Week 37 Tips for the Zone 9 Garden

This morning I woke to the sound of rain on my tin roof.  Weatherman says this is the leading edge of a cool front that is going to give us our first taste of fall temperatures.  Several days of highs in the mid 80s and lows in the 60s means this is going to be the best weekend to garden in a very long time.


Sally and I grew cotton for the first time this year.


  • Still time to transplant – Brassica transplants can be planted throughout the fall. This is good because you really don’t want 12 heads of cauliflower ready for harvest at the same time.  I stagger plant (plant 3 or 4 plants every two weeks) cauliflower and cabbage through October.  Stagger planting allows me to enjoy a steady supply of these vegetables throughout the spring.
  • Tomato care – By now, your tomato plants should be flowering or setting fruit. To ensure your best fruit possible feed regularly.  I side dress monthly with finished compost.  I also like to apply liquid fertilizers like homemade compost tea or Ladybug’s Secret Recipe.
  • Harvest cotton – Ok, I don’t expect that you have a lot of cotton to harvest. However, we did.  One of Sally’s student’s gave her some seeds last spring so we planted them.  First time I have ever grown the crop that a lot of our grandparents grew for the cash that kept their families and farms going.  We will use our cotton to make a holiday wreath.  Neat experience and I hope to do a post about growing it, and the wreath we will make from it, in the near future.

Crotons, mums and marigolds combined with pumpkins and other winter squash make outstanding fall arrangements. These plants do as well in pots as the do in the ground


  • Plant fall color now – The stores are filling up with marigolds, crotons and chrysanthemums. All of these plants perform well in a pot or in the ground.  Mix them with the winter squash and gourds you harvested earlier this year to make outstanding arrangements for you yards or porches
  • Water fall blooming bulbs – All of my fall blooming bulbs are blooming now. Oxbloods and lycoris are all beautiful but their blooms fade very quickly.  Keep them well watered to extend their flower time

Trees and Lawns

  • Prepare perennials for the move – If you have a rose, shrub or other spring blooming perennial that has grown too large for its spot, or is not doing well in its location, move it.  If the plant is large, begin gently cutting roots by sticking your shovel into the ground in a semi-circle about a foot from the trunk.  After a week or so, do the same thing to the other side of the trunk.  Water deeply for two weeks before the move.
  • Plant trees now – If you are going to plant trees this fall, consider buying smaller trees. While they do not have the immediate impact of a large tree they have several other advantages.  First, they are cheaper.  Second, they are easier to establish.  Third, they have a much better chance of having a healthy root system.  If you plant a small tree and give it ample food and water, it will reward you with rapid, healthy growth.

Still a lot blooming at our house. This lovely arrangement consists of zinnias, gomphrena, roses, coreopsis and carlic chive blooms.


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Tip of the Week – Week 13 in the Zone 9 Garden

Finally!!!!  Great gardening weather is predicted for this weekend.  If you have been able to plant you should have things sprouting.  If you haven’t you really need to get those squash, cucumbers, beans and tomatoes in the ground.


Right now aphids and other pests are beginning to hatch. While I despise them, I have a bigger, and much cuter pest problem to deal with


If you were lucky enough to get your seeds and plants in the ground you are already ahead of the game.  Once your little plants are past the cotyledon size you can begin to fertilize.  You can side dress with finished compost on a bi-weekly basis.  I love using compost in its dry form.  However, I believe in the early part of the growing season compost is most effective when used as a drench (compost tea).  There are a million different ways to make compost tea.  To me, the easiest way is add a shovel full of finished compost to a five gallon bucket and fill with water.  Also add a cup of molasses (to feed the microbes) and stir daily (or add an aerator to it) for a week to ten days.  Strain the finished mixture into your sprayer.  To apply, spray your plants weekly until the mixture begins to drip off of their leaves.


Aphids are beginning to hatch and they will attack just about every plant in your garden. Some research shows that plants treated with compost tea actually repel these pests.

