In the April Vegetable Garden for Austin by Patty Leander

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Add Perseverance to Your April Gardening Checklist

Colorful vegetables harvested before the freeze.

A pre-freeze harvest made on February 12, 2021 includes bok choy, sugar snap peas, purple and green cauliflower, carrots, calendula, borage and broccoli.

Who could have imagined that our pandemic spring of 2020 would be followed by a paralyzing deep freeze in 2021? Gardening and restarts go hand in hand but the recovery and resets in the season ahead are still to be determined. Like many gardeners, I am wondering about the status of several plants in my landscape. Roses and dandelions act like nothing happened, lantana is showing signs of regrowth, Barbados cherry appears brown and brittle, and poor prickly pear cactus turned to mush. For many plants it’s still too early to tell and I’m hoping that warmer weather brings us all some unexpected signs of life. Nature perseveres and so will we.

Keep Records of What Survived the February Freeze

Onions and garlic in snow survived, it's one thing to check off the April garden checklist

Hardy onions and garlic survived under a cover of snow.

When it comes to vegetables, I’ve noted some winners, some losers and some surprises. Keeping records of which vegetables – and even which varieties – come out on top will help us choose more dependable plantings for future (and hopefully milder) winter seasons. I did not have an opportunity to cover my plants so I harvested what I could and left the vegetable garden to the mercy of the cold. The one exception was spinach which had been planted from seed in January with row cover already in place. I threw a tarp over the hoops and crossed my fingers.

Winners:

Onions and garlic survived under a cover of snow and have resumed their growth. Carrots seemed unfazed. Lettuce looked a little rough after the thaw but perked up nicely. The young spinach under cover survived unscathed and older spinach plants that were not protected recovered in no time. All have been growing strong and producing abundant leaves to harvest. ‘Champion’ collards came through like a true champ. However, ‘Georgia Southern’ collards and ‘Dino’ kale succumbed to the freezing conditions.

Losers:

The extended cold temperatures were just too much for broccoli, cauliflower and sugar snap peas. All might have fared better if they were covered. Parsley, along with beets and radishes did not make it. Borage turned to mush – not a surprise but definitely a disappointment because it had been planted from seed in the fall and had grown into a full, beautiful specimen.

Surprises:

Looking at you, cilantro – I did not know you were so tough! Fennel and sorrel looked beaten down after the thaw but they bounced back quickly along with sage, thyme and winter savory. Artichoke that had been planted in late fall died to the ground but soon sprouted new, robust leaves. And strawberry plants, which I usually cover during the coldest winter weather, came through intact, perhaps insulated and protected by the snow.

April Garden Checklist

Here is the April garden checklist for vegetables:

Plant

  • Plant any of the following warm-season crops: beans (snap, pole and lima), cantaloupe, corn, cucumbers, eggplant, okra, field peas, long beans, peppers, squash and watermelon. Make sure you know the ultimate size and follow directions for proper thinning and spacing. Pole beans, cucumbers, long beans and small melons can be grown vertically on a fence, trellis or teepee.
  • Tuck a few herbs among your vegetable garden or plant them in pots near the kitchen where you will be inspired to pick them and incorporate them into food and beverages.
  • The spring season started off a little slow as growers and garden centers scrambled to re-stock after the freeze and we must do the best we can to catch up. If you haven’t planted tomatoes yet do it as soon as possible. For the most promising results skip the large beefsteaks and heirlooms and opt for early-maturing varieties that will produce before summer really begins to sizzle. Small-fruited tomatoes are another option since they stand up to heat better than large-fruited types. Note the “days to maturity” on plant tags and opt for varieties that mature in less than 70 days.
  • The National Gardening Bureau has declared 2021 as the Year of the Sunflower. These popular plants can be sown directly from seed in an area with full sun and good drainage. Tall, dwarf, bicolor, branched, single-stem, hybrid, native or edible; there are varieties to please every gardener and brighten any space. Be sure to add them to your April garden checklist.

Soil

  • Once your plants are up and growing spread a 2-3” layer of mulch around vegetable plants.

Maintenance

  • Hill corn and potatoes. Hilling is a technique of piling soil or mulch around the base of the plants. The extra soil supports the corn as it grows and helps prevent it from falling over. Covering the lower portion of potato plants allows the tubers to develop laterally along the stem. The goal is to keep them covered so they are not exposed to sunlight.
  • Cultivate around plants to control weeds, break up crusty soil and provide aeration.

Diseases/Pests to Look For

Harlequin bugs on kale

Harlequin bugs are attracted to kale and other brassica plants growing out of season; a sign that it is time to shift to warm weather vegetables.

  • Keep an eye out for aphids – they love tender, new growth. It’s not necessary to eliminate them completely because they also provide a food source for beneficial insects. Young vigorous plants often outgrow insect damage but if aphid numbers increase they’re easy to knock down with insecticidal soap or a strong spray of water. These are persistent pests so be sure to inspect plants regularly and treat as needed.
  • Watch out for harlequin bugs which usually show up as collards, kale, mustards and other brassicas decline. Get rid of plants that are past their prime and the harlequin bugs will go away too.

 

Additional Resources

Recommended Vegetable Varieties for Travis County

Vegetable Seed Sources

Vegetable Gardening in Austin

Sustainable Food Center Farmers Markets

Texas Farmers Markets

Monthly Gardening Calendar for Austin and Central Texas

In the Vegetable Garden with Patty G. Leander

 

 

Patty G. Leander is a contributing editor for Texas Gardener magazine and an active member of the Travis County Master Gardeners Association with an Advanced Master Gardener specialty in vegetables. She has been growing vegetables year-round in her Austin garden for over 20 years, encouraging the use of sound, horticultural principles that will lead to a bountiful harvest.

