Thursday, February 25, 2010

Pheonix tomato

Southeast Texas vegetable gardeners have a passion - bordering on obsession for some - for home-grown tomatoes. They eagerly watch for news of new varieties that show promise that they can add to their tried-and-true favorites. Here's such news.One of the top varieties of tomatoes tested in field trials in spring, 2007 and spring 2008 by A&M for Texas gardeners is the Phoenix. It's a hot-set tomato that performed July through November. The Phoenix is a "medium-maturing variety that produces good yields of large and extra-large fruit. The fruit was firm, had no cracks and had a good-to-fair taste. The fruit shape and color were good. The plants were medium to large in size and had good to very good foliage," the Aggies say.

The Phoenix is the 2010 "Rodeo Tomato."

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Lady Bird Royal Blue Bluebonnet

Every time I see a field of bluebonnets, Indian Paintbrush and other wildflowers, I think of Lady Bird Johnson. Her passion for wildflowers and for her home state created a legacy that will be enjoyed for generations to come. How fitting that a new variety of bluebonnet has been named after her - and was chosen as the "Rodeo Flower" for the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. The Lady Bird Royal Blue bluebonnet is a spectacular shade of blue.

Dr, Jerry Parsons of A&M and Micah Meyer, Jefferson County AgriLife specialist, have written a guide for successfully cultivating bluebonnets. Some of the tips are: Choose the right location. It must be sunny - at least 8-10 hours a day. If not, don't expect a good show. Bluebonnets will thrive in any soil or potting mix as long as it is well drained. Keep the potting mix or soil slightly moist - not overly wet. Once plants become established (two or three weeks after planting), they are relatively drought tolerant and one of Texas' toughest natives. Bluebonnets form ground-hugging rosettes, only several inches tall, but with a spread up to dinner-plate size. The plant will not grow rapidly (no matter how much you water or fertilize) until warm spring temperatures prompt flower stalks. Beneath the rosette of leaves, a large mass of roots has the ability to form nitrogen-fixing nodules called Rhizobium which are filled with beneficial bacteria that can take nitrogen from the atmosphere and feed the plant. Fertilize sparingly unless plants are pale green/yellowish. Use a water soluble fertilizer (like MiracleGro) when watering. Be careful not to place transplants too deep. The crown should not be buried; the plant will rot.

Photo credit: Dr. Jerry Parsons

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Vegetable Seminar this Saturday in Beaumont

The Texas AgriLife folks are presenting a gardening seminar this Saturday that you won't want to miss if you love tomatoes, wildflowers or both. Dr. Jerry Parsons, whom I've heard is a great speaker, will present the program. Parsons is a vegetable specialist from Texas A&M, and you can be sure the seminar will be applicable to Southeast Texas gardeners. Among his topics will be two new selections available to gardeners: the Lady Bird Royal Blue bluebonnet and the Phoenix tomato. I will blog on those individually the next two days.

The seminar will be 9 a.m. - noon (Feb. 27) at the Texas AgriLife Extension Service Auditorium, 1225 Pearl Street, Suite 200, in downtown Beaumont, across from the courthouse. Registration begins at 8:30 a.m. The cost is a very reasonable $10 per person. Insider info: a few of the new bluebonnet and the new tomato will be available for purchase. The program is conducted by Texas A&M University System, U.S. Department of Agriculture and the County Commissioners Courts of Texas. Persons with disabilities who want to attend and need auxiliary aids or services can call Cary Erickson, Jefferson County Human Resources Director at (409) 839-2391 five working days prior to the meeting so appropriate arrangements can be made. To pre-register or for more information,call 409-835-8461 or e-mail: jefferson-tx@tamu.eduAs usual, there will door prizes.

Friday, February 19, 2010

First iris of the season

Spring is soooo close.

Here's the first iris to bloom so far.
Lots more to come, I hope...

