Our gardens are full of beauty. We take great pride in the colorful flowers and lush veggies we so carefully nourish. When we see “critters” chowing down on the fruit of our labor sometimes the first instinct is to run for a chemical that will kill them and do it fast. The problem is that many of the insects and other creatures are an important part of maintaining a balance in our garden. Even though they are sometimes scary looking they can be our partners in pest control.
Integrated pest management (IPM) is a cost effective strategy to avoid, prevent, and manage pest damage with minimum harm to human health, the environment, and nontarget organisms. IPM is the pest management strategy implemented by the Texas AgriLife Extension Service. Insecticides should be used only as a last resort as they are harmful to the environment and to us. They don’t discriminate between beautiful butterflies and ugly Leaf-footed bug pests. A strong spray of water from the hose will knock off Aphids and they will not be able to return to the plant. Those nasty Hornworms devouring your precious tomatoes can best be eliminated by putting on your garden gloves and picking them off by hand. Learning how to recognize the beneficials as allies will make your pest control job easier.
SOME BENEFICIAL INSECTS
These hard working predators include Lacewings, Assassin bugs, Lady beetles (yes Ladybugs are actually beetles), Praying Mantids, Dragonflies,
Damselflies, and Spiders. These are just a few of the helpers that control the insect population.
The adult Assassin Bug is often found doing his job devouring a broad range of prey including Aphids. He is considered a beneficial in spite of his ominous name. Caution, do not attempt to handle him. He will bite.
Assassin Bug picture from Garden Insect Field Guide, Fort Bend County Entomology Group, Master Gardeners
Pollinators include Butterflies, Honeybees, Hoverflies, Wasps and many others. According to the U.S Department of Agriculture, pollinators are responsible for 80% of the worlds flowering plants. Without them humans and wildlife wouldn’t have much to eat or look at. It is estimated pollinators are worth at least 20 billion dollars annually just in the United States. Many species are threatened and crop production is decreasing because of a shortage of pollinators.
Decomposers are possibly the most underappreciated of all the beneficials. They live off of the nutrients held in dead organisms. Without the work they do we would be overwhelmed with dead bodies and organic wastes. They include the humble Earthworm as well as Slugs, Snails, Bark Lice, Ox or Elephant beetle to name just a few.
Earthworms aerate the soil and enrich it in the form of castings. The castings are a desirable natural fertilizer. People spend money on Earthworm castings but wouldn’t it be much better to welcome them to your garden by maintaining a healthy soil? Given the right environment, in 90 days the total number of earthworms in an area can double.
Take a little time in your garden every day, be observant of the activities and the interaction taking place there. Gardening connects us to nature and helps us better understand how nature works.
- Kathy Gilmore
For questions about IPM (integrated pest management) Master Gardener Volunteers are available to help you find answers to all your basic questions. Email: FortBendmg@ag.tamu.edu Phone 281-341-7068 Fax 281-633-7070
Texas A&M AgriLife Extension service offers the knowledge and resources of both Texas A&M and Prairie View A&M Universities to educate Texans for self-improvement, individual action and community problem solving. We are a part of a statewide educational network and a member of the Texas A&M University system which values and promotes citizen and community involvement, scientifically-based education, lifelong learning, and volunteerism. Extension is linked in a unique partnership with Fort Bend County Commissioners’ court and the nationwide Cooperative Extension System.
This has been a beautiful spring. We had a light winter, plenty of rain and everything in our gardens has a head start. I have tomatoes blooming that were planted last fall. With so many things doing well I suggest branching out with edible landscaping. Why not explore adding edibles to your landscape design? It is a very practical idea. There are many edibles that will integrate beautify with your flowers and shrubs. They not only look good but they taste good. Most of us in Meadows Place have limited space for a large vegetable plot or a formal herb garden. Try a little creativity and have fun with herbs in containers, in beds, and any place your imagination leads you.