Micro-Orcharding in Urban Growing Spaces by Reed Burnam

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Micro-Orcharding: Stacking Edible Diversity into Suburban and Urban Growing Spaces

A micro-orcharding example with several fruit trees planted close together

Author’s backyard orchard in Spring 2020. Pictured L-R: Florida King Peach, Orient
Pear, Methley Plum, Saturn Peach, Santa Rosa Plum

“Micro-Orcharding” is a high-density planting technique that allows for maximum diversity in fruit and nut crops in smaller planting spaces. This method works well in the city and suburbs where space is at a premium, but is useful anywhere.

The concept is simple – you plant trees closer together than recommended. Then you keep the size of individual trees smaller year on year. This helps to maintain spacing and light whilst maximizing fruit diversity. Consistently reducing the size of a fruit tree will result in less fruit each year due to smaller canopy size. But the fruit that grows is more accessible and the increased numbers of trees can make up for smaller yields. Chances are, you can productively fit more trees into your suburban garden than you may have thought.

Benefits to Diverse Micro-Orcharding

There are many benefits to packing in a diversity of tree types into your garden space:

  • Increased variety of fruit available in a small space
  • Additional types of trees for cross-pollination purposes
  • Extended blooming and harvest season using different cultivars and varieties
  • Smaller trees in the garden can offer some shade protection to other heat susceptible plants
    in late Summer
  • A wider diversity of plantings in the garden, which is generally beneficial for your whole
    garden ecosystem

Choose the Tree for the Space

Choosing the trees that are right for your space will take some planning upfront. Make sure and plant trees that perform well locally and conform to your individual light and water conditions. See Fruit Varieties for Travis County for recommendations.

Make use of any micro-climates you have, as with citrus on a sunny south facing wall, heat-loving pomegranates on west facing exposures, or using deciduous species in north facing alleys between homes that only get light part of the year. Planting cultivars of the same species that fruit at slightly different periods can help stretch out the harvest, such as with different peach varieties like June Gold (June ripening) and La Feliciana (July ripening). For micro-orcharding, you can think of your trees more as large “fruit bushes”, rather than full size trees.

Dwarf varieties of individual fruit trees can be helpful as well, but are not necessary with regular pruning to keep the canopy open. Espalier techniques are another way to effectively use vertical spaces in smaller yards, also.

Maintenance Requirements for Micro-Orcharding

So the obvious next question is – how much maintenance will this take? It will take some effort to deal with the additional trees, though not as much as one would think. At planting, trees can be placed at about a 6’ – 8’ distance from one another. This is much less than the 20′ apart that many varieties normally recommend.

Early training of your fruit trees at planting is important in this method, to keep trunks squat and canopies lower. Generally, trees should be kept pruned down to below 10’ tall at all times, with a spread of about 6’ – 8’. A good rule is to keep the upper canopy of any fruit tree in your yard within your maximum reach by hand (about 6’ – 9’h for most people). There will be yearly maintenance thereafter – usually a hard prune in winter, and some years a smaller pruning during the growing season after harvest.

Learn the Growth Habit for Proper Pruning

Peach tree pruned with open vase method

Winter pruning of 5 year old June Gold peach

Different trees have different growth habits that determine the pruning and training methods that should be followed. Examples are open vase, central leader, and modified leader. Information on how to do this is available from the Aggie Horticulture Fruit and Nut Resources page.

If you’re wondering how this affects the health of the tree – many fruit trees respond well to frequent hard pruning, especially stone fruits, which do particularly well in our area. Driving through the Hill Country peach orchards, you might notice that no tree is allowed to grow to its maximum height, for the reasons listed above. Other tree types can be shaped over time to maximize production on a semi-permanent smaller frame.

In the more compact urban or suburban garden, smaller and more open trees have the added benefit of not blocking all the light coming into the garden, and can act as some much-needed late afternoon shade to more sensitive perennials and annuals. An additional benefit of all the regular pruning is lots of yearly mulch material is generated for the garden or compost bin – a small electric chipper is great to have around for this reason.

Choose the Right Variety

Major consideration should be given to what works well for your general area before planting a bunch of fruit trees in your yard. Luckily for us in Central Texas, there are lots of varieties that work very well and can be incorporated into this type of system. Peaches, plums, loquats, persimmons, pears, asian pears, pomegranates, and even cold hardy citrus (for the brave after the recent deep freeze) will work nicely in the micro-orchard.

Backyard orchard culture fits very well into an overall plan for stacking density and variety into your landscape, and can expand the playing field for gardeners in the city that want more edible varieties to choose from.

Additional Resources

Backyard Fruit and Nut Production for Austin Area

Fruit Varieties for Travis County

Chill Hours for Austin area

Aggie Horticulture Fruit and Nut Resources

About Reed Burnam

Reed Burnam

Originally from Houston, Reed has been in Austin for 20 years, with short stints living in Southern California and Northern India. He holds BAs in History and Philosophy, and an MA in South Asian Cultures and Languages, all from UT Austin. He’s been designing, installing, and maintaining professional landscape plans for clients around Austin since 2013, working with Austin-based Fertile Ground Organic Gardens. Hands in the soil most of his life, he has a love and appreciation for all forms of life, even poison ivy, yellowjackets, and fire ants. Reed became a Travis County Master Gardener in 2019 and has been thoroughly enjoying the volunteerism, connections, and further learning the program has offered.

Reed is an avid enthusiast of regenerative gardening, urban orchards, rainwater harvesting, forest gardening, composting, backyard poultry, and edible landscaping. He has taught permaculture design both locally in Austin and internationally since 2013, and teaches yearly PDCs with friends in India when there isn’t a global pandemic happening. Reed currently resides in South Austin, where he lives with his wife, more fruit trees than he cares to count, and a small herd of domestic animals.

In the March Vegetable Garden

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Starting Over in the March Vegetable Garden?

Freeze damage on a Fava Bean plant in a March vegetable garden

New growth emerging from freeze damaged fava bean plant.

