Tip of the Week – Week 20 in the Zone 9 Garden

When it rains it pours!  In addition to almost nonstop rain, bad luck has been falling down on me in waves!  Last week my transmission went out, a snake ate my two baby chicks, my son’s dog passed away and two of our daughters barely dodged tornadoes!  Things have to get better!  Hopefully there is some sunshine right around the corner that will lift the clouds that seem to have settled over the gardens and gardeners of this part of Texas!


I am not normally a snake killer. however, this guy or gal ate my two baby barred rock chicks. I am afraid this is the beginning of a series of snake problems in the coop!


As Patty’s latest article reminds us (Stewart’s Zeebest Okra), now is a great time to plant okra.  Zeebest is Patty’s favorite because it was developed by her friends and garden mentors.  While not an “heirloom” yet it soon will be.  When you are planning your garden this fall why not include some heirlooms in your seed picks.  Many of these heirlooms taste better and produce better than the hybrids that are sold in the big boxes and garden centers.  Each heirloom has a story.  Someone bred it, or saved it and has grown it for years – each one has a story.  One of my favorite heirlooms is a shallot called “Gumbo Onions”.  A family from Louisiana has been growing these tasty and productive green onions for over 100 years.  It makes me feel really good to know that I am doing my part to keep this plant, which is not available in the trade, going for future generations.

Here are the artichokes I mentioned in last week's post.  Very excited about our first harvest.  Photo by Sally White.

Here are the artichokes I mentioned in last week’s post. Very excited about our first harvest. Photo by Sally White.


My yard is beautiful right now.  Everything is blooming, the grass is green and there is fruit on the trees!  With all of this rain, mowing and weeding will be the things that keep me outside once the rain stops.  Before you weed I really suggest you go and pick up some mulch.  Mulch will greatly reduce the number of weeds that sprout. Weeding is not my favorite garden chore so anything that reduces weeds is a no brainer for me.

All of this rain has my yard and vegetable garden looking good.  Here you can see my heirloom elephant garlic in full bloom.

All of this rain has my yard and vegetable garden looking good. Here you can see my heirloom elephant garlic in full bloom.


With all of this rain and low temperatures, brown patch is going to become a problem in your St. Augustine.  Unless it is really bad it will correct itself once things dry out.  Help it out a little by laying off the fertilizer for a while.  Too much nitrogen acerbates the problems.

I have hundreds  of daylilies on my property.  This is a pretty one that was bred by a friend in the DFW area

I have hundreds of daylilies on my property. This is a pretty one that was bred by a friend in the DFW area


Some of my peaches are beginning to show color.  This is already bringing in the birds.  If you have problems with birds getting you fruit, this weekend will be a good time to cover them in nets.

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!

Tip of the Week – Week 18 in the Zone 9 Garden

Last week I did a post about my favorite gardening tools.  I did not realize I should have added rubber boots and a raincoat to the list!  Can you believe all of this rain?  I am thankful for the rain but it makes it very hard on us that can really only garden on the weekend.  Don’t want to sound like I am complaining though.  All of these spring rains gave us a great wildflower year and my yard has never been prettier.  Plus I will soon start harvesting from a vegetable garden that has received absolutely zero supplemental water.


If you are not already making your sweet potato slips you are quickly running out of time.


By now most of our spring and summer veggies are in the ground.  This makes the early part of May a time of fertilizing and weeding.  I have been making compost tea and using it to fertilize my tomatoes.  You can do that or continue adding finished compost to your beds once a month.

I have a long time reader named Donna that is currently growing her own sweet potato slips.  If you want to grow sweet potatoes you need to get busy if you are going to grow your own slips.  July 4th is about as late as you can plant them and still get a respectable harvest in the fall.  Last year I did an experiment with sweet potatoes.  I wanted to see if there was a benefit to growing them from slips or if they would do fine if they were grown like Irish potatoes.  Turns out both methods yielded about the same.  However, in my opinion, growing them like Irish potatoes was a very easy, and sensible way to use up all of our sweet potatoes that were too small to cook or were sprouting in storage.

My Hyperion daylilies were passed to us by Sally's grandmother.  These tough and reliable plants provide me a solid month of blooms each May.

