Purple Bindweed – The Thorn in My Side

In II Corinthians, Paul talks about enduring a “thorn in his side”.  While no one knows exactly what the thorn was, most agree that God gave it to Paul so that, despite his many blessings, he would not become too prideful in his faith.  That story comforts me because each year the Lord “blesses” me with some new gardening “thorn” that keeps me humble about my garden and my gardening abilities.  This year, my thorn came in the form of a beautiful (but noxious) vining plant called purple bindweed!  While the flowers of this noxious weed are truly beautiful, that beauty does not make up for the overall nastiness of this weed.

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The flowers of purple bindweed are definitely beautiful

Purple bindweed is a native Texas morning glory.  It is also an aggressive vining plant that will literally grow over anything in its path.  One plant can send out trailing, twisting vines that stretch out over 15 feet.  While I have to admit, when those vines cover a fence and explode with flowers, the effect is very beautiful.  However, when they creep up your sugar cane or get twisted in with cucumbers and cantaloupes, the effect is not so nice.

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Purple bindweed is a native Texas morning glory.

Even though this plant is literally driving me crazy, I have to admire its shear survivability.  Each plant can produce 500 or more seeds.  The seeds have a very thick seed coat that can lay dormant in the soil for 20 years (some say 50 years or more).  The plant develops an extensive root system that can grow 10 feet or more into the soil.  Because of this, you can pull it, dig it or plow it and it will still come back.  In fact, research shows that a 2” piece of root can produce a new plant.  In addition, all of those deep roots make this plant very drought resistant.

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The twisting vines of purple bindweed will be covered in its lovely, lavender blooms.

All of the survival traits that the plant has developed make it very hard to control organically.  The only real option you have is frequent pulling or smothering.  If you decide to pull, realize that you will need to pull every shoot that pops up every three weeks or so for the next three years!  If you want to try and smother it you are going to need to use something like a large sheet of plywood or hardi-plank and you are going to have to leave it in place for years.  However, since the seeds can remain dormant for years, smothering and pulling is really only going to slow down the spread of this weed.

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The vines of bindweed will wrap around anything-even its own vines!

The only way to effectively kill bindweed is with an herbicide.  Even though I do not personally like chemicals, the reality is that some weeds will never be fully contained with organic methods.  If you don’t mind spraying chemicals try Glyphosate (Round Up) or Tripcloyr (Remedy).  Both work well against bindweed.  For the best effect, many recommend mixing up a combination of both Glyphosate (2-3%) and Remedy / Triclopyr (0.25%).   These chemicals will definitely kill the bindweed if you spray it while the plant is actively growing.  For bindweed, the absolute best time to spray is when it is blooming.  NOTE:  These chemicals will definitely kill the bindweed.  Unfortunately they will also kill just about everything else that is actively growing.  Be careful to avoid overspray when applying this (or any) herbicide.  Also, apply just enough herbicide to wet the leaves.  There is no need to soak the plant. There is also no benefit to mixing them in higher concentrations than are listed on the label.

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Even though this plant is driving me crazy, it does attract hummingbirds and other pollinators

The purple bindweed is beginning to bloom at my house.  This means that despite my best organic control efforts, it has beaten me.  This “thorn in my side” is one of just a few plants that have made me question my commitment to organic control methods.  Thank goodness I have St. Paul for inspiration.  Although his “thorn” tormented him his whole life he persevered; and so will I.  However, I have to admit, when I am out there pulling this weed in the Texas heat the thought of spraying it with an herbicide is very tempting!

Posted in Flowers, Gardening Basics, Texas Native, Weed Control | Tagged , , , | 8 Comments

My Best Peaches Ever (and how they got that way)

I am finishing up the last of the best peaches I have ever grown.  While this year’s harvest was not the largest I have ever grown numerically, the individual peaches were the biggest and sweetest that have ever come off of my tree.

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Pinching half of the buds from your peach tree will yield bigger peaches next summer. Photo courtsey of Dr. David Byrne -Texas A&M

I wish I could say that I did something to produce these wonderful peaches.  My unusually large peaches were the result of a bit of bad luck that that kind of turned out to be a blessing in disguise.   On March 3 we got a very bad late season freeze.  When it hit, the redbuds, plums and peaches were in full bloom.  When the ice thawed, my beautiful redbuds looked horrible and all of the flowers were gone from my fruit trees.  I was sure this freeze would ensure that I would harvest exactly zero peaches and plums this summer.