Now is the time to get serious about feeding your onions.  As the temperatures rise their growth will increase rapidly.  If you are growing your onions organically, top dress your rows with a high quality, high nitrogen compost (like manures) every month.  If you are fertilizing your onions top dress the soil with ½ cup of fertilizer (ammonium sulfate (21-0-0) for alkaline soils and calcium nitrate (15.5-0-0) for acidic soils ) for every ten feet of row.  Apply every month until you see the soil beginning to be pushed back by the bulb.

If you are like me you have a tendency to over plant.  Through the years I have learned this is a bad idea.  Plants that are too close together produce less and they produce later.  Plus, plants that are too close together are a magnet for all sorts of pests.  So, if you have already planted, get out there and thin your plantings.  If you are going to plant this weekend try and follow the recommended spacing listed on the seed packets.


Control aphids with a strong blast of water or horticultural oils like neem and orange.

Now let’s talk about pests.  If you have plants that are up, then you probably have aphids that are hatching just in time to feast on them.  I got a question about aphids on my Facebook page from Melinda Stanton.  Melinda asked if aphid eggs over winter in the soil.  Well, the answer is YES!!! Aphid eggs over winter in the litter around your plants. They are horrible little pests. If you can start spraying them now with a good blast of the hose it will help prevent them from getting out of control. I use a tool called the Mitey Fine mister to spray mine. If this doesn’t work I suggest trying Neem oil. Neem is an organic horticultural oil that coats them in oil and basically suffocates them. It is more expensive than water but seems to work very well. I use it on all of my plants that have an aphid or scale problem, even my crepe myrtles. Also, my buddy Bart Brechter (curator of gardens at Bayou Bend) swears by orange oil. Exact same concept as the neem but it smells a lot better!


My wife loves fresh herbs.  She loves cooking with them and she uses them to make incredible teas. I like eating her cooking and drinking her teas but that is not why I love growing herbs.  Herbs are easy to grow and most are very ornamental.  I absolutely love walking through my garden and crushing a mint leaf or brushing up against my rosemary.  Right now is the perfect time to plant herbs.  Some of my favorites are spearmint, peppermint, lemon balm, rosemary, chives, basil,  thyme and oregano.  My ABSOLUTE fave is Mexican Mint Marigold.  This plant is almost bullet proof.  It takes heat and drought and resists pests.  Plus it makes a lovely little 18” tall rounded mound that gets covered in little yellow flowers in the fall.  It also has a great anise smell and taste.  I use this in many of my flower beds and I truly love it.


COLOR is the word for the week.  Plant tons of marigolds now.  It is still not too late for seed but you will get faster blooms from transplants.  I also love petunias and the garden centers are full of them.  Those in the garden centers are all fine but they are all hybrids.  Why not try and get a start of the good old fashioned petunia.  It is a purple-y magenta and the blooms are smaller.  However, it is a good reseeder. If you can find this variety and get it going you will have it forever.


Poppies are my favorite spring flower. Here are some of my red singles in the potager.

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2013 Garden Experiment-Companion Planting of Marigolds and Tomatoes

Each year I like to try some kind of experiment in the garden.  I truly believe that the best way to become a better gardener is to try new things.  This year I will be putting one of the most commonly talked about organic pest control methods to the test.  I am going to try a companion planting of tomatoes and marigolds to keep the stink bugs away.

One of my "porch grown" marigolds is about ready to bloom

One of my “porch grown” marigolds is about ready to bloom

If you believe everything you read, then you no doubt believe that marigolds are miracle plants.  It is truly amazing to me how many articles/posts there are on the internet making incredible claims about their bug fighting abilities. One of the more recent things I read swears that all you have to do is plant a marigold in each corner of your garden and all of your bug problems are solved.  While there may be some truth to the marigold’s bug fighting abilities, I really don’t believe they are going to very successful at riding my tomatoes of their stink bugs.