Wow. The Arctic Blast of February 2021 was a doozey! Many cool season plants that normally can withstand cold, suffered damage or died during the week of freezing temperatures. I plant fava beans in the fall so that I can get a nice crop as early as January. They normally do just fine, even in a freeze, but not this year. The tops suffered a lot of damage, but have put on new growth in the days following the ice storm. Mature vegetables, like my turnips and beets, hardly seemed to notice.

Turnip ready for harvest

These turnips had zero freeze damage.

As a vegetable gardener, I had a decision to make when I heard the arctic blast was on its way to Texas. Last month Patty Leander told us that February can be a transition month between winter cool-season vegetables and spring warm-season plants. You have to decide if you want to sow subsequent cool-season crops like kale or make room for spring. That’s exactly the position I found myself in. My decision was to run out to the garden and harvest everything I could, then leave everything uncovered to fend for itself. I knew that the tender vegetables like lettuce would be toast, but the root vegetables like carrots, beets, and turnips would be fine (hopefully.) None of us knew the severity of the storm, but I’m looking at it as an opportunity to move things toward spring and am starting anew in my March vegetable garden. When life gives you dead plants, make compost and replant!

One or Two More Freezes Likely Coming

It was 80 degrees at my house less than a week after the arctic blast. What? I want to speak to someone in charge.

Our crazy temperature swing might lull us into thinking we are safe from the cold. Maybe we are. Or MAYBE it’s a set-up from our crazy Texas weather. Historically, it starts to warm up this month; our average last day of frost is around March 4. However, we’ve had a hard freeze as late as April, so don’t get complacent in all this lovely March vegetable garden sunshine. Another cold blast this month could kill any cool season crops that managed to survive the arctic blast. And it for sure will end any new vegetables you might have planted that aren’t mature enough for any frost tolerance. And those tomatoes you couldn’t resist buying at the nursery? They are goners too.

Upside down nursery pots used for frost protection

Use pots or buckets for protection – but remove them when it warms back up.

The best thing to do for a March vegetable garden is to plan for freezing temperatures. Have your frost protection ready to go and listen to the weather forecast. If any temperature less than 40 degrees is predicted, cover and protect your vegetable garden plants. Some good options are double-folded row covers, sheets, cardboard boxes, old blankets (use a hoop to hold them up if they are heavy), buckets, or plastic jugs. Just be sure to remove the cover the next day when temperatures start to climb. Some years it seems this freeze dance can last for days.

March Vegetable Garden Checklist

Here is what you can do in your vegetable garden this month.

Fertilize

  • Water transplants in with a liquid fertilizer solution diluted to half strength.
  • Do not add fertilizer to seed beds. Wait until the new plants have true leaves, then use a liquid fertilizer solution to get them started.

Water

  • Transplants should be watered in their pots before transplanting and watered again after planting in the ground.
  • Water seed beds before planting if they are especially dry. Wait an hour to plant. Water again after planting seeds to facilitate good soil-to-seed contact.

Plant

  • See the full Vegetable Garden Planting Guide (en español) and Vegetable Varieties for Central Texas.
  • Choose planting beds that provide at least six to eight hours of full sun for optimum growth and production.
  • Leafy greens like lettuce, chard, mesclun, and mustard can be planted all month. Try planting each week so that they don’t all mature at the same time.
  • Plant seeds of peas early in the month, the last crop of beets, collards and turnips mid month, bush and pole beans, cucumbers, summer squash and winter squash later in the month.
  • Hold off on melons, okra, sweet potatoes, peppers and southern peas until the very end of the month or the first of April once the soil has warmed up to 65° F and the air temperature is between 70° and 85° F.
  • Plant flowers in and around the vegetable garden to attract beneficial insects.

Transplant

  • Tomatoes, peppers and eggplants should go in the garden as transplants so that flowering and fruit set can occur before temperatures get too hot. Plan for frost protection all month.
  • Transplant herbs like oregano and thyme late in the month. Hold off on basil until it’s warmer.

Soil

  • Before adding transplants or seeds, add some compost into your garden bed. Spread up to two inches on top of the soil, then work in with a hand cultivator or hoe.
  • Use more compost as mulch around transplants to help protect from cold and suppress weeds.

Diseases/Pests to Look For

Squash Vine Borers

My nemesis is the Squash vine borer, and some years I just give up. However, right about this time I gird myself for battle.

Micromesh to use as an insect barrier

Micromesh can be an effective insect barrier.

I’ve had pretty good luck using a micromesh row cover. I’ve found it at a few local nurseries and online. Be warned though, it can be expensive and a squirrel can chew through it. The other downside is that it also keeps out pollinators. You’ll need to pollinate the squash blossoms yourself using a small watercolor paintbrush or take a chance removing the cover for a few hours. I pollinate by hand since I have such a problem with the borers.

Tilling

Another control method, is to till the ground where you are going to plant the squash (if you grow in a container, use fresh potting soil.) Normally I don’t recommend tilling, but it is a good way to destroy any borer that might have overwintered in your soil. I rotate the garden beds I plant squash in and only grow them every other year, but that isn’t enough for my yard. I take my cultivating hoe and work the top three inches of soil to uncover any pupae that may be lurking in the soil. Squishing them provides me some sense of revenge.

Trapping
Squash vine borer trap

Traps can be purchased online.

This last year I tried trapping them. I found yellow traps that you fill with soapy water and splurged for the optional scent lure. The traps nabbed almost three dozen moths, but some of them had already laid eggs on my pumpkins that I’d left uncovered. I should have worn my glasses and inspected the vines more closely. By the time I discovered the larvae, it was too late. Another squishing incident ensued.

Variety Selection

There are some varieties of squash that are resistant to the pest. They may still suffer an attack but are able to survive the infestation. My two favorites are an oval, zuchini-flavored squash called ‘Tatume’. The other is a type of summer butternut squash called ‘Tromboncino’ or ‘Trombetta’. The Tromboncino squash is fun to grow because it gets really long and forms a curl. It’s quite a conversation starter at my house. (Yes, we need other hobbies.)

