Ask a Master Gardener


Got a Gardening Question? Just Ask!

Clara Mae Marcotte is a Texas Master Gardener with Texas A&M AgriLife Extension. If you have a question to be answered, call the Master Gardeners at 830-379-1972 on Monday mornings or leave a message to be answered. Questions can also be e-mailed to   The Master Gardener research library is open Mondays from 8:30 to noon, except holidays, at 210 East Live Oak Street in Seguin.

[Editor’s Note:  The gardening suggestions found here are generally written for Guadalupe County, Texas (Central Texas).  We are in USDA Plant Hardiness Zone 8a (minimum low temperatures of 10 – 15 degrees F), with mostly soil types of Blackland Prairie, Claypan and Postoak Savannah.  We have average annual rainfall of 34 inches and usually a hot, dry summer. Gardening results in other areas may vary!]

November 2018:

Q1: I am getting older and would really like a low-maintenance landscape. Do you have suggestions?

A1: As I age, I find that getting on the ground and digging in flower beds does not appeal to me as much. I took out some overgrown sprawling juniper by my front door (fire hazard; also a snake lived in it), and replaced it with mulch. Now if I want seasonal flowers, I just place a pot or two in the middle of the area. Another area of mulch has a sun dial and a birdbath.

Largish shrubs take the place of many smaller plants. My flower beds have all been turned into mulched areas. A Yaupon with three to five trunks (and mulch underneath) makes a striking accent for the yard. It also is evergreen with red berries. Nonnative shrubs that are evergreen stand-alone accents include different types of hollies such as Burford. Mine is covered in red berries this time of year. I shear it with hedge trimmers in the spring. Other shrubs that I am happy with include Esperanza and Hamelia (Firebush). Both freeze pretty much to the ground in the winter. This is a good thing as you cut all the dead growth back in the spring (an easy job), then have no more maintenance till next spring. My Cenizo bushes require no maintenance, although I could trim them if I wanted. However, as is, they provide a good screen to mask the neighbor’s yard.

So basically, simplify by mulching, expanding your shrub plantings, and putting in interesting pavers (winding pathways), with limestone accent rocks, as well as statuary. When you do plant, use native plants or well-adapted plants that are meant for Central Texas. You might consider putting in an irrigation system. It certainly saves lugging hoses around. Remember, just because you have it doesn’t mean you have to water two or three times a week. Use common sense and check the soil two inches down with your finger.

Q2: Last year you mentioned buying living Christmas trees but I did not save the article. What will do well here?

A2: For Central Texas there are seven trees that are adapted to the area, according to Doug Welsh in his Texas Garden Almanac. They include Arizona cypress, Deodar cedar, Eastern red cedar, Eldarica pine, Italian stone pine, Leyland cypress, and Nellie R. Stevens holly. Make sure your tree comes in a three to fifteen gallon container (not larger or you won’t be able to lift it in and out of the house). When it is inside, place the tree in the brightest natural light available, and keep the soil moist, not wet (or dry). Check the moisture with your finger daily. Remember, this is an outdoor tree so don’t keep it inside more than two to three weeks. Plant immediately after Christmas. The root system will grow during the winter and the tree will be all ready for spring.

Decorate your outdoor trees with fruit slices, pine cones covered with peanut butter and bird seed, and strings of natural popcorn (no butter or salt) and cranberries. Keep your birdbaths full.

October 2018:

Q1: When do I fertilize my lawn?

A1: The general rule of thumb is to fertilize when you haven’t needed to mow for two weeks (showing that growth has slowed down). Doug Welsh in his Texas Garden Almanac lists October 15 as the fall fertilizer date for Central Texas. Fertilizers should be high in nitrogen and potassium and have either low or no phosphorus (either 2-1-2 or 1-0-1).  Of course, you need to check your own lawn first. I just received my latest front yard soil test. It has been 8 years since my last test and phosphorus, potassium, and calcium are still in the high to very high range. Eight years ago all I needed was three tenths of a pound of nitrogen per 1000 square feet. Now I need a half pound.  Welsh says that fall fertilization prolongs fall color, increases winter hardiness, and promotes earlier spring green-up.

Q2: What wildflowers are blooming now?

A2: The flowers I look forward to each year are the showy goldenrod or Solidago altissima.  All of mine have made buds and are opening. Goldenrod is often blamed for hay fever, which is actually caused by ragweed, a plant blooming at the same time. If you want to see a large field in bloom, look across 123 Bypass from Argent Court. Red salvia is blooming in my back yard, and if you visit the Park West pollinator garden, you will see red salvia there as well as the blue sage in bloom. Esperanza and lantana are still blooming as well as Gregg’s Mistflower (Conoclinium greggii).  Blooming oxalis is all over my back yard.

Q3: My neighbor has holly with red berries on it in the winter. What can I buy that will grow here and has berries?

A3: American beautyberry is a must. It has lovely purple berries. Of course, Burford holly and Nellie R. Stevens holly are also pretty showy. Possumhaw holly drops its leaves, but the berries remain on the shrub which makes it very interesting in the winter landscape. Yaupon holly (Ilex vomitoria) is one of my favorites. I usually cut branches for house decoration.

Q4: You always say not to throw leaves away. It is that time of year for leaf drop, so what can I do with them?

A4: If you only have a few trees in your yard, mowing with a mulching mower is the answer. This way the shredded leaves remain in place and eventually add nutrients to your yard. If you have more than a few leaves, and don’t have a compost bin, use the leaves as mulch. I place them in my flower beds all around the house. Another spot for leaves is in each furrow in between your vegetable rows. Welsh suggests also using them to till directly into a bed of heavy clay soil (or light, sandy soil) to add aeration and drainage (or to improve water and nutrient holding capacity). Also add a small amount of nitrogen or manure to aid decomposition.  Do not throw your leaves away. Check with your local community garden or take them to the Lulac Community Garden at Vaughn and New Braunfels Street.

September 2018:

Q1: When is the best time to plant container-grown trees and shrubs?

A1: According to Doug Welsh in his Texas Garden Almanac, fall is the perfect time for many reasons. It is hard to realize that fall is practically here, but as the weather cools, plant stress is reduced. There is more abundant rainfall (hopefully), and, let’s face it, working outside is easier on the gardener. When container plants are planted in the fall, their root systems have time to adjust to transplanting before the spring growth begins. Remember that this does not apply to bare-root plants. Wait until winter and the bare-root plants are dormant. Then, underground, roots will form, and in the spring new growth will appear.

Q2: I think that I want perennial flowers rather than annuals in my garden so that I don’t have to replant every year. What kind do well here?

A2: There are many perennials that do well here. I will list my favorites that have grown nicely for me over the years. I really like Esperanza or Tecoma stans. It does grow to four or five feet, but since it freezes every winter is easily manageable. It blooms all summer and fall with yellow tubular flowers.  Firebush, or Hamelia patens, is another favorite. This one also has tubular flowers and freezes back in the winter. I actually like the idea of plants freezing back because it makes them easier to control.

My Turk’s cap, another perennial, does not freeze to the ground and is gradually taking over the back yard. Pavonia or rock rose is a favorite that has lovely pink flowers and is extremely drought tolerant. Rosemary is a perennial with tiny blue flowers. I am partial to the upright variety. The prostrate forms tend to produce roots wherever they touch the ground. I have one plant that is consuming one of my raised beds.

If you have partial shade, you might want to try columbine. This lovely plant blooms in the spring with yellow tubular flowers. The tree that shaded my columbine bed fell, so my plants are now in full sun and not happy. Another shade perennial that was in the same bed were my sweet violets. When we get plenty of rain in the winter and early spring, their blooms are simply beautiful. A fall bloomer is the fall aster with its lovely purple flowers. To see what a bush looks like when it is not in bloom, visit the Pollinator Garden at Park West.

Q3: Is it time to plant wildflowers?

A3: Late August and September are the best times to plant seed says Doug Welsh. Make sure you get fresh seeds and plant one-fourth pound per 500 square feet. I have had good luck planting bluebonnets and larkspur. Other wildflowers you could plant are black-eyed Susan, Drummond phlox, Gaillardia or Indian blanket, Gayfeather or liatrus, Indian paintbrush, horse mint, mealy cup sage, pink evening primrose, coreopsis, and wine cup. Please remember that in order to have blooms year after year, you must not remove the dead blooms or plants until all the flowers make seed. Use a small sign to alert the neighbors that you are not mowing for a reason.

August 2018:

Q1: With the infrequent rain that we’ve been getting, I worry about my trees. I do have an irrigation system, but wonder if that is enough water. How much water should trees get?

A1: Aggie-horticulture says that watering which is adequate for lawn grasses growing under trees is not adequate for actively growing trees. Trees need a deep soaking once a week in the growing season and this should be done just inside and a little beyond the dripline, not at the trunk. Doug Welsh says the ground should be saturated to a depth of 8 to 10 inches. Some years ago my husband took 5 gallon buckets and drilled a quarter inch hole on one side at the bottom.  We placed the buckets under the trees at the drip line and filled each one with water which then trickled out slowly into the ground. This makes an easy way to water and you don’t have to remember to turn off the hose.

Aggie-horticulture had a really interesting chart on the average weekly water requirements for pecan trees in gallons per tree. Four to seven year old trees require 224 gallons of water per tree in both July and in August (as compared to 56 gallons in April).

Remember that if you have grass or weeds growing around and under your trees, they are taking some of the nutrients and the water. Remove the grass and replace with mulch.

Q2: Do we need to add calcium to our soil here in Seguin?

A2: This was a question asked to our website and answered by our webmaster Bob Teweles. Basically, to summarize, he said that our clay soils already have plenty of calcium, and he suggested that the homeowner should get a soil analysis done. (Get a sample bag and instructions from the AgriLife Extension office at 210 East Live Oak.) I had a soil test done eight years ago and was surprised by the results. The only thing my moderately alkaline soil needed was nitrogen. It was high or very high in the other nutrients.  I have just sent in another soil sample to see how much the analysis changes (if at all).

Most of us need to add organic matter such as compost to the soil. When you mow, use a mulching mower and leave the clippings. Mulch your flower beds and the decomposition of the mulch improves the bed underneath.

Q3: Should I be doing something about my roses?

A3: Doug Welsh in his Texas Garden Almanac suggests that you begin in the middle of August to prune your roses back about 25 percent. Then remove all of the old blooms if the pruning didn’t get them all. He also suggests you remove the diseased rose leaves (throw them away). As the plants begin blooming again, continue deadheading as this will extend the blooming season. Fertilize with a nitrogen product, then water thoroughly and add mulch.

FYI: Keep those birdbaths filled. Mine empty out every day and always are surrounded by birds. Hopefully your fall tomatoes are planted. That first freeze comes all too soon.


July 2018:

Q1: My water bill is already high, and the recent rain was barely enough to soak the lawn. What can I do?

A1: Doug Welsh in his Texas Garden Almanac has several suggestions. He says to increase the lawn-mower mowing height during the summer to decrease lawn water use and to increase drought tolerance. Suggested heights are two inches for Bermuda, four inches for St. Augustine, and 6 inches for Buffalo. Also, you should reduce the rate of fertilizer that is applied to your lawn. Another of his suggestions may not appeal to you, and that is to let irrigated lawns turn brown where appropriate. I already do this on the back of my property in the “wildscape” area. Many lawn areas can be replaced with decks and patios, or groundcovers. My side yard has large beds with landscape plantings and lots and lots of mulch. Mulch, according to Welsh, is the highest impact, lowest tech water-conserving practice. In fact, even container-grown plants should be mulched.

Remember to water your lawn and garden between sundown and sunrise. The wind is lower and the temperature is lower which helps keep down evaporation.

Q2: I just moved here and was told that July is when we start our fall vegetable garden. Is that true? It is so hot!

A2: It is definitely true. Our first frost date for this area is around November 24. If you have planted fall tomatoes and peppers, you want them picked and in your house by then. That said, October 29 last year was 32 degrees. Plants that require two months from seed to harvest include beets, broccoli, cauliflower, collard greens, kohlrabi, lettuce, mustard greens, spinach, Swiss chard, and turnips.  Crops requiring three months from seed to harvest include Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, onions, acorn and butternut squash. Read your seed packet and figure out when you need to plant. Our local nurseries already have small transplants of tomatoes, eggplant, and peppers. This early start will help you reach harvest for the warm season vegetables. You will probably have to water the transplants every day in this heat, and may have to provide some shade. Now is a good time to think about drip irrigation for your vegetable garden.

If you have just moved here, you probably are not used to having a fall garden. In this area, fall gardens have many good things going for them: the crops are maturing as the days get shorter and cooler, so the quality is higher (less bitter taste); rainfall is more frequent in the fall; insect pest populations are declining (although you still need to keep an eye on your plants); and best of all, the weather is much more pleasant for you to be out in the garden.

FYI: Don’t forget to keep your birdbaths full for the birds and other small animals in our landscape. To keep down the mosquito population, empty your birdbaths when you refill them, although my local animals are thirsty enough that the containers are almost empty every day.

June 2018:

Q1: My neighbor has native plants. The one I really love is called Rock Rose and seems to bloom all the time.  What can you tell me about it?

A1:  Pavonia lasiopetala (Rock Rose, Rose Mallow, Rose Pavonia) is one of my favorites too. Mine is on the south side of my house and blooms from spring to fall. This small shrub grows 3 to 6 feet high (mine is more like 3 feet), is perennial, and has high heat tolerance. Both and aggie-horticulture like the plant and comment on its ability to survive the summer heat.  The rose pink flowers look like small hibiscus and open in the morning, then close in late afternoon. I have used them as cut flowers and a blooming stem lasts for several days. If you want more plants, seeds can be collected or softwood cuttings taken in the spring. Both my sources suggest pruning the plant frequently to promote new growth and more flowers.

Rock Rose can also grow in part shade (there were several bushes in front of City Hall against the building). The bush attracts nectar butterflies and moths as well as hummingbirds and bees. It is moderately deer resistant but you know what that means.

Q2: It is already so hot. Can any annuals survive our heat?

A2: According to Doug Welsh’s Texas Garden Almanac, a lot of our old favorites do just fine. Marigolds, periwinkle, portulaca (or moss rose), purslane, and zinnias do well in our sun and heat. And don’t forget the heat resistant shrubs. My gold star esperanza or yellow bells (Tecoma stans) already has blooms, as does my perennial John Fanick phlox. Almost all of my salvia are blooming. My Firebush (Hamelia patens) is close to blooming, and I’ve seen lots of lantana around town with flowers. Remember that plants that do well in sun and heat still need water. Keep an eye on your plants and water when necessary since we can’t count on having rain.

When you water, fill your bird baths. All of our garden wildlife need water. My resident pair of blue jays come in and bathe almost every day, (and I know the possums and raccoons use the lowest birdbath because it is always a mess.)

Q3: Will the Guadalupe County Master Gardeners have a training class this year?

