Tip of the Week – Week 8 in the Zone 9 Garden

Yesterday I received some amazing photos from my friend Bruce Leander.  Bruce is an awesome photographer and a macro photography enthusiast.  He does a lot of work at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.  He sent me some very good macro shots of cedar trees (ash juniper) that are beginning to pollinate.  While the pictures are incredible they are bad news for those of us that suffer from cedar fever.  As his pictures clearly show, if you are not already suffering you will be soon!  If you feel up to it (and the rain holds off) there are several things to be done in the garden this weekend.


Male parts of the ash juniper ready to release the pollen that will make so many of us sick in the next few days. Photo by Bruce Leander


This month, when temperatures are above 50 degrees, move your tomato, pepper and eggplant starts outside.  Start slow by giving them only an hour or two of sunlight the first several days.  Then gradually increase their time outside.  This hardens the plants and will prevent sun scald when the go out permanently.  Also, the outdoor breezes will help develop much stronger transplants.


As temperatures rise begin to harden off your tomato, pepper and eggplant transplants by taking them outside for a few hours each day.


Give cool season color like pansies, violas and snap dragons a boost with a water soluble organic fertilizer or a fish emulsion and seaweed mix.  Trim back your salvias, especially salvia greggii, to promote more blooms on thick, compact plants.


My favorite shot of my potager. Trim salvias back by half now to encourage flowering.


Even though your sprinkler system has been off for the winter now is the time to turn it on and inspect it.  Turn on each zone and look for leaks, cracked heads or misaligned heads.  If you can fix the issues yourself you will save yourself some money and many gallons of water this summer.  If you can’t fix issues yourself remember that it is much easier to book an irrigation specialist in February than it is in June.


An incredible shot of lichen on an oak limb by my friend Bruce Leander of Austin

Trees and Shrubs

Since we have already mentioned cedar (ash juniper) troubles, now is the time to get control of another one of their big problem – bagworms.  Bagworms are interesting creatures.  The female moth never leaves the foliage covered torpedo shaped case.  She has no eyes, legs or wings and cannot eat. In fact, she looks more like a maggot than a moth. The male mates with her through the open end of the cocoon.  After mating she dies with thousands of eggs inside her.  The eggs hatch and the babies emerge THROUGH the mother.  They climb out of the cocoon and the wind blows them to other trees.  They then spin their cocoons and the process starts all over.

Bagworms are a serious problem for conifers (and some deciduous trees as well).  A severe infestation can permanently disfigure the tree and it will never recover.  You can control this problem by removing cocoons whenever you see them, especially now as mating will soon occur in zone 9.  For serious infestations spray a bt product (organic) or dust with sevin.

****Be sure to check out my friend Bart’s blog (Our Garden View) for more great tips for the Central and South Central garden!

I share my posts on the HomeAcre Hop.  Be sure to stop by the hop.  It has tons of great information from gardeners and homesteaders all over the world!

Signs of Spring

 Each year I like to do a post that announces the arrival of spring in our part of Texas.  In the past I have written about budding bluebonnets, magenta blooms on the red buds, sweetly scented narcissus and the return of the purple martins.  This year, I got a much less beautiful reminder that Spring is right around the corner.

Some of my wife's bluebonnets.  Sally has worked for years to spread our state flower all over our yard.

Some of my wife’s bluebonnets. Sally has worked for years to spread our state flower all over our yard.

Last weekend Sally and I were on the back deck.  She became very excited and told me she saw smoke coming from the back of the Cassita.  I of course ran to see what was on fire.  I was relieved to find nothing burning so I turned to tell her everything was ok.  As soon as I turned toward her the male cedar tree (ashe juniper) over the chicken coop literally exploded and released a cloud of pollen that looked very much like smoke! Now if I were not so allergic to cedar I might have found this a whole lot more fascinating.  Ok, I still found it fascinating, but I knew this natural marvel was going to cause me a whole lot of problems over the next few weeks.


Here is a shot of our little guest house that Sally thought was on fire. We call it the “casssita”.

Now I have lived 51 years and I have never witnessed this.  I actually grew up in a cedar break in McLennan county and I never got to see the trees release their pollen.  My itchy eyes, stuffy nose and headaches always told me the pollen had been released but I had never seen it with my own two eyes.


This is the male cedar tree that released its pollen in my face!

The timing of this has been interestingly fortuitous.  A couple of weeks ago a friend sent me a link from Austin’s KVUE News.  Someone actually caught this phenomenon on camera and sent the film to them.  If you would like to see it for yourself, just click on the video clip below.


So, in honor of almost historic levels of cedar pollen in our area, I am now pleased to announce that spring has arrived in Central and South Central Texas.  If you feel like gambling, realize that after February 15, there is only a 10% chance that there will be another freeze in the Houston area.  I am not much of a gambler.  I am still going to wait until March 15 to do most of my planting.  However, this is a good time to start getting your beds ready for planting.  This weekend I will be tilling, weeding and adding lots of compost to my beds.  If the weather holds (and I am not laid up in bed with a headache and a runny nose) I am looking forward to some very sore muscles and a very achy back on Monday.  Happy Spring Y’ all!!!