WATER WISDOM FOR LANDSCAPES DURING WINTER

By Marigay Black, Grayson County Master Gardener

Winter maintenance of our perennial landscape plants can be care-free by following recommended guidelines offered by Texas A&M at WaterUniversity.tamu.edu.

 One of the best protectors for our plants is adding a 3-inch layer of hardwood mulch around the crown and out to the drip line of the plant which will protect the root zone from freezing temperatures. It’s not necessary to pile the mulch up onto the stem or main branches. You don’t even have to cut the branches down to the ground or rake all the leaves just yet – wait till springtime to put that on your to-do list. The branches and leaves that are left can provide protection for lizards, frogs, and birds, and the eggs and pupae of certain butterflies which overwinter on leaves and stems.

Thankfully, we don’t need to water as often as we do in summer but when it’s necessary, place the water directly onto the soil, avoiding moisture on the leaves and stems. The plant cells retain water to help make it resilient to freeze but too much water can lead to damage or even dying. Watering earlier in the day is best so that the roots have time to absorb it before the nighttime. Irrigation system controls and timers should be turned off when a freeze is expected. Water only when temperatures are above 45 degrees. Making sure your soil is moist before an expected freeze will help to protect the roots from damage. This applies to plants that are in the ground and our potted plants. 

Covering sensitive plants with freeze-protection fabric or old sheets can help hold the heat closer to the soil but should be removed once the temperature rises above 32 degrees Fahrenheit. I use this method for a few plants I want to overwinter, like citrus and my favorite geraniums. Their cold hardiness rating is for warmer climates, and they won’t survive if exposed to the first freezing snap that north Texas can experience.

Choosing landscape plants that are native or well-adapted to our cold hardiness zone is the best defense against our sporadic temperature swings. In 2012, the USDA established maps showing the average coldest temperatures by geographic areas. The zones in Texas range from 6b in the Panhandle to 10a in the southern tip of the state. The north Texas area falls into zones 7b to 8a – low temperatures ranging from 5 to 15 degrees Fahrenheit. When you buy a plant, it will have a tag on it with planting and care instructions, and the hardiness rating will be on the tag. The higher the number on the rating, the less likely it will survive our cold temperatures, and the more steps we have to take if we want the plant to make it through our winters.

Your AgriLife Extension office at the courthouse in Sherman is a great in-person resource for everything plant related, and they’re open Monday through Friday, normal business hours. There are several web sites that can guide us to the right plant choices for optimal success – which translates into saving money, less maintenance work, and a beautiful landscape to enjoy. Start at aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu, and navigate to their Earth Kind and Texas Super Star links. Another comprehensive web page is the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center at wildflower.org. Look for the Native Plants section. Another of my favorites is the Native Plant Society of Texas at npsot.org. Each of these sites will lead to other links and information on landscape design, figuring out your soil type, average rainfall, temperature ranges, and choices of plants from ground cover, shrubs, flowers, grasses, and understory trees to majestic canopy trees.

As always, the Grayson County Master Gardeners are ready to answer questions. We look forward to hearing from you!

Grayson County Master Gardeners Association is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization sponsored by the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. Reach us by email at mastergardeners@co.grayson.tx.us, by phone 903-813-4204, our web page graysoncountymastergardeners.net, or our Facebook group.


OFFICIAL STATE NATIVE SHRUB NOW BLOOMING IN TEXOMA AREA

In the late 1820’s a botanist by the name of Jean Louis Berlandier described a shrub with silvery gray to green foliage which, after a good rain, opened its showy blooms of purple to lavender, pink, blue or white. It is Texas purple sage, Leucophyllum frutescens, and is also known as cenizo, Texas Rain Sage, barometer bush and silverleaf. Once established, it’s well suited for our area – drought and heat tolerant and maintenance-free (well, a little pruning in late winter or early spring will keep it looking its best).

The name “barometer bush” comes from the flowering that appears after high soil moisture or humidity from rain in late summer into the fall season. You’ll see them around town in xeriscapes and along highways and in commercial landscapes. At maturity, they can be up to 8 feet tall and wide. It grows best in full sun (4 to 6 hours daily), very well drained alkaline soil and little to no fertilization. It will retain most of its leaves through the winter as it is hardy to 5 degrees F.

Texas purple sage’s native range is from Northern Mexico through the Rio Grande Plains and Trans-Pecos, and somewhat in the Western Edwards Plateau into New Mexico. Growing “in the wild,” you’ll see it on rocky caliche slopes and stony, calcareous soils. It has been used as an herbal tea to treat chills and fever, to provide forage for cattle, and nesting places for birds.

In 2005, the 79th Legislature designated the Texas purple sage as the official State Native Shrub of Texas. One of the declarations in the resolution states: “Texas purple sage has been described as a plant that can face droughts, freezes, high winds, salt spray, hungry deer and blazing heat and keep right on performing beautifully, and such fortitude is a quality highly admired in the Lone Star State….”

Sounds perfect for my backyard.

Written by Marigay Black, Master Gardener

Grayson County Master Gardeners Association is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization sponsored by the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. Reach us by email at mastergardeners@co.grayson.tx.us, by phone 903-813-4204, our web page graysoncountymastergardeners.net, or our Facebook group.

Submitted September 17, 2019


CREATING A BUTTERFLY GARDEN

It is natural to want to invite these winged jewels into our gardens! Fill your garden with the flowers and the host plants that butterflies love, and they will keep coming back for more.

Begin planning your garden by determining what butterfly species exist in your area, then select the types of plants that are most likely to draw the species in. Choose native plants whenever possible.

Food is a key factor in creating a successful butterfly garden. An assortment of nectar plants lures the butterflies in, and host plants encourage them to linger and lay their eggs.

Brightly hued and fragrant flowers loaded with nectar are among the mainstays of an adult butterfly’s diet and are superior choices for a butterfly-friendly garden. Butterflies will feed on nectar from a wide variety of annuals, perennials, vines, and shrubs. A few popular choices include: Cosmos, Pentas, Tropical Butterfly Weed, Lantana, Gregg’s Mist Flower, Coneflower, Butterfly Bush, and Honeysuckle. Butterflies appreciate blooms with flat surfaces and open shapes that will offer them an easy place to land and to best access nectar.

Caterpillars have a select diet and prefer specific host plants. Butterfly larvae develop as they feed on a host plant. Favorite host plants, such as milkweed, dill, fennel, parsley, and pipevine sustain various butterfly species.

Butterflies, being cold-blooded, cannot regulate their body temperature and will seek out the warmest part of the garden. Grow flowers in sunny, sheltered areas. Try to locate the garden so that it will receive at least six hours of direct sunlight each day.  One or two large, flat stones will provide sunny perches for the fliers to warm their wings. Butterflies find it difficult to fly on windy days – siting the garden in a protected place allows the butterflies to conserve energy. In nature, butterflies sip moisture from mud puddles. In the garden, chipped china saucers and shallow platters placed here and there create pretty water sources.

There is no place for pesticides and herbicides in a butterfly garden. Butterflies are very vulnerable to the toxic effects of chemicals. Environmentally friendly gardening can make a big difference to these fragile beauties.

Not only are butterflies beautiful to view, but since they are pollinators, they are important to our ecosystem. With a little imagination you can create an ideal habitat for these lovely creatures. Once you start attracting butterflies to your garden you will never want them to leave!

Beverly Luxton, Grayson County MG Intern

 


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2019 Grayson County Master Gardener’s Spring Plant Sale

Marigay Black

The Grayson County Master Gardeners Annual Spring Plant Sale will be Saturday, May 4th at Covenant Presbyterian Church, located at 322 West Pecan Street in Sherman across from Piner Middle School.

The sale runs from 8:00 a.m. until noon.

Master Gardeners Michelle Haynes and Debra Felske are co-chairing the event this year.

The inventory of plants includes trees and shrubs, such as American Beautyberry bush and Nandinas, ornamental plants such as Muhly Grass, Cannas, Zinnias, Rose Campion, Ironweed, Indian Blanket flower, Bush Morning Glory, Yucca, groundcovers, houseplants, and a variety of herbs and vegetables.

Master Gardeners will be available to answer any gardening questions during the sale.

Proceeds from the sale support the Master Gardeners projects:

The Veterans’ Memorial at Fairview Park in Sherman, Eisenhower Birthplace in Denison, McGee Meditation Garden at First Methodist Church in Sherman, Groff Beds at the Grayson County Courthouse, the memorial garden at First United Methodist Church in Whitesboro, the garden at the entrance to Eisenhower State Park, and a garden at the Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge.

Grayson County Master Gardener Association supports Junior Master Gardeners programs at Tom Bean ISD, Gunter ISD, and Sherman ISD. They also help landscape homes built by Habitat for Humanity in Grayson County. Additionally, the Grayson County Master Gardeners award scholarships to students studying horticulture.

The Grayson County Master Gardeners Association is a 501(c) 3 non-profit organization that is a part of the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service but does not receive project funding from the Extension Service.

The Master Gardeners mission is to educate people about horticulture, which is the science of growing plants.

To contact us for more information about the Spring Plant Sale or any of the Grayson County Master Gardeners projects, visit our website at www.graysoncountymastergardeners.net.

