Newspaper Columns

Columns written by Greg Grant and a Smith Co. Master Gardener which have appeared in the Tyler Morning Telegraph, are posted here. 

The South has its unique cool-season plants

Published on Wednesday, 18 January 2017 20:54 – Written by GREG GRANT, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service
Gardening during a Southern summer isn’t so hard. Sure it’s hot, but we’ve got plenty of good plants from the southern United States, Mexico and the tropics to choose from that actually thrive in our unrelenting heat. These aren’t the plants pictured in most books and magazines, and they aren’t normally championed by Martha Stewart or by The Victory Garden. They are uniquely Southern. As a matter of fact, you can’t ever really be happy gardening in the South until you realize that we have our own plant palette. You either learn to like it, or leave it.

All good Texans know that spring and fall are the best times to enjoy a garden here. The days are pleasantly warm, and the nights are tolerably cool. These are the seasons when we can grow and experience the same plants as the rest of the world.

What about winter, you ask? It’s a time to rest and thumb through the endless array of plant catalogs, right? Wrong! Sure we have some frosty days, but the cold is nothing compared to what our gardening friends in the North experience. Our blistering summers are balanced by relatively mild winters. We even have plants in the South that bloom during the winter.

The late Elizabeth Lawrence, perhaps our most famous Southern garden writer, loved winter-blooming plants so much that she wrote the classic, “Gardens in Winter” to sing their praises. She had fellow horticultural legend Caroline Dorman from Louisiana provide the supporting artwork.

I love winter-blooming plants just as much as these two women did. These cheerful plants make living in the South a unique treat. Here are a few that I am especially fond of:

— Blue Roman hyacinth (Hyacinthus orientalis albulus): This old-fashioned bulb has delicate but powerfully fragrant little flowers in late winter. Eudora Welty loved them.

— Camellia (Camellia japonica): This southern favorite needs no description. If you don’t know it, you don’t belong in the South. It’s the state flower of Alabama.

— Evergreen pear (Pyrus kawakamii): This is a low-chilling, ornamental pear that explodes into a mass of showy white blooms during a winter warm spell.

— Flowering quince (Chaenomeles speciosa): Once known as “Japonica” to the country gals, this old-fashioned favorite is tough and makes a great winter cut flower.

— Jonquil (Narcissus jonquilla): This native of Spain delights the senses with tiny, golden yellow flowers that spew forth a heavenly fragrance. When the jonquils bloom, I know spring will soon follow.

— Lent Lily (Narcissus pseudonarcissus): This is the very same small, wild daffodil that William Wordsworth wrote about in his famous poem “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud.” It is also known as “the Virginia daffodil” and once was common at most old East Texas home places.

— Lenton Rose (Helleborus x hybridus): This shade-loving perennial is more popular farther north and east, but it does well in well-drained soils here, too. Former Smith County horticulturist Keith Hansen has grown them for years.

— Polyanthus narcissus (Narcissus tazetta): Though most people are only familiar with paperwhites, there are many types, blooming any time from fall to late spring in tints from white to yellow. Their fragrance is intoxicating, bordering on obnoxious.

— Saucer magnolia (Magnolia x soulangiana): As a child growing up in Longview, I couldn’t wait for the spectacular “tulip trees” to start blooming. The fragrant flowers make nice cut flowers, too.

— Taiwan cherry (Prunus campanulata): This spectacular low-chilling Prunus is probably the only ornamental cherry that blooms well in the coastal South. The bare branches cover themselves with glowing neon-pink flowers during a winter warm spell.

— Wintersweet (Chimonanthus praecox): This is a deciduous shrub that produces small, pale yellow, spicy blooms during the winter. They aren’t that showy, but then there isn’t much else during the winter to compare them to.

— Winter honeysuckle (Lonicera fragrantissima): The flowers aren’t showy on this old fashioned favorite either, but the powerfully scented flowers smell like lemon cream pie and make great stems for the house.

Greg Grant is the Smith County horticulturist for the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. You can follow him on Facebook at Greg Grant Gardens, read his “Greg’s Ramblings” blog at or read his “In Greg’s Garden” in each issue of Texas Gardener magazine ( More local information on the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service can be found at

Garden chores still abound in chilly, dreary January

Published on Wednesday, 18 January 2017 20:48 – Written by ANDIE RATHBONE, Smith County Master Gardeners
January is our true winter month. While February can bring cold weather as well as snow and ice, it’s also bringing us the first of the daffodils and the earliest flowering trees and shrubs. January, however, is usually pretty chilly and pretty dreary. You may have the urge just to take the month off and hibernate, but this month is truly the best time for a lot of gardening jobs. Here is a list of things to do this month:– Dig beds and mix in compost for your spring vegetable garden and any new flower beds you want to plant.

— Prune trees now. Remove damaged branches, crossed limbs, lower branches and suckers. DO NOT top off any tree.

 — Prune fruit trees into a bowl shape so light and air can reach all the branches.– Check camellias for scale. Apply horticultural oil to treat.

— Remove and destroy bagworm pouches from trees. Also remove mistletoe from tree limbs.

— Check levels of mulch and apply more as necessary to keep at a 4- to 6-inch level.

— If you’ve been pre-chilling tulip bulbs, plant them the first couple of weeks of the month so you’ll get blooms in April.

— Plant asparagus and onions this month.

— Plant cool-season annuals like pansies, dianthus, stock, cyclamen, sweet peas and ornamental cabbage.

— Now is the time to start winter sowing of spring annuals and vegetables.

— Plant bare root rose bushes.

— Plant new trees and shrubs.

— Fertilize cool-season annuals with a 20-20-20 fertilizer.

— This is the best time of year to have your soil tested. Pick up a test kit at your local extension office.

— Clean out birdhouses, birdbaths and feeders.

— Clean flower pots in soapy water and a weak bleach solution.

— Sharpen and oil hand tools.

And one last thing – when we have warmer-than-normal days and you see stores pushing racks of tomato and pepper plants outside to sell, resist the temptation to load up your cart. Our average last frost date in Smith County is March 15, so no tender plants should be put into the ground before then. As a matter of fact, it’s probably better to follow grandma’s advice and wait until Easter has passed. And this year, that’s April 16.


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