Thursday, April 27, 2017

May in Your South Texas Garden

I am going to risk sounding like a broken record and say prepare yourself - and your plants - for a hotter-than-normal summer!
  • Get on a good watering schedule.   This time a year, I usually water my vegetable beds once a week but will be checking the soil on day 4 or 5 to make sure it doesn't need it sooner.  Stressed plants are a target for insects.   Our plants will already be a bit stressed from our hot, hot, hot weather.  Don't compound that by starving them for water. 
  • Weed, weed, weed.   Weeds compete with your plants for both moisture and nutrients.   Don't let them steal those valuable resources.
  • MULCH!   It doesn't matter what your mulch of choice is.   I use wood chips, shredded leaves, and hay throughout my garden spaces.   My goal is to have no exposed soil.  
This month you will want to: 
  • I'm going to repeat myself again, and remind you to apply a layer of mulch to all planting beds.   If you see bare soil, cover it with something!   This will save you water, will protect your plants roots from the heat, will keep (some)  weed seed from sprouting. and will add organic matter to your planting beds. 
  • Check your plants for pests.   My go-to treatment is a sharp stream of water.  You may need to do this every day or two until they give up.   There are some pests that you can just pick off and squish - like tomato horn worm. There are some that will need something stronger.   I use an insecticidal soap on hard bodied insects like scale.   As I've said before, when you see something that is munching on your plants, identify it before you decide that it is a pest. The resource I use is  bugguide.net   
  • Plant some nectar and host plants to attract butterflies to your garden.  Host plants are the plants that the butterfly will lay her eggs on. You have to be okay with the fact that the caterpillars are going to eat these plants before they form a chrysalis.  I don't know of any instance where their feeding kills the host plant; they just grow back.   The host plants that I always like to have are dill, fennel, and milkweed.   Last summer when I got hot and tired and abandoned my garden, I ended up with lots of action on the old kale and artichoke plants.
  • Shred your dry bluebonnets with a seed trimmer.   The seed will lay on the ground and work its way into the ground until next winter when it's time to sprout and begin the cycle again.  If you had heavy flowering and seed production, you can spread your bluebonnet planting around by spreading some of the shredded plants onto a new area.     
  • Turn and water your compost.   With warm temperatures, your compost bins will dry out and then nothing will happen in there.   Turning and keeping the material moist (not wet, just moist) will help the process. 
  • Deadhead your cutting flowers and roses for continued blossoms.
  • For best taste, harvest vegetables every day.   
  • Trim off palm seeds before they mature.  They are beautiful but they become heavy (and hard to dispose of).   If you leave them, they drop and germinate.  And who's got time for that!   There can be 100s - no 1,000s of baby palm trees to be pulled one-by-one.
  • PLANT: 
  • Trees:   Don't plant them now unless you have to for an occupancy certificate.  
  • Palms, cycads, yuccas, and agaves:  Plant any and all now!   They do best planted during warm months.  
  • Vegetables:  okra, southern peas (like black-eyed peas), and peppers from transplants. 
  • Herbs:  Dill, fennel, lavendar, mint (grow in a pot to contain the roots), oregano, parsley, rosemary
  • Flowers from seed:  alyssum, aster, cosmos, marigold, sunflower, zinnia
  • Flowers from transplants: dianthus, ice plant, geraniums, kalanchoes, marigold, periwinkle, ruellia, salvia, zinnia, 
  • Flowers from cuttings:  geranium, ice plant, kalanchoe,ruellia
  • Fertilize
  • Acid fertilizer for your acid loving plants like gardenias
  • Any vegetable / herb that is a heavy feeder.

  
Here's my downloadable May Gardening Calendar.   I just sat down and listed the tasks I plan to accomplish next month.  Of course, that list will grow . . . It's also a great spot to keep track of garden observations.  

