Top Tomato Tips, Aquaponics

February 26th, 2015 Posted in Seeds, aquaponics, bees, citrus, tomatoes | No Comments »

Despite February’s typical topsy turvy temps, my Mexican plum celebrated Valentine’s Day with plump little buds. When things heated up the next week, it positively exploded while I was at work.  The bees worked overtime to fuel up before we dived back into winter.

bee mexican plum Austin Central Texas Gardener

The bees didn’t waste a second to hit the ground on tiny spring star flower (Ipheion uniflorum). These perennializing bulbs are great for part shade, too. Hmm, next fall I may include some among my sedges.

bee on spring star flower (Ipheion uniflorum) Central Texas Gardener

Nearby in a container, bracts on my container-grown gopher plant (Euphorbia rigida) are sending bee signals. Freeze didn’t bother them a bit.

euphorbia rigida gopher plant bract central texas gardener

Bees and butterflies will have to wait until summer to chow down on evergreen sumac (Rhus virens) flowers, Daphne’s Plant of the Week. In the meantime, birds are polishing off the berries on this drought defiant native shrub.

native evergreen sumac berries central texas gardener

Mine has grown a little lanky, and twice I’ve had to prune it hard. Once, a killer ice storm bent and broke it at the base. I feared the party was over, but it returned lusher than ever. It really does thrive on my clay soil, without extra water from me. Note: if you’re in deer country, you will have to protect until it’s mature.

native evergreen sumac central texas gardener

So, I bet lots of you would love to chomp into homegrown tomatoes this summer, but success defies you every time. Help is on the way this week with charming Bill Adams (The “Tomato Guy”)!

Tom Spencer and William D. Adams, The Texas Tomato Lover's Handbook

We’ve got lots of tips: planting, cold protection, staking, and pests. But his fabulous book, The Texas Tomato Lover’s Handbook, is the ultimate roadmap to the tomatoes of your dreams!

The Texas Tomato Lover's Handbook

What’s his fertilizer secret? Mounds of mushroom compost!

mushroom compost The Texas Tomato Lover's Handbook

On CTG, he picks a few of his favorite varieties. One of his early birds is Black Krim, a luscious slicer.

Black Krim tomato The Texas Tomato Lover's Handbook

For a sweet pop-in-mouth yellow, he goes for Sungold.

Sungold tomato The Texas Tomato Lover's Handbook

Bill set us straight on heirloom Brandywine. If you haven’t been lucky with it, you can thank our heat and humidity. In Texas, it really wants a ticket (bus or plane) to more temperate summers. Find out more.

Plus, check out Bill’s great podcasts on the Arbor Gate nursery center’s website.  I know I’ll be visiting this charming place when I’m in Tomball!

His book includes lots of ideas for staking those tomatoes. Here are two from local gardeners. This handy idea with T stakes and bamboo is at The Natural Gardener.

T stake and bamboo tomato stake The Natural Gardener

The young agrarians at Ten Acre Organics (featured on CTG) go for the Florida weave in their front yard garden, one of Bill’s techniques.

Ten Acre Organics tomato Florida weave Central Texas Gardener

To pick up some of the 30,000 hard-to-find certified organic tomatoes, peppers, and herbs, don’t miss the Sunshine Community Gardens March 7 plant sale. Note: get there early!  Get more fabulous hands-on tips from the great gardeners at Sunshine!

It’s not too late to start our warm weather food and flowers indoors. John Dromgoole’s got super tips for starting seeds indoors or in your greenhouse.

starting seeds indoors John Dromgoole Central Texas Gardener

Another fruit that’s got our attention these days is Satsuma mandarins. Good news: there are two new introductions that are super cold hardy! Daphne explains the difference between Texas Superstar ‘Orange Frost’—hardy to 12°, and ‘Arctic Frost’—hardy to 9°.

cold hardy Arctic Frost satsuma A&M central texas gardener

Here’s more on caring for your citrus with Monte Nesbitt from Texas A&M.

