Saturday, December 12, 2009


It's a cold Winter day in the Valley, and yet I can't help but think of potatoes. "Why?" you ask, we're about to find out.

The ubiquitous potato (Solanum tuberosum) originates in the Peruvian Andes of South America in Alpine regions where the daytime temperature rarely exceed 70° F. Not surprisingly, it turns out potatoes form tubers optimally at soil temperatures between 60° and 70° F. Tuber formation stops altogether at 80° and above.

So, what does this mean for growing potatoes in the Valley?

As residents of the RGV we are blessed with a warm climate, relatively mild Winters and long growing seasons, but it gets hot here... Very Hot. To top it off spuds can take anywhere from 80 to 120 days to mature depending on the variety. What this translates to is a small window of opportunity to get them into the ground and growing before temperatures rise so high that growth stops and you end up with teeny tiny tubers. I assure you, nothing is more depressing than anxiously digging up your home grown potatoes only to find pea sized proto-potatoes. As it turns out this planting window is a two week period beginning about mid January. That means planting time is about a month away. Now is the best time find your potatoes!

Obtaining Potato "Seed"

Potatoes are grown from... well.... other potatoes. That is-- what is referred to as potato "seed" are actually tubers from existing cultivars, essentially clones of the parent plant, rather than true seeds. Although they are capable of flowering and producing true seed, this is rarely done as any offspring are not likely to grow true to type, due to the genetics of potatoes. The downside to having consistent potato clones, is that any disease a plant picks up is then transferred to its cloned offspring, and subsequently to its offspring, etc. So although you can save your own potatoes for replanting, quality of subsequent crops can take a nose-dive. Thankfully, you can purchase "Certified Seed Potatoes" which have been tested to ensure that they are disease free.

There are many varieties out there to experiment with such as russets, fingerlings, whites, yellows, reds and even blues! When choosing a variety consider disease resistance and time to maturity, early varieties are ideal.

Three specific varieties that are well adapted to growing in the RGV are:

  • Red La Soda
  • Red Pontiac
  • White Kennebec
Mail Order is a great way to obtain your seed potatoes as there are various gardening catalogs and internet sites that sell Certified Seed Potatoes. One caveat however, is that you must confirm when their shipping dates are. One very well respected mail order company offers a wonderful selection, but further research shows their first shipping date is in March! Great for other parts of the country, but not for us, so always double-check. If you look around, you can find some that are in fact shipping now. You can also check local nursuries, and suppliers who will usually carry seed potatoes in January. If all else fails, there's always the grocery store! While not ideal, you can in fact grow potatoes just fine this way. It is said that such potatoes are sprayed with a sprouting inhibitor, but they will eventually sprout, if a tad later. Although If you can find some organic grocery store potatoes, I speculate they are not sprayed with such a chemical.


Once you have your seed potatoes put them in an area where they will get some sun for at least a few days. This will encourage plantlets to form at the eyes and begin growing, giving your taters a bit of a head start before they go in the ground. If your seed potatoes are large, you can cut them into smaller sections so long as each piece has at least an eye or two. If possible, coat the freshly cut areas with sulfur to reduce the chance of fungal infection, and give the pieces enough time to callous over

Loose soil is a must. Rototill or manually cultivate your growing plot so that you have a nice fluffy consistency. Plant each "seed" about 15" to 18" apart in rows spaced about 3' to 4' wide. You can put them closer if your soil is rich and fertile. Cover them with only a couple inches of soil, and don't plant them too deep as they don't like wet feet. As they begin to grow you can periodically rake in soil from the space in between the rows to create hills of soil around the base of the plants, burying the lower parts of the stems. This gives the growing plants a larger volume of loose soil within which it can put out more tubers. If you're looking for yummy new potatoes, you can pluck potatoes while the plants are still green. If you want larger potatoes that can be stored for a bit longer, wait until after your plants have keeled over before harvesting. Use a spading fork to gently coax the base of the plant out of the ground along with the potatoes. For fun, leave some of the potatoes in the ground and you'll have free volunteer plants in fall, without any effort!

If you've never grown potatoes, give 'em a try. Now's your chance! If you'll excuse me, I'm off to have a midnight snack of... potato chips!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Propagating Roses


Master Gardener Jennifer Wilson shared a fuss-free method of rose propagation.     
Jennifer says to look for cool nights when you are deciding when to propagate or plant roses. 

Cuttings should be about a pencil width.  Cut your stem right below a leaf node and remove all but a couple of leaves.  

Jennifer uses a growing medium that is 50% potting mix and 50% vermiculite or perlite.  Place a couple inches into a quart size zipper bag and put your cutting into it. 
Zip the bag closed and place where it will receive indirect sunlight.   You may need to add a little water (a teaspoon) - but wait and see if condensation forms inside the bag before you add water. 
Our growing medium had enough moisture that condensation formed inside all the cutting bags.  If you've taken a number of cuttings, be sure to identify them.  

