Cool Season Gardening Is Easy After the Heat of Summer by Roger “Doc” Stalker, El Paso Master Gardener
The full onset of summer’s heat usually means the end to harvesting many vegetables planted for spring gardens. But summer doesn’t necessarily signal the end of vegetable gardening for many people who look forward to planting cool season vegetables. Late fall, winter, or even early spring can all be successful growing seasons with the right plants, under the right growing conditions, and the right care.
Cool weather vegetable gardening offers many advantages, not the least is the wide choice of crops that can be grown. You can have a long producing vegetable garden with minimal effort, keep harvesting in your garden into the fall, and maybe even into the winter months.
Newcomer’s Gardening Snapshot for El Paso County
Many new residents arrive in El Paso each year from climates and growing conditions much different than the Chihuahuan desert. This Newcomer’s Gardening Snapshot highlights some main features of El Paso’s climate including our growing season, USDA Plant Hardiness Zones, U.S. Sunset Climate Zone, first average frost date, average rainfall and more. It also provides links to informative websites which are helpful for newcomers, identifies some local public gardens, and provides a contact for obtaining a Soil Sample Kit.
How to Care for Cacti in El Paso by Alice Parra, El Paso Master Gardener
Why would anyone want to grow cacti? Two reasons: ease of care and great beauty.
Cacti, native only to the Americas, are a type of succulent (water retaining plant) adapted to arid climates or soil conditions. They are easy to grow and offer a variety of shapes, color, and form and can be grown in your garden, containers or rock gardens.
All cacti are succulents but not all succulents are cacti. All the plants in the cactus family are members of the Cactaceae family.
The cactus family is very distinctive. Their flowers are very different from those of all other plant families. After reaching maturity, cacti will flower every year, some several times a year. Every cactus plant has areoles, even if you can’t see spines. An areole is the radial arrangement of spines on pad-like buds where shoots and flowers may appear.
Watering Tips for Lawns, Vegetable Gardens and Trees by Rex Morris, El Paso Master Gardener
Watering Lawns – If you have a subsurface irrigation system for watering your lawn, it doesn’t get better than that. These systems provide good coverage, low water loss due to evaporation, and reduced runoff onto streets or sidewalks. However, detecting leak locations or other problems can make repairing subsurface systems a challenging job for a homeowner. Drawbacks of subsurface systems are that they are expensive to install, easy to damage, and difficult to maintain or repair.
Many people have pop-up sprinkler irrigation systems. A well-designed system should provide water to an entire lawn, but there will be some overlap. A pop-up system requires frequent checking. Broken or damaged sprinkler heads, twisted sprinkler heads, and partially clogged sprinkler heads will all put the water where it doesn’t belong.
How to Attract Pollinators to Your Garden by Josie Gonzalez, El Paso Master Gardener
Bees, wasps, butterflies, moths, flies, and some beetles pollinate more than seventy percent of flowering plants. These important insects are called pollinators. Although bats, birds, and even lemurs can pollinate flowers, the vast majority of pollinating animals, world-wide, are insects.
According to the National Academy of Sciences, close to seventy-five percent of the flowering plants on earth rely to some degree on pollinators in order to set seeds or fruit. One-third of the food for humans comes from flowering plants and an even greater proportion of the food for our wildlife comes from them.
Although beautiful healthy plants are able to emerge without pollinators, no fruits or seeds are generated. Some El Paso gardeners have experienced this dilemma only to find themselves pollinating their vegetables with cotton swabs and tiny paint brushes. If you are one of these unfortunate gardeners, you have experienced the importance of pollinators or rather the lack of pollinators. Here are a few ideas that may help you to attract more pollinators to your garden.
Improve Your Skills with Our Informative El Paso Gardening Handbook
There are many types of gardeners in El Paso. Some tend to their vegetable gardens, whether in raised beds or containers, while others pride themselves in their yards that feature native and adapted plants. Some have recently moved here and aren’t sure where to start now that they’re in the high desert, don’t recognize many of the desert landscape plants, and wonder if they can have a lawn.
For all these types of gardeners, the El Paso County Master Gardeners created a one-of-a-kind illustrated gardening handbook for our area. The El Paso Gardening Handbook addresses El Paso specific gardening concerns and best practices. With sections on ornamentals, edibles, turf, native and adapted plants, woody plants, and climate, it will appeal to both experienced and novice gardeners.