The above marigold two days after opening

The above marigold two days after opening

Now don’t get me wrong.  I really want my experiment to work.  In fact, I have gone out of my way to give the marigolds as much of a chance as possible.  Instead of trying to plant four plants in the corners of my garden, I am going to completely surround the tomatoes in marigolds.  For this experiment, I grew about 100 marigold plants from seed in my new back porch seed starting rack.  Once the little plants got up to about four inches tall I used them to line the triangular beds of my potager.  I planted the starts six inches in from edge and spaced them at six inches.  It took about 20 plants to line each bed.

My first "bug fighting" marigold of the year

My first “bug fighting” marigold of the year

Once the flowers were in, I planted the tomatoes.  For this experiment I am using romas.  Romas grow on nice, neat determinate bushes.  My thought is, those nice, compact determinate bushes will give all of those pesky bugs fewer places to hide.  I am also hoping that their relatively open form will allow whatever magic bug fighting qualities the marigolds possess to waft freely deep into the bush where the bugs are hiding.

Holidays mean free labor.  My daughter jessie helps me plant the marigolds for my experiment on Easter Sunday

Holidays mean free labor. My daughter jessie helps me plant the marigolds for my experiment on Easter Sunday

I apologize a little about my attitude here.  I really, really, really want the marigolds to run all of the bugs off.  However, I am very skeptical.  Even though I am doubtful of the marigold’s bug fighting abilities, I do truly expect they will keep any nematode issues at bay.  It is a proven, scientific fact that marigold roots secrete alpha-terthienyl.  This compound has insecticidal, nematodial and anti-viral properties.  It also stops nematode eggs from hatching.

I love my larkspur.  This has absolutely nothing to do with the experiment but it is lovely and i just wanted to include it!

I love my larkspur. This has absolutely nothing to do with the experiment but it is lovely and i just wanted to include it!

My last big garden experiment was growing potatoes in a box.  That one was a complete failure.  I had very high hopes for that one when the experiment started.  For this one, my expectations are a bit lower.  I expect to have almost aero nematode problems but I really don’t expect the marigolds to be very successful at keeping the bugs away.  Only time will tell.  Check back at the end of the season to see how it goes.

A Garden Shower

Andrew and Bridget with their new container garden

Bridget O’Brien and Andrew Hoyt are getting married!  Bridget is the Tours Program Manager at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston and her betrothed is an English teacher at the Christo Rey Jesuit College Preparatory School in Houston.  To celebrate their upcoming nuptials, my daughter Heather and her friend Lindsey Smith threw them a “Garden Shower” this past weekend.  Now from what I gathered, a “Garden Shower” is much like any other bridal shower.  Invitations were sent, punch was made, cakes were baked and gifts were presented.  However, where this one differed was in the entertainment.  Now I have to admit, I have never actually been to a bridal shower before.  But, from what I am told, the entertainment usually takes the form of silly party games.  Not this one.  This shower, being garden themed, featured a very engaging, entertaining and educational garden speaker. 

If you haven’t guessed by now, that garden speaker was me.  While I am not really all that famous, I do love talking to others about gardening.   Most of the attendees were young museum professionals that have the desire to garden but are somewhat lacking in the space.  So, we covered several topics related to container gardening.  As one of Andrew and Bridget’s gifts, the group worked together to create a 15 gallon veggie/flower garden that they got to take home.  In that garden, they will be growing and harvesting tomatoes, cucumbers and marigolds. 

The yupneck explaining the finer points of plant selection

Most of the attendees are recent college graduates that work for non profits (translation-they are still poor), so we also talked quite a bit about plant selection and propagation.  My friends at A&M donated a very large coleus that we proceeded to chop up and turn into about 20 new plants.  Each guest got the opportunity to take cuttings and root them in their own 5” bio-degradable peat pot. 

The betrothed and a large portion of the Education Department of the MFAH. From left to right: Andrew Hoyt, Bridget O'Brien, Lindsey Smith, Sarah Wheeler, Margret Mims and Heather White

All in all, it was a lovely event.  We laughed, we learned and we gardened; a perfect afternoon!  I would like to thank everyone that came and say a special thank you to my daughter for inviting me to participate in this celebration.  Andrew and Bridget, I wish you all the best.  May your life and your garden be bountiful!