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Two of my favorite things–fresh, home grown peaches and Texas Ware bowls!

While my prediction turned out to be correct for the plums, the peaches surprised me.  A couple of weeks after the freeze I noticed little peaches beginning to form.  Over the next few weeks, the peaches that survived the freeze turned into HUGE peaches.  Now I don’t mean that my peaches were super huge, but they were much larger than they had ever been in the past.

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I love peeling the skins off of peaches after they have been blanched. So fun to squeeze the peach and see it literally jump out of its skin!

Turns out, the freeze actually did me a favor.  While researching my next Texas Gardener article about new white peaches from Texas A&M, I discovered that commercial producers routinely remove (pinch) up to half the buds on each of their trees.  This bud removal allows their trees to produce BIGGER PEACHES!

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Diced peaches in another Texas Ware bowl ready for canning.

When I read this, I understood why my peaches were so big and so good.  The freeze “pinched” my buds for me.  Until now I did not know that this was something that you needed to do.  However, after seeing the results first hand, it is a garden chore that I will now be sure to do every year!

Right now I only have one producing peach tree.  It was literally the first thing I planted when Sally and I bought our little place in Brenham.  Since Sally and I are empty nesters, this one tree produces enough for us to enjoy fresh and also make lots of preserves.  This year, once we ate all we could, she made 24 jars of peach preserves.  If you would like to make your own peach preserves here is a great post with video from the Georgia Peach Council.  Enjoy!

 

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I am lucky to be married to one of the cutest “canners” in the world!

 

Posted in Fruit, Gardening Basics, Trees | Tagged , , | 10 Comments

Celebrate the Fourth at Bayou Bend!

If you live in the “Brenham to Houston” part of Texas, and you have stepped outside this morning, you realize that we have two things to celebrate today-America’s Birthday and lower temperatures!   This cool weather has inspired me to write before I go outside and weed.   Now to me, a cool day of weeding sounds like the perfect way to celebrate America’s birthday (and a day off of work).  However, if you would like to celebrate with something a little less sweaty, load up the kids, your friends and your cameras and head over to Bayou Bend.

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A Continental soldier reads the Declaration of Independence on the back steps of Bayou Bend

Bayou Bend is the perfect place to celebrate America’s Birthday.  Each year, Director Bonnie Campbell brings in living history entertainers dressed in Revolutionary War period costumes.  These “Federalists” and “Red Coats” blend in perfectly with the formal gardens and grounds of this stunning mansion that houses one of the finest collections of early American furniture and artifacts in the nation.

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A young “revolutionary” tries on a “Red Coat”

I have celebrated the Fourth of July many times at Bayou Bend.  My wife worked there and my buddy Bart Brechter still maintains the gardens (with 100% organic methods).  In my mind, Bayou Bend is the most beautiful garden and museum in the U.S.  However, that is not why I go to it’s Independence Day celebration year after year.  I go to learn.  For some reason, I really do not know that much about our country’s early history.  I know Texas history and I know Civil War history but early American history never really stuck.  And that is why I love Bayou Bend on the Fourth.  There is something about listening to costumed performers that brings the history of America to life and makes my brain retain it.  I cannot imagine a better way to celebrate the country I love than by learning more about her.

This young amn is so wrapped up in history he didn't even realize that these guys were from the wrong war!

This young man is so wrapped up in history he didn’t even realize that these guys were from the wrong war!

Bayou Bend is located at 6003 Memorial Drive at Westcott Street and it will be open from 1:00 to 5:00 today.  It is fun, free and educational.  Plus, it will be much less crowded than the mall or the park.  You and your kids can make a Paul Revere hat, get your face painted, hear period music and stroll around one of the most beautiful places in all of America.  Plus, you (and the kids) may learn something about American history that makes you want to celebrate our  great nation even more!

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The butterfly garden is just one of many beautiful things in Miss Ima’s garden

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Gardening in Succession and Companion Planting by Mackenzie Kupfer

I am excited to share a post today from guest blogger Mackenzie Kupher.  Mackenzie is a recent college graduate that studied both zoology and horticulture.  In addition to gardening, Mackenzie writes content and blogs for the Avant Garden Decor website. I love young gardeners and I love supporting them.  Their excitement is contagious and they always make me look at things in a new way.  Enjoy!

