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Articles

Attract Beautiful Butterflies

Planning ahead for the right plants to attract butterflies is a must when you want to enjoy these beautiful insects in your landscape. Butterflies are a welcome sight for many Texas gardeners and landscapers as they plan and often grow their gardens to make them irresistible to butterflies.

 

Butterfly gardening requires some knowledge of local butterfly species, flowers that are attractive to nectar-feeding adults and host plants for the developing caterpillars.

 

Marigolds, nasturtiums, zinnias, hollyhocks and daylilies are among the favorites of butterflies. Also, a few of our very own Texas Superstars are popular with the butterfly population including, Gold Star Esperanza, Flare Perennial Hibiscus, Texas Lilac Vitex and Lord Baltimore Perennial Hibiscus. The designation of a Texas Superstar is given only to the toughest, most reliable and best-looking plants that have stood up to years of field trials by Texas A&M University's Agriculture Program. During the field trials, the plants receive minimal soil preparation, minimal water and no pesticides. Go here for a listing of Texas-grown Superstar producers.

 

The following tips will help make your garden, backyard or landscaped area a haven for butterflies:

  •  Locate in a sunny area. Butterflies like direct sunlight and heat.

  • Provide shelter by planting along a fence, hedge or building if wind is a problem.

  • Avoid using chemical pesticides.

  • Provide a warm resting spot by placing a board or a few flat stones around the garden.

  • Fill a shallow saucer with water and sink it into the soil.

  • Provide food plants for the caterpillar. These can include milkweed, thistle, clover, goldenrod and other natives in a spot where their invasive habits will not be a problem. Other menu favorites are carrots, dill, parsley and nasturtium. Choices for the annual border include marigolds, red salvia, zinnias, lantana, cosmos and impatiens.

Whether it's a backyard or a landscaped garden, make the most of your outdoor area this season by creating an inviting area for butterflies. Get monthly email updates showcasing Texas food, wine, restaurants, recipes, gardening, style and more. Subscribe to Go Local. GO TEXAN. and learn about everything the Lone Star State has to offer. Send an e-mail to gotexan@TexasAgriculture.gov with "sign me up" in the subject line and your name and email address in the body copy.

Birds Feel the Impact of Severe Drought – Just Like People Do

 

By John Robinson, 
Chief Ornithologist for The Scotts Co.

It is now official: natural disasters have made this year the costliest on record, as measured by property damage. Whether it is a tsunami, earthquake, or flood, we have certainly been reading a lot about natural phenomena and their impact on human populations. Not too surprisingly, we are discovering that these same types of natural phenomena have a substantial impact on birds, as well.

Most of us have heard about the severe drought currently gripping the south central and southwestern United States. This drought has, in part, prompted the U.S. Department of Agriculture to declare the entire state of Texas a natural disaster.

The impact of drought on birds varies, but may include any of the following:

  • Lack of Water. By definition, this is the first effect we expect to see in times of drought. Ponds and creeks may be entirely dry, and shorelines of larger lakes and rivers will have noticeably receded. Like a game of dominoes, this single impact has a cascading effect on birds, as described further by the other bullets in this list
  • Lack of Food. Breeding birds rely on insects, and many insect populations rely on water. Lack of water often translates into a reduction in the numbers of insects or huge shifts in the distribution of insects as they desperately search for moisture. The end result is that birds no longer find insects in the areas where they were once abundant. Lack of food for birds also results from shrubs and trees producing significantly reduced amounts of berries, fruit, or pine cones.
  • Lack of Breeding Birds. Following closely on the lack of food, we find fewer breeding birds and a noticeable decline in the numbers of singing birds.
  • Stress. Birds are under a greater than normal amount of stress in times of drought. Oftentimes, the areas where they once found food are no longer productive and they fly, sometimes up to hundreds of miles, in search of food elsewhere. Even worse, long-distance migrants may struggle with finding enough food to put on the fat reserves necessary for the southward migration in the fall.
  • Birds at Our Feeder. The numbers and variety of birds at your bird feeder will change in times of extreme drought. While it is difficult to say whether you will have more birds or fewer birds at your feeder, nearly everyone agrees the birds that do show up at your yard are in need of the basic elements: food, water, and shelter. Interestingly, because some species are in a desperate search for food, you may discover some birds at your feeder which you have never seen – this may include species which are normally only seen hundreds of miles from where you live. This has been documented in many of our “irruptive” finches as well as in birds like the Pinyon Jay, Steller’s Jay, and Clark’s Nutcracker