Saturday, April 1, 2017

April in Your South Texas Garden

On the news last night, KRGV meterologist Tim Smith, shared that temperatures for January were 5 degrees over normal, February were 10 degrees over normal and March were 5 degrees over normal.   The number of aphids already attacking some of their fave plants attest to our mild (i.e. non-existant) winter.   Prepare yourself - and your plants - for a hotter-than-normal summer.   
  • Get on a good watering schedule.   This time a year, I usuall water my vegetable beds once a week but will be checking the soid on day 5 or 6 to make sure I don't need to turn the water on sooner. 
  • Weed, weed, weed.   Weeds compete with the plants you want for both moisture and nutrients.   Don't let them steal those resources.  
  • MULCH!   It doesn't matter what your mulch of choice is.   I use wood chips, shredded leaves, and hay throughout my garden spaces.   My goal is to have no exposed soil.
  • Group plants with the same water and sun requirements together.   That's just plain common sense but often we just look at color and texture when putting together a planting.  
April is a wonderful time of year in south Texas.   The March winds tend to die down and (usually) we have fairly moderate temperatures.   If you are going to change or add a planting area, it's time to get busy.   You will want to plant before Memorial Day so that the new plants can settle in before triple digit summer temps.   The exception to the rule are palm trees.   They are a monocot (like grasses) and are best planted once the soil has warmed up.   
 

This month you will want to: 
  • Continue to collect and shred leaves for ground cover and to compost.  I use my electric shredder weekly this time of year.  It is a string shredder and works well for the cost.   But, the next time I will buy one with some metal blades.  
  • Apply a layer of mulch to all planting beds. 
  • Check your plants for pests.   My go-to treatment is a sharp stream of water.   You may need to do this every day or two until they give up.   There are some pests that you can just pick off and squish - like tomato horn worm.     We had our first tomato horn worm last week on our one eggplant.   It is amazing how much they eat (define that as "how quickly they will eat your plant")    If you enjoy butterflies in your garden, these are two pest treatments that are targeted to the actual pest.   On that note: if you see a caterpillar or worm, try to identify it before you decide that it is a pest.  One good resource is bugguide.net   
  • Speaking of butterflies, if you want to attract them to your garden, plant some nectar and host plants.  Host plants are the plants that the butterfly will lay her eggs on.   The little caterpillars will feed on the plant, growing a thousand times bigger until it's time to form a crysallis.  The plants that I always like to have are dill, fennel, and milkweed.   Last summer, I abandoned my garden and ended up with lots of action on the old kale and artichoke.  
  • Amaryllis are blooming now.   If you have some plantings that are becoming crowed, you may want to dig up the bulbs, divide them, and replant.   Store them in a cool dry place and replant next February.   
  • If you have a bluebonnet patch, let the seeds develop and the plant dry (die) before you cut them down.   Leave them to sprout and bloom again next year.   You can shred the plants with a string trimmer and they will disappear quickly.     
  • PLANT: 
    • Trees:   Don't plant trees until next October or November unless you have to.   Studies have shown that trees planted in the fall and winter outgrow those planted the summer before.   
    • Palm Trees:  Plant any and all now!   Some palms are understory trees which means they want a shady spot.   Choose the right tree for your space.  
    • Vegetables:  okra, summer squash, southern peas (like black-eyed peas), and sweet potato and peppers from transplants.  If I didn't have tomatoes planted, I would definitely plant one in a 4" or 1 gallon pot.   And I will confess that I planted pole green beans this morning.   I don't know how they will do, but I had a little space and I didn't want it to go to waste   
    • Herbs:  Basil, catnip, dill, fennel, lavendar, mint (grow in a pot to contain the roots), oregano, parsley, rosemary
    • Flowers from seed:  alyssum, aster, cosmos, marigold, sunflower, zinnia
    • Flowers from transplants: dianthus, ice plant, geraniums, kalanchoes, marigold, periwinkle, ruellia, salvia, zinnia, 
    • Flowers from cuttings:  geranium, ice plant, kalanchoe ruellia
  • Vegetable Planting Date Sources - Texas Extension Service and the Old Farmers Almanac.
  • Fertilize
    • Acid fertilizer for your acid loving plants like gardenias
    • Lime trees that haven't bloomed yet.   
    • Avocado trees
    • Any vegetable / herb that is a heavy feeder.
Don't forget to download your April calendar!   It's a great place to keep track of what's going on in your garden and tasks you want to do.   I print mine up on a piece of cardstock. 