Help Your Tree Survive in El Paso by El Paso County Master Gardeners
Nature designed trees to grow successfully in many environments. Unfortunately, our own actions often lead to shortened lifespans for trees in residential landscapes. Here are some tips to help your tree survive in El Paso.
- Select a tree suitable for our desert environment. Before purchasing, do research to determine if a candidate tree is likely to survive winter temperatures in USDA Hardiness Zone 8a (15° F to 10° F), tolerates salty water, alkaline soils, and is wind and drought resistant. Trees prone to specific diseases and insect infestations in El Paso should not be high on your list of possible candidates. Consider trees native to our region to help ensure growing success. For additional assistance, call the El Paso *Master Gardener Help Desk at (915) 771-2354 or refer to the Texas Tree Planting Guide at: http://texastreeplanting.tamu.edu/index.html.
- Check the root system before buying. Purchasing a tree that is root bound, has major encircling roots, or an inadequate root system for the container size may lead to problems after the tree is planted. Don’t be shy! After all, you are buying the entire tree, not just the parts showing above ground. Carefully check the root ball before you buy, or ask the nursery staff for assistance.
- Don’t leave a “to-be-planted-tree” exposed to drying sunlight and winds. A young tree in a container should be shielded from the wind and direct sun. Water daily or every other day to prevent tender, young roots from drying out.
- Select a good planting site. Trees require good drainage. Before planting, fill the planting hole with water, then monitor to be sure the water drains away in a few hours. Planting holes dug in low spots, over hardpan, or that form a basin in a caliche layer will not drain well and may likely kill the tree. Dig drainage ‘chimneys’ through hardpan or a caliche layer to ensure proper drainage.
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Starting a Garden from Seeds by Martin Marin, El Paso Master Gardener
A little seed for me to sow…
A little earth to make it grow…
A little hole, a little pat…
A little wish, and that is that.
A little sun, a little shower…
A little while, and then — a flower!*
Sounds simple? Getting a jump on spring by starting your plants from seed is not difficult. But we’ve all suffered failures in this process that maybe can be avoided by following simple basic rules.
Is the seed bed warm enough? With temperatures warming outside, the urge to plant is unbearable. But although the air is warm, the ground is cold. When this is the case, begin germination indoors. The ideal time is six to eight weeks before the last frost date or April 15th in our area. If you start them too soon, they will get leggy or outgrow their pots before it’s time to transplant them outdoors.
You are going to need planting trays, preferably with clear plastic tops to retain warmth and moisture and still let the light in. You can make seedling soil by using three parts peat moss, one part perlite and one part vermiculite (or buy some at the nursery). If you’re using peat pots, soak them in water first before adding soil.
Get Winter Color in the Desert with These 4 Plants by Eugene Garcia
It’s wintertime, the garden is coming to a close and you’re thinking about going inside to keep warm. Keep your jacket handy because there are several native and adaptive plants that keep the garden an enjoyable place during our coldest season. Winterfat (Krascheninnikovia lanata), also known as Lamb’s Tail and Feather Sage, is a great addition to your winter garden. From September to December, Winterfat’s flowers turn into seeds that are fluffy and cottony looking (female plant being showier).
How to Landscape with Ornamental Grasses by Gail Hedrick, El Paso Master Gardener
Ornamental native grasses have so many great qualities that it is hard to resist including them in your landscape. As with all natives, they are drought tolerant once established and require minimal maintenance. They provide a different texture and add graceful movement on our many breezy days. You can easily scatter them throughout an area to provide continuity or use them in a mass planting for high impact all year long. In winter their color and showy seedheads add interest against the stark forms of our deciduous shrubs and trees.
How to Care for Cool Weather Vegetables by Charles McGuire, El Paso Master Gardener
Fertilizing and watering
Watering should not be much different from your normal watering schedule for your all weather gardening; it might be a little less due to cooler temperatures. One gallon per square foot three times per week should be sufficient; adjust as necessary for your type of soil and extreme changes in temperature.
It is best to base fertilizer applications on the results of a soil test. If a soil test has not been taken, apply 5-10-10 at three pounds per 100 square feet before planting. The soil PH should be between 6.0 and 6.4 for best growth. Mix fertilizers thoroughly with the soil to prevent root burning.