If you would like to help the birds that are struggling in times of severe drought, consider these options:
1. Fresh water, and lots of it
a. At a minimum, you can have a bird bath in your yard
b. Also, consider using a water drip – perhaps the easiest way to quickly and easily attract a variety of unique birds to your back yard c. A tiny, landscaped pond is also an option, if it is within your budget. A pond with a fountain is even better yet
2. Fruit – either fresh or dried
a. Providing fresh slices of oranges or apples in strategic locations around your yard can attract exciting birds like orioles, bluebirds, or robins
b. Using wild bird food that contains dried fruit is another way to ensure your birds find the fruit they need. 
3. Keep Feeding the Birds
a. Birds everywhere are searching for food, but even more so during a drought
b. Keep feeding your birds, even in the summer time. Birds are just as likely to visit your feeder in the summer as in other times of the year
4. Cleanliness is key
a. To prevent the spread of disease your feeders and birdbaths should be kept clean
b. Change the water in your birdbath at least one to two times per week. Ideally, your birdbath should be cleaned each time you change the water. 
c. There are a number of natural and/or organic products available now that can be used with your bird bath or pond to control or eliminate algae growth
d. Clean feeders with a 10% bleach solution at least once every two to three weeks.
5. Shade
a. Use trees or shrubs to provide a source for shade in your yard
b. Where possible, position your feeders, nesting boxes, or bird baths in locations where they will benefit from the shade for at least a few hours each day
6. Nest Boxes
a. Cavity nesting birds search for suitable places to lay their eggs. They need a place that has a constant supply of food, a source of water, and shelter from the elements; as well as a place to raise their young
b. A properly landscaped yard can provide all of these elements, especially if you offer one or two nest boxes spaced throughout your yard
7. Help By Giving Back
a. There are many national and regional bird conservation efforts currently in progress
b. You can help by making a charitable donation to one or more of these efforts to better help them protect and restore the habitat that birds need to survive


 

Carefree Crape Myrtles

By George Ayres
Texas Department of Agriculture
July 2010


Designated in 1997 as the official Texas State Shrub, crape myrtles provide welcome shade and beautiful color to our state's summer landscape. Sometimes called "the Lilac of the South," this Texas treasure is among the toughest and most adaptable plants on the Texas landscape.

 

The deciduous crape myrtle is among the longest-blooming shrubs (up to 120 days) and varies in size from dwarf to large shrubs or small trees. It has dense clusters of crinkled, crepe-papery flowers in white or shades of pink, red or purple, and it is happiest in hot-summer climates.

 

The dark green leaves often turn orange or red in fall and are some of the most beautifully branching flowering trees in the world.

 

The popular "Natchez" variety, which has long panicles of pure white flowers in the summer, grows to 30 feet tall and wide. Other popular crape myrtles that grow in the 20- to-30-foot range include "Biloxi" (pink); "Muskogee" (lavender); "Potomac" (pink); and "Tuskegee" (deep pink to red). Popular mid-sized (7- to 15-feet-tall) crape myrtles include "Catawba" (dark purple); "Hopi" (pink); "Osage" (light pink); and "Zuni" (lavender).

 

Also on the market are several dwarf forms. "Cherry Dazzle," "Ruby Dazzle," "Dazzle Me Pink," and other crape myrtles in the "Dazzle" series are great for mass plantings in the garden or containers. The largest of these dwarfs will top out at 5 feet tall, while the smallest will stay in the 2- to 3-foot range. Other dwarf varieties that give dazzling bloom are "Continental," which has bright purple flowers, and "Victor," which has dark red blooms.

 

Although relatively carefree plants, all crape myrtles respond well to some pampering. Feed crape myrtles regularly during the growing season with a crape myrtle fertilizer. Water crape myrtles deeply when there is insufficient rain and keep an eye out for pests and disease. Prune off spent flowers to encourage repeat bloom.

 

Remember, there is a crape myrtle size and shape for every garden. This plant laughs at heat and humidity and, once established, is very drought-tolerant. For more information about Texas crape myrtles, contact your local nursery or visit the GO TEXAN Product Search.


Texas Turfgrass
 
 

Water is a precious resource and planting Texas Turf helps conserve it. A recent study commissioned by the San Antonio Water System and Turfgrass Producers of Texas, and conducted by researchers at Texas A&M University, demonstrated that 25 commonly sold turfgrasses could withstand a 60-day drought and help protect your landscape. For tips on growing Texas Turfgrass and a list of drought resistant Turfgrass varieties, e-mail Jessica.Martini@TexasAgriculture.gov and request your Texas Turfgrass brochure. 


Guide to Landscape Success

 

From climates and soils to hardiness zones and plant selections, landscaping in Texas is always a challenging task.

 

The GO TEXAN "Guide to Landscape Success" brochure offers information about seven important steps, including:

  • Proper planning and design
  • Right soil mixture
  • Right turfgrass
  • Appropriate plant selection
  • Efficient irrigation
  • Mulches
  • Appropriate maintenance practices

To receive a copy of our "Guide to Landscape Success," e-mail Jessica.Martini@TexasAgriculture.gov.

Contain Your Love for Texas Gardening

Pick a container, any container, and imagine it filled with vibrant color and texture. Take a look around the yard, the storage shed, the garage. See that empty planter box? That unused flowerpot? That wooden barrel? They're all perfect for your new foray into container gardening.

Planter boxes, wooden barrels, hanging baskets and large flowerpots are just some of the containers that can be used for gardening. For those with limited space, container gardening is the answer to adding life to areas that are often overlooked. There's no easier way to experiment with different greenery, flowers and color schemes than with plants grown in containers.

Here are a few tips to get you started on your new adventure. Remember: the container gardener is limited only by his or her imagination. Now ... go forth and plant!

1) Space

Make sure there is enough room in the container for the plants and soil. Keep in mind the mature size of your plants and their growing habits. Upright plants need a wider base for balance, while plants that tend to sprawl will need a container deep enough for branches to drape over the sides.