A3: Yes, they definitely will. The class in which you can become a Certified Master Gardener will be on Tuesdays, July 31 to November 27, from 12:45 to 4:45 p.m., and will take place at the AgriLife Extension building, 210 E. Live Oak, in Seguin. The cost includes wonderful classroom speakers and a Texas Master Gardener Handbook (even after many years in Master Gardeners, I still use my book). For more information contact Karen Ulrich at 210-422-1594 or There is a ten percent discount if tuition is paid by July 15.

May 2018:

Q1: I never have any problems with my heritage roses. However, my miniature rose that grows in a pot on my deck has spots on the leaves. What is causing this and what can I do?

A1: Now is the time to talk about the Disease Triangle. According to Doug Welsh in his Texas Garden Almanac, diseases occur when three conditions exist at the same time: a susceptible host, a pathogen, and a favorable environment. The easiest condition to check is the environment. Did you overwater? Have you used a pesticide or herbicide? Does your water have a high salt content? Perhaps you have a combination of these things. Roses do best in full sun. Your deck is almost completely shaded by an oak tree. Try moving the plant into the sun and see what happens then. Also, remove the spotted leaves and throw them away. Wait to see if the problem is resolved; if not, spray with fungicide.

Q2: Should I worry about aphids on my milkweed?

A2: First, do not spray with insecticide. Monarch Joint Venture reports that most of the questions that come to them concern aphids. You will have aphids. If the infestation is really bad, remove them manually by squishing, then rinse the plants with water. Before doing this, make sure that you are not also removing Monarch eggs and larvae. If you are sure there are no eggs or larvae on the plant, then you can spray with soapy water which will kill the aphids. Rinse with clean water after a day to remove the residue. However, the safest method is the squishing. (It also helps with aggression).

Q3: Is it time to put in warm-season annuals?

A3: Definitely. Marigolds, penta, periwinkle, portulaca, purslane, and salvia can all be planted now, as well as amaranthus, bachelor button (gomphrena), begonias, cockscomb, coleus, cosmos, geraniums, petunias, sunflowers, and zinnias. Go by your local nursery and fill up your cart.

Q4: I received a bat faced cuphea plant at a garden club meeting. What should I know about it?

A4:  Bat faced cuphea (Cuphea llavea) is a native of Mexico and a perennial in this area. In warmer winters they are evergreen, but deciduous in cooler ones. The plant can survive temperatures into the 20s. Cuphea grows to two feet high and spreads to three feet. Plant in well-drained soil in full sun and do not overwater. It blooms from late spring to the first frost, and attracts hummingbirds and butterflies.

Q5: Is it too late to mulch?

A5: It is never too late. In fact, I understand that the city has a new chipper that makes much smaller chips than the old one. Or, perhaps you have a neighbor that still has leaves on his lawn and will let you have them. Make sure your fruit trees are mulched and watered. I have lots of little Kieffer pears, many small satsumas, and a million baby figs that I am keeping a close eye on.

April 2018:

Q1: Someone just gave me a Coral Honeysuckle plant. What should I know about it?

A1: Lonicera sempervirens is a native plant whose flowers attract hummingbirds, bees (including the bumblebee) and butterflies. The plant itself is a larval host for the Spring Azure butterfly and the Snowberry Clearwing Moth according to The fruit attracts quail, purple finch, goldfinch, the hermit thrush and the American robin. This vine is a good climber but not too aggressive, and can grow from 3 to 20 feet. lists the vine as being a moderate water user that requires sun or part shade and moist soil. It is cold tolerant, able to grow in different types of soils, and requires light, good air circulation, and adequate drainage.

Propagation is by seeds (but they require stratification). Softwood or semi-hardwood cuttings can be made in summer and fall. The vine can be controlled by pruning after it flowers.

Q2: I want a citrus tree for my yard here in Guadalupe County. What do you suggest?

A2: You need to buy a satsuma mandarin tree (Citrus reticulate). According to Aggie-horticulture this mandarin orange has superb quality, is nearly seedless, plus the flowers have a wonderful odor. The best thing about the satsuma is that it is the most cold-hardy of citrus fruits (second only to the kumquat). Mine is planted in the yard and survived 19 degrees this winter without even a brown leaf, although the recommended cold tolerance is only to 26 degrees. A&M suggests planting satsumas on the south or southeast side of the house for the best cold weather protection. In fact, Extension horticulturist Dr. Steve George recommends planting in containers that are at least 20 gallons in size. The plant needs full sun, at least 8 to 10 hours of sun a day.

Q3: How do I get rid of grassburs in my lawn?

A3: This is a question asked in Doug Welsh’s Texas Garden Almanac. He suggests dragging a burlap bag behind the lawn mower to catch the grassburs so that next year there will be fewer plants. My husband and I tried this. We also tried a pre-emergent herbicide. Neither worked. What did work was going out every morning and digging up each plant. It took three years, but the only grassburs in my yard now come in with rain water run-off from down the street.

Q4: My neighbor really wants to plant ligustrum as a barrier hedge. I know you fuss about the fact that ligustrum is very invasive. What can my neighbor plant instead?

A4: There are several native shrubs that would do well. Evergreen sumac (Rhus virens) is a lovely shrub or small tree from 8 to 12 feet in height. The female plants have flowers and berries. Lady Bird Wildflower Center notes that it is not a true evergreen. The leaves stay green during the winter, then drop and are replaced within a week. Wax Myrtle, Morella cerifera, another nice native shrub, is also called southern bayberry. It is multi-trunked, evergreen, and usually six to twelve feet in height. Blue berries are on the female plants in the winter so you could make your own scented candles.

March 2018:

Q1: How do I know when spring is here? I am anxious to start gardening.

A1: According to Doug Welsh’s Texas Garden Almanac, spring is here when you see Carolina jessamine blooming (and it’s blooming on 123 Bypass), and when you see Mexican plum blooming (there’s a lovely one over by Vogel school). Other spring bloomers are Texas redbud, Bradford pear, Texas mountain laurel, and the Lady Banks rose. My neighbor’s mountain laurel is starting to bloom, and there is a field of purple phlox on Meadow Lake Drive.  If you want to buy a spring flowering shrub for your lawn, now is the time to go to the nursery and see them in bloom. This way you can be sure that you are buying the color you want.

Q2: How do I know how long to water my lawn?

A2: This is why you’ve been saving all those empty cat food cans. Place them around your lawn and water until you have one inch of water in the can. Welsh says that one inch of water will go six inches deep into clay soil and 12 inches deep into a sandy soil. To avoid having runoff, he suggests letting your irrigation sprinklers go around the property three times. In other words, if it takes an hour to get one inch on your lawn, water in twenty minute increments three times.  Remember, only water when the lawn needs watering. Put your finger into the soil. If the soil to 3 inches is cool, you don’t need to water. If the soil is warm or dry, then water.

Q3: Vegetables are in the nurseries already. Can I plant them now?

A3: I wanted a Rodeo tomato so I bought a six pack early in case they sold out. I then planted each tomato in a one gallon pot and put them outside in the sun. If we get another freeze, I can just pull them in the house. Or go ahead and plant your garden now. You can always cover the plants.

Q4: Is it all right to prune back the freeze damage now?

A4: Prune away all the freeze damage. I cut my hamelia and Esperanza almost to the ground. I also cut my Gulf muhly back. All my roses have been trimmed, and my salvia cut back at least two-thirds. Other plants in my yard that I’ve cut back were rock rose and althea. My holly shrubs still need the hedge trimmer and I need to get more of the yaupon off of my roof.

Mr. Cliff Caskey, retired A&M horticulturist and owner of Caskey Orchards in San Marcos, spoke on fruit trees the other night to the Nogales Garden Club. He again mentioned the importance of using mulch on fruit trees. I was impressed when he said you can’t get too much mulch on fig trees. By the way, A&M says not to prune mature Celeste fig trees because it reduces the crop size. My Celeste, my favorite fig of all the ones grown around here, is really prolific and provides enough figs for all the neighbors.  Celeste can be rooted by cuttings.

February 2018:

Q1: I have seen people trimming their oak trees. Is it too early? What about oak wilt?

A1: It is too late, not early.  Oak trees should have been pruned during the coldest days in midwinter.  Avoid pruning from February through June. You can also prune during extended hot periods in mid- to late summer according to Treat the cut immediately with a wound or latex paint.

Q2: What can I prune now?

A2: Valentine’s Day is the date that I’ve always heard for pruning roses. Calvin Finch says that peaches, plums and other fruit trees can be pruned in February. He also says to resist removing your frozen lantanas, salvias, Esperanza, fire bush, Poinciana, duranta, and cape honeysuckle until late February since the frozen cover benefits birds and other wildlife. Wait before pruning your citrus, Finch adds. You will be better able to tell which buds and stems will survive and which should be pruned. My satsuma came through those 19 degree nights fairly well. I did not cover it, but had the ground heavily mulched.

Q3: There are baby tomato plants in the store already. Can I plant them now?

A3: Please wait. There is still plenty of time left for a freeze. Instead, transplant the little plant into a one gallon container. Then place it in the sun during the day and bring it in at night or when it drops to the low fifties. I realize that this is a lot of work, but you will be the first in your neighborhood with fresh tomatoes.

Q4: Can I still grow broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, potatoes, and onions?

A4: Put in transplants now and you will probably get a crop before it gets too hot. Don’t forget those cold tolerant herbs Doug Welsh in his Texas Garden Almanac says to put in chives, cilantro, dill, fennel, garlic, oregano, parsley, rosemary, sage and thyme. I’ve just transplanted two root cuttings of trailing rosemary for the Master Gardener spring sale.

Q5: At the last Native Plant Society meeting I received a small snapdragon vine. The speaker told us a bit about the plant. Can you please add more?

A5: Snapdragon vine, Maurandella (or Maurandya) antirrhiniflora depending whether you use or aggie-horticulture, has many names. These include Roving sailor, Violet twining snapdragon, little snapdragon vine and others. The plant is a member of the figwort family and blooms from March through October. This very small vine only grows to about ten feet. Aggie-horticulture thinks it would look really nice next to an entry or garden bench. likes it on small trellises or trailing from a hanging basket. Better Homes and Gardens also likes containers but warns that when the vine is planted in a pot, it needs excellent drainage. The vine is hardy to zone 8, but usually re-seeds itself the following year. Seed can be gotten from Native American Seeds or from a local gardener.

January 2018:

Q1: I am getting ready to put pollinator attracting plants in a full sun section of a public community garden, and I want them to have red and yellow blooms. It would be nice if they could mostly be perennial so that they wouldn’t have to be changed out with the seasons. Do you have suggestions?

A1: I always like different levels of plants in a pollinator garden. You could start with a small tree such as a Texas redbud or a Mexican plum. Yaupon holly, a large shrub (if you keep it trimmed), could be added. Texas lantana (Lantana urticoides) is one of my favorites. Flame acanthus blooms summer through fall. Esperanza and Firebush (Hamelia patens) round out my shrub list.

Then smaller plants could be added, including Black-eyed Susan, Pride of Barbados, Mexican marigold, Cedar sage (Salvia roemeriana), Tropical sage (Salvia coccinea), Zexmenia (Wedelia texana), Lindheimer senna, Engelmann daisy, goldenrod, and some of the milkweeds, such as Asclepius tuberosa.

One of the main things to remember in a pollinator garden is to use no pesticides. When you buy your plants at the nursery, ask if they have been treated with pesticides. This is particularly important for plants that get chewed on as host plants.

Q2: I would like to plant a few rose bushes this spring. What is your all-time favorite?

A2: Actually, I have two favorites, Katy Road Pink (Carefree Beauty) and Martha Gonzales. Katy Road Pink was a found rose that later was discovered to have been introduced in 1977 as Carefree Beauty. It has pink flowers and grows as if it were an antique rose (in other words, disease resistant and easy care). If you are into jelly making, the rose produces many rosehips. Martha Gonzales is an antique rose and is very disease tolerant. It has red blooms from spring to frost. Cuttings root fairly well. The main reason I like this bush is that it is very compact, about 3 feet by 3 feet.

Q3: Can I cut back my winter damaged plants now?

A3: Try not to prune freeze-damaged plants because the material provides some insulation for the healthy parts of the plant. Doug Welsh says to wait till February or March to prune. You can, however, pull weeds and remove plant debris from your planting areas. Some of this debris may harbor disease or pests so throw it away (and not in your compost pile).

For January, keep your bird baths full for our feathered friends. And collect all those lovely bags of leaves people are throwing out for your compost pile and the areas under your shrubs where you usually mulch. My neighbor has been bringing me much appreciated huge bags of leaves!

December 2017:

Q1: Can I grow Rose of Sharon in Guadalupe County?

A1: Although that name can apply to several types of plants, around here we know it as an althea, or a Hibiscus syriacus. This is an introduced deciduous shrub that is a native from China to India. This member of the hibiscus family blooms from June to October and does grow here in this county. I have one that always grows to above the edge of my roof each year and must be kept trimmed. Otherwise it is low maintenance (if you like to trim), requires medium water, and attracts butterflies. When I checked the Missouri Botanical Garden site for invasive locations in the U.S., I found Georgia and Tennessee and a few spots in East Texas. Since I am always finding babies around my plant, you probably need to keep close watch.

Q2: What can I plant along my front sidewalk by the front door that is perennial and blooms?

A2: One of my favorite plants is the dwarf Barbados cherry or Malpighia glabra. It is not really too dwarf (can grow to 9 feet), but if trimmed, makes a perfectly lovely low hedge. Texas A&M-Kingsville had the plant as a hedge lining many of the sidewalks around the University. This perennial likes full to partial sun, flowers from spring to fall with pink blooms, and has red berries. Aggie Horticulture says it has very high heat tolerance and grows in alkaline soil. The fruit is edible. Of course, deer, birds, raccoons and coyotes also like the fruit. My Barbados cherry stays right at five feet without trimming, and, in spite of the fact that it is native to south Texas and parts south, has never frozen.

Barbados cherry has many other common names including wild crape myrtle, acerola, manzanita and xocatatl. It attracts and is a larval host to many butterflies including brown banded skipper, white-patched skipper, Florida Duskywing, and cassius blue according to

Q3: I would like to take cuttings of some of my neighbor’s plants. Assuming he says yes, when can I do this?

A3: According to Doug Welsh’s Texas Garden Almanac, active stems from perennial and annual flowers and young stems of shrubs and trees can be rooted anytime during the growing season. This time of year, our growing season is slowing down or is over. However, dormant woody stems of shrubs, perennials and trees are best rooted right now. It is important to get the stems well rooted before spring with its first spring growth, and before the heat of summer hits.

Speaking of shrubs, as you think about your spring garden, plan to put in some Texas native plants instead of the exotics that have dominated our landscapes for so long. Welsh’s list for our area includes Texas natives Dwarf Yaupon Holly, Rosemary, Agarita, Cenizo or Texas Sage, Cherry Laurel, Possumhaw Holly, Texas Mountain Laurel, Texas Persimmon, Wax Myrtle, and Yaupon Holly. Looking at the list, I see that I am growing seven out of the ten. Now where can I put those other three plants?

November 2017:

Q1: I understand that we need to cut our tropical milkweed back. When should I do this and why?