My Hyperion daylilies were passed to us by Sally’s grandmother. These tough and reliable plants provide me a solid month of blooms each May.


My wife and I have hundreds of yellow Hyperion Daylilies scattered throughout most of the beds on our property.  I absolutely love these plants for two reasons.  First, they came from my wife’s grandmother.  Nana grew them for years and then after she passed we found a clump on her ranch.  We dug half of the clump up and brought it home.  That was eight years ago.  We have now turned that one clump into more than 150 feet of lovely borders that bloom none stop during the month of May.  And there is the second reason I love them.  Daylilies are beautiful, reliable and prolific!  If you don’t have any, I really suggest you give them a try.


Thanks to all of this rain most of our lawns are looking pretty good.  If you have not already fertilized it is time.  Regardless of whether you use chemical or organic fertilizers, put them out about every five to six weeks.  Also, try setting your mower and little high and mow more frequently.  This, combined with the fertilization, will create a thick, healthy lawn that chokes out weeds.


Last year a late freeze “thinned” our peaches. The resulting fruits were the biggest and sweetest we ever harvested.


When putting out the fertilizer don’t forget your trees.  They are putting on new growth right now and they will thank you for a good feeding.  Apply fertilizer under the entire canopy with the heaviest application at the drip-line.  The tree’s most active and “absorbtive” roots grow at the drip line.

My peach and plum trees are currently covered in fruit.  If you want bigger, sweeter fruit remove about ¼ to 1/3 of the immature fruit from the trees.  Last year a late freeze did this for me.  We had the biggest and sweetest peaches ever because of this accidental thinning.


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!

Rainy Day Blooms

This morning I awoke to the soft sounds of rain falling on our tin roof.  There is something so calming, refreshing and nostalgic about that sound.  A cool May morning in Texas is something to savor and celebrate.  So, after breakfast, I put on some clothes, grabbed the camera and headed outside.  The rain had stopped but the sun had not yet broken through the clouds.  The air was heavy and cool and the light was filtered and soft.  I love mornings like this because they are so rare in the South. 

As I wandered through my yard I snapped tons of pictures.  Despite the heat and weeds that are again trying to take over, May is my favorite month for gardening.  Flowers are blooming and the vegetables are beginning to share their fruits. This morning was a perfect start to what promises to be a spectacular day.  Here are several pictures of some of the things that helped to make my morning so special.


One thing that I truly love about my little garden is the fact that almost everyone of my plants came from someone I know.  All of my daylillies, and I have hundreds, came from either my wife’s grandmother or a promising young horticulturist named Chris Von Kohn.  Daylillies and May are synonymous in my mind.  I am always incredibly excited when the first one opens at the beginning of the month and then equally sad when the bloom falls toward the end of the month.  Here are some shots of the one’s that were in bloom this morning.

Here is a very lovely daylily that was bred by Chris Von Kohn.
Here is another one of Chris’s lovely creations.
Here is one of my borders filled with Hyperion daylilies that we got from my wife’s grandmother.  Over the years we have turned our original clump into literally hundreds of plants.
Miscellaneous Blooms
I absolutely love cleome or Spider Flower.  I was very pleased to see that the first one of the season has decided to open up.
Our easter lilies finally opened.  Very lovely and they last so long in a vase.
I absolutely love Powis Castle artemsia.  Here it pairs nicely with old fashioned petunias.
Daylilies aren’t they only thing blooming in my beds.  A no fail stunner for me is always my Victoria salvia.
 My native Datura is beginning to bloom
I love the combination of the old fashioned petunias with the Ruellia or Mexican petunias. 
Here is a very lovely pink yarrow shared with me by my friend Cynthia Mueller.
I love the color and texture of coleus.  These are in an old washstand with portulaca and calibrachoa
Vegetables and Herbs
This year I finally got arounf to building raised beds for my vegetables.  I have three 33′ rows that I filled with a mix of 60% river sand and 40% mushroom compost.  My building was delayed by all of the rain so I got my garden in a little late.  However, it is really beggining to take off.
One of my favorite herbs is borage.  Even though it has a nice, mild cucmber flavor, I don’t really like to eat it.  The leaves are too fuzzy for me.  However, it makes a lovely plant.  Plus, it has beautiful little blue flowers that look great frozen in a ice cube.
I have 18 tomato plants growing.  Because of that we will be making lots of salsa.  I planted cilantro in a buried 2.5 gallon pot to try and keep it in check.  I use this same trick with my mint.
Summer isn’t complete with out squash.  My yellow crook neck it beginning to produce.
I love peppers.  Because of this I have several varieties currently growning.  Last Saturday we picked our first bell.  It was perfectly shaped and a perfect size so we took it in and immediately ate it.  We cut it into two thick slices that we sauteed in bacon grease.  Once it softened up a bit we cracked an egg to the center.  We topped it off with grilled onions, bell pepper and and shreaded American cheese.  People that don’t garden will never know how truly wonderful a dish like this is.

