Week 27 Tips for the Zone 9 Garden

AmericanFlowersWeek This week has been declared “American Flowers Week”.  The week is designed to promote and celebrate American flower growers, marketers and florists. Did you know that 80 to 90% of the cut flowers sold in the US come from overseas?  Many find this fact shocking when I share it with them.  If you would prefer to buy flowers that are fresher, grown in a more ecologically responsible manner and produced right here in the USA then be sure to check out the Slow Flowers website.  Slow Flowers is a cooperative effort between American growers and florists that allow you to find local growers and the florists that use their flowers to fill your flower buying needs.

In honor of “American Flowers Week” this week’s tips focus on growing, harvesting and arranging your own beautiful “local” flowers.

Flowers grown at the proper spacing are healthier and produce more blooms that plants that are grown too close together.

Flowers grown at the proper spacing are healthier and produce more blooms that plants that are grown too close together.

Growing Tips

  • Plant at the recommended spacing on the package– Over planting is the biggest mistake most home gardeners make. Plants that are grown too close together do not get as large or produce as many flowers and they are much more susceptible to pests.
  • Weed and feed regularly – Most flowers are annuals. Because of this they need to get as much nutrition as possible during their one growing season.  Feed monthly and weed regularly.  The weeds will rob your soil of the moisture and nutrients that your flowers need.
  • Control most pests with a strong blast of water to the underside of their leaves – Most flowers are plagued by a variety of pests. Most are tiny little rascals (like mites and aphids) that hide under the leaves of plants.  Because of this they are very difficult to control with your typical spray applications of pesticides.  I use a tool called the Mitey Fine Mister.  This wand attaches to my water hose and is designed to spray water with enough pressure to kill the pests without harming the plant.



Cut flowers early in the morning and keep them cool to extend their vase life

Harvest Tips

  • Cut flowers when buds are just beginning to open – If you cut most flowers when their buds are just beginning to open they will open in the vase.  This will allow you to enjoy them much longer
  • Cut flowers in the morning- Flowers cut in the morning have the highest moisture content (this is called turgidity in the horticultural world) and look their best.   
  • Strip leaves and immediately drop blooms into a plastic container that is full of clean, cool water
  • Get flowers inside as soon as possible-Your flowers begin to die as soon as they are cut. Heat speeds up their ultimate demise.  Get them inside and into the air conditioning as soon as possible
Nothing says summer in the country like sunflowers in a homemade arrangement!

Nothing says summer in the country like sunflowers in a homemade arrangement!

Arrangement Tips

  • Use more flowers! – My youngest daughter is an incredibly talented floral designer. I asked her why my arrangements do not look half as good as hers.  She said it is because I do not use enough flowers.  According to Whitney, when making floral arrangements, more is almost always better
  • Use more than flowers in your floral arrangements – While it is pretty easy to make a very pretty and presentable arrangement by grouping together lots of beautiful flowers, the really outstanding arrangements use other things to add interest. Lovely branches with interesting leaves are great fillers as are twisting garlic scapes, iris leaves, lemon grass and onion flowers.  Fresh vegetables, wasp nests, bird nests, dried sunflower heads and dried poppy heads all add a bit of whimsy and surprise to your arrangements
  • Throw away the floral foam – As useful as it is, floral foam is not biodegradable. There are tons of “green” alternatives that you can choose to support your flowers.  Sally and I have a small collection of antique floral frogs.  You can also make a wire ball out of chicken wire that fits in the top of your vase.  My daughter loves to use fresh fruit.  She cuts a hole into a melon or squash and then wires wooden stakes to her stems.  She then inserts the stakes and stems into the firm flesh and rinds of the fruit.


I share these posts on Our SimpleHomestead Blog Hop.  Be sure to stop by.  The “hop” has tons of great information from gardeners and homesteaders all over the world!

Tips for Week 26 in the Zone 9 Garden

Can you believe half of the year is already gone?  I can’t.  I saw an article yesterday that said we have reached the point in the year where our days will become 1 minute shorter each day from now until winter.  That means that preparations for the fall garden are just around the corner.  Until then, here are a few things you can do to start winding down your spring garden season.


Sunflowers are some of my favorite flowers. Mine are beginning to bloom. Photo by Sally White

Pest Control

  • Use flour and wood ash for insect control– OK, I am not sure this works because I have never tried it. However I recently visited with a man that has been growing organically for a lot longer than I have and he swears by it.  He said he mixes a grocery bag with five pounds of flour and a shovel full of wood ash.  He then throws it on everything to control caterpillars and squash bugs.  I would love to hear from any of you who have tried this or other organic bug control remedies.
  • Smother weeds when possible – Plants need air, light and water to grow. Remove any of these from the equation and the plant will die.  If you have fallow ground cover it with heavy cloth, mulch or building material to deprive weeds of the light they need to germinate
  • Solarize future planting areas – If you are going to till and plant a new area in the fall, mow it shortwater heavily and cover with 6 to 8 mil poly. Secure the edges with soil or lumber.  The hot Texas sun will raise temperatures under the poly to over 140 degrees.  This is hot enough to kill almost every plant and weed seed that is trapped under the cover

All of the rains of the past couple of months have delayed my tomatoes. I am pleased to say I am finally beginning to bring in a few each day.