Old Friends?

Other pests to watch for this month are our old friends cabbage loopers, aphids, and whiteflies. Pick off the loopers and use your favorite method to dispatch. Aphids and whiteflies can be controlled with blasts of water.

Maintenance

  • Use row cover to protect plants from the wind, if needed.
  • Evaluate and audit your vegetable bed irrigation system. Check for misaligned or broken emitters and poor overlap.
  • Keep on top of weeds while your plants are putting down roots. Don’t let weeds go to seed, be sure to pull them before they start to flower – especially henbit!
  • Wrap tomato cage with row cover and place over transplants to protect them from wind and cold.
  • Mound soil around potatoes leaving the top 6-8” of leaves exposed.
  • Continue harvesting cool season crops and monitor for pests; as temperatures rise the cool season crops become stressed and attract pests.
  • Pull up and compost cool season crops as soon as they start exhibiting stress.
  • If you have any brassicas that survived the freeze, let a few go to flower. Beneficial insects love them.

Harvest

  • Start harvesting asparagus when they are bigger than a pencil.
  • Continue harvesting broccoli, beets, lettuce, spinach and other cool weather crops; let some of your brassica plants go to flower to attract beneficial insects
    to the garden.

Additional Resources

Recommended Vegetable Varieties for Travis County

Vegetable Seed Sources

Vegetable Gardening in Austin

Sustainable Food Center Farmers Markets

Texas Farmers Markets

Monthly Gardening Calendar for Austin and Central Texas

Sheryl Williams Horticulture Program Assistant photo

Sheryl Williams has been a Travis County Master Gardener since 2010 and currently works as the Horticulture Program Assistant at Texas A&M AgriLife Extension – Travis County. She was introduced to gardening by her mom and grandma and has been an avid vegetable gardener most of her life. Sheryl believes that there is nothing more satisfying than growing and preparing your own food. She likes gardening in Austin year round and concedes that means pulling weeds every day. She practices organic gardening principles and enjoys the challenge of outsmarting garden pests. Occasionally she loses these battles, but doesn’t mind sharing a good meal.

For the Love of Roses by Carolyn Williams

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Rose 'Heritage' flower bud which will fuel your love of roses

‘Heritage’ Rose

The love of roses is a subject that captivates gardeners and poets alike. Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “There is simply the rose; it is perfect in every moment of its existence.”

This is my fourth post on roses. I hope I’ve answered a few basic questions in order for you to have enough rose knowledge that you can either plant a new rose or help an older established one produce better sweet smelling roses.

Fertilizer Basics

Have your soil tested so that you know how much fertilizer you should be applying. Fertilizers are labeled with three numbers that represent the amount of N(itrogen), P(hospate), and K(Potassium). Read the labels and then use this tool with your soil test results to see how much you should apply. Even organic fertilizers should be labeled.

I’ve listed some common organic sources in this table:

Common Organic Sources for N, P, K

Nitrogen Phosphate Potassium
 

Alfalfa Meal

Blood Meal

Fish Emulsion

Fish Meal

Seaweed

Manures

 

Colloidal Phosphate (Also called Rock Phosphate)

Manures

 

Greensand

Alfalfa Meal

Seaweed

Compost is not considered a fertilizer, which is why labeling is not required. The nutrients in compost are greatly dependent on the ingredients used to create it, which can vary widely. Most compost contains some low amounts of all three, but use it to improve your soil structure or as a mulch rather than as a fertilizer. You can get your compost tested, but unless you use the exact same ingredients every time, the amounts of N, P, K will vary by batch.

No matter which fertilizer you choose,  lightly rake the material into the soil, being careful not to damage the roots, and then generously water. A garden rake or hand cultivator work well. Most roses do not need any more than two feedings in early spring and late summer to encourage blooms and right after pruning. Check our gardening calendar for more information.

Diseases to Watch For

Rose leaves with black spot fungus

Rose leaves with black spot.

One of the more common rose diseases is Blackspot. This fungus happens during warm, wet weather. Black spots appear on the foliage, followed by yellowing and leaf drop. Plenty of sun, good air movement, and healthy soil increase plant resistance.

You will need to clean up the dropped leaves and put into trash, not the compost bin. Afterwards, you can add a small amount of compost and then mulch as this will act as a barrier between the plant and any spores in the soil. The Texas Plant Disease Diagnostic Lab has suggestions for how to treat blackspot. They recommend fungicides containing cyproconazole, triforine, or chlorothalonil among others provide good control.  Additionally, there are some organic fungicides that can provide decent control of this disease such as products containing neem oil or potassium bicarbonate. Read the label and follow instructions on how to apply.

Powdery mildew appears on leaves as blistered or curled, with a haze of powdery white fungus and occurs when we have cool, dry overcast conditions while the roses are in their active growth state. Basic treatment is the same as above.

Climbing Roses

Peggy Martin Rose in full bloom will help fuel your love of roses

The climbing rose, ‘Peggy Martin’  in the Earth-Kind Demonstration Garden at the AgriLife Extension office on Smith Road.

If you are growing a climbing rose (and I hope you do so), in order for the rose to produce more blooms, create arches with the long canes, wrapping or braiding around a post or even mild twists as this promotes leafy growth and flowers all along the cane. This allows unlimited creativity in using climbing roses as decorations for your garden.

If you need to tie your rose canes, be sure to use a soft tie material to gently fasten such as a roll of jute twine.