On tour at Austin Aquaponics, Rob Nash found his farming destination in this water-conserving method that combines raising fish with soilless agriculture.

austin aquaponics central texas gardener

It’s a new style family farm where wife Lacy and daughters Hanna and Ryleigh (pictured here) give a hand when they can.

Rob Nash and family at austin aquaponics central texas gardener

They love their land in Spicewood, but it’s more conducive to native plants like four-nerve daisy than groceries.

four-nerve daisy in Spicewood Texas

In this efficient operation, one technique is media-based, where fish tank water nourishes plants every 30 minutes.

media-based bed Austin Aquaponics Central Texas Gardener

Rob also grows in wicking beds and in rafts, where cleansed, nutrient-rich water from the gravel beds pumps to the rafts.

raft beds Austin Aquaponics Central Texas Gardener

He cuts days to harvest by about 2 weeks. Check out his ‘Rob’s Red Butter Lettuce’ at Apis Restaurant!

lettuce Austin Aquaponics Central Texas Gardener

Rob also teaches aquaponics classes for homeowners and professional growers, and does installations on site.

See what aquaponics is all about right now!

Thanks for stopping by! See you next week, Linda

Super Spring To-Do Tips + Romantic Garden in Sun & Shade

February 19th, 2015 Posted in Late spring flowers, bulbs, disease, garden rooms, organic fertilizers, patios, shade plants | 2 Comments »

Winter. I love it. For one thing, it brings on the cool bulbs that perennialize, even after humid hot Texas summers. One early bird I count on: sweetly fragrant Narcissus ‘Erlicheer,’ here with a cheery smile!

Narcissus Erlicheer Central Texas Gardener

And ‘Gigantic Star’ narcissus. It’s been trumpeting big beautiful yellow for years in my garden, filling the spot where plumbago is now cut to the ground.

Gigantic Star narcissus Central Texas Gardener

And yes, we’re all on the pruning bandwagon! This week, get on-target tips with Robbi Will from the Antique Rose Emporium.

Tom Spencer and Robbi Will Antique Rose Emporium

She explains why we wait to prune evergreens until bud break (later this month and into March). And why to leave cenizo (Texas sage) and blackfoot daisy alone until warmer weather.

cenizo convent sage pruning Central Texas Gardener

blackfoot daisy pruning Central Texas Gardener

On blackfoot daisy: with its thin root system, pruning now can harm it if we get cold, gray and rainy days. She recommends cutting back no more than half the foliage at one time. Plus, it’s better to prune often rather than too much at one time.

If your pink skullcap (Scutellaria suffrutescens) is getting too woody (like mine is), whack it way back since new growth comes from the crown. Like Salvia greggiis (which we can prune back hard now), it blooms on new growth, too.

pink skullcap pruning Central Texas Gardener

Robbi’s got tips for fertilizing, too. Though she relies more on compost than products, one combination that does a great job for her is half Superthrive and half liquid seaweed in water. I’m so going to try it! Watch now.

fertiliziing with Superthrive and liquid seaweed Central Texas Gardener

Of course, we can prune roses right now. This week, Daphne’s got tech talk to answer Master Naturalist Marc Opperman’s question about this weird growth on his American Beauty rose.

Apical growth dysfunction rose photo by Marc Opperman

Short answer: an apical dominance anomaly. Find out more, and how and why your plants set buds where they do. Great info for pruning!

