Gardening Articles 2011

December 2011

Recovering From a Texas Wildfire
By Jim Cheatham, Somervell County Master Gardener

As everyone resident in Texas couldn’t but be aware, the spring and summer of 2011 were marked by both record droughts and temperatures that resulted in equally record setting wildfires throughout much of the State, particularly in the north central region.  I live on a ranch that was an early (March 11) victim of a wildfire that had originated in a “prescribed burn” on a neighboring ranch.  Fanned by 35 mph winds it quickly got out of control and consumed some 4,000 acres of forest and pastures in northern Bosque and southern Somervell Counties before being extinguished by several local fire departments with the aid of a helicopter of the Texas Parks and Forestry Service.

My property consists of some 210 acres roughly half of which are pasture and the other half woodland, little of which could be profitably used for other purposes.  It is configured roughly in the shape of a square, the upper portion of which consists of high hills that descend sharply toward a plain bisected by Hill Creek.  Until eleven years ago it was a cattle ranch supporting up to a dozen or so head, or about the number sufficient to satisfy the tax exemption for land used for agricultural purposes.  Overgrazing had greatly degraded the quality of the pastures, and at that time it was decided to apply for an exemption under a wildlife conservation program.  This entailed the excavation of a substantial pond and sowing 17 acres in “noble” grasses—side oats grama, Indian grass, big and little bluestem, switch grass and prairie clover.  Establishing suitable habitat in the 17 acres went reasonably well.  At the same time, with the elimination of livestock and the institution of a brush control program, other pastureland gradually recovered and native grasses, particularly Indian grass, little bluestem and bushy bluestem, were re-establishing themselves.

after a fire

Example of regrowth after a fire.

The fire wrought changes in the pre-existing distribution of plants, some of which were desirable, some not so desirable.  Junipers had made up to 90 percent of the trees on the ranch; the wildfire destroyed many and many of the rest are dying.  New growth has been delayed by at least a year, hence opening a window for the reestablishment of hardwoods, in particular various native oak species. Late blooming wildflowers, such as bluebells, goldenrod, snow-on-the mountain, Illinois bundle flower and gay feather thrived as never before, the latter attracting monarch butterflies in their southern migration in numbers I had never seen before on this ranch.  Less happily, some native grasses almost altogether failed to appear in the spring of 2011, notably, little bluestem and bushy bluestem.  Presumably, their reappearance was delayed by the severe drought that ravaged other desirable plant life as well during the summer of 2011.  Undesirable forbs such as greenbrier, chittimwood, sumac, poverty weed, Johnson grass and yucca hardly missed a beat from the wildfire.  Well-honed tools applied energetically will, hopefully, render them less evident by early spring.

As was to be expected, the loss of desirable plant life has impacted animal life.  Snakes, mice and voles seemed to have virtually disappeared, at least temporarily, as evidenced by the absence of such familiar raptors as northern harriers, red tail hawks and great horned owls.  Less ground cover is translating into fewer wintering small birds, especially several species of sparrows.  With abundant fall rains, however, most of those familiar species will return in 2012 along with a bumper crop of spring bloomers.


November 2011

Happy HallowSpring
By Shirley D. Smith, Somervell County Master Gardener

Have you happened to notice some strange happenings going on around town and our county recently?  Kind of weird happenings!

I have seen many plants doing some odd things (for this time of year), therefore, I have dubbed this particular season “HallowSpring.”  I have seen crocus blooming in all their springtime glory and have you noticed the Bradford pear trees lining the road in front of the Methodist camp?  They are blooming!  There is new growth all over many of my plants around my house and I just bet you are seeing the same around your place.  With our extremely hot/dry summer, many plants went dormant as a means of survival, just as they do in winter.  Then the weather kinda/sorta went back to normal, cooled off, we got a little rain and voíla the plants were fooled into thinking it was spring!  So, right now my red oak is in all its fall color and in town the Bradford pear trees are blooming!

It will be interesting to see what happens as fall continues into winter.  Will these plants go dormant again and then only a few months later begin to do what they normally do in spring?  This has been a very challenging time for gardeners.  I can’t believe I am saying this but I am actually getting tired of gardening!  I usually look forward to a “down time” when I don’t have to be out watering so much (using my rain water!), pruning, and generally taking care of my plants.  I want them to go dormant so I can rest!  One good thing is that my fall garden has gone crazy with this nice weather we are having.  So, I will continue to be a good steward of my gardens and plants and hope they soon realize it is winter and go to sleep.