Two Bloom Seasons in Central Texas

Remember here in Central Texas we have two intense bloom seasons, spring and fall, and in between we have two more or less dormant seasons of summer and winter. Winter dormancy consists of shedding foliage, stopping blooms and storing the plant’s energy in the soil-protected roots. Summer dormancy often means shedding some foliage as well as it becomes heat stressed. In order to help the rose in either dormancy to be less stressed, remember watering well at the base, and mulching to protect the soil’s moisture which also acts as a barrier of insulation. And, as a bonus, the mulch slowly breaks down and becomes even more compost for the coming season. A win – win combination for your rose!

What’s Not to Love?

There are numerous beautiful roses available at many Austin nurseries or places online like the Antique Rose Emporium. Check them out, learn about the many lovely Earth-Kind/antique roses and, if you have never grown them or previously had poor luck with roses, give them a new try. What’s NOT to love about something that has given gardeners beauty, fragrance, and grace for centuries!

Additional Resources

Best Roses for Austin and Travis County

Black Spot of Roses

How to take a soil test

Earth-Kind® Roses

Roses – The Southern Garden this page is the hub for many of Dr. William Welch’s Gardening articles

Old Roses by Dr. William Welch

Common Rose Diseases Information Sheet

The Organic Rose Garden by Liz Druitt, Taylor Trade Publishing (April 1, 1996)

Good Bugs for Your Garden by Allison Starcher, Algonquin Books (January 5, 1995)

Plant Problems and Maintenance

Heirloom Gardening in the South by William C. Welch and Greg Grant

March Gardening Checklist for Austin and Central Texas

Carolyn Williams blog author

Carolyn Williams and her husband live and garden west of Austin in the land of limestone and caliche. This will be her 21st year as a member of Travis County Master Gardeners Association, where she has held several offices including two years as President. Carolyn has chaired numerous committees , writes articles for the TCMGA Compost Bin, gives talks to local clubs and organizations, and is a certified Landscape Designer who always enjoys discovering the beauty and rhythms of her own garden.

Maintaining Roses by Carolyn Williams

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Maintaining Roses is Easy

Maintaining roses is one of the easiest things to do in the garden. The trick is to select roses that do well in our climate, plant them at the right time, and give them enough light.

Best Time to Plant Roses

Bare root roses soaking in a pail of water

Give your bare root roses a good soak before planting them in the ground.

Most container roses, especially Earth-Kind® or antique, can go into the ground most anytime as long as they have supplemental irrigation. But the best times to plant roses in the Austin area are early fall through early spring. Roses need to establish roots before summer heat. Try to choose mild weather with a chance of rain showers to give the rose it’s best chance to survive and thrive.

Plant bare root roses, those that aren’t in a container, before the bud breaks appear. Depending on the weather, this is usually on or before February 14th. In an especially mild winter, it may be early January. The same rules apply to transplanting an established rose. Plant as early as weather allows so the roots have time to develop in time to survive summer heat.

Where to Plant?

Reve d'Or rose

Roses need light to bloom. These Rev d’Or are in very bright dappled shade.

Roses need soil in order to grow sturdy canes and bloom prolifically. They also prefer at least four hours of sunlight or very light, dappled shade. Raised beds or berms are perfect for the Central Texas area as much of our soil is either thin or heavy clay. Be sure to have your soil tested. Most rose-growing advice includes the use of phosphorous fertilizers – which may be a horrible suggestion for the Austin area. Most of our soil already has excess phosphorous, which greatly inhibits iron and other micronutrient uptake. A soil test will tell you what you need for your specific location. No matter what, adding some compost and light mulch on top of the soil after planting and each subsequent year can really get your roses blooming.

Stay on Top of Weeding

Now that you’ve planted the roses, what needs to happen next? You’ll need to weed here and there to keep your roses from becoming smothered or having their light and air supply cut off. They need their space especially to keep air circulating through their branches. After weeding, watering is a good way to keep in balance. And, please remember, one shouldn’t be using a weed eater anywhere near rose bushes. No explanation needed!

How Much Water?

Many roses are fairly drought tolerant, but to perform their best and stay healthy, you’ll need to do some watering. Rainwater is always the best and even contains some nitrogen (from the electrical activity of lightening), but roses will take any kind when needed, just know they do not appreciate constantly wet feet.

Watering their foliage to blast off pests such as aphids and spider mites periodically is great, but make sure it is early in the day and leaves are not staying wet overnight as this is how the blackspot spores become established. Normally root watering, like drip irrigation, is best as it does not leave the foliage damp.

Know the Pests

Mantid hanging out in the garden

Know your insects. This Stagmomantis sp. (Mantodea: Mantidae) is one of the good bugs.

In checking over your roses and seeing bugs, remember while there are bad bugs, there are also good ones. Arm yourself with as much knowledge as possible to identify each kind and then plan accordingly. Doing an internet search or having a good reference book or two on bugs is always prudent and a good practice. This site by Texas A&M Entomology is a good place to bookmark.

Additional Resources

Best Roses for Austin and Travis County

Solving the Mystery of Pruning Roses by Dr. Douglas Welsh

Earth-Kind® Roses

Roses – The Southern Garden this page is the hub for many of Dr. William Welch’s Gardening articles

Old Roses by Dr. William Welch

Common Rose Diseases Information Sheet

The Organic Rose Garden by Liz Druitt, Taylor Trade Publishing (April 1, 1996)

Good Bugs for Your Garden by Allison Starcher, Algonquin Books (January 5, 1995)

Plant Problems and Maintenance

Heirloom Gardening in the South by William C. Welch and Greg Grant

February Gardening Checklist for Austin and Central Texas

 

Carolyn Williams blog author

Carolyn Williams and her husband live and garden west of Austin in the land of limestone and caliche. This will be her 21st year as a member of Travis County Master Gardeners Association, where she has held several offices including two years as President. Carolyn has chaired numerous committees , writes articles for the TCMGA Compost Bin, gives talks to local clubs and organizations, and is a certified Landscape Designer who always enjoys discovering the beauty and rhythms of her own garden.

