Don’t Plant Unidentified Seeds – Mystery Seeds Arriving Through the Mail

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Over the last several days, residents have been receiving packages of unidentified seeds that they did not order. They arrive from China labeled as jewelry or other items.  The USDA is investigating and is asking everyone for help tracking packages. It’s also important that you don’t plant unidentified seeds, no matter what the source.

Do This if You Get This Package

If you receive one of these packages, or knows of someone who does, please do the following:

  1. Do not open or plant the contents. Keep contents contained in their original sealed package.
  2. Report it via email to: Carol Motloch USDA-APHIS-PPQ State Operations Coordinator,
  3. Your email should include your email and phone number, a description of the package contents, and label, and photos of the contents, package, and label if you can.
  4. Put the seed and packing materials in a ziploc bag to safeguard the items. You will be contacted by USDA and given further instructions about collection.

More Information

The reason the packages are sent and how they are getting names and addresses is unknown. The real concern with unidentified seeds is that they may be invasive. Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller issued a warning on the unsolicited seeds July 27.  Dr. Kevin Ong, the Texas Plant Disease Diagnostic Laboratory Director for the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service has also posted information via YouTube on the matter. Dr. Ong’s video has photos of the packaging so that you can see what they may look like.

Best Practice for Handling Unidentified Seed – Don’t Plant It!

No matter what the source, don’t plant unidentified seeds because you don’t know if they are invasive or not. An “invasive species” is a non-native (or alien) to the ecosystem and whose introduction causes or is likely to cause economic or environmental harm or harm to human health. The term can apply to plants, insects or animals. You can read more on which species are considered invasive for Texas at You can get help identifying mystery plants by contacting the Master Gardener Help Desk or Ask the Agents.

More Resources

Visit the Travis County Horticulture page and help with vegetable gardening, ornamental plants, pests, and more.

Travis County AgriLife Extension Goes Virtual – All Staff Teleworking

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The office is closed, but we’re still here!

In order to protect the health and safety of our employees and to prevent the spread of COVID-19, Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhart issued an order directing Travis County Executives, Elected Officials, and Appointed Officials to implement temporary teleworking arrangements for employees whose job duties are conducive to working from home. That includes all Extension staff and volunteers for both Texas A&M and Prairie View A&M University Extension Programs. In addition to this, all face to face AgriLife educational programs have been suspended.

But even though we aren’t in the office, we can still help.

How to Contact Us

Gardening Questions:



Ask The Agents

Fill out the online form and either a Master Gardener or an Extension Agent will respond.

All Other Programs:

Travis County Extension Staff

Find the email of the person you are trying to reach and he/she/they will respond when able.

Limited Phone Service (messages only):


Available weekdays from 9:00 am – 5:00 pm. Our office manager has routed the calls to her home. She will help you locate the email address or phone number of the person you are trying to reach.


Check the Event Calendar for Program Status

We’ll update our event calendar as things get back to normal. Cancellations are noted.

Stay Safe!

Help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

  • Cover coughs and sneezes with your bent elbow or tissue
  • wash your hands often with soap and water for 20 seconds
  • don’t touch your face with unwashed hands
  • stay home when you are sick

We’ll see you soon.

It’s Time to Garden in Austin!

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Spring has Sprung in Travis County

Peggy Martin Rose in full bloom at the Earth-Kind Demonstration Garden on Smith Road

Peggy Martin Rose in full bloom outside the AgriLife office in the Earth-Kind Demonstration Garden on Smith Road

St. Valentine’s Day is the first day of spring for many gardeners in Travis County. February 14th is usually the start of milder weather and with any luck, the hard freezes are over. Now is the time to garden: prune your roses, start your spring vegetable garden, restart your compost, and get a jump on weeds these few weeks before warmer air arrives in April.

Get Expert Advice from Master Gardeners at These Events

Travis County Master Gardeners are out and about all through the month of March, giving you a great opportunity to get your questions answered and receive expert advice from gardeners who have experienced many of your same challenges. There are several Plant Clinics and a seminar that you can attend.