See you at the plant sale!


DAFFODILS, JONQUILS, PAPERWHITES – ALL IN THE FAMILY

Marigay Black

One of the earliest bloomers to open our Spring season are daffodils, jonquils and paperwhites. They all belong to the Narcissus family, their scientific name, and cover more than 13,000 hybrids, giving us plenty of color choices, heights, and bloom times.

Our area nurseries offer potted Narcissus for springtime color and are enjoyed from January into April. Their bright color and fragrance are welcome after a gray and cold winter, but after the flower is spent, what to do with the plant? They can be planted in the ground and, with a little care during the summer, they should re-emerge next spring and beyond.

Narcissus require up to 14 weeks of cold weather to trigger the bulb to flower so they are best planted in the fall. Most types will naturalize in our region in north Texas if their foliage is left to die back after their springtime show. By allowing the leaves to yellow and die, nutrients are returned to the bulb to feed the next season’s blooms. Cut the spent bloom off of its stem but do not remove the foliage until it is completely dead. There will be no resistance when you pick them up and can be added to your compost pile.

For your potted Narcissus, leave them in the pot until after our last freeze of the season. No watering is necessary except to keep them from drying out completely. You can store them in a dry, dark area (like your garage or a closet) during the winter.After our last freeze, plant the bulb directly into the ground. Rule of thumb is to plant the bulb three times deeper than the diameter of the bulb. If your bulb measures two inches in diameter, plant it six inches deep, and about three to six inches apart. They will multiply as they mature so you don’t want to crowd them too much in their new home. Use a rich, well-draining soil, in a spot that will receive 4 to 6 hours of sunlight. Water the soil around the bulb as you do your other garden plants. The bulb will stay in a dormant state until next spring.

Planting Daylillies near the Narcissus is an excellent way to camouflage the wilting leaves of your Narcissus. The Daylillies are making their appearance about the time the Narcissus are dying, and will provide excellent blooms from spring into the summer. Daylillies are widely available in thousands of color variations and sizes. Once the roots are established, they are drought tolerant.

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Daylily blooms

Paperwhites are a popular potted plant often given as gifts for Christmas. They are rated for climate zones 8 – 11, so they tolerate warmer temperatures better than the Daffodils and Jonquils. They also do not have the same chilling requirement to generate new blooms. Once planted in the ground, they can tolerate temperatures to 30 degrees F. Paperwhites are commonly white, yellow or orange.

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Paperwhite blooms

Jonquil flowers come in variations of white and yellows, are generally a smaller bloom than the daffodil, carry a sweet fragrance and the foliage is more rounded. The Trevithian and the Golden Perfection are two cultivars adapted to our area. Jonquils are rated for climate zones 4 – 9 but tend to grow best in climate zone 8. Grayson County is in zone 7b.

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Jonquil blooms

Daffodils are the largest class of Narcissus, coming in a wider variety of colors and shapes than Paperwhites and Jonquils. They generally have only a mild scent at best and their leaf structure is more pointed than the Jonquil. They are rated for climate zones 4 through 9. Texas Agri-Life recommends trying Carlton, a medium-sized yellow with a darker cup; Golden Harvest, a large-sized yellow, or Carbineer, a medium-sized yellow with an orange cup. There is a comprehensive list of suggested cultivars at https://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu. In the Custom Search box, search for “narcissus.”

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Daffodil blooms

Planting and cultivating any Narcissus family member – Daffodil, Jonquil or Paperwhite – into your yard will add early color to your flower beds, so go ahead and enjoy a potted plant this Spring!

The Master Gardener’s Plant Sale will be May 6 from 8:00 a.m. to noon at the Covenant Presbyterian Church, 322 West Pecan, Sherman. Although it will be too late to offer Narcissus, we’ll have a great selection of seasonal plants and Master Gardeners on hand to answer your gardening questions.

Written by Marigay Black, Master Gardener

Grayson County Master Gardeners Association is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization sponsored by the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. Reach us by email at mastergardeners@co.grayson.tx.us, by phone 903-813-4204, our web page graysoncountymastergardeners.net, or our Facebook group.


AMBER WAVES OF GRAIN MAKING A COMEBACK

Marigay Black

Members from the Grayson County Master Gardeners met for a field trip on a mild sunny day last November at the Austin College’s Sneed Prairie Restoration project. The site is 100 acres of land about 10 miles west of Sherman off Old Southmayd Road, north of Highway 82. It was formerly the Clinton and Edith Sneed family farm and was donated to Austin College in 1984.

The land is located in an area of the Blackland Prairie ecosystem that stretches from the Red River to San Antonio, covering more than 14 million acres. Hundreds of years ago, central North America was predominantly grassland – amber waves of grain – stretching south to north from Texas to Canada and east to west from Illinois to Montana. The root systems of the various grasses reached ten feet or more into the ground, making the plants drought tolerant and providing rich nutrients for the millions of grazing bison as they migrated. The prairieland grasses carried rainfall deep into their roots, returning it to the groundwater, reducing flooding and sustaining life on the prairie for man and wildlife.

Now fast forward about 200 or so years. Our communities have been built, covering the ground with impervious surfaces; our crops yield their abundance but deplete nutrients from the soil and, by comparison, have shallow root systems. Rather than the rainfall soaking back into the groundwater, it runs along the surface, causing erosion of top soil and flooding in our cities.

Our field trip was hosted by Kelby Archer, Coordinator for the Center for Environmental Studies at Austin College. We walked several of the fields which have been divided into sections of about 10 acres, and each area is managed with different practices of periodic cutting, cattle grazing and burning. Mr. Archer told us about volunteers from our communities, the Alpha Delta Chi sorority and college students who have worked on the land, conducted research projects and collected data through the years to track the progress of restoration and the impact of a return to cultivation in certain areas of several types of native grasses. A diorama has been built demonstrating the impact of rainwater falling onto two sections of land. One section represents our current landscape, a mix of shallow-root grasses, trees and compacted soils. One section represents a landscape covered with native grasses. Water is released overhead to represent rainfall and drainpipes and jugs are placed to catch surface runoff and groundwater recharging. After allowing time for the water to drain/soak in, it was obvious that most of the water in the “current landscape” side had run off the land and not soaked deep into the soil. The native grass landscape had very little runoff, with most of the water soaked deep into the earth. It is a very effective demonstration.

At our monthly general meeting in February, Mr. Archer and Dr. Peter Schulze, Director of the Center for Environmental Studies at Austin College, gave a presentation on the worldwide impact of grassland ecosystems and the history of the Sneed Project. The site hosts field trips for area schools to teach a course on land use, ecology and conservation. Since the Spring of 2002, there have been field trips from 37 schools and more than 11,000 students. Their program is TEKS-aligned to teach children through hands-on activities. More information is available at Austincollege.edu, Sneed Prairie Field Trip Program.

There are four grass species that are dominant in our Blackland Prairie area. They are Little Bluestem, Big Bluestem, Indiangrass and Switchgrass. The diagram provided by harpethriver.com shows the height of the plants and the depth of the roots as compared to a typical turf grass.

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The Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center provides in-depth information about the care and feeding of thousands of plants. Their extensive database can be found at wildflower.org and they provide the following descriptions. (Information edited for length.)

Little False Bluestem(Schizachyrium scoparium) is an ornamental bunchgrass with fine-textured foliage that forms very dense mounds 18-24 inches in height. Slender, blue-green stems appear in August, reach three feet by September and become radiant mahogany-red with white, shining seed tufts in the fall. Color remains nearly all winter. In winter, the seeds, fuzzy white at maturity, are of particular value to small birds.

Big Bluestem or Turkeyfoot (Andropogon gerardii) has finger-like seed heads that somewhat resemble a turkey’s foot. It reaches a height of 12 feet in favorable bottomland sites. Big Bluestem is a warm season, perennial bunchgrass with blue-green stems four to eight feet tall. Fall color is maroonish-tan. Overgrazing and land destruction have reduced it to mere patches of its former range. Part of the problem is that cattle love it so much – some ranchers refer to it as ice cream for cows – and it cannot take concentrated grazing; the seasonal grazing of migratory bison is what it’s evolved to cope with.

Yellow Indiangrass (Sorghastrum nutans) is a tall, bunching sod-former, three to eight feet in height, with broad blue-green blades and a large, plume-like, soft, golden-brown seed head. This showy perennial’s fall color is deep orange to purple. This is a beautiful grass with a somewhat metallic golden sheen to its flowering parts. It is an important associate in the tallgrass prairies and is relished by livestock. It appears to be favored by occasional flooding and repeated burning and sometimes forms nearly pure stands in the lowlands. It is a warm-season grass with rich gold-and-purple sprays of flowers and seeds in the fall. The bright yellow flowers contrast attractively with the blue-gray foliage. The grass stays low most of the year and then gets tall before blooming in early autumn. Like Little Bluestem, Indiangrass is best planted en masse or in a wildflower meadow. Its deer resistance is high, it provides seeds for birds, and it is a larval host to the Pepper-and-Salt Skipper butterfly.

The Missouri Botanical Garden website is another resource for plant databases and provides the following information on Switchgrass (edited for length). Their web page is Missouribotanicalgarden.org.

Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) is a Missouri native ornamental grass which was an important component of the tallgrass prairie which once covered large areas of the State. It occurs in both wet and dry soils in prairies and open woods, gravel bars and stream banks and along railroad tracks throughout most of the State. Switchgrass is a clump-forming, warm season grass which typically grows to three feet tall. When in flower, flower panicles may bring total plant height to six feet. It features medium green leaves which turn yellow (sometimes with orange tints) in autumn, fading to tan-beige in winter. The foliage clump is topped in mid-summer by finely-textured, pink-tinged, branched flower panicles which hover over the foliage like an airy cloud. Panicles turn beige as the seeds mature in fall with the seed plumes persisting well into winter. Seeds are a food source for birds. Switchgrass generally performs best in full sun; it will grow in part shade but begins to lose its form in too much shade, growing more openly and possibly falling over. It will slowly spread by slightly creeping rhizomes. Plants may self-seed in optimum growing conditions but cultivars may not come true from seed.

With the work that is progressing at the Sneed Prairie, the best practices for grassland restoration will be achieved. To join a tour or volunteer at Sneed Prairie, visit Austincollege.edu, Kelby Archer, Coordinator. Additional resources about establishing native grasses can be found at Texasprairie.org. This article was compiled by Marigay Black, Grayson County Master Gardener. Grayson County Master Gardeners Association is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization sponsored by the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. Reach us by email at mastergardeners@co.grayson.tx.us, by phone 903-813-4204, our web page graysoncountymastergardeners.net, or our Facebook group.


Vermicompost for a Greener 2019!

Michelle Haynes

Master Gardeners, class of 2018

If “Start Vermicomposting My Kitchen Waste” isn’t one of your 2019 New Year Resolutions, it should be! Vermicomposting—using composting worms (not earthworms) to turn your kitchen waste into an amazing garden supplement—is simple, low-cost, and effective. Googling “How To Vermicompost” will result in thousands of resources, so there’s no need to provide instructions here, but the basic bin structure is a plastic box with drainage holes drilled into the bottom and air holes drilled around the top perimeter. The contents start out as a bottom layer of damp bedding, red wiggler worms, kitchen waste, and dried plant matter; the worms will rearrange the contents to their liking. Owning a worm bin involves emptying the contents, separating worms from compost, and reassembling the materials. Let’s look at three handy tools that will simplify your worm wrangling tasks: plastic tote lids, large plastic bags, and tongs.

If you have plastic storage bins that break or just don’t need a top, reserve the lids, as they make perfect trays for the leachate that drains from the holes at the bottom of the bin. The leachate (not the same as worm tea) includes the liquids released from the food as it breaks down. If your worm bin sits directly on the soil, you might not mind the leachate soaking through to the ground. But if your bin is in the garage or on your patio, you won’t want that leachate dripping onto and possibly staining the concrete. Instead, use a tray (such as the plastic lid) to catch the liquids. Here’s a nifty trick: raise the bin on cinder blocks, drill a small hole at the edge of the tray, and let the leachate drip into a container for easy disposal or use (dilute leachate with water before you pour it on plants. That’s worth a bit of research too.).

When I empty my worm bin, I dump the material onto a large flattened plastic bag, such as the strong 50-pound bags for sunflower seeds or dog food. I cut along one side and along the bottom seam, then flatten the bag for a handy 3- by 4-foot mat. This is much easier to fold, store, and carry than a 5×7 plastic tarp would be, and it makes clean up a cinch!

The purpose of dumping the bin’s contents on the mat is to separate the components. The bedding, worms, and unprocessed food can go back into the bin, and the beautiful composted material (that “black gold”) can be added to your plants. Tongs are the perfect tool for picking up any of these materials. Just be gentle when picking up your worms! I actually find that my long, manicured fingernails are the best worm scoops (#WormGirl, #IPlayWithWorms), but that might not appeal to everyone!

Diverting your kitchen waste from the trashbin/landfill to a vermicompost bin is a worthy daily routine. If you’re already giving your foodscraps to your chickens, your worms will happily help with the items your chickens shouldn’t consume (e.g., onions, avocado). A worm bin is for organic materials like fruits and veggies, eggshells, cereal boxes, and coffee and tea grounds, but not for meats. Bokashi bran composting can process meats; take a minute to research that! To those people who say that the Texas summer is too hot and the north Texas winter is too cold for worms, I say bah humbug! The worms are usually well-insulated in their compost, and they can be quite comfortable with a little intervention from you. Check out the winter composting article from Uncle Jim’s Worm Farms (https://unclejimswormfarm.com/worm-composting-during-winter-and-insulating-your-worm-bin/). Vermicomposting is a simple and seemingly magical process. Don’t be intimidated by the discussions on ratios of carbon/nitrogen–dry/wet–brown/green. The perfect ratio certainly makes the bin more efficient, but the most important rule is to not let your worms dry out to death. And while anything that goes wrong with your bin is probably your error, it won’t happen immediately and you can certainly fix it. So, vermicompost in 2019! #JustDoIt!


The “A-Peel” of the Many Layers of Onion Varieties

by Marigay Black

January is considered the prime time for planting most types of onions.How many varieties can you name? In what type of soil should they be planted? How much sunlight do they need?Should I fertilize them now or wait until it’s warmer? How many days until the onion is mature and ready to harvest? Trivia question:When you slice the bulb of the onion, what part of the plant are you cutting? (Hint: there’s a diagram further into this article.)

Vegetable gardening is just one of the many subjects covered in the Master Gardener annual training program. For 2019, our training program begins February 20, with weekly classes through April 10. Online classes are a new option available for those who are unable to meet the in-person schedule.Complete details are available at http://www.graysoncountymastergardeners.net.

Onions have been used as food for thousands of years. References to the onion have been found in China, Egypt and Persia. Onions were carried to North America by the first European settlers during the 15th century, only to discover the plant already in cultivation by the Native Americans. According to diaries kept by certain of the first English colonists, the bulb onion was one of the first crops planted by the Pilgrims.

Onions are identified in two groups: one that will form a bulb, Allium cepa, and a smaller, skinnier one referred to as a bunching onion. The true bunching onion is Allium fistulosum, a perennial that does not form a bulb.

They can be started from seeds or by planting “onion sets” purchased from local nurseries. When onions are first planted, their growth is concentrated on new roots and green leaves or tops. The onion will first form a top and then when a specific combination of daylight, darkness, and temperature is reached, bulb formation starts. The size of the mature onion bulb is dependent on the number and size of the tops. For each leaf, there will be a ring of onion; the larger the leaf, the larger the ring. Because of the light/dark/temperature requirement, gardeners categorize onions in one of three ways: Short Day, Intermediate Day, and Long Day.

“Short Day” onions are recommended for southern states where temperatures are normally warmer year round. The “short day” varieties will start making bulbs early in the year when there are only 10 to 12 hours of daylight. Because they have a higher concentration of water as opposed to solid fiber content, they do not store well and are best eaten fresh. Texas AgriLife Extension recommends several “short day” onions for Grayson County. They are Bermuda, Crystal Wax, Early Grano 502 (yellow, white and red), Granex (yellow, white and red), Red Burgundy and Texas Supersweet 1015.

“Intermediate Day” onions need 12 to 14 hours of daylight to trigger the growth process. Intermediate varieties are ideal for the zone between the north and south, typically Zone 6. Two varieties of “intermediate day” onions are Sweet Red and Cimarron but these varieties do not appear on the Grayson County recommended list.

“Long Day” onions grow better in northern states because they need 14 to 16 hours of daylight to bulb satisfactorily. Long day varieties generally have a more pungent flavor than short day and their storage life is better. The recommended variety for Grayson County is the Yellow Sweet Spanish onion.

Cutting into an onion will reveal its sections. The tunic is a dry papery covering (on the outside of the onion) that protects the bulb. The scale leaves are where food is stored for the plant to develop and survive to maturity. All plant growth occurs from the basal plate; the roots grow downward into the soil and new leaves grow from the upper side. If you save the basal plate with roots attached after you cut your onion, and plant it, eventually you will grow a new onion.pastedGraphic.png pastedGraphic_1.png

Your mental list of naming onions, you probably thought white onions, red onions, yellow onions, and green onions, but, wait! There’s more! Part of the allium family, which also includes garlic and chives, onions are versatile and provide an important ingredient in thousands of wonderful recipes. The chart on the next page lists 21 different types of onion – so many to consider as a healthy choice in our diet.

When cooking with onions, here’s a couple of tips to consider.

To reduce tearing when peeling or slicing an onion, chill for 30 minutes or cut off the top, but leave the root on. The root has the largest amount of sulphuric compounds, which is what causes tears when the onion is peeled or cut. Remove the root prior to cooking or eating.

Prolonged cooking takes the flavor out of onions. Cook only until they’re tender when tested with a fork. To make onions milder, soak them in milk or pour boiling water over slices and let stand. Rinse with cold water.

Onions are definitely on the menu for health considerations. Onions are high in energy and water content. They are low in calories, and have a generous amount of B6, B1, and Folic acid. Onions contain chemicals which help fight the free radicals in our bodies that can cause destruction to cells which are linked to at least 60 diseases.