Plant Freeze Recovery Tips

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Time to Remove Frost Protection

Recently uncovered shrubs, surrouned by snow

Remove protective covering once overnight freezing temperatures are no longer in the forecast.

Now that the record-shattering cold has left Texas, you now may be turning your attention to the plants in your landscape and wondering what you should do for freeze recovery.

I walked around my neighborhood on the first day after the big thaw and was surprised to see so little damage. But my neighborhood is young’ish (I’ve been in my home 12 years), so the trees are all relatively small–no huge branches to break under the weight of ice and snow. Many cacti and Agave are mush, but I saw a few Cycads that appear to be undamaged.

Glossy leaves of Pittosporum shrub

The leaves of this plant appear glossy due to the moist cold, but they are not damaged internally, and will recover just fine.

In my own yard, I had only covered one set of shrubs, three dwarf Pittosporum, which I nervously uncovered once the forecast no longer listed any chance of overnight freezing temps. Their leaves looked a bit iffy, with an odd sheen that, in some plants, can indicate that the cell walls have burst and the water is going to leak out with thawing temps, leading to a pile of mush. But I’ve seen that in these shrubs in prior freezes, and knew that was nothing to worry about.

Remove Only Broken Stems or Branches for Now

Prune off only damaged sections

Prune out only broken stems or branches.

The problem that I discovered, as happened with many plants, was that the weight of the snow and ice on top of the blankets and tarp I’d used to protect them from the freezing temperatures had broken some of the stems. A sad sight, as my cherished plants will now have gaping holes in their beautiful bodies, but a problem that I can help them overcome, with some proactive pruning. But for now, the only pruning I’m going to do is to snip off any of the stems that are actually broken.

Freeze Danger Not Over

It will be hard to be patient, but that really is the best course of action–leave all plants alone, even the mushy ones, and wait to see how they respond, or don’t, as temperatures continue to warm. The only freeze recovery maintenance to do now is to remove only tissues that are broken or hazardous. One reason for this is that damaged tissue at the tips of growing points or on the outside of plants can serve to protect the plant if we get another cold-snap. Prune off damaged tissue now, and you’re simply exposing a new part of the plant to damage if we have a late season frost or freeze.

Broken tree branch from recent winter storm

Prune only branches that are broken. Wait to see how the plant recovers in the next few months before taking other measures.

It Looks Terrible, But Leave Alone

Tip of plant with frost damage but it may do freeze recovery on its own

Resist the urge to trim away damaged tips or leaves. 

New growth and the tips of stems are the most sensitive to frost damage. It’s tempting to just remove it as a way to tidy up for freeze recovery, but leave this tissue alone. Once the plant begins to grow out of this damage you’ll be better able to gauge where to prune. With deciduous plants, still dormant and leafless, you don’t have any good way of knowing how much the plant was damaged. Wait until the new buds begin to swell up and emerge from under the surface of the stem.  Once the new buds or growth appears, prune off any obviously dead tissue.

Give Plants a Chance to Recover

Are some plants actually dead? Absolutely. But I think most people will be more surprised by what recovers. With all of this damage, plants may be hard to come by this spring. So my best advice is not to make a hole in your landscape until you can fill it. Even dead plants can provide temporary food and shelter for wildlife.

Additional Resources

Frosts and Freezes

Weather

Monthly Gardening Calendar

NOAA

February – the Rose Pruning Month by Carolyn Williams

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Roses in a vase

Bottom: ‘Duchesse de Brabant’; Middle: ‘Souvenir de la Malmaison’; Darker pink: ‘Maggie’; Top: ‘The Fairy’

Here in Central Texas, February is the month of on-and-off nasty weather, Valentine’s Day, and Presidents’ Day. All of these remind me it’s time to check on my roses. Choosing a mild day in Mid-February and arming myself with the necessary clothing (long sleeve shirt, hat, glasses, heavy gloves and no open toed shoes) I’m off to start the rose pruning process.

Check your Tools First

Before I start my rose pruning, I like to sharpen and then sterilize my clippers and pruners. Because you use your clippers/pruners so often, the blades can become dirty, rusty and carry bacteria that can then infect healthy plants. If you need help with this, search for the phrase “tool time care for pruning shears” on YouTube.

Know Your Rose

Know what kind of rose you are growing as each can have a little different need. In the Austin area, the best roses to grow are Earth-Kind® and/or Antique roses simply because they have been tried and tested for our area soil and climate.

Rose blooms fall into two types of cycles: single bloom and repeat bloom. Single blooming roses usually bloom once in spring. Repeat bloomers also bloom primarily in spring, but then keep blooming all the way through to frost. If you don’t don’t know which you have, skip pruning until you can determine the bloom cycle.

Rose Pruning Steps

If your rose blooms only once in the spring, wait until it has finished blooming before pruning.

Apricot crepescule rose blossom

Crepuscule, a noisette type climbing rose, should be pruned after it blooms.

The first step to pruning is to remove all dead or damaged canes and any that are crossing over another cane on the inside of the bush.

Second, lightly trim remainder of bush by removing about 1/3 of it’s outer growth.

Third, prune to shape or correct the growing pattern, especially if it’s interfering with walkways.

Fourth, prune out overcrowded inside canes to promote good air circulation. This helps to prevent black spot and other fungal and bacterial problems and reducing the need to spray.

When pruning, look for a bud that faces to the outside on the cane. This will focus new growth to the outside of the bush instead of to the inside. Remember to always pick up and discard any clippings, unless you wish to propagate them.

Deadheading and Summer Pruning

Don’t worry about precision pruning. In fact, sometimes roses seem to thrive with almost no cutting back at all. Most roses reach a peak of bloom about six weeks after pruning, because they bloom on the resulting flush of new growth. Here in Austin, repeat bloomers can be pruned lightly in August for fall blooms.