Gardening in Succession and Companion Planting

Have you ever wondered how you can keep garden fresh vegetables on the table throughout the whole planting season? It will take much more work and planning than your typical vegetable garden, but the benefits that come along make the extra effort worth it.

The technique is called succession planting, and its overall goal is to maintain a steady income of vegetables with multiple easy to handle harvests. Reaping a single harvest limits your garden’s potential, and will either not accumulate enough food to last, or will produce too much to handle all at once. Knowing what to grow, when to start growing them, and when to pull out the plants that aren’t producing any more are all part of the strategy you will need to consider heading into the planting season.

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Pole beans like Kentucky wonder will continue to produce when summer heat makes it impossible to grow bush beans

Time of year

In order to get the most from your succession planting you will need to start as early in the spring as the weather allows, and let it go as late into the fall as it permits. For a fall Texas garden, see this post on Fava beans. You can figure out when the best time to begin by checking when the last frost date for your area is. After that date, your growing season can begin.

Keep in mind that not all plants will thrive in the early spring, so consider some that benefit from the cooler temperatures and less time in the sun, such as lettuce, snow peas, kale, collards, spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, turnips, rutabagas, beets, carrots, leeks, endive and cabbage. Plan these for early spring and late fall planting times, and maintain the warmer weather vegetables, like tomatoes, corn and squash during the heat of the summer months.

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Broccoli and other cole crops like cabbage, kale and cauliflower are great plants to keep the Texas garden productive in the winter months through early spring.

Harvesting

You will need to be familiar with the timing of your plant’s production rate. Does that plant produce only once in its lifetime like a carrot, or does it continuously produce over time like a tomato plant? Does it reach maturity quickly like a radish, or does it take longer to see progress like an onion? If you are aware of these facts you can gauge when to uproot a spent plant and if you’ll have enough time in the season to plant something else in its place. When planning out the garden, leave some leeway for growing times, as weather and soil quality will play a large part in the punctuality of your plants.

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Radishes and other cool season crops like lettuce and arugula grow quickly and are a great way to keep your garden producing food for the table

Select the vegetables you want to harvest all season long. You will want to plan out when you need to plant your second or third row of this vegetable, keeping in mind growing time, and production time. For example, if you are growing radishes, they will mature between 20-30 days, and each plant will yield a single harvest. So, if you want to continuously have fresh radishes every week, you will need to plant four rows of radishes, each row a week apart. Once row one has been harvested, apply compost and plant new radishes immediately, this way when row four is harvested, row one will be ready again the following week, right on schedule. This gets slightly more complicated with plants that produce for a longer period of time such as tomatoes and peas. The concept is still the same though; you just need to plant fewer rows less frequently.

Growing buddies

Something to keep in mind as you are laying out your garden, there are plants you can place close to others to gain benefits. Certain plants will repel specific bugs, while others can provide shade for less heat tolerable plants.

In some cases, plants can even give off nutrients that another plant requires to thrive. Sometimes, just growing close to another plant simply makes it taste better in the end. Companion planting has so many applications – see this infographic to apply it to your garden in addition to succession planting.

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Marigolds repel stink bugs and some varieties can even kill nematodes

The combination of succession gardening with companion planting requires more planning and attention, but it also helps you yield better results which makes this a step above traditional gardening. If you have a small gardening space, a single harvest will not be enough to maintain a season’s worth of food. On the other hand, if you have a large garden spot, a single harvest will produce too much food and will probably go bad before you can eat it. Succession planting keeps your whole garden producing all season long, without leaving meaningless empty space. With a little hard work and planning, you can get more out of your garden than you ever thought you could.

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Farm to Market Flowers

Debbie Thornton is one of a growing number of people in this country that are doing something I think is very important.  Debbie is the owner of Farm to Market Flowers (FM Flowers) and she is sustainably growing fresh cut flowers for the florists and farmer’s market in Tomball, Texas.   A lot pf people don’t know this, but at least 80% of the cut flowers sold in the US are grown somewhere else.  Each time you buy a bouquet from a grocery store (that is not Whole Foods or Central Market), you are buying products that have been sprayed with every chemical possible and shipped from places very far away.