 

2) Drainage

Have drainage holes or gravel at the bottom of your container. If what you use doesn't have drainage holes, plant in a plastic pot with holes smaller than the decorative pot, using the plastic pot as an insert

.

3) Water

Container plants need water every day, preferably in the early morning or early evening.

If heat is an issue, consider watering at both times. Water by hand rather than by sprinkler, if possible, to ensure your container plants get a good soaking.

 

4) Soil Requirements

Use a good soil growing medium, not garden soil. A mix with peat, perlite or vermiculite will retain moisture longer and will drain better. It will also be lighter and won't compact as the season goes on.

 

5) Favor Drought-Tolerant Plants

Most container gardens require daily watering in hot weather. Even so, there will be times when your potted plants are going to be baking in the sun. Give your container a fighting chance by favoring plants that can handle the intensified heat and dry soil of a container garden. The best way to do that is to buy Texas Superstars. Superstars are plants chosen through a rigorous testing program to adapt and thrive in the Texas climate. For more information about Texas Superstars, go here.

 

Enjoy a Seasonal Favorite - The Texas Chrysanthemum!

George Ayres
Texas Department of Agriculture
August 2006

 

 

"Flowers are happy things."
-- P.G. Wodehouse

 

Long live the Queen! The Queen of the Fall Flowers, that is. Here at the Texas Department of Agriculture, we're talking about the chrysanthemum, the colorful and much-loved mum.

For many of us, our first introduction to the chrysanthemum was a corsage for special events such as homecoming football games. Those were the days! The chrysanthemum is still an event favorite and remains the most widely grown potted plant in the country. It's also one of the longest lasting of all cut flowers. The latter attribute, along with the flowers' artistic allure, makes mums highly favored by floral arrangers.

 

In fact, in the United States, the chrysanthemum is the largest commercially produced flower because of its ease of cultivation, ability to bloom on schedule, diversity of bloom forms and colors and overall holding quality of the blooms.

 

There are 61 producers in Texas today, and in 2005 they sold 3 million chrysanthemum pots worth a wholesale value of $5.6 million.

 

Chrysanthemum History

 

The chrysanthemum was first introduced into the United States during colonial times, but the flower was first cultivated in China as a flowering herb and is described in writings as early as the 15th century B.C.

 

In fact, Chinese pottery depicted the chrysanthemum much the same as we know it today. As an herb, it was believed to have the power of life. Legend has it that the boiled roots were used as a headache remedy; young sprouts and petals were eaten in salads; and leaves were brewed for a festive drink.

 

Classification and Use

 

There are so many varieties of chrysanthemums today that a system of classification is used to categorize and identify them. The classification is based on the type of florets and their growth patterns.

 

As a landscaping plant, the chrysanthemum makes a beautiful fall display for many home gardens. With skill and artistry, many varied effects can be achieved, even within a limited growing area. Chrysanthemums can accentuate an entranceway, provide the fall colors to a season-long growing bed or dominate a growing area with the many varied shapes, sizes, and colors. Used in this fashion, chrysanthemums provide an outstanding climax to the season before the season changes and winter arrives.

 

Tips for Picking a Fresh Potted Mum

 

With gorgeous blooms that last three weeks or more, picking a healthy, fresh pot chrysanthemum, or "mum," may be the beginning of a beautiful long-term relationship.

 

Here are several things to look for to ensure you're getting the best value when you select your mum: 

  •  Select a plant with dark green foliage and without damaged or broken flowers.
  •  Choose a healthy plant that doesn't wobble in the pot and isn't too top-heavy.
  •  Find a chrysanthemum with flowers one-half to three-fourths open. Flowers that haven't opened yet might not bloom at home, while flowers that are fully open might not last as long at home.
  • Avoid wilting plants or plants with bugs.

 

Care for Your Fresh Pot Mum

 

Water: Moderately moist soil is preferred. Water thoroughly when just the soil surface is dry to the touch, but do not let the plant stand in water.

 

Light: Chrysanthemums prefer a bright light location.

 

Temperature: Chrysanthemums prefer a moderate climate of 65 degrees F to 75 degrees F during the day, and 60 degrees F to 70 degrees F at night. Cooler nights (50 degrees F to 60 degrees F) help maximize a mum's bloom time of up to three weeks.

 

Helpful Tips: If a chrysanthemum plant is bought in its bud stage, it will need bright light near a sunny window to encourage the buds to open. Once on full bloom, it may tolerate lower light. If a chrysanthemum plant develops yellow leaves and black flower centers, it is an indication that the light is too low. Be sure to avoid direct, full sunlight, which can burn the flowers.

 

When you buy potted chrysanthemums grown in Texas, you're getting the healthiest, freshest plants available on the market. Distance does make a difference, and buying a plant grown locally means less travel time for your chrysanthemum to ship directly to your local retailer - best of all, it's already acclimated to the ever-changing Texas weather. Look for the distinctive GO TEXAN logo - a glowing brand in the shape of Texas - to help you find chrysanthemums from Texas at a glance.

 

Long live the Queen! Long live the Chrysanthemum!

