that tomatillos have only a few pests and diseases.  Those include cutworms, root-knot nematodes, tobacco budworm, and whiteflies among the pests, and black spot and tobacco mosaic virus as the diseases.  Once planted, tomatillos bear fruit in 65 to 85 days and continue bearing until the first frost.

Q:  I love goldenrod and hear that it attracts bees and other pollinators. Can I plant it in my garden?

A:  Goldenrod is beautiful and, contrary to popular belief, does not cause hay fever (which is caused by pollen from ragweed). If, however, you are planting tall goldenrod (Solidago altissima), you need to make sure you know what you are getting into.  Sally Wasowski (in Native Texas Plants) mentions that you need a lot of room.  She started with one plant and it spread.  I transplanted one plant into my garden last fall. Now I have about 20 plants which I am sharing with my friends.  Goldenrod blooms from September to November.  The plant likes dry to moist roadsides and open woods in part shade and shade and grows in many different soil types.  According to Wildflower.org (the Wildflower center in Austin), the height is determined mostly by the fertility and moisture content of the soil. Goldenrod flowers attract both bees and butterflies, so if you have space, it is great for a wildscape.  For a smaller yard, Wasowski suggests using Prairie goldenrod and Wright goldenrod since they are far better behaved.

Q: I’m getting ready to mulch my plants.  How do I know how much to buy?

A: Doug Welsh in his Texas Garden Almanac says that to figure out the amount of mulch you need, multiply the area by the desired depth of mulch expressed in feet; then divide that amount by the number of cubic feet in the bag.  His example is for 1000 square feet of area at a 2 inch mulch depth: so 1000 times 0.167 foot equals 167 cubic foot.  Divide that by a two cubic foot bag and you get 84 bags.  Or you can just guess and keep running back and forth for more like I do.  Some people buy mulch by bulk because it is cheaper.  But I find that bagged mulch is much easier for me to handle.

February 2014 Q & A: What do you suggest for an unusual garden-related Valentine gift? When do I prune roses? When do I prune plants and trees?

Q:  I’d like to give my sweetheart something unusual yet related to gardening for Valentine’s Day.  Do you have any suggestions?

Potato growing in basketA:  Seed potatoes are traditionally planted February 14, so certainly fit the guidelines of an “unusual” garden gift.  Buy seed potatoes from your local nursery rather than using ones from the grocery store which are sprayed with sprout inhibitors.  If you want to be even more unusual, buy a potato bag.  You put soil and seed potato pieces inside the bag, and when the ripe potatoes are ready, you lift a flap on the bottom of the bag and pull out potatoes.  Potatoes can also be planted the traditional way.  Dig a trench 4 to 6 inches deep. Lay the piece of potato (with two or three eyes) on the ground. Hill the soil up around the stem as the eye grows (potato tubers form around the stem).  Then dig finished potatoes in 90 to 120 days.  I’ve also had good luck growing in a bushel basket with the bottom cut out.  Simply set the basket in your garden, place the potato pieces inside on top of the ground, cover with fresh soil, and keep covering as the sprout grows.  This fills the basket.  Then, when the potatoes are ready to be “dug” you don’t have to do anything except lift the side of the basket to retrieve potatoes. I like this rather than digging with a shovel because in the past I’ve accidentally cut potatoes in half.  Don’t forget that when you pick your potatoes, wipe them off but do not wash before storing.  Mother Earth News suggests curing the fresh potatoes by keeping them in the dark at 60 degrees for 10 days to allow the tubers to heal.  That is not useful around here unless you have a root cellar, so just storing them in a dark garage would probably do.

Q:  When do I prune my roses?

A: This ties into the previous question because we prune around February 14.  In fact, if you were my husband, pruning the roses would be the perfect gift. According to Doug Welsh in his Texas Garden Almanac, if you are pruning hybrids, cut the bushes back to about 24 inches leaving about four to six canes facing outward in a vase shape.  Trim out the dead or damaged wood.  For hybrids, I usually take off all the dead or damaged leaves also.  Clean the trash on the ground under the plant. If you are pruning old fashioned roses, cut off about one-third of the plant.  We usually cut off more to keep the bushes out of the eaves of the house.  Welsh mentions using hedge clippers to prune the old fashioned roses.  My husband invented this on his own.  It works wonderfully and saves a lot of snagged skin and clothes.

Q: When do I prune other plants and trees?

A: Welsh says, “The best time to prune is in winter just before spring growth begins.”  Remember: you don’t need pruning paint except when you prune oak trees (and that’s because we have oak wilt disease in this area of Texas).

January 2014 Q & A: What do I do with a poinsettia or Christmas cactus? What should I be doing in my vegetable garden this month?

Poinsettia bloomQ:  I always receive a poinsettia or a Christmas cactus or an amaryllis for Christmas.  What do I do with them after Christmas?

A: They can be replanted for next year. The potted poinsettia should be kept in bright natural light and watered when the soil is dry.  According to Doug Welsh, A&M extension horticulturist, cut the plant back to 8 inches above the soil when it becomes long and leggy.  After March 17, put the plant outside in morning sun and afternoon shade. Fertilize, then water when dry.  At the end of May, trim a little off each branch so it will put out more side branches, repot into a larger pot, and move into direct sunlight.  In July trim again.  Continue watering and fertilizing.  By Labor Day move the plant into indirect filtered light with night temperature above 65 and give the plant 14 hours of darkness (cardboard box) and 10 hours bright light each day.  Discontinue at Thanksgiving and bring the plant into the brightest natural light in the house.  Water when dry.  It should rebloom by Christmas.  Or, if this is all too much, support your local nurseries and buy a new plant each year (or you can try planting the poinsettia outside). Christmas cactus also likes short days and long nights to bloom.  Welsh says his mother grew hers on the kitchen windowsill where the lights were turned off after dinner.  I would think the same thing would work with a pantry window sill that gets light during the day and no light once the sun goes down. For amaryllis, I suggest planting them outside on the south side of the house after they finish blooming and let them adapt to a natural schedule.  They may not bloom at Christmas, but they will bloom and multiply.

Q: What should I be doing in the vegetable garden this month?

A:  If your garden is like mine, you should probably be weeding.  Of course, a lot of my little weeds are baby larkspur and blue bonnets (which I will leave even though they will throw a lot of seeds again next year).  Any dead plants or trash on the soil should be removed because they give pests a place to winter over.  Now that they have frozen, cut back your asparagus plants.  I noticed this morning that my spinach and beet babies both need to be thinned.  And I think I have a strawberry about ready to be picked. The frozen plants in your landscape beds, if you can stand it, should be left alone and pruned later.  This gives birds a place to stay.  If you must prune, do not prune into the live wood as our warm days might tempt the plants to sprout.  New sprouts are delicate and will freeze. Use this time of year to peruse seed catalogs.  Send off for some of those seeds that you have been wanting to try.  I am buying some French marigold seeds to see if they will help decimate my root knot nematode population.

December 2013 Q & A: How do I control nematode infestation? Should I cut back perennials after the first freeze?

Nematodes on plant rootsQ: I’ve been cleaning my vegetable garden and pulled up my okra plants.  Their roots were just covered with root knot nematodes.  I am really surprised because I planted that bed with Elbon rye (cereal rye) two years ago.  I thought that was supposed to take care of nematodes.  What now?

A: Sadly enough, when I started reading up on the problem, management is difficult.  According to the University of California at Davis, you should prevent nematode infestation in the first place by buying resistant plants, making sure the imported soil is not infested, and keeping weeds pulled and your ground sanitary.  Once you get nematodes, infestation can be reduced by fallowing, crop rotation, and soil solarization.  Each is effective only for about a year.  Your garden should have sufficient water and soil amendments to help the afflicted plants.  Fallowing means to leave the soil bare for a period of time like one year.  For solarization, moisten the soil, cover with clear plastic tarp, and leave for 4 to 6 weeks during the hot summer.  Root knot nematodes die when soil temperature gets above 125 degrees for 30 minutes.  (The problem, I would think, is how far down that temperature goes.) There are other nematode suppressive plants besides Elbon rye.  French marigolds (Tagetes species) suppress root knot nematodes.  Ones that work include Nemagold, Petite Blanc, Queen Sophia, Tangerine, and Single Gold (or Nema-gone).  They must be planted solidly–no more than seven inches apart according to Clemson University. Your best bet is to divide your garden into thirds, and set up a rotation going from fallow, to a summer susceptible crop, to a winter spring crop, to a summer solarizing, and so on.  Remember that when you solarize, you kill all of your bugs, both good and bad. I am now growing all of my tomatoes in their own pot and not in the garden.   Luckily, there are some nematode resistant plants.  Check the labels on your tomatoes to make sure there is an “N” on the package (Better Boy, Celebrity, etc.) and ask your nursery person about other nematode resistant vegetable plants (leeks, for instance). Your winter garden will probably do best because most nematode species are active during warm summer months.  Remember to remove annual vegetables including their roots just as soon as harvest is over.

Q: As soon as my perennials freeze back can I cut them back to the ground so everything looks neat?

A:  Doug Welsh, in his Texas Garden Almanac, says you may cut off dead portions of perennials killed by freezing weather, but if you leave the dead stuff on, it provides some insulation for healthy plant tissue.  This pruning is actually best done in February or March. FYI: Now is the time to collect bags of leaves from your neighbors for your compost bin.

November 2013 Q & A: When is the time to transplant oxblood lilies? In our region, which trees and shrubs produce fall color? What plants are suitable for holiday gift giving?

Q:  My oxblood lilies have finished blooming and I now have big clumps of leaves.  When can I move them to different spots in the yard?

A:  Judy Barrett, in her November Homegrown newsletter, says they can be planted anytime you can find them, but now that the blooms have faded is a great time to transplant.  She adds that the bulbs should be planted at a depth approximately three times the height of the bulb.  She adds, “If you are transplanting clumps, plant at the same height at which they were growing or just a little deeper.” After that, water them in. I’ve had mine for several years and it is always a joy to see the first one open.  Barrett says they are also called schoolhouse lilies because they bloom about the time that school starts in the fall.

Q:  I am going to put in trees and shrubs that have fall color.  What are my choices?

Gulf Muhly

Gulf Muhly

A:  According to the San Antonio Landscape Care Guide,  tree planting season begins in mid-November.  I would drive around to the various nurseries near you and see what is available and look at the different colors.  We bought dwarf nandina (Heavenly bamboo) nine years ago thinking that all nandina turns burgundy in the fall;  ours does not.  Someone has since told me to pick out the plant in the nursery that is already showing color.  (I do not suggest nandina.  It is spreading everywhere and is considered an invasive in many areas.) Cedar elm trees turn a nice yellow.  Our Chinese pistache is yellow red (make sure you have a male).  Flameleaf sumac is a real pretty red.  The Texas red oak is red to yellow.  Another tree is the chinquapin oak which will develop a yellow, orange-brown, to rich brown fall color. Crepe myrtle turns yellow orange in the fall. Several of my favorite plants that look great in the fall are the yaupon holly, Burford holly, and that gorgeous grass Gulf Muhly, which is really on show right now.  Possumhaw has red berries, but has no leaves in the winter.  It would have to be an accent plant.  Actually, many of our trees that have fall color lose their leaves in the winter.

Q:  This year I want to give plants as Christmas gifts.  Any suggestions?

A:  I think amaryllis are beautiful and you can plan ahead for when the bloom appears.  Different Internet sources give anywhere from 5 to 10 weeks once the bulb is planted until it has a bloom.  You could buy several bulbs and start them a week apart to be sure.  The amount of money you spend would depend on how expensive the pot was.  Another plant that would be a great gift is a rosemary shaped as a Christmas tree or as a topiary.  You could even shape the rosemary yourself if you are so inclined.  After the recipient enjoys the plant during the holidays, it can be transferred to the yard.

October 2013 Q & A: Is it okay to plant goldenrod? What can I do with all these tree leaves? Is it time to fertilize my lawn?

Q:  I have goldenrod growing at the back of my garden and I’m worried about what my neighbors might say because of its bad reputation.  Should I pull it out? A: Definitely not.  I too have goldenrod (solidago) growing and blooming.  It is not the culprit for hay fever.  The cause of hay fever is ragweed which is also growing and blooming right now.  I am really fond of goldenrod and use it in floral arrangements, both fresh and dried.  I also used it to naturally dye some white wool yarn I spun.  It came out a really pretty golden yellow.  Parents might want to try this project with their children or grandchildren.  I collected my plants from a ditch line along my road.  The ground was hard and I only got a little of the root, but it grew and is spreading (hopefully not too much). Q:  It has been so dry that some of my trees already are losing leaves.  I know you say not to throw them in the trash.  What can I do with them? fall leavesA:  If you don’t have many leaves, just leave them on the lawn and run over them with your mulching mower.  If you have a lot, spread them between the rows of your vegetable plants, under your shrubs, in your flower beds, or put them in your compost bin.  Remember, according to Doug Welsh in his Texas Garden Almanac, fallen leaves contain 50 to 80 percent of the nutrients a plant extracts from the soil and air during the growing season, so you definitely do not want to throw this free fertilizer away.  If you really don’t want to have anything to do with your leaves, you can bag them and take them to the Master Gardener community garden in Schertz or one of the several community gardens in Seguin. I know that many of my friends are always on the lookout for bags of leaves for their compost bins. Q: How do I know when it is time to fertilize? A: The rule of thumb is that when you don’t need to mow for two weeks, then it is time to fertilize.  In our area, it is somewhere around October 15.  Going with Doug Welsh’s recommendation, use a 2-1-1 or a 1-0-1 ratio.  Your nitrogen should include both quick and slow release forms to encourage production of carbohydrates.  (If you are like me, you want to know why the grass wants carbohydrates.  Welsh says it is stored in the roots for earlier spring greening and as an energy source during winter stress.)  Apply one pound of actual nitrogen per 1,000 square feet.  Remember, if you have wildflowers that come up in your lawn in the spring, you do not want to use a pre-emergent weed killer.  Your wildflower seeds won’t come up either. FYI: My American beautyberry is gorgeous this year, and I am anxiously waiting for my Gulf muhly grass to send up bloom spikes

September 2013 Q & A: Can I plant vegetables in pots? How do I deal with a digging armadillo? Should I plant trees and shrubs in the fall? Is it time to plant wildflowers?

Vegetables Growing in PotsQ:  Can I plant vegetables in pots?  I don’t have much of a yard and the soil is too hard to dig. A:  Vegetables do fine in pots.  A large pot of lettuce or spinach by your back door close to the kitchen makes it easy to make salad.  Make sure your pots have good drainage; use a lightweight potting mix.  When it is hot, you will probably need to water daily.  Use a slow release fertilizer.  A two to three gallon pot can be used for beans, beets, carrots, lettuce, mustard, greens, radishes, Swiss chard and turnips.  A larger five gallon pot is good for broccoli, cauliflower, cucumbers, eggplant, kale, melons, peppers, squash, and tomatoes.  I always grow my tomatoes in pots that have an attached water reservoir.   If watering becomes a problem for you, set up drip irrigation for your pots.  Even those pots with a reservoir can be set up with drip irrigation. Q:  I have armadillos digging around my foundation and my plants.  What can I do? A:  This is a problem that many of us are facing right now.  My husband has had good luck with a live trap.  You don’t need to bait the trap, but you do need to set up two by sixes to funnel the animal into the trap.  We put the trap along side the house foundation where armadillos had been walking, then put a two by six at an angle leading into the trap. Q:  I’ve heard that trees and shrubs can be planted in the fall.  Is this so? A:  Doug Welsh, an A&M extension horticulturist, says that fall is the perfect time to plant container-grown trees and shrubs.  The root systems have time to put on new roots before spring growth begins. Q:  Is it time to plant wildflowers yet? A:  It is time.  (In fact, I went to Wildseed Farms this summer and brought back several packets of seeds.)  If you want to make sure that your seeds sprout, you need to achieve good soil-seed contact.  This can be done in a flower bed where you remove all vegetation and till one inch deep, or in a lawn (not St. Augustine) where you lightly till the grass to open the soil.  Mix the seed with sand: one part seed to four parts sand.  Spread the seed and sand mixture evenly over the area you’ve chosen.  Tamp down with your feet or a roller.  Water lightly.  If we don’t get rain in the next month, then water lightly once a week for the first month.  Remember in the spring to let your wildflowers set and disperse their seed before you pull them up.  If you have no luck getting bluebonnets to germinate, buy the plants by the six-pack from a nursery.  When they finish blooming, they will sprout from their own seeds each year.  My bluebonnets come back every year faithfully.  Don’t fertilize your bluebonnets.  Welsh says they collect their own fertilizer though a bacterial relationship called nitrogen fixation

August 2013 Q & A: Which are best shade trees to plant in our area? How can I keep crape myrtles blooming? Which fall vegetables should I be planting now? Do I need to be tending to my roses for fall blooms?

Q:  I am planning on planting a couple of shade trees in the fall.  How do I know what kind is best for this area? A:  Now is a wonderful time to drive around and look at which trees are flourishing.  My personal favorites are the Monterrey oak and the cedar elm, both of which are oak wilt resistant trees.  There are many resistant trees.  Others I like include the pecan, walnut, bur oak, chinquapin oak, and lacey oak.  The ‘Fan Tex’ ash is resistant, but mine has not done well.  It was planted at the same time as my live oak and is smaller, not as full, and generally unhealthy looking.  You might consider planting one of the larger crape myrtles.  Nothing is prettier this time of year than the large crape myrtles surrounding TLU.  Remember that it is best to plant several types of trees, not all one variety. Q:  Can I do anything to keep my crape myrtles blooming? A:  According to Doug Welsh in his Texas Garden Almanac, you can deadhead the plants or remove the old blooms.  This will prevent the setting of seed and will extend the blooming period.  Do not cut any branches with a diameter larger than a pencil.  You are only extending the bloom, not pruning. Q:  I have my fall tomatoes and peppers planted now.  What other fall vegetable should be planted in August? A:  Many vegetables can go in this month including bush beans, lima beans, carrots, corn, cucumbers, garlic, lettuce (late August), parsley, peas, potatoes, radishes, squash and turnips.  I usually wait on broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage and cauliflower until I can buy the transplants in the nursery.  I have already planted my Swiss chard (way too early), although I planted the seeds in a pot protected from the afternoon sun. Q:  My roses are not pretty.  What can I do to get them blooming again this fall? A:  August is the time to prune roses.  However, you are not pruning anywhere near as much as you did in late winter.  Only take off about twenty-five percent of the bush, making sure to remove the old blooms.  Doug Welsh prunes like my husband (with hedge clippers), then shapes the bushes.  If you have black spots on your rose leaves, remove the leaves.  I only see these on the rose bush that gets hit with the sprinkler at four in the morning.  Welsh suggests fertilizing with nitrogen in mid August, then watering the plants thoroughly. FYI:  There is lots of poison ivy around this year.  I’ve seen it in Starcke Park, Walnut Springs Park, and even one or two plants out in back of my house.  Be vigilant.  Remember: do not burn the plant.  The compound urushiol will get in the smoke and bother you and your neighbors.  Sensitivity to poison ivy ranges from an isolated skin rash, to whole body breakouts, to lung inflammation.