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Debbie Thronton is a local grower of fresh cut floral products. Look her up every Saturday at the Tomball Farmer’s Market

It doesn’t have to be this way.  When asked if they had a choice between a product created or grown oversees and one grown or created in the US , 78% of respondents said they would buy American.  Unfortunately it can often be difficult to find a local alternative; especially when it comes to fresh cut flowers.  That is why farmers like Debbie, The Association of Specialty Cut Flower Growers (ASCFG) and Debra Prinzing (Slow Flowers) are so important.  These people are working very hard to promote locally and sustainably grown fresh cut flowers and let consumers know that they now have a choice.

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How can you resist buying flowers from a booth this cute?

I learned about Debbie and her farm through one of the nicest and most touching comments I have ever received on my blog.  Here’s the comment:

Thank you Jay. I am growing cut flowers as a result of your article in the Texas Gardener Magazine. I did just what you said and visited the Arnosky’s and met Kim with Billabong. I am in the Association of Specialty Cut Flower Growers and I have been growing for our local farmers market and florists here in Tomball for two years. I was a Master Gardener for several years and heard you speak at the Bear Creek Extension office.

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A load of Debbie’s sustainably grown sunflowers is ready for Market

Luckily, the story of how Debbie became a flower farmer is becoming more common.  After gardening for years, she decided to capitalize on her knowledge and love of growing flowers.  She has now turned her hobby into a small business that provides fresh cut flowers to the Tomball, Texas local area.

It doesn’t take a lot of room to become a flower farmer.  Debbie is currently growing on one fourth of her one acre property.  However, by properly and intensively managing that quarter of an acre, she is able to supply fresh flowers to the weekly Tomball Farmer’s Market and a couple of local florists.  This quarter acre farm has become so successful that she has been able to cut back on her hours at her “real job”.

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It doesn’t take a lot of room to be a flower farmer. Debbie grows all of her flowers on 1/4 of an acre.

I asked Debbie if the hard, hard work of flower farming is worth it. Debbie said “I absolutely love it.  It is hard work, but I love the joy it brings to people. I would definitely recommend it to others. It can be scary at times, but I just try to produce quality flowers and they sell themselves.”

My hat is off to Debbie Thornton and all of the other flower farmers out there that are making a living (or a least a part of their living) providing us with a very beautiful option to the imported, chemical drenched flowers that you find in most outlets.  Debbie’s work ensures that the next time you are in the market for cut flowers, you have a choice.  If you are like me (and Michele Obama who recently decreed that American grown flowers will be used in the White House), it is worth a little effort to “go local” and buy these American grown products.

If you are a flower lover in the Tomball area, head over to the Farmer’s Market and visit with Debbie.  She loves growing these flowers and she loves telling you why they are so special.  Once you buy a bunch of her beautiful, long lasting bouquets you will be hooked.  If you live somewhere else, and would like to buy local flowers, go to the ASCFG website and find out if there is a local grower in your area.  If not, you still have a choice.  Please check out The Slow Flowers website.  This new offering from Debra Prinzing (mother of the field to vase movement and author of “The Fifty Mile Boquet”) will allow you to buy and ship locally grown flowers regardless of where you live.

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Slow Flowers is your source for locally grown fresh cut floral products. Check it out!

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Vitex-TheTexas Lilac (Vitex agnus-castus)

It has now been a whole month since I finished my horticulture degree at A&M.  In that time I have had three people approach me to do landscapes for them (it is interesting to me that people think all horticulturists are landscapers).  One horseman wants me to landscape his two entry gates, my family cemetery wants me to landscape their entrance and another person wants an “LSU Garden” in their yard.  While all three of these projects are very different, all three will feature a very lovely and durable plant – Vitex (Vitex agnus-castus).

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The 12″ flower spike of the Vitex are beautiful and irresistible to butterflies and hummingbirds

Vitex is a small flowering tree that is, in my opinion, one of the best ornamental trees you can own. Its long, curvy, purple-blue flower spikes have earned the vitex the nickname of “The Texas Lilac”.    In addition to its beautiful flower spikes, this little tree can take the heat, endure the drought and is resistant to most pests.  It attracts butterflies and hummingbirds and deer do not like it.  With all it has going for it, this drought resistant tree really is a perfect choice for the Texas homeowner.