A1: Tropical milkweed (Asclepias curassavica) is the milkweed most commonly sold around here. This Mexican native is blooming right now and, unless we have a freeze, will continue to do so. So why would we want to cut it back? There are studies reported by Monarch Joint Venture showing that letting Monarchs breed during the winter (instead of flying to Mexico) allows greater transmission of the protozoan Ophryocystis elektroscirrha (OE). Consumption of the OE spores could keep Monarchs from emerging from the pupal stage, or even if the Monarch was able to emerge, the butterfly would not be normal but live a shorter life.

There are other reasons to not allow winter breeding in our area. First, of course, is the risk of OE. Second, larva could eat the plants to the ground and other larval hosts would not be available. Third, freezes could occur leaving no food or nectar available for the Monarchs (like my house at 19 degrees this past January). Even allowing for the fact that the experts don’t completely agree, we should cut our tropical milkweed back now close to the ground. If you want to save a plant for the spring, pot up a small one, and bring it indoors. Or you could make cuttings to get a start on spring.

Q2: What kind of oak is that?

A2: I get this question quite a bit when I am out on the trail. Luckily Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center just published a few hints to differentiate between different varieties of Central Texas oaks. The Bur Oak to me is one of the easiest to identify when it has acorns because they are so big. It also has the largest leaves of all oaks around here, with deep sinuses between the lobes. The tree can grow to 100 feet tall.

Leaf lobes on the Blackjack Oak have bristles or points on the tips (and the Center adds that the veins resemble a chicken foot). The bark of the tree is black, especially toward the base of the tree. The tree is much smaller, growing less than 40 feet. The White Shin Oak usually grows in thickets, with trees less than 30 feet tall. The leaves are small, narrow, with a wavy look to the lobes. Post Oak leaves often resemble a cross, according to the Center. This is a tall tree growing to 50 feet with real straight trunks like a “post”. Escarpment Live Oaks have dark bark, glossy leaves and tiny acorns.

Q3: What do I do with plumaria for the winter?

A3: AggieHorticulture tells us that plumaria will drop its leaves when temperatures go below 50 degrees and should be stored in a greenhouse or inside for the winter. Water Garden Gems says to water sparingly near the end of the summer season. Once the plant goes dormant, don’t water. If your plumaria can be moved, dig it up or move the pot indoors. Water Garden Gems says they dig theirs up and bare root them, then place them in the greenhouse for the winter. Plumaria can be replanted at the end of March when it doesn’t look like there will be any more freezes.

October 2017:

Q1: I am really getting tired of my Mexican Feather Grass because it spreads so much. If you had to choose one grass for me to plant, what would it be and why?

A1: My favorite grass is Gulf (or Coastal) muhly, particularly this time of year. There is nothing prettier in the fall than a big bed of Gulf muhly with the sun shining on the pink fuzzy seed heads. This perennial grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris), a Texas native, grows from one to three feet tall in many types of soils: sandy, sandy loam, clayey soil and rocky soils. It likes sun, low to medium water use, and blooms in October. It is highly deer resistant and can be propagated from seed. Lady Bird Wildflower Center says to collect the seed in November when the flowers start to lose the pink color by using a comb.

Q2: What can I do with my fallen leaves this fall? I would like to do better than just throwing them in the trash.

A2: Doug Welsh in his Texas Garden Almanac lists four possibilities. First, simply mow your lawn with a mulching mower leaving the leaves in place. This is the simplest if you only have a few small trees. Second, use the leaves to mulch with in vegetable gardens, around flowers and shrubs, and under and around trees. These leaves can be shredded with a lawn mower first, or can just be used straight.

Third: many vegetable gardeners use leaves in the furrows or walkways between the rows in their garden. Then the following year, the mulched walkway becomes the plant row. And fourth, till the leaves into the soil during the fall where they can decompose before you plant in the spring. I can add a fifth possibility: bring a few bags my way, or take them to one of the many community gardens in our area.

Q3: Don’t you usually tell us to do something with basil this time of year?

A3: Before the first freeze, pick a cutting or two of basil and put it in a glass of water on your window sill. It will root and you will have leaves for flavoring all winter. (You could do this with your mint also.)

Q4: What can I plant now?

A4: Many cool season crops can be planted now, including beets, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, collards, lettuce, kale, mustard greens, radishes, spinach, sugar snap pea, Swiss chard, and turnips. Cool season annuals include Johnny jump ups, pansy, snapdragon, sweet pea, stock and viola. Calvin Finch lists blue mistflower and lantana as butterfly blooming plants for October. Also, both my Asclepius tuberosa and my Asclepius curassivica is blooming, along with my patch of goldenrod.


September 2017:

Q1: I am so enjoying my neighbor’s American Beautyberry bush. I would like to plant one also, so will you please tell me more about the plant?

A1: I also enjoy the plant. The berries on mine are beginning to turn purple and are quite striking. I remembered to water it this summer, so it looks pretty good. Callicarpa Americana is deciduous, with purple berries in the late summer, fall and winter.  These berries attract cardinals, mockingbirds, and other birds. The plant is moderately deer resistant, but not in high deer areas. American Beautyberry is one of the plants that Kathleen Scott puts on her “Bird Gardening Plant List.”

Another plant on her list that you might like also has fall and spring berries and a lovely slight fragrance. In fact, my Dwarf Barbados Cherry (Malphigia glabra, also called wild crape myrtle) is blooming as I write and is covered in honey bees. It is drought tolerant and is one of my plants that I never water. Scott notes that it needs to be fenced from deer. The Texas A&M site adds that deer like the leaves, while birds, raccoons, and coyotes like the fruit. This plant is a perennial although if the temperature gets cold enough, it could freeze. (My outdoor thermometer said 19 degrees this past January, and my plant did fine).

Q2: When is it time to plant wildflowers?

A2: If you are planting seed, do it now. Be sure to purchase fresh seed from this year’s crop (which means you need a reliable source). Doug Welsh, in his Texas Garden Almanac, recommends one-fourth pound of seed per 500 square feet. Till lightly so that the seed will make good contact with the soil. Tamp in with your feet or a roller. During the fall and winter keep weeds out of your patch. Remember next spring to leave the dead blooms and plants until mid-June when all the flowers die before you cut the plants down. This gives time for the seeds to fall back onto the patch. I usually put red flags around my patch to keep it from being mowed early (and so that everyone realizes why I’m not mowing my grass).

There are a few things to remember: plant in full sun; don’t overwater (bluebonnets like good drainage); don’t fertilize. Over the winter when it rains you will notice bluebonnet rosettes appearing. When bluebonnet transplants appear in the local nurseries, remember to plant them so that the crown of the transplant is just above the soil surface.

Q3: When is it time to fertilize my lawn?

A3: Welsh reminds us that we should not apply fall fertilizer until our lawns of Bermuda, St. Augustine, and zoysia have stopped growing. This, of course, depends on where you live in Texas. In some parts of the state, this could be as late as November.

FYI: Calvin Finch reminds us that September bloomers are purple coneflower, vitex, and pentas.

August 2017:

Q1:  My crape myrtle looked really bad last year. I had an arborist friend check it and she agreed with me that it should come out. I never got around to it, and this year the tree looks great. What happened?

A1: Perhaps the nitrogen fertilizer helped, as well as the extra water. Be thankful, because those trunks on your ten year old crape myrtle are truly beautiful. Last year I quoted Doug Welsh who said to remove the old blooms on the crape myrtle to prevent setting of seed and to extend the blooming period. However, in an Express News article some months ago, Neil Sperry says that deadheading will not speed up the formation of additional flower heads. He says that most crape myrtles bloom at least two times per season, and some of the early flowering ones may bloom up to four times in a season.

Q2: When is rose pruning time? My bushes look pretty bad.

A2: In mid-August prune your bushes back about twenty-five percent. Also, fertilize with straight nitrogen. Water thoroughly, and don’t forget to mulch. Doug Welsh in his Texas Garden Almanac suggests that these steps will give you a profusion of fall rose blooms.

Q3: We seem to be in a drought situation at my house. Everything looks really dry. I don’t want to lose my trees. What does A&M suggest?

A3: In an Earth Kind article called Tree and Shrub Irrigation during a Drought, Doug Welsh says to water trees and large shrubs just inside and a little beyond the “dripline.” This is where the feeding root system is located. He suggests laying a slowly running hose on the ground and moving it around the dripline as the area becomes saturated to a depth of eight to ten inches. If we don’t get a good rainfall, do this type of watering twice a month.

Q4: I’ve lost several hackberry trees this summer and want to put in something that will grow and last. I know that tree planting season is September to December, so I want to start thinking about what to plant. Are there suggested trees for this area?

A4:  San Antonio’s Extension Agent David Rodriguez recommends live oaks, Monterrey or Mexican white oak, Texas red oak, and Texas redbud. Austin’s Extension Agent Skip Richter adds several other oaks, including chinquapin, lace bark, and lacey oak. I personally am growing Monterrey, live oak, red oak, and cedar elm. Doug Welsh suggests staggering the ages of your planted trees, otherwise they will all grow old and die at the same time. I am facing this now with my hackberry trees. I’ve lost two this week alone.

Q5: Is it time to plant fall tomatoes?

A5: Definitely. Remember that tomatoes need 90 days to set fruit. Pumpkins can be started now. For your information: Calvin Finch’s butterfly flowers blooming in August are milkweed, pavonia, and cosmos.

July 2017:

Q1:  Calylophus along the roadsides is absolutely beautiful, as are the plants in my neighbor’s yard. What is wrong with the calylophus in the Pollinator Garden?

A1: Calylophus berlandieri (also called Square-bud primrose or Sundrops) has lovely two inch showy, yellow flowers. The plant is bushy and according to Lady Bird Wildflower Center is an excellent rock garden plant.  “Native and Adapted Landscape Plants: an Earthwise guide for Central Texas” lists Calylophus with a Very Low water requirement. Since the plants in the pollinator garden have just been planted, they are still being watered several times a week until they get established. This is evidently too much water for a plant that likes good drainage and is only watered occasionally under very dry conditions. I do not water mine at all, and it is in a bed on the south side of my house. Irrigation is now being adjusted for the park’s calylophus.

Q2:  I am going on vacation. What can I do about my plants?

A2: Doug Welsh’s Texas Garden Almanac gives several suggestions. Water thoroughly before you leave. If you have an automatic watering system, or drip irrigation on a timer, you are ready to go.  If you have outside container plants, than you need the good will of a neighbor as the plants will need watering at least every third day. Group the containers together to make it easier on that neighbor.

Mow before you leave, but do not set the mower blade lower. Otherwise you will have a scalped and sun scalded lawn. Just make arrangements with that same neighbor to mow one week later. If you are able to, weed and mulch before you leave also. Remember that mulching reduces the soil temperature and helps preserve water in the soil.

If you have houseplants, move them outside in a shady spot where the neighbor can reach them easily when he or she waters your container plants. Welsh also suggests putting your houseplants in the bathtub and watering heavily. Since they are together in a very humid area, they probably can last a week. Personally, I have little margarine containers filled with water under each plant with a cotton wick running from the inside of the pot down into the container.

Q3:  I am sure you’ve answered this question before, but I did not make a list. What plants are deer resistant?

A3:  Remember that anything will be eaten if the deer’s other preferred foods are not available. Also, young trees and plants are tender and tasty, whereas some older plants of the same variety are not as attractive. Normally, most herbs are deer resistant. Resistant shrubs include agarita, autumn sage, Cenizo, dwarf yaupon, evergreen sumac, juniper, native lantanas, Mexican buckeye, oleander, pomegranate, and wax myrtle. Flowers include Artemisia, black-eyed Susan, Blackfoot daisy, bluebonnet, Copper Canyon daisy, coreopsis, cosmos, Damianita, Esperanza, Firebush, indigo spires, iris, larkspur, periwinkle, purple coneflower, rock rose, rosemary, skullcap, society garlic, Turk’s cap, verbena and zinnia.

June 2017:

Q1: I want color in my landscape, but I want something that birds and pollinators can use. I’ve been looking at the new pollinator garden at Park West. What can I plant in my yard?

A1: Color is all over Seguin this spring. I just went out and looked at my Esperanza (Tacoma stans) which is in full bloom and covered with bees. If you want a lovely perennial which blooms from spring to fall, plant this shrub. It grows from 3 to 5 feet both wide and tall. The plant does freeze in the winter, but comes back every spring. Annuals could include periwinkle, cosmos, and marigolds, although there are two schools of thought on marigolds. One source says marigolds detract bees and other insects; another source says bees really like marigolds.

All kinds of salvias are part of Park West’s garden: Autumn Sage and Tropical Sage are red, while Mealy Blue Sage, Big Blue Sage, and Henry Duelberg Sage are indigo and purple. Autumn blooms from spring through frost, Tropical blooms from late spring to fall, Mealy Blue is a spring and summer bloomer. Big Blue and Henry Duelberg bloom from September to November. If you plant all these different varieties of salvia, you will have nectar plants almost all year for butterflies and hummingbirds. Big Blue attracts our native long-tongued bees and is the host plant for the Hermit Sphinx Moth.

Another plant in the pollinator garden is the Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta) which is one of my favorites. It is blooming now and will keep on till October. To prolong the blooming period, deadhead the old flowers. It is a host plant for Silvery Checkerspot and Bordered Patch butterflies, and a nectar plant for the Checkered Skipper. Other perennials that would be good for your yard include Firebush (Hamelia patens), Flame Acanthus, Butterfly Milkweed, lantana, and Gregg’s Mistflower.

Q2: I want more birds coming to my yard. Other than birdfeeders, what can I do?

A2: Birds need food, water, shelter and places for rearing their young. I have many more birds in my backyard since I added more water sources. I have four bird baths which I change daily (to keep out mosquito larvae). I also have two waterlily ponds (with mosquito fish). The ponds are behind a fence to keep out the raccoons, and small birds love to perch on the wire before flying down for a drink. My bird baths are used by many small animals as two of them are on the ground (another reason for changing them daily). I have a pair of blue jays who come in daily to bathe and drink. In the early evening, dove fly in. Insecticides should be avoided if possible for both birds and pollinators. Do not spray with broad-spectrum pesticides.

Q3: My bluebonnets have finished blooming and have set seed. What should I do now?

A3: Lady Bird Wildflower Center has several suggestions. Do not fertilize or spray the patch. Mow to keep the grasses and weeds at bay. Do not bury your wildflower patch in mulch (this goes for all wildflowers). Most seeds can germinate through a light layer of mulch, but the Center does not recommend mulching areas where you want reseeding.

May 2017:

Q1: I was very unhappy with my Indian Hawthorne shrubs because they seemed to have a virus, so I took them all out. What shrub can I put in their place that will do better here in Seguin?

A1: The Native Plant Society suggests using natives instead of exotics since they do better in our climate, and the following are considered bird and butterfly habitat plants. If you want a short evergreen shrub, plant dwarf yaupon holly or dwarf wax myrtle. For a taller evergreen shrub, you could plant the full size yaupon holly or wax myrtle. Deciduous alternatives include American beautyberry, fragrant sumac, buttonbush, Turk’s cap, and Texas lantana. This is also the answer for those of you who still have ligustrum or privet.