The Fall and Winter Potager

Lately, several people have been visiting my site from Pininterest.com and “pinning” shots of my garden on their pinboards.  I am very flattered when this happens.  If you are not yet familiar with Pintrest you should check it out.  It is a collaborative site where you create “pin boards” of your favorite topics and then post images that you find on the web in them.  Then, everyone on the internet can come to your site and see the things that you have found.  It is really cool and you can quickly burn several hours if you are not careful. 

Right now, my little garden has never been prettier.  The folks from the Central Texas Gardener television program came to film it back in December.  It was pretty then, but it is a lot prettier now.  The veggies are doing great, but the flowers have really matured and look beautiful.  Eventhough the potager is mostly about the vegetables, it is the flowers that make it interesting.  So, for all of you Pinterest users that are fans of small, raised bed kitchen gardens, and my regular readers, here are a few pics of what is currently blooming in my little potager.

Panseys are always a great choice for Texans in the fall.  I planted these around the first of Decemeber.  If you look closely you will notice carrot foliage in the back.  I do companion plantings in all of my beds.  I have a mix of pink and purple panseys that share the center bed with a mix of carrots and vilolas (Johnny Jump Ups).  They are all thriving and look very good mixed together.

My purple panseys.

Violas are one of my favorite winter flowers.  The work great in pots where their pretty little flowers grow rapidly and spill over the side.

Calendula is often called pot marigolds.  Not only is it pretty and a prolific bloomer, the petals are edible.

I love dianthus.  They bloom well into the summer.  Their common name is “pinks”.  People think this is because they are mostly pink, but it is really because their petals look like they were cut with pinking shears.  They come in all colors and all sizes now but I still prefer this old fashioned variety.

This year’s winner in the vegetable department is Comet Broccoli.  This variety is incredible at putting on side shoots.  I have two dozen of these scattered throughout the potager.  Last Sunday, my wife and I harvested 8 produce bags full of side shoots.

Here is a picture of me with a lettuce harvest.  Our lettuce has been outstanding this year. 

One of my favorite things in the potager is not a plant at all.  It is our bottle tree.  While not technically in the potager (it is in the outside border), I still think of it as one of the main things that adds interest and charm to my little garden.

In addition to the flowers pictured above,  I have byzantine gladiolous, crinums, daylilies, two varities of roses, lots of salvia, red poppies, holley hocks, crysanthimums, zinnias and larkspur.  This ever changing pallette of colors and textures is what keeps me excited and watchful throughout the year.

Great Deal on Daylilies

As I mentioned in an earlier post, my friend Chris Von Kohn is a daylily breeder extrodinaire.  This past weekend he sold several of his creations at the Ft. Worth Botanic Gardens Fall Sale.  Chris is selling these beautiful and reliable flowers to finance his Masters of Horticulture degree at Texas A&M.  He has several plants left and he is selling them for the ridiculously low price of $7 per double fan.  If you are planning on adding some daylilies to your beds, why not contact him (his info is below). 

After the weekend rains, this is the perfect time to plant daylilies.  Please give Chris a call.  You will get some unique and beautiful plants that no one else has and he will get to go to grad school.  Everyone wins!

If you are in Arlington you can go by and pick them up.  If you are not in that area, he will be happy to ship them to you.  Chris’s cell is 817-269-7474 and his email address is Cvk007@earthlink.net.

Here are few pictures of some of the daylilies he has breed:

Eight Ways to Stretch Your Garden Dollars

Right now, times are tough and everyone is looking for ways to save money.  Gardeners are no exception.  Gardening is a lot of fun and almost 5 million Americans practice some sort of gardening at their homes.  However, if you are not careful, your little garden can wind up costing you a lot of money.  Whether you grow vegetables or ornamentals, these timely tips will allow you to get the most out of your garden without draining your bank account.