Now, even the hardiest roses and other generally trouble free plants can run into fungal problems like black spot and powdery mildew in our cool, humid springs. John Dromgoole’s got some easy homemade fungal fixes with aspirin, garlic, hydrogen peroxide and milk! Find out more.

homemade black spot control John Dromgoole Central Texas Gardener

If you’re looking for an evergreen shrub in part shade, Daphne’s got a great one: Pineapple guava (Feijoa sellowiana).

pineapple guava central texas gardener

Since I’m a nut about silver—so hard to do in part-shade—it’s a winner for me, even though it confines that coloration to its oblong leaf undersides.  Bees and butterflies go nuts on spring blooming flowers.

pineapple guava central texas gardener

According to some viewer taste testers, its fall-ripened fruits are best when they literally fall off! So far, mine hasn’t produced fruit, but it’s a perfect, low-maintenance frame for me between a patio and a shady fence strip.

pineapple guava in shady Austin garden Central Texas Gardener

On tour, step into Chandler Ford’s backyard voyage of serenity. Pineapple guava anchors the end of a narrow textural bed.

Shady romantic patio Chandler Ford Central Texas Gardener

Shady romantic patio Chandler Ford Central Texas Gardener

In May, indigofera blooms right along with the pineapple guava, while ligularia beyond counterpoints with big shiny leaves.

indigofera and ligularia Shady romantic patio Chandler Ford Central Texas Gardener

Chandler mirrors the garden for another viewpoint from indoors.

romantic patio mirror Chandler Ford Central Texas Gardener

Pineapple guavas in large containers flank this charming setting–all done with recycled finds.

romantic patio mirror Chandler Ford Central Texas Gardener

Tiny accents like this succulent container once again vary textures and our viewpoint.

tiny succulent planter romantic patio Chandler Ford Central Texas Gardener

Chandler understands how to frame a view, like with this trio. Since her beloved oak tree is suffering, she positioned her “insurance tree,” a bigtooth maple, beyond its spreading limbs. An understory weeping redbud rules this spot in winter with waterfall limbs sprinkled with little flowers.

oak framing bigtooth maple and weeping redbud Central Texas Gardener

Japanese maples and a possumhaw holly gently separate the patio from a grassy cove on the other side of the walkway.

romantic shady garden Chandler Ford Central Texas Gardener

Japanese maples romantic shady garden Chandler Ford Central Texas Gardener

Trex walkways diverge around the oak to a larger conversation patio. Trex, made from wood chips and plastic grocery bags, is durable and not slippery.

Japanese maples romantic shady garden Chandler Ford Central Texas Gardener

Japanese maples romantic shady garden Chandler Ford Central Texas Gardener

For structural attention and privacy along one side fence, she planted clumping Alfonse Karr bamboo. She painted the fence black to show off its golden culms. At night, the fence disappears totally, letting the culms glisten gently with subtle backyard lighting.

Alfonse Karr bamboo black fence romantic shady garden Chandler Ford Central Texas Gardener

In this garden of two personalities, the front’s a festive fragrant parade. Framing her 1937 cottage and sidewalk, it stops neighbors in their tracks to savor her ongoing festival of flowers and food.

fragrant front yard garden Chandler Ford Central Texas Gardener

In spring, sweet peas sweetly tower over hardy roses and poppies.

sweetpea trellis romantic front yard Chandler Ford Central Texas Gardener

Chandler collects sweet pea and poppy seeds for next year, marking her favorite double poppies with Dixon pins. Great idea! I always plan to mark irises and poppies but hate to clunk up the garden too much.

dixon pins Central Texas Gardener

Like many of us, she has shady spots beyond the sun. A step away from intense color, discover equally sensual colors and texture with Ligularia, Aztec grass, dwarf pittosporum, purple oxalis and persicaria.

shady garden oxalis persicaria pittosporum Central Texas Gardener

Persicaria is one of her favorites in part shade, as it is mine. Somehow, I messed up mine a few years back, and it’s hard to find in nurseries. But I’ll keep looking!

persicaria shade plant Central Texas Gardener

Chandler is just as charming as her garden, so watch the whole story now!

Thanks for stopping by! See you next week, Linda

Grow up with vines + Home of the hippos artistic garden!

February 12th, 2015 Posted in Late spring flowers, Vines, bottle trees, deer, fruit trees, garden art, garden structure, lawn replace, native plants | 2 Comments »

Got something to hide? Even in a narrow space, vines have got you covered! Summer and fall blooming Queen’s wreath is truly royalty with bees and butterflies.