Should you “dead-head”? After a large flush of blooming, dead-heading (cutting off the spent or dead rose) can both look tidy and increase the next blooms to appear. Many gardeners find this type of activity therapeutic and calming (much like weeding.) It’s not necessary, especially if having the time to constantly dead-head is not available.

Rose hips tied in a bundle

Rose hips are packed with vitamin C

One disadvantage to constantly deadheading is that you might not know which varieties form “hips.” Hips are the fruits of the rose and provide visual interest in your garden.  Additionally, hips make tasty jams and tarts that are filled with lots of Vitamin C.

Compost After Pruning

After pruning, whether spring and late summer, compost is very welcome by your rose. Add a few shovels of wonderful compost around the base of the rose at the dripline and work it lightly into the soil above the roots.

Fertilize With Caution

If your soil test indicates it, add fertilizer after rose pruning. Obtaining a soil test is very important to ascertain the available phosphorus. Austin area soils are normally high in this nutrient, so the standard advice to add phosphorus to promote blooms may not apply to your garden. Excess phosphorus will limit the availability of other important soil nutrients, even if it’s an organic fertilizer.

Additional Resources

Best Roses for Austin and Travis County

Solving the Mystery of Pruning Roses by Dr. Douglas Welsh

Earth-Kind® Roses

Roses – The Southern Garden this page is the hub for many of Dr. William Welch’s Gardening articles

Old Roses by Dr. William Welch

Common Rose Diseases Information Sheet

The Organic Rose Garden by Liz Druitt, Taylor Trade Publishing (April 1, 1996)

Heirloom Gardening in the South by William C. Welch and Greg Grant

February Gardening Checklist for Austin and Central Texas

 

Carolyn Williams blog author

Carolyn Williams and her husband live and garden west of Austin in the land of limestone and caliche. This will be her 21st year as a member of Travis County Master Gardeners Association, where she has held several offices including two years as President. Carolyn has chaired numerous committees , writes articles for the TCMGA Compost Bin, gives talks to local clubs and organizations, and is a certified Landscape Designer who always enjoys discovering the beauty and rhythms of her own garden.

Plant Freeze Protection from Arctic Blast

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blankets on plant to protect from freeze

Make sure that the entire plant is covered and that the covering reaches the ground and is weighted down

Plant Freeze Protection in Abnormally Cold Weather

Like most gardeners, I pay particular attention to the weather, combining observation and information to make a plan for garden maintenance. Usually, that decision-making process involves adjusting to excessive heat and drought. I’m downright vigilant about the heat. But the cold? Making plans for plant freeze protection? Well, I don’t really think too much about it. Like many Central Texans, I’ve grown a bit complacent about cold weather, not having seen much of it in the last decade.

But when the weather professionals give the type of forecast that involves the arrival of an arctic blast and mentions the polar vortex? I take notice. Normally, I don’t take any special care of my garden in the winter. Some of my plants end up with a bit of frost damage every year, but they grow out of it just fine, needing only a bit of minor pruning in early spring. But when I hear a forecast with the potential for several straight days below freezing and a short dip into single digits? Even a lazy gardener like me takes action.

Quick Pointers for Plant Freeze Protection

There are plenty of references and publications on how  to protect your plants from the cold, but if you don’t enough time to search out information, here are are a few pointers from my own yard.

Move containers indoors

Move container plants indoors to protect from freeze

Move container plants indoors to protect from freeze

If at all possible, move container plants indoors or into the garage. If you can’t move containers indoors, go ahead and toss a blanket over the entire plant and its pot, and weigh it down on the ground so that the entire plant and the container are protected.

Don’t use plastic for plant freeze protection

You know all those old sheets and worn out blankets that you’ve been meaning to donate but just haven’t? Now is their time to shine! If the fabric is heavy, be sure to use a stake or garden tool to prop it up, so the weight doesn’t break the stems. Avoid using plastic to protect plants from a freeze. Plastic in contact with leaves may cause them to rot, providing an opportunity for microbes to move in.

Batten down the hatches for plant freeze protection

It’s critically important that you secure the protective covering to the ground around the base of the plant. This will not only keep the cloth from blowing away, but will also keep cold air from blowing up under the fabric and damaging your plant. Use any objects that you happen to have. This is a good time to raid that rock pile in your backyard, or grab that broken stepping stone that you haven’t tossed yet.

Use bricks, rocks, broken pavers, etc. to weigh down plant coverings

Bricks, broken paving stones, and even rocks work great to secure freeze protecting fabric around your plants

Bricks and a rock holding down a blanket protecting a plant from freezing weather

Be sure that the fabric is weighted down and secure, so that the entire plant and the ground around it are protected

Remove coverings once temperatures are back above freezing

This week’s crazy cold will necessitate leaving fabric coverings on for several days. During the cold snap, be sure to check regularly to make sure that the fabric is still completely enclosing the entire plant and that it’s still weighted to the ground. But then, once the cold snap breaks and our weather returns to above freezing, go ahead and remove that covering.

Be very careful if you use any sort of lights to “heat” the area around your plants

A precious plant may be hard to replace, but not as hard as a home damaged by fire from an electrical short. If you aren’t sure that the electrical situation is safe, please err on the side of caution.

Questions?

If you have specific questions, get in touch! Master Gardener volunteers are manning our help desk remotely, and we’d be happy to chat with you by phone or email:  512.710.7098 or travismg@ag.tamu.edu

Additional Resources

Frosts and Freezes

Weather

Monthly Gardening Calendar

NOAA

 

 

The History of Roses by Carolyn Williams

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Rosa sulfurea drawn by the great botanical artist Pierre-Joseph Redouté (1759-1840 )

Roses Cultivated for Over 5,000 Years

The history of the rose goes back around 5,000 years ago to China. There is fossilized evidence of the rose plant eons earlier. The Romans grew them, the English fought a war symbolizing them, (white rose of York and red rose of Lancaster.) The French Empress Josephine Bonaparte became an early collector and breeder of them at her estate, Château de Malmaison, outside of Paris.