Vitex are typically grown as a multi trunked tree.  The multi-trunk look is achieved through pruning.  When grown as a tree they  grow to about 15 feet.  However, some varieties can get as tall as 35 feet.   If left alone from seed, the Vitex will grow into a lovely shrub that makes a stunning hedge that can, with regular deadheading, produce those long, lovely flower spikes throughout the summer.

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My Hyperion daylilies pair nicely with a Vitex I have left in a shrub form

You can find Vitex with pink flowers, mauve flowers and white flowers.  However, most of the Vitex sold in the trade have a purple-blue colored flower that is often called lilac.  The three most common varieties sold here in Texas include Shoal Creek, Montrose and Le Compte.  My friends at Tree Town USA are about to release a new, and as of yet unnamed, dark blue flowering variety.  Look for them this fall at all of the major nurseries or your local big box.

If you want to grow your own Vitex, plant it in the fall.  Like most trees, the cooler weather of fall will allow the plant to establish itself with much less water.  You can also plant it in the winter when it is dormant.  If you miss both of those opportunities you can still plant it in early spring.  Just remember though, the longer you wait, the more effort and water it will take to fully root.

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Since all of these lovely little flowers produce seeds, Vitex can be a bit invasive

While I do love this tree, it does have a couple of small problems.  First, each of those little flowers on those 12” flower stalks will produce a little seed.  Because of this it can be a bit invasive.  This is not a huge problem for the homeowner.  The weed eater and mower can easily control all of the volunteers that sprout in the yard.  However, if planted near a creek or tank, the plant can easily escape and create enough of a problem that it is currently listed as an invasive species on the Texas Invasives website (http://www.texasinvasives.org/plant_database/detail.php?symbol=VIAG).  You can control the spread of this plant by diligently deadheading each spent flower spike before the seeds develop.   The other little problem is allergies.  If you have a sensitivity to tree pollen you may want to avoid this tree.  All of those flowers produce pollen and many people claim to be allergic to it.

vitex-flowers-4As I drive around I notice more and more Vitex in yards, commercial landscapes and along the roads and highways of our great state.  I think this is great.  Vitex is a beautiful and versatile plant that blooms throughout the summer and thrives on average annual rainfall.  It is no wonder that the Texas Highway Department has added them to their list of preferred plants.  If this plant thrives along the hot and dry roadsides and medians of our great state, imagine how well it will perform for you in your yard!

Posted in Flowers, Trees | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Five Tips for Fabulous Homemade Bouquets

Those of you that read on a regular basis know that I love growing flowers just as much as I enjoy growing vegetables.  In fact, I don’t really separate the two in my mind.  Each year my gardens contain both edibles and ornamentals.  While I love watching my flowers grow and bloom, the thing that really excites me is cutting those flowers and turning them into homemade bouquets that I can share with my family and friends.

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This lovely arrangement is comprised of roses, yarrow, dill, mint and salvia — all from my garden

Now I will be the first to admit that I am NOT a talented floral designer.  However, my youngest daughter Whitney is and she loves sharing her tips for creating beautiful homemade floral arrangements with me.  Below are what I believe are her best tips to date.

Tip 1 – Floral arrangements don’t have to be made up of just flowers.  In fact, some of her favorite arrangements have no flowers in them at all in them.  Whitney loves to make homemade bouquets that incorporate branches, grasses and even vegetables.  She also loves using herbs as fillers.  Things like rosemary, thyme and basil add structure and scent to your arrangements.  Plus they last forever in the vase.  In fact, if you leave these herbs in the water long enough many of them will root!  In season, don’t forget to incorporate things from the garden like honeysuckle and fresh fruits and vegetables.

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This late season arrangement uses zinnias, love lies bleeding, wax myrtle foliage and a tatume’ squash!

Tip 2 – Forget the rules.  Don’t worry if the height of your arrangement is not one and a half times as tall as your vase.  In fact, you don’t even have to use a vase.  Don’t worry too much about color either.  While complimentary color schemes are nice, they are not necessary.  Just look around nature, you will see that just about every color is used and they all look fabulous together.  Also, do not be afraid to use just a single variety and color of flower in your arrangements.  Also, vases don’t have to be vases.  A cute container like an old tin can, teacup or sugar bowl can make a good arrangement great.  Whitney also likes to cut the top out of gourds, squash and pumpkins in season.