Sunday, November 1, 2009

November To-Do List for South Texas Gardeners

Time to plant:

Flowers: anemone bulbs, calendula, geraniums, larkspur, dianthus, petunias, impatiens, ranunculus bulbs, snapdragons, stocks, calla lilies.

Trees: mesquite, live oak, cedar elm, Rio Grande ash, anacua, Texas mountain laurel, brasil, chapote.

Shrubs: Native: yellow sophora, brush holly, Texas Kidneywood, hachinal, heart-leaf hibiscus, Drummond’s Turk’s cap, blackbrush, Torry’s croton, Texas baby-bonnets, low croton.
Non-native: cold tolerant: Japanese boxwood, green pittosporum, variegated pittosporum, nandina, viburnum, dwarf yaupon holly, waxleaf ligustrum, red-tip photinia.

Vegetables: broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage, carrots, mustard, onions, turnips.

Herbs: anise, basil, Mexican mint marigold, mint, oregano, parsley, rosemary, sage, thyme.

-Harvest peppers, tomatoes, greens, citrus, avocados, pecans.
-Divide daylilies.
-Fertilize 6 to 8 week old vegetable plants with 1lb. ammonium nitrate or 2 lbs. of 16-20-0 per 50 feet of row.
-At the end of the month buy your poinsettias. There are five different color types: red, pink, yellow, white, and jingle bells which is variegated red and white.
-Plant roses.
-Collect leaves from shedding trees and bushes. COMPOST THEM!.
-Watch the weather reports for possible freezing conditions.
-Collect materials to protect citrus trees and tender ornamentals from freezes.
-At the end of the month purchase Christmas cactus for blooming in December.
-Plan now for your December christmas tree.

(Information source: Successful Gardening in the Magic Valley of Texas, Dist. VI, Texas Garden Clubs, Inc. and Native Trees- and Native Shrubs- of the lower Rio Grande Valley, Texas Landscape Uses and Identification, Native Plant Project, P.O. Box 1433, Edinburg, TX.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Citrus Trees

In addition to providing yummy fruit,  citrus trees are also a host for the Giant Swallowtail, the largest butterfly in North America.   The Giant Swallowtail caterpillar is the only caterpillar that has its own name - Orangedog - because, it hosts on orange, lemon, lime and grapefruit trees.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Gardening for Butterflies

Want to attract more butterflies to your landscape? Taffy, a Master Gardener and butterfly expert extraordinaire, has a list of books just for you.


Glassberg J.
1999. Butterflies Through Binoculars: The East. Oxford University Press. 416 pages. ISBN: 0195106687.

Glassberg J. 2001. Butterflies Through Binoculars: The West. Oxford University Press. 374 pages. ISBN: 0195106695

Neck, R.W. 1996. A Field Guide to the Butterflies of Texas. Gulf Publishing Co. 323 pgs. ISBN: 0-87719-243-X

Opler, P.A. 1992. A Field Guide to Eastern Butterflies. Houghton Mifflin Co. 393 pgs. ISBN: 0-395-36452-3 (cloth). 0-395-63279-X (paperback).

Pyle, R. M. 1981. The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Butterflies. Alfred A. Knoph Co. 916 pgs. ISBN: 0-394-51914-0.

Scott, J. A. 1986 The Butterflies of North America, A Natural History and Field Guide. Stanford University Press. 583 pgs. ISBN: 0-8047-1205-0.

Tveten, J.L. & Tveten, G. 1996. Butterflies of Houston and Southeast Texas. University of Texas Press. 292 pgs. ISBN. 0-292-78142-3 (cloth) 0-292-78143-1 (paperback).


Ajilvsgi, G.
1990. Butterfly Gardening for the South. Taylor Publishing co. 342. pgs. ISBN: 0-87833-738-5.

Wasowski, S. 1997. Native Texas Plants, Landscaping Region by Region. Texas Monthly Press. 406 pgs. ISBN: 0-87719-111-5.

Xerces Society. 1990. Butterfly Gardening: Creating Summer Magic in your Garden. Sierra Club Books. ISBN: 0-871856-615-X.


Everitt, J.H. and Drawe, D.L.
1993. Trees, Shrubs, and Cacti of South Texas. Texas Tech University Press. 213 pgs. ISBN: 0-89672-252-X (cloth) 0-89672-253-8 (paperback).

Lonard, R.I., Everitt, J.H. and Judd, F.W. 1991. Woody Plants of the Lower Rio Grande Valley. Texas Memorial Museum. 179 pgs. ISBN: 0082-3082-7.

Richardson, A. 1995. Plants of the Rio Grande Delta. University of Texas Press. 332 pgs. ISBN: 0-292-77068 (cloth) 0-292-77070-7 (paperback).