Cultivated roses were introduced into Europe from China in the late 18th century.

Roses in North America

In early America, the indigenous people of the Pacific Northwest were growing native roses for medicinal purposes such as poultices, teas, and tonics.

When the New England colonists came to North America they found the native roses appealing. They also had brought their favorite Old Garden Roses to introduce into the New World. Eventually, rose imports from Europe traveled by ship into early American ports such as New York, Charleston and Savannah.

In 1803 Thomas Jefferson had cultivated roses in his garden at Monticello, sending native rose seeds to a friend in France.

Rose Classification System

You will find roses listed together in “classes.” Developed originally by rose nurserymen and refined by generations of rose growers, the class system is a convenient way to organize roses into groups of plants that are both similar in appearance and in need.

Old Garden Rose Classes

Rose breeders and collectors introduced more than ten thousand rose varieties between 1804 – 1935. This makes it difficult to identify older roses found growing in cemeteries, abandoned homesteads, and long-established gardens.

Species and Hybrid Species

Species roses are those grown from wild stock. Their natural range is anywhere between the Arctic Circle and just above the Equator. An local example is the Cherokee Rose, which grows naturally in several Southern states.

China Roses
Mutabilis rose displaying white, yellow, and pink petals

Mutabilis

The original roses in this class came from China. European rose breeders then bred the plants with other classes. They were the first ever repeat-blooming roses. Their flowers have a characteristic sweet, fruity fragrance and bloom constantly. Examples: Old Blush, Ducher, Archduke Charles, Martha Gonzales, and Mutabilis.

Teas
A pink tea rose, Duchesse De Brabant

Duchesse De Brabant

Tea roses are typically large bushes featuring blooms with a slight “tea” fragrance. These roses are found often in Southern gardens as they do well in zones 6 – 10. Many of the old gardens had several types such as Mrs. B. R. Cant, Mrs. Dudley Cross, Duchesse De Brabant and Madame Antoine Mari.

Noisettes

Hybrids of Chinas and Teas. Bred in Charleston, So. Carolina and further developed in France. Enjoying a warm climate especially zones 7 – 10. Examples: Nachitoches, Lamarque and Reve D’Or.

Bourbons
The Bourbon Rose named 'Maggie'

Maggie

Named for the French ruling class and again, a hybrid of Chinese and European varieties. Large and richly scented, growing to zone 9. Dr. William C. Welch from A&M University found one of the best in Louisiana, Maggie. Other examples: Souvenir de la Malmaison & Souvenir de St. Anne’s.

Modern Garden Rose Classes

Moving into more modern times, many new classes have evolved, often blending one or more of the old varieties. Hybrid Teas, Polyanthas, Floribundas, Grandifloras, Hybrid Musks, Hybrid Rugosas, and Miniatures. The list continues to grow as nurserymen and rose specialists continue their love of the rose.

Share What You Know

Ron and Don from Travis County Master Gardeners

Founding Travis County Master Gardeners Association members Ron Miller and Don Freeman in 2004

Two wonderful, knowledgeable Master Gardeners helped me on numerous occasions learn more about roses.  They shared their expertise with anyone interested and always with a smile.  Now they are both gone, but certainly not forgotten by many.

Following in their footsteps, we all can learn that by sharing our gardening advice,  we enrich others. 

Thank you, Don Freeman and Ron Miller!

Additional Resources

Best Roses for Austin and Travis County

Earth-Kind® Roses

Roses – The Southern Garden this page is the hub for many of Dr. William Welch’s Gardening articles

Common Rose Diseases Information Sheet

The Organic Rose Garden by Liz Druitt, Taylor Trade Publishing (April 1, 1996)

Heirloom Gardening in the South by William C. Welch and Greg Grant

February Gardening Checklist for Austin and Central Texas

 

Carolyn Williams blog author

Carolyn Williams and her husband live and garden west of Austin in the land of limestone and caliche. This will be her 21st year as a member of Travis County Master Gardeners Association, where she has held several offices including two years as President. Carolyn has chaired numerous committees , writes articles for the TCMGA Compost Bin, gives talks to local clubs and organizations, and is a certified Landscape Designer who always enjoys discovering the beauty and rhythms of her own garden.

Please Participate in TexasSpeaks Survey

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TexasSpeaks survey

TexasSpeaks is being conducted in Travis County and across the State of Texas to allow the citizens of Texas to provide their input on the assets and issues in their communities. The local branch of the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service has a rich history of providing educational programs that address the most critical issues in the county, and invites your participation in the TexasSpeaks process.

The AgriLife Extension Service highly values the opinions shared through the TexasSpeaks community assessment. The expectation is that the assessment will take about 10 minutes.

You can provide your input by going to the following tx.ag/texasspeaks or by scanning the QR code below.
Texas Speaks QR code

What is the Goal?

Quick Facts About the Survey

Engage as many Texas citizens as possible to create the most accurate and helpful data to support Texas communities at both the state and local levels.
  • Online
  • Anonymous
  • Takes approximately 10 minutes or less
  • This survey is part of several efforts to identify and understand the issues facing Texas communities
  • Identifying relevant issues is fundamental to the program development model of Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service
  • Includes an open feedback section for areas not listed within the survey
  • Includes an opportunity to elect to receive contact by the agency
Track the progress here: https://texasspeaks.tamu.edu/ Questions? Contact:
Dr. Scott Cummings
s.cummings@tamu.edu

The Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service is a statewide network of professional educators, trained volunteers, and county offices. It reaches into every Texas county to address local priority needs and to extend the latest research to the people of Texas. Some of the major efforts are in mitigating drought impacts; conserving water use in homes, landscapes, and production agriculture; improving emergency management; enhancing food security; and protecting human health through education about diet, exercise, and disease prevention and management.

 Thank you very much for your involvement in this process.

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