Most noteworthy on April 4th is the the 14th Annual East Austin Garden Fair. There are over 60 booths on gardening and healthy living, which include DIY projects and kids activities.

Monthly Gardening To-Do List

For even more great advice, check out our monthly gardening calendar. Your to-do-list for March should include the following activities to make the most of your time to garden:

  • Test your soil then use the results to apply fertilizer to blooming shrubs and the vegetable garden. Hold off on fertilizing your lawn until April.
  • Make sure to irrigate if your soil is dry, and water deeply if frost is predicted.
  • Add compost and water it in well to establish good soil contact.
  • Stay on top of weeds so they don’t go to seed.

Call or Email For More Help

We’re here to help. Please call, email, or stop by the AgriLife office and one of our volunteer Master Gardeners will assist.

Leaf Landscape Supply Rescues Pfluger Bridge Demonstration Garden

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Duranta erecta donated by Leaf Landscape Supply

Brazilian Sky Flower, Duranta erecta, showing off winter berries.

Pfluger Bridge Plants Replaced – Thank you Leaf Landscape Supply!

Leaf Landscape Supply

Last month someone stole several plants from our adopted bed on the Pfluger Pedestrian Bridge. Sadly, these sort of things happen in public gardening spaces.

When Cathy, the Manager of Leaf Landscape Supply North, heard the story, she arranged for Leaf to donate several plants as replacements. The new plants went into the planting bed over President’s Day weekend.

Texas Superstar® Plants and “Bling”

Penny Series Pansy being used for pops of color in the planting bed

Penny™ Series Pansy gives pops of color in the planting bed.

Leaf’s donation includes several Texas Superstar® plants and a few flats of annuals to give the bed a pop of color. You can see the entire list here. The Brazilian Sky Flower, Duranta erecta, steals the show with its small orange berries. Birds love these berries as tasty snacks so it’s a treat to see them still hanging on the plant.

Two flats of Viola cornuta ‘Penny™’ will keep blooming until the heat arrives and provide for a little “bling” among the greenery. The Penny™ Pansy series is especially suitable for southern gardens because its vigorous roots allow it to tolerate a little heat and thwart the occasional cold snap. We’ll probably leave them in the bed until they can be replaced with a summer annual.

The creeping phlox, Phlox subulata ‘Scarlet Flame’ adds even more color. Phlox can be a great addition to the garden if it receives enough irrigation. It’s growing amid the Silver Ponyfoot, Dichondra argentea. The bright pink blooms provide a nice contrast to the Silver foliage of the ponyfoot.

Trailing Lantana, a Texas Superstar Plant, growing at the Pfluger Bridge demonstration garden after being donated by Leaf Landscape Supply

Texas Superstar® Trailing Lantana, Lantana montevidensis, growing at the Pfluger Bridge demonstration garden

Another Texas Superstar® plant, Trailing Lantana, Lantana montevidensis, adds delicate lavender blooms to the planting bed. These pair nicely with the blues from the remaining ‘Mystic Spires’ and the three ‘Indigo Spires’ that Leaf Landscape Nursery donated. Both of these saliva are varieties of Salvia longispicata x farinacea. They are tender perennials in the Austin Area and require more irrigation than some other salvias. We’re testing them at Pfluger Bridge to see if the waterway creates a microclimate to protect them from cold.

Euphoribia rigida added to the demonstration garden at Pfluger Bridge

Gopher spurge, Euphoribia rigida, displaying sulfur yellow bracts.

Handling Spurge Comes With Risk

Three Euphoribia rigida, sometimes called Gopher Spurge, complement the existing plants. This spurge is native to the Mediterranean region. It grows upright two feet tall with blue-green leaves spiraling down the stem. Sulfur yellow bracts surround the tiny green spring flowers. In the late fall the foliage may bronze in cooler weather. The stems exude a milky sap when cut or bruised which can irritate skin and eyes. Our plant thief must know this.