October 2011

2011 Summer Drought Survivors
by Shirley D. Smith

 Recently, the members of the SCMGA were asked to submit a list of plants in their own gardens that did or did not make it through this past (HOT!) summer.  The findings were very interesting and I want to share with you my findings.

    • Agarita                                               Did well received supplemental water
    • Autumn Joy Sedum                        Only watered twice; lived
    • Autumn Sage (Salvia greggii)       Only watered twice; lived
    • Bell Peppers                                     Received supplemental water; setting ruit now that weather is cooler
    • Black Fountain Grass                     Lived; received supplemental water
    • Blackfoot Daisy                                Lived; received supplemental water
    • Blue Mist                                           Lived; received supplemental water
    • Bradford Pear Tree                          Not doing well
    • Buffalo Grass                                    Took a hit but is coming back; no water
    • Cowpen Daisies                                Bloomed all summer; most drought-tolerant plant in garden
    • Desert Willow                                   Did very well; received supplemental water
    • Eastern Red Cedar Trees               23-yrs old; watered but still lost foliage
    • Esperanza                                         Thrived; received supplemental water
    • Golden Crownbeard (ButterDaisy)          Thrived; no water
    • Lantana                                             Did great; received supplemental water
    • Mexican Sweet Bush                      No water; no deer problem
    • Purple Passion Vine                       Did great; received supplemental water
    • Red Hot Poker                                 Water; died
    • Red Yucca                                         Water; did great
    • Rock Rose                                         Did good; received supplemental water
    • Roses (Earth Kind)                         All made it through with some water
    • Texas Sage (Cenizo)                       Lived; received supplemental water
    • Verbena (Homestead)                    Lived; received supplemental water
    • Zexmenia                                          Did well; received supplemental water

This is only a short list of the plants that were submitted.  If you are interested in seeing the entire list, you may find it with this link – Summer Drought Survivors (PDF)..


September 2011

How to Create a Flower Border Using Perennials
By Bonnah Boyd, Somervell County Master Gardener

Spring Perennial Border

Spring Perennial Border

The fall months of September to December in Texas are an ideal time to work in the garden and improve the landscape.  Working outside is more pleasant.  The intense heat of summer is generally past and rainfall is more common.

One way to improve the landscape is to create a flower border using perennials.  Some important design concepts and guidelines to follow to produce a beautiful all-season flower border are:

  • Locate a flower border in front of a fence, wall, shrub hedge, or building or along the walk leading to the front door of the house.
  • Avoid creating a straight front edge to the border, unless the garden is very formal.  Curved front edges, from gentle to bold and sweeping are essential.  A garden hose can be used to help visualize and lay out the curves.  Look at several layouts.
  • Set the depth of the border at a minimum of 3 feet and expand to 8 feet or more, depending on the size of the landscape area.
  • Line the border edge with steel edging, brick, or stone to give a finished edge.  For a less formal look, don’t use any edging material and let the border blend naturally into lawns or patios.
  • Plan the plantings within the border by using drifts or clumps.  Sketch the border on paper to visualize the border plantings.  A drift is an elongated grouping of one species that flows through a portion of the border.  A clump is a circular plant or grouping.
  • Group plants in drifts or other masses in odd numbers of three to seven.
  • Varying the heights throughout the border with some randomness creates more interest and visual appeal.

Selecting perennial flowers for your border is an art, with few guidelines.  Some suggestions are:

  • Foremost, choose plants that are locally adapted and a dependable species.
  • Select perennial flowers that will thrive in the sunlight condition of the border.
  • Choose flower combinations based on flower type.  Combine the four type of flowers: spike (salvia), tubular (petunia), ray (daisy), and umbel (lantana).
  • Choose species based on bloom period.  The goal is to have blooms ebbing and flowing throughout the entire growing season.  This requires some planning.
  • Select perennial flowers by color.  There are two types of color, warm and cool.  Red, orange and yellow are warm colors.  Blue, green, and purple are cool colors.  Warm colors provide a sense of excitement and can make the border feel smaller.  Cool colors create a sense of calm and tranquility and give the illusion of openness.  White, the absence of color, can brighten a planting when used to separate competing flower colors.
  • Fine-tune the border by considering foliage color and texture.  Bold-textured foliage has the same effect as warm colors and fine-textured foliage has the same effect as cool colors.  Consider combining different shades and textures of foliage.

