Newspaper Columns

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

Greg Grant: Mulching Time Is Here

Published on Tuesday, 20 June 2017 19:20 – Written by GREG GRANT, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension

Grant Pine straw mulch_web

One of the best methods of growing healthy plants and conserving water at the

same time is using mulches in the landscape. Experienced gardeners have long known the secret of mulching and all the benefits it has to offer.

What is a mulch? It’s simply a protective ground covering that saves water, reduces evaporation, prevents erosion, controls weeds, moderates soil temperatures and, in the case of organic mulches, enriches the soil as the organic material breaks down.

Almost sounds too good to be true, right? Mulches can be classified as organic or inorganic. The organic mulches are most popular and include straw, leaves, bark, pine needles, compost and similar materials. Inorganic mulches include gravel, decomposed granite, synthetic fabrics, and other non-plant materials.

 A number of years back, some gardeners got the bright idea of using plastic as a weed preventing mulch, but unfortunately it smothers the desired plants by preventing air flow as well as inhibiting water infiltration.

A big advantage of mulching is it reduces soil moisture loss through evaporation during the hot summer months. Mulches also reduce the soil’s exposure to wind, which in turn, reduces water loss through evaporation.

The insulating quality of mulch helps to keep the soil cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter. By maintaining more even soil moisture and temperature, mulch promotes better root growth and plant health.

Erosion control also is important, especially in steep areas. Mulch helps to reduce rain splash and runoff, which in some cases also helps prevent the spread of plant disease.

Mulch also suppresses the growth of many weeds. A 3- to 4-inch layer of organic mulch should be sufficient to prevent sunlight from reaching the soil, thereby reducing the chance of weed growth. Any weed seedlings that do manage to germinate and break through the layer of mulch are easily pulled.

Mulches should not be piled up against the trunks of plants, but rather form a donut around the base of trees and shrubs.

Another benefit of organic mulches is that they enrich the soil as they decompose, forming a rich, dark organic material called humus that provides nutrients for the soil and improves its texture.

Finally, mulch has aesthetic value, providing a uniform background to plants throughout the landscape. There are numerous colors and textures to choose from. The uniform quality of most mulches, when added to the garden floor, serves much the same aesthetic purpose as a carpet in a home.

Since organic mulches decompose over time, they will need to be replenished or replaced periodically. It’s a good idea to check the garden several times each year and renew areas where the mulch has gotten thin. I traditional do this headed into winter and again as we head into summer. There is no need to remove the old and replace with new mulch, since soil organisms will work the decomposing organic matter into the soil, increasing the health of the soil.

Each year, as we head into what is traditionally another hot dry summer, I make use of pine straw, my favorite of all the mulches. In addition to all the typical benefits of an organic mulch, it also meshes together well, breaks down slowly and makes use of a locally-grown product.

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 ( For more information on local educational programming, go to

The members of Texas A&M AgriLife will provide equal opportunities in programs and activities, education, and employment to all persons regardless of race, color, sex, religion, national origin, age, disability, genetic information, veteran status, sexual orientation or gender identity and will strive to achieve full and equal employment opportunity throughout Texas A&M AgriLife. The Texas A&M University System, U.S. Department of Agriculture and the County Commissioners Courts of Texas Cooperating.

Plant propagation has benefits for home gardeners

Published on Wednesday, 14 June 2017 17:00 – Written by DEBBY WATKINS, Smith County Master Gardeners
SCMG Rose Cuttings

Plant propagation simply refers to the reproduction of plants. The reproduction or propagation of plants occurs either from seeds or vegetative means such as cuttings (leaf, stem or root), division, layering, grafting, budding and tissue cultures. As a home gardener, you can use any of these methods to obtain additional plants from your existing plants, whether they are houseplants, vegetables or landscaping plants. There are two benefits of propagation for home gardeners. First, you can get plants cheaply and in large numbers, and secondly, you have the self-satisfaction of starting and nurturing plants from their beginnings.

However, there is a legal disclaimer that needs to be mentioned. Plants that are patented or have a patent pending cannot be started from vegetative means because of patent laws. This applies even to you as a home gardener who only intends to use the vegetatively propagated plants in your yard. However, patented and patent pending plants can be started from the seeds that you collect from them. When you purchase a plant, you can look at the tag and see whether it is patented or has a patent pending.

Seeds can be collected from your plants and stored until the appropriate planting time. However, seeds that you collect may not have a high percentage of germination for numerous reasons. Most seed companies take great care in their seed collection, so you usually will get a higher rate of growth for a minimal cost for a packet of seeds. Plants started from seeds may not be exactly like the parent plants. That is because the pollen from the male unites with the egg of the female to produce a seed. Just like in humans and animals, plants’ offspring get their traits from both the male and the female parents.

Vegetative propagation of plants is cloning. The new plant is exactly like the parent plant. In vegetative propagation, you take a piece of a plant, whether it is a cutting (leaf, stem or root), layering, a division, grafting, budding or tissue, and the resulting plant is an exact clone of the parent plant. Cuttings involve rooting a severed piece of the parent plant. The severed piece can be a leaf, stem, or root. Layering involves rooting a part of the parent plant and then severing it. Division is separating a parent plant into sections. Budding and grafting involve joining two plant parts from different varieties. It’s trickier but lots of fun. Lastly, tissue cultivation is difficult for the home gardener to do.
If the thought of growing your own plants from seeds or vegetative parts tickles your fancy, look for more articles on propagation. Next, we’ll talk about plants that are easy to propagate, and then discuss how to do it.

If you would like more information, go to and search for articles on propagation.

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