Gardening is cheaper than therapy . . . and you get tomatoes! 

Don't Buy This

Don't ya love it when trying to save time backfires - like yesterday when I grabbed some potting mix at the grocery store because I didn't want to stop at the nursery for one item.
 
 I'll add this brand to my list of "Don't Buy This".  
And here is why . . . 
 
Yep, that's how it came out of the bag.   (And it was Made in Texas so I expected some good stuff)

The label clearly lists the ingredients as "compost, indigenous wood fiber, and sand".   Those are good things but the mix must have been moist when it was bagged.  The bag was heavy and stiff so I should have realized that it was not what I wanted.    

Lucky for me, I had a bag of vermiculite to amend the mix with.    And the result wasn't too bad - 
 
Definitely good enough to bump a plant into a larger pot.   I'm still not sure what the white and orange spots on the potting "chunks" is so I won't use it again until I give it some time and make sure it doesn't do any harm. 

Happy gardening!  

Friday, March 17, 2017

Gardening Calendar

I found that one of the most important components of being a successful gardener is to do each task at the right time. For this reason,  most gardeners keep some sort of journal that they can look back on from time to time.   Thomas Jefferson who was not only one of our first presidents but also a renowned gardener and meticulous record keeper. My garden records are sloppy to non- existent in comparison.  I like to keep all my notes for the month on one sheet of paper like this below.

I love to check off accomplished tasks - but otherwise, each month is a fairly blank sheet for me to keep notes like varieties, rainfall, harvest - anything I think is noteworthy.

Here are downloadable printable calendars for March and April.   Check back and I will add a link to a new calendar each month.   I hope this helps you as much as it does me!  

Happy St. Patrick's Day and happy gardening!



Thursday, March 16, 2017

Cabbage to Kraut

Since we grew a few cabbages this winter in our new raised beds, I decided to try my hands at making sauerkraut.   It was easier than I thought it would be so I'll post an addendum in a few weeks when it's done.   One cabbage makes two quarts so that was all I invested in this experiment - well, and a couple of Granny Smith apples. 

 
Step one is shredding the cabbage - nice and thinly.    Save a couple of the outer leaves to place on top in the jars. 

 
 
Now thinly slice the apples.   Any tart baking apple will do.    The directions didn't say this but I made some cross-cuts in the slices for smaller pieces.   



 
Put it all in a large bowl.  Add 3 tablespoons of fine sea salt and a teaspoon or two of caraway seed.  (The directions said I could add this now or later and I'm opting for later).   Let it sit for 30 minutes to an hour to get the juices flowing. 

Now it's time that  pack the jars.  Start with clean canning jars.   They don't have to be sterilized, just nice and clean.   I ran mine through the dishwasher.    The cabbage had not shrunk during its sitting so I couldn't imagine that it would fit into two jars.  Put a little in and using a tool, pack it forcefully.  I used the handle of my wooden lemon juicer.   It was a little short but did the job.   It will be moist and more liquid will form.   To keep the small bits of cabbage from floating to the top, place a part of a clean cabbage leaf on top and weigh it down. 

I used pie weights wrapped in cheese cloth as my weights.   

 
I'll taste it every week.  (And add some carraway seed).  When it's where I want it,  it will go into the refrigerator.   The cool will keep it at its present state for a year or more.   I think that is you live in a cool climate, it can be stored in a cool dry place too.  

Check back and I'll give you an update!  