When a person eats at least one-half a raw onion a day, their good type HDL cholesterol goes up an average of 30%. Onions increase circulation, lower blood pressure, and prevent blood clotting. One medium raw onion contains 60 calories, 1 gram of protein, 14 grams of carbohydrates, 0 fat and cholesterol, 10 mg sodium, 200 mg potassium and 11.9 mg vitamin C (20% of USRDA).

There are several good articles regarding the best planting practices for a successful onion crop. The suggestions here are provided by Dixondale Farms in association with the Texas AgriLife Extension guidelines.

Tips for Successful Onion Growth

Onion plants are hardy and can withstand temperatures as low as 20o F. They should be set out 4 to 6 weeks prior to the date of the last average spring freeze.

When you obtain onion plants, they should be dry. Do not wet them or stick their roots in soil or water. Unpack your plants and store them in a cool, dry place until you plant them. Properly stored onion plants will last up to three weeks. Do not worry if the plants become dry. As soon as they are planted, they will “shoot” new roots and green tops.

Before obtaining your plants, you may want to begin soil preparation. Onions are best grown on raised beds at least 4 inches high and 20 inches wide. Onions need a very fertile and well-balanced soil. Organic gardeners should work in rich finished compost, high in Nitrogen and Phosphorus with plentiful minerals. Spread lime if soil is too acidic. If using commercial fertilizer (10-20-10), make a trench in the top of the bed 4 inches deep, distribute one-half cup of the fertilizer per 10 linear feet of row. Cover the fertilizer with 2 inches of soil.

Article written by Marigay Black, Texas Master Gardener, Grayson County. 01-07-2019.

Resources:

http://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/archives/parsons/publications/onions/onions.html

Introductory text, variety descriptions and photos copyright © Dixondale Farms; used here by permission.

Onion diagrams: Chefkoochooloo.com

https://agrilifeextension.tamu.edu/browse/featured-solutions/gardening-landscaping/onions/

Image: Becci Burkhart/SheKnows.com

https://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/publications/veg_variety/select.php




Older Articles:

Wild Woodland Phlox

As many of us in Texoma have woodland, acreage with trees and shady areas, I thought I would share with you a plant I discovered a couple of years ago; Wild Woodland Phlox, or as it is sometimes called Wild Sweet William.This plant grows very quickly and spreads without any special care. This variety of Phlox loves light toshade and is not fussy about soil and water.

I have it growing in two flowerbeds with lots of trees so it gets Medium to Full Shade.I have posted photographs on the Grayson County Master Gardener website. www.graysoncountymastergardeners.net

Planted in mass it makes a spectacular display, also does not interfere with other plants, in one bed I have Iris and Azaleas planted and they combine beautifully.

Wild woodland phlox blooms for nearly a month in late spring and early summer. The sweet fragrant flowers come in shades of pale lavender to blue.I believe there is a variety that blooms in pink as well. Woodland Phlox is attractive to pollinators such as bumblebees, butterflies, as well as hummingbirds.

It is a perennial and will self-sows. The flowering stems will die back after the plant has produced seed, leaving a mound of dark green foliage to produce and store energy for the development of the following year’s flowering shoots.

Include it in native woodland garden, naturalized areas, and shaded rock gardens; pasture land or an informal low border. Combine it with Ferns, Sedges, Foamflower, Columbine.

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Amaryllis

At Christmas time the nurseries and box stores have Amaryllis for indoors, I was given one four years ago and it was gorgeous.They were bright vivid red with two bulbs.Once Christmas was over I didn’t really know what to do with the bulbs.I could store them for next year as the instructions suggested, but being an avid gardener I thought I would plant them in my garden.The first year nothing came up, so I thought I had lost them.Second year they bloomed and they have bloomed every year since.I bought several outdoor Amaryllis after that and they make a wonderful display.They bloom late April – May.I have posted pictures on the Grayson County Master Gardener website.

I must in fairness mention that my soil is sandy loam that is basically sand with chopped up leaves added. If you have clay you might try putting them in a pot or container that allows them room to grow.They do make baby bulbs regularly.Use a good quality potting soil.

Whether you have sand or clay soils consider adding compost or making your own by finely chopping up leaves and adding that to the soil every year.The work will pay off.Do not add sand to clay soil add some organic matter or if it’s a small area you could use expanded shale.It helps to break up the clay but it can be expensive.

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September 2017

Cover Your Vegetable Garden

By:  Carla Self, Grayson County Master Gardener

Covering your vegetable garden with a cover crop over the winter can provide many benefits for your next summer garden. The crop planted can help cut fertilizer costs, suppress weeds, increase soil health, prevent soil erosion, conserve soil moisture, and overall protect the soil.

Cover crops help cut fertilizer costs by taking nitrogen from the air and storing it in their roots.  Hairy vetch can help to enhance the production of tomatoes, sweet corn, and peppers, so plan your spring garden now using crop rotation before you decide where to plant your vetch. Planted in the early fall, it will remain small through the winter and quickly grow into thick foliage in the spring.  Cut it off at the soil line when you are ready to plant and the roots will continue to provide a steady supply of nutrients for your early spring crop.  Crimson clover is another option and both cover crops will survive temperatures from 0 degrees to -20 degrees.

For crops that are planted later in the spring or summer such as corn, melons and pumpkins, crimson clover and vetch can be left to grow flowers for beauty and for bees as they become active with warm weather and the flowering of plants.

Radishes as a cover crop?  If you don’t like the taste of radishes, consider them a cover crop.  Letting the radishes die in the soil over the winter leaves the soil surface weed free and opens root holes in early spring.  This helps to warm the soil and dry it out faster for earlier spring planting crops. Plant them in the Sherman area at least 8 weeks before the first freeze that is generally around mid-November.

Check now at your local garden or home improvement store for seeds, I have found a cover crop mix with vetches and clovers that is ready for planting.

Cover-cropping your vegetable garden for the winter is beneficial to your soil and provides beauty to your landscape over the winter and especially the spring.

Happy Gardening!

March 2017

The Happy Daffodil  –  It only takes one daffodil in early spring to make me happy. A bright yellow or white flower or a combination of a halo of one color and a perfectly shaped trumpet another. As soon as one pops out from brown sleeping soil, I know that it will soon be followed by many more for I have been planting them sporadically for nearly twenty years. My neighbor has a row of early daffodils in front of her south-facing house that bloom a week or two before my first one in the woods. This year hers bloomed in mid-January—the middle of winter.

My few acres contain a small woods that borders my side yard. When we moved in, the woods edge was lovely–huge trees, no understory shrubs, but English ivy a foot thick covering the ground. Sadly, growing within the ivy was another prolific ivy—leaves of three, poison. So, we mowed the ivy patch, poisoned the poison ivy and left bare earth. That’s when I started planting daffodils, adding to them every few years.

Why daffodils? Because they are uniquely beautiful and so intrepid. Sun—they grow. Shade—they grow. Not like their snooty cousins, the tulips, which insist in being in cold earth for a specific number of days before they bloom. A daffodil just decides when it’s time to grow and peeks through snow, ice, wind or rain. It will stand proudly for several days.

Daffodils require no care. They multiply annually. After the first year, I started looking for different varieties. Yellow petals with bright orange trumpets. Tiny yellow flowers growing several on one stem. Double, dark, old-fashioned ones looking like mums. Bell- shaped, drooping white clusters. I even have a variety in my front garden with white petals and pink trumpets. I do think they look a little strange, but lovely.

With so many different varieties, some of my daffodils are still blooming. Besides in the woods, I have scattered them in small patches here and there—around trees, the edge of the deck, tucked in bare spots in the perennial gardens. By the time this is in print, it will be eight weeks since my first one poked its little face out of the earth and I still have a lovely bouquet on my table. I think I will plant another bunch this fall; if one makes me happy, image a hundred.

For gardening questions and information, e-mail Grayson County Master Gardeners at mastergardeners@co.grayson.tx.us, check our website www.graysoncountymastergardeners.net. and Facebook, or call 903-813-4204.

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February 2017

To our Readers: We hope you have noticed that Master Gardeners have not been posting helpful info for This Week in the Garden. We are changing our format to A Gardener’s Journal. We will still be available to help you with gardening  questions through our website, Facebook and phone as listed below. This is our first journal article.

Adventures with Rabbits by Diane Getrum

Early spring last year

We are quietly breakfasting on the patio.  Toward the back of the yard two rabbits cavort through the spring grasses and dart in an out of the sheltering junipers.  How  nice it is to have wildlife so close.

Later that spring

What an exciting morning!  We were breakfasting on the patio when one of the rabbits approached us.  It stopped 5 feet from where we were sitting and as I held my breath it moved behind the low brick wall at the edge of the patio.  Curious about where it had gone, I checked the flower pots.  Hidden underneath the flowers I found 4 baby bunnies snuggled down in the top of the pot!  A pot full of bunnies!  Is it Easter?

Monday

Summer is just around the corner.  The beans are magnificent!  So many flowers!  I cannot wait for the first mess of green beans!

Wednesday

I checked the beans again today.  Found lots of tiny TINY green beans, not even half an inch long.  If I mark the date on the calendar I can see how fast they grow.

