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Stephen Orr and Tomorrow’s Garden

air date: June 9, 2012

Stephen Orr, author of Tomorrow’s Garden, updates garden perceptions with sustainable concepts for the future. On tour, head to San Antonio for a home and garden designed for indoor-out sustainability. Daphne explains how to analyze your soil. Pick of the Week is drought-tough Barbados cherry, a favorite for wildlife from flowers to fruit. At Lake Austin Spa, Trisha Shirey demonstrates tricks to fertilize vegetable gardens with compost tea.

Question of the Week

What kind of soil do I have?

Why does that make a difference? Well, your soil can make all the difference in the world to what you’re planting, especially if you’re a farmer, or a would-be farmer, but even if you’re just looking to put in a simple home landscape.

A tree that does perfectly fine in east Austin, may croak almost overnight in west Austin. So knowing your soil is indeed very important. You can learn a little bit just by digging a hole. You may not be able to get the shovel into the ground at all, meaning you may have heavy clay or rock. Or you may be able to dig a three-foot hole with ease.

I know you’ve heard of having your soil tested through the Texas AgriLife Extension Service, which will give you great information about the nutrients in your soil, but soil texture is also important. You used to have to go to the library or your county Extension office and look at soil survey maps in order to find out your soil type.

But recently, the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service uploaded all of their soil mapping data to their website. So now, you can go to the site and get an entire soil survey, built just for the area that you define. Although the website is a bit cumbersome if you’re not a systems analyst geek, it is very powerful. And very useful, especially if you’re looking to purchase a piece of land and start a vineyard, or an orchard, or some other business venture. If you can’t remember the link, just Google “web soil survey” and the NRCS site will come up.

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Plant of the Week

Barbados Cherry

Barbados Cherry

Malpighia glabra

Native Barbados cherry, a small shrub/tree, is great as an accent plant or screen. Like most plants, it needs a little extra water during the first year or so, but is very drought-tolerant once established. There are dwarf varieties available that form more of a groundcover, but common Barbados cherry usually gets 4 to 6 feet tall and has a spreading habit, so give it plenty of room to grow. It's easy to prune to shape as you like. The small pink flowers, which bloom in spurts from April through October, look very similar to the flowers of crape myrtle. They attract butterflies and hummingbirds. Barbados cherry produces a lovely bright red fruit that is edible and high in vitamin C, but quite tart. These fruits are truly a wonderful food source for birds during the hot months of summer. Those fruits and the tender leaves may also attract other wildlife to your yard. Deer absolutely love them too! So: not deer resistant. Barbados cherry performs well in part shade to full sun and is evergreen during most winters. In a harsh winter, it may lose its leaves but will bounce back when spring arrives. Simply cut back dead branches. It's adaptable to most soils, including clay, but does require good drainage.

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