July 2013 Q & A: What has damaged the leaves of my red oak? What causes webbing on oak tree trunk? When do I plant my winter garden?

Skeletonized Oak LeavesQ:  Some of the leaves on my red oak are skeletonized — the green tissue is gone and the veins remain with kind of a brown part of the leaf remaining.  What did it and what do I need to do now? A: Skeletonizers can be caterpillars or slug sawflies.  Caterpillar damage is cosmetic according to the Missouri Botanical Garden website.  By the time you find the damage, it is too late to control (bacillus thuringiensis would be the proper spray).  Oak slug sawfly also skeletonizes leaves.  The United States Forest Service says that microbial diseases and other natural enemies usually keep the sawfly in check.  However, if too much of the tree is covered, then you can spray with insecticidal soap (according to the Ohio State University site) or spinosad (the Better Homes and Gardens site). Q:  What is the webbing on the trunk of my oak tree?  A:  Barklice are beneficial insects that eat fungi, algae, dead bark and other organic materials on tree trunks and large limbs.  If the webbing really disturbs you, you could wash it off with a high pressure hose.  However, if you leave the web alone, the insects and the webbing will slowly disappear.  One Internet article says that the insects eat the web before the end of the year; another, that the webs disintegrate as they weather. Q: When do I plant my winter garden? A:  There is a rule of thumb for planting vegetables that will freeze.  (This includes cucumbers, squash, tomatoes, cantaloupe, eggplant, okra, peppers, pumpkins, watermelon, etc.)  First, take the number of days from seeding or transplanting to harvest.  For a Celebrity tomato, that would be 70 days.  Then add two weeks or 14 days for the “fall factor.”  Things grow slower in the fall.  Add 3 weeks or 21 days for frost tender plants which would include the tomato.  Here we have 105 days.  This is how many days to count back from our first frost date.  Of course, the “first frost date” is the problem.  For San Antonio it is around November 28.  In 2010 near Seguin (my house) the first freeze was Nov. 27.  In 2011 the first freeze at my house was Nov. 4.  In 2012 my first freeze was Dec. 11.  Using the November 27 date, we count back 105 days and come up with August 15 as the last possible time to plant the tomato.  However, counting back from November 4, we end up having to plant the tomato by July 23.  From this, you can see, first of all, that I keep a garden journal, and second, that it is hard to guess the weather.  Plant early, shade the plant from afternoon sun, and be prepared to protect from freezes. Or, just plant fall vegetables.  These include beets, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, Swiss chard, collards, kohlrabi, leeks, lettuce, mustard, onions, peas, potatoes, radishes, spinach and turnips.  This past year was my best year ever for beets and leeks (lots of frozen leeks for soup, and many jars of pickled beets).

June 2013 Q & A: What is the red-flowered perennial that attracts bees and butterflies? How can I establish a bird-friendly yard? Where can I learn about drip-irrigation?

Bee Balm-Monarda Didyma

Bee Balm-Monarda Didyma

Q: I saw a red flowered perennial in a friend’s garden that had bees and butterflies around it.  The friend called it bee balm.  Will it grow well for me? A:  The answer is definitely yes.  According to Wikipedia, monarda (bergamot, horsemint, bee balm) is a genus consisting of roughly 16 species of  flowering plants in the family Lamiaceae.   The one you saw is monarda didyma. The species include both annual and perennial upright growing herbaceous plants. The plants are used most frequently in areas in need of naturalization, and are often used in beds and borders to increase hummingbirds, pollinating insects, and predatory/parasitic insects that hunt garden pests.  Wikipedia suggests that because of oils present in the roots, monarda plants are sometimes used as a companion plant around small vegetable crops susceptible to subterranean pests and can be a good plant to grow with tomatoes, supposedly improving both health and flavor.  This last statement I will be able to confirm (or deny) after this year as I have a lovely Scarlet bee balm or monarda didyma planted right in the middle of one of my vegetable beds. Wildflower.org describes Scarlet bee balm as a popular perennial with scarlet-red flowers in terminal tufts. The three foot stems are lined with large, oval, dark-green leaves. Individual flowers are narrowly tube-shaped, tightly clustered together in two inch heads. The leaves have a minty aroma.  Hummingbirds are especially attracted to the red flowers. Every spring a wild white bee balm comes up in my backyard that I suspect is M. citriodora or lemon bee balm.  I also have another variety with pale purple flowers. Q: What can I do to make my yard more friendly for birds? A:  The simplest answer is provide food, water, shelter and places for nests.  Your trees or shrubs probably already have nests in them. I keep a couple of seed feeders filled year round, even though I have plenty of bushes with edible berries: hackberry, yaupon, American beautyberry, fig, blueberries (which I keep covered with a net for me), and chili peppers.  Here in Texas we do need to provide water year round.  I have a number of bird baths and two larger lily ponds.  Refresh the water frequently to keep out mosquitoes.  In my water lily ponds I use BT floats (which don’t hurt the fish) for mosquito larvae.  Doug Welsh in his Texas Garden Almanac suggests that you also provide a small area of sand, tiny gravel, or crushed eggshells.  This helps birds grind and digest seeds.  Remember to also plant hummingbird plants.  I already have hummers flying around my columbine, larkspur, salvias, Turks Cap and flame acanthus (anisacanthus quadrifidus).  Lantanas, petunias, plumbago, verbena and four o’clock are also hummingbird plants. Q: Is there a way to learn about drip irrigation? A: Check with your County AgriLife Extension agent.  He can provide information.

May 2013 Q & A: What annual flowers should I plant? Is it too late to plant vegetables? How do I manage my strawberry plants? Which is the best variety fig to plant?

Mexican Sunflower

Mexican Sunflower

Q:  What flowers should go in now that will do well over the summer? I don’t want perennials in this bed because I will replace the summer flowers with fall bloomers. A:  My favorites include cosmos and tithonia (Mexican sunflower).  Other warm season flowers include marigold, periwinkles, portulaca, purslane, salvia, petunias, sunflowers, verbena, and, of course, another one of my favorites, zinnias.  If you don’t like the idea of replacing every season, plant something that remains green in the winter and flowers in the summer like skullcap (scutellaria). Q:  Is it too late to plant vegetables? A:  Tomato, pepper, and eggplant transplants can still be purchased.  If the tomato plants are large enough, you should still be able to have tomatoes before the nights get too warm.  Okra can be planted until July 15 according to Dr. Jerry Parsons in his spring planting chart for the San Antonio area.  Pumpkins can be planted now until June 15.  Summer spinach (New Zealand and Malabar) can be planted until June 1.  If you just want the greens, turnips can be planted until May 20. Q:  My strawberries have finished bearing.  What do I do with the plants? A:  According to both Texas A&M AgriLife Extension and John Dromgoole, the organic gardening expert with Ladybug products, strawberries here in Texas are an annual crop–plant in the fall, pull up when the plant stops producing.  Strawberries are difficult to grow here because they are sensitive to water quality, poor soils, diseases and nematodes.  Both A&M and Dromgoole suggest June bearing plants rather than ever bearing plants (plants recommended are Chandler, Seascape, and Sequoia).  All of this said, however, it doesn’t hurt to try to hold the plants over (they really are perennial).  Mine are in their third year.  When they make runners after fruiting, I root the runners and they become new plants.  My largest parent plants look a little ratty right now, so will probably discard them and keep the younger ones.  I started with one plant three years ago and now have six with all six producing.  My neighbor grows his in a large raised bed with drip irrigation.  I have mine in pots where I have to remember to water.  However, by growing in pots I can control the soil.  (I replace it every year to keep the salinity down and hopefully the alkalinity.)  If you have space, experiment by holding your plants over another year.  You haven’t lost anything by trying. Q:  Everyone’s fig trees look so great this spring.  What kind should I have? A:  My favorite is the Celeste.  It is a smaller fig, brown to purple and is the most cold hardy.  It ripens in mid-June and grows well here. It is also a closed-end variety, which you will appreciate if you were raised around open-end varieties full of wasps.  Do not prune a mature Celeste heavily.  This reduces the crop because fruit is produced primarily on this season’s wood.

April 2013 Q &A: Is it time to fertilize? Can I use weed and feed? How short can I mow my lawn? I don’t have room for a garden. What can I plant in a pot?

Q: Is it time to fertilize? Can I use weed and feed? A: Doug Welsh, in his Texas Garden Almanac, is particularly adamant about not using weed and feed fertilizer because the timing for weed control and feeding is so different. Spring lawn fertilizer is put out in the spring after you have mowed a couple of times, while summer weed control herbicides are applied in late winter (February for here). Fall fertilizing is done after the first frost and the lawn has stopped growing which is usually mid October through November, while pre-emergent herbicides are applied in August or September. Post emergent herbicides can’t tell the difference between a weed and a tree or shrub. Welsh suggests that if your lawn is properly mowed, fertilized and watered, weeds are seldom a major problem. In fact, my husband carefully sprays a dot of glyphosate in the center of dandelions to take care of our lawn weed problem. Over a period of five years we have finally eliminated grass burs by digging each plant before we mow. The first year was terribly back breaking. Now, however, there are only a few near our neighbor’s yard. Q: How short can I mow my lawn? A: According to Welsh, the optimal height for common Bermuda is one to three inches (or three fourth inch to two inches for hybrid Bermuda). The height for St. Augustine grass is three to four inches. Make sure you have a mulching lawn mower. Those grass clippings decompose rapidly and provide nutrients for your lawn. Mowing at the highest recommended height helps your lawn withstand heat and drought. Taller heights develop deeper root systems. Q: I don’t have room for a garden. What can I plant in a pot? selection of herbs growing in potsA: This is a question I get frequently. Almost anything will grow in a pot as long as you remember to water. Some of my bigger pots (the blueberries) are hooked up to my automatic drip irrigation system. My Mexican lime is near the house so I have to remember. Tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, cucumbers and squash (with a trellis), broccoli and many others will all grow well in pots. You must have 6 to 8 hours of sun. My pots are on the east side of the deck so do well. If you are still wary of planting vegetables, why not try herbs. They are useful as well as beautiful. In fact, my culinary sage is in full bloom right now. Other herbs that can be planted now are different types of basil, chives, garlic chives, dill (also a good butterfly larva plant), Mexican mint marigold (use instead of tarragon or anise), Mexican oregano, many different mints, oregano, rosemary, sage, and thyme. I have my sweet bay laurel in the ground, but my daughter-in-law has hers in a pot and it does just fine. I always keep a pot of parsley near the house for instant use. At a meeting recently someone made a dish of tabbouleh which had chopped parsley, mint, tomatoes, and green onion; this was mixed with olive oil, lemon and cracked wheat. Delicious!

March 2013 Q & A:  Is it too late to prune? Is it spring yet? Is it time to divide fall-blooming perennials? What is best to plant in a kid’s garden?

Q: Is it too late to prune? I’ve really been much too busy this spring.

A: The best time to prune, according to Doug Welsh in his Texas Garden Almanac, is in winter just before spring growth begins. That said, sometimes we have to do what needs to be done no matter what. I was really late pruning roses last year (like never). Consequently I made things much harder on myself this year. So here are some loose rules from Texas A&M. Prune flowering shrubs that bloom in spring within a month after flowering. Prune summer flowering shrubs before new growth starts. Remember that for some plants, you should prune only for shape as too much taken off will affect next season’s blooms. Dead wood should be pruned. My hamelia (fire bush) froze to the ground as usual so all of that can be cut back. The esperanza by the house I took half down. The one in the back yard which froze I took to the ground. Q: We just moved here. How do we know when spring is here and we can plant?

Texas Mountain Laurel

A: Old timers say spring is here when the mesquite trees leaf out. Others say when the wildflowers bloom. Red bud trees, bluebonnets, phlox and mountain laurel are blooming now. Trees and shrubs can still be planted before the heat sets in. Tomatoes can be planted now if you use hot caps or some other protection. If you are really nervous about planting early, at least transplant the little tomato into a one gallon pot to give it a head start. The reason we try to plant tomatoes as early as possible (according to AgriLife Extension professor Dr. Joe Masabni) is that around here tomato plants stop setting fruit by early July because night temperatures are then in the mid 70s. High night temperatures and high relative humidity cause the pollen grains of the tomato flower to burst so then there is no pollination. Q: When do I divide my fall blooming perennials? A: Now is the time to divide fall blooming perennials as well as ornamental grasses. Make sure that new green growth is coming from the ornamental grass plant base before you cut back dead foliage. Q: I understand that tomato prices might go up this year; also I worry about pesticide residue on vegetables. I want my children and family to grow at least some of our produce. What can we plant in the kids’ garden that will do well? A: Tomatoes are a good choice and children really like picking cherry tomatoes. Yellow or zucchini squash grow well from seed as do pumpkins. Plant some bush varieties of beans, and if you have a fence, plant some pole beans. The yard long bean types do wonderfully well. If you have room, let the kids plant some sunflowers–the flowers are pretty and the seeds are tasty. Plus, I always have a row or two of carrots for my grandkids.

February 2013 Q & A: How and when to prune Satsuma, other citrus trees, and roses? Is it time to plant seedlings? What can you tell me about Damianita?

Q: My Satsuma tree has reached the top of my house. Can I prune it? What about other citrus? A: According to Dr. Julian Sauls, a Texas A&M horticulturist, the best time to hedge and top is during the cooler months, after harvest but prior to bloom because the timing is compatible with early, midseason and navel oranges. Grapefruit trees are a problem, however, because the harvest is rarely completed before spring bloom, so you will end up sacrificing part of your un-harvested crop or sacrificing some of next year’s crop. Dr. Sauls says that it doesn’t matter whether the pruning is conducted before or after the bloom, as the results will be about the same–reduction in production during the season following pruning. However, if the branches are on your house, they must be pruned. Plus, you need to keep your tree a size that you can reach the fruit, and be able to cover it if we have a really bad freeze. If your citrus is in a pot, you need to prune to maintain a balanced shape. If your container isn’t getting enough sun, the branches become leggy. Prune these back to encourage side branching and a more compact growth of the top. Remember, you need 8 to 10 hours of direct sun daily. Q: When is it time to prune roses? A: Doug Welsh says to prune modern hybrid roses heavily each year two to three weeks before spring growth begins (about February 14). Prune each bush back to a height of 18 to 24 inches. Old fashioned roses, however, should be pruned to fit the landscape–about one-third of the plant’s height. If you need “how to prune” information, Peggy Jones, our Master Gardener rose lady, will be talking twice in February. She will be speaking at the Gonzales County MG office, 623 Fair Street, February 12 at 6:30 p.m.; she will also be speaking February 19 at the Santa Clara City Hall at 6:30 p.m. Q: Can I start planting my seedling flats now? A: San Antonio’s last average freeze date is March 6. You can start your flats now, and maybe even have time to transplant them to four inch pots before it is time to plant. Be sure to plant tomatoes. Looks like tomato prices are going to go up. Damianita in full bloomQ: I saw that the NICE (Natives Instead of Common Exotics) plants for the first quarter of 2013 include a pretty plant with yellow daisy like flowers. Can you tell me something about Damianita Chrysactinia mexicana? A: Damianita, a member of the aster family, is a 1 to 2 foot aromatic shrub with yellow composite flowers. The Wildflower Center says that this evergreen perennial is very drought tolerant. It blooms in spring and on and off through September. The shrub grows in most soils, including caliche, smells good (both flowers and foliage), and is deer resistant. Provide good drainage.

January 2013 Q & A: Is it time to plant roses and bare root fruit trees? What harvest will my winter garden continue to yield?

Q: Can I plant roses this time of year? A: Roses can be planted almost year round according to Doug Welsh, Extension horticulturist. If you plant the dormant packaged roses now, they will be blooming by late spring. Potted roses can be planted any time; however, remember that summertime planting of anything is hard on a plant. My roses outside my window as I write this have been through three freezes and look great. They are not blooming, but the leaves are green and that is a plus this time of year. If you want a large robust bush, plant the Mutabilis rose. It has been around since 1894, and has lovely blooms that range from yellow to orange to pink to reddish. It does get big so leave enough space. We have one on the east side of the Extension building that is taking over its area. Q: The nursery has bare root fruit trees. Should I save them in a pot for spring? A: Plant them now because their root system will have a chance to get established before spring growth and before the heat of the summer. I can personally recommend several crops that you should plant. Figs do wonderfully here as do persimmons. Blueberries also do well with almost no diseases or insects (in fact, our main problem was keeping the mockingbirds out of the bushes). Blueberries do need to be planted in pots of peat, however, as our soils are not acidic. My three bushes are about nine years old and have been repotted three or four times into larger pots. Remember that most apples, pears, and plums need cross pollination by another variety. Also, it is important that peaches, plums, apples and pears have a certain number of chilling hours (between 32 degrees F. and 45 degrees F.) in order to end their dormancy and produce blooms. Your local nursery man will know which variety is good for your area. I’m afraid that we won’t have enough chilling hours for my plum trees this year.

Blueberries ripening on bush

Courtesy of Clara Mae Marcotte

Q: I’ve cut the heads off of most of my broccoli plants. Can I pull them up now? What else can be in the winter garden? A: Broccoli plants put out small auxiliary heads around where the main head was. Leave your plant in the ground until you get tired of broccoli. This winter has been great for cos or Romaine lettuce. I keep cutting the outer leaves and new ones form. My kohlrabi is almost big enough to eat, we’ve gotten lots of bok choy leaves for our salad, and we’ve eaten a few snow peas. This is my first year for planting leeks so do not know when they will be ready to eat, although the literature says 100 to 120 days or one to two inches in diameter. Mine are about the size of multiplying onions right now. I guess this means that they will be ready by the end of February. My onion plants are planted and my beets are looking good.

December 2012 Q & A: Will a Norfolk Island pine grow in our area? Do I have enough time to plant an Amaryllis for holiday gifting? What are critical garden tasks this month?

Q: A friend has given me a small decorated Norfolk Island pine for the holidays. Can I grow it outside when Christmas is over? A: This cute tree is definitely not for our area. High temperatures will burn the needles; low temperatures of 30 to 32 degrees can kill the growing tip, and below 25 degrees can cause heavy freeze damage, according to Doug Welsh. When I lived in Kingsville, my son gave his teacher a small Norfolk Island pine. She planted it in a protected courtyard where it grew to over thirty feet and lived for many years. We are 159 miles above Kingsville (more chances for colder temperatures), but you could try planting it outside. Just don’t get too attached. amarylllis bloomQ: Do I still have time to start amaryllis bulbs for blooming holiday gifts? A: Yes, you do if you hurry. And even if you start late, I personally love watching the leaves and bloom spike come out of the pot. Buy a bulb and plant it in a small pot of decent potting soil. Have the top end of the bulb (the pointy end) sticking up out of the soil about one inch. Add water and bright light. The Galveston County Master Gardeners are a bit more specific. They say to pot your amaryllis bulb in a container six inches wide and eight to ten inches deep with a drainage hole. Put a layer of pebbles on the bottom of the pot; then fill it half full with moist potting mix. Place the bulb root side down with the pointed end up on top of the soil. The upper third of the bulb should be above the rim of the container. Add more potting mix between the bulb and container; water thoroughly. Put the container in a warm location and keep the soil slightly moist. After the first growth appears, move the container to a sunny spot. Blooms will appear six to eight weeks after planting. In the spring, plant the bulb in your garden and you will have it for many years. Q: I am looking forward to resting this winter and doing nothing outside. Is there anything I really have to keep up with in my yard? A: If you have a vegetable garden, don’t forget to keep watering and fertilizing. The winter garden is always my best garden. My neighbor put in a cover crop of Elbon rye for the fallow part of his garden. The colder weather is also a great time to pull weeds. When plants freeze, do not cut them back until the spring. (Sometimes we get warm days during the winter and, if the plants have been cut back, they might be tempted to sprout new tender growth which could freeze.) Mow your lawn to keep down the winter weeds. By this time, your tomato plants are already moved to your porch or garage. Be prepared to cover freeze sensitive plants.