Thursday

I don’t understand it.  Yesterday so many green beans and today nothing but flowers.  There are still lots of flowers.  I’ll keep watching.

Sunday

OK!  This is ridiculous!  How can the blossoms keep coming and there not be any beans!  There aren’t any bugs.  The plants look great.  There aren’t any little green beans on the ground!

Monday

RABBITS!  They have been eating the beans!  Nipping off the juiciest ones just as they turn an inch long!  I surprised them this morning and chased then out of the garden.

Tuesday

Rabbit fencing installed!  Google said you had to bury the fence a foot deep to keep the pesky critters from digging underneath.  I didn’t do that.  But I did bury the last strand of the fence to there were no inviting holes.  I hope this works!

The next week

Green Beans!! At last!  And, there are no signs of rabbits sneaking under the fence.  Hooray!

A few days later

The holly hocks look like their leaves have been nipped off.  You don’t suppose ….

The next morning!

Ah ha!  Caught you red handed … umm … green lipped? … Mom is surprised that anything would eat holly hocks.  She says her father tried everything to get rid of them and nothing worked.

That evening

I am watching the sun set from my patio when from the distance drifts a singing howl that is joined by a second voice.  Senor Coyote!  Te gustaria algunos conejos sabrosos? (Mr. Coyote!  Would you like some tasty rabbits?)   How nice it is to have wildlife so close.

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Thursday, January 26, 2017

Cleanup and Fertilizing – Texas weather is always changeable but this month may be in line for winning a prize. It makes it hard to know what to do in the garden. Beautiful days such as this past Monday and Tuesday makes us raring to go with spring plants. Today, not so much.

However, there are things you can do and should do. First of all, you may have old dried plants that need pulled—obedient plant, for example, or cut—Mexican petunia, asparagus, daisies, because with warmer weather, they will start growing and then it will be harder to pull  or cut stalks close to the ground.

Roses and fruit trees are ready for pruning. Two reminders for fruit trees: apple and pear trees need to grow around a central leader; stone fruits—peach and plum—should be trimmed in an open cup shape. (If you are not sure how to do this, you should consider taking the Master Gardener classes which start this February 22.)

The amount of foliage removed from roses changes the amount and size of future blooms. If you want large, show-stopping roses, remove one- half to two-thirds of the bush, but you will not get nearly as many as you would if you prune away only one-third of the branches. The blooms from a lightly-pruned bush will be smaller. The type and health of the bushes should also be considered. A standard rule for both fruit trees and roses besides shortening branches is always remove damaged, diseased, dinky—less than pencil size—and any crossing branches that will interfere with cup-like growth. It’s called the DDDC rule.

There are a few things that should be fertilized now: asparagus, iris and any cold-weather plants such as pansies that are looking weak or scraggly. – Ginger Mynatt

For more  information and gardening questions, e-mail mastergardeners@co.grayson.tx.us.  Check our website www.graysoncountymastergardeners.net and Facebook, or call 903-813-4204.  Also, you may visit the Master Gardener’s Office at Grayson County Courthouse, 100 W. Houston, Sherman, TX 75090.

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Thursday, January 12, 2017

As the deadline for registration to attend classes to become a Texas Master Gardener approaches, I thought I should acquaint you with who master gardeners are and some questions to help you determine whether you would like to train with the Grayson County Master Gardeners starting February 22 and continuing every Wednesday through May 3, from 9 a.m to 4 p.m. at the Grayson County courthouse. The following information comes from our state offices.

Master Gardeners are members of the local community who take an active interest in their lawns, trees, shrubs, flowers and gardens. They are enthusiastic, willing to learn and to help others, and able to communicate with diverse groups of people. What really sets Master Gardeners apart from other home gardeners is their special training in horticulture: 50 hours of instruction that covers topics including lawn care, ornamental trees and shrubs, insects, diseases, weed management, soils and plant nutrition, vegetable gardening, home fruit production, garden flowers, and water conservation.

In exchange for their training, persons who become Master Gardeners contribute time as volunteers working through their Extension office to provide horticultural-related information to their communities. – Ginger Mynatt

To help you decide if you should apply to be a Master Gardener, ask yourself these questions:

  • Do I want to learn more about the culture and maintenance of many types of plants?
  • Am I eager to participate in a practical and intense training program?
  • Do I look forward to sharing my knowledge with people in my community?
  • Do I have enough time to attend training and to complete the volunteer service?

If you answer “yes” and want to apply, go to www.graysoncountymastergardeners.net , e-mail mastergardeners@co.grayson.tx.us,  or call 903-813-4204.

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Thursday, December 29, 2016

Garden Calendar, a Gardener’s Best Friend

It’s the end of the year. Two thousand seventeen will be here in a few days. The weather is toying with us: temperatures dipping low; rain and drizzle coming for several days; and then it’s in the 70s. What’s a gardener to do with this unpredictable weather? Start a garden calendar. That’s what.

By having calendars from year to year, you will know where you planted spring plants last year and plan your rotation of crops. You will also be able to chart the weather and see how much you had to water previously and compare it with rainfall that season.

You will be able to see what and how much you added to your soil—compost, fertilizer, topsoil, expanded shale–and judge your levels of additives for this year. What insects caused the most problems and were any of your methods for combating them successful. If you record carefully, you will know what varieties performed well and what perennials are hiding in the ground ready to pop up.

Calendars can be created in many ways. For years, gardeners often kept diaries specifically for garden stats. Today, some seed companies sell garden calendars with helpful suggestions that recommend available plants for the season. It can be fun to create your own with photos from previous years included, or if you are technically savvy, a well-planned spread sheet may be your best bet. With a spreadsheet, columns can be added year after year for a side-by-side view to compare each year.

No matter what format you use or how much information you keep, a garden calendar can prevent the same mistakes year after year, help you select plants and place them properly. All in all, it can make you a more efficient gardener.  – Ginger Mynatt

New Master Gardener classes are starting this February. If you are interested, check our website www.graysoncountymastergardeners.net and Facebook, or call 903-813-4204. For information and gardening questions, e-mail mastergardeners@co.grayson.tx.us

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Thursday, December 21, 2016

Feed the Birds—-Even the birds can be surprised by severe shifts in weather because like us, birds are warm-blooded. Fortunately, they have layers of feathers designed to conserve body heat. You can see them on a cold day sitting on a wire or branch in the sun fluffed into a little ball. Sometimes they sit on one foot only and switch back and forth to keep their feet warm.

Here’s where you come in. Birds need more rich food at this time, and it is harder to come by because insects are not readily available.  Flying not only takes tremendous amounts of energy but also causes heat loss. Some birds will not survive without an easy source of food and water. So, buy or make a good-sized feeder and fill it with a good-quality bird seed.

White millet and black-oil sunflower seeds are the main ingredients in a healthy bird-seed package. As different birds prefer different seeds, mixes that add finely-cracked corn and black thistle seeds will tempt a larger variety of birds. These grains are rich in oil and protein. Cheaper packages include milo, but most birds will not eat it.

There are many special treats available such as suet cakes and fancy seed-covered ornaments at nurseries or feed stores. Some of these are gelatin-based which birds love. However, be careful. Check the kind of seeds and what holds the seeds together to avoid buying something pretty but not useful to birds.

If you wish to make your own treats, mix peanut butter into a dough with corn meal or flour and add shelled peanuts, nuts, dried fruits, even bacon drippings. This can be smeared onto pinecones or bark of trees.

Remember your birdbaths and water containers may freeze over, so check them often to maintain fresh water. – Ginger Mynatt

For information and gardening questions, e-mail mastergardeners@co.grayson.tx.us.  Check our website www.graysoncountymastergardeners.net and Facebook, or call 903-813-4204.

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Thursday, December 15, 2016

A small amount of roof collects a lot of rain water.  The first time we collected water, we bought fifty-five gallon drums.  A few minutes of a good rain completely fills fifty-five gallons.  So next we purchased several tanks discarded by companies who buy large volumes of food grade liquids, not oils.  These tanks have metal frames around them and come in different sizes. We bought the largest ones.

These tanks are equipped with an outlet and a valve at the bottom.  You must adapt the valve to the size of a garden hose, and it does take some engineering to put up a guttering design directing the rain water into the tanks. Metal guttering is best because it does not fall apart as easily as the plastic guttering.  Cut a hole in the lid of the tank under the guttering so water spills into the hole.  Make sure the seal between the tank and the guttering is tight because mosquitos will enter any break.

Next design an overflow system.  At the top of the tank, place a pipe going into another tank or attach a garden hose leading the wherever you want extra water.  The simplest system to use the water is gravity flow so the tanks should be placed on a platform at least a foot or two from the ground.  The more sophisticated system is to acquire a pump.  A pump allowed the water under pressure to travel anywhere in the yard.

Saved rain water means better quality  water for your plants without all the chemicals used to purify drinking water.  Also, rain water is much better for mixing herbicide or insecticide sprays.  Cover any open breaks in the design with screening as mosquitoes are persistent. Once your system is set up, then good water is cheap and ready to use. – Nancy Taylor

For information and gardening questions, e-mail mastergardeners@co.grayson.tx.us.  Check our website www.graysoncountymastergardeners.net and Facebook, or call 903-813-4204.