How to Grow Iris in El Paso by Joe Falkner, El Paso Master Gardener
Interested in growing iris in El Paso? There are many standard varieties and thousands of beautiful hybrid varieties from which to choose. For many years, iris lovers had to settle for bulbs that produced only a few spectacular blooms each year. Now there is a wide spectrum of re-bloomers available.
Buzz Off! Prevent Mosquitoes to Reduce Disease by Marlene Stalker, El Paso Master Gardener
Mosquito-transmitted diseases are on our radar now more than ever. The bite of an infected mosquito can spread West Nile virus, chikungunya, dengue, and Zika. Texas A&M AgriLife Extension’s “Mosquito Safari” is an interactive audio-visual website that takes you around a house and neighborhood to learn where mosquitoes will breed so they can be eliminated. The website also discusses mosquito-borne diseases and how to control them.
What are the Elements of an Attractive Landscape? by Virginia Morris, El Paso Master Gardener
Have you ever driven around a neighborhood and wondered why one landscape looks gorgeous and another looks “not so good”? Why is one landscape more attractive? Think about the ways we have developed our landscapes. Most of us just go to the nursery, usually in the springtime, and buy plants that appeal to us and put them in whatever space is available. What can the homeowner do to achieve a landscape that looks like a professional designed it? The answer: Think like a landscape architect.
Develop a Concept. What do you want from your landscape? Is your goal water conservation, low maintenance, or a wildlife friendly habitat? How will the landscape be used? Read more »
What Is Vermicomposting and How Is It Done? by Bev Clark, El Paso Master Gardener
Vermicomposting is the use of earthworms to create a nutrient rich soil amendment for gardening. We’ve created a series of posters that cover how it’s done, its benefits, and where to use the compost generated in the worm bin. Read more »
Why We Landscape with Native and Adaptive Plants by Lou Ellen Clement, El Paso Master Gardener
Living in West Texas we are all acutely aware of our limited water resources. Many residents of El Paso are rethinking their landscapes to make them more water-wise by using plants that nature put here. “Going native” is one way to achieve a beautiful yet water-wise landscape, help maintain our natural habitats, and conserve our precious resources. Read more »
How to Improve Your Soil bу Marge Gianelli, El Paso Master Gardener
Unless you live in a few choice areas in El Paso, you probably have light-colored, coarse, grainy soil. Water has a tendency to drain right through, leaving plants dry without access to water in the hot afternoon summer hours. In addition, your soil probably contains few nutrients to promote root growth and development. Another complicating factor is the alkalinity of the soil. Typically in El Paso, the soil pH is around 8. With some exceptions, a pH of 6.0 to 7.0 is ideal for plant growth. What is a gardener to do?
Many homeowners have adapted by planting native plants accustomed to growing conditions in this area. If you wish to do this and not worry about improving your soil, you can find out about these plants at your local nurseries and demonstration gardens, on this website, or call our local Extension Office (915-771-2354) and ask to speak to a Master Gardener. But if you want a vegetable garden or a wider variety of plants, you would do well to get your soil tested. The results will not only tell you the composition of your soil, but also recommend treatment. More information on soil testing and soil sample testing kits are available at the Extension Office.
Winter Is Not Gray by Maria C. Del Rio, El Paso Master Gardener
Although many of our trees drop their leaves in autumn, winter in El Paso does not have to be gray. Many trees, bushes and plants can provide color and structure to our winter gardens.
Evergreens, both trees and bushes can delight us with their varied shapes and shades of green. Some of the native evergreen trees you may consider for your garden are Texas Mountain Laurel, Texas Madrone, Rocky Mountain Juniper, Afghan/Mondel Pine and Italian Stone Pine.
Hollies are another versatile plant with their dark green foliage and colored berries. All hollies bloom, but only the female plant produces berries, some red, some yellow; others are white or orange, a creamy color, or black. Be sure you have a male holly within about a half mile or there won’t be any berries for the winter season.
Seasonal Color with Bulbs in El Paso by Sarah Wood, El Paso Master Gardener
“Bulb” is a general term often used to describe all types of plants that are capable of gathering and storing nutrients in a specialized underground storage structure. Classified as true bulbs, tubers, rhizomes and tuberous roots, these special plants offer seasonal blooms with low maintenance in gardens thoroughout El Paso. They evade drought by growing and flowering when the right combination of temperature and moisture occurs.