Other larger shrubs include Carolina cherry laurel, elderberry, Texas acacia, strawberry bush, Carolina buckthorn, flame leaf sumac, and two viburnums, rusty blackhaw and arrow wood.

Q2: My Bradford pear did not come through the winter very well. It did not bloom and just looks ratty. Is there a nice native tree that I could plant that would also bloom in the spring?

A2: There are several. The Texas redbud is a good looking small tree which many of us have in our yards. Another 15 to 35 foot tall tree is the Bigtree or Mexican plum. It has a single trunk, and, according to the Lady Bird Wildflower Center, does not sucker. In the spring, fragrant white flowers appear before the leaves. There is one out in a field near Vogel elementary that is really showy every spring. After the flowers, the tree has edible plums which ripen from July through September.

The Mexican plum is a perennial deciduous tree with a low water requirement and can be grown in sun or part shade. It is cold tolerant and puts up with most soils (sandy, clay, limestone based). Lady Bird Wildflower Center suggests using the tree as an accent tree, although it also is a “wildlife” tree as it attracts birds, bees, and mammals. The tree is a larval host for the Tiger Swallowtail butterfly and for Cecropia moths. It is of special value to native bees. Sadly enough, it is not deer resistant.

Q3: A lady at the grocery store gave me a recipe for homemade insecticide. She said it was very effective in killing insects on her plants. What do you think?

A3: I’m not much on homemade insecticides. There is so much you don’t know about them, such as toxicity. Remember, nicotine is natural, yet is highly toxic. I thought I would cough forever when I accidently inhaled a pepper spray someone had worked up as a garden spray. There are many natural pesticides available that are safer for you to use. I have recommended Neem oil, Spinosad, and Orange oil in the past, as well as insecticidal soap sprays. Remember that with anything you use, read the label, wear gloves, and wear a mask if you are apprehensive about inhaling the mist.

April 2017:

Q1: Is there an organic method to kill fire ants?

A1: According to Doug Welsh in his Texas Garden Almanac, yes, there is. He says that for a two-step program that uses only organic products, one should broadcast spinosad bait, and then treat the individual mounds with products containing d-limonene, pyrethrins, rotenone, or spinosad.

Q2: Why can’t I grow grass under my trees?

A2: Grass requires sun. St. Augustine is the most shade-tolerant turf grass. If it won’t grow, then consider mulching the area or growing a groundcover. If you are going to grow a groundcover, be careful not to damage the root system of the tree. More than six inches of soil added under the tree can smother tree roots.

Q3: I have fertilized my lawn. Now how high should I keep the lawn?

A3: Mowing height depends on the type of grass you have. Common Bermuda can be kept one to three inches high, while St. Augustine grass should be three to four inches high. Some of my friends have Buffalo grass which can be five to six inches tall. Please use a mulching mower and leave your grass clippings in place to provide nutrients to the soil. Remember that mowing height affects how deep roots grow. Welsh reminds us that taller grass-growing heights develop root systems that withstand drought better.

Q4: What herbs can I grow now?

A4: Many herbs can be started from seed, and many are available in four-inch pots at the nursery. Basil is an easily grown herb that likes warmer temperatures. Several varieties can be found locally. Dill is a lovely annual that is easily grown from seed. Once you have dill in your garden, it will usually come up every year. Many types of mint are available. My suggestion is to grow it in a pot so that it won’t take over the garden. Parsley is a pretty herb and is a biennial. However, Ann McCormick, the Herb ‘n Cowgirl, says that it only grows flavorful leaves the first year. She suggests planting annually. Oregano is a perennial herb that likes morning sun. Sage and thyme grow well for me. In fact, these herbs (along with purple coneflower and goldenrod) fill one bed. Rosemary can be found as an upright shrub, or as a trailing one. It is ornamental as well as extremely useful as a seasoning or as a sachet. Sweet bay laurel can grow eight to fifteen feet tall, although could freeze if the temperature dips too low for over twelve hours. Mine had no ill effects from the 19 degrees we had here in January.

Two herbs, both perennial around here, grow in many local gardens. Mexican mint marigold (Tagetes lucida) is an anise substitute as well as being really pretty with yellow flowers in the fall. It is drought and heat tolerant. Mexican oregano (Poliomintha longiflora) is a substitute for real oregano. It flowers all summer with pink and white tubular blooms.

March 2017:

Q1: Now that it is spring, can I go ahead and fertilize my lawn?

A1: Wait to fertilize until you have mowed the lawn twice. This way you know that the grass is actually growing and is ready to use the fertilizer. My lawn has already been mowed in order to mulch the leaves from my Monterrey oak (although only weeds were growing so that doesn’t count).

Have you had a soil test done on your yard lately? Doug Welsh, in his Texas Garden Almanac, recommends one every three years. This way you know exactly what type of fertilizer to buy. A soil test packet, which can be gotten from our Guadalupe County AgriLife extension agent, is very easy to use.

Q2: I have a Mexican lime in a large pot that seems quite thoroughly frozen. What shall I do? What else should I be doing in my garden?

A2: Right now I am playing the same waiting game to see if either of my large outdoor pot plants will come back. Welsh suggests that for severely freeze-damaged perennial flowers and shrubs, it may be best to let new growth begin, and then prune off all dead wood above the fresh new growth. I think that my lime is quite dead, however. Remember that we may still get another freeze. Be prepared to cover, and to move your tomato plants inside (mine are in one gallon pots in the sun waiting for all danger of a late frost to be over).

Your fall-blooming perennials and your ornamental grasses can be divided now. All of my grasses (Mexican feather and Gulf Muhly) have started sprouting so I can cut back the dead foliage. Your spring annuals can be planted (although something promptly ate my new petunias to the ground).

Look around our local nurseries to see all the spring flowering shrubs. Now when you can see the blooms is the time to pick out new shrubs for your landscape. The Native Plant Society recommends planting a Moon Garden to give you a romantic nightscape in your yard. The native plants in such a garden include Cenizo with its lovely silver leaves, Blackfoot Daisy with white blooms and a light scent, Mealy Blue Sage with upright pale blue and white flowers, and the groundcover Silver Ponyfoot. These native plants are suited to our area and are drought tolerant.

If you have not finished pruning, do it now. Start early on weed removal. I walk my lawn every morning looking for sandspurs so that I can remove them before they get too big.

Make sure you remember the birds and bees in your spring planning. Clean your birdbaths and make sure you have plants that provide food for the wildlife in your neighborhood such as milkweed, salvia, Turks cap, Echinacea, verbena, lantana, flame acanthus, and Gregg’s mistflower.

February 2017:

Q1: You have mentioned before how important mulch is in the landscape. How do I know what to buy and how much?

A1: First of all, if you are like me, bagged mulches are easier to handle rather than buying in bulk (although probably more expensive). For our Central Texas area we need to mulch about two inches deep according to Doug Welsh in his Texas Garden Almanac. Depth of the mulch depends on the density of the mulch (whether it is fine textured or coarse textured). Fine textured mulches in half inch particles, such as compost, cypress bark, pea gravel, shredded pine bark, should be two inches in our area. Whereas medium textured mulches, such as composted cotton bur hulls, hardwood mulch and wood chips in ¾ to one inch particles, can be three inches deep. Coarse textured mulches like pine bark and lava rock can be even deeper.

So, how much should you buy. Multiply the area that you want covered by the depth of mulch in feet. Then divide by the number of cubic feet in the bag. Welsh’s example uses 1000 square feet times 2/12 or .167 (the two inches expressed in feet) which is 167 cubic feet. He divides that by 2 (the number of cubic feet in your bag) and gets 84 bags of mulch needed.

Q2: At the Master Gardener meeting the other night, the speaker mentioned a native plant that will grow and bloom in the shade, a Rouge Plant or Rivina humilis. Please tell me a little about it.

A2: You probably know it under a different name: Pigeonberry. says it is a member of the pokeweed family. This perennial plant grows under trees and shrubs to about one foot tall, sometimes reaching three feet. I’ve seen it wild under the trees at Starcke Park. The white to pink flowers are one-fourth inch across and grow on the last three inches of the stems. The red to orange berries are favorites of birds. The plant blooms from March to October, with flowers and fruit sometimes on the plant at the same time. The plant is deciduous.

Pigeonberry is called the Rouge plant because the red fruits have been used for cosmetics. Please do not eat either the fruit or the leaves because they are toxic. The plant is moderately deer resistant. You can propagate the plant by both seeds and cuttings according to the Lady Bird site.

Q3: When can I plant my vegetable garden?

A3:  Now, but plant in pots that can be moved inside in the event of another freeze. Buy your vegetable six packs, and place each individual plant in a one gallon pot. By the time the weather warms up, you will have giant plants to put in the ground. Our last freeze varies. According to the freeze charts, it is anywhere from March 7 to March 16. I don’t have a record for the last two years, but our last freeze in 2011 and 2012 was February 13 and February 12, and in 2013 was March 6 when it got down to 29 at my house.

January 2017:

Q1:  I have already pruned the frozen branches from my shrubs and plants. Then a local Master Gardener told me it was too early. Obviously, I can’t put them back. So for next year, what is the reasoning behind not pruning until later?

A1: The main reason for not pruning until later in the spring is that we may still have more freezes. The damaged plant material actually provides some insulation for healthy plant tissue. Doug Welsh in his Texas Garden Almanac feels that pruning is best done in February or March. An Internet site in northern California,, gives a more definitive answer: Don’t prune off the dead portions until nighttime temperatures are above the lowest temperatures for the plant in question. Another reason for leaving plant material is that wildlife can use it for cover. Farmerfred reminds us to keep our garden and potted plants moist. Water gives off heat, and damp soil retains heat better than dry soil, protecting roots and warming the air near the soil.

If you really cannot stand being idle this time of year, clean your flower beds by pulling weeds and removing debris such as fallen leaves, flowers and twigs. This debris, according to Welsh, may harbor plant disease or insect pests, so put it in the trash.

Your living Christmas tree should be outside by now, adapting to the outdoors. After a week or so, go ahead and plant it. New trees and bare root roses should also be planted now. Last time I was at the local nursery they had bluebonnet seedlings. Plant them now.

Q2: Can I prune my fruit trees now?

A2: Wait till February. Use this time to get your tools together and sharpened. Tools that are useful to the home gardener include hand pruning shears (both scissor action and anvil cut), lopping shears, hedge shears, pruning saws, and pole pruners. I have an electric chain saw and a long pole electric chain saw but I’m afraid to use them and make my son do that when he comes to visit.

Q3: I would like to make some New Year’s Resolutions about my yard and garden. Do you have suggestions?

A3: My main resolutions for you concern water and its conservation: Water the lawn only when it needs it (and never during the day, out in the street, or on the driveway and sidewalk). Mulch all flower beds, shrubs, and vegetable gardens to conserve water and moderate soil temperatures.

Other resolutions could include caring for local birds and animals: Plant a bird or butterfly friendly plant and keep bird baths refreshed daily (while watching for mosquito larvae).

My last suggestions are for the environment: Use pesticides only when absolutely necessary (and the least toxic one). Plant a tree for your grandchildren and for their grandchildren.


December 2016:

Q1: Can cranberries be grown in Guadalupe County?

A1: No, not really. According to the Cape Cod Cranberry Growers Association, the evergreen cranberry vine needs a cool region of the country, sandy, acid soil with organic matter, as well as a water table that is 12 to 18 inches below ground. In the cool areas of the United States and Canada, the plants grow wild along streams and in swampy areas. In Cape Cod this spring I talked to a commercial cranberry grower who told me about some of the problems growers face, including the Sparganothis Fruit Worm, with each worm able to destroy a half dozen cranberries. I asked Mr. Angley whether a lot of pesticide is sprayed on the cranberries we eat. He assured me that the growers try to limit chemical pesticides and are developing non chemical methods to control pests. This is particularly important for him because he brings in hives of bees each year to pollinate the fruit.

If you would like to grow a fruit like the cranberry, you might be interested in something that as a child, I was told was a Florida Cranberry. That is the Roselle, a member of the hibiscus family from West Africa. Hibiscus sabdariffa or Florida Cranberry is an annual around here because it is damaged by frosts or freezes. I grew it a couple of years ago and it is a really pretty plant with attractive foliage that reaches a height of seven feet. The bottom of each flower, the calyx, is what people in the far south used as a replacement for cranberries. The calyces can be chopped and used as a sauce in place of cranberries. Plant in the spring, and by fall the plants will begin to bloom. By October or November the calyces can be harvested. The University of Florida says that one plant will produce twelve pounds of fruit. Root knot nematodes are a problem with Roselle which is why I can’t grow the plant anymore.

Q2: What kind of living Christmas tree should I buy this year?

A2: Doug Welsh’s Texas Garden Almanac lists a dozen different trees along with the area of the state where each tree will do best. Two trees, the Deodar cedar and the Eastern red cedar, will grow throughout Texas. The Eldarica pine can grow in South and Central Texas, and the Italian stone pine, Leyland cypress, and Nellie R. Stevens holly will grow in Central Texas. This should give you some choices when you go out to buy your tree. Try to find a tree that is below a 15 gallon pot size. Remember that someone has to lift it. Place the tree in the brightest natural light available in your house. Check the soil daily for moisture because winter central heat can dry out the plant quickly. The Christmas tree needs to be back outside within two to three weeks, and planted in the ground right away. This gives your tree time to put on more roots before spring growth and summer heat.

November 2016:

Q1:  I just fertilized my lawn and read somewhere that my dog or cat can be poisoned by the fertilizer. Is this so?

A1: According to an article by Jerry Parsons in aggie-horticulture, it is rare but possible to poison animals with lawn chemicals. He says, however, that if the chemicals are diluted and applied correctly, there won’t be a problem. (Birds might eat the granules for seeds.) Cats would be more susceptible than dogs because they groom themselves and don’t handle insecticides as well. If you already have flea collars, or use flea dips, than fertilizers might add just too much. Parsons gives a number of ways to avoid poisoning: If pets are in the yard, don’t apply pesticides. Keep pets out of the yard until the applied chemical is dry. Make sure that feeding bowls, water dishes and bird baths are covered or turned over. If your fertilizer is in granules, water in thoroughly; don’t make run-off puddles from which an animal could drink. Don’t apply insecticides near bird feeders.

There are also many Texas plants that are poisonous to both animals and humans. Remember as you decorate with mistletoe this holiday season that both children and adults have died from eating mistletoe berries. If you have house pets or small children, perhaps this is the year to change mistletoe decorations to plastic. Ingestion of holly and yaupon berries causes nausea and vomiting. Other plants to be careful with around your yard are Jimson weed, nightshade, yew trees, and castor bean. Poinsettias should not be eaten, but sources such as the Mayo Clinic say they are less toxic than once believed. WebMD says you would need to eat about 500 leaves to cause a major problem. However, as with everything else, certain individuals might be particularly susceptible. My best advice is to only eat plants you know are meant to be eaten. If you suspect your pet has been poisoned, call your local vet, or the National Poison Control Center (1-800-222-1222).

Q2:  When can I root roses and other woody stemmed plants?