  • Plant fall transplants now- If you want to save a few bucks you can grow your own fall transplants. Start broccoli, cauliflower, collard greens, chard, Brussel sprouts and cabbage now 
  • Place spent plants in the compost bin – As you pull up your spent plants throw them on the compost pile. Keep it moist and turn it regularly for best results
  • Pick tomatoes when they begin to show color-Nothing brings big pests like birds, bunnies, raccoons and possums into the garden faster than red, ripe tomatoes.

Marigolds and daisies are beginning to be plagued by spider mites. Dispose of infected plants in the trash.


  • Pull up plants that are invested with spider mites-Marigolds are notorious for spider mite infestations. If your plants are looking bad remove them and dispose of them in a sealed plastic bag
  • Fertilize blooming plants – I use a finished compost to fertilize my flower beds. Along with feeding them it acts like mulch which suppress weeds and conserves moisture. I also make compost tea on occasion and apply as a drench.  Feed blooming plants monthly through August

I share these posts on Our SimpleHomestead Blog Hop.  Be sure to stop by.  The “hop” has tons of great information from gardeners and homesteaders all over the world!

Tips for Week 25 in the Zone 9 Garden

This past weekend I harvested my first crop of elephant garlic.  This was a new plant for me and I thoroughly enjoyed growing it.  While it is not technically garlic (it is more closely related to leeks) it was a beautiful plant that can be used ornamentally or for its fist sized, mild, garlic tasting bulbs.  My elephant garlic was given to me by a man who has grown it in his garden for 47 years.  He got it from his parents who grew it for years before sharing with him. I absolutely love plants like this.  Whether they are called heirloom plants or pass a long plants, they are a living link to our horticultural past.  I love finding, growing and preserving these living links to our southern heritage.  If you have an heirloom plant that you love, leave me a comment.  I would love to hear about it.


With it long curvy scapes and big flower heads, Elephant Garlic is a useful as as ornamental as it is as a food source.

Pest Control

  • Invest in a few select organic insecticides– Bt for caterpillars, insecticidal soap for soft-bodied aphids, neem oil for beetles and squash bugs, spinosad for caterpillars and stink bugs. Follow label instructions, and spray only as needed. Mark the purchase date on the product container and store in a protected location, preferably indoors.
  • When using any insecticide, mix up only what will be needed for the plants you are treating – I rarely mix up a gallon of anything, and often get by using a one pint or one quart squirt bottle, depending on the product and number of plants needing treatment. Once I determine how much a particular product is needed per pint, I write it directly on the pesticide container so I don’t have to scour the label and recalculate every time.
  • Protect bees by applying pesticides in the late afternoon or evening, when bees are less active.
  • Control Spurge and Puslane-These two plants are some of the most difficult to control. Both grow rapidly and produce thousands of seeds.  Chemical control has little effect on mature purslane.  Pull these weeds and place in a plastic trash bag.  Do not compost!  Apply heavy mulch or solarize if possible after you remove the plants.

When mixing herbicides or pesticides mix only what you need and clearly mark each container


  • Plant okra, sweet potatoes, winter squash and peppers-Realize this is the absolute end of the spring planting season. It may be too late to plant even these in southern parts of the state.
  • Water correctly- It is better for your plants, and your water bill, if you apply one inch of water every five days. Water slowly in the morning to reduce evaporation loss. 
  • Remove spent plants like green beans to avoid attracting pests.
  • Top dress empty rows with compost and cover with a heavy layer of mulch to prepare them for fall planting in late July

Water deeply and less frequently to encourage deep root growth and conserve water


  • Cut fresh flowers for the house-Cut your zinnia’s, sunflowers, gomphrena, celosia and other fresh cuts early in the morning. Cut stems on 45 degree angles, strip foliage and drop immediately into cool, clean water
  • Plant sweet potato vine from transplant-Sweet potato vine is a great way to add lots of low maintenance color to your pots and beds.  With its bright chartreuse or purple-black foliage this drought and heat tolerant plant will add LOTS of color to your summer landscape.  Sweet potato vine will provide you lots of color right up to the first freeze 

Fruit Trees

  • Pick remaining plums-Plums will continue to ripen after they are picked. Pull when they have half color and allow them to ripen inside;  especially if making jelly.  Over ripe fruit left on the trees, or on the ground, invites in raccoons, possums and mocking birds
  • Pick Peaches-Pick peaches when they are slightly soft to the touch



I share these posts on Our SimpleHomestead Blog Hop.  Be sure to stop by.  The “hop” has tons of great information from gardeners and homesteaders all over the world!