Meet the Team

Travis Master Gardeners tending the demonstration garden at Pfluger Bridge

Travis Master Gardeners tending the demonstration garden at Pfluger Bridge

It’s a dirty job but these Travis County Master Gardeners are up for it. The new plants donated by Leaf Landscape Supply found new homes thanks to Wendi, Linda, and Shanna. They and eleven more gardeners share duties to tend the garden bed all year. In addition to taking care of plants, they also take time to answer gardening questions and explain what they are doing. If you have gardening questions of your own, feel free to reach out to our Master Gardener Help Desk.


What’s New in the Garden? Time to Fertilize Citrus

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 It’s Time to Fertilize Citrus

February 14th Time to Fertilize CitrusHere in Austin, the prolonged cold usually comes to an end around Valentine’s Day and the warmer air triggers many plants to come out of dormancy. We’ve already noticed plums blooming in the neighborhood and new buds are emerging on just about everything in the Earth-Kind® Demonstration Garden. Joe, our Master Gardener citrus expert, says that now is the time to fertilize citrus plants. There are two trees in the ground at AgriLife, and both received specially formulated citrus fertilizer as an early Valentine’s Day treat. The fertilizer contains micro-nutrients that are deficient in our alkaline soils. Adding the nutrients now will support the new blooms as the trees come out of dormancy. Joe says the timing is the same for container citrus plants. You can read more on how to care for citrus over at Aggie Horticulture.

Overcrowding = New Divisions

Over in the rose bed, area leader Manda is digging out overgrown salvias and the pink Turk’s Cap, Malvaviscus x ‘Pam Puryear’s Pink’. All have done well next to the roses but have outgrown the space. The ‘Pam Puryear’s Pink’ was developed by Texas plantsman Greg Grant and was named after his friend and the ‘Rose Rustler’ founder Pam Puryear. Manda had no trouble finding help to dig out the plants among fellow volunteers who were eager to take home the new divisions. Relocating sage plants in Earth-Kind Demonstration Garden

A Happy Mix-Up in the Herb Garden

Many of us have come home with the wrong plant from a retail nursery. Herb garden leader Pat went to a local nursery to pick up some cilantro starts. A helpful employee handed her a plant and, at a glance, Pat saw that the tag started with a “c”. It wasn’t until later that she discovered that the “c” was for celery, not cilantro.

Celery is not a crop usually grown successfully in Central Texas because of heat and lack of water. Some nurseries sell water celery, Oenanthe javanica, as a pond plant, but it’s a completely separate family than garden celery, Apium graveolens. Pat planted the celery on the herb garden edge closest to the street, giving the plant a little micro climate protection from the recent cold. The plant is thriving there and now has a few stalks ready to harvest. She will leave it there to see how long it holds up once warmer weather arrives.

Celery growing in the herb bed at the Earth-Kind Demonstration Garden

Peas Ready for Trellis

David, the vegetable area garden leader, built a trellis for the peas. He uses bamboo stakes wired to metal fence posts, then attaches netting made from gardening twine. The structure is rigid enough to hold the weight and withstand the constant wind that uses Highway 183 as a conduit. Master Gardener Charles helped finish the project. David planted two types of peas; an edible pod variety and, for fun, a sweet pea. The sweet pea is a vigorous grower and will scramble up the trellis in no time. The edible pea is more of a bush type but will utilize the trellis as it grows. The edible pea is already setting pods that are ready for stir-fry or salads.

Building pea trellis in the vegetable beds

It’s Time to Apply for Travis County Master Gardener Training Program

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Texas Master GardenerTravis County Master Gardener Training Program Now Open!

Have you been thinking about becoming a master gardener? If so, applications for the Travis County Master Gardener training program will be accepted at one of three information sessions.

The Travis County Master Gardeners are volunteers for the Travis County AgriLife Extension Service. They assist Extension’s mission to disseminate research-based horticultural and environmental knowledge among the citizens of Central Texas. The Master Gardener training program has a limited number of spaces this year. Candidates submitting the best applications will meet with the selection committee for personal interviews.

There are four steps for acceptance into the program: attend an information session, submit an application, have application approved, and then interview for a position with the selection committee.