November 2012 Q & A:  What is the difference between edible and ornamental kale?  Can I plant fall asters now?

ornamental kale in landscapeQ: What is the difference between flowering kale and the kale we eat? A: It is the same genus and species and is genetically the same as the kind we grow in vegetable gardens to eat. The flowering version was developed by growers for the foliage colors. It is basically still edible but most cooks just use the leaves to garnish a dish. Kale is a form of cabbage in which the central leaves do not form a head. Nurseries carry various types of ornamental kale. The three leaf types, according to Kathie Carter of the Botany Plant Sciences Department of the University of California Riverside, are crinkle edged, feather leaved and round leaved. Each kind comes with red, pink or creamy white centers. I’ve just finished planting two types for contrast around my front bed: green with white center and dark purplish green with red center. We treat ornamental kale as an annual, but it is really a biennial. Carter suggests planting kale in full sun October through November, ten to twelve inches apart. The plants thrive in cold weather, and, if acclimatized to the cold, can withstand temperatures as low as five degrees F. If you start seeing holes in the leaves, remember that the same bugs that like cabbage and kale also like ornamental kale. Cabbage loopers and cabbage worms can be spotted on the underside of the leaves and can be easily mashed. Q: I see fall aster blooming by the side of road. Can I buy it in the nursery now? A: All our area nurseries are carrying fall aster right now as it is one of the NICE! recommended plants for this quarter. NICE! (Natives Instead of Common Exotics) is the program promoted by the Guadalupe and Comal Chapters of the Native Plant Society of Texas. Fall aster (Aster oblongifolium) grows two to three feet tall and is a great perennial for this area. It freezes to the ground in winter but will come back in the spring. You need to trim the plant to the rosette at the base of the plant in early spring. Baby plants form around the outside of the base. The NPSOT recommends dividing the clumps of plants every third year. Fall aster is very drought tolerant once it develops deep roots. After the new plant is placed in the ground, you should water well with a root stimulator. Then, for the first three months, water the plant when the top two to three inches of soil is dry. Plants can be grown in well-drained rocky, calcareous or sandy soils in full sun. The flowers attract butterflies. NOTE: Don’t forget to put a cutting of basil in a jar of water on your window sill before the first freeze for use during the winter.

October 2012 Q & A: When to plant pansies, snapdragons, calendula; fertilize the lawn; and, plant onions.  Grass with pink feather seed heads is identified and tips for using fallen leaves.

Q: When can I plant pansies, snapdragons, and calendula? A: October is a good month. In fact, plant a few petunias now, and if they hold through a mild winter, they will be beautiful in the spring. Now is also the time to go to the nursery and look at landscape shrubs if you are in the market for some with berries. My American beautyberry is beautiful right now. My yaupon is also showing red. The possomhaw is starting to turn as is the Burford holly. If you are planning to buy nandina (although it can be invasive), make sure that the variety you buy has the fall red leaves. Q: Is it time for the last lawn fertilizer application? A: Doug Welsh’s Texas Garden Almanac gives us a rough rule, and that is not to fertilize until you don’t need to mow for two weeks. This makes it around October 15 for Central Texas. Welsh’s reason for fall fertilization is that it prolongs fall color, increases winter hardiness, and helps give an earlier spring green-up. Fall fertilizers can be high in nitrogen and potassium with no phosphorus, such as 2-0-2 or 1-0-1, at the rate of one pound of actual nitrogen per 1,000 square feet. Use a combination of quick and slow release forms. Q: Is it too late to plant onions? A: Onions are fine as well as a lot of our fall vegetables. If you’ve missed the last date for seeds, then transplants are fine. Don’t forget to put in some flowering kale in your front flower bed. I planted acorn squash early and already have tennis ball sized fruit. Among seeds that can still be planted are beets, carrots, lettuce, mustard, onions, parsley, spinach, and turnips. If you still have basil growing in your garden, before the first freeze (Nov. 4 this past year) harvest a stem and place it on your kitchen window sill for the winter (and it will root).

photo of Gulf Muhly

Gulf Muhly

Q: What is the grass I see in people’s yards with pretty pink feathery seed heads? A: This time of year you are looking at Gulf or Coastal muhly. It grows one and a half to two feet tall and blooms in the fall. Gulf muhly is recommended by the Native Plant Society in their NICE program (Natives Instead of Common Exotics) and all of our local nurseries in this area carry it. Other fall color grasses are Indiangrass (golden brown), inland sea oats (oat heads), little bluestem (blue green foliage turns copper), sideoats grama (looks like oats), and switchgrass (foliage turns orange). Q: Remind me again what to do with my fallen leaves. A: If you only have a small layer of leaves on the lawn, mow them in place. If you have a heavy layer use the leaves as mulch in the vegetable garden between the rows, or as a walkway. Build a compost pile. Save the bags and call a gardening friend because most of us who garden do not have enough leaves for our compost. Do not throw the leaves in our landfills.

September 2012 Q & A:  Is it time to plant wildflowers and winter vegetables?

Q: Is it too soon to plant wildflowers for spring blooms? A: According to Doug Welsh in his Texas Garden Almanac, for our area September and October are the best times to plant wildflower seeds. In fact, my bluebonnets are already starting to come up from last year. Welsh suggests buying a wildflower mix with 15 to 20 species and planting it at a rate of one-fourth pound per 500 square feet. Master Gardeners planted the front of Guadalupe County’s AgriLife building with a Texas mixture of wildflower seeds from a seed company in Junction. In the spring, our MG wildflower display is wonderful–and it reseeds every year. Another really good wildflower seed company is in Fredericksburg. For smaller wildflower plots, our local nurseries have packets of seed mixtures. The best way to grow seeds is to remove all vegetation and till one inch deep (or lightly till your existing buffalo grass or Bermuda grass lawn). Mix the seed mix with sand at one part seed to four parts sand. Spread seed mixture over your area. Tamp down with your feet or a roller. Water lightly. Unless we are in a drought, natural rainfall is enough. The Wildflower Center in Austin lists “10 Ways to Ruin Your Wildflowers” on their website. 1. Too much or too little water; 2. Ignore the soil. (Rather than bare soil, enrich your soil with a compost low in nitrogen and phosphorous). 3. Pair plants that don’t get along. (Bluebonnets don’t like to compete with other plants.) 4. Tiptoeing through the bluebonnets. (Don’t.) 5. Ignore the wildflower area outside of wildflower season. (Mowing is a way to maintain your meadow by keeping the grasses at bay.) 6. Using fertilizer, insecticides and fungicides. (Don’t do it.) 7. Poor mowing regimen. (Wait to mow until at least half the plants have dropped their seeds. I know you can agree with the Wildflower Center here because we have all seen what happens when the highway department mows too soon.) 8. Burying your wildflower patch in mulch. (Not if you want them to reseed.) 9. Ignoring place and time. (Too sunny, too shady, planting wrong time of year.) 10. Choosing plants designed to kill. (Don’t put allopathic plants near your wildflower patch.) photo of broccoli and cauliflowerQ: Is it time for winter vegetables? What else can be planted now? A: Vegetable plants are already in the nurseries, including cabbage, kale, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and bok choy. As an experiment, I planted acorn squash 3 or 4 weeks ago to see if they will make fruit before the first freeze. My fall tomato plants already have baby fruit. Start thinking about planting new trees and shrubs. We’re coming up to the time of the year when they like to be planted.

August 2012 Q & A: What’s wrong with my crape myrtle? Are the pears ripe? Is it time to prune roses for fall?

crape myrtle with cercospora leaft spotQ: I have yellow orange leaves on my crape myrtle. Is something wrong? A: From the description it seems to be Cercospora leaf spot which is a fungus and can result in heavy autumn leaf loss. It starts as round brown spots about ¼ inch across on the leaf surface. The spots eventually enlarge, turning the leaves bright red or yellow, which then fall off. The spots start near the base of the plant and spreads through the canopy to the younger growth. The leaves then fall prematurely and serve as a source of inoculum for spreading the pathogen and further disease development. Because of this, you should rake and destroy the fallen leaves. The Alabama Cooperative Extension System recommends choosing fungus-resistant cultivars, spacing the plants widely, and applying fungicide at 1 to 2 week intervals after spotting appears. Of course if you already have a particular cultivar, you are left with the spraying. The use of fungicides to control this disease has not been very effective because they would have to be applied repeatedly throughout the growing season. Getting adequate coverage on larger crape myrtles is also a problem. Clemson University Extension Service suggests you thin the interior branches to promote air flow because good air circulation helps the foliage to dry quickly. Even though we aren’t getting much rain, the weekly watering from the sprinkler is getting the foliage wet. I had this problem last summer also, but the turning color and the leaf drop sort of blended into fall when the leaves were going to drop anyway. Q: When do I know if pears are ripe? A: I am assuming you have an Oriental hybrid (Orient, Kieffer, Warren, and Garber) since when I bought mine at a local nursery, that was the choice. Oriental hybrid pears do not ripen well on the tree. You can pick them when they turn from hard to firm (think “softball” hardness) and when the color has changed slightly from green to yellow (according to my Master Gardener handbook). Harvest maturity in Texas happens in August and September. Ripen the pears in the coolest part of your house in a well ventilated area. Then refrigerate the fruit until you finish eating it. Aggie-horticulture suggests you first refrigerate unripe pears as near 32 degrees F as possible and then ripen as desired. I had to pick my pears too early because the mockingbirds had started pecking on each pear and I was losing them so I am not sure whether they will ever ripen. I did eat one, but it didn’t have its full sugar and was crunchy like an apple. Q: When do I start pruning my rose bushes for fall? A: Doug Welsh says prune roses in mid August, but don’t prune as heavily as you did in February–maybe just 25 percent. After pruning, you should fertilize with nitrogen. After some water and mulch, you are ready for fall blooms.

July 2012 Q & A:  How to control grasshoppers; water plants and garden while on vacation; and, is it time to start a fall garden?

closeup photo of grasshpper headQ: Help! I have giant grasshoppers and they are eating everything. What can I do? A: If they are already huge, then Doug Welsh in his Texas Garden Almanac suggests two bricks. The grasshopper is one of those insects that you need to control when they are small. Insecticide that can be used when they are half inch size does not work well when they are huge. A&M suggests row cover material to protect your plants. Colorado State suggests poultry. (They also mention that coyotes eat grasshoppers, although coyotes in your garden really are not a good thing.) In Seguin, most of us are located near open fields and this is where the grasshoppers are breeding. Howard Garrett and Malcolm Beck in Texas Bug Book list natural control such as blister beetles, ground beetles, predatory flies, parasitic flies and birds. Their organic control is floating row cover or biological control such as Nosema locustae or Beauvaria bassiana. They also suggest spraying plants with kaolin clay at night because grasshoppers don’t usually fly then. Q: We are going on vacation. What should I do to keep my plants alive till I come back? A: Watering can be set up automatically. Irrigate everything before you go. Set your sprinkler so that it will water on your watering day (use a timer if you don’t have in-ground irrigation.) Put the drip irrigation in your garden on a timer also. Indoor plants should be moved outside in the shade where the sprinkler system can water them. If they are not plants that will stand up to this, Welsh suggests putting them in your bathtub and watering them heavily (two to three times the amount you normally use). In a bright and sunlit bathroom, the plants can go a week without more water. I usually have all my potted plants, both indoors and out, on the porch in one area where a neighbor can water them easily. Welsh suggests mowing and trimming your lawn at its normal height the day before you leave. Then make arrangements for someone to mow again a week later. He also suggests weeding, mulching, pruning and harvesting before you go, but if I did that, I would be too tired to go on vacation. Q: Is July really when I should start my fall garden? A: Yes, particularly if you want tomatoes before the first frost. If you plant vegetables from seed, allow 2 months from the seed to the beginning of harvest for beets, broccoli, cauliflower, collard greens, kohlrabi, lettuce, mustard greens, spinach, Swiss chard and turnips. Three months from seed to the beginning of harvest includes the vegetables Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, onions, acorn and butternut squash. I usually buy transplants for my winter garden so that I don’t have to worry about the vegetables quite so early. Our first fall frost for San Antonio is November 28 according to Doug Welsh and November 25 in the Farmers Almanac. However, last year in Seguin November 4 was 32 degrees.

June 2012 Q & A: How to protect tomatoes from birds; attract hummingbirds; and, reduce landscape water use?

Q: What can I do to keep my tomatoes from being pecked by the birds? A: You can pick the tomato early and ripen it indoors. This doesn’t seem quite right, but Doug Welsh in his Texas Garden Almanac says that as soon as the bottom or blossom end of the tomato turns from green to white with a tinge of red, it is fully mature and will ripen indoors. (You could also cover the plant with netting.) humming bird drinking from Hummingbird bush bloomQ: I want hummingbirds in my garden but do not want to be bothered with cleaning and filling hummingbird feeders. What can I plant to attract them? A: I watched a hummingbird this morning making the rounds of my different salvia plants. He also likes another one of my favorite plants, Flame anisacanthus (sometimes called Hummingbird bush). This perennial grows well in this area. Other plants include columbine, four-o’clock (remember that it can be invasive), honeysuckle, lantana, larkspur, petunia, plumbago and verbena. My Mexican oregano is in bloom and the hummingbird also went to it. (I went on the Internet to find the real name of Mexican oregano and found two different plants named this. Mine turns out to be Poliomintha longiflora and has purple tubular flowers. It is also sometimes called rosemary mint.) Q: Summer is here. What can I do to reduce my water use in the landscape? A: You can do a number of things. Hopefully you have already chosen appropriate plants. Plants native and adapted to our area will have lower irrigation requirements than most plants that we bring into our area. Some plants that use low water include Texas mountain laurel, Texas sage or cenizo, esperanza, firebush, rosemary and salvias. Another way to reduce water usage is to get rid of hard-to-water lawn areas, like that narrow strip between the sidewalk and the street. It is really hard to water that area efficiently without runoff. A friend of mine planted her strip with heavily mulched native plants. Another good water use is using drip irrigation to water your flower beds. If you haven’t set up your drip irrigation system, do it now. There are books and pamphlets that tell you how to put it in. Running it can be as simple as turning on your hose for a certain amount of time, or even hooking up a timer which will turn on the hose for you. Another water saver is to use mulch wherever you can and to pull up weeds. Mulch reduces moisture loss from the soil. Weeds compete against your plants and lawn for water. Remember to keep your trees watered this summer. Apply slowly running water at the drip line of the tree, than move the hose around the tree. An easier way is to take 15 gallon buckets, drill an eighth inch hole at one side very close to the bottom, place on the tree’s drip line, and fill with water. The water runs slowly out and waters the tree.

May 2012 Q & A: Why do Mexican lime leaves curl? What is available in farmers’ markets now? What summer flowers to plant now? How to deter critters from eating my fruit and vegetables?

Mexican Sunflower

Q: What is causing my Mexican lime leaves to curl? A: Both Aggie-horticulture and a University of Florida website suggest aphid damage. Control for this is a strong water spray, or a spray of insecticidal soap. Both websites agree that the damage is not serious. My Mexican lime also has leaf curl. I’ve sprayed and will spray again in two weeks. Remember that aphids pierce the leaves and feed on the plant sap. Another possibility is citrus leaf miner damage. However, you should be able to see the squiggly lines in the leaf. Control for leaf miner is a spray of horticulture oil which will interfere with the fly’s ability to lay eggs into the leaf, but remember how hot it is here. You could burn your leaves. As with everything else, read the directions on the bottle first before you use it and follow the directions. Q: I would like to buy local Texas fruit and vegetables as much as possible. What produce is available in May? A: Much of the produce is available for several months. I know that my blueberries are getting ripe now and I will have them into June. Other fruits available in May are blackberries, peaches, plums and strawberries. Vegetables include green beans, cabbage, cantaloupe, sweet corn, cucumber, greens, honeydew, onions, southern pea, peppers, potato, tomato and watermelon. My tomatoes are quite large, but still green. My squash is half size. I am still harvesting Swiss chard and almost all of my herbs. Q: What flowers should go in now that will do well over the summer? A: My favorites include cosmos and tithonia (Mexican sunflower). Other warm season flowers include marigold, periwinkles, Portulaca, Purslane, salvia, petunias, sunflowers, verbena, and, of course, another one of my favorites, zinnias. Q: In past years squirrels and other animals and insects ate my figs and other fruit and vegetables. What can I do this year? A: Buy fruit netting and drape it over the tree or plant, down to the ground. Overlap the edges. I keep my blueberry bushes well covered because one year we watched a mockingbird sit in a bush and eat one after another of the ripe blueberries. For insects and cutworms, the best defense is hand collection (this is assuming you have a small garden). Every morning when I take out my kitchen scraps for the compost, I walk up and down the rows of vegetables checking for bugs and worms. I actually tried using a row cover when I planted this spring. This did not work because my cat thought it was a cat hammock and collapsed it over the plants. If you must use a pesticide, Doug Welsh, in his Texas Garden Almanac, says to use the least toxic, effective pesticide labeled for the job. (Read the bottle and follow the directions.) In fact, start with a strong spray of water. A lot of those bugs get washed off and can’t find their way back.

April 2012 Q & A:  Best fertilizer for gardenia? Fragrant vines for our region? How to eliminate grass burs in lawn? Best mowing height for turf? What is critical garden task this month?