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I threw this together last month. Notice the weeds? The purple globes are thistle heads from our wildflower meadow.

Tip 3 – Add more flowers.  Your arrangements should be pleasing to the eye.  According to Whitney, most DIYers use too few flowers and not enough fillers in their arrangements.  As you build your arrangement step back several steps and look at it from every angle.  If you see spots that need a little something, add it!  Since you grew the flowers and fillers at home they are free – use them with abandon!

homemade-arrangement-5Tip 4 – If you want your fresh cut floral products to last as long as possible, cut them early in the morning and get them into cool, clean water ASAP.  When you cut, use sharp clippers and cut the stems on an angle and then drop them into a plastic or glass container.  Metal containers and fresh cut flowers do not play well together.  Also, change the water in your vase daily.

Tip 5 – Probably the best tip Whitney ever gave me was “If you can’t create –copy!”  Like I said, I am just not a talented designer.  However, I am a pretty good copier.  Pinterest and Google give us access to thousands of pictures of beautiful floral arrangements every day.  Look at these pictures.  Find things you like and then copy them!

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Cut flowers early in the morning to extend their vase life. Also change your water daily once they are arranged

I hope these tips give you the encouragement you need to get busy cutting and arranging your homegrown flowers!  Even though I don’t feel like I have a gift in this area I have learned that when using beautiful things it is hard to create something unattractive!

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Whitney and Ryan Jump the Broom!

Fathers of sons will never get to experience the feelings of shock, pride, amazement, joy and deep, pure love that overtakes them when they turn around and see their daughter in her wedding gown.  A few weeks ago, my youngest daughter Whitney gave me this incredible gift.   She was beautiful –and I cried.  As I walked her down the aisle, I cried.  When I toasted them, I cried.  As we danced, I cried.  When I hugged her and her new husband Ryan as they were leaving for their honeymoon –well you get it, I cried!

14_0426_whitney_ryan_WED_00578When I was not crying like a little girl, Sally and I had a fabulous time celebrating Whitney and Ryan’s nuptials with all of our (and their) friends and family.  Whitney and Ryan were married in a beautiful afternoon ceremony in Seattle’s Martha Washington Park.  While lovely, it was a bold move.  As our dear friend Debra Prinzing said to us “only a Texan would plan an outdoor wedding in Seattle in April!”  Luckily, their gamble paid off.  Whitney and Ryan were truly blessed to be able to celebrate their love for each other in a beautiful place, on a perfect, rainless day in the Pacific Northwest.

14_0426_whitney_ryan_WED_00419As a man, I may never fully understand why weddings are such big deals to women.  However, after being a part of four weddings in the past four years, I have learned one thing about them.  Weddings are BIG EVENTS and they cannot happen without the help of a whole lot of people that care a whole lot for the bride and groom.  This wedding was no exception.  We could not have done it without the help of many, many caring and generous people.

14_0426_whitney_ryan_WED_02067As a budding (pun intended) floral entrepreneur, Whitney is friends with many talented people.  Several of those friends chipped in to make sure this wedding celebration was beautifully adorned and beautifully documented.  Many thanks to Adam and Alicia Rico of “Bows and Arrows” and Erica Knowles of “Botany 101”.  They used locally sourced, sustainably grown seasonal flowers from the Seattle Wholesale Growers Market to create stunning arrangements that, despite the grandeur of the setting,  pulled the guests in and made them feel a part of the small, intimate event.   Robert Kitayama of KB Farms donated the gardenias that comprised the simple, yet elegant bridal bouquet.  Also, huge thanks go out to Angela and Evan Carlyle of Angela& Evan Photography.  All of the photos in this post were taken by them.  As you can see, their photography is amazing.  They are also incredibly professional and amazingly fun to work with.