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 Thursday, December 8, 2016

REFLECTIONS OVER 2016

At the end of every growing season, every gardener must reflect back to determine what was successful and what needs to be discarded.  Each year is so different depending upon the weather, the plants chosen to grow, the amount of fertilizer used.

What to discard?  We chopped a cactus that had grown too large and threw it into a burn pile.  While waiting for the perfect time to burn, it grew roots and now it is now growing in more places. Be careful where you plant cactus.  We also planted bamboo on our property line to hide the neighbors junk yard. It has to be cut to the ground each spring.  While this is a nuisance, it hides an ugly site, but probably best not to plant bamboo!

When to harvest? How does one tell when a watermelon is ripe?  What color is a pomegranate when it is ripe?  How does one know when to dig sweet potatoes when the foliage is still on the vine?  How does one keep crows out of the pecan trees?  For sure, crows know the exact moment when pecans can be harvested.

Which flower gave you the happiest results?  This year the lowly zinnia bloomed magnificently from the minute it was planted until cooler weather came.  Bees and butterflies swarmed every minute.  This spurred a great interest into planting flowers that can feed our beautiful, helpful friends.

Looking back, I realize that we have so much to be thankful for–such as the seasons which give us spring when the magnolias blossoms spread their perfume across the yard, and now in the fall when the soft breezes waft the Russian olive shrub’s perfume. Although we complain about summer heat, the plants take advantage of the fast-growing season providing us with shade and food.  Now as winter is upon us, we have time to browse the seed catalogs and talk to friends about their last season.

Advice from a friend this year is:  fertilize peppers heavily.  When you think it is too much, add some more.  His are over five feet tall and full of peppers. – Nancy Taylor

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Thursday, November 24, 2016

REFLECTIONS OVER 2016–At the end of every growing season, every gardener must reflect back to determine what was successful and what needs to be discarded.  Each year is so different depending upon the weather, the plants chosen to grow, the amount of fertilizer used.

What to discard?  We chopped a cactus that had grown too large and threw it into a burn pile.  While waiting for the perfect time to burn, it grew roots and now it is now growing in more places. Be careful where you plant cactus.  We also planted bamboo on our property line to hide the neighbors junk yard. It has to be cut to the ground each spring.  While this is a nuisance, it hides an ugly site, but probably best not to plant bamboo!

When to harvest? How does one tell when a watermelon is ripe?  What color is a pomegranate when it is ripe?  How does one know when to dig sweet potatoes when the foliage is still on the vine?  How does one keep crows out of the pecan trees?  For sure, crows know the exact moment when pecans can be harvested.

Which flower gave you the happiest results?  This year the lowly zinnia bloomed magnificently from the minute it was planted until cooler weather came.  Bees and butterflies swarmed every minute.  This spurred a great interest into planting flowers that can feed our beautiful, helpful friends.

Looking back, I realize that we have so much to be thankful for–such as the seasons which give us spring when the magnolias blossoms spread their perfume across the yard, and now in the fall when the soft breezes waft the Russian olive shrub’s perfume. Although we complain about summer heat, the plants take advantage of the fast-growing season providing us with shade and food.  Now as winter is upon us, we have time to browse the seed catalogs and talk to friends about their last season.

Advice from a friend this year is:  fertilize peppers heavily.  When you think it is too much, add some more.  His are over five feet tall and full of peppers.  Everyone have a safe, happy Thanksgiving! – Nancy Taylor

For information and gardening questions, e-mail mastergardeners@co.grayson.tx.us. Check our website www.graysoncountymastergardeners.net and Facebook, or call 903-813-4204. Sign up for our classes starting in February!

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Thursday, November 17, 2016

COMPOSTING

An acre of land planted with nine fruit trees, eleven nut trees, five raised beds, seven fig trees, and four pomegranate shrubs. How can anyone afford to take care of all these plants with the high costs of water and fertilizer? We do it two ways. We make our own compost and collect rain water.

A person cannot have too much compost because it can be used in so many different manners– as a mulch around plants or incorporated into the soil. All summer we collect our grass cuttings and put them on top of the raised beds or into a designated compost area.

Now the trees are starting to drop their leaves. Think about this: every mineral stored in fully mature grass and leaves is returned to the soil as compost. Collect the leaves wherever you can. Run a lawn mower over them to break them into smaller pieces and place in the same areas as the grass.

All that is necessary to promote composting is water and turning of the grass and leaves. To help initiate the composing process, throw blood meal, bone meal, seaweed, or any other manure into the pile. Do not use any manure from dog or cat droppings because they are meat eaters and carry bacteria harmful to humans.

Instead of composing in bins or raised beds, whole leaves can be deposited around blackberry bushes, grapes vines, and other plants. Water the leaves well so they stay where placed. Thick layers of leaves or grass clippings bury weed seeds and stop weeds from germinating. After a couple of years, these leaves will develop into rich soil.

If you are lucky, the company that trims the branches along the high wires will drop off their chipped branches into your yard. These large particles take longer to break down. If you incorporate these chips or sawdust into the soil, you will need to fertilize more because sawdust ties up nitrogen. Once the chips finish composting, you will have fine soil. Grass clippings and leaves are too valuable to put into the garbage dump. – Nancy Taylor

For information and gardening questions, e-mail mastergardeners@co.grayson.tx.us. Check our website www.graysoncountymastergardeners.net and Facebook, or call 903-813-4204.

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Thursday, November 10, 2016

GROWING BLACKBERRIES AND RASPBERRIES

continued from last week

Last week I recommended trying blackberry plants and named a few varieties. You should also know that blackberries can be purchased bare root or container grown.  Our plants were bare root and arrived with damp wood shavings around them.  If you purchase bare root plants of any kind, you must be careful not to let the roots become dry.  You can keep them in a bucket of water for an hour or two or wrap a damp towel around them. Dry roots equal a dead plant.   Dig your holes in the location you want to plant them before they arrive so they can go immediately into the ground.

Blackberry plants quickly send up shoots which will be where next year’s crop will appear.  Do not expect berries the first year planted, but the second year expect berries on the canes which were grown the first year.  As the berries mature and ripen the fruiting cane leaves will start to lose their luster.  The plant is spending all its energy to ripen the berry.  Just about the time all the berries are ripe, the fruiting cane turns dark and appears to be dying.  It is.  Go to the bottom on the dying cane and cut it off.  But, notice the new canes coming up around it.  These are the fruiting canes for next year.

The raspberries we can grow here in North Texas are called Dorman Red.  Neil Sperry does not recommend growing these berries because they are not like the ones grown in the north, but thorny Dorman Red plants multiply quickly.  They become perky, fresh looking, and produce many blossoms early in the spring.  Dorman berries cannot be picked until they are soft, even if they are red and they do not taste like northern berries and they are smaller. But they are great for jelly and desserts. Harvest takes 7 to 10 days. The rest of the year they lie quiet, living through the hot summer with very few waterings.   I have had good luck with Dorman Red raspberries. -Nancy Taylor

For information and gardening questions, e-mail mastergardeners@co.grayson.tx.us.  Check our website www.graysoncountymastergardeners.net and Facebook, or call 903-813-4204

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Thursday, November 10, 2016

GROWING BLACKBERRIES AND RASPBERRIES

Blackberry plants can be purchased bare root or container grown. Our plants were bare root and arrived with damp wood shavings around them. If you purchase bare root plants of any kind, you must be careful not to let the roots become dry. You can keep them in a bucket of water for an hour or two or wrap a damp towel around them. Dry roots equal a dead plant. Dig your holes in the location you want to plant them before they arrive so they can go immediately into the ground. All fruiting plants require full sun. Blackberry plants quickly send up shoots which will be where next year’s crop will appear. But blackberries can also be grown from root cuttings which are pieces of root removed from the mother plant and planted in containers or other places in the ground. Do not expect berries the first year planted, but the second year expect berries on the canes which were grown the first year. As the berries mature and ripen the fruiting cane leaves will start to lose their luster. It is spending all its energy to ripen the berry. Just about the time all the berries are ripe, the fruiting cane turns dark and appears to be dying. It is. Go to the bottom on the dying cane and cut it off. But, notice the new canes coming up around it. These are the fruiting canes for next year.

The raspberries we can grow here in North Texas are called Dorman Red. Neil Sperry does not recommend growing these berries because they are not like the ones grown in the north. Raspberries grown up north grow much like our upright thornless blackberries. The canes are so tall they are tied to trellises. The berries are larger and have a different taste. But thorny Dorman Red plants multiply quickly. They become perky, fresh looking, and produce many blossoms early in the spring. Harvest takes 7 to 10 days. The rest of the year they lie quiet, living through the hot summer with very few waterings. The berries are smaller but tasty. Great for jelly and desserts. I have had good luck with Dorman Red raspberries.  – Nancy Taylor

For information and gardening questions, e-mail mastergardeners@co.grayson.tx.us. Check our website www.graysoncountymastergardeners.net and Facebook, or call 903-813-4204. Also, you may visit the Master Gardener’s Office at Grayson County Courthouse, 100 W. Houston, Sherman, TX 75090.