Q: I would like to fertilize my gardenia. What should I use? A: I looked all around various Aggie-horticulture Internet sites. One suggestion was to excavate some soil from the planting bed and replace it with a mix of two-thirds sphagnum peat moss and one-third washed Builders sand or potting mix. Be sure that this planting location receives morning sun and afternoon shade to insure success. Water with an acid-based water-soluble fertilizer (such as Miracid, Miracle Grow or Peters 20-20-20) every week. Another suggestion was to use cottonseed meal which is frequently used for fertilizing acid loving plants such as azaleas and gardenias. According to one source, as a fertilizer, cottonseed meal is slightly acid in reaction. Formulas vary slightly, but generally contain 6 percent nitrogen, 3 percent phosphorus, and 2 percent potash. Nutrients in cottonseed meal are more readily available to plants in warm soils, and there is little danger of burn. Mulch the plant with compost containing manure and pine needles which will help maintain the acidity in the soil as the compost breaks down. Q: What are some fragrant vines for this area? A: The Confederate jasmine is one of my favorites. When it is blooming, the smell is almost overpowering. We had one by the front door and really enjoyed its spring bloom. Two climbing roses are suggested for Texas landscapes: the Mermaid rose (Rosa x bractaeta) and Rosa x fortuniana. According to the Antique Rose Emporium, Mermaid is a species; it has repeated blooming (instead of once in the spring), and has been around since 1918. Q: Last year I had grass burs in my lawn. How do I get rid of them this year? A: If you did not use a pre emergent herbicide, then you should be prepared to hand pull. After five years, our lawn is practically grass bur free. I can walk across it in my bare feet. Keeping your lawn fertilized, watered and mowed regularly will encourage a high quality lawn in which grass burs do not really like to grow. What has worked for my husband and me is for me to flag each grass bur plant. Then my husband comes along with a weed puller and removes the plant. I seem to be able to spot the plants better. Q: What is the right height for my grass? A: Keep your St. Augustine grass around 3 to 4 inches and your Bermuda grass around 2 to 3 inches. Q: What is the most important thing to do this month that you can suggest? A: If you haven’t put drip irrigation into your vegetable garden and your flower beds, do it now. Another important item is to put a rain barrel underneath your downspout. My husband is revising my downspout to include a cleaning feature so that the water going into the rain barrel will not have roof gravel.

March 2012 Q & A:  When to fertilize trees?  Best flower trees for our region?  Should I use weed-n-feed products on my turf grass?

Q: Should I be fertilizing my trees? A: According to Doug Welsh, professor and extension horticulturist, yes you should. He suggests applying a granular fertilizer in late winter following a formula of one to two pounds of actual nitrogen per 1,000 square feet of area covered by the tree canopy or shrub planting. He follows this with a second application in mid spring if the plant growth is not significant. If you are using urea (45-0-0)), you need 2 pounds of nitrogen fertilizer to get 1 pound of actual nitrogen per 1,000 square feet. If you are using ammonium sulfate (21-0-0), you need 5 pounds of nitrogen fertilizer to get 1 pound of actual nitrogen per 1000 square feet. Blood meal (14-0-0), 7 pounds; bat guano (10-0-0), 10 pounds. Welsh says to apply the fertilizer evenly around the tree and then water it in to a depth of at least 6 inches to drive the nitrogen down to the feeding-root system. Q: I love the flowering trees that we are seeing this spring. What types will grow in the Seguin area so that I can plant them for next year? A: That rich dark green tree with purple clusters that smell like grape Kool-Aid is a Texas mountain laurel or Sophora secundiflora. It really grows well here (although slowly) without many problems or pests (the Genista moth larvae is one pest). Both the Eastern redbud and the Mexican redbud grow here. The Eastern (Cercis Canadensis) is best adapted to the eastern half of Texas, although I have one in my backyard that is about 20 feet high and blooms every year. The Mexican (Cercis Canadensis var. Mexicana) is more of a shrub. I love the glossy foliage after it has finished blooming. It has bloomed every year for me ever since it was a baby. The Mexican plum (Prunus Mexicana) and the Mexican buckeye (Ungnadia speciosa) are both natives that do well here. I have one of each and both grow and bloom although mine aren’t particularly showy. I think it is because they are both in too much shade. Q: I am getting ready to buy my spring fertilizer and have been looking at the weed-and-feed types. Are they okay for my lawn? A: Most of the literature on the Texas A&M aggie-horticulture website say to never use weed-and-feed because of the possible damage to your ornamentals and because you would use it before the appropriate time. The time to apply pre-emergent herbicides to kill weeds here is in late winter; the time to fertilize is not until we are well into spring after your second or third mowing when the grass is actively growing. Apply herbicides separately and specific to the weed to be controlled and the turf grass in which weeds are growing. Weed and feed type products can stress some turf grasses, especially St. Augustine, and can damage tree roots, particularly young trees. Remember, broad leaf herbicides cannot differentiate between broad leaf weeds and your landscape trees and shrubs.

whole and sliced figsFebruary 2012  Q & A:  Which Fruit Trees grow in our region and can I plant now?  What should I be doing in the garden/yard this month?

Q: Is it too late to plant fruit trees? A: You can still plant fruit trees. All the nurseries have them available. If you are having trouble making up your mind as to which type to plant, here is a list from Doug Welsh in his Texas Garden Almanac. He ranks fruit crops from the least to the most difficult to grow: blackberries, blueberries (in East Texas, or here if you want to plant them in large containers of peat), figs, citrus, pears, pecans, grapes, persimmons, apples, plums, and peaches. Welsh takes a number of factors into account: their adaptation to Texas soils, winter chilling requirements, varieties adapted to our climate, susceptibility to insects and diseases, ease of pest management, and the need for specialized training and pruning techniques. Personally, I’ve had lots of trouble with peach trees, while my fig, pear, and blueberries are practically trouble free. Make sure when you buy your tree to ask the nursery man how many chilling hours the tree requires and whether we get that many here. Chilling hours are the number of hours during which temperatures are below 45 degrees F. and above 32 degrees F. The chilling hours are needed for the tree to end its dormancy and have proper blooming and spring growth. Bexar County’s David Rodriguez says to look for varieties that take 550 to 650 chilling hours. The January 26 San Antonio paper announced that the USDA is changing its planting zone map because the country is warmer now. This will, no doubt, change the chilling zone chart also, so when you buy, keep down closer to the 550 range for chilling hour requirements. Q: What can I do in my garden in February? A: In my garden, you could pull weeds. Somehow henbit and clover is all over the place this year. Mow winter weeds in your lawn. This helps reduce their spread and improves the lawn for spring. We’ve been going around after this last rain pulling up dandelions. Don’t forget: before things get too busy in your garden, put in drip irrigation. You will be glad you did. February is also pruning month. Trees, shrubs, and vines need to be fertilized this month also. Remember that February can be very cold so keep an eye on your cold sensitive plants. For the first two weeks of February last year, the temperature was in the twenties every night and some days did not get over thirty. You should try seeds from one of the heritage seed companies. I have an order coming in this week with varieties I haven’t grown before, which I will plant inside so that the small herb and vegetables plants will be ready for my March garden.

January 2012 Q & A:  Which Pine Trees grow in our region?  What are the blue flowers that attract butterflies at Walnut Springs Park?

 

photo of two mature Afghan Pine trees

Afghan Pine

Q:  I grew up in Houston and I miss all those pine trees.  Are there any types of pine trees that will grow in the Seguin area? A:  I have an eight year old Aleppo pine that is about 50 feet tall and is doing quite well.  I bought it from a local nursery in 2003 as a potted Christmas tree.  After Christmas, I planted it in the ground in an area of sandy loam.  I haven’t done much to it except for watering and spraying for red spider once in a while.  The Texas Forest Service says that it tolerates salty soil or sea-spray, drought and alkaline soils. When I searched the aggie-horticulture website for pine trees, an article on growing Christmas trees in Texas appeared.  The two major varieties listed were Pinus virginia (Virginia pine) and the Pinus eldarica (Afghan pine), but only the Afghan pine is recommended for alkaline soils.  This tree is fast growing and will not tolerate wet sites so should be good for here. Other drought tolerant pines are the Mexican pinyon (Pinus cembroides) and the Pinyon pine (Pinus edulis).  Both tolerate alkaline soils but grow slowly.  They are both Texas natives.  The Lost Pines of Bastrop are Loblolly pines (Pinus taeda).  Possibly you could try growing one here as the tree also tolerates a wide range of site conditions and is a Texas native.

close up photo of blue Gregg"s Mist Flower blooms

Gregg’s Mist

Q:  I was impressed by the number of butterflies at Walnut Springs Park this summer and fall.  They seemed to be all over the plants with the blue flowers.  What were these plants?  I’d like to have them in my yard. A:  These plants were Conoclinium greggii or Eupatorium greggii which is also called Gregg’s mist flower or blue mist flower or palm leaf mist flower (according to the Wildflower Center’s website wildflower.org).  They certainly do attract butterflies (lots of Queen butterflies in the fall), and they act as larval hosts for Rawsons Metalmarks.  This plant in the Aster family blooms from March through November.  It is a good ground cover and spreads easily by the roots.  This Texas native is xeriscapic, salt tolerant, perennial, evergreen and has a high heat tolerance. Another plant that you might wish to plant in your yard for butterflies is the Echinacea purpurea or Purple Coneflower.  Echinacea is an evergreen perennial, a Texas native, deer resistant, xeriscapic, and will grow in full sun, and partial shade.  It has high heat tolerance and low water requirements.  Mine bloomed all spring through fall. The Mexican Butterfly Weed (Asclepias curassavica) is a larval host plant for the Monarch butterfly.  The larvae strip the leaves, but the plant does re-leaf.  This is another heat tolerant, low water plant that does well in our area. red amaryllis bloom photoDecember 2011 Q & A:  What to gift the gardener who has everything? Can a live Christmas tree be transplanted to the yard? Q: What can I buy for the gardener who has everything? A: Personally, I can never have too many amaryllis plants. Right now in the stores you can buy a planted bulb that has already started to grow. If you want to do it yourself, buy the bulb as well as a pretty pot. Put the bulb in good potting soil with the pointy end of the bulb sticking up out of the soil about one inch. Doug Welsh in his Texas Garden Almanac says that when you add water and bright indoor light, the plant growth will begin. Keep the soil moist but not saturated. Add a bow and you have a lovely present. Another garden gift that I’d like is a shaped rosemary tree. Every fall I remind myself to start growing a Christmas tree-shaped rosemary; every year I forget. Next year, though, I will. To do it yourself, just buy a small rosemary plant and keep shaping it with shears until it looks the way you want it. Give it as a gift and tell the recipient to plant the rosemary outside after the holidays. Perhaps the person you are buying for would like “labor” instead of a gift. Every gardener would be happy receiving “one week of weeding” or the “installation of drip irrigation” or the “building of a compost bin.” Q: Will my live Christmas tree transplant into my yard after Christmas? A: It depends on the variety of tree. A Norfolk Island pine will not do well here. According to Doug Welsh, it will burn in the summer and freeze in the winter. A friend of mine grew one in Kingsville and it did quite well. However, it was shielded by the house and shaded partly by surrounding trees. Seven years ago I had a living Christmas tree that was an Aleppo pine. It is now forty feet tall and seems to love the climate in Seguin. It does get red spider, though, and as it gets taller, it is getting harder and harder to spray. Doug Welsh recommends Nellie R. Stevens’ holly for our area, although I would think that holly would be too prickly for the house and for covering with ornaments. Other trees he recommends are the Arizona cypress, both the Deodar cedar and Eastern red cedar, Eldarica pine, Italian stone pine, and Leyland cypress. Several things should be remembered about having live trees in the house. First, keep your tree in the brightest natural light possible. Next, check the soil moisture every day with your finger. The soil should be moist but not saturated. Third, plant the tree outside as soon as possible (do not keep inside more than two or three weeks). The tree will then have the rest of the winter to get ready for our hot summer.

photo of a variety of Camellia bloomsNovember 2011 Q & A:  Are Camellias an appropriate choice for the Seguin area?

A:  According to Dr. William Welch, an AgriLife horticulturist, camellias are best grown in the eastern third of Texas.  There you get the best combination of acid soil, rainfall and temperature. Even there, camellias are likely to require more attention to watering, mulching and soil amendment than some gardeners are willing to provide.  He suggests that if you really want camellias, grow them as container plants in a soil mix that is about 1/2 sphagnum peat moss, 1/4 sharp builder’s sand, and 1/4 compost.  A friend of mine in Seguin does manage to grow a camellia on the north side of her house.  We conjecture that the surrounding oak trees provide oak leaf mulch which helps acidify the soil.  However, you are better off to plant shrubs that do well in this area such as Burford holly Earth Kind roses, cherry laurel, Texas mountain laurel, possumhaw, yaupon holly, and Texas sage or cenizo.  You can research shrubs on the website http://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/ Texas Sage is valued for its outstanding gray-green to silver-gray foliage and purple-pink flowers.  After that last rain we had, you can really spot the cenizo.  Some shrubs are just covered with flowers.  This semi-evergreen shrub is adapted to usage in much of the southern two thirds of Texas.  Occasional pruning will enhance the canopy density.  Be sure to plant cenizo in a well drained area because it is frequently killed by kindness (over irrigation).  The aggie-horticulture website says the shrub tends to become leggy with age.  My neighbor had good luck trimming his ten year old leggy cenizo.  Another friend left her sage leggy and shaped it like a large bonsai.  Both look fine.  Cenizo has high heat tolerance, low water requirements, high pest resistance and low fertilizer requirements. Burford holly is planted across my front windows.  The shrubs have glossy, dark green foliage.  Jerry Parsons describes the shrub as a very popular and widely used landscape holly which produces an excellent crop of berries each year.  Burford holly grows quite large, often reaching 10 to 15 feet, which makes my husband unhappy as he has to prune frequently (this, of course, is an occasion where researching and preplanning the location would have been better).  Plant out away from your house or plant a shorter variety. Earth Kind roses and antique roses make popular shrubs.  Many of the varieties such as Mutabilis (four to six feet high) look very nice as free-standing shrubs.  The nice thing about Earth Kind roses and antique roses is the easy care and fewer insect or disease problems.  Mine are almost care free except for deadheading and pruning.

October 2011 Q & A:  Root-knot nematodes.

photo of tomato plant with root-knot nematodesQ:  I’m afraid that I have nematodes.  My tomatoes and okra did not do well this spring and when I pulled them up, there were nodules all over the roots.  What should I do now? A:  As you have discovered, tomatoes and okra can be very susceptible to nematodes.  Crops that may be severely damaged are tomato, pepper, okra, watermelon, cantaloupe, onion, pumpkin, squash, sweet potato, sweet corn, carrot, eggplant, bean and pea.  Root-knot nematodes also feed and multiply on many garden weeds (which you need to know so that you can keep your garden free of weeds). According to the University of Arkansas Extension Service, certain varieties of common garden crops can be resistant to root-knot nematodes. So when you buy tomato plants, pepper plants, okra seed, bean seed or pea seed, read the variety label to see if it says anything about nematode resistance. The label may list the capital letters VFN. These letters indicate that the variety has resistance to certain diseases: V = Verticillium wilt resistant; F = Fusarium wilt resistant; and N = root-knot nematode resistant. The nematode resistance gene tends to be less effective during hot weather, when the southern root-knot nematode is the most active. Although resistant varieties will perform better than susceptible varieties under these conditions, early planting would help. After cleanliness (don’t move soil from one garden to another; clean tools between gardens), there are several actions you can take.  Rotate crops.  Broccoli and cauliflower can lower root knot numbers.  French marigolds can help.  Keep garden weed free.  Solarize garden (although that, to me, is a last resort as it kills everything).  Increase the organic matter in the soil as this encourages the growth of numerous fungi, bacteria and beneficial nematodes and provides some level of biological control for root-knot nematodes. I am growing Elbon or cereal rye this year in one of my vegetable beds that is overrun with root-knot nematodes.  Seed can be found at local nurseries and co-ops.  Elbon rye is a trap crop.  According to Jerry Parsons in “Cereal Rye for Nematode Control,” once nematodes enter the cereal rye roots, they cannot escape and are doomed. When cereal rye decomposes, it releases organic acids and stimulates soil microorganisms which further reduce the nematode population.  Sow seed on top of the garden soil and rake in at the rate of 3/4 to 1 pound per hundred square feet of garden area to insure good coverage and adequate growth. Be sure to water regularly and lightly fertilize every three weeks to encourage maximum growth.  What you are striving for is the root system rather than the top foliage. Mow or shred (weed eater) the cereal rye before it forms seed heads and till in one month before planting your spring garden so the massive root system will have adequate time to decompose.  Good Luck!

August 2011 Q & A: Is that a Mexican Sunflower?; What vegetables can I plant in Sept.?; How do I salvage my Basil?

Mexican Cornflower in bloomQ:  What is that lovely plant I see with the yellow orange flowers and the big sunflower leaves?  I want to grow it in my garden next year. A:  You are describing the Mexican Sunflower, Tithonia rotundiflora.  You are correct in describing it as lovely.  Every few years I grow these plants.  They did real well in Kingsville, and do real well in Seguin.  The only problem is that this warm season annual grows four to six feet tall and is three feet wide.  This worked out for me this summer because most of my south bed was empty.  The Tithonia is really great as a cut flower because with its hollow stem, it lasts a long time in a vase of water.  Be careful when you cut the stems so that they don’t bend or collapse.  Aggie-horticulture says to sear the stem, but I do not. Tithonia is propagated by seed and requires full sun.  The Floridata website says that it will tolerate filtered sun or partial shade.  Supposedly dwarf cultivars are available but I haven’t seen them in local stores.  Local stores carry Burpee’s “Torch” seeds, an All-America Winner. According to the website aggie-horticulture, this plant has a very high heat tolerance and low water requirements which makes it great for here.  It does get killed by the first frost (our first actual freeze last year was November 27 with 29 degrees), but by then I’m ready for a different cut flower (and the Tithonia reseeds so you will have seeds for next year). Q:  Is it too late to plant tomatoes? A:  It is for seeds.  Usually for transplants, the recommendation is the month of July.  However, I went on vacation during August and didn’t want to leave small plants for my neighbor to bother with.  I planted large transplants the last week of August so I imagine if you can find large transplants now, you can still plant them.  You will probably have to protect them during the first frost or two with row cover. Q:  What else can be planted in September? A:  Many vegetables (San Antonio part of the country) have September planting dates.  Bush beans (before September 10), beets, broccoli and cabbage transplants, carrots, chard, collards, garlic, kohlrabi, lettuce, mustard, parsley, southern peas, potatoes, radishes, spinach, summer squash (August is better), and turnips.  If you live in South Texas and Laredo, you can plant a little later and be fine. Q:  My basil keeps trying to produce flowers, but I want more leaves.  Help! A:  According to the herb lady Ann McCormick, cut three nodes down below the flower to shock the plant out of flower mode.  Don’t forget to cut a few stems before the first frost and place in a vase on your window sill.  It will quickly root and you will have leaves for cooking all winter (and can replant it in the spring).