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Master Gardeners radio spots

Here's a shot I took a couple of days ago when the Master Gardeners went down to KVLU at Lamar University to record some public service spots in conjunction with the Texas AgriLife folks. That's Master Gardener Intern Kathy Attaway on the left and Master Gardener (and past president) Micah Shanks on the right. Intern Cecil Hightower didn't make it into the shot. Sorry, Cecil - I'll catch you later, maybe in your fabulous garden.

The spots air during the early morning on KVLU National Public Radio, 91.3.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

New local water garden blog

John Cooper sent an email asking if I would pass along information on his new blog, Southeast Texas Ponders, which is geared toward water gardens. Here's the message:

Hello, I live in Beaumont, Tx and have started a forum for Water gardening and Koi/Goldfish Ponds. I'm trying to create a place for people of setx to share pics of their ponds, water gardens, container gardens and to ask for help, share ideas and trade/sell plants. Free-to-join url is
Nice name for the blog, John

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

How to Grow Plumeria

To become a full-fledged Master Gardener, we intern newbies are required to volunteer a certain number of hours to the community. As part of my volunteer hours, I, along with others, write and record "Out in the Yard with the Master Gardeners," brief radio spots broadcast on KVLU Public Radio. When I do those spots, I share them with you on the blog. Here's one on plumerias.

If you are charmed by the lovely flowers and heady fragrance of plumerias, spring is a good time to try your hand at growing this beauty. Plumerias are perhaps most closely identified as the flowers used in Hawaiian leis, although they are native to Mexico and Central America. As a tropical plant, it will require protection from frost or freeze in winter.

Plumerias will need at least 4 hours or sun to flower well. Although they can be grown in the ground in a sunny, sheltered spot with an overhang, planting them in a pot allows you to take them inside a garage or other sheltered spot when the temperature drops below 40 degrees.
Plumerias spend almost half a year in a dormant state, so don’t be surprised when they begin to drop leaves and turn into bare sticks. Water your plumeria to duplicate what it would experience in its native lands: a wet season followed by a dry season. During the growing season water frequently, especially during the heat of summer, but don’t let the soil stay soggy. Let it dry slightly between watering. When it starts to drop leaves in the fall, stop watering.

Plumeria seedling take 3 to 4 years to bloom, so unless you are patient, buy an established plant. Feed every other week with a fertilizer high in phosphorus, but stop feeding in September to allow the new growth to harden off before winter. Plumerias root easily; take cuttings sometime between February and May. Allow the new cutting to callous about 10 days before potting. Dip the cut end in a rooting hormone, place in potting soil and keep moist. Too much water can cause the cutting to rot, so pay attention to the moisture level.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Free Pancakes

Want to support a good cause and enjoy some tasty pancakes?

Feb 23 is National Pancake Day and IHOP restaurants are serving free short stacks of pancakes (7-10 a.m.) to help raise awareness (and money) for Shriners Hospitals for Children. IHOP has set as their goal donations of $1.75 million. They've already raised $3.25 million over the past 5 years through the National Pancake Day fundraiser. When guests are given their pancakes, they are asked if they would like to donate to Shriners Hospitals for Children (22 pediatric hospitals that provides all services free).

Shriners does great work, helping children get top-notch medical care when they otherwise might not be able to afford it. So go enjoy some pancakes and make a donation for the kids.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Trade leaves for trees

Shangri La Botanical Gardens in Orange continues to have innovative and relevant events for Southeast Texans. This Saturday, they will offer a double chance to help the environment; get rid of leaves that would go to a landfill and get a free tree. Here's the announcement, taken from their website:

On Feb.13, Shangri La Botanical Gardens and Nature Center will swap trees for leaves. Participants may bring one or more bags of leaves to Gate 4 at Shangri La and receive a tree. Gate 4 is located approximately one block west of the entrance of Shangri La on Park Avenue in Orange. The address for this entrance is 2140 Park Avenue. Signs will show the entrance. Trees will be swapped for leaves between the hours of 8:00 a.m. and Noon. Anyone who would like to receive a tree to plant on their property can bring one or more bags of leaves to swap for a native tree in a one-gallon pot. Bags should contain only leaves, no trash, sticks or limbs. Most of the trees available are a variety of oak and only the first 200 participants will receive a tree. Please, only one tree per participant. If participants would simply like to donate their leaves, they are not required to take a tree.