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Thursday, November 3, 2016

Last month our Master Gardeners writers wrote this is the season to plant. We plant now because it gives everything planted months to grow its roots before the plant has to spend energy growing leaves, blossoms, and fruits. Also, it gives the plant time to establish itself before facing the hot, summer sun. Blackberries are recommended because they can be grown on city lots as well as country sides. They are easy to grow in any type of soil with very few demands and no insect problems. You can choose thorny or thornless cultivars.   Because of the need to occasionally weed and because some children may be the harvester, thornless cultivars are recommended. Our first planted blackberry was Arapaho purchased from a box store. That one plant produced berries the second year and sent up about ten new sprouts. We transferred those ten sprouts into a row which began our blackberry patch. Arapaho is an upright, thornless plant that really does not need to be tied to a trellis. It produces thick canes and is a heavy producer of fruit. We wanted to try another cultivar. The cultivar chosen was Natchez which was the most expensive displayed in the catalog. Natchez was chosen as a ‘Texas Super Star’ in 2013 which is the year we planted. The price was three plants for fifteen dollars. But they arrived with four Natchez plants and one thorny plant. What to do?   The thorny plant was planted just to see what kind of fruit it would give. It gives a beautiful berry, but every time we reach to pick a berry, we feel like Jaws it coming up to bite us. It will be removed this winter. Natchez is a thornless but semi-erect plant which means you have to tie it to a trellis. This is the cultivar I recommend you purchase. The berry is large, very sweet and favorable, and ripens in late May into early June. It, too, is a heavy producer. – Nancy Taylor

For information and gardening questions, e-mail mastergardeners@co.grayson.tx.us. Check our website www.graysoncountymastergardeners.net and Facebook, or call 903-813-4204. Also, you may visit the Master Gardener’s Office at Grayson County Courthouse, 100 W. Houston, Sherman, TX 75090.

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Thursday, October 27, 2016

Fall is for Planting! – Trees and Shrubs

Now is the best time to add container- grown trees and shrubs to your landscape. They will have time to establish good root systems before the hot summer. Visit your local, independent nursery for quality trees and shrubs and for help in determining which varieties meet your landscaping requirements: size, deciduous or evergreen, full sun or shade tolerant.

If it’s trees you’re wanting, first decide the size you need. They may look little at the nursery, but trees such as oaks, pecans and Bald Cypress have the potential to grow well above 50 feet. Medium-sized trees–Chinese Pistache, Soapberry and Lacebark Elm to name a few– generally top out 20 – 50 feet. Desert Willow, Mexican Plum and redbuds are some of the many small trees that will likely stay under 20 feet.

It is easiest to start a tree with a trunk diameter of 2-4 inches. This size will establish and thrive in 2-3 years. The larger the tree at planting, the longer it takes to establish and the lower the survival rate.

Shrubs form understory for groupings of trees or decorative plantings around houses. Large shrubs, 9 feet and above, include Crape Myrtle, various junipers and hollies and Vitex. Medium shrubs, Spireas, sages and Nandinas will grow 6-9 feet, and small, 3 – 6 feet shrubs include Dwarf Burning Bush, barberries and abelias. A few evergreens, spreading junipers for instance, work well as ground covers.

The secret to success with trees and shrubs is in the planning to determine size, placement and proper planting. – Sue Abernathy

For more information contact:  Grayson County Master Gardener Association

http://www.graysoncountymastergardeners.net/

mastergardeners@co.grayson.tx.us

https://www.facebook.com/groups/graysoncountymastergardeners/

903.813.4204

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Thursday, October 20, 2016

Fall is for Planting! – Cool Season Color

Now is the time to add cool season color to your landscape and containers for the fall and winter months. By following these simple guidelines your landscape will be the envy of the neighborhood.

  • Prepare beds prior to planting by incorporating 4-5” organic matter (compost). Always start with new potting soil when replanting containers.
  • Plan your beds so that there will always be several plants in bloom at the same time.
  • Select a variety of annuals, perennials and bulbs in beds and containers.
  • Cool season flowering annuals now available include alyssum, violas, pansies, snapdragons and dianthus. Add ornamental mustard, cabbage or kale as companion plants.
  • Perennials now available include garden mums, asters and spring flowering bulbs.
  • Add cool weather herbs including dill, fennel and parsley for a feathery look and some added greenery.
  • Check each plant’s light and water requirements and group plants with similar requirements
  • Masses of color show up better from any distance. Warm colors like oranges, reds, yellow, and hot pink are more visible from afar. Cool colors such as purple, lavender, pale yellow and crimson make small areas appear larger. Add white flowers as contrast.
  • Plant color into containers using the “thriller, filler, spiller” guidelines. Begin with tall plants (thrillers) in the center or back of the container, then add plants of medium height (fillers) followed by trailing (spiller) varieties near the edges. – Sue Abernathy

For more information contact:

Grayson County Master Gardener Association

http://www.graysoncountymastergardeners.net/

mastergardeners@co.grayson.tx.us

https://www.facebook.com/groups/graysoncountymastergardeners/

903.813.4204

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Thursday, October 6, 2016

Fall is for Planting! – Spring Wildflowers

You too can have wildflowers in your garden next spring by following these eight easy steps before the end of October.

  1. Purchase wildflower seeds from a reputable seed supplier.
  2. Select a site with good drainage and at least eight hours of direct sunlight.
  3. Use an herbicide to eliminate any vegetation in the selected site which may compete with your wildflowers (optional step).
  4. Mow the existing vegetation as short as possible and remove the clippings from the area.
  5. Rake or lightly till the soil surface to NO MORE than 1 inch in depth to prepare the planting site. This step is extremely important for two reasons:       to limit the growth of dormant weed seeds and to achieve successful wildflower seed germination.
  6. Combine wildflower seeds with sand or potting soil (inert material) in a ratio of 1 part seeds to 4 parts inert material to increase the volume of broadcast material and ensure even seed distribution.
  7. Broadcast half of your seed/inert material mix over the selected site. Sow the remaining seed in a direction perpendicular to the first sowing.
  8. Press the seed into the soil by walking over the newly planting area. DO NOT COVER the wildflower seeds. Larger wildflower seeds should be visible on the soil surface.

Additional tip: Plant some of the seeds in a pot filled with potting soil. This will provide an easy way to identify the wildflower seedlings as they germinate. – Sue Abernathy

For more information contact:

Grayson County Master Gardener Association

http://www.graysoncountymastergardeners.net/

mastergardeners@co.grayson.tx.us

https://www.facebook.com/groups/graysoncountymastergardeners/

903.813.4204

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Thursday, September 15, 2016

One of the most beautiful, romantic plants that bloom during our hot summers through fall is commonly called the moonflower. The 5 – 8 inch trumpet-like flowers bloom at night, so white they seem to glow in the dark. On a cloudy day, the flowers may stay open until mid-morning. Their green-gray leaves are oval with points, soft and slightly fuzzy.

Moonflowers are very poisonous, especially the flowers and seeds. They belong to the Datura species with several genera which grow both as vines and bushes. Some of their other names are devil’s trumpets, jimsonweed, thorn-apple, hell’s bells.

Moonflowers are easy to grow–very drought tolerant and prolific. Small, sharp stickers cover the ball-shaped seed pod. The seeds inside are tiny and numerous. When the pod cracks open, the seeds spread and moonflowers grow the next season. However, the bush is a tender perennial, often wintering over and growing larger each year unless contained in a pot. An old plant may reach heights of 7 or 8 feet with a spread of four feet. It is truly a spectacular sight to go outside at night or early morning and see a moonflower bush covered with 16 white trumpets.

The leaves and stems if crushed give off and unpleasant odor but the flowers smell sweet. Because they are poisonous, nothing eats them, but the hummingbird moth is attracted to the flowers as well as various wasps. In spite of their toxicity, they are beautiful and reliable in the fall garden. – Ginger Mynatt

For gardening questions and information, e-mail mastergardeners@co.grayson.tx.us, check our website www.graysoncountymastergardeners.net. and Facebook, or call 903-813-4204. Also, you may visit the AgriLife Office at Grayson County Courthouse, 100 W. Houston, Sherman, TX 75090.

The FALL GARDEN SHOW at Loy Lake Park will be on Saturday, October 8th this year! For more information click HERE

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Thursday, September 8, 2016

Even though school has started, we are still in the summer season. Most days are still so hot it’s hard to start new fall plants. Our gardens look scraggly unless we have planned ahead with late-blooming shrubs and flowers that bloom in spite of alkaline soil and hot, dry weather. One of the best of these is Texas Sage.

Texas Sage, scientific name Leucophyllum frutescens, is a native plant. In 2005, it was chosen Texas Native Shrub of Texas.  It likes alkaline soil, thrives in dryness and blooms summer through fall. When a surprise shower or a day of rain comes through, lavender to purple blooms cover the bush. It is sometime called the barometer plant because of this habit. However, watering heavily will not produce the same profusion of blooms. Texas sage has lovely silvery leaves with some variations of grays or greens depending on the variety.

Texas Sage, also known as ceniza, purple sage, and Texas silverleaf, has several varieties. “Silvarado” is very popular because of its rounded shape. While sages are slow-growing for the first few years, “Silvarado” reaches dimensions of 6’ x 6’. “Compact” is a smaller variety growing to 4.5’ x  4.5’. “Heavenly Cloud” grows to 8’ x 8’.