14_0426_whitney_ryan_WED_00614Finally, I want to say a very special thank you to Debra Prinzing.  Debra has been so kind and generous to Whitney over the past year and half.  She is the mother of the “Slow Flower” movement in the US and a big part of the reason my daughter moved to Seattle.  To call her a friend greatly understates how entirely wonderful she has been to Whitney and our entire family.  In typical Debra fashion she opened her home to the entire bridal party for the entire day!  She started by hosting the loveliest of bridal luncheons (with help from Cynthia Alexander of Quarry Flower Farm) for all of the women that were there to celebrate with Whitney.  Then, once the luncheon ended, she allowed the wedding party to stay and have hair and makeup done, make floral head pieces for the ceremony and dress.   She even delivered Whitney to the ceremony!

There are many kinds of wedding gifts.  While matching silverware is nice, the giving of your time and talents to make a special day for the people you love is the best gift of all.   Whitney and Ryan, you are blessed to have so many people in your lives that care so deeply for you.  And all of us are blessed to have you in ours!

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Posted in Field Trips, Flowers | Tagged , , , , , , | 14 Comments

Organic Aphid Control

If you have spent much time in the garden, you are familiar with aphids.  These tiny little pests are quite common and quite annoying.  In fact, they are so annoying; lots of people call them plant lice.  Aphids do more damage to agricultural and horticultural plants than any other species of insect.  In fact, one species of aphid almost entirely destroyed the French wine industry in the 1870’s.  They also contributed to the spread of the “Late Blight” fungus that caused the Irish potato famine.

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Aphids do more damage to agricultural and horticultural crops than any other insect. Photo by Bruce Leander

Aphids have modified mouth parts that allow them to drill directly into the phloem and extract all of the rich carbohydrates and sugars that it needs from your plants.  Aphid damage on plants can lead to decreased growth rates, curled leaves, brown spots, low yields and even death.  To make matters worse, aphids are known to spread many different plant viruses.  For example, the green peach aphid is known to spread 110 different viruses.

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This rose bud is covered with aphids in all stages of their development. The white things in the pictures are the skins they shed as they go from one phase to another. Photo by Sally White

Aphid also excrete a substance called “honeydew” that is also harmful to plants.  Aphids feed on plants the same way a mosquito feeds on you.  Once they “tap a vein” there is so much food available, and it us under so much pressure, that the unused sap passes through their bodies and onto the plant’s foliage.  This forms a sticky, sweet covering on stems and leaves that is a perfect host for mold and fungus.

Aphids-3

Close up of aphids in various stages of development. Photo by Bruce Leander.

While there are lots of insecticides that you can spray to control aphids, organic control is usually just as effective.  Believe it or not, the most effective tool you can use against the aphid is water.  Aphids are soft bodied pests.  A good hard blast of water can actually cause the aphid to burst open.  Even if it doesn’t burst the aphid, it will knock them to the ground.  The ground is a very bad place for an aphid.  There are lots of things down there that will eat it.  Also, since most cannot fly or crawl very fast, they will often die from exposure before they make it back to your plant.

Effective control with water in not a “one and done” job.  If you want to keep aphids in check you are going to need to spray every three or four days.  Also, since aphids hide under leaves at night and during the hot part of the day, you need to spray upwards from the bottom of the plant.  This is very difficult to accomplish with a water hose.   Luckily there are tools out there that can make this job easier and more effective.

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As you can see, my roses are infested with aphids again this year. Photo by Sally White.

The best tool I have found is made right here in Texas.  It is called the MiteyFine sprayer.  The MiteyFine sprayer is essentially a metal tube with a special nozzle that is designed to apply the right amount of pressure (and use the least amount of water) needed to kill aphids.  MiteyFine comes in 46” and 58” lengths.  The light weight shaft makes it easy to handle and the design ensures that the water finds the aphids that hide in those really hard to get to places.

MiteyFine-Sprayer

The MiteyFine sprayer is the most effective tool I have found for organic control of aphids. Photo by Bruce Leander.

I have met several people that are skeptical that water alone can control aphids.  In fact, just yesterday I was telling a friend that runs a landscape business about the MiteyFine sprayer.  He asked “How do you mix the orange oil in with the water?”  No matter how much I swore that water alone was enough, he just didn’t believe me.  If you are like my friend, and you feel like you have to spray something on bugs, then you are in luck.  Orange oil, neem oil and lantana oil are organic insecticides that can all be sprayed on active infestations with great result.  These natural oils kill by clogging the pores that the insects use to breath.  However, just like water, you need to spray every few days and you need to spray under the leaves.  Be aware that there are some predatory bugs that eat aphids that will also be killed by any oil application.