Taffy's Gardening For Butterflies Tips Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Fall Vegetable Gardening

I am a Winter Texan and would like to plant some herbs and vegetable when I arrive mid-October. Do you have a list of things I can plant at that time, or early November? I have an acre and a half of land, a rotor tiller and all the water necessary.   -  Valerie S

Fall is a wonderful time in the Rio Grande Valley to plant vegetables and herbs.  Specific items are listed on our website in the "Monthly To-Do" section.  

Fall and winter vegetables include:
brussel sprouts
leaf lettuces
Personally, I also grow tomatoes (from transplants) in my fall garden. Cherry, roma, and other smaller varieties have a shorter maturation date and do better for me in the fall. Some years we get lots of tomatoes and others it gets colder earlier and they don't fruit until spring.

Herbs that can be grown during the fall and winter include
Mexican marigold
Many of these herbs will carry over into the spring and summer.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Cameron County Master Gardeners for 2009

On Oct 7, 2009, the Cameron County Master Gardeners held their Graduation Ceremonies at the Historic Dancy Building in Brownsville. What a lovely evening with the graduates and family members and guest in attendance. Invited guest speaker from College Station, Ms. Jayla Fry, State Coordinator for the Master Gardener Program and Debby Cox, Master Gardener since 1996 both giving their every own interpretation of what the volunteer service and program has done for them. It was an enjoyable evening and I thank the New Master Gardeners for their dedication in completing their internship. I know they will share their knowledge with the Community and I hope they continue be a part of this Association.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


The RGV Birding Festival has tons of fields trips planned -  I hope to take a canoe trip down the Rio Grande this year.  

If you are into Wildscapes - or gardening to attract birds and other wildlife to your yard - this one may be for you!

WILDSCAPING                                Fee $35  
Saturday / 8am – 12pm

Isn’t it fun to see other people’s creative landscaping? That’s what we do on this entertaining excursion, visiting the yards of local nature enthusiasts, and learning how to use native plants, ornamentals, and water features to attract and provide homes for birds, butterflies, and other critters.

Facts: Moderate walking, mostly flat on grass, dirt, pavement. Restrooms not available at most sites. Shade and sun. Insects possible.

You can check out all the field trips here.

FYI - The RGV Birding Festival is scheduled for November 12-15 in Harlingen, Texas.   If  you aren't able to participate in any of the field trips or lectures, the Trade Show is worth a visit.  Lots to do for kiddos and adults alike!   While you're there drop by the Cameron County Master Gardener booth.  We'll have some gardening information and we'll be selling a huge variety of herbs.  

Wordless Wednesday

Monday, October 12, 2009

Gardening for Butterflies - Taffy's Tips

We feel bad for those of you who weren't able to attend Taffy Herridge's terrific presentation on "Gardening for Butterflies" last Saturday at The  Arboretum.  Here's a little of the information she shared.

South Texas Butterfly Gardening Tips
1. Start your garden with proven nectar-rich flowering plants.
2. Plant the larval foods (the ones the caterpillars munch on) for those butterflies you wish to keep.
3. Use native varieties, if possible - varieties from other localities are second-best.
4. Never use insecticides.   Deter pests with biological agents or sticky traps.
5. Avoid artificial fertilizer.   Use organic fertilizers or compost.
6. Never use herbicides.  Weed your garden by hand.
7. Provide a watering hole to allow mud-puddling of the butterflies.
8. Arrange to have shelter from the wind.
9. Use a sunny spot.  Plants produce more nectar in the sun.
10. Place some large rocks around for the butterflies to sun themselves on.
11. Plants started from March through th esummer will need sufficient mulch to prevent water loss.
12. Don't trim shrubs after August 1st.  Trimming later cuts down on blooms and you could haul off chrysalis.

The following plants will furnish larval food and nectar for the adults all year round.

Nectar Sources for Butterflies
Buddleia                    Lippia                      Turk's Cap
Verbena                    Penta                        Mistflower
Sunflower                 Kidneywood             White Brush
Frogfruit                   Milkweed                 Goldenrod
Indian Blanket          Pavonia                     Baby Bonnets
Abutilon                   Plumbago                  Salvia
Sweet Stem             Lantana                     Pyramid Bush
Scarlet Sage            Duranta                     Zinnias

Host Plants for Caterpillars
Butterfly (Caterpillar) - Host Plant
Pipevine Swallowtail - Pipevine
Giant Swallowtail - Colima, Amyris, Barreta
Checkered White - Mustards
Southern Dogface - Amorpha, Dalea
Large Orange Sulpher - Texas Ebony
Lyside Sulpher - Guayacan
Little Yellow - Cassia
Mallow Scrub-Hairstreak - Sida, Abutilon, Hibiscus
Western Pygmy Blue - Saltbush, Pigweed
Reakirt's Blue - Kidneywood, Mesquite
American Snout - Granjeno
Gulf Fritillary, Julia, Zebra - Passionvines
Bordered Patch - Sunflower, Mistflower
Texan Crescent - Ruellia
Red Admiral - Nettles
White Peacock - Lippia, Ruellia, Frogfruit
Tropical Leafwing - Crotons
Tawny Emperor - Sugar Hackberry
Monarch, Queen, Soldier - Milkweed
Whitepatch Skipper - Manzanita