 

To learn more about where to find Texas-grown chrysanthemums, find out more about the incredible array of our Texas-grown plants, or to order TDA's horticulture publications, visit the GO TEXAN Web site at www.gotexan.org or call (877) 99 GO-TEX.

 

Fall Fertilizing

By George Ayres
Texas Department of Agriculture
September 2010

 

Since we often have such long, hot summers here in Texas, we're usually faced with a couple of difficult gardening questions: How do we keep our plants alive during the heat wave? And when the heat finally subsides, how do we rejuvenate our landscapes?

 

A fertilization program should include timely fertilizer applications in amounts and formulations that meet the requirements of your lawn. Excessive nitrogen applications stimulate production of leaves and stems, and increase the mowing requirements. Higher water requirements, increased thatch and increased susceptibility to insects and diseases also result from excessive application of nitrogen.

 

"Fall fertilization is the key to prolonging fall color and promoting early spring's recovery of lawns," said Dean Nelson, owner of Nelson Plant Food. "It also helps to produce a dense turf, which resists winter weeds."

 

Fertilizers used in the fall should be high in nitrogen and potassium, and low in phosphorus. Grass fertilized in the fall with nitrogen and potassium has shown greater survival during winter months and faster spring recovery than grasses fertilized with high phosphorus materials in the fall.

 

Mulch holds in moisture around your plants while also fending off weeds that are eager to takeover. If you don't yet have mulch in your flowerbeds, now is the time to add it. Also, remember not to water in the heat of the day or in the evenings because in cooler evening temperatures water on your plants can cause fungus. If you water in the early morning, it conserves water because it allows plants a chance to absorb moisture and prevent excessive evaporation. This schedule also gives your water bill a slight break!

 

Planting appropriate summer plants and fertilizing properly is crucial to maintaining a stellar looking summer lawn. Texas produces many types of fertilizers for all your landscape needs, whether to increase number, size and quality of the blooms, or stem growth.

 

When applying fertilizer, avoid doing it in the heat of the day, which increases the chance of burning your plants. Also, water thoroughly after every application of fertilizer and continue feeding your turf and flowers throughout the summer. Heat can sometimes cause stress on your plants, and the last thing you want to do is to have your plants be deficient in much-needed nutrients.

 

For more information about fall fertilizing, visit www.nelsonplantfood.com/. To find a  fertilizer company, visit the GO TEXAN  Product Search.

 

Have a Happy, Healthy and Hearty Holiday Cactus

George Ayres
Texas Department of Agriculture
November 2006
 

 

 

The clocks have been changed. Cooler breezes have prevailed, and the buzz of holiday shopping is right around the corner.

 

Here at the Texas Department of Agriculture we're gearing up for the cheerful holiday season with an added twist in the plant-giving category - the holiday cactus.

 

While the poinsettia remains the most popular of the holiday gift plants, a healthy, full-blooming holiday cactus, sometimes called a Christmas cactus, makes a beautiful gift for friends or family.

 

Blooming from mid November to mid December, the holiday cactus has glossy, flat, chain-like segments and forms a flower that can be a variety of colors. Texas produces approximately 500,000 holiday cacti per year. 

 

"Not only are they beautiful plants but they're also great for customers who are looking for something different," said Patrick Berry of Vickery Wholesale Greenhouse. "They're also very easy to care for."

 

For years, the holiday cactus has been a favorite houseplant for many. It's easy to grow and it's not unusual for a single plant to be passed down from generation to generation.

The holiday cactus has the ability to rebloom if provided 12 hours of light and 12 hours of complete darkness every day between Labor Day and October 15.

 

We've added some tips for the long life of your healthy holiday cactus:

 

  • When the flowering period is finished, an active growth period will commence. Keep the plant in a sheltered place until danger of freezing is over.
  • Water carefully, keeping in mind that overwatering is the major cause of failure with holiday cactus. Soak the potting medium when watering, then allow the plant to become almost dry before watering again.
  • Fertilize with a water-soluble 20-20-20 fertilizer with trace elements while in an active growth stage.
  • Reduce water and fertilizer in August in preparation for the beginning of bud development, which is regulated by the shortening of fall days, along with cooler night temperatures. By late October and early November buds should be evident.
  • Remember: The keys to getting holiday cactus to flower during the holiday season are proper light exposure, correct temperatures and limited watering. So, during the fall months, place your holiday cactus in a spot where it receives bright, indirect indoor light during the daylight hours and total darkness at night.

 

To learn more about where to find Texas-grown holiday cactus and an incredible array of other Texas-grown plants, or to order TDA's horticulture publications, visit the GO TEXAN Web site at gotexan.org or call (877) 99 GO-TEX. 

 

 

 

Help Your Plants Survive the Texas Winter

Mostly known for triple-digit summers, Texas is rarely recognized for its temperamental and variable winters. When the temperatures drop to freezing and below in January and February we, along with our plants, must be prepared for whatever the Texas winds choose to blow our way. While drinking hot cocoa by the warm fire inside, remember to take the following precautions to protect your plants and flowers outside.