Leaves from this project will be composted and used in Shangri La gardens. Workers will be available to unload leaves and load trees. This is an excellent way to help save landfill space and provide needed composted materials for Shangri La. For additional information, please phone (409) 670-9113.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Weed - or wildflower?

The sticky weed that clings to clothes, skin, fur, or anything else that brushes against it is cleaver (also known as stickyweed or gooseweed). Cleavers (Galium aparine) are wildlfowers that are reported to have some medicinal uses as a tea or poultice.

Monday, February 8, 2010

What is this weed?

This weed can take over quickly if not contained persistently before it makes seeds. It starts with a base of broad leaves, then sends up tough stems with little yellow flower clusters at the base of the leaves. Those flowers turn into sticky balls that cling like Velcro to everything, spreading voraciously. The stems aren't strong enough to support the leaves and seeds, so they cling to other plants, fences, or any other vertical surface.

What is this plant, photographed in my annual bed, which is reported to have medicinal purposes? I'll post the answer tonight.

Friday, February 5, 2010

How to prune roses

Rose fanciers traditionally prune roses on Valentine's Day, so if you need help knowing how to properly prune your roses, now is the time to learn. Fortunately, each year the Golden Triangle Rose Society performs the honors for the beautiful rose gardens at the historic McFaddin-Ward House in Beaumont - and they invite the public out for a free demonstration. This year, the event is Saturday, Feb. 6, from 10 -11 a.m. Members of the rose society will be glad to answer questions. If you'd like, you can take home some clippings and try your hand and propagating a new bush.

Meet at the back gate of the house on North Street between Third and Fourth Streets.
Bring good thorn-proof gloves and newspapers for your cuttings. The McFaddin-Ward carriage house also will be open (free) to go on a self-guided tour between 10a.m. - closes at 4 p.m. Tours of the main house are $3. Call 409-832-2134 for a reservation. For more information, call (409) 832-1906

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Vegetable Gardening 101

Master Gardener Paul Eyre will present a seminar "Vegetable Gardening 101" this Thursday (Feb. 4) at 10:00 AM at Heritage Hall on the grounds of the John Jay French Museum (2985 French Road, Beaumont TX 77706). The seminar is free. For more information, visit ( Paul is a dynamic, entertaining speaker with a passion for growing vegetables.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Earth Kind Program

When it comes to selecting plants that are hardy, easy to maintain and consistent performers, I am a big fan of plants that have received the Earth Kind designation from Texas A&M. The Earth Kind Landscaping program recently revamped its website and it's a pleasure to visit. On the home page (, they post this information, which helps explain the program to those who aren't yet familiar with it:

What is Earth-Kind Landscaping?
Earth-Kind Landscaping uses research-proven techniques to provide maximum garden and landscape enjoyment while preserving and protecting the environment. The objective of Earth-Kind Landscaping is to combine the best of organic and traditional gardening and landscaping principles to create a horticultural system based on real world effectiveness and environmental responsibility. Earth-Kind Landscaping Encourages:

•Landscape Water conservation
•Reduction of fertilizer and pesticide use
•Landscaping for energy conservation
•Reduction of landscape wastes entering landfills
Individuals using Earth-Kind landscaping principles and practices can create beautiful, easy-care landscapes, while conserving and protecting natural resources and the environment.

The site has a list of plants that have earned the Earth-Kind designation, a great resource list, publications and even an archive of podcasts focused on sustainable landscaping principles. I highly recommend it to those who are interested in sustainable landscaping or just want hardy, proven performers.