A2: Now is the time of the year. Dormant woody stems from shrubs and trees, and woody stems of perennials are best rooted during the fall and winter says Doug Welsh in his Texas Garden Almanac. This is because the stems need to be well rooted before spring when leaf growth starts and the weather gets warm. Last year I rooted Martha Gonzalez rose cuttings and one of the plants is now growing in my son’s front yard.

Using a sharp knife, take pencil length and pencil diameter cuttings. Cut the bottom end at a 45 degree angle and dip the end in rooting hormone. Remove the bottom leaves and carefully place in a container of good potting soil. Firm the soil around the cutting. Water lightly. Welsh suggests using the bottom of a 2 liter soda bottle (bottom side up) as a greenhouse over the cutting. Placing the pot in a clear plastic bag also works if you use sticks to hold it off of the cutting. Place in bright light but not direct sun. I placed mine under the eaves. If moisture accumulates in the bag, open the bag to air it out a little. Then just wait for your new plant.

October 2016:

Q1: A cold front is coming and I worry about my plants. What should I be doing?

A1: It’s been a couple of years since I kept track of freezes, but in 2013 the first freeze was in December. If you have tomato and pepper plants in your garden and a freeze or near freeze is forecast, you can cover them with a light under the cover, or just go ahead and pick the fruit. Tomatoes can be kept in the garage and will continue turning red. What you can be doing now is watering and mulching.

Be thinking about where you are going to keep your tropical plants. I will move mine (plumaria, bonsai, ficus, and bougainvillea) onto the porch where I can cover them when a freeze is imminent. Some citrus, such as satsumas, are okay in the yard uncovered as long as the temperature doesn’t go below 26 degrees F. Warm season annuals are ready to be taken out now and replaced with cool season annuals such as alyssum, calendulas, dianthus, pansy, snapdragons, stock, sweet peas, viola, and flowering kale.

Q2: What can I do with my leaves?

A2: If you don’t have a composting mower, and instead rake and bag your leaves, you might contact one of the community gardens. They will be thrilled (particularly if you deliver). Many people do not know that fallen leaves contain 50 to 80 percent of the nutrients a plant extracts from the soil and air during the growing season, according to Welsh’s Texas Garden Almanac. To conserve this “free fertilizer” for yourself, use the leaves as a mulch in your vegetable gardens, in your flower and shrub beds, under your hedges and around your trees. Think about the forest. Nobody fertilizes it, yet the fallen leaves decompose and release their nutrients so that the trees can utilize them. To help the leaves decompose faster, you can run over them with your lawn mower and catch them with your bagging attachment before using them as a mulch.

Q3: I need to transplant my flame acanthus so that it will receive more sun. When can I do this?

A3: The best time to transplant shrubs and trees is when they are the most dormant, which for us is in the late winter. Welsh suggests hiring a professional to do the job if the shrub is over 4 feet tall or the tree has a trunk diameter of more than three fourths of an inch. Otherwise the root-ball is too big and heavy for you to handle. For smaller plants, you need to cut with a sharpshooter a 16 to 20 inch circle around the plant, each cut being 12 inches deep. Space each cut one width of the shovel apart. This leaves some roots uncut. The cut roots will grow new roots inside the circle during the winter which will help the odds of your plant surviving. In late December or January finish cutting. Then move the cylinder of plant and soil to your already dug hole in the new spot.

Q4: I want plants with fall leaf color and winter berries. When do I choose them?

A4: Visit the nurseries this time of year so that you can see the colors available. Keep a list.

September 2016:

Q1: This is in regard to last month’s comments about crape myrtles. Neil Sperry in his column in the Express-News said not to deadhead, whereas you quoted Doug Welsh who said it would help extend the blooming period. Comment?

A1: As we all know, experts can disagree. Both horticulturists have crape myrtle experience, so you can make up your own mind. Without any deadheading or pruning at all most of my crape myrtles bloom all summer.

Q2: Is it time to plant wildflower seed for spring bloom?

A2: Doug Welsh in his Texas Garden Almanac says that September is the time to plant. Be sure to check the seed packet when you buy to make sure it is this year’s crop. You can also check your local nursery for transplants. Bluebonnets, gaillardia and mealy cup sage can usually be found. Many of our local gardeners have already had bluebonnets come up in their yard. I am sure all of this wonderful August rain has contributed to the sprouting. Welsh says to purchase a wildflower mix that is good for your area. He recommends one-fourth pound of seeds per 500 square feet in order to achieve maximum color. When the seed is planted, it must contact the soil. Till the soil lightly, sprinkle the seed, then tamp the seed down with a roller or your feet. Then water to settle everything. If we have no September rain, water the area lightly once a week. Don’t forget: after spring bloom, leave the plants alone to set seed. They will be ugly and your neighbors will probably complain. Nevertheless, leave them alone till all the flowers die and the seedpods look dry.

When reading over the wildflower section by Doug Welsh, I was surprised to see that Texas has six state flowers that are all bluebonnet species. The one we usually see is Lupinus texensis which is native to Central Texas. I grew up in Florida with L. perennis, a perennial bluebonnet native from Florida to East Texas. I can remember my mother cautioning me to stay away from the plants because rattlesnakes liked to nest under them. When you are growing bluebonnets, plant in full sun, don’t overwater, and don’t fertilize. Six colors of bluebonnets have been isolated and are available to gardeners: blue, white, pink, sky blue, lavender blue, and maroon.

Q3: My big box store is getting in their spring-flowering bulbs. Isn’t this just a little early for them to be planted?

A3: Yes, it is too early to plant. However, buy them now while they are fresh and firm with no blemishes. Store in the refrigerator. Then plant when the soil cools down, from November to January. Usually we plant these as annuals; however, I have one little snowdrop that comes up and blooms every spring for the past ten years. I don’t even remember planting it. Welsh says that for repeat bloom, some daffodil varieties are more likely to naturalize in Texas. These include narcissus, jonquils, and the medium and large flowered varieties of daffodils. Plant your bulbs about 6 inches deep (two times the height of the bulb). Avoid deep shade and fertilize.

August 2016:

Q1: One of my crape myrtles is not doing as well as the others.  It is in a flower bed in front of my house and I hate to lose it because the five bare trunks look so striking.

A1:  Doug Welsh’s Texas Garden Almanac has a large section on crape myrtles.  One paragraph stood out:  “for planting in flower and shrub beds, amend the soil with organic matter—the more the better. For planting single plants in hedges, in alleys, or as shade trees, no soil preparation is recommended.”  I infer from this that whatever else is in your bed is competing with the crape myrtle for nutrients. Therefore you should add organic matter and that should take care of the problem. 

Remember: if you want bloom, plant crape myrtles in full sun.  When you buy crape myrtles, buy mildew resistant varieties.  Also, be sure to check the mature size of the plant you buy.  If you only want a small tree or shrub size, do not buy a Red Rocket. Mine is way over 20 feet.  There are five different size variations: miniature grows from two to three feet, dwarf grows three to six feet, semi-dwarf grows five to 12 feet, large shrub/small tree grows from 10 to 20 feet, and tree grows over 20 feet.  When you buy the wrong size crape myrtle and try to make it fit a certain spot, you end up having to prune and top the tree which ruins its natural structure and symmetry.  Around here, we call that “crape murder.”  There are things you can do, according to Doug Welsh. Prune off the suckers that come up around the trunk. Deadhead the plants of their old blooms so that you can extend the blooming period. Don’t cut a branch that is over a half inch in diameter unless you cut it all the way back to its beginning. Remove dead, dying, or damaged branches as well as competing branches.

Q2: What is the webbing all over the trunk of my olive tree? What do I do about it?

A2:  Several sites including and aggie-horticulture say that the tree has Webbing Bark Lice or Archipsocus nomas which is not harmful to the tree. The bark lice are feeding on fungi, lichens, molds and other debris on the trunk under the web.  The web is just something they use to protect themselves from wind and rain and predators. You don’t need to use insecticides. Instead, think of the bark lice as “trunk cleaners.” If you really don’t want the webbing, remove it with a high pressure spray of water.

Remember that I am not talking about web worms. Web worms are up in the tree around the leaves. When you see them forming, break the web with a fishing pole or long stick so that wasps can get in and feed on the larvae.

Q3: When do I start preparing my rose bushes for fall bloom?

A3:  In mid-August prune back hybrid and old fashioned roses by about 25 percent. Feed the plants with a nitrogen product around the drip line. Water thoroughly after you prune and fertilize.  Add mulch.


July 2016:

Q1: I was busy this spring.  Is there anything I can plant now?

A1: If you want vegetables, you can still plant okra. Eggplant, pepper and tomato transplants can be put in from July 1 to July 25. Pumpkins can be planted July 10 through August 1, cabbage from July 10 through September 10, and winter squash can be planted July 10 through August 10. For a nice container garden, you might mix autumn sage, zinnias, lantana and purslane. This suggestion by Doug Welsh in his Texas Garden Almanac combines different sizes and shapes (spikes, daisy type, pincushion type, and tubular) for a pleasing summer grouping of plants.

In our butterfly garden this month, sunflowers and vinca are blooming. And when I went to a garage sale this morning, their entire patio cover was full of blooming passionflower vine.

Q2: Now that my bluebonnets and other wildflowers have gone to seed and been mowed, is there something I should be doing for next year?

A2: In reading an article on wildflowers to answer your question, I notice that bluebonnets don’t like to share space. So when they come up this winter, be sure to weed and keep other wildflowers out of the same space. Now that this season is over, you should be mowing to keep grasses from dominating the space.

Do not fertilize, or use insecticides or fungicides. These plants are accustomed to growing in this climate and soil. If you mulch, use only a light layer so that the seeds will be able to germinate through the mulch.

One final point I noticed in the article. Don’t cover the wildflower area in your lawn with winter rye this winter. Winter rye is slightly allelopathic and can keep other seeds from germinating.

Q: The heat is here, and I’m going on vacation. Do you have suggestions?

A: Water thoroughly before you go. Group your container plants so that it is easier for your neighbor to water (maybe hire a neighborhood kid who needs spending money). Mow before you leave, but not so short that it burns while you are gone. Weed, prune, mulch and do an insect check. These are Doug Welsh’s suggestions. If I did all this, I would be too tired to go. Make sure that any harvest you have is picked before you go, or is promised to the neighbor watching out for your garden. Make sure your houseplants are watered. I have two spathiphylum that take two weeks to dry out, so I water them the day before I leave. If the plants can stand the heat, take them outside in a shady spot so the neighbor can water them.

Q3: My pomegranates have fruit. How do I know when they are ripe?

A3: The fruit ripens six to seven months after flowering. It cannot be ripened off the tree. According to an article by Purdue University, the fruit makes a metallic sound when it is tapped. Do not pull off, but clip close to the base.

June 2016:

Q1: The city of Seguin has complained about my yard of native plants because the curbside plants are over 12 inches. What can I do?

A1: Luckily, there are a number of low-growing native plants and grasses. I have started growing buffalo grass. This grass grows from three to inches tall and you don’t need to mow. It does like full sun, but can take a little shade. It can be mowed and kept at about six inches. Plants that remain low include Blackfoot daisy, winecup, skullcap, calylophus and verbena.

Blackfoot daisy or (Melampodium leucanthum) is a lovely little plant that blooms with white flowers from March to November. According to the Wasowskis’ Native Texas Plants, with compost and watering the plant will grow to one foot tall and eighteen inches wide. In the wild, it stays around four inches tall and six inches wide. It has a wild honey scent. Don’t water too much. The winecup (or Callirhoe involucrate) grows from six to eight inches tall and has a wine-red flower. It only blooms from February to June. Make sure you have it planted with something else because after it blooms, the plant shrinks back down to small rosettes. Skullcap (Scutellaria) grows from six to eight inches tall and blooms from March to frost with a dark blue flower. It is very drought tolerant. Calylophus is a plant that you have seen along the roadside. As a massed planting in your garden, however, it is striking. Depending on the amount of water you give it, the plant will grow from twelve inches to eighteen inches. The yellow flowers open at sunset and are pollinated by moths. They stay open all of the next day and close shortly before new flowers open. My neighbor has it, and gave me a pot full. Verbena (Verbena bipinnatifida) is a short-lived perennial. However, it reseeds easily. The plant grows from six to twelve inches high with purple blooms. It likes full sun but a little shade is fine. Make sure you have good drainage.

Q2: With all the rain we got in May, it seems a little weird to worry about drought and summer watering. What can I do to prepare?

A2: First of all, you need to increase the height of your mower blades. Bermuda grass should be two inches tall, St. Augustine grass should be four inches, and Buffalo grass six inches tall. Keeping it this height decreases lawn water use and increases drought tolerance. Remember to water between sundown and sunrise when the wind and temperature are lower. When you water your lawn, apply one inch of water. I mention every year that a tuna fish or cat food can placed on the lawn when you sprinkle can help you determine the one inch of watering. Also, make sure that you mulch your shrubs and beds to help them retain water.

Q3: What are the choices for colorful heat tolerant flowers for my garden this month?

A3: In the butterfly garden, Calvin Finch says zinnias and plumbagos are June bloomers. Other June bloomers are periwinkles, portulaca, purslane, petunias, phlox, and salvias.

May 2016:

Q1: How can I mosquito proof my yard?

A1:  Many people forget about the “water holders” in their yard. Plant saucers need to be emptied after a rain, water features without fish need a biological mosquito control (Bacillus thuringiensis in a solid floating form), bird baths need to be emptied and refilled every day. And then there are those things you don’t think about, like old pots on their sides which hold just a little bit of water, that water gauge you don’t use any more but which still holds water, and the lawn furniture covers with a small pocket of water. Even high grass in your yard breeds mosquitoes.  This is the year that I screened in my back porch. And yesterday my son called and asked if I am using repellant when I go outside (I am).

Q2: How can I keep the birds off of my fruit this year?

A2:  I already have my blueberry bushes covered with bird netting and do this every year.  It works. Of course, my blueberries are shrub size. It is a lot harder to cover peach and fig trees. Keeping fruit trees pruned to a reasonable size helps later on when you need to cover.  I’ve given up worrying about my fig tree.  It always has enough fruit for me, two neighbors, and the mockingbirds.

Q3: Why isn’t my plant blooming? It has lovely green leaves but no blooms. It does seem to be a little leggy.

A3:   The answer to a question like this is usually too little sun. I was in the local nursery the other day and a man wanted to plant a certain plant in semi-shade.  He was told that he would have no blooms. A general rule of thumb is the following: If it fruits or blooms, the plant needs 6 to 8 hours of full sun. I have a flame acanthus that I have never seen bloom because it is planted in the shade of a hackberry.  Every year I plan to move it, but somehow it is still there. Maybe next spring.  (If you must move a plant, in the winter cut around the roots. Then in the spring lift the plant and put into its new sunny spot.)

Q4: What is blooming in the butterfly garden this month?

A4:   Calvin Finch’s list has passion vine and Fanick’s phlox blooming for May. My phlox have not opened yet but are getting ready to do so.  Salvia is still blooming and my tropical milkweed is in full bloom. Wild lantana is blooming, as is fall aster (must be because of all that rain). Local antelope horn milkweed is also blooming.