A bunch of narcissus and oxbloods given to me by a friend

Publicize – If you love to garden, tell people.  You will be surprised how much stuff people will give you once the word is out that you like to grow stuff.   I have a friend that inherited an old home.  The previous owners were avid gardeners and the abandoned yard is full of heirloom plants and bulbs.  When she found out that I love old fashioned plants, she told me I could have anything I could dig up.  So far I have harvested literally hundreds of daffodil, spider lily, oxblood lily and crinum bulbs.  I have also transplanted some yaupons.  I am going back this fall to get some flowering quince and crepe myrtles. 

My row garden with hay mulch

Mulch – If you have read much of my blog, you know I am a big fan of mulch.  Mulch reduces the amount of water you use, so lower water bills.  It also suppresses weeds, so less is spent on herbicides.  Mulch can be expensive if you buy it in bags.  That’s why I never do that.  I buy my mulch in bulk.  Each year I buy three different types of mulch.  I get hardwood mulch from my local landfill.  I drive up in my truck and they load me up.  I pay a very modest 1 cent per pound for this mulch.  I use this hardwood mulch in my flower beds in the early spring.  I buy it then because the “mulch” that is in the landfill has generally been sitting there composting since fall.  So, if you buy in early spring, you get mulch that already has a good percentage of it that has already turned to compost.

I also buy mushroom compost in bulk.  I get mine delivered from a local firm.  While it is a little pricey initially, it is the best money I spend all year.  My last load of mushroom compost cost me $320 for a ten cubic yard dump truck load.  While it is technically compost, I use it much like you would use mulch.  I practice no till gardening in my kitchen garden.  I simply put several inches of this on top of my beds either right before or after planting.  Even though it is pre-composted, it continues to break down in the garden and supply vital nitrogen and other essential nutrients to the plants.  It also suppresses weeds and conserves moisture. 

I also use a lot of hay as mulch in my vegetable gardens.  Hay can be expensive if you buy the little square bales.  However, you can usually find round bales for anywhere from $50 to $80 and the farmer will usually deliver.  A round bale contains as much hay as 10-12 square bales.  When you buy hay or straw to use as mulch, be sure to ask the farmer if it has been treated with any herbicides.  Some of the herbicides sprayed today can linger in the hay and will kill your vegetables if used as mulch.

Several trays of azelia cuttings that I helped a friend of mine prepare

Propagate – Propagation is by far the cheapest way to increase your plant material outside of someone giving you plants.  Propagation is generally pretty easy.  A quick Google search will provide you with very good instructions and very good videos to watch so you can see exactly how it is done.  Some plants are incredibly easy to propagate.  Roses are one of these.  Other plants that are very easy are coleus, sweet potato vine, lantana, coral honeysuckle and many more.  Also, all of the bulbs that naturalize here can be divided every two or three years.  Simply dig them up in the fall, pull them apart and replant.

An old "cowboy bathtub" repurposed as a planter

Reuse – My wife and I are “junkers”.  We love going to garage and estate sales.  We find a lot of very useful things for the garden at very cheap prices at these sales.  Almost all of my gardening tools came from estate sales.  So did my big tiller.  Another thing that we are always on the lookout for are old galvanized buckets.  We use these as planters.  We also buy almost every terra cota pot that we find.

Compost – If you don’t have a compost pile, start one.  Compost is truly an amazing gift to your garden.  It is easy to make and it does so much for your plants and your soil.  There are a million ways to compost, so pick one and just do it.  I make my own compost.  However, I just don’t generate enough to meet all of my needs.  However, I garden on a fairly large scale.  If you have a small garden or if you only grow in containers, you can probably make enough free fertilizer and soil conditioner from your kitchen and yard waste to meet your needs.

Be creative – I love to tackle little landscaping projects around my house.  I would do a lot more if landscaping materials weren’t so expensive.  Since I don’t have a large budget to support my hobby, I am always looking at magazines and other landscapes to find cheap alternatives for my landscaping designs.  A perfect example of this happened the other day.  While at a garage sale, my wife found a HUGE box full of those old glass insulators from electric lines.  We bought the whole lot for $20.  There were well over 100 insulators in the box.  We are going put Christmas lights inside them and use them to line one of our paths.  We will have a very cute and cool night light set up in the garden and all it will wind up costing us less than $50.