These are some guidelines, not rules.  Remember, you may make mistakes.  Move plants around and try different combinations. The most difficult part of gardening with perennials is incorporating them into your landscape.  Growing them is much easier.

SOURCES:  Doug Welsh’s TEXAS GARDEN ALMANAC  

This book and other helpful materials can be found in the Somervell County Master Gardener library at the Glen Rose Extension office, located at 1405 Texas Drive.  Phone: 254-897-2809

The Texas A&M website: Aggiehorticultural.tamu.edu


August 2011

Yes – Another Drought Article!
By Donna Hagar, Somervell County Master Gardener

Everywhere you turn these days, people are complaining about the heat and dry. For obvious reasons! We are on track to break just about all records for days with temperatures above 100 degrees and days without significant rain fall. All living things, plants, wildlife, humans and even the soil itself, are adversely affected by these conditions.

There is already one article within this newsletter with tips of how to deal with some of your garden issues during these times of undue stress. And there are many more suggestions in just about every gardening journal, website, newsletter, blog, etc. out there. Hopefully without being too overly redundant (ha, already did), expanding on some of these items and adding a few more tidbits might just be helpful.

Mulch – Starting with mulch can never be the wrong way to go. For best results, water thoroughly, before placing that 3 inch layer of mulch on top. The mulch itself will most likely be dry, too, and if you try to water on top of it, the mulch will drink up most of that much needed moisture.

Water – Duh, no need for repetition here. Just remember to water slowly and deeply without allowing the water to run-off. The deeper the soil is moist, the deeper the roots will grow, insulating them from the hot and dry. And be careful not to over-water, too. In this heat, plants can close their pores to conserve moisture. And when they do, they wilt. Tomatoes are notorious for this during the intense heat of the summer, no matter how moist the soil. Use the best water meter on the market, your finger, to determine if you need more moisture!

DO NOT PRUNE – Pruning, and fertilizing for that matter, will encourage new growth. Tender new growth will literally fry in this dry heat. Allow your plants to take a rest from growing and just survive. There will be time for pretty green later!

Let there be SHADE – Move all container plants into some shaded protection, particularly in the afternoon. Containers themselves will act like ovens and bake the roots of your plants. And water every day, maybe twice if needed. Construct some sort of shade cloth for your permanent garden beds during the afternoon “microwaving” and they will fair a bit better.

Do NOT Plant ANYTHING – If you have taken advantage of those awesome clearance sales from nurseries trying to save on their water bills, good for your pocket book – but not so good for the plants. Even watering newly planted plants regularly will be a struggle. The ground is so dry that much of the moisture you give to your new plants will be wicked away by the surrounding dry earth. If you do have container plants that are busting at the seams, repot them into larger pots until September or early October. Give them shade protection as mentioned above and keep them watered. Remember – Fall is the best time to plant anyway.

And just be patient. One day, some day, we will all be singing, “Rain, rain, go away, come again another day”. Just be sure you have your rainwater harvesting system ready!!!


July 2011

Let’s Hear It For Rain Barrels!
By Shirley D. Smith, Somervell County Master Gardener

rain barrelsRecently, my property was blessed with one-quarter inch of rain (I live 5.5 miles south of Glen Rose)!  Doesn’t sound like much, but in light of the fact we are in the hottest part of the summer and rain showers are few and far between, it was an exciting event around my house (or rather around my rain barrels).  You see, I have a plant shed that measures 12’x14’.  Last summer my husband and I put gutters around it and added four 55-gallon rain barrels behind it.  So, using the formula

A = (catchment area of building) in my case 168 sq. ft.
R = (inches of rain) ¼ inch of rain that fell
G = (total amount of collected rainwater) 26.04 gallons I collected!!
(A) x (R) x (600 gallons) / 1000 = (G)
168 x .25 x 0.62 = 26.04

After some extensive research on the Internet, I discovered there are several ways of calculating rainfall but the above seems to be the easiest for me to use.  If you don’t have a calculator, here is another way to figure it.   One of own Master Gardeners, Greg Marsh, uses a much simpler, yet as close, formula:  take the square foot of your building (say 1000 sf) and if you get a 1-inch rain then divide that by one-half.  You would collect a little more than 500 gallons on that 1-inch rain.