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

March in the Deep South Texas Garden

Huisache, citrus, and yuccas are all blooming in the Lower Rio Grande Valley so it's high gardening season around here!   Here's my guide for March gardens tasks in deep south Texas:Rose growers prune around Valentines Day:  If you grow modern hybrid roses, cut them back to 18-24”.   Antique or “found” roses are simply pruned to fit the space; try not to remove more than 1/3 of any cane (or branch).   Do not prune spring-blooming climbing roses until after they bloom.   If course, remove any dead canes.  f
  • If adding roses to your landscape is in this years plan, this is the last best month to do that!    Any existing roses should have been pruned in February.     The main exception is spring-blooming, climbing roses.   Wait to prune them until after they bloom. 
  • If you haven't cut back your woody shrubs that have been looking leggy, do it in the next week or two.   Some, such as Firebush (Hamelin patens), Thyraxis, Shrimp Plant, Porter Weed, Turk's Cap , Carissa I cut almost to the ground.   Others, such as lantana, LIttle John bottlebrush, and Vitex,  I try trim back 1/3 of the over-tall branches.   This encourages branching making for a fuller, lusher plant. I shred most of the shrubs that I trim with my beloved electric chipper/shredder.    It makes a wonderful fresh mulch.    The one change since this photo is that everyone using it wears safety glasses!   But as you can see, it is easy enough for a supervised child to feed.   
     
  • Trim back or divide ornamental grasses.  
  • Cut poinsettias down to 12 inches.   After this, encourage branching by pinching out new buds after each three leaves.   
  • Continue to collect and shred leaves for ground cover and to compost.   My electric shredder is below.  It is a string shredder and works well for the cost.   But, the next time I will buy one with some metal blades.   I do love the ease of an electric appliance.  Right now, I either shred and chip where I'm going to use the leaves or mulch OR I do it over a sheet and carry it to its end home. 
  • This is a great time to apply a layer of compost and / or mulch to all your planting beds. 
  • March is a wonderful month to replant large pots with either a mass of one item or a mixture of different items.    Be sure to refresh the potting soil when your replant.   
PLANT: 
  • Trees:   The best time to plant shade trees in the LRGV has passed.  The stress of high winds and high temperatures could  negatively effect any tree planted now.  If it is possible, it is best to wait until next October or November to add trees to your landscape.  
  • Palm Trees:  A palm tree is a monocot or grass that thrives with warm (okay, HOT) temperatures.   Now is beginning the best months to plant palm trees
  • Shrubs:  Plant all shrubs.  
  • Vegetables:  green beans, radishes, peppers,  summer squash, tomato, zucchini.    
  • Herbs:  basil, catnip, dill, fennel, lavendar, mint (in a pot to contain the roots), mustard, oregano, parsley, rosemary, thyme.  
  • Flowers from seed:  ageratum, alyssum, calendula, dianthus, geraniums, kalanchoe, larkspur, snapdragons, stocks, sunflowers, vinca (periwinkle), zinnia. 
  • Flowers from transplants: dianthus, ice plant, geraniums, kalanchoes, marigold, petunias, ruellia (Mexican petunia), salvia, sunflowers, zinnia
  • Flowers from cuttings:  geranium, ice plant, kalanchoe, ruellia
  • Rose bushes
  • Vegetable Planting Date Sources:  Texas Extension Service and the Old Farmers Almanac .

FERTILIZE:

  • Roses.   Include a systemic insecticide if you grow grafted roses.   Found or Antique roses are supposed to take care of themselves. 
  • Acid fertilizer for your acid loving plants like gardenias. 
  • Add some inches of high-quality compost to your vegetable beds before you plant.  
  • After trimming, I like to apply a few inches of compost around shrubs. 
  • Fertilize daylilies for bigger blooms.  

Harbingers of Spring

I'm beginning to see some of my favorite harbingers of Spring -  some (like huisache, citrus, and Texas mountain laurel) are beloved as much for their frangrance as their beauty.

