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.  

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Is It Spring Yet?


With the warm winter we are enjoying, its tempting to take on Spring gardening tasks, like pruning, earlier than we should.   Cutting back your woody ornamentals does a couple of things: it tells the plant it's time to begin growing again and it leaves them susceptible to freeze damage.    Check the last freeze date in your area before beginning to prune   When I searched online for the last freeze date for Harlingen, I got anything from January 31 to February 17.    Tradition is that when the mesquites begin to leaf out, winter is over.

I'm biding my time by brushing up on pruning best practices - both online and with Doug Welsh's Texas Garden Almanac

The articles in this month-by-month guide are organized by when they are most pertinant.   All the information and advice is science-based.   Reading the month's chapter just prior to that month reminds me what to be aware of in my garden.  

Back to pruning . . .   There are multiple reasons to prune a plant

  • to control its size
  • for the plants health
  • for better flowers and fruit
  • and to train it into a particular shape, such as an espalier. 

Check back for some specific tips on proper pruning.  For now, exercise patience and wherever you live, wait until the chance of freezing weather has passed.

Friday, January 6, 2017

January in the Garden

January a wonderful month in deep south Texas to spend time in your garden!  But when we get 80 degree days like earlier this week, we're tempted to jump the gun on some garden tasks.  Here's a guide for January Garden Tasks in our area.  


  • Gather and shred your fallen leaves.  They can easily be shredded with a mower or an inexpensive leaf shredder.   I have an electric leaf shredder, like the one pictured, that is indispensable this time of year.   The shredded leaves can then either be composted or used as mulch, where they will help suppress weed seed from sprouting and cool the soil during the summer. I have heard people say not to use live oak leaves because they contain too much tannin and tannin keeps the leaf from breaking down.   If you shred your leaves, they will decompose just fine.   Much to my husbands dismay, I am a proud leaf rustler.  I try to keep the back of my car empty so that I can pick up any bagged leaves that have been left at the curb.   You just can't have too many shredded leaves.
  • Water only as needed.   Much of the landscape will be dormant and will not be using much water.   But dry cold fronts, high winds, and low humidity can dry your plants quickly so check them regularly.   Water an established lawn only every 10 days or two weeks.    
  • Be prepared to protect your tender vegetation from any freezing temperatures that we may get. Go here to read more about this. 

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, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, Swiss chard, collards, kale, leaf lettuce, leeks, onion (plants, not seeds), parsley, potato, radish, spinach, and turnips.  
  • Herbs:  basil, dill, fennel, mint (in a pot to contain the roots), 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, calendulas, calla lillies, petunia, larkspur, poppy, stock, calendulas.     Some say you can still plant bluebonnets and nasturtium seed but, in my experience, those are best planted in October.
  • Flowers from Transplants:   pansies, petunias, alyssum, dianthus, snapdragons, and violets
  • Rose bushes
Vegetable Planting Date Sources:  Texas Extension Service and the Old Farmers Almanac 

FERTILIZE:   Citrus trees that are at least 3 years old, your annuals and vegetables.  Do not fertilize tropicals right now; let them rest. 

PRUNE: 
  • Landscape trees.  Most established landscape trees will require a certified arborist to properly and safely prune. 
  • Peaches, figs, and other fruit trees.  I prune to remove dead wood, to shape the tree. and to keep it a size where I can reach the fruit.   We are going to plant a mango and an avocado tree and I am going to try to prune them shorter so their fruit is accessible.   I never wanted to grow them before because they get so tall, I felt like I'd be growing the fruit for the possoms, racoons, and other vermin.   
  • Do not prune your shrubs yet.   Some of our worst cold snaps (and ice storms) have arrived in February.     

Gardening adds years to your life and life to your years.