August 2011 Q & A: How to Water Trees, Citrus Greening Concerns, Oops! Poison Ivy

Tree with Dying FoliageQ:  As this drought continues, I am really worried about my large trees.  What should I be doing? A: If you’ve let the tree decline too much, there isn’t much that can be done to reverse the dying process.  However, if you catch the problem soon enough, you can save your trees through watering, fertilizing, and by removing surrounding weeds and grass which compete for water. Early signs of damage, according to AgriLife Extension Service’s Kathy Fiebig, are yellowing leaves and premature leaf drop all over the crown of the tree.  As the damage gets worse, leaves will die from the bottom of the tree upward, and from the inside of the canopy outward.  On some of my shrubs, the leaves wilt and burn along the edges.  If you are counting on lawn watering to maintain your trees, that is not enough.  Fiebig suggests giving 28 gallons of water a week to small one-year-old trees, 56 gallons a week to two-year-old trees and 112 gallons a week to three-year-old trees.  (I’ve been giving 60 gallons every two weeks to my older trees in addition to lawn watering.)  AgriLife Horticulturist Marty Baker recommends applying water in a donut-shaped pattern starting about five feet from the base of medium to large trees, out to about five feet beyond the tree’s drip line. Fiebig warns that trees already stressed by the drought can be killed by a heavy application of herbicide in the root zone.  Avoid soil-activated herbicides around trees. For future reference, you may want a list of drought tolerant plants.  A good one is found in Aggie-horticulture:  http://www.plantanswers.com/drought_tolerance_plants.htm. Q:  I’ve been hearing about the disease Citrus Greening and am worried about the insects I see around my citrus tree.  Could I have Asian citrus psyllids? A: First of all, go to www.SaveOurCitrus.org to learn about the disease.  It has not been found around Guadalupe County yet, but we should all be alert.  Not all of the gnat-sized Asian citrus psyllids carry the disease-causing bacteria, but they can still damage citrus plants and trees by stunting the growth of new shoots.  If you suspect the disease, contact the State Department of Agriculture.  Do not transport citrus plants.  Another website: www.aphis.usda.gov/plant_health/plant_pest_info/citrus_greening/index.shtml. Q: I just accidentally touched a poison ivy plant and would like you to give your readers information on what to do immediately after exposure. A: Within the first ten minutes, clean your skin with isopropyl alcohol (when this happened to me I used hand sanitizer containing ethyl alcohol.  Maybe I was just lucky).  Wash your skin with cold water (hot opens the pores).  Shower with soap and warm water.  Wipe your clothes, shoes, and tools with alcohol and water.  This information from the Texas Workers’ Compensation Commission is quoted in Doug Welsh’s Texas Garden Almanac.

July 2011 Q & A:  Which Plants Thrive in Dry Conditions?

Purple Cone Flower BloomQ:  As dry as it’s been lately, with very little rain, I’m beginning to wonder if I should change my landscape plants to those that will better withstand dry conditions.  Which plants seem to be holding up the best? A: A number of the grasses are doing quite well.  My Mexican feather grass is lovely and is spreading all over my front bed (and part of my lawn).  That said, remember that it is considered an invasive in California and could get to be so in my front lawn.  You can control it by cutting off the seed heads and by cutting back on the water. Other grasses not invasive include Lindheimer’s Muhly (clumps two to five feet tall), and green and burgundy fountain grass (survives and multiplies with six to twelve inches of annual rainfall). In my neighbor’s front lawn out by the road is a big patch of Pride of Barbados, Caesalpinia pulcherrima.  It freezes to the ground in the winter, but faithfully comes back every spring.  The flowers are beautiful and it seems to hold up with very little water. My hamelia patens (Mexican firebush) also freezes to the ground in the winter, but comes up every spring.  I do not water it and it is lovely.  Doug Welsh says that in addition to its long blooming season, there are several other significant attributes of the plant. It is very drought tolerant and thrives in most any soil as long as it is well-drained. My heirloom roses are growing well.  As long as I remember to dead head them, they just keep blooming. Friends have mentioned that their purple cone flower (Echinacea) is surviving the heat as well as blooming.  Aggie-horticulture considers this perennial to be robust and drought tolerant, and it is native to the Midwestern and southeastern United States.  It prefers full sun to partial shade in fertile, well-drained soils.  It works well as a cut flower. Texas sage, Leucophyllum frutescens, or Cenizo, according to Aggie-horticulture’s Texas Native Plants Database is one of our most outstanding native plants.  This medium-sized compact shrub has delicate silvery to gray-green leaves, and displays of purple blooms from summer into fall (assuming it rains).  Flowering is triggered by humidity or high soil moisture after rains.   Overwatering or poor drainage will quickly kill the shrub, and shade will promote leggy growth and less flowering. Aggie-horticulture lists the Russian sage, Perovskia atriplicifolia, as a low water use shrub for El Paso.  It also does well here.  The perennial grows three to four feet tall and three feet wide.  It has high heat tolerance.

June 2011 Q & A:  Tomato Plant Problems, Methods for Watering Trees

Close up of tomato plantQ:  My tomato plants are not setting fruit.  Why? A: According to AgriLife Extension Horticulture Specialist Nancy Roe, there are several factors that could cause this.  First, above a certain temperature (85 to 95 degrees) tomato pollen becomes sterile.  Next, when it is hot during the day, photosynthesis slows.  Then when we have warm nights and rapid rates of respiration, carbohydrates are used up leaving the plant with not much left to make fruit. Q:  My tomatoes have deteriorated at the blossom end of the fruit.  I was told it was blossom end rot.  What causes this? A: Basically, blossom end rot is a disorder caused by calcium deficiency induced by water stress.  In other words, the calcium doesn’t get to the end of the fruit because of a temporary water shortage.  This is why it is so important that you water evenly.  Be consistent and prevent fluctuations in moisture levels.  I’ve found that putting in drip irrigation was the key.  I have one pot that requires me to remember to water; consequently, that tomato is usually wilted before I remember.  Whereas, the ones in my raised bed on drip irrigation get watered with a gallon of water on a regular schedule.  According to Aggie-horticulture, liquid fertilization using calcium nitrate can be used for small plots.  My organic tomato fertilizer actually has calcium nitrate in its formulation.  Another way to help retain your soil moisture is to mulch.  According to the website, blossom end rot can happen to any of the fruiting vegetables. Q: Now that the weather is really warm, is there anything I should know about watering my trees?  I certainly don’t want to lose any. A: Doug Welsh’s Texas Garden Almanac reminds us that laying a hose at the trunk of a large tree and letting it run for hours is not the way to water.  When you are irrigating trees and large shrubs, apply the water just inside and a little beyond the drip line.  This is the area directly below the outer reaches of the branches (which is where the feeding root system of a tree or shrub is located).  His suggestion is to lay a slowly running hose on the ground and move it around the drip line as each area becomes saturated to a depth of eight to ten inches.  Since this means your hose runs for several hours for large trees, I prefer using large buckets with a quarter inch hole drilled near the bottom.  I use several around a tree and fill them with water.  The water runs out slowly and saturates the ground.

May 2011 Q & A:  Gardening in Dry Conditions, Soil Testing, Applying Insecticides closeup of drip irrigation system watering a plant

Q: The small immature fruit is falling off of my squash plants. What is happening? A: My first response is to ask whether you are being uneven in your watering—either letting the plant get too dry or too wet. Then I started researching. Several sources (including Texas Organic Vegetable Gardening by Garrett and Beck) mention fruits shriveling or failing to enlarge caused by lack of pollination. This can be caused by honeybees not being active because of cloudy, wet weather, pesticides or mites, or even lack of honeybees in your area. The suggestion is to transfer pollen with a swab or small brush. The male flower does not have a small fruit looking thing behind it. The female flower does. Obviously, this solution will not appeal to you if you have a hundred plants. Q: I have just moved into a new house and know nothing about the soil? Where do I get my soil tested? How do I prepare a soil sample to send? A: Your AgriLife County Extension Office has forms and directions on how to do a soil test and where to send it. I did one this past year and was really amazed at the amount of phosphorus and potassium in my soil. The suggestion from the lab was for me to only fertilize with nitrogen for the next five years. Prepare your soil sample by following some basic steps. To get a representative sample of your yard, use a clean shovel and sample the soil from 10 random areas to a depth of six inches. (Keep away from under the eaves, brush piles, or manure or compost piles). Place the samples in a clean plastic bucket and mix them thoroughly. Then place about a pint of the mixed soil into a soil sample bag (or a zipper-locked bag that is double bagged). Then mail to the address on the form. Q: Is there a good time during the day to spray my natural insecticide? I do not want to harm any bees. A: According to Doug Welsh’s Texas Garden Almanac, spraying should be done in the early morning or late in the afternoon to avoid the time when bees are active. Also, be sure that you know which direction the wind is blowing so that you can stay out of the spray. No matter how safe you think something is, you do not want to breathe it or have it on your skin. I can remember spraying with a homemade concoction that I had been assured was safe for me and bad for bugs. I accidentally inhaled, and coughed on and off for hours. Remember: before you use anything, read the label—the entire label. Q: What should I be doing about my plants during the drought? A: Now is a great time to mulch. You should also be thinking about setting up a drip irrigation system. I did so in my vegetable garden; it works great and doesn’t waste water.

Bare Tree RootsApril 2011 Q & A:  What to Do About Bare Tree Roots in the Lawn, Which Hardwood Mulch is Best

Q:  Tree roots from my front yard tree are sticking up out of my lawn.  Can I cover them with soil, or will that kill the tree (or the grass)? A: According to Doug Welsh on the Aggie Horticulture website, when soil or any type of fill is placed over the existing root system, it causes a reduction in the oxygen supply to the tree roots and slows down the rate of gas exchange between the roots and the air in the soil pore space and can kill the tree over time.  This, of course, all depends on the type of tree, the depth and type of fill, the drainage, and the vigor of the tree.  It won’t hurt at all to put a half-inch layer of compost around the tree. Another question about tree roots on top of the ground was about the feasibility of removing them.  In Aggie-Horticulture, there were a number of answers about different types of trees, but basically they said the same thing.  You should not remove the roots, or if you do be very careful.  One answer was that this is normal for some varieties of trees and root removal could damage the tree.  Over a period of time minor roots could be removed a few at a time but not major ones. Another answer said that it was unusual for roots of a live oak to come to the surface, but they could be removed one a year.  And again, I’m assuming that means minor roots. Removal of red bud tree roots is not recommended because the tree is prone to borers. Removal of Arizona ash tree roots that are lying on top of the ground can be done, but again only one root a year. Now, after all this, what can you do with those roots that stick up where your lawn mower can injure them?  I just don’t know.  The only thing I can think of is to enlarge the width of the mulch layer around the tree.  My mulch layer comes out to the edge of the tree umbrella. Q:  Will cypress mulch work as well as hardwood type mulch? A: Bark chips are long lasting and break down slowly.  Cypress breaks down more slowly than pine bark, but it does break down.  When mulch is shredded, it breaks down faster and helps maintain uniform soil temperatures.  Cypress does not seem to float away when (and if) it rains, and, of course, it is cheaper.  My favorite mulch is cedar because of the smell.  I like putting it on the beds by my front door so that every time I open the door, I smell fresh cedar.  My theory which is not really research based is that the smell helps deter bugs.

March 2011 Q & A:  When to Fertilize, Container Gardening, Get the Kids Involved, When to Prune

Q:  When do I apply fertilizer? A: Doug Welsh, in his Texas Garden Almanac, says to apply after you have mowed the lawn grass twice.  This is to show that the grass is actively growing and needs the fertilizer.  You might also consider an application of compost to your yard.  Have you done a soil test?  Forms and directions are available from your county AgriLife Extension agent. Q:  I do not have room for a vegetable garden, but I really want fresh vegetables.  What can I do? A: Buy some large pots or tubs (with drainage holes).  These can be placed where they will get 6 to 8 hours of sun a day.  Even if you only have room for one pot, you can have a tomato plant.  Cherry tomatoes or Juliet tomatoes are especially nice.  I have several smaller pots on my patio this spring.  One has pineapple mint and the other has rosemary.  They are close enough to the kitchen that I don’t even have to walk down the hill to my garden.  I do have a suggestion that I have learned through trial and error.  Place the pots on something that weeds cannot come through.  I had a terrible time with my potted blueberry plants eradicating the Bermuda grass that came in through the drainage holes. Q:  I would like to get my grandchildren interested in gardening.  How do I go about this?Child Holding Seedling A: If you already have a garden, you have a great opportunity.  Let them plant a row of carrots.  Every time they come over, they will run out and check to see how big they are.  This past weekend I bought a six pack of tomatoes.  When the grandchildren came, they helped me find one gallon pots, than helped fill the pots with soil.  Finally, we took each tomato and put it in a pot, than the kids filled soil in around the plant.  They then watered each plant (and when they left my house, they took a pot home with them.)  My pots will go into the ground when I am sure freezing weather is over.  Until then they are sitting in the sun growing, or covered on the porch when there is a freeze.  This past year, my grandson planted a corn seed in one of my porch pots.  It sprouted and eventually made a very small ear of corn.  He was perfectly thrilled and checked it every time he came to visit. Q:   Can I prune now? A: I have started, but remember that a late freeze may nip the new growth on your plants.  Some plants can be taken back to the ground.  My hamelia (Firebush) usually sprouts fairly late so it is perfectly safe to prune now.  I have started on my rose bushes, but it usually takes me a long time to finish pruning.

February 2011 Q & A:  When and How to Plant Potatoes

PotatoesQ:  When can I plant potatoes? I heard on the MG garden show about planting them in bushel baskets and I’d like to give it a try. A: There are many different answers to the “when.”  Traditionally we plant on Washington’s birthday, February 22.  Another source says Valentine’s Day.  Texas A&M says to plant from February to March in Central Texas in order to harvest potatoes from May to June.  Garrett and Beck in Texas Organic Vegetable Gardening say that the official dates are two to three weeks before the last frost, in other words, February 7 to March 15.  And still another source says to plant on the full moon (February 18 or March 19).  So at this point you can pretty well make your own choice. Now that we are ready to plant, you need to determine the location.  Do not plant in an area where you grew any members of the nightshade family this past year.  That means not to grow where tomatoes, potatoes, peppers and eggplant were growing.  Rotating your crop families helps to alleviate recurring diseases and pests.  Don’t forget to plant in full sun.  For our area, Dr. Jerry Parsons and David Rodriguez recommend planting Kennebec and White Cobbler for white potatoes, Red LaSoda and Red Pontiac for red potatoes, and Norgold for Russett potatoes.  Use seed potatoes rather than grocery store potatoes as the store ones may have been treated so they won’t sprout. Either use the whole potato (if small) or cut into 2 to 3 ounce pieces (the size of a golf ball) with at least one eye.  Let the pieces dry out a bit or callous over.  Several authorities dust with dusting sulfur.  I just let mine callous last year and they did fine.   For bushel basket planting, I cut out the bottom of a bushel basket (or a large pot) and placed in my garden.  Then I placed my cut piece of potato on top of the garden soil.  I then added nice soil to cover the potato (actually I added some of my very own made compost that had completely broken down).  As the sprouts grew, I kept adding more soil around them until the basket was almost full.  Remember that tubers form laterally from the stem. In 90 to 120 days the tops will die back and yellow, and you can harvest the potatoes.  For storing, only wipe off the potatoes and do not wash them.  If you are not sure when to pick potatoes, you can do what I did.  I gently lifted the basket and felt around in the loose soil to see what size the potatoes were (also you can go ahead and pick a few small ones for dinner).

January 2011 Q & A:  Lady Bugs; January Garden Tasks

Q:  What are those bugs that look like ladybugs but are not red with black spots?  One of them bit me. A: They are also probably lady bugs (also called Lady Beetles or Ladybird Beetles).  There are 200 species in North America and most are beneficial predators (except for the Mexican bean beetle and the squash beetle).  Some are black with red spots, gray with black spots, orange with black spots, yellow with black spots.  I have seen quite a few lately all over including my house.  I did have one on my arm that “bit” me, although the bite was very light and hardly noticeable, probably more of a “nip.” (This was probably from the Asian Lady Beetle.) Lady beetles feed on aphids, mites, and other soft-bodied insect pests.  To encourage the beetles, do not spray a poison on your garden that will kill all of the good and bad bugs.  One of your New Year’s resolutions according to Doug Welsh’s Texas Garden Almanac is this:  “I will use a pesticide only when absolutely necessary, and if I do, I will use the least toxic one.” Q:  What should I be doing in the garden in January? A: Clean up your vegetable garden.  Get rid of weeds and old plants on the ground between the rows.  Many pests overwinter in your garden.  After pulling my tomatoes, I mixed chopped orange peels into the soil where the tomato plants were planted (for nematodes).  Cut your asparagus to the ground and mulch.  Don’t prune freeze-damaged stems of perennial flowers, because they will provide some insulation for the rest of the plant.  I usually wait before pruning frozen plants because many times I’ve been fooled.  The plant was still fine, although the leaves had frozen.  Plant your spring-flowering bulbs now.  You may have to mow your winter weeds so that they don’t take over your lawn.  I notice that my bur clover is particularly happy this winter.  I can’t spray it because it is interspersed with blue bonnets, so I guess I’ll have to dig it up. Remember that the birds are having a dry winter, so keep those bird baths filled.  I’m even having a possum coming on to my porch to drink water out of the fountain.  Both squirrels and possums are stealing bird seed. Don’t forget to water and fertilize your winter vegetables.  I harvested a large head of broccoli today, and will water later on.  My second row of lettuce already needs thinning, plus I need to transplant the larkspur out of the lettuce.  This is also a good time of year to plan for the spring, which includes perusing seed catalogs (at my house, they are arriving by the armloads).  I have already decided that I would like to try a large container of orange mint growing by my back door.

December 2010 Q & A:  Tomatoes; Nematodes

Q:  I just pulled up my tomato plants because a freeze was coming and they weren’t doing well anyway.  The roots were covered with knots.  What can be done about root knot nematodes? A: Root knot nematodes can be identified by the swollen roots with galls.   These nematodes are small worm-like animals that live in the soil and feed on the roots.  Another hint that you might have root knot nematodes is that the infected plants are stunted, yellow, not vigorous, and look like they are declining.  Aggie-horticulture, in their section on tomato root disorders, says that the root knot nematode is very difficult to control, but does give several suggestions.  (The overall website is http://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu.) First, use crop rotation with a non-susceptible species.  This means that you should not plant tomatoes in the same spot year after year (or in the same spot as cotton or okra).  Secondly, make sure you buy tomato varieties that are resistant.  In the nursery, look at the tag and make sure you are getting tomatoes that have an N on the label. The Earth Kind section of Aggie-horticulture suggests that if you have a large garden area infected with root knot nematodes, plant Elbon rye (cereal rye) in the fall.  This fast growing, cold tolerant, annual grass  actually is a trap crop for nematodes.  Once the nematodes enter the cereal rye roots, they can’t escape and are doomed.  Apply three-fourth to one pound of seed per one hundred square feet of garden.  Shred and till the Elbon grass into your garden one month before planting the spring garden.  This will give the grass time to decompose.  (Don’t let the cereal rye form seed heads.  You don’t want the seeds to sprout in your garden.) Malcolm Beck and Howard Garrett list several other ways to control nematodes in their books “Texas Organic Vegetable Gardening” and “Texas Bug Book, The Good the Bad and the Ugly.”  Beck and Garrett suggest increasing the organic level in the soil by using organic fertilizers and by applying products to increase the soil’s microbial activity.  They say that citrus pulp or liquid will completely control root knot nematodes.  I probably am not going to grind up citrus peelings, but I think I will try another of their suggestions which is using cedar flakes or chips as a one-inch mulch around my tomato plants.  One of his reasons as to why this helps control nematodes is that there are several fungi that attack nematodes.  These beneficial fungi need a fertile, aerated, balanced soil with a supply of carbon to use as energy.  Hence the cedar flakes.  I like to use cedar as mulch anyway because it smells good, and I think the strong odor deters insects.