  • Make sure plants are free of insects and pests to ensure they are healthy going into the colder months.
  • Cover your beds and plants with a one- to two-inch layer of compost, mulch or bark to protect from sudden changes in temperature or moisture. During especially low temperatures, add blankets held down by bricks or rocks.
  • Check plants regularly to ensure they are receiving enough light and moisture. Do not immediately disregard seemingly dead plants. Wait and see if they could possibly return to life in the spring.
  • Test and work garden soil and slowly acclimate it to the warmer temperatures. You might need to add organic matter or other soils and fertilizers before spring.

Your local nurseries are always available to offer gardening tips for cold and freezing temperatures, as well as advice on how to keep your plants and flowers strong for spring. For a list of  nurseries, visit the GO TEXAN Product Search.

 

Indoors or Out, Plants Spruce Up Small Spaces

When the walls start closing in and the great outdoors narrows to a few cramped corners, some well-placed plants can help ease the squeeze. Whether a patio needs pizzazz or an office calls for a pick-me-up, potted plants add a natural dash of color and life.

 

Now that spring is in the air, the Texas Department of Agriculture invites you to browse the nursery aisles of our GO TEXAN plant producers. Potted plants liven up any indoor or outdoor area, and Texas offers a wide variety of colorful choices. Adding greenery is a great way to bring the outdoors inside or to spruce up a front stoop or window box. Even the smallest areas can be made more inviting with the addition of container plants or hanging baskets.

 

If space prohibits meticulously manicured landscaping or glass-ceiling atriums, there are still plenty of options for exercising your green thumb. Get creative, shop around for decorative plants and containers, and make the most of the indoor and outdoor corners of your world.

 

Indoors

If indoor color is what you need, consider the following plants to brighten your home or office.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • Moth Orchid: Favoring bright windows without direct sunlight, Moth orchids can produce year-round white and pink-purple blooms. Water thoroughly and wait until nearly dry before replenishing. Clumped together in small pots, moth orchids make an attractive bouquet. 
     
  • Bromeliads: A member of the pineapple family, bromeliads vary widely in size, shape and foliage, but are extremely adaptable to indoor environments. Bromeliads grown indoors will most often lack stems and feature a rosette-shaped reservoir that retains water. Daily misting helps promote longstanding, colorful blooms.  
     
  • Chrysanthemums: Known for big, beautiful blooms and a wide array of colors, chrysanthemums grow best near a bright window without harsh, direct sunlight. Shop for mums with dark green leaves, strong stems and slightly opened blooms. Plant in well-drained potting soil and water as needed to maintain color and form. 
     
  • Kalanchoes: A type of succulent, the kalanchoe is marked by exotic-looking coral-colored leaves branching from a single, thick stem. The plant is a favorite anytime of year and makes a great gift. Blooms can be pink, orange, white, salmon, red or lavender. Grow kalanchoes in a sunny windowsill and group together for visual impact. 
     
  • Azaleas: Regarded as one of the most beautiful flowers in Texas, azaleas grow best in filtered sunlight and well-drained, highly organic soil. Blooms range in color and size, and with proper selection, can prosper from March to May. Bloom colors include white, pink, red, lavender and orange. Mulching helps protect the shallow root system. Azaleas also are well known for adding outdoor beauty and often are the focal point of many glorious gardens.

 

Outdoors

Fortunately for Texans, the TexasSuperstar program offers a variety of hardy and attractive plants that stand up well against summertime heat. Overseen by Texas A&M University’s Agriculture program, the TexasSuperstar initiative promotes plants that make the grade during stringent field trials that measure durability, resilience to the elements and, of course, the inherent beauty that only could come from Mother Nature. Visit www.TexasSuperstar.com for more information about these Texas-tough plants.

 

  • Texas Gold Columbine: Ideal for planting in the spring, this flowering bright yellow beauty is a hummingbird favorite and works well as a container plant or garden accent. Marked by year-round gray-green foliage, long stems and seasonal flowers, the Texas Gold Columbine requires well-drained soil and filtered to full sunlight in summer and winter, respectively. 
     
  • New Gold Lantana: A prolific bloomer from spring until winter, the New Gold Lantana is low-maintenance and resilient to heat and drought. Requiring full sun and adaptable to most soil types, this spreading woody shrub makes a great choice for patio containers. 
     
  • VIP (Violet in Profusion) Petunia: Resilient to climate changes and disease pressure, this spreading, reddish-violet petunia blooms from spring until frost and works well in window boxes, hanging baskets and patio containers. Plant VIP petunias in well-drained soil during spring and summer, and place in full sun or partial shade. 
     
  • Laura Bush Petunia: A spreading plant with medium-sized violet flowers, the Laura Bush Petunia is heat tolerant and resilient against disease. Named after the First Lady, the Laura Bush Petunia requires full sunlight and does well in window boxes, patio containers and hanging baskets.

 Texas Superstars are some of the most robust plants you can find and they make a great addition to outdoor areas and can thrive with minimal care due to their inherent toughness.

 

Indoors or outdoors, it’s easy to cheer up small spaces with GO TEXAN plants. Visit the GO TEXAN Product Search and brighten your world today. For more information about GO TEXAN plants contact Jessica.Martini@TexasAgriculture.gov.

 

See The Forest For The Trees This Holiday Season

David Glessner
Texas Department of Agriculture
November 2006
 

 

 

Trimming the tree means more than stringing shimmering lights each holiday season when Texas Christmas tree farmers invite spirited shoppers to select their very own pine-scented centerpiece starting the day after Thanksgiving.