Our huisache trees began flushing new leaves a week or ten days ago.   That usually doesn't happen until AFTER the tree blooms.  I was afraid that our lack of winter was going to cause us to miss those fragrant puff-balls that cover each tree in yellow and gold.   Maybe last weeks deep irrigation spurred the trees to bloom . . . .

Although the blooms are quite pretty, again it is the aroma of citrus blooms that tells south Texans that spring is here.    There are sooooo many blooms that I cut a few small branches to enjoy inside.   They only last a few days but its such a joy to catch a whiff of them.


The grape soda aroma is Texas mountain laurel is my third sign that Spring has sprung!   This usually begins happening around Valentine's Day - but we are still waiting.   We have fields of this tree at the nursery and I have not seen a bloom yet!   Lots of blooms stems but they are waiting.   It is blooming farther north in San Antonio and Austin.   This makes me wonder if this tree requires a chill period like fruit trees do.   What are you observing in your area?


Lantana can be seen blooming both in garden beds and in the brushlines around south Texas.   I am a sucker for white flowers so we chose this trailing white lantana beneath the hummingbird feeders.  Even thought it's a pale flower, quite a few butterflies notice it and land here to feed.

And this little patch of Drummonds Betony's or Pink Mint (Stachys drummondii) has been very appealing to a number of different small butterflies.   Its square stem is characteristic of mints.   It has a tap root and I am hoping that it isn't the aggressive grower that culinary mints are.   This is one of those "weeds" that volunteers around Mockingbird Farm and usually gets pulled out.   This year I decided to give it a look. A few stems cut and put into a beaker passed the test as cut flowers -  the only downside that I noticed is that the leaves have a very faint unpleasant odor.   I don't think it is noticable unless you are working with the plant.   I'll definitely be watching this small (3' x 4') 'planting' of Pink Mint




And we can't talk about spring blossoms without mentioning the blooms of the Spanish Dagger (Yucca trecleana).   Birds love these waxy petals.  I love the pristine whiteness poking out above the sharp blades of the plant.

What is your sign that Spring has indeed arrived?


Friday, February 3, 2017

Points on Pruning

This is the time of year that we can get a little bit clip happy.   So before we head out, loppers and folding saw in hand, let me slow you down with this statement from Texas agri-life horticulturist, Douglas F. Welsh, " In most cases, it is better not to prune than to do it incorrectly".     On to a few pruning basics. 

Have a specific reason to prune a plant.   Here are a few:
  • for the plants health
  • for better flowers and fruit
  • to control its size
  • and to train it into a particular shape, such as an espalier. 
Make sure your tools are clean and sharp.   Most blades can be sharpened with a simple file and cleaned with a steel brush or bleach and water solution.   Rub linseed oil into the metal and wood with a soft cloth.  

Roses and fruit trees are both pruned this time of year - for better flowers and fruit AND for the plants health.   Open up the plant by removing: 
  • any deat or unhealthy wood
  • any branch that cross another one, 
  • any branch growing directly below another one,  
Older or overgrown shrubs can be rejuvenated by one of the following techniques.  If your shrub is looking more like a tree than a shrub, consider one of these

  • Every year remove about a third of the oldest, thickest stems, cutting them at ground level.   This encourages the growth of new stems from the roots.   
  •  With shrubs that have multiple stems (like a cane-growth habit), cut all canes back as close to the ground as possible in early spring.   In some areas or with some plants, you may lose this seasons flowers.   I use this technique for my vigorous growing shrubs, like thyrallis, lantana, firebush, shrimp plant. canna lillies, shell ginger, andTurk's cap. 
Pruning a mature tree is best left to a certified arborist.    A crepe myrtle, however, can be pruned by most gardeners with the use of loppers and a hand saw.   I'm noticing quite a bit of improper pruning of crepe myrtles right now - the culprits are topping the trees instead of taking the time to properly remove unwanted branches at a joint or suckers at the ground level.  They really are topping the tree and garden experts refer to it as crepe murder.  The pic below is a crepe myrtle that has been property pruned through the years. 