November 2010 Q & A:  When to Prune Citrus Trees; All About Asparagus

Q:  My citrus tree by the house is getting way too big.  When can I prune it? A: Our AgriLife Extension agent says to prune in the cold months.  Other sources within Aggie-Horticulture agree.  One says that the best time to hedge and top citrus is during the cooler months, after harvest but prior to bloom.  Another source says that all pruning on older trees should be done in January and February. Citrus trees are pruned primarily to control tree size and to remove dead, diseased or damaged wood.  Also, pruning trees of bearing age thins out thick growth which makes spraying and harvesting easier.  Another article on Texas citrus by a Dr. Boudreaux said that the removal of long vigorous growing shoots sticking up at the top of the tree will help to control the size of the tree. He says these shoots should be traced to where they originate on larger branches and cut off flush at the point of attachment.   He also suggests removing dead branches and branches that cross over each other, as well as branches that touch the ground (which makes it far easier to mow.) Pruning freeze damaged citrus is a different story.  These trees should not be pruned until the extent of cold damage has been determined. The damage may not be evident until July and August, after the second flush of growth. Pruning a freeze damaged tree consists of removing the dead wood to the point where the live wood starts. Q: How do I plant asparagus?  When do I cut asparagus? A: The Aggie-horticulture website under vegetables has a great print out on asparagus written by Dr. Jerry Parsons and Dr. Sam Cotner which starts by reminding us that asparagus grows better in cooler areas.  It does grow here, however, because my neighbor has a beautiful row.  Make sure your asparagus bed is in full sun and deep, well-drained soil.  Asparagus grows well in high-pH soils.    Before planting, till in 3 inches of manure or compost. Dig a furrow 4 inches wide and 4 to 12 inches deep.  Place the asparagus crowns 12 to 14 inches apart in the furrow.  Cover the plants in the furrow with 1 inch of compost topped by 2 to 3 inches of soil.  Firm the soil.  Then as the shoots grow, gradually fill the furrows.  By the end of the first season, the furrow should reach its normal level.  Once the beds are established (two years), the spears can be harvested. When you harvest them, snap them off at ground level when they are 4 to 10 inches long. If not harvested, the spears develop into fernlike stalks.  After the first hard frost or freeze of fall, cut off the fern tops at ground level and mulch the bed with manure.  As always, dispose of the tops because the asparagus beetle likes to spend the winter in the old ferns or trash in your garden.

Oct. 2010 Q & A: Iris Tips; Best Fruit Trees for Our Area

Q:  Why won’t my bearded iris bloom?  I’ve had them for several years and they still haven’t bloomed. A: Luckily, the Master Gardeners just heard Dr. JoNelle Zager speak on bearded iris.  One of the things she mentioned was that the plants should not be planted too deep.  A quarter-sized amount of the rhizome should actually show through the soil surface.  In my yard, I have two patches of bearded iris.  One patch blooms faithfully every year.  The other patch has never bloomed.  After Dr. Zager’s talk, I dug around each patch.  The plants that were blooming all had the top of the rhizome showing above the ground.  The other irises were about two inches below the top of the soil.  Another possibility is the amount of sun the plants are getting.  Dr. Zager says that the best sun is morning sun.  My blooming plants are on the east side of the bed and are shaded from the afternoon sun.  If you want to plant bearded iris, now is the time through early November in order to get blooms this next year; don’t forget bone meal for your existing plants. Q:  What kind of fruit trees can I plant in the Seguin area? A: I believe that this has been covered in this column before, but I will comment on some fruit trees that I like and that a worker at a local nursery likes.  First of all, fruit trees will be arriving at the end of January, beginning of February, so now is the time to do your location planning. (see Jan. 2010 Q &A for more info) Some of the following fruits I have not grown so will rely on the nursery employee’s recommendations as well as aggie-horticulture.  He likes the Rosborough blackberry and said that it is similar to Brazos, a long time favorite for this area.  He grows and likes Blenheim apricots.  He also suggests buying a Dorsett Golden apple with an Anna apple (for cross pollination).  Granny Smith is sold sometimes as a self pollinator but will set more fruit if grown with Gala, Golden Delicious, Jersey Mac or Mollies Delicious. Celeste is my favorite fig tree.  The employee says that White Everbearing fig is the best producer in our area followed by Black Mission. This season my Methley plum outdid itself and was absolutely covered with plums.  Other plums for the area include Santa Rosa and Allred.  My Warren pear tree had eight pears, but is still pretty much a baby.  Another pear for the area is the Orient. La Feliciana peach is a recommended peach.  Remember to keep up with your borer sprays because I lost a three year old peach tree last year. Recommended grapes are Champanel and Black Spanish. The two of us disagreed on blueberries.  He said that the ordinary gardener would not want to go the trouble of growing blueberries in our alkaline area.  I have grown blueberries in large pots of peat moss for five years and have a good crop of fruit every year.  Of course, they must be transplanted when they outgrow the pot.

Sept. 2010 Q & A:  How to Request a Garden Program; When to Plant Wildflowers, Spring-Blooming Bulbs, Trees; Much Ado About Okra

Q:  My organization wishes to have a speaker give a garden-related talk.  How do I get a Master Gardener to speak to my group? A: The Guadalupe County Master Gardeners have a Speakers’ Bureau.  You can just call the AgriLife extension office at 830-303-3889 and they will give you the name of the chairman who can then set up the talk. Q:  I really want wildflowers for this spring.  When can I plant them? A: Reading the USDA plant hardiness map is a bit confusing to me, but I think we are zone 8B.  This means that wildflower seeds can be planted from mid September to December.  We are lucky to have in Texas two wildflower seed sources: Wildseed Farms (up near Fredericksburg), Internet address wildseedfarms.com; and Native American Seed Co. (in Junction), Internet address seedsource.com.   Both companies have catalogs and I have used seeds from both.  By the way, once you plant bluebonnets or larkspur, you will have them ever after.  Mine reseed really well. Q:  Can I grow spring-flowering bulbs here? A: According to Doug Welsh’s Texas Garden Almanac, you can if you treat them as annuals and purchase them yearly.  Buy them as soon as they appear in the store, then put them all in the refrigerator whether they require chilling or not.  When the soil cools from November on, you can plant them.  I do have a few bulbs that come back year after year, although they don’t always bloom. Q:  I understand that fall is the best time to plant trees?  Does that mean all trees? A: Fall is when we plant container-grown trees and shrubs.  Container grown trees already have root systems but they need the time before spring to recover from transplanting and also get new roots.  Bare-root plants (roses, pecans, fruit trees, etc.) should be planted in the winter when they are dormant.  That way new growth will occur only in the roots (new leaf shoots would freeze).  Luckily our local nurseries usually bring out the bare-root plants at the correct time to plant.  Other reasons to plant container-grown plants in the fall are the cooler weather causing less plant stress and the availability of more rainfall. Q:  I grew the most wonderful okra this past growing season.  It was short, fat, fluted, tender and delicious.  I found the seed packet labeled German okra in a give-away basket (from the Master Gardeners).  What is it and how do I get more? A: It turns out that the okra originally came from Malcolm Beck who found it growing on his farm years ago.  It has been since sold as Beck’s Big Buck and one seed company adds “snapping okra,” because it snaps easily off the stem when it is ready to be picked.  I love this okra not only because of the taste, but also because of how pretty it is when sliced.  If you already have some growing, leave some pods on your plant for seed.  They can be harvested when completely dried.

August 2010 Q & A:  The Fall Garden

Q:  Is it time to work on my fall garden? A: Yes, you can be doing a lot of work on your garden right now, particularly with all the rain we’ve been having.  Most of my vegetables from the spring are still doing well.  I pulled up all of my tomato plants except for a nice looking Green Zebra and a Juliet.  I cut those back short to nice looking growth.  Both plants have new shoots and the Juliet is blooming but not setting.  My eggplant have started blooming and setting fruit again (Gretel and PingTung Long).  The German okra has never stopped blooming and setting fruit, and the yard long beans continue to fruit. I keep meaning to write about the two spinach substitutes that are doing well in my summer garden: melokhiya and Malabar spinach.  I don’t like the flavor of the first one although it is supposed to be healthy and nutritious (and grows wonderfully well).  We have been eating the Malabar spinach raw as a hot weather spinach substitute although my husband is not that fond of it.  It also grows well.  I think that I will try New Zealand spinach or strawberry spinach next year. For your fall garden, mulch your flower and shrub beds, and around your fruit trees.  I am widening the no-grow area around my fruit trees so that it is easier to mow.  If you have not put in drip irrigation systems in your beds and vegetable gardens, now is the time.  I have two beds finished and two to go.  I noticed that my soaker hose in one of my vegetable gardens is now a sprinkler hose, so instead of replacing it, I will go ahead and use drip irrigation. Doug Welsh in his Texas Garden Almanac says to prune your rose bushes this month by about 25 percent. Also, cut off the diseased or damaged leaves and stems, and apply nitrogen fertilizer (water in well). Q:  Can I plant my vegetable garden now? A: Welsh says to plant now.  Tomatoes take about 90 days to grow, set, and ripen fruit; that’s ninety days from August 1 to November 1.  Plant your pumpkins in early August if you want pumpkins by Halloween.  I am waiting for my pears to ripen (late August through September).  I’ve already lost one to a squirrel.  Don’t forget to make sure your fruit trees are getting enough water.  I put out five-gallon buckets around each tree when we don’t get enough rain.  Next year’s crop depends on the energy stored in this year’s leaves. Q:  My tomatoes are not setting fruit.  Why? A: Optimum growing conditions according to Aggie Horticulture is 80 to 85 degree days and 60 to 70 degree nights.  Maybe with our rain cooled weather, some will set.  A great website is http://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/publications/guides/carver_tomato.html

July 2010 Q & A:  All About Crape Myrtles

Q:  Why is my crape myrtle’s bark peeling?  It looks okay otherwise. A: Now that all of our crape myrtles are blooming, I’ve received a number of crape myrtle questions.  It is normal for the old bark to flake off the trunk.  In fact, to my mind, this is one of the special pluses about the plant.  I keep my trunk free of suckers and the pretty colors of the trunk are very showy. Q:  Why won’t my crape myrtle flower?  I water and fertilize the plant. A: Crape myrtles need more than six hours of direct sunlight each day.  All of my crape myrtles are in full bloom except for the one that only gets sun after about one in the afternoon.  It has a very few blooms on it, and tends to get the most powdery mildew.  Another reason for no blooms comes from Dr. Gary Knox, a Horticulture professor at the University of Florida.  He says that when a crape myrtle is planted too deep, the roots can’t get enough oxygen which stresses the plant and reduces growth and flowering.  He reminds us that the upper-most root should be even with ground level or an inch or two above. Q: I have white stuff on the leaves and buds of my crape myrtle.  What is it and what should I do? A: That is powdery mildew which occurs mostly on older varieties in shady humid locations when days are warm and nights are cool (according to Dr. Knox), although I’ve had it even when nights were not cool.  Ask before you buy a particular crape myrtle whether it is resistant to powdery mildew.  You can also prune the plant to allow better air movement.  Cornell University looks at using a spray of potassium bicarbonate and Organic Gardener says that baking soda works too.  I checked the side of one of my organic fungicide sprays and it also works on powdery mildew. Q: While you are on diseases, what else could occur? A: A blackish layer on leaves is sooty mold which indicates the presence of aphids.  Beneficial insects can control the aphids, as well as spraying with horticultural soap.  A fungus that attacks crape myrtles, Cercospora lythracearum, causes brown spots to appear on the leaves.  In warm wet weather the disease can spread and lead to premature leaf drop.  We have the warm weather, but usually not the wet.  There are varieties introduced by the U.S. National Arboretum that are reported to have some resistance: Apalachee, Caddo, Catawba, Sioux, Tonto, Tuscarora, Tuskegee, and Yuma. Q:  Everyone always says to know how tall a particular crape myrtle will grow so that you can plan for your site.  Where can I find a list? A: A really wonderful web site with photos and descriptions is on aggie horticulture.  http://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/archives/parsons/trees/crapemyrtle/crape_myrtle_varieties.html.

June 2010 Q & A:  Zucchini and Squash Vine Borer

Q:  I planted zucchini this year because of all the comments about its productivity.  Out of nine plants, four succumbed to squash borer.  Help! A: I don’t know if I’m really the one to answer this.  I have a terrible time growing squash.  Basically the squash vine borer starts as a “clear wing” moth who lays eggs on the plant near the base.  After hatching from the eggs, the larvae penetrate the plant stem and burrow toward the base.  There they feed which destroys the inside of the stem and causes the plant to die.  I’ve always been told that you can cut open the stem, remove the larva, and pile soil up over the cut; however, by the time I find the problem, the plant is already wilted and gone. On the Internet, aggie-horticulture says that there is much variation in the susceptibility of squash and pumpkin varieties, and lists hubbard as being highly susceptible.  Another website, the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service (www.attra.ncat.org/attra-pub/squash_pest.html), lists twelve squash with their degrees of resistance to squash vine borer attack. Butternut and green striped cushaw have the most resistance, then summer crookneck and Dickenson pumpkin, then acorn and white bush scallop, then zucchini, small sugar pumpkin, Connecticut field pumpkin, golden delicious (hubbard type), Boston marrow (hubbard type), and finally, with the least resistance, blue hubbard.  So, this means that you can actually try to be more selective in the type of squash you plant. Next, keep the ground under the squash plant free from mulch so that bugs won’t live there or overwinter. Several biological methods to cut down on borers are suggested.  The first is to keep the eggs off of your plants.  (Squash vine borer eggs are disk-shaped and dark-reddish-brown; they are laid singly on the plant near the base.)  There is a suggestion in some of the literature that planting later in the season also helps with a borer infestation.  Another suggestion that really works for pest management is to use row covers over your baby plants.  Of course, the cover would need to come off for pollination.  Diatomaceous earth dusted on the stems is the next level of protection; the use of neem oil could be the next step. Aggie-Horticulture lists the use of pyrethrins as a spray.  Remember to read, understand and follow the label; read the precautions.  Although pyrethrins come from the chrysanthemum, the spray is toxic to bees.  Be very careful; if you or your pets get sprayed, it is still a poison and can result in a variety of symptoms.  What it does to the insect is to inhibit cellular respiration primarily in nerve and muscle cells causing death.  This is why I usually do not put poisons on my plants, or if I do, I use the least lethal, wear gloves, don’t breathe in, and, of course, read the label and use the proper precautions.

April 2010 Q & A: Jerusalem sage, Leaf cutter ants

Q: I was enjoying the wildflowers at the AgriLife Extension building when I noticed an interesting plant in bloom. Tell me about the Jerusalem sage. How hard is it to grow? A: Jerusalem sage or Phlomis fruticosa is a hardy perennial that came from the Mediterranean area. It has whorls of yellow tubular flowers appearing on stems rising three feet above the woolly gray-green leaves. “Plants for Dry Climates” says to plant in sun to light shade, and that it is best with protection from the afternoon sun. It is not picky about the soil and uses moderate to low water. The plant has a number of things going for it. Aggie Horticulture’s PLANTanswers says that it is deer resistant. The Santa Clara County Master Gardeners agree. (Of course we know that resistance depends on your particular deer and how hungry he is.) The plant is also attractive to bees, butterflies and birds. Propagation methods include dividing the root-ball, taking softwood cuttings and growing from seed. Since Phlomis fruticosa grows to four feet high and four feet wide, you need to cut it back lightly after each flowering. Also, cut the plants back by half in the fall to keep them compact. The plant is listed on the Aggie-Horticulture website as “a plant for the dry years.” This alone makes it a plant you may want to try in your own garden. Ours at the Extension building did not freeze this winter. Q: I have leaf cutter ants. What in the world can I do? A: Sadly enough, Aggie-Horticulture says that they are really hard to eradicate. The story is going around that club soda poured in the mound will kill both fire ants and leaf cutter ants. According to Elizabeth Brown, a Texas AgriLife Extension entomologist in Austin who’s been running field tests, the treatment is ineffective, “unless you happen to drown a few fire ants in the process.” Another article by Drees and Merchant, entomologists with A&M, reminds us that because leaf cutter ants only eat the fungus they cultivate on all those cut leaves, they do not respond well to most ant baits. Plants can be protected temporarily by applying contact insecticides like acephate (Orthene) or carbarl (Sevin) or permethrin, but these do not eliminate underground colonies. The main formulation for control, hydramethylnon (Amdro Ant Block), is still only 30% effective with a single application. Remember to read the label on the bottle, follow directions exactly, and AVOID chemical contact with skin. Obviously, as an organic gardener, I hesitate to use these chemicals (and there is a possibility of contaminating accessible water). Howard Garrett and Malcolm Beck, in the Texas Bug Book, say to treat the mounds with plant oil products such as EcoEXEMPT. Another Master Gardener wonders if diatomaceous earth around the mound might give the ants some grief (it’s worth trying, anyway).

March 2010 Q & A: VFN Tomato Plants, Chinese Fringe Flower locations

Tomato Q: When I was listening to the Master Gardeners radio show, I heard you mention what the letters VFN on a Better Boy tomato label stood for. I didn’t quite catch what you said and would like for it to be repeated. A: It is probably a good thing you misunderstood because I gave the wrong diseases. Actually, VFN means that the plant is resistant to Verticillium wilt, Fusarium wilt, and Nematodes. There are many other disease resistance codes. A, for instance, is for anthracnose, or according to another source, for Alternaria alternate fungus, TMV or T is for tobacco mosaic virus, and FF is for another type of fusarium wilt that has become more resistant. Usually seed catalogs will have a chart with the meaning of each letter. Remember that just because the plant is resistant to a disease, it is not immune. One of the reasons that I am so fond of my Celebrity tomato plants is because they are resistant to so many problems: VFFNTA (verticillium wilt, fusarium wilt, nematodes, tobacco mosaic virus, and alternaria). If you use good gardening practices, such as keeping diseased plants thrown away (do not put into compost), watering evenly (not too much, not too little), having good drainage, mulching, and keeping your vegetable families rotated, you have a much better chance of a successful harvest. There is a really good A&M website called “Tomato Problem Solver: A Guide to the Identification of Common Problems” with nice photos of both diseased fruit and pests: aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/publications/tomatoproblemsolver/ Q: What is the plant in bloom in front of the Guadalupe Regional Wellness Center? A: The Loropetalum chineso, also called Chinese Fringe Flower and Chinese Witch Hazel, is blooming now. This shrub is evergreen here (at least the ones in front of the Wellness Center and the one by the Extension office kept their leaves) and has sort of bronze green foliage. The blooms are hot pink and are on the shrubs now. The shrub grows four to six feet high and spreads four to five feet wide. Make sure if you plant several to put them at least three feet apart in well drained soil. The interesting thing that I found out on the Dirt Doctor web site is that the shrub likes compost, organic fertilizers and a total organic program. If chemical fertilizers are used, the shrub gets chlorotic. This chlorosis can be seen on the shrubs at the Wellness Center and to a smaller extent on the one at the Extension building. Loropetalum can be grown in both sun and part shade. The shrub at the Extension building is next to the building and near a red oak tree. The ones at the Wellness Center are in full sun.