Drought-Busting Rains by Patty G. Leander

As the designated voice of vegetables for Jay’s blog, it seems fitting to commiserate with all the vegetable gardeners out there who are dealing with the challenges of May’s drought-busting rains. First let me say that my heart and deepest sympathy go out to those who have experienced tragic losses as a result of the flooding and I extend my admiration and gratitude to the hard-working first responders, rescue teams and dedicated volunteers who have come to the aid of the distressed.

Here in Central Texas we broke the record for total rainfall for May with a little over 17 inches; our average May rainfall is normally around 4 inches. The experts have declared that we are officially in an El Niño year which means more rain and hotter temperatures can be expected. After receiving almost 10” of rain the last week of May things are starting to dry out around here and a look at the latest drought monitor map indicates that the rains have finally pulled Texas out of the extreme drought category:


Not the most stylish look but it works!

Not the most stylish look but it works!

All of this moisture has created an ideal environment for lots of pesky mosquitoes and each individual gardener must decide how far they want to go to combat this pest. After a recent morning in the garden spent waving my arms hysterically to shoo the mosquitoes from my face, I abandoned fashion and style in favor of practicality and protection and pulled out my secret weapon: a mosquito hat my nephew bought for me at a Boy Scout Trading Post during summer camp a few years ago. He told me it worked great and he was right. I get tremendous satisfaction when I hear the buzzing around my ears and I know the little buggers can’t get to me. If you don’t have access to a Boy Scout Trading Post, look for these nets at hunting, camping or sporting goods stores – you might even find something more stylish.


Potatoes growing in open-ended bushel baskets

The excessive rains and water-logged soil caused some rotting among my onions and garlic but fortunately I planted my potatoes above ground in open ended bushel baskets and got a modest harvest of Red LaSoda, White Kennebec and La Ratte fingerling potatoes.


‘La Ratte’ fingerling potatoes


Hoping for tasty tomatoes

It’s been a good year so far for cucumbers and green beans but not so good for tomatoes. From Houston to Austin to San Antonio and beyond I have been hearing reports of delayed ripening and watered-down flavor due to the rainy weather and cool, cloudy days. My favorite variety from a couple of years ago was ‘Marianna’s Peace’, a rich red tomato with juicy, complex flavor, but the first fruits I’ve tasted from this year are washed out and bland tasting. Has this been a good tomato season where you live?  Hopefully the warmth and sun and drier weather will help intensify that flavor we crave in the tomatoes yet to ripen. Hope you are blessed with a good harvest and many sumptuous tomatoes in your future!

Tips for Week 24 in the Zone 9 Garden

Patty Leander reminded me of an old adage about Texas weather.  It goes something like this “Texas weather is a series of droughts broken up by an occasional flood”.  These past few weeks have been a great reinforcer of that old saying.  Once it stopped raining the sun came out in a big way.  After the rainiest May in history I found myself watering Sunday night.  Oh the joys of gardening in Texas!  If it is not raining again this week end (as is predicted) here are a few things you can do in your yard or garden.


Our plum tree is loaded and ready to harvest. This morning Sally and I picked 10 gallons of plums! Photo by Sally White

Pest Control

  • Control squash bugs-The bugs that a lot of us call “squash bugs” or “stink bugs” are actually called leaf footed bugs. While these pests are most often seen on our tomatoes and squash, they will eat just about anything.  In fact I even found them in my plum tree today.  This hard bodied bug is really prolific and hard to kill.  Pick adults and drop into a bucket of soapy water or suck up with a dust buster or shop vac.  You can also leave boards or shingles under your plants.  The bugs will go under them at night.  In the morning step on the board or shingle!
  • Control broad leaf weeds with concentrated acetic acid-Household vinegar is around 6% acetic acid. While it will kill weeds real killing power is found in concentrated acetic acid found at your local garden center.  You can find acetic acid concentrated to about 20%.  This is the “Round up” of the organic world.  It will kill just about every type of weed (or desirable plant) in your garden so use with caution.
Squash bugs are hard to control.  Use a dust vac or shop vac to suck them off of your plants.  Photo by Sally White

Leaf footed bugs are hard to control. Use a dust vac or shop vac to suck them off of your plants. Photo by Sally White


  • Re-mulch tomatoes-Remove old mulch and destroy it. It harbors bugs, bug eggs, blown in weed seeds and fungus.  A fresh new layer of mulch will help you keep an even soil moisture level.  This will prevent both cracking and blossom end rot
  • Continue removing suckers from tomato plants
  • Trim tomato bushes branches that have outgrown their supports
  • Pick cucumbers and okra daily
  • Side dress all plants with hign nitrogen composts like mushroom or cotton bur
Now is a good time to plant fall blooming bulbs like spider lilies and oxbloods.