Taffy's Favorite Butterfly Plants
Common Name / Scientific Name / Host / Bloom period
Blue Mistflower / Eupatorium odoratum / Rounded Metalmark / Oct-Nov
Betony Mistflower / Eupatorium betonififiolium / Rounded Metalmark / Spring-Fall
Texas Lantana / Lantana horrida / _____/ Spring - Fall
Desert Lantana / Lantana macropoda / Gray Hairstreek / Most times
West Indies Lantana / Lantana camara / __ / Most times
Mexican Butterfly Weed /  __ / Monarch, Queen, Soldier / Most times
Passion Vine / Passiflora foetida / Gulf Fritillary / Spring - Fall
Corky Passionflower / Passiflora suberosa / Zebra, Julia Heloconia / Fall
Heliotrope / Heliotrope / Adult Nectar Plant
Texas Frogfruit / Phyla incisa / White Peacock, Phaon Crescent/ Spring - Fall
March Fleabana / Pluchea dorata / Nectar Plant / Summer
Fennel & Rue / __ / Black Swallowtail /
Candlestick Tree / Cassia alata / Most Sulphers / 

Interesting Butterfly Links
Butterfly Festival, Mission, Texas   October 22-24, 2009

Thursday, October 1, 2009

October To-Do List for South Texas Gardeners

Time to plant:

Flowers: calendula, daylilies, geraniums, iris (Dutch bulbs) petunias, ranunculus bulbs, stocks, impatiens, anembulbs, pansies, snapdragons.

Trees: montezuma bald cypress, black willow, granjeno, sugar hackberry, cedar elm, tenaza, Texas huisache, Wright’s catclaw.

Shrubs: hibiscus, cenizo or purple sage, bougainvillea, Drummond’s Turk’s cap, blackbrush, chapotillo, chilipiquin, white brush.

Vegetables: beets, broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, collards, onions, spinach.

Herbs: basil, chervil, chives, cilantro, dill, fennel, garlic chives, Mexican marigold, mint, parsley, rue, rosemary, sage, spinach, thyme.

- Spray citrus trees for scale, mites and fungal diseases with a combination insecticide, miticide, fungicide spray. See your local nursery or garden center for advice and materials. Remember to read and follow directions and all precautions. NOTE: before spraying see if you have beneficial insects working for you. Call the Cameron County Extension office for more information.
-Fall budding should occur this month.
-Last fertilizer application for mums and poinsettias.
-Mulch around the base of newly plants trees and shrubs.
-Prepare the soil for your rose garden. Use a soil conditioner with gypsum to improve soil drainage. Read the November 1st article on ‘Roses, Planting and Care’.
-Prepare you flower gardens for bulb planting. Bulbs like a well drained soil so use gypsum and peatmoss or well rotted compost.
-Check indoor plants for scale and mealy bug.
-Fertilize your 6 to 8 week old vegetables with ammonium nitrate.
-Watch for leaf worm and beetles on vegetables late in October.
-Harvest: squash, cucumbers, greens, beans, citrus and avocados.
-See your local Texas Certified Nursery Professional for additional expert information on local gardening and landscaping.

(Information source: Successful Gardening in the Magic Valley of Texas, Dist. VI, Texas Garden Clubs, Inc. and Native Trees- and Native Shrubs-of the lower Rio Grande Valley, Texas Landscape Uses and Identification, Native Plant Project, PO 1433, Edinburg, TX)

Tuesday, September 15, 2009


Bromeliads are one of my favorite type of tropical plant and can be found growing in mostly tropical or warm climates. The best known is the pineapple plant. There are many varieties of bromeliads which can be grown in many different mediums, some can even grow in no medium. Bromeliads come in many different shapes and size. I first fell in love with them growing in South Florida and found how easy they were to grow and multiply. I enjoyed the fact that the flowers bloomed from the middle of the plants. I have heard them sometimes referred to as the 'living vase'. Not sure if it's due to the fact that water stored in the center cup can be used as a vase for cut flowers or the flower growing from the middle caused the plant to look like a vase.