You sometimes see Texas Sage trimmed into hedge shapes along roadways but sages are best served by light pruning in winter or early spring before buds form. Texas Sage can be purchased in nurseries, sown from seeds but I wouldn’t recommend this at this time of year, or started from cuttings from a neighbors’ bush. – Ginger Mynatt

For gardening questions and information, e-mail mastergardeners@co.grayson.tx.us, check our website www.graysoncountymastergardeners.net. and facebook, or call 903-813-4204. Also, you may visit the AgriLife Office at Grayson County Courthouse, 100 W. Houston, Sherman, TX  75090.

The FALL GARDEN SHOW at Loy Lake Park will be on Saturday, October 8th this year! For more information click HERE

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Thursday, September 1, 2016

As fall approaches, trees start their preparations for winter. They stop making food necessary to sustain their leaves with the cessation of chlorophyll. This makes now an ideal time to think about composting those leaves that will soon cover your lawn.

Fall leaves contain high amounts of carbon, a necessary element in making good compost material. We call them “brown”.  Instead of bagging and sending leaves to the landfill, pile them in a bin or just a pile and let nature take its course. The smaller size they are, the better. You can run over a pile of them with your lawn mower and add the bits to your bin. Smaller pieces compost faster.

To make nutritious, well-balanced compost, though, one also needs nitrogen, a substance available in “green” materials. Into each pile of brown leaves, you need to add some greens such as kitchen garbage from vegetables, fresh grass clipping, green garden plants, coffee grounds (Their color may be brown, but their chemistry is green), dried manure, unwanted fruit including the horse apples from bois d’arc trees, even the hair from your pets. A ratio of two parts brown to one part green, judged by bulk, not weight, is ideal.

Keep your compost material moist, like a wrung-out sponge, and if you want the finished product a hurry, mix it around every week or two. The more you mix, the quicker it breaks down. By spring, you should have some very fine fertilizer. – Ginger Mynatt

For gardening questions and information, e-mail mastergardeners@co.grayson.tx.us, check our website www.graysoncountymastergardeners.net. and facebook, or call 903-813-4204. Also, you may visit the Master Gardener’s Office at Grayson County Courthouse, 100 W. Houston, Sherman, TX  75090.

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Thursday, August 25, 2016

Take some time this month to do those gardening chores that will make your fall landscape more colorful and give you a head start on spring. Here are some suggestions to help you get started:

  • Trim annuals and perennials that will bloom again in cooler weather by about one-third. Some of these might be salvia, impatiens, and zinnia.
  • Fertilize any perennials now that will bloom into late fall. This month is also a good time to fertilize ground covers.
  • Clean out annuals that have finished their show.
  • Feed roses heavily this month, water well, and prune any fall bloomers.
  • Shape up any shrubs by the end of the month so that they have time to harden off before the first freeze. Wait a few weeks to plant any new trees or large shrubs.
  • Start dividing irises and daffodils. Other spring-blooming perennials can be divided as soon as foliage dies down. Trim other perennials such as columbine, butterfly bush, and oxalis.
  • Plant black-eyed peas, bush beans, corn, and cucumbers in your vegetable garden. There is still time!
  • Start now to plant flower seeds for flowers and wildflowers next spring. Order seeds from native plant vendors like Wildseed Farms (wildseedfarms.com) or Native American Seed (www.seedsource.com). Both of these companies give helpful ideas on which natives grow best in our area and the best procedures to have successful flowering.

Take advantage of this nice break from the summer heat, and give your yard and garden a little tender loving care. You will be glad you did come spring and the show that it will provide for you! – Donna Rogers

For information and gardening questions, e-mail mastergardeners@co.grayson.tx.us. Check our website www.graysoncountymastergardeners.net and Facebook, or call 903-813-4204. Also, you may visit the Master Gardener’s Office at Grayson County Courthouse, 100 W. Houston, Sherman, TX 75090.

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Thursday, August 18, 2016

Creating a garden to attract butterflies can be as easy as throwing out a few zinnia seeds or as complex as planning a space full of native plants that will serve the needs of many species. Some plants (host) will serve as a place for adults to lay eggs and as food for caterpillars, and some plants (nectar) will serve as food for adults. If you choose a designated butterfly garden, you will need to give attention to your plant choices since each species of butterfly has specific host and nectar requirements.

Like all gardening, there is a certain amount of experimenting to learn what works in your area. You can add new host and nectar plants as your garden evolves. Keep these things in mind as you plan:

  • Butterflies like open sunny areas.
  • Provide water in your garden.
  • Plant brightly colored flowers for nectar.
  • Place flat stones in your garden, providing a place for butterflies to rest and bask in the sun.
  • Expect some plant damage on larval food plants. Chewed leaves and caterpillars crawling around your plants indicate that your butterfly gardening efforts are successful!
  • Create a puddling box. Butterflies drink from muddy areas (puddling) to extract needed minerals. You can make a puddling box by mixing ½ cup of salt with one gallon of sand. Pour in a shallow waterproof pan, insert the pan in the soil, and keep it moist.
  • Say no to insecticides. These have no place in a butterfly garden. Even benign insecticides, such as Bacillus thuringiensis, are lethal to caterpillars.

A few examples of butterflies commonly seen in our area and their host plants are: black swallowtail (parsley, fennel); monarch (milkweed); gulf fritillary (passion vine); and sulphurs (asters, clover). For more information on butterflies and their preferred plants, check out these websites: www.wildflower.org or www.butterfliesandmoths.org. – Donna Rogers

For information and gardening questions, e-mail mastergardeners@co.grayson.tx.us. Check our website www.graysoncountymastergardeners.net and Facebook, or call 903-813-4204. Also, you may visit the Master Gardener’s Office at Grayson County Courthouse, 100 W. Houston, Sherman, TX 75090.

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Thursday, August 11, 2016

In our Texoma area we can grow veggies twice a year–spring/summer, then again in fall.  In August it will be time to start thinking about what veggies you want to grow.  Start them from seed or plant them directly in the bed.  You can determine when to plant your veggies based on counting the number of weeks before the first killing freeze.  In Sherman/Denison that’s November 11th, but I usually back that up a week so as a general rule because Texas weather is not trustworthy.

If you are buying seeds, the instructions in the back of the packet will tell you how many weeks before the first freeze to plant.  As hot as it is, you are probably ahead to start seeds indoors or buy transplants. A full list of recommended fall veggies and planting dates can be found on the Grayson County Master Gardener website.  Here are a few popular veggies to grow in fall with the number of weeks to plant before last freeze date.

Winter squash 12-14 weeks–that is now.

Kohlrabi 12-16 weeks

Broccoli 10-16 weeks
Snap peas 8-10 weeks
Lettuce 10-14 weeks
Cucumber 10-12 weeks
Okra 12-16 weeks

Now is a good time to start preparing your soil or bed ready for planting. Many of our nurseries and box stores carry winter transplants. If you decide to go this way you can plant a little later. Optimal is to have your veggies ready as the weather cools.  Veggies can be grown in containers which is makes it easier to save them from an early freeze. – Beverley Patterson

For information and gardening questions, e-mail mastergardeners@co.grayson.tx.us, check our website www.graysoncountymastergardeners.net. and Facebook, or call 903-813-4204. Also, you may visit the Master Gardener’s Office at Grayson County Courthouse, 100 W. Houston, Sherman, TX  75090.

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Thursday, August 4, 2016

In our hot Texoma summer days when most of my plants are struggling or wilting there is a plant that gives glorious color all summer and fall, Purple Shield.  It’s a leafy plant much like caladium but it’s leaves are iridescent purple with slight streaks of green.  It is best to grow it in part sun to shade.  Purple Shields make ideal border plants providing they get some shade.  Fertilize it in late spring with a general purpose fertilizer.  You can prune it at any time; pinching it back occasionally encourages the plant to have a fuller bushier shape, especially in shade.  It can easily be grown in containers which gives glorious color if mixed with other flowering plants.
 Purple shield can also be grown as a houseplant and is popular as it tends to bloom during winter.  Indoors, Persian Shield needs bright light to keep its color and temperatures above 60 degrees F.
 Most of our nurseries and box stores carry it in late spring, early summer.  In our area it’s an annual but you can propagate it by taking cuttings in late fall. Give the cuttings some bottom heat to keep them from rotting before they establish roots. Spring and Summer are the best times to take cuttings
 The iridescence reminds me of hummingbirds. Purple shield has medium water requirements and prefers moist, well-drained soil.  It is also resistant to being eaten by deer or rabbits.   It is not a well-known plant but try it, the color is worth it.  – Beverley Patterson
For information and gardening questions, e-mail mastergardeners@co.grayson.tx.us.  Check our website www.graysoncountymastergardeners.net and Facebook, or call 903-813-4204.  Also, you may visit the Master Gardener’s Office at Grayson County Courthouse, 100 W. Houston, Sherman, TX 75090.

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Vegetable Planting Guide – For FALL

 

As always, if you have questions about plants, call or visit the Master Gardener Office at Grayson County Courthouse, 100 W. Houston, Sherman, TX 75090, 903-813-4204 or e-mail mastergardeners@co.grayson.tx.us

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