I fill gallon milk jugs from my rain barrels and water my many flowerpots with this water – saving the well water.  I have drip irrigation on many of my flowerbeds and vegetable garden.  Our goal should be to use as little water as possible and to use it wisely.  So far this summer I have NOT run out of rainwater in my barrels.  Just about the time I start to get low, we have another small rain that supplies me with more of the precious life-giving fluid.

If you are interested in installing rain barrels, there are numerous sites online that give you step-by-step instructions.  I used plastic food-grade barrels that I bought at a local tractor/feed store for $20 each. Once a year, the Somervell County Master Gardeners give a program on how to make a rain barrel.  This is not rocket science and is an easy weekend project.  If you do decide you are going to collect rainwater from your house or large barn, then you might want to contact the Somervell County Master Gardeners (somervellmg@gmail.com).  Our organization has two Rainwater Specialists that are trained in doing just this and would be more than happy to talk to you and advise you on the best way to install a “system” on your building.  There is no charge for this service.

Printable Version RainBarrels (PDF)


June 2011

GARDENING TIPS THAT SAVE MONEY AND TIME

Submitted By Merilyn Cranford, Somervell County Master Gardener

       Does saving m0ney and time in the garden sound good?  Hey, I’m with you!  With all we have to do every day, gardeners are very clever about coming up with way to save on the work and expense of growing plants.  Through the years, I’ve found many and here are a few of my favorite money- or time-saving tips on tools, plants and supplies.

#1  BUY INEXPENSIVE WATERING TOOLS:  Don’t buy high-priced watering tools, such as wands, nozzles or sprinklers.  Even the expensive ones will spring leaks, so save your money and buy cheap ones instead.  Replace worn rubber washers where the tool connects to the hose to minimize leaks.  And buy a good brass hose connector.  The shutoff lever saves you trips back and forth to the faucet, and brass means it’ll hold up for many years.

#2  PAY NOW, SAVE LATER:  Good quality tools can make gardening tasks easier and go more quickly.  But you don’t have to pay a lot of every tool you use.  Do invest in well-made trowels, spades and pruners—the tools you use most often.  You’ll save yourself the frustration and lost of time of fixing bent, broken or non-working parts.  Buy from companies that stand behind their products, just in case.

cracked pot#3  GO FOR BROKE:  When you shop for bagged mulch or soil, ask for broken bags.  Employees usually pull damaged ones off to the side, and stores are often more than willing to get rid of them at a reduced price.  While you’re at the store, look for chipped or cracked terra-cotta or glazed containers, as well.  You can get several years’ use from a slightly damaged pot, and often the plants will hide any defects.

#4  SPOT TREAT WEEDS:  If you don’t have lot of broadleaf weeds in your yard, don’t apply weed killer to the entire lawn.  Instead buy liquid ready to use with a hose-end sprayer and spot-sprayer weeds rather than applying granules with a drop spreader.  You’ll save time, and the liquid spray works better anyway.

#5  DON’T THROW OUT YOUR POTTING MIX:  Anyone who plants up large containers knows how expensive it can be to fill one with potting mix.  Well, unless your plants had disease problems during the year, you don’t have to empty your big pots completely at the end of the season.  Remove just the top 8 to 12 inches of mix – the depth the roots of most annuals will reach.  In spring, use a trowel to loosen up the mix left in the bottom of the pot, refill it with fresh mix and plant!

#6  KEEP ‘EM TOGETHER:  A good way to save money on tools is to not lose the ones you have.  Keep the land tools you use most often in a lightweight cleaning tote.  Totes with openings are easy to clean with a spray of the hose.

#7  START PERENNIALS FROM SEED:  Want a lot of perennials but don’t need them right away?  Save money by buying seeds and starting your own plants right out in the garden.  For the best selection buy seed online.  Coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea), pinks (Dianthus), salvias (Salvia hybrids) and blackeyed Susans (Rudbeckia hybrids) are all easy to grow.  Some plants will bloom the first year, but most will take two to three years to reach full size and bloom.  If you’re willing to wait, you’ll save big.