Applications Available at Information Session

In order to receive an application, you must attend an information session to qualify for the 2020 program.

Please arrive early to secure a seat. All information sessions will be held at the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service office, 1600-B Smith Rd, Austin, TX  78721

  • MG Information Session 1, Tuesday, March 17, 2020, 12:00 to 1:00 PM
  • MG Information Session 2, Wednesday, March 25, 2020, 6:00 pm to 7:00 PM
  • MG Information Session 3, Friday March 27, 2020, 1:00 to 2:00 PM

At the information session, we will cover the details of the program and answer your questions.  You will receive a program application at your information session.  Applications are not available elsewhere.

Training Cost

The fee for the 2020 Master Gardener program in Travis County is $250, payable upon acceptance into the program.

Criminal Background Check Required

Criminal background checks are required of all Extension volunteers, including Master Gardeners.  Therefore, as a matter of policy, criminal background checks occur on all persons accepted into the Master Gardener training program, and every three years thereafter.

Training Schedule

The course will meet every Tuesday, 8 AM to 5 PM, from June 2 through July 28, at the Travis County Extension office, 1600 Smith Rd, Austin, 78721

Volunteer Commitment

You will complete a minimum of 50 hours of volunteer service on Extension-approved projects by July 31 , 2021, in order to be certified a Texas Master Gardener.

Find out more about the training class here.

What’s New in the Garden – Can You Dig It?

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Site Preparation for New Garden Bed

A new garden bed and gabion wall is in process at the Earth-Kind Demonstration garden at the AgriLife Extension office on Smith Road, and both require a LOT of digging.

The new garden bed is adjacent to a parking area at the AgriLife Extension office and is mostly weeds and grass. The Travis County facilities department regularly mows it but does not provide any other ancillary care or irrigation.

Master Gardener Sandy, the wall garden area leader of the Earth-Kind Demonstration Garden, is leading the renovation.

The tree planting last fall during Earth-Kind Gardening Field Day revealed compacted soil comprised mostly of roadbed material. Anyone who is gardening in parking strips understands this challenge.

At the same time, JoAnna, the pollinator garden area leader, is prepping the area to install a gabion wall. A gabion is a rock-filled cage retaining wall for civil engineering, road building, military applications and landscaping purposes. The new wall in the pollinator area is next to a driveway and will help keep soil and mulch from washing away during heavy rain events. The soil in this area is excellent, and is finding a home in the new bed at the other end of the garden.

Digging site for Gabion Wall

Digging site for new Gabion wall

Swapping out soil is not ideal and not something that AgriLife recommends, especially on a site with heavy clay soil. The danger is that the digging compacts the soil and creates an impermeable layer for water and roots. Special care was taken to remove the top layer down to the underlying road bed. Loosening the road bed material, adding compost, then mixing the entire soil profile together afterward helps prevent impermeable layers. New plants are going in over the next few months and will be added to the plant list. Extensions staff and Master Gardeners will hand-water the first year.

There is still time to get your flu shot!

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The flu hit Austin early this year. And, while, it is too early to tell if it will be a short or long season, officials are encouraging the public not to wait to get vaccinated.

Vaccination does not mean you will not get the flu. Doctors at the Austin Regional Clinic are reporting a rise in the number of flu cases but with milder symptoms. And a lower risk of pneumonia, hospitalization, or death.

To prevent the flu, doctors recommend washing your hands in public places, especially before eating, and avoid people who are coughing or not feeling well. Furthermore, if you’re sick, it’s best to stay at home.

According to Austin Public Health Officials, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that anyone six months of age and older should be vaccinated for the flu every flu season. High-risk individuals include:

Adults over 65

Pregnant women

People with chronic medical conditions

Health care workers

Individuals who live with and/or care for high-risk individuals

Flu shots are available at Shots for Tots/Big Shots clinics for children who are uninsured or Medicaid recipients, and for uninsured adults. The cost of the flu vaccine is $25 for adults, $10 for children, and free for children with Medicaid. For an appointment, please call 512-972-5520.