 

According to the Texas Department of Agriculture, approximately 200 Christmas tree farms cover 2,500 acres of the Lone Star State. Since commercial Texas growers first gained prominence in 1977, the evergreen acreage has turned the tree-shopping tradition into an adventure that often includes such varied attractions as educational tours, petting zoos, hay rides, nature trails and other festive activities.

 

"We're selling the experience more than the tree," said Robert Childress, state president-elect of the Texas Christmas Tree Growers Association. "There are a lot of pictures being taken and people having a lot of fun."

 

Fresh, fragrant and more likely to hold their needles than non-native trees, Texas trees can last as long as six weeks when properly watered and maintained. Whether opting for a fresh choose-and-cut or pre-cut tree, thousands of Texas-grown evergreens will go home for the holidays.

 

"Despite a tough year with the drought, production is good and producers expect a good year," said Richard De Los Santos, state marketing coordinator for horticulture, produce and forestry for TDA. "The industry hopes to sell about 125,000 Texas trees."

 

Characterized by short needles, dense foliage and its distinctive pine fragrance, the Virginia pine has been the most widely planted southern Christmas tree for the past three decades. Its counterpart, the Afghan pine, features widely spaced branches and offers a more open appearance. Most plentiful throughout East and Central Texas, Afghan pine farms can be found as far west as Abilene, Odessa and a few other West Texas towns.

 

Choosing and cutting a Texas tree provides more than unforgettable holiday memories, it also helps realize an economic impact of roughly $15 million to the Texas economy. Before harvest, the trees also provide natural shelter for Texas wildlife such as birds and rabbits. And even when the ribbons unravel and the calendar marks a new year, recycled Texas Christmas trees offer the added benefit of being biodegradable.

 

"One of the byproducts of recycled trees is mulch," added De Los Santos. "Mulch made from Christmas trees is an excellent source of organic matter and nutrients. In areas close to the coast, recycled trees are used to create sand dunes, which protect Texas beaches from erosion."

 

For a complete listing of Texas Christmas tree farms, visit the Texas Department of Agriculture's Pick Texas Web site at www.picktexas.com/. You can also visit the Texas Christmas Tree Growers Association Web site at www.texaschristmastrees.com/ for a listing. Be sure to call ahead before you head out. Open dates and hours are subject to change. In some drought-affected areas, choose-and-cut farms may be temporarily closed.

Visit online or call your Christmas tree farm of choice for a list of provided tools and equipment.

Note:
Wrap it Up

Be prepared for cooler weather and rough terrain when choosing and cutting your Christmas tree.

  • Wear warm, layered clothing to beat the chill.
  • Keep toes warm and protected with comfortable work boots or sturdy shoes.
  • Protective gloves will help ward off scrapes, splinters and cuts.
  • Bundle up the kids with layers, hats and scarves.
  • Bring a backpack for carrying snacks, drinks, a camera and additional supplies.

 Checking it Twice

For a holiday season that is memorable and merry, place safety at the top of your Christmas tree list.

  • Keep tree regularly watered to prevent dryness.
  • Check all wires and cords for proper insulation.
  • Never use candles in place of decorative lights.
  • Keep trees away from fireplaces and other heat sources.


Summer Landscaping

By George Ayres
Texas Department of Agriculture
May 2010

Spring brought us our fair share of rain, and with summer right around the corner, we'll have a new variety of Texas plants to enjoy. Now's the time to plant tough Texas native and Southwest desert plants to ensure your landscape is ready for those sun-soaked and often overly dry summer months.

 

Cacti and succulents are one of the least demanding plants for your Texas landscape and are well adapted to our summer climate.

 

Below is information to help you find the right Texas native and Southwest desert plant.

 

CACTI

Most cacti need little rainfall and sandy, well-drained soil to do well; however, just about all soil types in Texas will support some species of cacti, even clay soils. Popular cacti include Texas Fish-Hook Barrel, Prickly Pear and Hedge Hog. 

 

Texas Fish-Hook Barrel cactus is a rounded solitary cactus with pure yellow to red-orange flowers that bloom in late spring and produce yellow edible fruit.

 

Prickly Pear, also known as nopal, has yellow, red or purple flowers. Fruit and pads are edible, but the tiny, barbed spines on the pads must first be carefully removed.

 

Hedge Hog cactus produces showy red fruit and goblet-shaped flowers that stay open at night. Its cylindrical stems grow up to 1 foot tall.

 

SUCCULENTS

Most succulents can be grown in any sunny, well-drained area and require little maintenance.

 

Agaves

Agaves are ornamental succulents that vary significantly in size, color, form and flowers.  Their bold shapes contrast sharply with other landscape plants to provide a dramatic accent. Agaves have sword-shaped leaves and produce a tall spike covered with flowers. Two popular Texas-grown types are Agave mapisaga, a large plant with excellent heat tolerance, and Agave samiana, or century plant, which flowers once in a lifetime. Its average lifespan is 25 years.

 

Yuccas

Yuccas are hardy, drought-tolerant landscape plants with spiky foliage and magnificent springtime flower clusters. A member of the agave family, yuccas complement landscapes from desert to traditional.