Compost -Black Magic

October is time for Black Magic in the Garden. For us gardeners, the Black Magic I am talking about is compost. I recommend top dressing your garden beds with a layer of compost seasonally to reinvigorate your plants. Now that our weather is getting cooler, and we are finally getting some rain, most of our plants can use a boost.
Compost helps with soil structure and adds nutrients to the soil. It is easy to make your own compost,
On October 10, the Master Gardeners will be sponsoring a plant sale and compost demonstration at the Arboretum located at the corner of Williams Road and Expressway 77 in San Benito. Taffy Herridge will present a program on butterfly gardening. Master Gardeners will be on hand to answer your gardening questions. The excitement starts at 9:00. Hope to see you there!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Newcomer to the lower Rio Grande Valley

I moved to the lower Rio Grande Valley just a year ago. I've been a gardener for most of my life but this is definitely a new experience for me. I've had summer gardens in the high desert of Nevada and fertile loam soils of Iowa and South Dakota. The RGV is a very different place to garden! If I hadn't joined the Cameron County Master Gardeners program, I would not have know that you just basically just keep your plants alive in the summer and prepare your beds for fall, winter and spring planting.
I moved into a house on a 60 by 130 foot lot that had been planted with a Bermuda grass lawn with a sprinkler system designed to water a lawn only with no thought of trees or garden areas. I knew from the start the I needed patience, knowledge and a plan.
The first thing I did was draw up a plot of the yard with the location of the sprinkler heads and what zones they were on. At first I tried to design my yard to fit the system but then I realized a sprinkler system should be designed to fit your yard. A good system should have sprinkler heads of the same type on the same line. Mine does not. I talked to the person who installed the system and he didn't have a diagram of what had been done or could he tell me how deep the lines were buried.
The first thing I did this spring was plot what areas of the yard had full sun. I realized this was a waste of time since with no trees it will be at least ten years before I have to worry about too much shade. Now I'm looking at where there is shade for part of the day as most plants that require full sun in other areas thrive on 6 hours of sun in this area.
I've included a picture of the corner of my back yard as this is the area where I plan to begin. As you can see by my drawing, this location has no sprinkler heads so will be doing hand watering until my sprinkler system can be adapted or I install a separate drip line. I plan to use mainly native plants in this area with an emphasis on attracting butterflies and hummingbirds.
I will be posting additional pictures and plans in the next few weeks.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Native Plant Sale

Valley Nature Center
Native Plant Sale!!!

Effective September 1st, 2009, there will be an official TEXAS NATIVE PLANT WEEK, celebrated annually the third week in October. In celebration of this legislation The Valley Nature Center located in Weslaco, on 301 S. Border Ave., will be selling our 1 gallon, well established, native plants for only $3.50 a plant.

TEXAS NATIVE PLANT WEEK may now be regularly observed in public schools and other places with programs that appreciate, explore and study Texas Native plants.

The VNC will be selling native plants from September 1st through 15th in celebration of the new Texas State Act, then again during TEXAS NATIVE PLANT WEEK which is the third full week of October. So start planning your garden now, using these wonderful, drought resistant, wildlife friendly plants! For more information please contact the Valley Nature Center at 956-969-2475 or come by and visit. VNC staff will help pick the plants that are right for you!

What is This Critter

Botanical name Ficus Benjamina

These small bugs showed up in the valley about five years ago and have returned each spring. They attack only ficus plants.

There is a little black bug that attacks ficus plants. It is about 1/32 inch long.
This animal is narrow, I cannot see its legs but it moves rather quickly. I have not seen it fly. It causes new leaves to fold up and the edges curl. When the leaf is opened there are tiny yellow specks that look like fine sand.
I have been to several nurseries with mixed results, no answers.
One place suggested Bodine Systemic, granules or liquid.
What are we dealing with?

The Future Rose Garden at the Arboretum

At the Arboretum the Master Gardeners would like to plan on having a Demonstration Rose Garden. We hope to be to have different varieties of roses whether they will be hybrid teas, floribundas, grandiflora, heirloom, polyantha, species and or antique roses. The decision will be up to the group which will be a chore in itself. The preparation of the beds will be the most important part for this demonstration garden. The rose above is a Black Cherry Floribunda that was placed in the ground in my garden about 2 years ago. The bed was dug about 4 feet deep to remove the clay soil where the garden soil and compost that was purchased from the local City Service was placed. In our area they sell the medium by carload , truckload or bucket load as needed. The Rose Bed to my garden has mostly floribunda's which I prefer because of the abundance of flowers. In years past most floribunda's were not fragrant, however more varieties have been introduced. Websites that I find most helpful in making my decision are the Houston Rose Society and Jackson and Perkins.

Monday, August 24, 2009

August To-Do List for Deep South Texas Gardeners

Time to plant:

Flowers: night and day purslane, moss rose, vinca, Ice plant, Joseph’s coat,
salvia, Mexican heather, Katie ruellia, gerbera daisy, dusty miller,
gazania, coreopsis, caladium, coleus, celosia.

Trees: During hot months, container grown trees are safest to plant! But if you must buy balled
and burlapped trees, make sure the tree is green and healthy.

Natives: Live oak, ebony, huisache, retama, brazil, mesquite, Wild Olive, la coma

Non-native: crepe myrtle.

Palms: Texas Sabal Palms, Cocus plumosa or Queen Palm, Mediterranean Fan Palm, Chinese Fan Palm, Sago Palm, Mexican Fan or Washingtonia, California Fan Palm or Washingtonia.