Rosemary is one of my favorite herbs. I like to nestle it in the annuals around the front door and approach walkway. The big bonus is the welcoming scent greeting friends and neighbors before I come to the door. There are many varieties. The prostrate variety grows about two feet high and make beautiful borders. It will also cascade nicely from a container. The upright variety grows taller and will mix well with flowers they like full sun and well-drained soil. They are evergreen and will not need to be changed out with the seasonal plants. It is handy to run out and snip a little and it responds well to pruning. Rosemary is one of my favorite culinary tools. I use it with meat and bread. Just for fun try my Rosemary Refrigerator Cookie recipe. It has an intriguing flavor.
Rosemary Refrigerator Cookies
1 cup all-purpose flour 1 ¾ t grated lemon zest
1/2cup each butter and sugar 1/8 t salt
1 egg yolk beaten powdered sugar
½ t vanilla
2 T chopped fresh rosemary
Combine flour and butter with a pastry blender until mixture resembles coarse meal.Add sugar; mix well. Add egg yolk, vanilla, rosemary, lemon zest and salt. Blend well and shape into oblong rolls. Wrap in wax paper and chill overnight. Slice ¼ inch thick. Sprinkle with powdered sugar. Bake at 350 degrees 10 minutes. Makes 5 dozen cookies.
Mint is another herb that has many varieties. It tends to spread in the garden and can take over if it is happy. I like to tame it by keeping several specimens in hanging baskets on my patio. It drapes well, can’t become unruly and it likes the relative shade there. I like to use it to garnish. And it is fun to make a simple syrup with mint to add to beverages like tea and Mint Julips.
Lemon grass is another multipurpose herb. It contains citronella. The rustle of slender grasses is soothing around a patio and the citronella provides protection from pesky mosquitos. Many Asian dishes call for Lemon Grass. Actually use it in any dish that calls for lemon flavor. It is best to harvest the tender stalks from the center of the plant.
Basil loves warm weather. It is an annual so you will need to plant from seeds or if you waited till now it is readily available at the nurseries. Again there are many varieties. The most traditional is Sweet Basil which grows to about 2 feet in height. It will keep you busy trimming back to keep it from blooming. When it is happy you will have a challenge trying to use it all. That’s when I like to make pesto and freeze it for the cold months. Then let it bloom. The pretty white flowers will enhance your borders and the butterflies will visit often. Thai basil is used in many dishes from Thailand and valued for its unique flavor. It will produce purple flowers.
Caprese salad with Basil pesto and Balsamic vinegar and home grown tomatoes.
Slice tomatoes, top with fresh Mozzarella cheese, garnish with fresh Basil leaves and pesto, drizzle Balsamic vinegar.
My best resource for this article came from an excellent book by Cheryl Beesley. The title is Landscaping with Edible Plants in Texas, Texas A&M University Press. I highly recommend it for your garden library. The information on how to integrate your landscape with edibles is comprehensive. It will give you all the how to plant, where to plant, and what to plant; in addition to practical advice on layout, soil preparation, fertilization and much more.
- Kathy Gilmore
For questions about your home landscape and plants Master Gardener Volunteers are available to help you find answers to all your basic gardening questions. Email: FortBendmg@ag.tamu.edu Phone 281-633-7070 Fax 281-633-7070
Texas A & M AgriLife Extension service offers the knowledge and resources of both Texas A & M and Prairie View A & M Universities to educate Texans for self -improvement, individual action and community problem solving. We are a part of a statewide educational network and a member of the Texas A&M University System which values and promotes citizen and community involvement, scientifically-based education, lifelong learning, and volunteerism. Extension is linked in a unique partnership with Fort Bend County Commissioners’ court and the nationwide Cooperative Extension System.
March 1 is the date that we can consider ourselves past the danger of frost in our area. Of course Texas weather is full of surprises but it is nice to know we are considered safe to go ahead and perform the garden tasks that tell us to be sure the danger of frost is over.
I have been cleaning my beds taking extra care to dig out weeds rather than just pull them up. This is tedious but pays off in the long run because they are less likely to return. My next step is to mulch. I like to use 4 inches it helps to keep the weeds down and it protects the roots in our hot summer.