Queen's wreath vine on chain link fence Central Texas Gardener

Perhaps you’d like to cozy things up with easy-to-control star jasmine?

star jasmine vine framing intimate outdoor dining Central Texas Gardener

If you’ve got to contain yourself, check out small vines like clematis.

clematis in a container Central Texas Gardener

For shade, I like evergreen potato vine Solanum jasminoides. Mine’s twirling around an obelisk, promising fragrant little flowers soon. You could do this one in a large container, too.

potato vine flower Central Texas Gardener

This week, let’s grow up with Colby Adams from Barton Springs Nursery, who takes our gardens to new heights.

Tom Spencer and Colby Adams Barton Springs Nursery vines Central Texas Gardener

Something new to us is winter deciduous orchid vine (Bauhinia corymbosa). In full sun to part shade, it explodes with small, fragrant, orchid-like flowers in spring. Perfect in containers, too.

orchid vine bauhinia corymbosa

Pandora vine (Pandorea jasminoides) is another deciduous, aromatic spring bloomer with flowers like morning glories. This deer resistant vine can freeze if not protected below 20°.

pandora vine top tropicals

Crossvine (Bignonia capreolata) is a drought defiant top performer. Mostly evergreen, the native red and yellow or cultivar ‘Tangerine Beauty’ is busy blooming in spring; sporadic flowers feed wildlife through fall.

crossvine at Mueller Lake Park Central Texas Gardener

Tangerine Beauty crossvine flower Central Texas Gardener

Much tamer evergreen coral honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirensis) performs most in spring, but keeps on going through early summer.

native coral honeysuckle vine on fence Central Texas Gardener

For shade, evergreen Clematis armandii is a show-stopper with huge, super fragrant flowers in spring. It will take over the world, but if you need to hide that fence or cover an arbor in shade, it can’t be beat!

clematis armandii vine for shade Central Texas Gardener

Watch online and get Colby’s list.

Special guest Jim Kamas, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension fruit expert, answers one of our most frequent questions: which fruit trees need another for pollination?

mexican plum flowers central texas gardener

  • Peaches: self-pollinated except for old varieties.
  • Apples & pears: cross pollinated. You need two different varieties that bloom at the same time.
  • Plums: that depends! Best ones for Central Texas are Methley and Santa Rosa, self-pollinators.

Find out more about pollination (like pecan trees and grapes) and about plums, our Plant of the Week.

To fend off critters snagging our flowers and food, Trisha shows off her favorite new repellents from I Must Garden. In her organic garden, Trisha’s had great success with their products to repel deer, squirrels, and even mosquitoes!

I Must Garden deer squirrel repellent Central Texas Gardener

On tour in Hutto, the main critters you’ll see are flying around on flowers and fruit. Well, and a few hippos, too, keeping a stalwart watch on all the air traffic.

concrete "bee" hippo with coreopsis and poppy central texas gardener

Hutto concrete hippo with Indian blanket wildflowers central texas gardener

Donna and Mike Fowler work hard in their garden, but they also have a heck of a lot of fun. Mike built Donna’s queenly chair from tree prunings on site.

Big garden chair Fowler Hutto garden Central Texas Gardener

With boundless imagination, any curbside discard or thrift store find prompts a creative brainstorm to punctuate every garden spot.

blue bottle lady garden art Hutto Central Texas Gardener

While playful, they craft homegrown art to accent Donna’s plant schemes. I love this “study in blue” with cobalt bottle tree, plumbago and Salvia guaranitica.

blue bottles, plumbago, salvia Hutto Central Texas Gardener

Ever witty former Hutto mayor Mike tucks in subtle political digs, like Medicare Man of War bottle tree, welded by Ron Whitfield. It’s also a heads up to pharmacist Donna!

turquoise bottle tree Hutto Central Texas Gardener

Art and stylistic plants personalize each distinct area. The sunny Texas drought tough area in front sports yuccas, aloes and lots of fluffy plants to complement.

aloes yuccas and texture drought tough Hutto Central Texas Gardener

firepit, aloes yuccas and texture drought tough Hutto Central Texas Gardener

A Zen garden with tumbled glass dry stream started as a flood control measure.