 

From the Horticulture section, download your Root for Texas brochure , a handy guide to choosing Texas native and Southwest desert plants for your landscape. To find Texas-grown native and Southwest desert plants, simply look for the GO TEXAN mark.

 

Texas Roses - Blooming with Texas Pride

By George Ayres
Texas Department of Agriculture
May, 2009

In Texas, we love our roses, and we're not shy about showing them off. In fact, it's practically a display of state pride to grow them. We work hard landscaping our gardens throughout the spring. We delve, dig, till and toil to make sure our roses shine when the time is right.

 

Whether antique, hybrid tea, miniature or Texas SuperStars®, roses provide a blanket of color across the landscape for us to enjoy. From climbing roses that provide us with solid sheets of color for a month every spring to miniature roses ideal for that little sunny spot, we cherish the fragrance, color and form.

 

Texans began growing roses during the middle to late 1800s in Smith County near Tyler, and in 1879 the first recorded sale of rose plants occurred. Large-scale commercial production began in the early 1900s, and in 1917 the first train carload was shipped. The pleasing climate and rich soil of Smith, Van Zandt, Gregg, Cherokee, Harrison and Upshur counties provide ideal conditions for large-scale commercial rose growing and production.

 

A more recent and popular addition to the many Texas rose varieties is the Earth-Kind® rose. Based on years of extensive field research conducted by Texas A&M University horticultural experts, Earth-Kind® roses are the most thoroughly tested landscape roses for use in Texas landscapes. Only a few, very special varieties possess the extremely high level of landscape performance coupled with the outstanding disease and insect tolerance/resistance required to receive this designation.

 

"Earth-Kind® roses are a rebirth to the rose industry," said Mark Chamblee, owner and president of Chamblee's Rose Nursery in Tyler. "They have generated new consumer interest in rose products throughout the state."

 

The objective of Earth-Kind® is to combine the best of organic and traditional gardening and landscaping principles to create a new horticultural system based on real-world effectiveness and environmental responsibility.

 

The goals of Earth-Kind® roses include:

  • landscape water conservation;
  • safe use and handling of fertilizers and pesticides; and
  • reduction of yard wastes entering landfills.

For more information about Texas roses or Texas horticulture, contact Jessica Martini at Jessica.Martini@TexasAgriculture.gov or (512) 463-2496.

Texas Tree Profile: The Lacey Oak

By George Ayres
Texas Department of Agriculture
March 2010

 

Blue oak, canyon oak, mountain oak, smoky oak, rock oak ... all different names for the same great Texas tree! Official name ... (drum roll, please) ... Lacey Oak!

 

Regardless of the name, this plant has much to offer as a landscape plant in its native Texas. Named for Howard Lacey, who first collected specimens on his property near Kerrville, the Lacey Oak is a beautiful small oak, native to the Texas Hill Country. With its spreading canopy of attractive bluish-green foliage, it provides a nice habitat for wildlife. Its high heat tolerance and resistance to drought, alkaline soil and pests put the Lacey Oak in the esteemed Texas Superstar® category, a distinction awarded by Texas AgriLife Research and Extension, part of the Texas A&M system. The Lacey Oak is a super-performing plant under Texas growing conditions.

 

It grows wild on the thin, hard limestone escarpments of the Edwards Plateau in central Texas. Its leaves are peach-colored when they emerge in the spring, then turn a dusky-blue to blue-gray in the summer. The Lacey Oak makes wonderful shade trees for small yards. The largest known Lacey Oak grows in Blanco County.

 

Exposure: full sun
Height: 25 feet
Plant type: deciduous tree
Planting time: fall and spring
Soil type: will survive in well-drained clay soils and grows best in well-drained limestone soils
Suggested uses: xeriscapes or low water-use landscapes are perfect conditions for growing Lacey Oak. Works best as a shade tree in a small to medium landscape
Special notes: Best adapted to the western two-thirds of the state. Do not water too frequently.

 

This beautiful tree adds a touch of the Texas Hill Country to your urban landscape. For more information, visit the GO TEXAN Product Search or contact Jessica Martini at (512) 463-2496

Texas Trees and Plants Keep Fall Landscapes in the Green

By David Glessner
Texas Department of Agriculture
August, 2007

 

Spring is the most celebrated season for flowering blooms and colorful landscapes, but fall also brings its share of possibilities for sprucing up your lawn.

As another page is torn from the calendar, the Texas Department of Agriculture reminds you there is plenty of seasonal greenery that will flourish when temperatures begin to cool.

"Our climate coupled with a variety of available fall perennials and other plants, allows Texas growers to produce year-round shrubs and foliage to keep lawns and gardens looking good all year," said Richard De Los Santos, TDA's state marketing coordinator for horticulture, produce and forestry. "From flowering perennials to bulbs and evergreen foliage, fall is actually the best time to plant trees and shrubs because it allows for root development and establishment." 

If trees are what you please, the Texas soil and climate are conducive to a variety of oaks and maples, including the shantung maple.