Vegetables are going to grow much better in a raised bed. It will provide better drainage and is easier to access making it easier to maintain. Some of the suitable vegetables to plant from seed right now are beans, just about any kind, collards, corn, cucumber, lettuce, radish, and turnips. You can transplant tomatoes, peppers and broccoli. I have already mixed compost into my vegetable bed so it is ready for seeds and plants. When planting seeds, cover the seeds about 2 -3 times the width of the seed with fine soil and water gently so the ground is saturated several inches. Once your seeds sprout thin them early so the ones left will not have to compete for nourishment. It seems harsh to discard of all those baby plants. Consider rinsing them off and using them in salad. Delicious!
My raised bed after planting first seeds. The bed is 25” to the fence making it easy to tend without standing on the soil.
A lush hanging basket is fun to make, adds beauty to any space and can be quite costly if purchased complete. It is an easy project and will give you months of pleasure. First purchase the plants that you will need. Make sure they are compatible in light exposure, water needs, and type of soil. Look for plants that will trail like lantana, lobella, petunias, and bacopa. Prepare your basket by placing a plastic saucer on the bottom if this will be a sun basket. Next mark your liner and cut X slits about 1/3 from the top
Fill the container to slightly below the slit openings and pat soil down gently. Thoroughly soak your plants to help them establish quickly. Cut them from their plastic pots and insert the roots into a plastic bag to protect them as you insert them into the slits. Remove the plastic and use soil to keep in place. Repeat around the pot.
Finally place plants in the center and around the perimeter up to about an inch from the edge. Fill in around each plant and apply slight pressure to firm soil. Making sure the roots are covered. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon slow release fertilizer (14-14-14) over soil. Water thoroughly. You may need to add more soil after the first watering. Top the soil with moss or another mulch to protect the roots and conserve water.
- Kathy Gilmore
Submitted by Kathy Gilmore Master Gardener Fort Bend County. Supported by AgriLife Extension,Texas A & M. For answers to gardening questions, please contact FBMG Hotline.FortBendmg@ag.tamu.edu Phone 281-341-7068 Fax 281-633-7070
Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service offers the knowledge and resources of both Texas A&M and Prairie View A&M Universities to educate Texans for self-improvement, individual action and community problem solving . We are part of a statewide educational network and a member of the Texas A&M University System which values and promotes citizen and community involvement, scientifically-based education, lifelong learning, and volunteerism. Extension is linked in an unique partnership with Fort Bend County Commissioners’ Court and the nationwide Cooperative Extension System.
As soon as Christmas is put away I begin thinking about my garden. There really isn’t much that can be done until the weather is nice enough to be outside and the danger of frost is over. To content myself and assuage that urge to get out there with my pruning shears when it is too early; I concentrate on re-potting my houseplants and spend some time conditioning my garden tools.
To re-pot house plants, you will need a variety of soils. Most garden centers have soils for specific plants and it is important to use the right mixture to give them the best chance of success. Orchids are my first concern. We receive these beautiful flowers often as gifts. They bloom for a few months and then begin to decline. Orchids need to be re-potted after they bloom because most of them are packed in peat moss for shipping. The peat moss will keep the roots damp in the shipping process but will eventually rot the roots. After they drop their flowers change them to an orchid bark medium. Carefully remove the plant from the pot, pull away the peat moss from the roots, trim any damaged roots with scissors cleaned with alcohol. Place the orchid bark in a clean pot and carefully put the plant into the pot adding bark as needed. These plants are used to growing on trees and will need air circulation around their roots. They will do best in an east window. A room with high humidity is good or place the pot in a dish of rocks that you keep wet to increase the humidity. Most orchid pots have a solid bottom so the water cannot get to the plant. Water sparingly once a week.
Succulents are a popular house plant. Cactus soil will work well for them. Most succulents have shallow roots and do well in a soil that does not hold water. I like to put a little charcoal into the bottom of the container. Small charcoal can be purchased in the aquarium department. When you remove the succulent from its old pot, carefully remove any damaged roots and the old soil, place the plant in it’s new clean pot replacing the soil. It is handy to use a plastic fork to lightly pack the soil around the roots. I like to use small decorative rocks on top of the soil to hold things in place.