Tumbled glass dry creek Hutto Central Texas Gardener

zen sculpture with rocks Hutto Central Texas Gardener

The “stream” connects to a soft, lush secret garden behind foundling gates. The stream also disperses intense rain events to slowly sink in.

art garden Hutto Central Texas Gardener

tumbled glass dry stream bed drought flowers Hutto Central Texas Gardener

Throughout the garden, the Fowlers placed sculptures created by Mike’s dad, Mel Fowler.

Mel Fowler sculpture wildflowers Hutto garden Central Texas Gardener

In driest times, their xeric plants get a rainwater harvesting boost.

sculpture rainwater collection wildflowers Hutto  central texas gardener

Follow the flower-bordered path to an intimate conversation area.

wildflower and daylily patio Hutto  central texas gardener

They bought the empty lot next door for Donna’s lush organic vegetable garden.

artistic vegetable garden Hutto Central Texas Gardener

Their bottle tree here resembles a basketful of Donna’s nightly harvests.

colorful bottle tree vegetable garden Hutto Central Texas Gardener

Son Luke’s teepee celebrates Native American sustainability and the family’s distant heritage.

garden teepee Luke Fowler Hutto garden Central Texas Gardener

There’s lots more, so get ready to be inspired for your spring projects right now!

Thanks for stopping by! See you next week, Linda

Growing Grapes & More + Tait Moring’s Artistic Hillside Habitat

February 5th, 2015 Posted in books, fruit trees, garden art, garden designers, garden rooms, garden structure, grapes, patios, trees, vegetables | 9 Comments »

Ever wanted to be your own micro-vintner? First, let’s leave those Concord grape vines to wither on the box store shelves! Instead, go for the grapes that appreciate Central Texas, like Victoria Red.

Victoria Red grapes for Central Texas

This week, see which ones to grow and how to do it when Texas A&M Agrilife Extension’s expert Jim Kamas joins Tom to toast a few tips from his new book, Growing Grapes in Texas.

Growing Grapes in Texas by Jim Kamas Central Texas Gardener

Is homegrown asparagus on your “bucket full” list, too? Instant gratification it is not, except for lovely feathery leaves that should be cut to the ground now on existing plants. If planting for the first time, John Dromgoole explains how to grow this long-term perennial.

asparagus planting with John Dromgoole central texas gardener

Front end soil prep is essential since we’re talking three years until dinner. After that, like fruit trees and grapes, you’ll be filling that bucket for years! Find out more.

asparagus planting with John Dromgoole central texas gardener

So, how long does it take to harvest blueberries in Central Texas? Well, actually, never. Stepping in for Daphne this week, Jim Kamas takes on that oft-asked question.

For one thing, blueberries need an acidic pH, while ours hangs out in the 7.5-8.5 alkaline range. Jim tells us: “And the reason why that is important is because blueberries are one of the few plants that have no root hairs. They’re entirely dependent on a mycorrhizal affiliation with a fungus that infects the plant that actually benefits both organisms. So when you plant blueberries in our soil and use our water, the mycorrhizal fungi simply die and the blueberry plant will show you every single nutrition deficiency known to plant-kind.” Find out more.

But pears are easy darned good eats for us! In Central Texas, Jim recommends Ayers, Warren and Le Conte.

Ayers pear central texas gardener

We’ve got plenty of chilling hours (hours below 45°) and it’s rare for spring frost to harm them. For pollination, you WILL need two trees of different varieties that bloom at the same time. Find out more.