For those who are insured, visit to find a location with flu vaccine near you.


Winkle, Kate. “Amid Early Rise in Flu Cases, Austin Public Health Urges Vaccinations.”, December 12, 2019.


“Austin Public Health Reports Increased Flu Activity in Travis County.” The Daily Texan. Accessed January 10, 2020.

“Key Facts About Seasonal Flu Vaccine.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, December 2, 2019.

“Flu in Austin (Influenza).” Home. Accessed January 10, 2020.

What’s New in the Garden? Time to Cut Back Plants?

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Here’s what’s new in the garden this week at the Earth-Kind® Demonstration Garden at Travis County AgriLife Extension and the Travis County Master Gardener garden at Pfluger Pedestrian Bridge.

Is it Okay to Cut Back Plants?

Trimming dead foliage from freeze damanage

Removing dead foliage after a freeze – Yay or Nay?

The recent freeze damaged some of the perennial foliage and flowering plants. JoAnna, the Pollinator Garden leader advises that it’s okay to remove dead foliage on perennials, but hold off pruning woody shrubs. All of the annual vines that didn’t survive were added to the compost pile. To see what else can be done this month, check out the monthly gardening calendar.

Spots of Color Throughout

January in Austin seems to cover all seasons, often in the span of a day. Right now the Four Nerve Daisy, Tetraneuris scaposa, is determined to outshine the sun. There are several patches of this bright cheery native flower throughout the garden on Smith Road. These plants form small colonies and most gardeners find them to be trouble free.Four Nerve Daisy, Tetraneuris scaposa

'Graffiti' cauliflower, Brassica oleraceaHidden over in the vegetable garden, another jewel is shining. The ‘Graffiti’ cauliflower, Brassica oleracea,  has formed a bright pink head that is showing off in front of the other winter garden plants. The vibrant color will fade when the vegetable is cooked, providing a great incentive to eat it raw.

Propagating Plants for the Inside Austin Gardens Tour

The Inside Austin Gardens Tour by the Travis County Master Gardeners is set for May 16, 2020, and will feature a plant sale at the Demonstration Garden on Smith Road. The goal for the sale is to feature plants from each of the gardens on the tour. Bob, the Master Gardener Compost Area leader, has volunteered to help propagate plants from the Earth-Kind® Demonstration Garden (which is on the tour.) Always up for a challenge, Bob is experimenting with leaf cuttings from the Holly Fern, Cyrtomium falcatum. This fern is grown from commercially from spores or rhizome divisions. If Bob’s method works, he’ll have several plants to contribute in May.

Leaf Cutting Preparation

Crop Failure and Overabundance in the Vegetable Garden

There is nothing more frustrating than planting seeds and having a poor, or in this case, a zero germination rate. That’s exactly what happened to David, the Vegetable Garden Area Leader. Not one seed of the Salada Musume burdock, Arctium lappa, germinated. Burdock is better known as a common weed that produces burs, but the stems and roots can be quite edible if prepared properly. Japan has long cultivated the plant for it’s culinary value. David is guessing that the seeds may have been too old or just a bad batch.Thinning the Pac choi

Right next to the Burdock are several overcrowded Pac choi seedlings, Brassica rapa subsp. chinensis. In stark contrast, it seems that every seed of the ‘Joi Choi’ hybrid seeds have become plants. David recommends using scissors or clippers to thin overcrowded seedlings, rather than pulling them up.  Removing an entire plant will disturb the soil around the survivors, and may result in the tender roots being exposed to the crazy January weather. Clip the seedling right at the base and remove the tops. They make excellent salad greens, by the way.

Chamomile Escapes from Garden Bed

Chamomile being transplantedOver in the herb garden, the chamomile-like Dusky dogfennel, Chamaemelum fuscatum, has produced a prodigious amount of seedlings.  Trouble is, Pat, the Herb Garden Area Leader, wanted the seedlings to appear in the herb bed, not the adjacent walkway. Master Gardener Charles was dispatched to carefully dig them up and transplant them into their proper home.