Common house plants can be repotted in a quality potting soil. It will probably be bound in the pot. Run some water into it to loosen the plant. You will need to hold the plant with one hand while gently knocking the pot against a solid wood surface. The plant may come out in a solid soil and root mass the shape of the pot. If it is not too bad you may be able to run water through it and untangle, trim the unhealthy roots and repot into a new or cleaned pot. Most likely the roots will need a little surgery. In the case of a solid mass, cut away 1/3 of the bottom mass, make 3 or 4 vertical cuts up the side and cut into the circular growth. Untangle with your fingers and pot with new soil. Water and watch it grow. Your plant will be able to absorb nutrients much more efficiently.
To prepare your garden tools for spring begin by cleaning them with a brush and warm soapy water. You can clean and sharpen with fine steel wool. A whetstone or carbide sharpener is even better. Residue can be removed with mineral spirits. Once they are clean and sharp, touch the moving parts with 3 in one oil. A good tip I read about is to have a bucket of sand moistened with boiled linseed oil to dip your tools in after working in the garden. In our climate moisture is the enemy. Hang your tools. Leaving them leaning against the wall even on cement floor will draw moisture.
Remember February 14th is the day designated to prune your roses.
- Kathy Gilmore
Master Gardener Volunteers are available to help you find answers to all your basic questions.
Meadows Place has been invaded by a small but very destructive little critter called the sod webworm. The moth or adult form of these webworms can be seen in the early evening fluttering over the grass. Damage is done primarily in the hot months of July and August by the slender caterpillars which reach about 1 inch in length. They feed on your grass primarily at night. If you have damage to your lawn and have determined it is not chinch bugs it is probably sod webworms.
They live in the thatch just above the soil, where they spin a light webbing and feed on the undersides of grass leaves. The damage will first appear as small irregular brown spots in the grass. The damage can spread rapidly and will quickly destroy large portions of your lawn. It is most prevalent in areas that receive plenty of direct sunlight. Heavily shaded areas are seldom affected. Damage will show up in September and October after the hot and dry months of July and August.
How can you determine if your yard is infested? You may notice the adult moth zig zagging over the turf at dusk. You can examine the thatch layer and the top one inch of soil for larvae, silken tubes and webbing.
To confirm mix ¼ cup of household detergent with two gallons of water. Mark off two separate areas, one square yard each. Apply one gallon to each of the areas. The solution will irritate the caterpillars, causing them to move to the surface within 5-10 minutes. Fifteen or more larvae per square yard in a healthy turf would justify treatment.
There are several organic methods to treat these pests.
1. For light or moderate infestations, combine 2 tablespoons liquid soap into1 gallon tap water. Mark one square yard and sprinkle the mixture to draw the caterpillars to the surface. Then rake and destroy.
2. For a more extensive infestation, Spinosad, a biological agent derived from fermentation, is effective. Mix 2 oz. to 1 gallon. Three gallons will treat 1,000 sq. ft. Refrain from heavy watering and mowing for 12 to 24 hours.
If insecticides are used, please take every precaution and follow the label directions explicitly. Insecticides can be applied in either spray or granular form. The turf should be mowed and clippings removed to enhance insecticide effectiveness. Thoroughly water lawn ½ - ¾ inch prior to application. This will move the webworms closer to the surface. Apply in the late afternoon.
If the damage is from the tropical webworms, a liquid spray applied to the leaves is suggested. Spray solutions can be applied with a garden hose sprayer. Apply at least 15 to 25 gallons of insecticide-water solution to 1,000 square feet of grass. Use insecticides containing acephaqte (Orthene), bendiocarb (Dycarb or Turcam), carbaryl (Sevin), or the microbial insecticides Bacillus thuringiensis ssp. Kurstake (B.t.k.) and ssp. Aizawai (B.t.a.) * The microbial insecticides are specific for caterpillars thus do not harm non-target anthropods or animals Consult the directions given on the container label to determine the approved rate of insecticide application.*
*The insecticide application recommendations are taken from Texas Cooperative Extension which is part of the Texas A & M University System.