Now, what about a FREE tree this spring? TreeFolks is offering 8 species to Austin Energy customers, including mountain laurel, pecan and fig trees. If you’re eligible, they’ll select appropriate ones for your garden and then deliver 5-gallon pots right to your front door! To find out more, visit

On tour, landscape architect Tait Moring grows food for the wildlife on his rocky hillside habitat restoration. I’ve known Tait since CTG’s inception. We taped his garden 10 or so years ago, so it was fun to record how it–and Tait’s philosophy–has evolved.

cedar fence Tait Moring Central Texas Gardener

Native sunflower goldeneye (Viguiera dentata) brings on the pollinators, along with small birds that treasure its seeds.

sunflower goldeneye (Viguiera dentata) Central Texas Gardener

As he thinned ashe junipers (cedar), surprises turned up, like native evergreen sumac, lusted after by birds.

Evergreen sumac Central Texas Gardener

For organic food of his own, he ripped out a hillside of primrose jasmine and terraced for raised vegetable beds, constructed from leftover project stones.

Stone raised vegetable beds Tait Moring Central Texas Gardener

Tait envisions art in every recycled object. With on-site native stones and ashe juniper branches, he frames his home with respect for the earth.

stone planter and cedar fence Tait Moring Central Texas Gardener

What’s also special about Tait’s designs is the way he builds in memories. With stones collected from childhood, he acknowledged his early architectural inspiration in a destination cove near the house.

stone wall cove Tait Moring Central Texas Gardener

peekaboo stone in wall cove Tait Moring Central Texas Gardener

On the other side, he created a nicho to honor the home’s original owner, whose daughter was one of Tait’s high school chums (and from whom he brought the property).

Stone nicho Tait Moring Central Texas Gardener

Inspired by early Spanish and Mexican stone artisans, Tait loves the intricacy and intimacy of working with native stones. Behind the new pool, he creates lively dimension with a triumvirate of stone, ashe juniper and layers of textural narrow plants.

Stone and cedar wall Tait Moring Central Texas Gardener

A foundling carved pillar from an old quarry, topped with a truly lucky nursery find, anchors one end.

aztec sculpture Stone and cedar wall Tait Moring Central Texas Gardener

Two more pillars from that quarry adventure define the garden’s open space. He chose agaves as their toppers, per Mexican gardens.

agave on pillar aztec sculpture ait Moring Central Texas Gardener

Native Virginia creeper clambers over this one, sporting its fall color, with berries to come for the birds.

agave pillar with native virginia creeper Tait Moring Central Texas Gardener

To deepen spatial dimensions, Tait’s not afraid to cluster plants, like this group of Agave bracteosa (squid agave) in a semi-shade area. I plan to duplicate this in my “what should I do here” spot.

agave bracteosa squid agave Tait Moring Central Texas Gardener

Tait gracefully achieves one of the hardest things to do: amplify broad visions while recognizing the immediate charm of details.

patio to garden Tait Moring Central Texas Gardener

zoysia grass between flagstones Tait Moring Central Texas Gardener

He carries the experience indoors, planning viewpoints from either side of the glass.

modern patio design Tait Moring Central Texas Gardener

front door pond Tait Moring Central Texas Gardener

Even though he spares water on his plants, he doesn’t want to leave the wildlife parched. Even at the front door, he added a cinder block pond where birds can perch on the concrete toppers. And Tait can enjoy them on his way in or from inside.

raised cinder block fish pond Tait Moring Central Texas Gardener

On the other side of the driveway, he crafted recycled materials into a stock tank pond.

stock tank pond Tait Moring Central Texas Gardener

This backyard pond is a recycled horse trough underneath the stones.

horse trough pond styled with stones Tait Moring Central Texas Gardener

horse trough pond styled with stones Tait Moring Central Texas Gardener

The special favorite for birds is this secretive bubbler, inspired when Tait found the perfect large stone.

stone bubbler for birds Tait Moring Central Texas Gardener

That’s just the teaser to this fabulous garden. Take the whole tour now!

Thanks for stopping by! See you next week, Linda