Lazy Gardener & Friends for April 5, 2019

By: Nature's Way Resources | Published 04/05/2019

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Dear Friends,
 
Here is the 287th issue of our weekly gardening newsletter for Houston, the Gulf Coast and beyond. We really appreciate all of our readers hanging in there with us, sharing stories and inspiring us in so many ways. 
 
Thanks so much!
 
This newsletter is a project of The Lazy Gardener, Brenda Beust Smith & John Ferguson. (John is with Nature's Way Resources). We also have a great supporting cast of contributing writers and technical specialists who will chime in and tweak away regularly. We would love to keep receiving your input on this newsletter . . . . comments . . . . suggestions . . . . questions. . . .Email your thoughts to: lazygardenerandfriends@gmail.com. Thanks so much for your interest.
 
Please sign yourself up to receive this newsletter by clicking this link "Join Our Mailing List". We will never sell or share our mailing list to protect the privacy of our subscribers.
 
Enjoy!
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"You can't make everyone happy. You're not an avocado."
-- Anonymous (as far as I can tell) but now popular as a meditation mantra
 
Guess it's time to talk about growing our own avocados, right?
 
Yes, we can grow avocados in Houston and, if all goes right, they will produce delicious fruit. But be forewarned, avocados are NOT lazy gardener plants.
 
Grocery store avocado seeds make beautiful plants (grouped several to a pot). But fruit? Chances slim to none if from California (usually Hass), as most are.
 
If the store avocados are from Mexico, chances improve. But it's often impossible to know the fruit's origin or how it was treated before it got to your store. That matters. Best bet: buy an already-started tree from an independent nursery you know and trust. Recommended varieties for us include Wilma, Opal, Pancho, Fantastic, Joey, Lula and Mexicole Grande.
 
Avocados can grow 25’ tall with a 15' canopy. Make sure you have room or don’t mind sharing a canopy (aka avocados) with a neighbor. Ideal is a well-drained, sunny site at least 10' from the nearest building and 15'-25' from any large evergreen tree. They can take shade, but need sun to produce fruit.
 
Avocado trees here that don't make it usually have died from . . .
  • Not being able to tolerate our extreme summer heat and sun (especially first few years when shading young growth is essential)
  • Roots staying wet too long during heavy rains or, worse, flooding.
 
A raised area, with sand or organic matter worked into heavy clay soil, will help, especially the first few years. Mulch well to keep soil cooler in summer and warmer in winter. It's normal for these evergreens to drop leaves in spring to make room for new ones, so that's not a reason to panic.
 
I wondered how far north one could grow avocados. They are, after all, semi-tropical fruit trees and will need to go in the ground eventually.
 
Angela Frye of Montgomery Pines Nursery says they grow and produce in Willis, 50+/- miles north of Houston. She recommends customer keep young avocados in containers for a few years so they can be moved around while developing bark. If that's not possible, she recommends a sheltered spot with southern exposure. Christmas lights can provide warmth on cold nights.
 
For more information, check out Ray Sher’s Urban Harvest column: urbanharvest.org/blog/-/blogs/avocado-trees-for-houston. While you’re logged on, join Urban Harvest. UH's newsletter information is fantastic for us and you’ll be helping to support hundreds of area community gardens.
 
Another MUST source is your county's Master Gardener office. See which varieties they recommend for your specific area. Don’t know how to reach them? Perfect time to find out: mastergardener.tamu.edu/county-programs/
 
PEONIES IN HOUSTON?
For the first time in my 40+ years garden writing, I can report on peonies actually growing here. And have been for a number of years! These cold-loving, blooming shrubs are usually found where the ground actually freezes in winter, with snow cover for extended periods. But Tom, in Meyerland/Bellaire area, is why I never-say-never when it comes to trying new plants!
 
Tom’s peonies above, l to r, ‘Takara,’ ‘Joanna Marlene’ and ‘Keiko’
Below, l to r, ‘Morning Lilac’, ‘Callie’s Memory’ and ‘First Arrival’
 
Tom grows the new Itoh peonies, seven different varieties. He so missed the peonies he grew in Tulsa, Tom was delighted to find Itohs are rated for Zone 9. Most peonies are recommended for Zones 3-8 (Tulsa is 6; Houston, 9 & 10).
 
Tom started with well-established, 3' high plants from Monrovia growersSome are in 4-gal. containers, three in ground. Tom does move his around during different seasons, but says Itohs do appear to require MUCH less winter chill than regular herbaceous peonies. 
 
“One thing they dislike is very wet soils and non draining ones...they will rot," Tom says. His general advice: Put in raised beds or containers. Plant the crown just below soil line, so plant “eyes” of plant are a little above ground. This exposes the eyes to maximum cold during winter.
 
Over the decades, I've been proven wrong too often after telling folks certain plants won't grow here -- especially cold-demanding varieties. Although a few succeeded, most literally withered away after a few years. Tom's got several years of success on his side.
 
Hope springs eternal and I bet Tom will inspire a lot of northern transplants to at least try these Itoh peonies. And might inspire those longing for lilacs to think about giving them a try too!
 
Edibles were among the fastest sellers above, l to r, tomatoes
(went the fastest), figs, blueberries and herbs,
 
What are gardeners-in-the-know buying this year? Mercer Botanic Garden’s annual March Mart draws this area's most experienced, most sophisticated home gardeners. Fastest sellers this year? Tomatoes, of course, then all edibles, then plants in bloom (more on this below). Popular edibles:
  • FIGS - Celeste and LSU Gold
  • BLUEBERRIES - Climax, Premier, and Tifblue
  • TOMATOES: ‘Celebrity,’ ‘Sun Gold’ & ‘Supersweet 100”
  • HERBS: LAVENDER, CATNIP, ROSEMARY
 
In various other categories, first choices were . . .
 
L to R above: SHADE: Rex Begonias. NATIVES: Milkweed - all native varieties –(Asclepias species)PERENNIALS: Fuzzy Bolivian Sage (Salvia oxyphora). ROSES: 'Julia Child". GINGERS: Curcuma ‘Twister’
 
L to R above: TREES: New Zealand Tea Tree (Leptospermum scoparium) and Japanese Maples (Acer palmatum), in particular 'Purple Ghost'. SHRUBS: Altheas (Rose of Sharon, Hibiscus syriacus), especially 'Purple Pillars" and 'Sugar Tip Gold'
 
Kitt Burnsides, 2019 March Mart Chair, hopes to have many of these available at other events. The Mercer Society will run specialty (weekend) sales during the year at Mercer Botanic Gardens. For Mercer Botanic Garden updates:
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