Iris (available in many colors) and the white Texas tuberose bloom in the spring. Rain lilies (white, yellow or pink) bloom in response to summer and early fall rains while gayfeather and society and edible garlic chives announce fall is coming. All these plants have low water requirements and will survive on annual rainfall alone when established.
Cactus in the Garden and on Your Table by Jim Hastings, El Paso Master Gardener
Prickly pear cacti (Opuntia) are popular plants in local gardens. Their sculptural shape, brilliant blossoms and colorful fruit make them attractive all year round. Native to the Americas, they now are found all over the world.
Nopal is the Spanish word for the prickly pear pad. Cleaned and diced, they are called nopalitos (little nopales). The green pads and the fruit of all prickly pear varieties are edible. The pads have a vegetable flavor. The fruit is very sweet. Prickly pear pads are about 90% water. The fruit is about 85% water with approximately 10 to 15 percent glucose and fructose. They are rich in vitamins C and A, and beta-carotene. They have very little carbohydrate or fat. There are about 25 to 30 calories in a quarter pound.
The pads have thorns and aureoles surrounded by tiny sharp glochids. The glochids can become airborne and are very irritating on your skin or in your clothing. Dampen the pads to reduce glochid drift. Use a knife to scrape off the thorns and glochids. Trim the pad’s tough edges about ¼ inch.
Many smaller supermarkets with good Mexican food departments carry nopales year-round. They can be bought as whole paddles or already cleaned and sliced which makes using them easy. Dice the pads and sauté in a little olive oil until their sticky sap cooks off and they are an olive green in color. Use the cooked cactus in salads, soups, omelets and other dishes. Tunas, the fruit of the prickly pear cactus, can be found in some of the supermarkets when they are in season from August through October.
Is the “Mystery Tree” a Siberian Elm and What’s Eating Its Leaves? by Doc Stalker, El Paso Master Gardener
Homeowners and gardeners around El Paso often find ‘mystery trees’ popping up in flower beds, inside shrubs, and under the eaves of houses or garden sheds. Allowed to grow, the trees quickly become small to medium sized trees. While happy to have a free shade tree, property owners may soon notice that something decimates the leaves on their volunteer tree every year. Chances are that ‘mystery tree’ could be a Siberian elm (Ulmus pumila L.): a hardy, quick-growing tree found throughout the Southwest that can reach heights of 50 to 70 feet under the right conditions.
This elm flowers early each spring and produces lots of flat, wafer-like seeds that are scattered on the wind. If blown into an area that provides adequate moisture, like arroyos, garden beds, or beside a building, the seeds germinate and produce more Siberian elms.
The Fall Lawn Fertilizing Deadline Is Fast Approaching! by Doc Stalker, El Paso Master Gardener
Summer’s temperatures are finally starting to drop, and the school zone caution lights are flashing again throughout El Paso County. That means the deadline for the most important fertilizer application of the year is right around the corner.
A final application of fertilizer each fall helps warm season grasses store up extra energy before going dormant over the winter months. That stored energy is critical for lawns to ‘green up’ next spring as soon as the weather is warm again. It’s important to give enough time for the fertilizer to work before the grass dormancy period starts which in El Paso is usually around mid-November and depends on when the fall temperatures fall into the frost range. So, don’t risk applying any fertilizer to your lawns after early October.
Easy Steps for Drip Irrigation by Rex Morris, El Paso Master Gardener
Drip irrigation puts water where your plants are and allows you to control water volume at a rate slow enough for the water to soak into the soil and not over- or under-water. It also allows timed watering during the coolest part of the day.
Step One. Tap into your main waterline or into an existing outside faucet. In either case, install an anti-siphon/backflow prevention valve to prevent the possibility of contaminated water backing up into your drinking water line. You can put a pipe tee on the anti-siphon valve. Attach a new hose bib to one end of the tee. Attach a PVC connector to the other side for the irrigation water.
Why Native Plants? by Virginia L. Morris, El Paso Master Gardener
What is a native plant? Native plant is a term used to describe plants endemic (indigenous) or naturalized to a given area in geologic time; that is, native plants evolved in a local area. Native plants grew naturally in an area before humans began to bring in plants from non-local areas.
What is an area? An area is defined as a region with similar characteristics, such as weather, soil, rainfall, and altitude. Plants may be native to North America, but not necessarily native to every state in the U.S. Some native plants have adapted to very limited, unusual environments or exceptional soil conditions like in the Chihuahuan Desert.