It is time to change out your cool season annuals to spring and summer annuals such as marigold, periwinkle, Penta, purslane, portulaca, salvia, amaranthus, gomphrena, begonia, cockscomb, cosmos, geranium, morning glory, petunia, sunflower, Mexican sunflower (tithonia), and zinnia.

April 2016:

Q1:  Should I apply weed and feed to my lawn now?

A1:  No. Your pre-emergent herbicides should already have been applied in February. Spring lawn fertilizer should be put out in mid spring after you’ve mowed twice.  Don’t use a combination product because each should be done at different dates. Remember that post emergent herbicides should not be used under the tree canopy or in shrub and flower beds.  The herbicide cannot tell the difference between weeds and trees or shrubs.

Q2:  I am starting a butterfly garden and understand that I need blooms every month of the year. What is in bloom the next couple of months?

A2: According to Calvin Finch, March blooming plants are verbena and coreopsis, April bloomers are Salvia greggii and Texas Gold columbine, and May bloomers are passion vine and Fanick’s phlox.

Q3:  I have dill everywhere. What can I do with it?

A3: Dill is a lovely annual herb that grows 24 to 36 inches tall.  Mine is already starting to put on seed heads. Harvest the side leaves and dry in the oven at low heat (under 180 degrees F. for two to four hours or in a food dryer. You can also dry them by hanging upside down in bunches in a dark, warm area (like the garage). Out of curiosity, I tried the microwave also. Place the leaves on a paper towel and microwave for one or two minutes, mixing every 30 seconds and checking for dryness. I use dried dill on my fish dishes during the year. Both leaves and seeds are good in salads, pickles, green beans and bread. By the way, once you plant dill, you won’t need to reseed. It takes care of itself.

Q4: Where can I buy milkweed seed? I tried all the local nurseries. They have Tropical Milkweed plants, but no seeds or plants for any of the other milkweeds.

A4:  Native American Seed out in Junction sells several different types of milkweed seeds, including Antelope Horns, Butterfly Weed, Common Milkweed, Green Milkweed, Showy Milkweed, and Swamp “Rose” Milkweed. On Earth Day in Seguin the Native Plant Society will have also milkweed for sale. If you have a friend with Tropical Milkweed, get a cutting and try rooting it in water.

Q5:  I have a field with milkweed and feel very strongly about saving the Monarch.  When can I mow, or should I mow?

A5:  For our area (around Seguin), you can mow before March 1 and after November 1.  Between May 10 and August 15, you can mow “if necessary.” You may kill monarchs, but supposedly most will have gone further north during this period. For this latitude, October 18 is the midpoint for peak migration moving south. Mow high and no more than twice a year.

March 2016:

Q1: I want some spring blooming shrubs. How can I be sure of what color I get?

A1: Buy them now while they are in bloom. This way, you see exactly what color the blooms are. As I write this, redbuds are open, agaritas are open, Carolina jessamine are open, and Texas mountain laurel are open (with that lovely smell blowing towards my house). Other spring bloomers soon to join in are Mexican buckeye, Mexican plum, Bradford pear, Texas wisteria, and the Lady Banksia rose.

Q2: I’ve heard so much about Rodeo tomatoes. What is the 2016 Rodeo tomato?

A2: The Rodeo tomato this year is Red Deuce. It is a determinate medium-to-large fruited Beefsteak slicing tomato. Red Deuce has resistance to Verticillium Wilt, Fusarium Wilt (1 and 2), Tobacco Mosaic Virus and Stemphylium. Red Deuce performs well in early and mid-season plantings, and the label calls it a “heat setting” tomato (which will be nice for us in Guadalupe County). The tomato has the potential for high yields of extra-large fruit, as much as 25 pounds per plant.

A side note from me about growing tomatoes: I have nematodes in my soil. Therefore, I have given up growing tomatoes in the ground. I put them in self-watering containers, or in large pots with new soil each year. Tomatoes like even watering, so self-watering containers work out well; and fresh soil does away with the nematode problem.

Q3: I really love iris and would like to talk one of my neighbors into giving me some. When is the proper time of year for dividing and replanting iris?

A3: September is the ideal time of the year for dividing and replanting iris. According to Pat Schultze, Guadalupe County’s “daylily” lady, iris and daylilies need to be divided and replanted at the opposite time of the year from when they bloom (thus, September). However, since this is March, bagged or potted iris could be planted now and will bloom next year. Remember, iris plants like sun. Those at the Guadalupe County Courthouse are in full bloom right now. They are that lovely “old parchment” color, old fashioned and beautiful.

Q4: I try to plant natives, but every once in a while I buy something that is non-native and likes a little more water. Is there something I can tell my friends when they fuss at me?

A4: Ann McCormick, the herb’n cowgirl, provides a short list of criterion that she uses for her own yard. First, the plant should not be harmful. Around here, some of the things that escape your yard are ligustrum, chinaberry, nandina, and, if you are on the river, elephant ear, bamboo, and water hyacinth. These plants crowd out useful natives, clog waterways, and become a nuisance. Second, the plant needs to provide a benefit to the owner, such as fruit trees, rosebushes, daylilies, iris, and other cut flowers. And third, the plant should provide some benefit to wildlife. Pick non-natives sensibly.

February 2016:

Q1:  What garden related present can I give my wife for Valentine’s Day?

A1:  A wonderful garden gift to me would be having someone else prune my rose bushes. I’m sure your wife will probably want to supervise (togetherness time) but having you do the manual labor will be welcome. If you do not feel confident in your pruning ability, how about buying her a lovely Texas Superstar rose such as Belinda’s Dream or Knock Out.

Q2:  Do I have to mulch, and when should I do it?

A2:  Mulching is really a good idea for many reasons. The main reason is water conservation, since mulched soil does not lose moisture as easily. Other reasons according to Doug Welsh’s Texas Garden Almanac are the reduction of soil erosion from wind and rain, moderation of soil temperatures in both winter and summer, reduction of weed populations, and production of organic matter when the mulch decomposes. Mulch can also be aesthetically pleasing. I took out the sprawling juniper by my front door (where the snake lived) and put down mulch decorated with large rocks. Not only is it pretty, it also opened up the area which had seemed a bit claustrophobic.

Now is a good time to mulch. I have always been fond of cedar chips because I like the smell. Other possibilities are shredded bark, pine straw, chipped granite, lava rock, recycled chipped tires, and even little pieces of rounded glass. Mulch can be gotten free from the city, but I like to buy it in bags because it is easier for me to handle. Remember, if you are using non-organic materials such as rocks for mulch, you won’t have the added benefit of decomposing organic matter. There are several down sides to organic mulch: a heavy rain can wash it away, and organic mulch does break down and will need to be replenished every year (which, of course, is also a good thing).

Q3: Are there cool season annuals that can be planted now?

A3:  One of my favorite cool season annuals is the snapdragon. I have several pots out in front and am anxiously awaiting the first bloom. Other annuals for this season include larkspur, alyssum, calendula, dianthus, pansies (and the smaller version, violas), sweet peas and poppies. As an added bonus, many of these make good cut flowers, including the snapdragon, calendula and larkspur. Already blooming in my shade garden are violets. My grandchildren are thinking about making crystallized violets to decorate dessert plates. I don’t spray with insecticides so the blooms are quite edible.

Q4: What should I prune in late winter?

A4:  Welsh lists several shrubs that need pruning now to promote vigorous growth in the spring (thus resulting in more blooms), including althea, hydrangea, most roses, and lavender vitex.

January 2016:

Q1: I recently removed some Red Tip Photinia and would like to plant at least one rose bush in the same area.  What is your very favorite rose?

A1:  I change with time, but right now my favorite rose is a little dark green compact bush with dark red blooms called Martha Gonzales.  This bush is a china rose and was found by two “rose rustlers” in 1984 in front of Martha Gonzales’ house in Navasota, Texas. The flowers are flat singles with a slight spicy odor. My plant is about four feet tall and three feet wide, although everything I’ve read gives plant size as about three by three.  This heritage rose grows well in spite of me. It sits next to a hybrid rose (name unknown) that stays sick all the time and takes constant care.

When you plant your rosebush, remember the following guidelines as listed by Doug Welsh in his Texas Garden Almanac:  Give roses at least 6 hours of sun a day; choose an east-facing site if possible; and select a site with good air circulation. This will reduce insect infestations and diseases.  Roses can be planted almost year round, although summertime should be avoided. Now is a good time. To help the environment and keep down the spraying of pesticides, choose a heritage or a Texas Superstar rose rather than a rose which may get diseases or pests. Help yourself by putting in drip irrigation when you plant.  It saves you a lot of work moving the hose around.

Q2: I want to put in fruit trees. When is a good time? What do you suggest for Guadalupe County?

A2: Fruit trees should be appearing in local nurseries very shortly.  One of my favorite trees is the Celeste sugar fig. My tree supplies both me and my neighbors (and the birds and squirrels) with fruit. I have two pear trees. One is a Warren pear that I’ve had for nine years, and have maybe had nine pears in that length of time.  It is a pretty tree, however. The other pear is a Kieffer pear that I just put in this past year.  Hopefully it will do a little bit better. Another one of my trees is a Methley plum. It is usually covered with fruit, but also gets insects. Since I don’t like to spray for fear of killing butterflies, I don’t get a lot of usable fruit.

I also have a satsuma mandarin orange that does quite well. Aggie-horticulture says that it grows south of highway 90, which means us. I know of several people besides me who grow their satsumas in the ground rather than in a 20 gallon container.  Cold tolerance for satsumas is in the mid-20s. When it is going to be below 26 degrees, I cover my plant with a cold blanket. Again, as with all fruit, the plant needs eight to ten hours of sun a day.

Several of my neighbors grow pecans. There are lots of useful articles on the Aggie-horticulture web site about planting and caring for pecan trees, as well as other fruit and nut trees. The web site is

December 2015: 

Q1: I would like a live Christmas tree that I can plant after the holidays. What should I get?

A1: There are a number of trees for our area around Seguin that can be used as living Christmas trees, according to Doug Welsh in his Texas Garden Almanac. This includes the Arizona cypress, Deodar cedar, Eastern red cedar, Eldarica pine, Italian stone pine, Leyland cypress, and the Nellie R. Stevens holly. With the holly, you wouldn’t need ornaments. You’d have red berries.

While researching the Leyland cypress, I found on the website that overplanting of these trees led to problems that have multiplied every year. Seiridium canker, Botryosphaeria dieback and Cercosporidium needle blight are becoming more common, as well as bagworms and spider mites. Remember that this tree will grow to 70 feet tall and will be hard to treat when problems occur. In spite of this, I saw a beautiful Leyland cypress in La Vernia this past week that had been a living Christmas tree, then planted outside. Neil Sperry in his San Antonio garden column suggests using the Eastern red cedar (Juniperus virginiana) as a substitute if you like the look of the Leyland. It is also native to a large part of Texas.

I suggest that you stay away from the Aleppo pine. I bought one as a living tree twelve years ago and have had red spider problems ever since. It is absolutely enormous and not very pretty, although Calvin Finch thinks this a good tree for our area because it likes alkaline soil. Finch also recommends the Arizona cypress since it seems to be well adapted to our area. It grows to 30 feet tall with no insects or diseases. The Italian Stone Pine is also mentioned by Finch. He describes it as a short tree, 25 to 35 feet tall, with a thick trunk and an umbrella like crown.

Q2: Once I buy my live Christmas tree, how do I care for it before it is time to plant?

A2: While the tree is in your house, keep it in the brightest natural light possible. Keep the soil moist since your heater during the winter can dry everything out. Make sure that you have a large plant saucer under the pot to protect your floor or carpet. Don’t leave the tree in the house for longer than 2 to 3 weeks, then plant soon after Christmas so those plant roots have plenty of time to grow before our really hot weather in the summer.

Q3: Last year I saw an outdoor tree decorated with edible wildlife friendly ornaments. Suggest some and tell me how to make them.

A3: The easiest ornaments to make are to cross section apples and oranges and hang the sections on the tree with ribbons. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service website suggests stringing natural popcorn (no butter or salt), as well as stringing cranberries and draping them on the tree. Another ornament easy to make is a pinecone smeared with a peanut butter and oatmeal mixture, then rolled in bird seed. Hang up with a ribbon or twine. Don’t forget to keep your bird baths filled for our wildlife during the winter months.

November 2015: 

Q1: Some trees around town have fall colors.  What can I plant that will do well here in Seguin?

A: Doug Welsh, extension horticulturist, says that fall color in deciduous trees happens as the chlorophyll production slows in the fall and the existing chlorophyll in the leaf disintegrates. Then the other pigments show through. Everybody loves the Texas red oak with its red to yellow leaves. One of my favorite small trees (almost a tall shrub) is the Flameleaf sumac. Every year I see some small bright red shrubs on King St. in back of our big box store. The Fan-Tex ash and the Texas ash both have yellow leaves. Along the Guadalupe are lots of Bald cypress trees with rust to burgundy leaves. A nice landscape tree that will do well for you is the Cedar elm with yellow leaves.  And if you want berries in the fall, plant Yaupon, Possumhaw, American Beautyberry, and many different holly plants.

Q2: At the recent Guadalupe County Fair, my husband and I saw lots of herbs entered in the horticulture division.  What can I grow this time of year?

A: There are a number of cold tolerant herbs. Chives, cilantro (or coriander), dill, fennel, garlic, oregano, parsley, rosemary, sage and thyme grow quite well here. I have a patch of oregano, one of thyme, and one of sage that are a number of years old. In the spring, I trim them with hedge clippers. I lost one of my rosemary plants this past spring as it was in a pot and drowned in all that rain we had. (Don’t overwater rosemary). Once you plant dill, you will usually have it returning year after year (and in strange spots).  I have not had any problems with growing mint, parsley, or lavender year round either.

The Texas Department of Agriculture has a very nice little booklet called “Go Texan Herbs. The Very Zest of Texas” in its Go Texan series.  It lists availability, producers, storage and handling, inside secrets, recipes, and the top seven Texas herbs. One of the hints that you may not know is that basil can be used to make your bath water smell good, as well as in sprigs to deter flies and mosquitoes.

Q3: I want to attract monarch butterflies to my garden and have been reading about the different types of milkweed. I see milkweed in the nurseries. How can I tell which kind it is?

A: What the nursery calls Tropical milkweed is actually Asclepias curassavica. Its leaves are opposite each other, and it has milky sap. Asclepias tuberosa, often called Butterfly Weed, is another milkweed that looks much like the Tropical. It has alternate leaves and no milky sap. Tropical milkweed fosters greater transmission of the protozoan Ophryocystis elektroscirrha (OE) according to Monarch Joint Venture out of the University of Minnesota. Monarchs who stay here in the winter feeding on tropical milkweed have a greater likelihood of becoming infected with the parasite.  Monarch Joint Venture and other monarch groups recommend that tropical milkweed should be cut back in the fall and winter months so that monarchs do not stay around.

October 2015:  

Q1 – It is October already. What do I do now? Is it too late to plant things?