Feb. 2010 Q & A: Pruning Roses, Earth-Kind Roses, Dwarf Fruit Trees

Q: Do I have to prune my roses? They look pretty good to me. A: Yes, you probably should. According to our latest Master Gardener Handbook (2009), all roses need some type of pruning to prevent the production of smaller flowers, deterioration in appearance, and the occurrence of disease and insect problems. If nothing else, you should remove all dead and diseased wood at least one inch below the damaged area, as well as all weak shoots. If you have two branches that are rubbing on each other, remove one of them. If your rose bush is old and heavy, cut out one or two of the oldest canes each year. A website on rose pruning written by Dr. Doug Welsh is aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/extension/newsletters/hortupdate/jan09/RosePrune.html. I might give my opinion here on when to prune. I usually start pruning around Valentine’s Day, but it takes me so long, that it is into March before I finish. Q: You’ve mentioned Earth-Kind roses before. I understand that they grow in most every Texas soil type and are really tolerant to pests. Would you give the Earth-Kind list again? A: I will give the list and also tell you to go by the Guadalupe County AgriLife Extension Building and look at the Master Gardener’s Earth Kind Rose Garden. A number of the roses are growing there for you to look at, and all of them came through the bad freeze quite well. The Earth Kind Rose List includes Belinda’s Dream, Caldwell Pink, Climbing Pinkie, Ducher, Duchesse De Brabant, Else Poulsen, Georgetown Tea, Katy Road Pink (also called Carefree Beauty), Knock Out, Marie Daly, Mutabilis, Perle d’Or, Sea Foam, Spice, and The Fairy. All sizes are included here, from dwarf to climbers. Q: I would like to buy a dwarf fruit tree. How do I know what to buy? A: This turned out to be a hard question to answer. One of the nurseries told me to buy a standard variety and keep it pruned with lower branches and an open center instead of having that long trunk that we usually keep so we can mow under it. Another resource said to go with semi dwarf plants and not dwarfs because they will have more fruit. For your own research, go to http://homeorchard.ucdavis.edu/general-pruning.html. Then look at Central Leader pruning and Y System pruning, both making smaller trees. For lovely photos, go to lecooke.com and look at the pruning on their EZ Pick fruit trees. A suggested variety list from Bexar County includes apples: Anna, Dorsett Golden, Ein Shemer, Gala, and Mollie’s Delicious; apricots: Blenheim, and Royal; pears: Kieffer, Orient, Warren, Fan-stil, Le Conte, and Monterrey; peaches: La Feliciana, John Fanick, TexStar, Harvester, TexRoyal, and June Gold; and plums: Methley, Allred, Bruce, Santa Rosa. Ask your nursery person if the rootstock is recommended for your area

Jan. 2010 Q & A: All About Fruit Trees!

Q: I am getting ready to buy fruit trees as soon as they appear in my local nursery. What does winter chilling requirements mean when you are talking about plants and why do I care? A: According to Texas A&M extension horticulturist Doug Welsh, some fruit crops require a certain amount of cold weather to end their dormancy and help with proper blooming and spring growth. These chilling hours are the number of hours during which temperatures are below 45 degrees F. and above 32 degrees F. Therefore, if the fruit tree you want requires more chilling than you receive in your area, it will not bloom fully or at all. In Welsh’s book Texas Garden Almanac, he prints a map showing the different chilling zones in Texas. Both Guadalupe and Bexar County are split by a zone line, so, depending where you are in the county, plants require either 600 or 700 hours of chilling. (For practicality, just say around 650). This number gives you quite a lot of different varieties that can be grown here. One of my favorite peaches, La Feliciana, requires 550 chilling hours so would be good for here. Q: Apples are grown around Fort Davis in Texas. Can they be grown here? A: Our new Texas Master Gardener handbook lists the apple variety regions for Texas along with the varieties that can be grown in each region. One of the main things to remember when planting apples is that they require pollen from another variety to set fruit. So you have to plant two or more varieties with overlapping bloom periods. Guadalupe, Bexar, Wilson and Gonzales County are in apple planting region 2. You could plant Gala, Golden Delicious, Granny Smith, Jersey Mac, Mollies Delicious, and Red Delicious. Golden Delicious russets badly. I have not grown apples here but some of our Master Gardeners have. Q: Are some fruits easier to grow than others? A: Welsh gives a list that shows crops from the least to the most difficult. He starts with blackberries, than blueberries (in pots here), figs, citrus, pears, pecans, grapes, persimmons, apples, plums, than finally peaches. I personally seem to have lots of trouble growing peaches. My last tree lasted three years than died riddled with borers. I guess I need plants that grow in spite of me. Actually, my Celeste sugar fig meets this requirement. The only thing that bothered it this past year was the drought. Figs need more water than I was giving it. When you are choosing the type of fruit to plant, ask your nurseryman questions: will it grow in your particular soil, what are its winter chilling requirements, is this variety adapted to our climate, how susceptible is it to insects and diseases, can I keep pests off of it easily, and do I need to train and prune this plant in a special way? With all this in mind, start small. And remember that you need patience. It takes anywhere from one to six years depending on the fruit type for it to bear.

Dec. 2009 Q&A: AgriLife Bldg Native Plant with Yellow Flower Sprays; Deer Resistant Plantings

Q: What is the striking plant in the extension building native plant garden that is covered with sprays

Forsythia Sageof yellow flowers?A: That plant is the forsythia sage or salvia madrensis. It is one of our fall and early winter bloomers and is indeed beautiful this time of year. This perennial likes an area with sun to partial shade and is attractive to bees, butterflies and birds. The main problem with this lovely plant is that it grows very well in our area. It can get from six to eight feet tall and sprawls at least three to four feet wide. It is extremely easy to propagate from stem cuttings. A suggestion from a grower is to cut it back in early summer to keep it from getting too big. And it will get big, so be careful where you plant it.Q: I live outside the city limits and am having trouble with deer. Please list some plants that will give me a fighting chance to keep my landscape.A: I’ve found several lists and all of them have the disclaimer that if a deer is hungry, he’ll eat the deer resistant plant. So here are plants that are pretty good. Remember, there are also deterrents that work (such as a motion sensor attached to a sprinkler). Deer like young trees, so keep the trees within fencing until their leaves are higher than a deer’s reach. Small trees and shrub types include desert willow, Eastern red cedar, flameleaf and evergreen sumac, roughleaf dogwood, Texas buckeye, Texas mountain laurel, Texas persimmon, agarita, ceniza or Texas sage, esperanza, nandina, oleander, pineapple guava, pomegranate, soft leaf yucca as well as yucca with stiff points, sotol, rosemary, yaupon holly and vitex. Among perennials, flowers and herbs are listed many types of salvia, pigeonberry, American beautyberry, Turk’s cap, amaryllis, artemisia, plumbago, Texas betony, wedelia, periwinkles, zinnias, purple coneflower, rock rose, skullcap, verbena, lantana (the old fashioned orange type), and bluebonnets. Doug Welsh, in his Texas Garden Almanac, says that most herbs are deer resistant and you should try them all. For more information go to the aggie horticulture web site:http://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/plantanswers/publications/deerbest.html.

Nov. 2009 Q&A: Nov. Garden Tasks, Save Your Basil, Rooting Woody Stemmed Plants, Trees, Shrubs

Basil Q: What should I be doing in my yard and garden in November? A: You need to start looking around for people raking their lawns and bagging leaves so that you can grab those bags for your compost. I have a friend who cruises her neighborhood this time of year several times a week for leaves. She always has beautiful compost. Personally, I do not have many trees that drop leaves, so I can just leave my leaves on the lawn and my husband mows over them with our mulching mower. Now is a good time to send a sample of your soil in for testing. If you go in to your county extension agent (or our Master Gardener office), you can pick up a form with instructions and the address of the soil-testing lab. Also, before the first freeze of the season, be sure to cut a stem of basil, place it in a vase of water, and put it on your kitchen windowsill. Since it will root easily, you can have fresh basil all winter (long after the basil in your garden has frozen). Remember to cover your tomatoes and other freeze-sensitive plants with cardboard boxes, blankets, or row cover to keep them just a little longer. Please remember that freeze damaged plant material is best pruned in February or March. Winter vegetable crops benefit from a nitrogen fertilizer. If we have a dry spell, don’t forget to water your winter garden. Q: I’ve really been enjoying the hard sand pears that have just ripened on area trees. Is it possible to root one? A: I hope so, because I also enjoy them. According to Doug Welsh’s “Texas Garden Almanac” dormant, woody stems from shrubs and trees, and woody stems of perennials are best rooted during the fall and winter. (He also says that bald cypress, cedar elm, oak and pecan are virtually impossible to root.) Have ready a pot of good potting soil with good drainage. Moisten. Take tip cuttings the length and diameter of a pencil. The end of the cutting to be put in the soil should be at a 45-degree angle. Remove the leaves from the bottom half of the cutting. Dip the angled end into rooting hormone. Tap off excess. Make a hole in the soil with your finger and slip in the cutting, than firm the soil around the cutting. Water. Keep the soil moist but not saturated. Welsh suggests using a two liter soda bottle cut in half as a greenhouse. Place in bright light. A helpful hint is to take more cuttings than needed as some always die. If they all root, however, then you have plants to share.

Oct. 2009 Q & A: Plant Fall Color, Use Those Leaves

Q: After our long hot and dry summer, I want some fall color. What can I plant?

BeautyberryA: One of my favorite fall and winter color plants is flowering kale. They are show- stoppers when they reach cabbage size. Snapdragons also do exceptionally well here. In fact, mine reseed every year. Doug Welsh, in his Texas Garden Almanac, says that the best petunia beds in the spring are the ones planted in the fall. I have a petunia planted last fall that made it through the summer and is completely rejuvenated after our recent rain. Other annuals that Welsh lists are alyssum, calendula, dianthus, Johnny-jump-up, pansy, stock, sweet pea and viola.Some plants that give fall and winter color are the agarita (if any berries are left after the hungry birds get to them), American and Buford holly, dogwood, Mexican plum, pomegranate, possumhaw holly, Nellie Stevens holly, and yaupon holly. American beautyberry is one of my favorite color plants. The variety with the white berries is pretty, but the one with the purple berries is outstanding. I have babied mine all summer by keeping it watered and fairly happy. It is really pretty right now, as the photo attests.You might want to consider ornamental grasses for your Texas landscape. One of the prettiest fall bloomers is Gulf or coastal muhly. It flowers in the fall with sort of pinkish seed heads. When the sun shines though it, it is simply beautiful. I lost mine by letting Bermuda grass get into the bed. If I plant again, it will be in pots as it only gets one and a half to two feet tall. Other fall bloomers are big bluestem (4 to 6 feet tall), bushy bluestem (2 to 4 feet), Indian grass (3 to 6 feet), little bluestem (2 to 4 feet), maiden grass (6 to 8 feet), switchgrass (3 to 8 feet), and zebra grass (5 to 7 feet). I did not list pampas grass because it is so huge. I also had a hard time trying to get rid of mine after it outgrew its space.Q: What can I do with the leaves that fall off my trees? I know that I should not be putting them in the landfill.A: If you have a mulching mower, some of them can be just left on your lawn as mulch. Another possibility is to put them in a pile, mow over them, then place them in your compost pile. When they compost along with your vegetable trimmings, eggshells, and banana peels, you will have a lovely additive to put on your plants. Another possibility is to use the leaves in the furrows between the rows in your vegetable garden. As you walk on the leaves, they will break down and can be used next year as compost. According to Welsh, you can also collect leaves and till them directly into the soil in the fall. Add a small amount of nitrogen or manure to speed up their decomposition.

Sept. 2009 Q & A: Fall Vegetable Garden, Spider Mites

Q: I would like to plant my fall vegetable garden. When do I plant seeds? A: In the San Antonio area, according to Dr. Jerry Parsons and David Rodriguez, many seeds can be planted this month. From now till about the middle or end of September, you can plant beans, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, Swiss chard, collards, garlic (cloves), kohlrabi, peas, potatoes, and summer squash. Of course, if you buy transplants, you can plant later. The seed of beets, carrots, lettuce, mustard, onion, parsley, radish, spinach, and turnip can be planted into October, with turnips and radishes planted into November. If you would like a list of recommended vegetable varieties and planting dates for both spring and fall, leave your email address at the extension office and I will email it to you (or come in and I will leave some handouts at the main desk). Remember, when choosing vegetable varieties, choose ones that are resistant to pests and disease. (Tomatoes, for example, may have VFN or other letters showing resistance). Talk to your nurseryman. Q: I really would like a big vegetable garden, but do not have the time or energy to keep up with one. What can I do? A: Aside from adding a few containers on your patio for smaller vegetables, why don’t you put some of your cool-season vegetables in your flowerbed as ornamentals? Cabbage, kale, leaf lettuce, spinach, cilantro and other herbs look very attractive in the landscape and, of course, can be eaten. Q: I have spider mites on a bush near my vegetable garden. What can I do to keep them from getting on my newly planted tomatoes? A: Spider mites are bad this year because of our hot dry weather. If it were not so hot, I would first spray the spider mite infested bush with insecticidal soap. However, remember that insecticidal soap can burn or stress plants if used in full sun or when the temperature is high. A better thing to try in this heat is to spray with a high-pressure water spray. Also spray your tomatoes with a high-pressure water spray (not so high that you tear the tomato to shreds). This will also keep the dust off your plants. As always, cleanliness is important. Make sure there are no weeds or old vegetation from the spring still left in your fall garden. This is important since spider adults over winter in vegetation. If you can, maintain adequate soil moisture.

August 2009 Q & A: Finding Space for Growing Tomatoes

Q: I really don’t have a space to plant a vegetable garden but I sure like the flavor of homegrown tomatoes. What can I do? A: Almost anywhere—a patio, a balcony, a doorstep, a windowsill, near the pool or the hot tub—is a good spot for vegetables grown in a container. There are many advantages to growing in a container. One is mobility. The container can be moved to follow the sun. It can also be moved inside in case of a freeze or can be more easily covered. Another advantage is the height of the container. The other evening I took photos of a house surrounded by vegetables in containers. The gardener told me that he could be watering one pot while weeding another. If you have children, each child could be responsible for taking care of his or her own “vegetable garden.” Another advantage is that it is easier to find pests and eliminate them with a container that can be seen from all sides. Soil borne diseases and poor soil conditions are not as prevalent since you should fill your container with a growing medium that is free of plant disease organisms and weed seeds. A nice soil mixture (suggested by Dr. Masabni of Texas A&M) can be made up of equal parts of peat moss or compost, pasteurized soil, and vermiculite or perlite. Then add composted cow manure as a nutrient source. Almost anything can be used as a container: clay or plastic pots, wash tubs, wooden planters, hanging baskets, old half barrels, bushel baskets, even old stock tanks. Be sure there are drainage holes in the container and place one-inch coarse gravel or broken clay pot pieces in the bottom for better drainage. Many types of crops are suitable for containers: beans, beets, carrots, cucumbers, eggplant, lettuce, onions, parsley, peppers, radishes, spinach, summer squash, Swiss chard, and tomatoes. Proper watering is essential when you have a container garden, but proper drainage is also essential. If the soil becomes soggy, plants will die from lack of oxygen. There are several hints that tell you there is poor drainage and excessive water: the plants yellow from the bottom and they wilt although it may seem like sufficient water is present. After your seeds germinate and the plants emerge, you can use either time-release or water-soluble fertilizer following the application directions on the label. Enjoy eating your homegrown vegetables. For more information go to aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu on the Internet.

July 2009 Q & A: Chiggers! Gardening through the Golden Years

Q: My back yard is full of chiggers and I am getting bitten when I go out to garden. What can I do? A: On the Texas A& M web site under “chiggers,” I found a number of articles. One article said that chigger infestations are less common in maintained turf grass and landscape environments. The article went on to say that keeping grass cut short and vegetation well trimmed can raise soil temperatures and lower humidity enough to make lawns less hospitable to chiggers. Also, wild animals can help sustain chiggers in your backyard. Remember that fireants eat ticks and chiggers. I suppose this means that we should not eradicate our fireants around the house completely. Lawns can be covered in dusting sulfur although one person has told me that this did not help. To keep chiggers off of you, spray with a repellant (read the label of your mosquito repellent and see if it will also keep chiggers off) and wear loose clothing. Tuck your long pants into your boots. Do not lie down or sit on the ground. Immediately after exposure to chiggers, make sure you take a hot soapy bath to kill and remove the larvae. Your clothes should also be washed. An antiseptic can be put on the welts. Try as hard as you can to keep from scratching. Q: I’m getting older and less able to handle a large garden. Do you have suggestions for the older gardener? A: Actually, there is a book out called “Gardening through your Golden Years” by Jim Wilson in which he interviews older gardeners to get their views. One person says he uses long handled tools. Another gardens in raised beds. Another gardener worried about getting injured so got rid of all his power tools – the chain saw, the lawn tractor, the edger, and the lawn mower – and just hires someone to do the heavy work. And then there is the opposite: the man who used getting older as an excuse to buy fancy power equipment to make his life easier – a garden tractor, a better wheelbarrow, a front end loader. I can tell you what I’ve done. I’ve bought garden tools with easy to grip handles and cutters that spring open by themselves after each cut. My lopper has compound levers to multiply the force. I also use kneepads when working on a bed. A friend of mine bought one of those wheeled garden seats. I work in the morning or early evening and try to stay in the shade. I wear my hat, sunscreen, drink plenty of water, and know my limitations. At the first comment from my back or my wrists, I stop and do something else. I’ve already discovered that my arthritis does not like the vibration of the weed eater. Listen to your body and you will be gardening for years to come.

June 2009 Q & A: Plum Problem and All About the Lavender Tree

Q: All the small plums fell off my tree this year before they ripened. There was no sign of insect infestation. What am I doing wrong? A: After searching the Internet and AggieHorticulture, I found that if it is not insects, or normal early fruit drop when the tree sets too many fruit, then it is probably some type of stress. In our case, lack of enough water could be the culprit. Water is essential for large fruit and healthy trees according to the Master Gardener manual. Fruit trees need water at least every 3 weeks and in summer they need a deep soaking irrigation at least once a week. Another possibility is to keep weeds away from your tree. Clear the ground around the plum tree out as far as the limb spread or about twenty feet. Mulch the ground remembering to keep the mulch out from the trunk about three inches. If you have a bearing tree, then you should be on a fertilizing schedule: February—two cups of balanced fertilizer per inch of trunk diameter; May—two to six cups of high nitrogen per tree; and August—no fertilizer if trees are growing vigorously, or 1 ½ cups if there is no new growth but tree is healthy, or three cups if there is no new growth and the leaves are yellow. Q: I have a lavender tree. Can I trim it this time of year? Also, what is its real name? A: You have a Vitex agnus-castus, also called a chaste tree. In spite of the fact that the tree is not native to North America, I am very fond of it in the landscape. The lavender blooms are quite attractive to butterflies and bees. A Forest Service fact sheet says that the tree is often planted where honey is marketed to promote excellent honey production. To finally answer your question about pruning, not only can you prune it, you should be pruning the tree to enable clearance beneath the canopy or to develop a strong structure. The tree likes to grow with several trunks, but you can prune it to grow with a single trunk or multiple showy trunks. After the tree blooms, small black fruit or berries form. When I was a child growing up in Florida, we gathered the fragrant dried berries and placed them in little hand made sachet bags to place in our dresser drawers. The Vitex has basically no pests, it likes almost any soil as long as it is well drained, and it likes heat. The tree does get leaf spot (although I’ve never seen it). The Invaders of Texas program out of the Ladybird Wildflower Center does list Vitex as an invasive species in Central Texas.