Shrubs: Natives manzanita (barbados cherry), lantana, hachinal ,coral bean,
yucca, butterfly bush (buddleia), wild petunia (ruellia), chilipiquin,
dwarf-yaupon holly, cenizo, salvias, Turk’s cap.

Non-native bougainvillea, plumbago, hibiscus, butterfly weed,
cape honeysuckle, pittosporum, viburnum.

Note: most of these shrubs, especially the native shrubs, attract butterflies and hummingbirds to your garden.

Vegetables: Sweet corn, okra, eggplant, peppers, pumpkin, tomatoes (give
tomatoes afternoon shade).

Herbs: Lemon grass, mint, sage, tansy, yarrow, basil, Mexican mint marigold


-Lookout for grubs in your garden and lawn; use a granular insecticide, like Dursban for control.

-August is the time for the appearance of whiteflies, especially after cotton harvest, use insecticidal soap spray on top and under leaves for control.

-When planting trees, shrubs, flowers and herbs use mulch around the base of the plant to conserve moisture.

-Water recently planted materials once or twice a week and water deeply.

-Keep all flower beds and vegetable garden areas free of weeds so they don’t compete with your plants for moisture and nutrients.

-Add 1 inch of organic matter to your gardens and beds, work it in.

-August is the time you to need to prepare the ground for your fall vegetable garden. Start loosening the soil and adding compost from your compost heap.

(Information source: Successful Gardening in the Magic Valley of Texas, Dist. VI, Texas Garden Clubs, Inc. and Native Trees- and Native Shrubs-of the Lower Rio Grande Valley, Texas Landscape Uses and Identification, Native Plant Project, PO Box 1433, Edinburg, TX)

Monday, July 6, 2009

July To-Do List for Deep South Texas Gardeners

Time to plant:

Flowers: night and day purslane, moss rose, vinca, Ice plant, Joseph’s coat,
salvia, Mexican heather, ruellia, gerbera daisy, dusty miller, gazania,
coreopsis, caladium, coleus, celosia.

Trees: Plant container grown trees only! But if must buy trees with root balls
wrapped in burlap, make sure the tree is green and healthy.
Anacua Tree in bloom

Natives: Mountain Laurel, guayacan, guajillo, live oak, anacua, Rio
Grande ash, mesquite, retama, wild olive, black willow.

Non-native: Cottonwood, crepe myrtle, weeping willow.

Shrubs: Natives manzanita (barbados cherry), lantana, hachinal ,coral bean,
yucca, butterfly bush (buddleia), wild petunia (ruellia), chilipiquin,
dwarf-youpon holly.

Non-native bougainvillea, plumbago, hibiscus, butterfly weed,
cape honeysuckle, pittosporum, ligustrum sage.

Note: most of these shrubs, especially the native shrubs, attract butterflies and hummingbirds to your garden.

Vegetables: Cauliflower, cucumber, eggplant, okra, peppers, pumpkin.

Herbs: Thyme, rosemary, rue, anise, borage, basil, bay, garlic, parsely,
Mexican mint marigold (tarragon).


-When planting trees, shrubs, flowers and herbs use mulch around the base of the plant to conserve moisture.

-Water recently planted materials once or twice a week and water deeply.

-Watch for grub worms in your lawns and gardens Use a granular insecticide, like Dursban, or Diazion.

-Keep all flower beds and vegetable garden areas free of weeds so they don’t compete with your plants for moisture and nutrients.

-Add 1 inch of organic matter to your gardens and beds, work it in.

-Regularly check for whitefly and aphids, control with soapy water spray. Be sure to spray under the leaves.

(Information source: Successful Gardening in the Magic Valley of Texas, Dist. VI, Texas Garden Clubs, Inc. and Native Trees- and Native Shrubs-of the Lower Rio Grande Valley, Texas Landscape Uses and Identification, Native Plant Project, PO Box 1433, Edinburg, TX)

Friday, June 19, 2009

June To-Do List for Deep South Texas Gardeners

Time to plant:

Flowers: Mexican heather, ruellia, gerbera daisy, dusty miller,
gazania, vinca, night and day purslane, iceplant, moss rose,
caladium, coleus, celosia.

Trees: Natives: live oak, anacua, Rio Grande ash, mesquite, retama, wild

Non-native: Cottonwood, crepe myrtle.

Palms: Palms are best planted during warm months.

Shrubs: bougainvillea, plumbago, manzanita (barbados cherry), lantana,
hachinal ,coral bean, yucca, butterfly bush (buddleia) butterfly weed,
wild petunia (ruellia), hibiscus. Note: most of these shrubs attract
butterflies and hummingbirds to your garden.

Vegetables: Peppers.

Herbs: mint, rosemary, rue, oregano, hierba buena.


