Lazy Gardener & Friends for June 28, 2019

By: Nature's Way Resources | Published 06/28/2019

Here is the 298th 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: Thanks so much for your interest.
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In decades of writing gardening columns, I’ve only talked with two folks who really achieved success with balcony plantings on a tiny high rise open “porch.”
One was the late Joan Murray, a delightful woman who treasured Lois L. Kaufman's famous quote: Plant a seed of friendship; reap a bouquet of happiness.” The other is one of my longtime hibiscus gurus, Pat Merritt. First: Joan Murray:
Joan’s son Steve emailed me several years ago asking for advice for his mother who had moved to a 6th floor apartment in The Woodlands. A Master Gardener, Joan was determined to “keep growing.” Her balcony had a strong southern/western exposure.
My advice was based on common sense, since my search for long term, successful balcony gardens was “nil & none.” I knew the main reason why these gardens fail. Sun’s a major challenge but wind is the real killer.
Something to provide shade to protect soil moisture or at least help shield the plant while young is almost essential. Joan and Steve used solar/wind fabric along the handrail, anchored tightly with zip-ties to stop flapping. (See photo above left.) Not a total fix, Steve recalls, but certainly a help.
Self-watering pots are helpful as is first starting with sun-/drought-loving plants such as bougainvillea, succulents, cacti, etc. Tip: try only one or two of a variety of plants. See which you like and, more importantly, which like you.
When it comes to vegetables, Joan –- helped by her screen –- harvested tomatoes, cucumbers, and bell peppers. Cherry tomatoes did best, especially in planter boxes with water-trough base and a side (indirect) watering tube. Spider mites were a major problem with larger tomatoes.
Joan’s successful decoratives included Asian jasmine which got a little “too happy” in its shady corner. It needed trimming which Joan didn’t mind since she felt it helped “cool” the area, benefitting other plants.
Heavy, glazed clay planter pots became too hot to touch, probably baking soil inside. Foam faux pots worked better. Also helpful was keeping plants in black nursery pots slipped inside larger decorative planter pots. Not only did this provide some air circulation inside the decorative pot, it made the plant easier to move or replaced. Crowding pots close together really cuts down on needed air circulation. Space them if you can or use a variety of sizes in groupings.
If you don't have self-watering pots, daily watering is essential. Steve recalls Joan’s greatest successes were directly related to how cool they could keep the pots. The jasmine had the coolest soil due to location. Even diligent watering didn’t help things in clay pots.
Joan expected veggies to be the most vulnerable, but overall they did pretty well in small plastic planters with water basins. Medium size plants, in plastic pots or the large foam planters, did ok. Plants in soils with a heavier portion of clay, rather than the lighter vermiculite, also fared better. 
Summer always took some toll. Plants that started out thriving -- like russellia, Mexican cacti, bougainvillea and Meyer lemon -- did suffer in June-July. But all started recovering in August with steady watering. Gayfeather and vinca seemed more summer-hardy, but eventually heat took its toll. Sweet potato vine was a delightful success.
Below, l to r, bougainvillea, gayfeather, russellia, sweet potato vine and vinca
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HIGH-RISE HIBISCUS. After internationally-recognized hibiscus expert Pat Merritt lost her husband Roz, she decided to give up the hundreds of hibiscus plants they had collected over the years at their Southwest Houston suburban home.
Pat moved to a high rise apartment with a balcony and -- can you imagine? -- had to decide of that huge collection to take with her.
When Pat speaks on hibiscus, I listen. For decades, Roz and Pat have been stalwarts of the international hibiscus scene, especially the American Hibiscus Society and our local AHS/Lone Star Chapter. AHS President was one of many offices Roz held, at the same time as he was hybridizing new delights for our gardens. Pat oversaw the revision of the American Hibiscus Society’s Tropical Hibiscus Handbook as Image Editor, with the late Barry Schlueter handling the text.
Two magnificent hibiscus hybrids were named in their honor: Hibiscusrosa-sinensis 'Roz Merritt' (left above) & H. rosa-sinensis 'Patricia Merritt' (center), both by renowned Houston area hybridizer Barry Schlueter.
Pat now has a deep, narrow, east-facing balcony. Naturally her first two choices were her and Roz’s namesakes above. Then, just for great color, she added a garden variety, 'Sunny Wind,' below left, a yellow with a red center that blooms constantly. 
Pat wanted “texture,” so picked 'Snow Queen' for its green and white variegated foliage. But even experts are still learning, and sometimes it takes time to see if a plant is the. Pat admits, “I soon discovered that I didn’t have enough sun to keep the foliage from turning all green so this one may be donated.” 
Pat loves white hibiscus, so brought over 'Dainty White,' an ever-blooming tall, skinny variety that doesn’t take up much room.
Above l to r, 'Sunny Wind,' 'Snow Queen,' 'Dainty White' and 'Red Wave'
Pat's sixth hibiscus is 'Red Wave,' another textured one that has red in its leaves. It, too, may be donated for the same reason as 'Snow Queen' . . . not enough sun to keep it variegated. 
Pat says she will probably replace 'Snow Queen' with a Plumeria named ‘Grapette’ (right) that is a clone of one Roz purchased from Bear Creek Farms about 30 years ago.
The best place to learn about growing hibiscus in the Greater Houston area? The American Hibiscus Society/Lone Star Chapter.
FAVOR? IF YOU HAVE A BALCONY GARDEN with successful longtime plantings, do share! What are you growing, what advice can you share and, even better, send pictures! Email me at
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TEXAS MASTER NATURALIST/COASTAL PRAIRIE CHAPTER is accepting registration for its Fall 2019 Class, Aug. 20-late Oct. 12 classes split between Tuesday evenings and Saturdays, with makeup classes available. $50. Contact Margo “Mac” McDowell at 281-633-7033, or Sponsored by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service.
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NEWSLETTER is based on her 40+ years as the Houston Chronicle's Lazy Gardener.
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