My wife enjoying a Framer's Market in Tulsa, Ok

Buy off season – Right now is the best time to buy perennials.  Nurseries that have not sold all of their spring stock now have whatever is left DRAMATICALLY marked down.  You will find sales of up 75% off at most nurseries and garden centers right now in the hottest part of the year.  Sure the plants you buy will need a little extra TLC to get them safely into the fall, but for 75% off, the extra TLC is worth it.

Sell your harvest – Finally, if you do so well in your frugal garden that you can’t use all that you grow, sell it!  That’s right.  Sell the bounty from your garden and actually make a little on your hobby.  Right now, the demand for locally grown, organic produce and flowers has never been higher.  Just about every city and town in America now has a Farmer’s Market of some kind.  Booth rent at these markets is usually very low and you will be surprised at how much you can sell.

Daylilies-A Month of Blooms

One of the daylilies that was passed along to me from my wife's grandmother

Very few plants in my garden give me as much enjoyment as my daylilies.  Early in April, I start watching them.  I am looking for that first sign of stalks. When I see these I know that soon, the green border around my potager will be covered in bright yellow flowers.

A masss of Nana's daylilies border my potager

My daylilies were passed to me by my wife’s grandmother.  Not directly, though.  A few years after she passed, we dug them up from her home place in the sandy loam of East Texas and moved them to the black clay of Washington County.  This sentence should tell you a lot about daylilies.  First, they lived at Nana’s for several years with absolutely no care.  So, daylilies are tough.  They also survived being dug out of a beautiful loamy soil and moved to a not so wonderful black clay.  So, daylilies are adaptable.  Throw in the fact that they are absolutely reliable, pest free and beautiful and you begin to understand why so many people love them.

A lovely daylily bred by Chris von Kohn. You can buy this and others from him. All of his contact info is at the bottom of the post.

History – Daylilies originated in China, Korea and Japan.  They found their way to the Americas by the 1700s.  The Tawny Daylily was one of the first.  It quickly escaped cultivation and is now so common on the east coast that many think it is a native wildflower.  This flower was often planted close to outhouses and so it derived the very unfortunate common name of “Outhouse Lily”.  Daylilies began to lose their popularity in the US in the 1800s.  In 1920, the “Hyperion” daylily was introduced.  This began the resurrection of the flower as a major bedding plant in American gardens.

Despite their name, they are not true lilies.  Daylilies belong to the genus Hemerocallis and there are over 60,000 registered cultivars.  Their name is derived from Greek and literally means “beautiful day”.  Since the 1950s, the US has been the world leader in daylily hybridization.  I have a young friend at A&M named Chris von Kohn.  He has already created over 1000 daylily hybrids.  He hasn’t gotten one named yet, but he is only 22!  Chris is an up and coming Master of Horticulture and I am betting that we are going to be hearing a lot more about him in the years to come.  Thanks to the efforts of people like Chris, you can now own daylilies in every color except blue.  Some have  a strong fragrance and others have none.  There are daylilies with ruffled petals and multi-colored petals.  Some have “eyes” and still other sparkle with “diamond dust”. 

Another lovely daylily bred by Chris von Kohn. He is about to start grad school so he will greatly appreciate every order. All of his contact info is at the bottom of the post.

Planting – Daylilies are incredibly easy to grow.  Plant them in direct sun (or dappled shade) in well worked soil.  Dig a hole about 8” deep and make a small mound in the center of the base.  Spread the roots of the plant over this mound and backfill to a point where there is no more than 1” of soil over the crown.  If the roots of the plant are too big for the hole, trim them.  Water them in and then apply mulch (but not around the crown).  Water regularly for the first year.  After that, the daylily should be able to survive with minimal amounts of supplemental water.

Dividing – Daylilies reproduce rapidly.  If their clumps become too dense, they will begin to flower less and less.  Because of this, you need to divide them every two or three years.  This is best done in late summer or early fall.  Also, it is a good idea to give your plants a good watering the day before you do your dividing and transplanting. 