May 2009 Q & A: How Do I Start a Compost Pile?

Q: At Earth Day in downtown Seguin, the Master Gardeners had a display with compost in various degrees of decomposition. I would love to start a compost pile but am afraid that I would do it all wrong. Help! A: Let’s look at what compost really is. Compost is a dark, crumbly and earthy-smelling form of organic matter that has been through a decomposition process. It can be used to enrich and loosen the soil. Also, if you have sandy soils, compost can help retain moisture and nutrients. Aggie-horticulture says that the word “compost” comes from the Latin verb meaning to put together. So composting involves putting together a mixture of different organic materials to form humus. First, you should find a spot in your yard where a compost pile will be out of the way. (My husband prefers that our pile also be out of sight.) If the pile is in the sun, it will decompose faster. If it is in the shade, it will remain moist longer. You do not have to have a structure. The decomposing material can just be placed in a pile on the ground. Or, you could build a wire cage, a wooden box, a turning barrel, four wooden palettes on edge, or any structure that is well ventilated for good air circulation. One of our Master Gardeners uses the inner drum of an old dryer. Start your pile with a six-inch layer of brush trimmings or wood chips. Next add a six-inch layer of leaves, straw, hay or a mixture. Water the pile. Add a nitrogen source such as an 8-8-8 or a 10-10-10 fertilizer. Then put about a fourth inch of soil over the nitrogen. Water. Then add a two to three inch layer of high nitrogen material such as vegetative kitchen scraps, grass clippings, etc. Then add another thin layer of soil. Keep adding layers and remember to water. Do not add animal products or milk products (such as butter, bones, cheese, chicken, fish scraps, lard, mayonnaise, meat scraps, peanut butter, salad dressing). Also, do not add animal manures or feces (except for herbivores like cow or horse manure). Loosen the pile with a pitch fork now and then. Now, all these good instructions aside, I put grass clippings, leaves, and vegetable scraps in my pile and water it. I very rarely turn it, and yet, it turns into compost in spite of me. Aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/extension/compost/compost.html has a number of chapters on compost, including one on building your own container.

April 2009 Q & A: Earth Kind Rose Garden

Q: I noticed that around the side of the Guadalupe County AgriLife building is a new garden that is not made up of native plants like the other gardens. Exactly what is an Earth Kind Rose Garden? A: First of all, the phrase Earth Kind, as used by Texas A&M Department of Horticultural Sciences, “uses research-proven techniques to provide maximum gardening and landscape enjoyment while preserving and protecting our environment.” Their literature (EarthKind.tamu.edu) goes on to say that Earth Kind roses are tested and do very well in almost any Texas soil type. Environmental responsibility is a big issue in Texas right now (as it is throughout the United States) and Earth Kind roses fit right in with many of the concepts. These roses, while not immune to pests, do have a larger pest tolerance. In fact, A&M says that the roses rarely require the use of chemical pesticides. The planting bed at the Extension building followed the growing tips listed on the Earth Kind site. The bed receives direct sunlight for eight hours or more. There is good air movement in this location (in other words, not an enclosed location). The bed is well drained. When you visit the garden, notice that landscape timbers have been used to create a semi raised bed effect. The compacted soil was removed and mixed with compost, then returned to the bed. After the roses were planted, a three to four inch layer of organic mulch was placed over the bed. Our organic mulch was something that just says “Seguin”—pecan shells. The Master Gardeners planted five of the current list of Earth Kind rose: Caldwell Pink, Knock Out, Perle d’Or, Belinda’s Dream and Climbing Pinkie. The other roses on the Earth Kind list are Marie Daly, The Fairy, Else Poulsen, Katy Road Pink, Duchesse de Brabant, Spice, Mutabilis, and Sea Foam. Two more have been added to the list: Ducher and Georgetown Tea. An interesting part of the A&M Earth Kind site is the information about the EK Rose Brigade: amateur members who conduct field testing of rose selections. These members grow the roses for one to four years and following the EK planting tips. The members agree to use no commercial synthetic or organic fertilizer, no fungicides, pesticides, miticides, and no neem oil. In other words, Never Apply Commercial Fertilizer and Never Apply Pesticides. Remember, the main goals of EK are to conserve water, safely use and handle fertilizers and pesticides, and reduce yard wastes entering landfills.

March 2009 Q & A: Wildflowers and timely lawn and garden tasks!

Q: Are we going to have any wildflowers blooming this spring? A: We already have some plants in bloom. The mountain laurels are beautiful and are covered in blooms. The redbud trees are lovely as are the huisache. Smaller blooming plants in my yard are bluebonnets and agarita. Buttercup plants are preparing to send up blooms, larkspur are sending up spikes, and the blue-eyed grass in my neighbor’s yard is starting to bloom. If you go by the AgriLife extension building, the native plant garden surrounding the building has many salvia in bloom as well as other plants coming along. Q: What are some wildflower sites that we can access? A: One of my favorite sites is that of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. It is www.wildflower.org. Another is from A&M: aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/wildseed/. Q: Can I still plant wildflowers? A: Seeds should have been planted in the fall. However, at least one of our local nurseries has bluebonnet plants by the six-pack. Another wildflower available is the columbine. And, if you want to plant trees, blooming redbuds are available also. Q: Is it time to fertilize my lawn? A: The rule of thumb is to apply lawn fertilizer after you have mowed the lawn grass at least twice. This way you know that the lawn is actively growing. Q: What should we be doing in our yards in March? A: According to Doug Welsh’s Texas Garden Almanac, we can cut back dead foliage of our ornamental grasses when we see new growth coming from the base. You can plant spring annuals. My tomatoes are in one-gallon pots ready to be transplanted to the garden. Finish your pruning. I still have two rose bushes left to prune. Keep your garden weed free. Every hackberry in the world seems to be sprouting in my columbine garden. At this stage they are easy to pull out. It is probably time to move your garaged plants out to the porch. I need to repot a few of mine such as the plumaria and the ficus. Welsh suggests that you monitor your fruit and nut crops. For me, this means that I make sure they are getting enough water. For an easy way to water, punch an eighth-inch hole at the bottom of the side of a five-gallon bucket. Place several buckets filled with water around your fruit tree. The water will slowly come out the small hole and no water will be wasted.

February 2009 Q & A: Companion plantings, more on Roses, February garden tasks

Q: Liz Palfini, Texas Parks and Wildlife Park Ranger, spoke at the Master Gardener meeting the other night on Companion Planting. Time ran out before she could list all the plants that should not be planted next to each other. What are some more examples? A: Liz said that beans do not like onions, and corn and tomatoes should not be planted together. Potatoes should not be planted with tomatoes, cucumbers and sunflowers. Other negative plantings can be found in “Carrots Love Tomatoes and Roses Love Garlic” by Louise Riotte written in 1975. Roses, as the title suggests, like garlic and onions but do not like boxwood. Sunflowers should not be planted with pole beans. It was interesting to note that tomatoes should not be planted near young apricot trees because of excretions from the tomato roots, but could be planted near roses. One of my prettiest tomato plants was the one I planted next to a rose bush. Another source that gives a list of plants that grow well together as well as those that are incompatible is: www.companionplanting.net Q: Is it all right to trim my rose bushes now? A: The rule of thumb that I’ve always heard is to prune your roses on Valentine’s Day. Doug Welsh’s “Texas Garden Almanac” for February says that when a flowering shrub blooms is the determining factor for when to prune. Spring-bloomers should be pruned soon after they bloom. These include honeysuckle, Indian hawthorn, redbud, spring-blooming climbing roses, Texas mountain laurel, viburnum and wisteria. Summer-blooming shrubs should be pruned in late winter in order to get vigorous spring growth. These include althea, butterfly bush, crape myrtle, most roses, and vitex. Q: What else can I do in my yard in February? A: Don’t forget that bare-root fruit and nut trees are in the nurseries now. Pull out weeds so that you won’t have so much to do in the spring. Do not fertilize your lawn yet unless you have mowed your lawn twice already (which will probably be March unless the lawn dies completely from no rain). Start your spring vegetables, and if you have transplants, place them in one gallon pots. Our last spring freeze is around March 6 or 7 (as an average—so that means we can still get one later). Keeping your vegetables in pots for a while is safer than putting them in the garden and worrying.

January 2009 Q & A: Roses, Pruning, Spring Garden Plan

By Clara Mae Marcotte, Texas Master Gardener with the Texas AgriLife Extension Q: As I look ahead to my spring garden, all I can think of are rosebushes. What roses have you had experience growing? A: I like old-fashioned roses because they practically take care of themselves. My very favorite rose is Carefree Beauty (which I first bought when it was known as Katy Road Pink). Introduced in 1977, it has deep pink blooms. A plus to me are the extremely large rose hips. Also, it roots from cuttings very easily. Another favorite is Cecile Brunner (a sweetheart rose). This pink rose has been around since 1881. Doug Welsh lists both roses in his “Texas Garden Almanac” as some of his favorite old-fashioned roses. He describes Cecile Brunner as an everblooming compact shrub. Mine comes to my chin and stays fairly compact. Carefree Beauty sprawls over about a ten-foot area so make sure you plant it out from the house (I didn’t). Another rose listed by Welsh is Mutabilis or Butterfly Rose. This was introduced in 1894 and has blooms that turn colors as they age—yellow, orange, pink, and crimson. I don’t have this plant but plan to rectify that this spring. If you would like to check out what Mutabilis looks like, there is one growing at the AgriLife Extension building, and one growing on the west side of the Big Red Barn (Texas Agricultural Education and Heritage Center). Q: In December 27′s newspaper, Calvin Finch wrote that we shouldn’t cut our frozen dead wood yet. Do you agree with this? It looks so messy. A: I certainly do agree with Calvin Finch. For one thing, I’m basically lazy and pruning before the last freeze means that I would have to prune again. Also, I’m into birds and wildlife. All that dead wood and leaves not only protects the live wood on the plants, it also gives birds and critters places to go, both to hide and to search for seeds, berries, and insects. Q: So if I can’t prune, what can I do in January? A: You should be planning your spring garden. My tomato catalog came in the week before Christmas and I’ve been perusing all the new varieties, as well as some of the heritage varieties that I haven’t grown yet. Welsh’s “Garden Almanac” suggests that you add organic matter to your spring garden. Use this time to renew the mulch on your established beds. Go ahead and pull weeds as they sprout. If you need to transplant, now is a good time. Buy bare root fruit and nut trees at local nurseries and plant them now.

December 2008 Q & A: Trees with Fall Color

By Clara Mae Marcotte, Texas Master Gardener with the Texas AgriLife Extension Q: We just returned from looking at fall color in Bandera and Lost Maples State Park. What can we plant in our area that will give us the feel of fall next year? A: There are three trees on the Texas Superstar list put out by the Texas Department of Agriculture. One that I’ve had experience with is the Chinese Pistache or Pistacia chinensis. Mine, as I write this in late November, is absolutely beautiful with red, red-orange foliage. The tree grows from 40 to 50 feet, is deciduous, and grows in any type of soil. It is drought, heat, and wind tolerant. My tree is male and has no berries. A negative point to planting the tree is that the Lady Bird Johnson Center has it on the List of Invasive Plants—those non-native species that are known to escape cultivation. I imagine that you can get around this by sticking to a male tree, or by keeping the berries clipped off of a female tree. Two more trees on the Superstar list are the Shantung Maple (Acer truncatum) and the Chinkapin Oak (Quercus muehlenbergii). The oak grows to 90 feet tall and 40 feet wide and the leaves turn yellow to bronze in the fall. The shantung maple is another tree with foliage that turns red, red-orange. This is a small tree, growing to 25 feet tall, and 20 feet wide. It is suggested to wrap the trunk the first three years to prevent sunscald. Another list that you might be interested in is “Trees Recommended for Texas” by Dr. William C. Welch at aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/southerngarden/treelist.html. It has a column of outstanding characteristics for each tree that includes fall color. As I look around my area, I see a number of cedar elm (Ulmus crassifolia) with yellow, yellow-orange foliage. This is a very dependable tree and grows well Welch mentions also the Ginkgo and the Sweetgum as having fall color. Another tree on the list is the Bradford Pear (Pyrus calleryana bradfordii). I have one of these medium-sized trees in my backyard. This is the first time that I’ve been happy with it as the leaves finally turned red this year. Supposedly it also has flowers in the spring (my neighbor’s tree does) but mine has not bloomed yet. If you are looking for a smaller spot of color (shrub size or small tree), plant a flame-leaf sumac (Rhus lanceolata). It has orange/red fall color and is the red plant that you see along the roadsides right now. There is small patch of flame sumac on the southwest corner of the Wal Mart complex in Seguin out by King Street if you want to check it out.

November 2008 Q & A: BareTurf Spot, Broccoli, and Basil

By Clara Mae Marcotte, Texas Master Gardener with the Texas AgriLife Extension Q: I have a bare spot in my turf grass; what is wrong with it? Also, when do I fertilize? A: Bare spots in the lawn could be due to a number of things, including grub worms, fungus, and viruses. After discussion with the caller, it was determined that the sprinkler system was leaking and leaving a wet spot in the lawn. Grub worms actually come from the June beetle. If you have more than four grubs per square foot, than treatment is justified. Malcolm Beck tells about his very efficient June beetle trap in “Texas Bug Book—The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.” The beetles show up in late March. Malcolm hangs a 60-watt light over a bucket a little below the rim. He fills the bucket one-third full of soapy water and hangs it high enough so a child or pet can’t get to it. He suggests emptying it every other day into the compost (before the bugs start to decay and stink). Discontinue using the light when it starts attracting green lacewings and praying mantids. My lawn fertilizer is actually already spread. Our George Ammermann suggests that applying ½ pound of nitrogen per l,000 square feet of grass area is sufficient. He also says that fall is a great time to apply compost. The Aggie-horticulture web site reminds us that the best nutrient ratio for fall fertilizing is 3-1-2 or 4-1-2. Q: My broccoli is looking really good in my fall garden. Is there anything I should be doing with it right now? A: One of my favorite Beck and Garrett books is “Texas Organic Vegetable Gardening.” The authors say that healthy soil and beneficial insects will prevent most pests. Broccoli likes moisture and plenty of fertilizer. Fertilize when the heads begin to form with a half handful of organic fertilizer around each plant. Don’t forget to continue fertilizing after the first harvest to encourage the little secondary heads. Q: Last year you mentioned over wintering basil. Would you mention it again? A: Before the first freeze, cut off a stem or two of basil and bring it in the house. I place mine in a jar of water on my kitchen windowsill. After a while it grows roots. Through the winter you can use the fresh leaves in your cooking. This past spring I planted the rooted cutting back in the garden.

October 2008 Q & A: Yellow Ader, Esperanza, Bluebonnets

By Clara Mae Marcotte, Texas Master Gardener with the Texas AgriLife Extension Q: The other day I took a plant walking tour around the Texas AgriLife Extension building in Seguin. At the east end of the building was a beautiful green plant with bright yellow buttercup type flowers. The sign identified it as Yellow Alder. What can you tell me about it? A: This plant, Turnera ulmifolia, also known as Yellow Alder, Yellow Buttercup, Cuban Buttercup, Mexican Buttercup and Sage Rose, can be purchased at local nurseries. The plant is a small shrub that is more tropical than many of our plants around here. A University of Florida fact sheet says it is native to the Caribbean basin. A Texas Gardener.com website has it growing from Brazil to Mexico. This means, of course, that it is not native to North America. It grows from two to three high and the same wide. The green leaves have serrated margins and present a very striking appearance. The plant flowers year round. Freezing temperatures will kill it to the ground, but it usually will come back in the spring. Turnera ulmifolia grows in part shade/part sun and will tolerate either acidic or alkaline soil. It will also tolerate any soil type and moderate drought conditions. In the far south, it may self-seed each year. Q: My esperanza (Tecoma stans) needs trimming. May I do that? A: This Texas Superstar grows to four feet high (although I’ve seen it taller). After flowering, the spent blooms should be removed to promote re-bloom. I have chopped a foot or so off and the plant pops back, but you will be without blooms for a while. The city of Austin’s “Native and Adapted Landscape Plants” suggests that after the first frost, prune the plant to a three inch height, then mulch. For those of you who do not grow the esperanza, it is a three to four foot semi-evergreen plant, and grows best in full sun. It requires a low to medium amount of water and blooms from the spring through the fall. A particularly beautiful display right now is east of the Silver Center in Seguin. Q: Are bluebonnet plants available and can they be planted now? A: Bluebonnet plants are available at your local nursery in six-packs. They can be planted now. In fact, my bluebonnets that came up from seeds from last year’s bluebonnets are just the same size as the plants in the six-pack.

September 2008 Q & A: Chinese jujube, Mexican sunflower

By Clara Mae Marcotte, Texas Certified Master Gardener Q: What are those three really weird looking trees on the Gonzalez Street side of the new Seguin Chamber of Commerce building? A: Those trees are known as Chinese jujube or Chinese date. Their real name is Ziziphus jujuba. Henry Donegan had them planted when he built the building years ago. The tree is deciduous and grows from 20 to 40 feet tall, and 15 to 20 feet wide. The three trees downtown have suckered and have small bushes growing around them. In the wild, this could become a thicket. Duffield and Jones’ “Plants for Dry Climates” calls this a deep-rooted plant that tolerates drought, heat, cold and alkaline soil conditions. In fact, as far as I’m concerned, the tree’s only drawback is the spines growing on the branches. (If the low growing suckers were kept trimmed, and the branches were kept above child and lawnmower level, the spines would not be a problem). In the spring, small yellow flowers form edible fruit about the size of a date. These fruit ripen in high temperatures and taste sort of like sweet apples. Plant in part shade to full or reflected sun. Water occasionally. According to the “Sunset New Western Garden Book” the tree can be pruned in winter to shape and encourage its weeping habit or reduce the size. Master Gardener Lynn Pfullmann tells me that there is another very nice specimen on Terminal Loop Road. Q: When I was on vacation in New England this summer, I saw a bed of beautiful deep orange flowers. I was told that they were tithonias. Can they be grown here in Texas? A: Surprisingly enough, the answer is yes. I grew this plant as far south as Kingsville. The Tithonia rotundifolia or Mexican sunflower blooms from July to the first frost. The plants grow to six feet high and have flower heads three to four inches across. We grow this plant as a summer annual as it does freeze, however it is drought and heat resistant. Both of the previously mentioned books suggest sowing seed in the place where you want the plants to grow in the spring. Since this is a tall plant, make sure you put it in the back of your garden but still in full sun. When cutting the flowers for bouquets, cut carefully so that you do not bend the stalks because they have inflated hollow stems.

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