And for comparison's sake, here is a crepe myrtle that has been topped.   It has thick knobby joints that will break easily in the wind. 

For more information, visit the sites of these experts:
Proper Pruning Techniques - EarthKind Landscaping
Pruning Techniques with Lee Reich - Fine Gardening
Pruning Crape Myrtles - Neil Sperry and Bram Franklin
Pruning Fruit Trees - Texas Gardeners
Pruning Palms - University of Florida
Tree Trimming - Simmons Oak Farms

Thursday, February 2, 2017

February in the Garden

Although Puxatawney Phil saw his shadow this morning and we will have six more weeks of winter, I think we can safely prepare for Spring.  There are a number of things that gardeners do before Valentine’s Day.  It’s not that there’s anything magical about February 14th; but it is just before spring growth typically begins and is an easy date to remember.   Here's my guide for gardens tasks in deep south Texas:

  • Rose growers prune around Valentines Day:  If you grow modern hybrid roses, cut them back to 18-24”.   Antique or “found” roses are simply pruned to fit the space; try not to remove more than 1/3 of any cane (or branch).   Do not prune spring-blooming climbing roses until after they bloom.   If course, remove any dead canes.   
  • I also prune my peach and fig trees this month -  hopefully before they bloom and begin to set fruit.  The peaches are blooming right now in Harlingen.    Remove branches when they cross each other or when one is directly below another.  Keeping your fruit tree open will lessen the chance of disease.   Again, remove any dead wood. 
  • At the end of the month, you can begin cutting back your woody shrubs.   Some (like lantana, mistflower, and Little John bottlebru) are budding and even blooming now, so I am very tempted to trim a little early this year.  

  • Don't put away your freeze protection material just yet.  Mine are just a bunch of old sheets and light blankets.   Most of my plants are hardy to the mid-20s and if not hardy, will just suffer damage that will grow back when its warmer.   We have received some arctic blasts in February before.    According to Plantmaps, our last frost date is said to be between February 11 and February 20.    You can check your Texas frost map here
  • Continue to collect and shred leaves for ground cover and to compost. 
  • This is a great time to apply a layer of mulch to all your planting beds. 
  • But tree-trunk-painting is NOT on my list of things to do this month.  Or any month!
PLANT: 
  • Trees and Shrubs:   All trees, including fruit, with the exception of citrus.   This is also a good time to plant non-tropical shrubs.  
  • Vegetables:  broccoli, carrots, cucumber, melons (cataulope and honey dew), peppers (sweet), radish, squash, tomatoes, watermelons.    Cucumbers and melons will cross pollinate so do not plant them near each other. 
  • Herbs:  basil, catnip, dill, fennel, garlic, mint (in a pot to contain the roots), parsley, rosemary, rue, thyme.   A frost will harm your basil so it is best in a pot which can be brought in during inclement weather.  
  • Flowers from Seed or Bulbs:  alyssum, amaryllis bulbs, larkspur, poppy, stock. 
  • Flowers from Transplants: dianthus, ice plant, geraniums, impatience, kalanchoes, petunias, ruellia (Mexican petunia), and salvia
  • Rose bushes
Vegetable Planting Date Sources:  Texas Extension Service and the Old Farmers Almanac .

FERTILIZE:

  • Roses.   Include a systemic insecticide if you grow grafted roses.   Found or Antique roses are supposed to take care of themselves. 
  • Citrus:  There are good organic and traditional citrus fertilizers.  Apply in January or February for a better bloom or in May or June as a post-bloom for better fruit set.  
  • Acid fertilizer for your acid loving plants like gardenias. 
  • Add some inches of high-quality compost to your vegetable beds before you plant.