What is the difference between soil and dirt? An old gardener saying is that soil is what you grow your plants and flowers in and dirt is what you track in the house. Soil is the foundation of your garden. Successful gardeners have great soil. Great soil is easy to recognize. First of all, it will smell earthy. It will be dark in color and loose in texture. with a rich earthy smell.
Here in Meadows Place we have inherited clay soil. If you are still dealing with clay soil, consider adding a three-inch layer of washed sand and two to three inches of compost. Work it in to about ten inches. Due to the age of our homes I am going to assume most of our yards have been improved from the original clay we were blessed with. If you have never had your soil tested it is a good idea; especially if you have had problems in the past growing season that might indicate a soil deficiency. The county extension office at 1402 Band Rd Rosenberg can provide you with soil sample bags, sampling instructions and information sheets for mailing samples. You can also find the information you need on line through Texas A&M.
To prepare your already established bed for fall planting begin by cleaning up the summer plants and amend the soil for a healthy fall garden. Do not add the discarded plants to your compost. They harbor disease and insects. After you have removed the poor tired sunbaked plants, till the soil by turning it over to a level of 6 to 10 inches. You are now ready to add a layer of compost and work it in. A word about compost. It is a mixture of decayed or decaying organic matter. If you are lucky enough to have your own home made compost you can easily add this to your beds. If not, you can purchase it by the bag at your favorite nursery. Don’t want to maintain a compost pile or bin? Did you know there are three things you can add directly to your soil?
Three things can be added directly to the soil without going through the composting process.
1. Coffee grounds can be placed directly on the beds.
2. Egg shells should be rinsed, dried and crushed.
3. Banana peels cut into small pieces and buried to so as not to entice critters.
This simple process will add nutrients to your soil. This will not replace a complete rejuvenation of your garden soil, but it is a good way to use everyday waste if you are not able to compost.
Other things to add to the soil:
1. Slow release fertilizer should be part of the soil amendment just follow directions on the package. Work it into the soil and add one tablespoon around each plant every three weeks and water it in.
2. Cottonseed meal is not wood-based and does not tie up nutrients in the soil as it breaks down. It is inexpensive, aerates the soil and adds nutrients.
3. Horse or cattle manure may be substituted for commercial fertilizer. But it must be composted first because it is too “hot” to add directly to the soil. Most garden centers sell composted manure.
After adding the fertilizer mix the soil thoroughly. Water the beds with a sprinkler for at least two hours and let the beds rest for several days. Now you are ready to plant your revitalized beds.
Unless specified “seed” your fall garden will do better with transplants. Buy the largest transplants possible. The root system will grow faster and the plants will be more productive. Keep them moist but don’t overwater.
Recommended plants for September
Bush beans (seed), Lima beans (seed), Beets (seeds), Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, Cabbage, Cauliflower, Collards (seed), Cucumber, Garlic(seed), Kale (seed), Lettuce (seed), Radish (seed), Summer squash, and Turnips (seed)
Recommended plants for October
Beets(seed), Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, Cabbage, carrots, chard (seed), Collards (seed), Garlic (seed), Kale (seed), Lettuce (seed), Radish (seed), Spinach (seed), and Turnips (seed)
Other than vegetables in October, plant some spring blooming bulbs around your perennials and shrubs that green up in late spring. Try Ranunculus and Anemone. Seed snapdragons that will grow all winter and fade when it gets hot. Use a winter fertilizer on your lawn.
- Kathy Gilmore
Master Gardener Volunteers are available to help you find answers to all your basic questions.
Kathy Gilmore is a Master Gardener for Fort Bend County and maintains the "Garden" page on this website, providing bi-monthly gardening tips. She and her husband, Dan, are longtime residents of Meadows Place.