Designated a Texas Superstar due to its ability to thrive in direct, hot sun, drought conditions and high humidity (excepting far West Texas), a mature shantung maple is characterized by its spreading canopy and red- to reddish-orange late fall foliage. The shantung is sometimes called the "purpleblow maple" due to the early purplish leaves that flutter in the wind before becoming more rigid and changing colors. Early shantung plantings do best when their thin-barked trunks are wrapped to prevent sun-damage during the first three growing seasons.

Another Texas Superstar is the native chinkapin oak, which also is known as the bray oak, chestnut oak, yellow chestnut oak or rock oak. An excellent shade tree that produces large, four- to six-inch-long leaves, the medium-sized chinkapin grows between 30 and 50 feet tall, and produces early red foliage that later turns green. The chinkapin also produces acorns and is very heat- and drought-tolerant. It also is resistant to insects and disease. In the fall, the chinkapin's coloring turns an attractive blend of yellow, orange and brown. 

If versatility is a priority, consider the fast-growing Texas lilac. Also known as vitex or chaste tree, this plant can be grown to the size of a tree or pruned to an attractive shrub. Another Texas Superstar, vitex is heat-resistant and irresistible to butterflies and hummingbirds thanks to attractive bloom spikes. While vitex requires a bit of maintenance for optimal results, the recommended trimming and seed-pod removal will yield worthwhile color and beauty. 

Other attractive additions are salvias. Known for their long blooming season (spring through fall), salvias produce primarily red flowers although they also can produce shades of yellow, orange, salmon, purple, red-violet and burgundy. Salvias are attractive to hummingbirds and their semi-evergreen foliage keeps them looking good throughout the year.

For flowering foliage that works well in flowerbeds or as container plants, choose the classic chrysanthemum. Offering brilliant blooms (gold, pink, yellow, red, orange and lavender) up until the first hard freeze, chrysanthemums require minimal care and will return each year to offer continuous color. 

A larger landscape option is the native Texas Red Yucca. Known for its drought-tolerance, color and low maintenance, this Southwest desert plant produces leaves up to 3 feet long and flower spikes up to 8 feet tall. As its name suggests, this plant thrives in Texas climates and soil, and is another favorite for hummingbirds.

Clumping grasses that do well in Texas include Gulf Muhly and Lindheimer's Muhly. Gulf Muhly can grow as high as 30 inches and produces pink fall plumes. The Lindheimer variety can grow as high as 48 inches and produces stout, upright, silver-gray plumes. Both make great accent plants.

Visit the Texas Department of Agriculture GO TEXAN Product Search for a comprehensive listing of GO TEXAN producers who offer shrubs and trees that thrive in cooler Texas temperatures.

For more information, contact Jessica Martini, TDA's Program Specialist for Specialty Crops at (512) 463-2496 or Jessica.Martini@TexasAgriculture.gov.

Time to plant your Texas bulbs!

By George Ayres
Texas Department of Agriculture
January 2011

 

Flowering plants that grow from a bulb are popular additions to Texas gardens. Many types of bulbs grow well in Texas, including day lilies, irises, gladiolas, amaryllis, daffodils, ranunculus, calla lilies, dutch irises and scilla, or Spanish bluebells.

In spring, when the days are short and the temperatures cool, hardy flowering bulbs pop up through the soil and brighten our gardens with color.

 

Below are a few suggestions for bulbs that work well in most Texas gardens when planted in late winter:

  • Amaryllis
  • Lilies: Rain (Habranthus robustus, Zephyranthes grandiflora)
             Crinum (Ellen Bosanquet, Powellii album)

Whether the soil is sandy, clay or loam, as long as it is well-drained, blooming spring bulbs are not too particular about soil types. They prefer sunlight when blooming, and are inexpensive and easy to care for.

 

Below are a few tips to help with your spring planting:

  • If the soil is heavy, use a sand mixture to back-fill over the bulbs.
  • For best effect, plant bulbs in clusters of 12 or more. Space these clusters throughout the garden among shrubs, along walks or around trees.
  • Set the bulbs firmly in place, pointed end up. Then, water liberally.
  • Plant daffodils and hyacinths 6 inches deep and 6 inches apart.
  • Remove the seed pods after the flower is spent, but leave the stem and leaves. Allow them to turn yellow. They continue to produce carbohydrates that will strengthen the bulb.
  • Bulbs that are good for indoor forcing, or promoting development by artificial means, include crocus, Narcissus, grape hyacinths, daffodils and hyacinths.
  • Avoid using tulips or Dutch hyacinths that have not been pre-cooled for 60 days.
  • Before placing the bulbs, prepare the soil by mixing equal parts soil, peat and sand. Place a 1-inch layer of gravel in the bottom of the pot. Firm the soil around the bulbs, leaving the tips of large bulbs showing above the surface. Barely cover small bulbs and space them about 1/2-inch apart in the pot.
  • The newly potted bulbs should be stored at a temperature of 40 to 50 degrees F. Success with forcing bulbs depends upon their developing roots during the cold storage period. Keep soil moist but not saturated.
  • The vegetable drawer in the refrigerator provides excellent growing conditions. After the cold storage treatment, place the bulbs in a cool, semi-lighted location. Gradually move to sunnier locations for good growth and color. Do not allow the bulbs to dry out at any time during the forcing period.

For more information about bulbs, visit www.southernbulbs.com/.

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