Environmental Stewardship through Earth-Kind® Landscaping by Sarah G. Wood, El Paso Master Gardener
What is in a name? Xeriscape™, water-wise, water-smart, green garden are familiar names for garden design and maintenance techniques that share the goal of environmental resource conservation while establishing an attractive, pleasant landscape in which to live. Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service has chosen and registered the name “Earth-Kind®” to identify its environmental stewardship program.
Earth-Kind® landscaping uses research-proven techniques to provide maximum garden and landscape enjoyment while preserving and protecting the environment.
The Secret to Growing Tomatoes in El Paso by Dave Turner, El Paso Master Gardener
Like all vegetables, tomatoes like well-drained soil that has been amended with lots of compost.
If it is not the soil, then what’s the secret? Tomatoes have both the male and female parts (the stamen and the pistil) in each blossom, and therefore can be pollinated by the wind. This is not a problem in El Paso. However, with tomatoes, this pollination is inhibited at higher temperatures. When the nighttime temperatures are above 75 degrees and the daytime highs are 92 and above, very little, if any, pollination takes place. The plants will still blossom, but the blossoms will not become tomatoes.
Rainwater Harvesting by Doc Stalker, El Paso Master Gardener
Rainwater harvesting is the process of collecting rainfall and storing it later use. It can take active or passive forms. Rain barrels connected to gutters on a roof are an example of the active form of rainwater harvesting while rain gardens in the landscape are a passive form.
Since El Paso County receives the majority of its rainfall during the months July through September, we’re entering the perfect time of the year to capture the rainfall …
Caring for Potted Succulents in Winter by Jennifer Medina Salter, El Paso Master Gardener
Over the past few months I have been collecting small potted succulents/cacti on my patio. Many of them are cold sensitive, and with colder temperatures here it is definitely time to change the plant environment. I brought my plants inside, but many people move theirs into greenhouses. Whatever the environment, remember that although most succulents/cacti are winter dormant they still have 3 basic requirements: light, water and temperature.
Getting Your Vegetable Beds Ready for Spring by Jennifer Medina Salter, El Paso Master Gardener
March is upon us and if you’re like me, you are itching to get your warm season vegetable garden ready. This is the perfect time to make sure that everything is ready for planting those tomatoes in mid-March, so get those gloves on, head to the garden and let’s start with several jobs essential for a great harvest.
The Best Date to Start Pruning Roses in El Paso? by Doc Stalker, El Paso Master Gardener
Some authors declare Valentine’s Day as the traditional date for starting to prune roses in most of Texas. Others contend that all rose pruning must be over by February 14th. And yet another group of writers recommend rose pruning should always start three or four weeks before the average date of the last killing frost – which in El Paso means waiting to begin pruning your rose until the last week of February.
The truth is, Mother Nature has her own schedule for the start of rose pruning, and she frequently changes that official start date from one year to the next. Dormant roses require only a few weeks of cold weather before they may show signs of being ready to start new growth. A cold December followed by a warm period in January can result in new bud eyes and perhaps even a few young shoots popping out on local rose bushes weeks before Valentine’s Day.
Care for Storm-Damaged Trees and Shrubs
Our area had a snow storm to remember over the weekend following Christmas. El Paso’s Sun Bowl became the “Snow Bowl”. Children created snowmen, snow dinosaurs and snow horses. Some of us discovered that the beautiful snow was too heavy for our tree branches and have already found tree damage or suspect damage might be found when the snow melts. Read the following articles to learn how to assess storm damage to your trees. Learn what you can do and when to call a licensed arborist.
Helping Your Holiday Gift Plants Keep On Giving by John C. Murray, El Paso Master Gardener
Holiday gift plants brighten the winter months. Following some simple rules for care can help us enjoy these gifts for years to come.
Rule #1: Do NOT expose to cold or hot drafts.
Rule #2: Remove sleeves or re-pot as soon as possible. Most Christmas plants are sold in the protective sleeve they are shipped in. These sleeves can hold water and promote root rot.
Tips for favorite plants include:
Amaryllis (Hippeastrum ssp.) – This is considered the easiest to keep alive after the holiday season. After the blossoms wither, cut the flower stem 1-2 inches above the base. Sunlight is essential during the growth stage.