-When planting trees, shrubs, flowers and herbs use mulch around the base of the plant to conserve moisture.

-Water recently planted materials once or twice a week and water deeply.

-Your potted plants may need daily or every-other-day watering. The larger the pot, the longer it can go between waterings.

-Try to give your tomatoes afternoon shade.

-Keep all flower beds and vegetable garden areas free of weeds so they don’t compete with your plants for moisture and nutrients.

-Regularly check for whitefly and aphids, control with soapy water spray or insecticidal soap. Be sure to spray under the leaves.

-Check for grubs in your lawn. Brown patches are an indicator. Control with a granular insecticide such as Dursban or Diazinon.

(Information source: Successful Gardening in the Magic Valley of Texas, Dist. VI, Texas Garden Clubs, Inc. and Native Trees- and Native Shrubs-of the Lower Rio Grande Valley, Texas Landscape Uses and Identification, Native Plant Project, PO Box 1433, Edinburg, TX)

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Bermuda Grass

I live in Brownsville and have clay soil in my backyard where I have been growing Bermuda Grass. I do have some brown patches where there is no grass growing. I was wondering if I needed to amend the soil and raise the pH a bit. Do you have any suggestions? Ruben P, Brownsville

Dr. Enrique Perez, Cameron County Extension agent, wrote that this maybe be a regular hot spot in which this area is so compact that there maybe no aeration or moisture for the roots. High clay turf areas have this symptom. "I recommend some aeration, and providing organic matter to the area. This will help in forming a more porous soil to improve filtration for both air, water and nutrients needed for plant growth and development. You may want to have a soil test done for the problem areas. This will give you the nutritional values of the area."
A local turf specialist, Jimmy Wilson, MS in turf management from Texas A&M, states that Bermuda Grass is extremely hardy and should be able to withstand most soil and environmental conditions in the Valley. Amending the soil to change the ph would only be a temporary solution and would be a constant job. Most often problems with grass in the Lower Rio Grande Valley are due to cultural practices of grass selection for that particular site. If the rest of the lawn looks healthy, shade or water are the most likely culprits. To check water, the pros use a soil probe (but you could use a hand trowel) to dig down and sample the soil. If the soil is dry below a 1/4 of an inch or so, it's too dry. Try watering deeply - an inch of water in the early morning hours every week in the summer months. If the spots are in shady areas, try trimming back nearby trees to let in some more light. Bermuda needs FULL sun to really thrive. That said, whether your soil has clay or sand, topdressing with compost over the entire yard would be beneficial and is recommended.

Return to "Ask a Master Gardener".

Plants for La Feria

Are red yuccas, autumn sage, and mexican feather grass good choices for our landscape in La Feria? - R.D. Trimble, La Feria

Both Red Yucca, Hesperaloe parviflora, and Autumn Sage,Salvia greggii are accepted good performers in the Lower Rio Grande Valley. However, there are mixed reviews on Mexican Feather Grass.

Mexican Feather Grass, or Silky Thread Grass, Needle Grass, or Pony Tails, Stipa tenuissima is a self seeder that is considered invasive in some areas. It produces large numbers of seed that blow in the wind. On Dave's Garden one person stated that her six plants quickly became a hundred. Another, whose Mexican Feather Grass was planted beside her pool, complained that the seeds clogged the skimmers and pool cleaning apparatus. All the "free" plants from self-sowing plants can be nice - but often it adds alot to your weeding chores.
Purple fountain grass, Pennisetum setaceum 'Rubrum', would be a good alternative. You propagate it by dividing the root ball.

Choose a well-drained location for both Red Yucca and and Autumn Sage (also known as Texas Sage or Gregg's Sage). These are desert plants that do not like "wet feet". Hummingbirds and butterflies will be attracted to both of these plants. Autumn Sage is a
self-sowing plant but not prolifically.

Return to the "Ask a Master Gardener".

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Touring Ceyanes' Native Garden

Join the Cameron County Master Gardeners for a tour of Helen Ceyanes' Native Garden on Saturday, May 16th. Beginning at 10 am, we will be able to wander the improved pathways that run throughout the seven acre property. Yes, that is not a typo - this is a SEVEN acre property - Ms. Ceyanes has divided it into different "gardens" - she has an prairie and a Palm garden to name a few.

MG Interns Anna, Sheila, and Tomara have already toured this private sanctuary. They should have some great information to share with us on Saturday!

Beautiful native lantanas should attract a nice number of hummingbirds and butterflies.

Identifying signage will help us learn some more of our natives. Dr. Alfred Richardson, the author of Plants of the Rio Grande Delta and Wildflowers and Other Plants of Texas Beaches and Islands (to name a few) will give a short program on our native trees and plants. This is sure to be a fun and educationation morning! Hope to see you there. And if you can't attend, check back here next week. We'll post a little info on our visit to Helen Ceyanes' Native Garden.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Trees for the Valley

We moved to the Valley last May and are in the process of creating the landscaping for our new home. Can you recommend vendors for trees? I have been to various garden centers in Harlingen and McAllen and find very few choices. I'm looking for shade trees and ornamentals like crape myrtle, preferably nice sized. I would also be interested in looking at Texas Palo Verde. - Sandra

Wild Olive above.