You are in luck. Now is vegetable time!  Beets, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, turnips, cauliflower, peas, radishes, and carrots can be planted.  All of your favorite greens can be planted as well, like lettuces, kale, mustard, spinach, Swiss chard, collard, and turnip greens.

You also may be thinking about transplanting shrubs or trees now that the weather is cooling. I recently removed all of my invasive nandina. Now I want to move my shaded flame acanthus into the spot where the nandina was. Doug Welsh in his Texas Garden Almanac says to wait longer before you transplant.  In late winter cut three quarters of a circle around the plant with a sharpshooter shovel. In late December or January finish cutting your circle, dig a new hole where the shrub will go, then carefully move the plant without breaking the soil and place it in the hole.

Q2 – I was out in my garden and a single bee was taking nectar from my salvia.  I assume this is a bumblebee and would like to find out more about them.

A really good website about bumblebees in this area is  From looking at range maps, I am going to guess you have an American bumblebee, although we have nine species in Texas. If you are interested in pursuing more identification resources, lists several other sites.

Bumblebees can be easily observed and don’t seem to mind people watching them; however, they can sting and can sting multiple times, unlike European honeybees. If you find a colony, leave it alone. Bumblebees visit and pollinate hundreds of native flowering plant species which maintains biodiversity. Bumblebees also make contributions to agriculture and have pollinated blueberries, cucumbers, peppers, pumpkins and watermelons.

Q3 – In my neighbor’s yard is a plant that looks much like a weed, although it has bright red leaves resembling a flower, sort of like a small poinsettia?  What is it?  Can I grow it here?

The plant you see blooming is Euphorbia cyathophora, or the Painted Poinsettia, or Fire on the Mountain, according to the Native Plant Society website.  Red parts on the plant are not flowers, but are bright orange-red bracts.  This, according to the website, is an annual, although I’ve had mine for almost two years.  It re-seeds freely and the capsules, when they burst open, throw the seeds.  If you have the plant in a rich flower bed, the plant may become weak.  Using it as a background plant will help hold it upright as it uses the other plants for support.

Q4 – I know you’ve mentioned fall fertilizing before.  When is the best time?

Doug Welsh says to monitor your mowing frequency.  When you don’t need to mow for two weeks, it is time to fertilize.  Usually in our area that is around October 15.  Your fertilizer in the fall should be high in nitrogen and potassium with little to no phosphorus.  Use one pound of nitrogen for 1000 square feet.  Fertilizing in the fall prolongs fall color, increases winter hardiness and promotes earlier spring green-up according to Welsh.

September 2015   [Note:  Ask a Master Gardener  answers from January to September 2015 were provided by Guadalupe County  Master Gardener Penny Wallace.]  

Q1:  About one month ago, I gave my Rockroses some fertilizer. They dropped the buds and shed about 30% of their leaves. I added ashes to lower the pH, but they continue to decline. The plants are about 11 years old. Any thoughts?

 A1:   A very experienced Master Gardener that I consulted told me that Rockroses are native plants that don’t need fertilizer, nor do they require a lower pH soil. They like our alkaline soil. She also said that the average Rockrose plant only lives a few years, so eleven year old plants are quite uncommon. You might consider digging up the old plants, adding some compost, and planting new plants later in the fall. It is too hot now for good root growth.

For those of us who are unfamiliar with Rockroses (me), I also consulted Native Texas Plants by Sally and Andy Wasowski. I learned that Rockrose or Pavonia is classified as a shrub, as it has a woody base and branches like a shrub. It doesn’t die back in the winter, unless it is unusually cold. It reproduces freely by seed. You should let a few seedlings survive each year to replace the mother plant, which has a short life span. The flowers are clear pink, numerous, open in the morning, and close in the afternoon. If desired, you can prune your Rockrose any time from February to October.

Q2:   What is the dark, sticky substance on my black-eyes peas?

A2:  It sounds like aphids have infested your plants. A heavy infestation can cause distorted growth, reduced growth, poor quality, lower yield, and can even kill the plants. The insects suck the sap out of the tender plants, shoots, and leaves. They secrete a sugary substance called honeydew, which attracts a dark fungus called sooty mold. This fungus is unsightly and stresses the plant by reducing the amount of sunlight reaching the leaves.

Sometimes, a heavy blast of water from the hose will knock the aphids off the plants. You can also spray them with insecticidal soap. Please know that more than one application will be needed. Once the honeydew-producing insects are suppressed, the sooty mold will gradually weather away. The sooty mold does not cause the black-eyed peas to be inedible. Just wash them with a solution of a mild soap and warm water before shelling them.

Q3:  My trailing rosemary and Lantana plants are about 2 years old and historically very healthy. Recently, the Lantana has failed to flower and has mottled leaves. The rosemary is less full and looks rather dry, even though I have it on a drip irrigation system. I have noticed some webs on the rosemary, but no spiders. Any ideas?

A3:  I suspect that you might have spider mites on your rosemary. Spider mites are very small – about the size of the period at the end of this sentence. Use a hose- end sprayer filled with water and a squirt of dish soap and spray the plants every few days.

Most likely, your Lantana is resting and you don’t need to do anything. My friend has several plants in his yard, and they have the same symptoms that yours have. Closely inspect the old blooms that are browning, and you’ll probably find some seeds. I expect the Lantana will bloom again later this fall.

August 2015   Q1:  Why are my container-grown cucumbers short and teardrop shaped, and why are the lower leaves turning yellow, then brown, and then dying off?

A1:  The teardrop shaped cucumbers result from poor pollination. The flower is partially pollinated, but not completely. The result is a normal stem, but a tapered point at the blossom end. No matter what, some fruit will not fully develop, but having a lot of not-fully-developed cucumbers is problematic.

Cucumbers and all the squash family of cucurbits rely on insect pollination. If you have sprayed for insects in your garden you may be inadvertently discouraging bees and other pollinators. Try to encourage bees with other plants that they like. Rosemary blooms throughout the winter in the south and encourages bees. Other plants that bees like can be found with an Internet search.

Another example of poor pollination occurs when corn is not planted in multiple rows. Corn is pollinated when the wind blows the pollen from one plant to the next, and poor pollination results in corncobs with missing kernels.

The lower leaves on your cucumber plants may be dying off due to spider mites. Spider mites require harsh chemicals to control. A friendlier method is to use a blast of water under the leaves, but moisture contributes to powdery mildew. In my garden, I grow the cucumber vines quickly in the spring to outrace the warm weather, which promotes these problems. I find it nearly impossible to keep cucumbers growing past the third week in June.   Last year, I had a heavy investigation of aphids – also heat-loving critters.

(Guadalupe County Master Gardeners would like to thank our friend, Lee Franzel, of Comal County for responding to the above inquiry.)

Q2:  Can you tell me the name of the weed growing in the shady areas of my yard and competing with my grass? It has very small yellow flowers and small rough leaves. 

A:  I expect that you are talking about horseherb (Calyptocarpus vialis).  Actually, horseherb is my new friend. It grows well in the shade, better than my St. Augustine. It requires very little water. It tolerates a moderate amount of foot traffic. It grows well in sand, loam, clay, or caliche. It is evergreen in the southern part of the state. In the colder parts of the state, it will go dormant in the winter and come back with warmer weather. It can grow to about 8 to 10 inches in height and does not mind if you mow it to a height of 2 to 4 inches.

I say we remove horseherb from the “lawn weed” category and call it an “easy-care, shade tolerant ground cover” for central Texas.

Q3: How do I get rid of the poison ivy growing in my trees? 
A:  If you are as allergic to the stuff as I am, you ought to find someone else to do the job. If not, I still recommend a long sleeve shirt, long pants, gloves, and skin protection such as Ivy Block.

Then…cut the vines six inches above the soil and spray them with glyphosate. Glyphosate will kill most anything you spray it on, so be selective. It should not harm the tree, but to be sure, you can wrap the trunk with aluminum foil. If you would rather not use glyphosate, you can use 20% vinegar combined with orange oil and dish soap. Additionally, there are several vine killers on the market, including one that contains triclopyr, a selective herbicide.

The vines will likely re-sprout several times. Keep spraying. Spot treat any new sprouts surrounding the vines. When they re-sprout, spray again. Doug Welsh, in his Texas Garden Almanac, suggests that you might find anger management classes to be useful during this repetitive process.

Without question, you should carefully read the instructions and warnings regarding glyphosate, and any other herbicide, before use. 

June 2015   Q1: Why are the leaves on the bottoms of my tomato plants turning yellow?


  1. It could be that the plants are getting too much water. This was a common result with the wonderful rains received in May. Be sure your plants are in an area with good drainage. Mix compost in the soil when planting.
  2. On the other hand, it could be that the plants are getting too little water. Using a drip irrigation system is a good way to ensure that your plants get adequate and consistent amounts of water. Be sure to use good mulch, as well.
  3. Your soil may be low in nitrogen. Nitrogen gives plants their dark green color. Yellow leaves may indicate a shortage of nitrogen. Additives are available at your local nursery. Be careful not to add too much nitrogen, or you will have beautiful green, bushy plants, and no fruit. You can send a sample of your soil to Texas A&M for analysis to be sure. Check with your local extension service for instructions.
  4. It could be that you have lovely bushy plants that are preventing sunlight from reaching the lower branches. If this is the case, there is really no need for concern.
  5. If you notice yellow leaves all over the plant, or if the yellowing is spreading, your plants may be victims of a disease. If unsure, you can clip off a piece of the affected plant and take it to your county extension agent for advice.

Q2:  How much water do my tomato plants need?

 A: The answer depends on the size and type of plant, as well as the soil, and of course, the weather. If you use a drip irrigation system, start by watering 2 to 3 hours every other day and adjust as necessary. You will want the soil to be moist to a depth of 6 to 8 inches. Avoid allowing the top inch of soil to become dry.

 I don’t recommend a sprinkler, as it tends to waste water. However, if you choose to use a sprinkler, water early enough in the day so that the foliage dries before nightfall, or diseases may become a problem.

You will find that if you maintain a consistent and appropriate amount of water on your tomato plants, you will have fewer problems with blossom end rot or cracking of the fruit.


Q3:  I have some beautiful tomatoes this year. How do I go about saving the seeds?

 A: If your tomato plants are an open-pollinated (heirloom) variety, you certainly can save the seeds. If you save the seeds from a hybrid variety, you will not likely get the results you had the prior year.

If you choose to save the seeds, choose a healthy, robust fruit that is in its prime – not over-ripe. Cut it in half and scoop the seeds and gel into a bowl. Label the variety! Add 1/3 cup of water. Set the bowl in a dark location for 3 to 5 days. A film will develop over the top. Remove the film. Add more water and stir. The good seeds will sink. Pour off the water and repeat until the seeds are clean. Drain the seeds on a paper towel. Then place them in a single layer on a paper plate to dry. Once the seeds are dry, place them in an airtight container and store in a dark place at room temperature.

The seeds will remain viable for years. If you find that the fruits grown from these seeds don’t resemble their parents, it could be that the bees in your garden cross-pollinated the plants with other varieties that were grown nearby, creating a natural hybrid.

May 2015  Q1: How do I get rid of fire ants in my garden? What should I do if I have fire ants in my compost pile?

 A:  While most types of ants are harmless and even beneficial, the fire ant is a well-known pest in our area. This non-native ant has invaded the United States from South America and has spread to states as far north as Virginia and west to California. Most of us have been victim to the sharp sting that the fire ant inflicts, but it can also cause damage to our gardens by eating germinating seeds, tunneling into fruits and vegetables, and girdling young trees. Our gardens are prime targets during times of draught.

If you have only a few mounds to treat, I recommend drenching each mound with a solution of 1 ½ ounces of orange oil, 3 ounces of liquid dish soap, and one gallon of water. An ingredient in the orange oil (d-limonene) is toxic to ants and has been proven effective in studies at Texas A&M.

One home remedy for eliminating fire ants is to pour boiling water on the mound. This method has been shown effective in killing about 60% of the ants. Actually, if you don’t kill the queen, you just encourage more egg laying and therefore, more ants. Other home remedies such as aspartame, baking soda, cinnamon, club soda, coffee grounds, and grits failed to prove effective in studies conducted at Texas A&M.

If your problem is very widespread, you may need to broadcast fire ant bait. Baits containing spinosad are safe for use in vegetable gardens. Broadcasting should be done when the ants are foraging because they will collect the bait and take it back to the mound. To know when ants are foraging, drop a potato chip near a mound. Come back in a couple of hours. If the ants are enjoying the potato chip, they are foraging. Apply the pesticide during the late evening, night, or early morning to minimize the effect on bees. It may take several weeks before the ants are eliminated and future applications may be necessary. As always, follow the directions on the product that you purchase.

Broadcasting is discouraged in areas with fewer than 15 to 20 mounds per acre, as native ants may also be eliminated. Use the drench method instead.

If you have fire ants in your compost pile, keep stirring and watering the pile. The ants will eventually get annoyed and leave.

Q2:  Is it possible to plant a rubber tree outside? Where can I go to get information for planting and maintaining the rubber tree once it is planted?

 A:  The rubber tree is native to tropical areas. It makes a wonderful indoor plant here in south central Texas, but does not handle our winters well when planted outside. I tried moving my potted rubber tree outside several years ago. It did quite well, as long as I moved it indoors during the cooler weather. I did not try planting it in the ground, but a friend of mine did. He said that the plant froze to the ground each winter and did not grow back to its original health and beauty.

You can get more information on this topic at (Rubber Plant Information: Taking Care of a Rubber Plant Outdoors).

April 2015    Q1: How do I garden in a small space?

A:  For complete instructions, you simply must read All New Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew, or Google square foot gardening. A typical square foot garden is 4’ x 4’, allowing for 16 square feet of gardening space.   Your 4’ x 4’ box can be made from boards or cinder blocks, or you can buy a kit and assemble it. The box can be placed on the ground or built at a higher level (even placed on a table) to allow for less bending.

Each square can be planted with a different crop, and you can place 1,4,9, or 16 plants in each square, depending on the size of the plant. For example, you can plant one pepper plant per square, 4 lettuce plants, 9 spinach plants, or 16 carrots. Some very large plants, like squash will take more than one square. One square usually supplies enough food for one or two people throughout the growing season. Large families may need 6 squares of the same crop.

Besides saving space, this system saves time and effort. There is less weeding to do, less thinning, and no tilling. You will use no fertilizer because your soil is so rich and friable. Mel Bartholomew recommends 1/3 blended compost, 1/3 peat moss, and 1/3 Vermiculite, measured by volume. Your soil will not become compacted because you can walk around your box, reach all of your plants, and never walk on your soil. Crop rotation year to year is easy. Just plant your crops in different squares. Maybe best of all – you will use less water and waste fewer seeds with this gardening method.

You can even go vertical with your square foot garden by installing a vertical frame with nylon netting. This method accommodates vining crops such as cucumbers and pole beans very nicely.

Besides constructing square foot gardens, you can also garden in small spaces by using containers, planting vegetables in your flower beds, and trying some of the fancy “new” techniques that allow you to garden on a fence or wall.