#8  WHAT’S THE BEST BUY?  You might think that you’ll save money at the garden center by buying small plants rather than large ones.  However, that’s not always the case.  So compare the plants and prices before you decide.  Purchasing a large plant that can be divided into several small ones will give you more plants for less money.

I hope at least one of these tips will leave you with a little more spare change in your pocket and the time to enjoy it.

HAPPY GARDENING!


May 2011

BLACKBERRIES (YUM!)

Submitted by Julie Conner, Somervell County Master Gardener

Blackberries are among the top 10 fruits and vegetables high in antioxidants as well as vitamins, minerals and fiber and make a wonderful cobbler.  Blackberries are considered a perennial plant that will grow canes in a biennial cycle.  The first-year cane is called a prima cane, but does not produce any flowers or fruit.  The second year, the prima cane becomes a floricane and produces the fruit. Once the floricane cane has produced fruit it will need to be removed so the next year’s growth of prima cane is ready to produce the following season.  They can produce fruit for up to 15 years but are most productive between 3 and 8 years.

Like all fruits, the blackberry needs sunlight to be productive.  The soil should be well drained sand or loam with a recommended pH of 6.0 to 6.5.  They can also grow in pH soils between 5.5 and 7.5 but anything over 7.5 can result in iron chlorosis problems.

The least expensive method of planting is to use a bare root plant and place in a 2 to 3 inch hole in January or February and mulch well.  Because blackberries have a shallow root system it is important to keep grasses and weeds at bay.

Now a few words about my own blackberry patch:  the berries are heavily mulched and trellised with a drip water delivery system.  Because my garden soil (which is sandy loam) is almost void of nitrogen, I do supplement and the pH is now 6.3.  The berries of choice are the Brazos and Kiowa, which have thorns.  I did not have any luck growing the thornless berry plants.  The berries are just now beginning to ripen and will produce through June.

Besides a good cobbler, blackberries make wonderful jams and jellies.  If you want to freeze the berries, be sure to add sugar. My goal is a U-Pick blackberry patch, which I am launching this summer so come by and enjoy the fruits of my labor.

Source:  Master Gardener Manuel, Texas AgriLife handout and Texas Gardener Magazine


March 2011

Plant Oddities

by Shirley Smith, Somervell County Master Gardeners

weeping live oakI have a live oak that I can walk from the base of its trunk to its top and never leave the ground.  This one tree measures 50 feet from its base to its “top,” but is never more than 4 feet off the ground at any one time.

It seems that this stand of oaks on our property was growing just fine until one day along came some very invasive and nasty neighbors:  Ashe Junipers (or, as we Texans call them, cedars).  Yep, there went the neighborhood.  These oaks had grown very slowly, getting stronger each year.  Several of them grew statuesque and tall.   The cedars moved in, began to grow quickly and, before you knew it, they (the cedars) had begun to cast shade on the young live oaks.  These cedars shot up very tall in order to reach the sunlight leaving the young oaks to fend for themselves.  But, the young live oaks would not give up.  Nope!  They began to grow along the ground toward the sunlight.  Several of the oaks in this manse grew in the shape of a sea serpent with coils going up and down until they at last reached the life-giving sunlight. These “twisted” oaks are healthy.  The only difference between them and their larger live oak neighbors is their unusual shape.  There is a line from the movie Jurassic Park spoken by Jeff Goldblum whereby he states “nature always finds a way” or something to that affect.  And, indeed, nature found a way for these trees to reach the sunlight they so badly needed in order to continue to grow.

If you have a plant oddity that you would like to share with the Somervell County Master Gardeners, please email us at somervellmastergardeners@gmail.com.  We would love to hear from you.


February 2011

Lacewings

by Curt Decker, Natural Resources Specialist, Fossil Rim Wildlife Center
& Shirley Smith, Somervell County Master Gardener

green lacewingThere is an extremely interesting insect that I know you have seen numerous times but probably, like most of us, had no idea what it was.  Well, we are going to look at one of these insects in this article:  the Green Lacewing.  This is a beneficial insect in that its preferred foods are (just to name a few):  aphids, mealybugs, spider mites, leafhopper nymphs, moth eggs, scales, thrips and whiteflies.  Wow!  How is that for a list of “bad” bugs that this little insect dines upon?