This particular type of chamomile is different than the regular German Chamomile, Matricaria chamomilla (which Pat also has in the garden.) It has much larger flowers and is more likely to be found in California. It’s part of the same Asteraceae family. No word from Pat if it makes a good cup of tea.

Plants Taken From Pfluger Pedestrian Bridge

Mr. Dickens wrote in A Tale of Two Cities, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” You might recall that we wrote about an Echeveria suddenly appearing in the garden bed; this week, most of the plants have disappeared – including the recent donation. The garden is under renovation and apparently someone decided to help themselves. Jane, the Pfluger Pedestrian Bridge Garden Leader, discovered the issue when she arrived to irrigate. These things happen in a public garden, and the proper authorities have been notified. Jane just hopes the new owners take care of their acquisitions and compliments them on their plant choice. New plants will be added to the bed later this month.

What’s New In The Garden? Mulch and Blooms

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Travis County Master Gardeners spreading mulch in the Earth-Kind Demonstration Garden

Travis County Master Gardener volunteers unloading mulch at the Earth-Kind Demonstration Garden

One day it’s freezing, and the next it’s in the 80’s. Welcome to December in Central Texas! Here’s what’s new in the garden this week at the Earth-Kind® Demonstration garden at Travis County AgriLife Extension and the Travis County Master Gardener garden at Pfluger Pedestrian Bridge.

More Mulch Added

This week’s garden task was to add two yards of first grind mulch. The mulch will help insulate plants from cold and suppress weeds. Teresa, the Travis County Master Gardener Demo Garden Project Leader, thinks that at least one more yard is needed. The next pickup load will probably be in January.

Cold? What Cold? ‘Whopper Red’ is a Texas Superstar®

Whopper Red Texas Superstar Begonia

‘Whopper Red’ has earned it’s designation as a Texas Superstar

Jane, the Master Gardener for the Layered Garden area, planted several ‘Whopper’ begonias that are STILL blooming despite recent freezing temperatures. Neighboring plants have suffered some damage, but tucked under the tree the begonias continue on in style. ‘Whopper Red’ is from a series of cultivars that carry the “Texas Superstar” label. Plants receiving this designation must be beautiful and perform well for consumers and growers throughout the state.

Still Fall According to the Aster

Fall Aster - Aster oblongifolium

Fall Aster – Symphyotrichum oblongifolium

The Fall Aster (Symphyotrichum oblongifolium) reminds us that winter doesn’t officially start until December 21, 2019. This native plant can grow in the rocky soils of the Edwards Plateau and can handle full sun or shade. Here at the AgriLife Extension office, it flowers profusely near the the front entrance in the Pollinator garden area managed by Master Gardener JoAnna. You can see what else JoAnna has planted by visiting the Earth-Kind® Demonstration Garden plant list.

Icecap™ Rose Aptly Named

Icecap rose blossom in the Earth-Kind Demonstration Garden

Icecap™ blossom in the Rose area.

The Icecap™ rose bush is impossible to ignore.  It currently displays several blushing blossoms in the rose area managed by Travis County Master Gardener Manda. This rose is a repeat bloomer and has been charming everyone for several months. The white buds open to soft pink semi-double flowers that are really lovely. Icecap™ was developed by Will Radler (the father of the Knock Out® Rose) and the french hybridizers, Meilland.

Stray Plant Adopted at Pfluger Bridge Garden

Echeveria plant at the Pfluger Pedestrian Bridge garden

Echeveria suddenly appears in the planting bed

There are quite a few challenges to gardening in public. Plants can completely disappear or become damaged. Not this time. Jane, the Pfluger Pedestrian Bridge garden leader discovered a newly planted Echeveria in the Texas Superstar garden bed. The garden bed is under renovation, so Jane is wondering if someone thought the bed needed sprucing up or just had a plant that needed a new home. So far no one has confessed.  Master Gardener Shanna thinks its the variety ‘Tippy’, which is not very cold hardy in Austin.  Jane and Shanna have decided to leave it and see how it survives. You can see a what has been intentionally planted in the bed here: Pfluger Bridge Plant List