Q2: How do I support melons that are grown vertically so that they don’t pull the vine off of the support?

A:  First of all, you can grow melons on the vertical structure that you attached to your square foot garden, or you can use other supports such as fences, hog wire, livestock panels, or lattice. You will need to train the vine to grow up the structure by carefully weaving the tendrils through your netting or wire and loosely tying the vines to the supports with a soft material such as hosiery cut into 1” strips.

Larger fruit, such as melons, will likely need additional support to ensure that the vine isn’t pulled off the structure (as mentioned by the questioner). I suggest making slings from an old pair of panty hose. Tie a knot about 8” from the toe and more knots up the leg, about 8” apart. Then cut 1” below each knot to make individual slings. Slip a sling over the fruit when it is tennis ball size, and then tie the sling to the trellis. For very large melons, you may want to use an old t-shirt or some type of mesh material to make slings.

March 2015   Q:   How do I rid my yard of grass burs?

A:  Grass burs (or sand burs) are summer annual grassy weeds that start germinating in late spring and continue germinating until late summer or early fall. The weed will continue to grow until the first freeze.

Grass burs grow best in sandy, poor, bare soil. A well-maintained turf does not have many grass burs. Proper mowing, watering, and fertilizing create a dense turf that crowds out these weeds.

However, if these weeds are a problem for you, there are things that you can do to eliminate them as you work to improve your soil and turf over time. If you prefer organic solutions, as I do, spread corn gluten meal in early spring and late summer using a rotary spreader at a rate of twenty pounds per 1000 square feet of lawn. Water the area lightly after application to activate the corn gluten meal. This product not only helps knock out the noxious weeds by preventing germination, but also adds organic matter to the soil. It is safe for children and pets.

If you are not an organic gardener, you can shop for a pre-emergent herbicide labeled for grass bur control. You can expect to see that pendimethalin or oryzalin will be an ingredient. Please read and follow all instructions on the label. Apply by mid-March, or whenever the soil temperature reaches 52 degrees. Water the area after application. In heavily infested areas, you may want to reapply the herbicide every six weeks through September.

If your grass burs have already germinated, the previously mentioned remedies will not work. Your organic, natural choices include herbicidal soaps, citrus oil-based herbicides, and vinegar (acetic acid). All of these products are non-selective; that is, they kill weeds AND grass. If you choose vinegar, select a product with at least 20% acetic acid concentration. Caution: although acetic acid is considered a natural weed killer, it can still cause permanent eye damage and skin burns.

Another post-emergent option that is effective on grass burs is MSMA. Use this product if the weeds are young. Imazaquin (Image) is also effective. For best results, wait until the daytime temperatures reach 75 degrees. Note that MSMA may harm some turf grasses. Read the label.

If you have a light infestation of grass burs, I recommend a good weeding tool and a strong back. Digging up these weeds and discarding the stickers (seeds) will be your most effective option.

Once you rid your yard of these weeds, you need to fill the empty spaces with turf, or consider a reseeding program, if your grass is not hardy enough to fill the bare space.  If desirable grasses do not fill these spaces, the weeds will be back. Study your soil and environmental conditions to determine the reason for the sparse turf.

February 2015  Q:   When and how do I prune my rose bushes?

A.  My major pruning dates are Valentine’s Day (or a couple of weeks thereafter) and Labor Day, with the spring pruning being heavier than the fall pruning. Pruning improves air circulation, helps control the size and shape of the plant, and promotes vigorous blooming.

Tools needed include scissor type pruners (the anvil type will crush tender branches), large loppers, and possibly a pruning saw. Make sure your tools are sharp and that you use heavy leather gloves for the process. I keep a solution of equal parts bleach and water handy to sanitize my tools between cuts, thereby reducing the chance of spreading disease.

Cut off all branches that are smaller in diameter than a pencil. Remove large canes growing in the center of the plant. Remove any branches that are growing cross-wise or toward the center of the plant. Trim branches just above dormant buds that face the outside of the bush so that new growth will be outward. Make 45-degree cuts. Remove the foliage.

Your end result will be a vase-shaped plant that is about 18 inches to 24 inches tall, has 4 -8 canes, and is open in the center. Remove old debris around the plant, as it may harbor insects or disease.

During the summer, you will only need to remove any diseased foliage or canes and to deadhead the faded flowers by cutting the stems just above the first leaf with five leaflets.

Fall pruning is much lighter. Remove twiggy growth along with crossing or dead canes. All foliage is left on the bush at this time.

Q.  Can I grow roses organically?

Yes, you can, although it is helpful if you select varieties that are resistant to black spot and powdery mildew in the first place; such as, certain tough hybrids and most of the antique roses.

To fertilize, you can use a watering can containing one tablespoon of Epsom salt and/or ¼ cup of alfalfa meal per gallon of water. Mulch bare soil with alfalfa hay or shredded hardwood bark. For ongoing maintenance, spray the foliage every two weeks with a mixture of fish emulsion and seaweed.

At the first sign of black spot or powdery mildew, spray with a solution of four teaspoons of baking soda and one teaspoon of dish soap per gallon of water. Spray lightly every three days.

January 2015  Q:   How do I keep the deer out of my garden?

A:  Deer are beautiful to watch, but they can do a great deal of damage to a garden.  In fact, a deer eats approximately 6 to 10 pounds of forage per day.  They are particularly attracted to smooth, flavorful, moisture-rich plants; such as, lettuce, beans, pansies, roses, daylilies, hibiscus, and fruit.

Since lists seem to be quite in vogue these days, I’ll provide 10 tips for protecting your plants from deer damage.

1. Plant deer resistant plants; such as, Texas mountain laurel, Texas persimmon, agarita, autumn sage, Texas sage, lantana, cactus, gulf mulhy, black-eyed Susan, blackfoot daisy, esperanza, and mealy cup/blue sage.  You can find a more complete list by searching the internet.

2. Keep the plants that deer love most close to your house.  Although you cannot maintain 100% vigilance, your general activity around the house may discourage the deer.  (maybe)

3. Make your garden less appetizing to deer.  Add strongly scented herbs; such as, garlic, chives, and mint to your garden in the hopes of masking the aroma of the more appealing plants.  Include plants with fuzzy or thorny textures.

4. Fence your garden.  You will need a fence about 8 feet high that does not have gaps greater than 6 inches.

5. Use repellents obtained from your local nursery.  Rotate brands because the deer will become accustomed to one brand, making it ineffective. Reapply after rainfall.

6. Use home remedies.  Some hang fabric softener strips or bars of soap from trees.  Some use garlic, rotten egg mixtures, or bags of hair and blood meal.

7. Scare them away.  Use yard art with movable parts, wind chimes, or motion lights.  Try noise, such as a radio tuned to the static between stations.  Search the internet for a product that has a motion sensor connected to a water sprinkler.  When the deer approaches, the sprinkler sprays water for about 10 seconds.  Get a dog.

8. String nylon fishing line around the beds about 2 to 3 feet above the ground.  This clear and tightly strung barrier creates confusion, causing the deer to flee.

9. Cage young trees until they are too tall for deer to reach the leaves or fruit.

10. Avoid anything toxic.  We want to prevent the wildlife from destroying our gardens, but at the same time, we don’t want to harm them.  Likewise, we don’t want pets or family to be victim to poisonous substances.

Since disclaimers are also in vogue these days, I provide these disclaimers.
1. Not all deer have the same taste.
2. Tactics should be rotated because deer learn to ignore them.
3. Although some plants are deer resistant, many are still attractive when young and tender.
4. Hungry deer will eat almost anything.
5. If all tactics fail, take up photography instead of gardening.


Dec. 2014 Q & A:  Does pruning promote Oak Wilt? What can I do with all the leaves?

Q: Should I prune my oak trees? I am concerned about oak wilt.

Oak WiltA: Of course you will want to prune your oak trees for all of the reasons that people prune trees: the limbs are threatening to cause harm to your property (roof); there are weak limbs that will eventually break off causing more harm to the tree; there are dead or damaged branches that need to be removed.

You are also right to be concerned about oak wilt. Oak wilt is one of the most devastating tree diseases in the United States, and it is rampant in central Texas, causing leaf discoloration, wilt, defoliation, and eventually death of the tree.

All oaks are susceptible to oak wilt, but the most susceptible are red oaks, Spanish oaks, and blackjack oaks. White oaks (post oaks, bur oaks, and chinkapin oaks) are more resistant to the disease. Live oaks are somewhat susceptible, but are the most greatly affected due to their interconnected root system which allows the spread of the fungus. Besides spreading via the root system, the disease can be spread from infected trees to healthy ones by insect vectors and by man as infected wood is moved from one location to anther. Management of oak wilt consists of painting tree wounds, removing diseased trees, destroying infected wood, and digging trenches to disrupt root connections.

I know I’ve given you the long answer. The short answer is – if you do prune your oak trees, paint the wounds and do NOT prune them during the months of February to June.

Q: What do I do with all of these leaves in my yard?

Pile of LeavesA: The best thing to do with the leaves is to mow and mulch them into your turf. If you have an excess, they can be crushed and added to flower beds or the garden. Additionally, the leaves can be shredded and added to the compost pile. You can shred the leaves by running over them with a lawn mower or putting them in bags and crushing them. I invested in a leaf blower that reverses to a vacuum and shreds the leaves into an attached bag. It takes a while, but it is a good way to collect those leaves that are in hard to reach places, and it shreds them nicely.

If you end up with too many leaves in your compost (as compared to green material), you can add some dry molasses to speed the breakdown of the leaves. Another option is to save some crushed leaves in bags for use throughout the summer. Some people merely add the non-crushed leaves to a wire or wooden bin and wait patiently for the leaves to break down over time.

Whatever you decide, please do not send your leaves to the landfill or burn them. If you cannot find a use for all of your leaves, one of your friends or neighbors surely can. (I suggest you ask them first – don’t just blow the leaves onto their yards)!

Nov. 2014 Q & A: Can I grow asparagus in our area? What’s eating holes in my broccoli?

Q: Does asparagus grow well in south central Texas?

A:  Yes, it does, but it is a process.

asparagus crowns planted in raised garden bedYou should purchase crowns (one-year old root systems) when they become available in your local nursery, usually in late January or February.  Plant them in deep, loose soil with good drainage in an area that gets full sun.  The ferns can grow to 4 or 5 feet tall, so you might want to plant them on the north side of the garden to prevent shading of other plants.  A raised bed that is 4 feet wide and at least 12 inches deep is ideal.  Top the bed with 3 to 4 inches of organic material and mix in barnyard fertilizer at the rate of one-half pound per square foot.   Dig a planting trench 8 to 10 inches deep.  Place the crowns in the trench and cover with soil.  As the plants grow, gradually fill the trench with soil.

Asparagus spears emerging from raised garden bedFor the first two years, allow the plants to grow a ferny foliage.  On the third year, you can begin to harvest the spears for about 4 weeks.  When the spears begin to diminish in size, allow them to grow into their ferny form.  In subsequent years, the harvest period may be a couple of weeks longer, but you should always allow a few spears to grow into foliage so that energy can be restored to the roots in preparation for the next year’s crop.  Remove the tops after the foliage is killed by the first hard freeze by cutting the stalks near ground level.  Mound some soil over the stubs to protect the roots.

Although asparagus generally grows better in north Texas than in the south, if you pick a good spot in the garden, apply about 1 inch of water per week during the growing season, and apply a nitrogen fertilizer prior to the emergence of spears,  you should be able to harvest asparagus for up to 10 years from the same crowns.

Q: Something is eating holes in my broccoli leaves.  What can I do about it?

photo of cabbage looper on plantA: I know what you mean!  I had a heavy infestation of cabbage loopers on my broccoli this year, and I bet that is what is eating your leaves, especially if you are seeing a web-like result.  Look for light green caterpillars on your plants.  They can be up 2 inches long and have 2 white lines down their backs.  They crawl in a manner similar to inch worms.  The adult version of the cabbage looper is a gray-brown mottled moth with a wing span of about 1-1/2 inches.  They are attracted by the light.

At any rate, these caterpillars feed on broccoli, as well as other cole crops, such as lettuce, cabbage, and spinach.  They can be managed by use of Bt (Bacillus Thuringiensis) spray, an insecticide that will not harm beneficial insects.  Spray the leaves in the evening and every week until the pests are eliminated.

Hopefully, your plants will survive.  Mine are questionable, as those hungry worms were very busy while I was vacationing in Port A.

Oct. 2014 Q & A: Why doesn’t my Christmas cactus bloom? Can I propagate my Christmas Cactus?

Christmas Cactus in bloomQ: Why doesn’t my Christmas Cactus bloom?

 A: There are three possible scenarios:

  1. You may not be giving it the right amount of water.  Christmas cactus is a tropical cactus, not a desert cactus.  If the soil is allowed to dry out completely, it will drop its buds.  On the other hand, soggy feet will have the same effect.  Water your Christmas cactus when the top one inch of soil is dry to the touch.
  2. It may not be getting the right amount of light.  Christmas cactus sets buds when day and night lengths are about equal, and night length means complete darkness with no artificial light.  If you are unable to provide this environment, you may need to place a box over the plant for 12 hours each night to ensure complete darkness.
  3. The temperature may be too hot or too cold.  The best chance for bloom formation occurs in the 58 degree to 65 degree range.

Some people grow their Christmas cactus indoors, taking care to provide draft-free indirect light during the day, complete darkness at night, and the proper cool temperature.  I have found that our South Central Texas environment is often quite conducive to growing the plant outside.  Just be sure that there is not a porch light or street light shining on it at night, and bring it indoors before the first frost.  Buds should already be visible by this time, so the indoor artificial light will not prevent blooming.  Good luck (and hope for cool fall temperatures).

Q: How do I propagate my Christmas cactus?

A:  A good time to prune your Christmas cactus is one month after blooming, or you can wait until new growth starts in the spring.  Each pruned section that contains two or three of the jointed segments can be propagated.  Allow each segment to dry for several hours.  Fill three-inch pots with a soil made up of one part potting soil, two parts compost, and one part perlite.  Push the plants into the soil, allowing one-half of the first segment to be below the soil line.  In about four to six weeks, the cuttings should be rooted and showing new growth.  After the plants have grown one new segment, you can fertilize them with a 20-20-20 fertilizer.  Plants should be fertilized two to four times per year, ceasing by the end of October.

In the meantime, your pruned parent plant should be branching out nicely.  If you choose to transplant your Christmas cactus, do so in March or April, taking care not to jostle the plant excessively, as the segments are delicate and will break off.  But never fear, broken segments mean more transplants!

Sept. 2014 Q & A: Fall Vegetable Garden, Spider Mites

Q: I would like to plant my fall vegetable garden. When do I plant seeds?

spinach growingA: 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, Contact Us!

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 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 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 (, 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. 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 (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. 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  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 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: 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 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: 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 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; and Native American Seed Co. (in Junction), Internet address   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

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.

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 (, 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: 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 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 Then look at Central Leader pruning and Y System pruning, both making smaller trees. For lovely photos, go to 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:

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 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. 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 ( 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 Another is from A&M: 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: 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 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 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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