Sandra - I'm sorry that we can't recommend particular vendors - but we do have some advice for you before you go out to purchase a tree.

Determine what type(s) of trees you want. Two excellent sources are available both in print and online. Valley Proud Environmental Council puts out a booklet entitled, A Guide to Growing Healthy Trees in the Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas. This guide includes valuable information on purchasing, planting, pruning, and other general tree care. The Native Plant Project publishes a booklet, Native Trees of the Lower Rio Grande Valley Texas, which describes 28 native species.

Everyone is familiar with Live Oak and Ashe, as they are good performers here and thus very common. A couple varieties you may want to consider are Cedar Elm, Texas Ebony, Chapote (or Texas Persimmon), and Anacua. Be advised that the Ebony is thorny and produces large, hard seedpods and the Anacua (pictured here) tends to drop small branches on windy day. Cedar Elm has a hint of color in the late fall. If you want a tropical tree, watch for the following that grow well here: Jacaranda (irridescent purple, late spring bloom), Royal Poinciana (orange & red, late spring bloom), Orchids (white, purple, pink, early spring bloomer), or Kapok (pink, late summer/early fall bloom).

The varieties pictured at the right of this blog are currently growing in our Arboretum. Feel free to drop by and check them out. You can click on each of the pictures to get additional information on each individual tree.

After you've narrowed your choices down to 2 or 3, contact area garden centers to locate the tree of your dreams. If you want a large specimen, you may want to consider hiring someone with the equipment and expertise to plant it. Don't rush this process. Tree are usually the largest investment of any plant in your landscape. They are best installed in the Rio Grande Valley between the months of October and April. Our high summer temperatures make it hard for a newly planted tree to become established in the landscape during that time.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Compost Demonstration Site

We are nearly done with the construction phase of our Compost Demonstration Site. Many thanks to the Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council for the grant that is funding this project! Signage, one more composter, and some more plants are all that remains until this construction phase is complete. Come by and learn how to compost your household and yard waste - It's good for the environment - It's good for your pocketbook - and it's good for your garden!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Peaches for the Rio Grande Valley

Please, can you tell me what "brand" of peach tree will produce fruit here in Cameron County? We are wanting to purchase at least one this Spring. Dana

Dr Enrique Perez, Cameron County Extension Agent, writes: Back in the mid 80's a group of Starr County producers established an orchard on approximately 75 acres. The varieties adapted to the area or chosen due to chilling hours were EarliGrande and Rio Grande. From my evaluation, these two varieties performed well. A chilling requirement of a certain number of hours of winter temperatures between 32° to 45° F is needed to break dormancy and induce normal bloom and vegetative growth. This chilling requirements caused some problems for the commercial producer in terms of size and yield. But for a home owner this may not be an issue. The other problem is cotton root rot disease which exist through the Rio Grande Valley. Also, we have the issue of pH in the soil. Our soils here are alkaline. Peach varieties have a problem with alkaline soils. The life span for production of these trees are from 5 to 10 years.

One Master Gardener shares that she has had great success with the EarlyGrande variety. It sets lots of small to medium fruit. She gives it minimal care: water, a little pruning and a little horse manure on occasion. Her tree came from Grimsell's Nursery in Harlingen. Rivers End Nursery in Bayview specializes in fruit trees. The varieties they list in their newsletter are Tropic Beauty, Tropic Snow and Florida Glow. They grow what they sell and can give you specific information about each variety. Most local garden centers will stock peach trees during the spring. Their staffs tend to be knowledgable on varieties that do well in the Rio Grande Valley.

For more information on Peach Production in Texas, check out Aggie Horticulture.

Return to "Ask a Master Gardener".

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

One of the weekly tasks at the Compost Demonstration Site is turning the compost piles. In Week 1, the Master Gardener Interns put most of the material through the chipper/shredder and refilled the bins, sprinkling the material as they went. The bins are currently heavy on brown stuff (carbon) - but members help keep the Compost Demonstration Site supplied with green stuff (nitrogen) by bringing trimmings from their homes and gardens, and old fruit and vegetables from fruit stands.

Week 2, the piles are warm to the touch - so we know they are "cooking". We have found it is easier to empty the entire bin and turn or mix it in the open ground. Then it is reassembled, adding water as needed. Remember, our compost piles should be damp to the touch - like a wrung-out sponge.

We've also been rustling leaves . . . . Our last few bags are leaning against the storage shed in the photo above. Any bagged leaves left on the curb are likely to be snatched and added to the demonstration.

It is amazing how fast we are making compost now that we are turning the piles every week!
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