Now is a good time to plant fall blooming bulbs like spider lilies and oxbloods.


  • Trim shrubs so they are slightly fuller at the bottom than the top. This will allow sunlight to reach the entire plant and prevent “leggy” shrubs
  • Plant more zinnias and sunflowers
  • Clip back any remaining foliage of daffodils, jonquils or narcissus
  • Plant fall blooming bulbs like oxbloods and spider lilies


  • It is now time to apply nitrogen to your St. Augustine
  • Fertilize trees by applying your fertilizer at the drip line of the canopy

Tips for Week 23 in the Zone 9 Garden

Harlequin bugs are a common pest in our area.

Harlequin bugs are a common pest in our area.

As I write this post, sun is pouring in through my window!  Now that sun is back it is time for some serious gardening.  June is always the busiest and most difficult month of the year for me.  Everything thing needs constant attention.  Each June vegetables need to be harvested almost daily and full grown weeds seem to pop up overnight.   While those jobs are normal this time of year all of our recent rains are going to cause some pretty serious, and unusual pest problems.  Patty Leander sent me several tips on how to organically control some of the more common pests in our June gardens.  This is such a big topic this time of year I am going to add a series of pest control tips each week in June.

Pest Control

  • Control mosquitos-All of this rain is going to mean swarms of mosquitoes. Drain all standing water.  Mosquitos can mature in as little as a half inch of water.  If not possible to drain the water treat it with a product that contains the israelensis strain of Bt (also known as Bti) to kill mosquito larvae.
  • Control nutgrass (Nut Sedge) with horticultural molasses-I have not tried this but I found it on Howard Garrett’s website (http://www.dirtdoctor.com/Nutgrass-Control-with-Molasses_vq3266.htm). Since I trust “The Dirt Doctor” and I have a problem with nutgrass I will be trying this in my gardens this week
  • Control slugs, snails, pillbugs and earwigs with a product containing iron phosphate and spinosad- The efficacy of many pesticides can be wiped out by heavy rain so always check the forecast before application and reapply when needed.
Small tomatoes are already for harvest.  All of our rain is going to cause cracking in many of our larger varieties.  Don't worry though.  Just cut out the bad spots and enjoy what's left!

Small tomatoes are already for harvest. All of our rain is going to cause cracking in many of our larger varieties. Don’t worry though. Just cut out the bad spots and enjoy what’s left!


  • Expect to see cracking in tomatoes, especially if rainy weather continues-This is caused by fluctuations in moisture and temperature during periods of rapid fruit growth. Salvage fruit by cutting around the affected areas.
  • Watch tomatoes for signs of early blight-Early Blight is a fungal disease that spreads by air, insects, wind and splashing water. Extension sponsored research from Ohio State University has shown that garlic oil, neem oil and seaweed extract can help reduce the severity of early blight on tomatoes; other organic options for control include potassium bicarbonate and the fungicide Serenade.
  • Start seeds for fall tomatoes in late June so you will have transplants ready to set out in early August.
Spider mites love marigolds.  Control them with strong blasts of water to the undersides of leaves every few days.  I use the Mitey Fine Mister

Spider mites love marigolds. Control them with strong blasts of water to the undersides of leaves every few days. I use the Mitey Fine Mister


  • Pull or hoe weeds before they set seed.  If you get them before seed set they can go right into the compost
  • Aphids and spider mites are becoming a problem on annual flowers and crepe myrtles.  Control with strong blasts of water to the underside of leaves or spray with horticultural oils
  • Deadhead annual flowers like marigolds to encourage blooming
  • Mulch, mulch, mulch!  Mulch controls soil temperatures, suppresses weeds and conserves moisture.  Mulch often and deeply
  • Don’t forget to feed your potted plants regularly-I use compost tea.  If you use chemical fertilizers like Miracle Grow apply weekly at half the recommended rate.

Don’t forget to fertilize your potted plants. I use compost tea. If using chemical products like Miracle Grow apply weekly at half the recommend rate


  • To avoid fungal disease, do not apply nitrogen to St. Augustine until the soil dries out
  • When soil dries apply 3 to 4 lbs of nitrogen to 1000 square feet of St. Augustine
  • Apply 4 to 5 lbs of nitrogen per 1000 square feet of Bermuda
  • Apply 2 to 3 lbs of nitrogen per 1000 sqaure feet of Zoysia