There are two ways to divide your plants.  The easiest is to just stick your shovel in the middle of the clump and remove half of the plant.  Since they have an extensive root system you may need to push your shovel all the way into the soil.  Use the shovel to work around the new clump and remove.  Replant in a prepared hole at the same depth as the original plant and water.  Place them about two feet apart.

Another creation of Chris von Kohn. You can buy this and others from him. All of his contact info is at the bottom of the post.

If you want to get individual plants, you can use a sharp knife to divide your clump into fourths.  Once this done, you can begin to remove individual fans.  Replant these fans like previously described.

Very few beautiful plants are as hardy or as easy to grow as Daylilies.  There are varieties that are hardy from zones 1 to 11.  Once established, they have a low water requirement and they are relatively pest free.  On top of all of that, they are incredibly diverse in color and form.  With so much to offer there is no reason for you not to grow daylilies in your own garden.

Buy Your Daylilies Here – Chris von Kohn will be selling some of his creations this fall.  They are incredible!  He is currently taking orders.  They are in bloom now so if you live in the Arlington/DFW area you can go by and pick your favorite.  He will mark it and save it for you and you can pick it up in the fall.  You can reach Chris at cvk007@earthlink.net or you can give him a call at either 817-269-7474 or 817-483-5146.   If you don’t live in the DFW area, just drop him an e-mail and he will be happy to send you pictures and then ship your plants when they are ready.

The yupneck with Chris von Kohn. He has just been awarded the outstanding senior agriculture student for horticulture by Gamma Sigma Delta, The Honor Society of Agriculture.

Cypress Vine – The hummingbird magnet!

Hummingbird migration season is upon us.  Because of this, we have so many ruby throated and black chinned hummers in our yard that my wife is filling our two feeders everyday.  While the hummers seem to appreciate the sugar syrup that she makes for them, they always head first to the only thing that is still really blooming in my garden; cypress vine.


Cypress vine flowers on my potager fence. Photo by Ramez Antoun

Cypress vine (Ipomoea quamoclit) is a member of the morning glory family and as such grows very well in our hot Texas summers.  It is a tropical plant that is native to Mexico and Central America.  It is a lovely vining plant that can grow 20 feet or more in a single season.  Cypress Vine has loose, feathery foliage that is covered with hundreds of tiny, tubular flowers.  The star shaped flowers can range in color from deep red to almost white and they are irresistible to butterflies and hummingbirds.  Other common names for this plant include Hummingbird Flower, Star Glory, and Cardinal Plant.

 Cypress vine is very easy to grow.  Start seeds when the soil has warmed up to around 70 degrees. It prefers full sun but can tolerate light shade.  Cypress Vine likes to be kept in moist, rich, well drained soils but it will grow in just about any type of soil and will tolerate some dry periods.  Cypress Vine is a quick grower and can produce blooms in as little as 45 days.  You can fertilize with a high phosphorus fertilizer right before the first bloom to enhance its flowering.   Cypress vine readily reseeds itself so once established you will be able to enjoy this plant year after year. 

Cypress Vine on the arbor

Because of its vining habit, Cypress Vine needs support.  I planted mine against the western fence of my potager.  This fence has an arbor over the gate and I wanted it to spread over both of these structures.    All of the growth you see in these pictures came from two vines.

Unmanaged, Cypress vine will grow in and over anything that is in its way.  Since mine is on a fence, I trained it to grow up and out toward the arbor.  This kept most of the runners in check.  Some runners did grow down into my daylilies but I simply pulled them off.  The plant did not seem to mind one bit.  Cypress vine is also an aggressive self seeding annual.  All of those lovely flowers produce tons of little black seeds. So, if you plant Cypress Vine, be prepared to have lots of it in years two and three.

All of this from two vines in the first season!

Cypress Vine is a very lovely and very hearty plant that thrives in our climate.  It is easy to grow and looks great on a fence, trellis or arbor.  This self seeding annual is relatively disease and pest free and will provide you with a flush of blooms from May through late fall. If you can tolerate its aggressive growth habit it will reward you with a beautiful late summer garden full of butterflies and hummingbirds.

*This article was published in the September issue of “Hort Update” (http://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/newsletters/hortupdate/2010/sep/)