Some interesting tidbits: Studies have shown that adult green lacewings are attracted to host plant odors and tryptophan. Tryptophan is in most protein-based foods or dietary proteins. It’s in chocolate, oats, dried dates, milk, yogurt, cottage cheese, red meat, eggs, fish, poultry, sesame, chickpeas, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, spirulina, and peanuts. Despite popular belief that turkey has a particularly high amount of tryptophan, the amount of tryptophan in turkey is typical of most poultry. What’s rather cool about tryptophan attracting lacewings is that it is a product of the breakdown of aphid honeydew.

There is also evidence that certain plant species stressed by heavy lacewing infestations release chemical scent “beacons” that draw lacewings to them. Caryophyllene seems to be one attractant for lacewings. Below is a list of plants you could use that contain this chemical, either by planting an herb garden or using them from the spice rack.

Lacewing-Larva

Larva with host corpses attached to its back.

Black Caraway (Carum nigrum)
Cloves (Syzygium aromaticum)
Hops (Humulus lupulus)
Basil (Ocimum spp.)
Oregano (Origanum vulgare)
Black pepper (Piper nigrum)
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)
True cinnamon (Cinnamomum zeylanicum)
Malabathrum (Cinnamomum tamala)

Because young larvae are susceptible to desiccation, they may need a source of moisture. Adult lacewings need nectar or honeydew as food before egg laying and they also feed on pollen. Therefore, plantings should include flowering plants and a low level of aphids should be tolerated. Artificial foods and honeydew substitutes are available commercially and have been used to enhance the number and activity of adult lacewings. These products may provide sufficient nutrients to promote egg laying, but they don’t counter the dispersal behavior of newly emerged adult lacewings.

If you want to attract Lacewings (and even ladybird beetles to a degree), then by a little creative mixing of dairy, yeast, and sucrose (sugars) you can create lacewing feeders that will boost the density of the adults by drawing them into your garden. Then, if you have some of the plants they prefer to lay their eggs on, you will have a batch of hungry little beasts ready, willing and able to keep your plants clean of aphids and other “pests,” and you can do this every year for little to no money.


January 2011

Veggie Garden To-do’s

By: Donna Hagar, Somervell County Master Gardeners

“Lettuce up”  Your Winter Veggie Garden
It is a great time to get in another crop of the cool weather veggies. Plant transplants of broccoli, lettuce, chard, cabbage, kale and others. Or, you can plant seeds for lettuce, radish, peas, beets, kale, spinach and other cool weather crops.
Seed Starting and Planning
It is time to think about seed starting for the summer garden. The back of most seed packets will give information on when to start inside. Generally this will be from 6 to 12 weeks before the last average frost date. See article below for some tried and true seed starting tips!
From naturalgardener.com

Seed Starting 101

By Ben Oefinger, Johnson County Master Gardener

1.  Start now – get your seeds from feed stores, big box retailers, catalogs, internet, etc.

seedstart2.  Most seeds need bottom heat to germinate quickly, so get SHALLOW dishes to begin with.  Egg cartons, plastic dishes, disposable dishes from microwave dishes, etc.

3.  Put 1/2″ to 3/4″ of loose, seed starting medium in each – vermiculite works well, too.

4.  Moisten material fully and pour off excess water.  Plant your seeds in shallow depressions made with a pencil, dowel rod, fingertip, and cover LIGHTLY with 1/4″ of dry material.  Press firmly so seeds make good contact with material.

5.  Cover the container with clear glass, plastic saran wrap to trap and hold moisture.

6.  Place on top of refrigerator, not water heater, dryer or heat pad.

7.  When seeds sprout, remove cover and place in BRIGHT light.  Ideally, place them under shop lights or fluorescent lights, as close to the light as possible – 1-2″

8.  Keep soil moist and when 1-2 true leaves appear, lift the seedlings and repot in 4″ pots filled with loose, friable potting soil.

9.  Don’t let them dry out and keep seedlings under the brightest light you can provide.

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