Ladybug-dill

Lady bugs and their babies are voracious aphid predators. Photo by Bruce Leander.

Lady bugs are another organic aphid control measure that I hear a lot about.  While it is true that lady bugs eat a lot of aphids, you would need a whole lot more of them than you can afford to control a good infestation.  I have lots of lady bugs in my gardens.  However, I still have lots of aphids all over my plants.  I am not saying you should not buy and release lady bugs in your garden.  Just be aware that they are not the panacea they are made out to be.

ladybug-larvae

Ladybug larvae are often called “aphid lions” because they eat so many of the pests. Photo by Bruce Leander.

Even though aphids are a nuisance, there is no reason to let them ruin all of those beautiful plants that you have worked so hard to grow.  With a little observation and a little perseverance, you can control your aphid problems with some very effective organic tools.

Ladybugs lay their eggs close to an aphid infestation.  The larvae begin to feed on the slow moving aphids immediately.  Photo by Bruce Leander.

Ladybugs lay their eggs close to an aphid infestation. The larvae begin to feed on the slow moving aphids immediately. Photo by Bruce Leander.

Posted in Animals, Organic Pest Control, Pest Control | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Graduation

When I started this blog I was just beginning graduate school at Texas A&M.  I was having so much fun, and learning so much, that I wanted to share all of the amazing horticultural things I was learning with my fellow gardeners.  For the past four years, Grad school and the blog have been a huge part of my life.  This past Saturday night, the grad school part finally came to an end.   At 7:30 PM I walked across the stage at Reed Arena (and away from graduate school) and into the waiting arms of the Association of FORMER Students.  Whoop!

Aggie-Ring

I am a little embarassed to admit how excited I was to finally get that aggie ring!

Now that it is over I can honestly say that graduate school has been the best gift I ever gave myself.  Over the past four years I have learned so much and made so many wonderful friends.  The instructors, staff and Horticultural Extension agents that I have worked with are truly some of the most gifted, knowledgeable and caring people I have ever had the pleasure knowing.  “Thanks” is just not enough to express all they have meant to me.  All of these people welcomed me into their family and I will be forever grateful for that.

Aggie-Ring-HistoryWhile many, many people have worked to help me achieve this milestone, there are two that deserve a very special “Thank You”.   The first is my wife.    The afternoon that she looked at me and said “You love horticulture.  Since we are moving 40 miles away from A&M you should go talk to them and see if you can get a master’s in it” changed us both forever.  Her idea has now turned into a life changer for both us.  Before her suggestion I thought I would work at MD Anderson until I was 65.  Now, because of her support and encouragement I have the degree and the skills that will allow me to retire at 57 and be “The Master of Horticulture” full time.  Thanks honey!

Aggie-Graduation

Thanks honey!

Before coming to A&M the thing I was most proud of was the time I spent serving my country in the U.S. Air Force.  The unofficial motto of the Air Force is “Flexibility is the key to air power”.  My graduate advisor, Dr. Charlie Hall, is a perfect example of that motto in practice.  My full time work schedule often made it difficult for me to fulfill the requirements of this degree.  Whenever things looked bleak, he would smile at me say “Don’t worry about it good buddy, we’ll figure something out”.  And we always did.  Thank you Charlie!  I am so glad that you took a chance on me.  You are a true man of character and you have been a great role model, mentor, instructor and friend.  As Elphaba said to Glinda in “Wicked”, “Because I knew you … I have been changed for good”.

Charlie-Hall

Dr. Hall, I couldn’t have done this without you! Thanks so much good buddy!

Now it is going to be just me, you and the blog.  Thanks to all who continue to read.  In the future, look for new features.  I will begin interviewing home gardeners across the state and high lighting what they are doing well in their vegetable gardens, yards and flower beds.  I will also begin to feature articles about water capture, reuse and living a more water wise life.  Thanks again for your continued support and never hesitate to send me your questions and suggestions.  Whoop!!!

Aggie-ring-family

It’s a family affair. Comparing rings with my Brother-in-law Buddy Hemann and my niece and nephew Julie and Daniel Liu.

Posted in Gardening Basics, Masters of Horticulture | Tagged , , , | 22 Comments