The Texas Tomato Lover’s Handbook

The Texas Tomato Lover’s Handbook By William D. Adams A garden-grown tomato sliced and laid across a grilled hamburger … Sweet, plump cherry tomatoes in a crisp, green salad … Sauce made from fresh tomatoes, ladled over a steaming bowl of pasta … Spicy tomato salsa … Savory tomato soup … Mmm, can’t you just taste those luscious tomatoes?

Is there any single vegetable as mouth-watering as the tomato? And yet, as thousands of people tired of mushy, half-green, and tasteless tomatoes bought from supermarkets have discovered, much more is involved in growing your own than simply putting a plant or two in the ground and expecting to harvest juicy, red tomatoes a few weeks later – especially in Texas!

Bill Adams, former Harris County Extension Agent draws on more than thirty years’ experience to provide a complete, step-by-step guide to success in the tomato patch. Growing good tomatoes requires

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Queen Sirikit Botanic Garden in Chiang Mai

Queen Sirikit Botanic Garden entrance, in Mae Rim, Chiang Mai, Thailand

In a beautiful location nestled in the foothills of Doi Suthep-Pui National Park, Mae Rim in Chiang Mai province, in the northeast part of Thailand, Queen Sirikit Botanic Garden is a relative youngster among botanic gardens, having been established in 1993, but the 1,000 hectares has been planned well and shows good diversity even in its teenage years. Thais are proud of this garden, the first one in the country of international standard.

Loading the tram at the Queen Sirikit Botanic Garden entrance

The tram ride from the front gate to the greenhouse complex was a delight (it also saved us an hour uphill walk) as we snaked up the hillside past ornamental gardens, paved walking trails and native woodlands.

The greenhouse complex at Queen Sirikit Botanic Garden

The glasshouse complex has 12 houses,

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A Few Favorite Spring Blooming Shrubs

What does it take to get on the top ten best shrubs list? One of the main reasons for growing shrubs is to have a plant that will look great in flower and contribute to the landscape during another season. This multi-season interest is important to become a top shrub. Shrubs that look great for two weeks in May while they are in bloom are nice, but a top shrub must have other characteristics to justify its status in the garden. These characteristics might include: vivid fall color, persistent or edible fruit, exfoliating bark, flower fragrance, or a striking architectural appearance. Surprisingly, some of the best shrubs may not be very familiar to gardeners. It is time for the secret to be revealed and more top shrubs put into gardens.

Glorious Forsythia suspensa in the spring

Forsythia is a shrub that heralds the arrival of spring for many

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Native Plants for All Gardens

The use of native plants is becoming more and more prevalent in our landscapes. It is hard to argue against the use of these plants when many have such desirable attributes as drought tolerance, low maintenance and the ability to attract birds and other forms of wildlife. Now with local suppliers the ability to obtain plants for the garden is much easier. An added benefit is the fact that some native plant nurseries, such as Sweet Grass Gardens, in Ontario Canada will harvest seed from the local area to produce their plants. This strengthens the indigenous plant colony and does not introduce competing foreign diversity.

Many native plants have the ability to tolerate adverse weather and poor soil conditions because they naturally have genetic characteristics to withstand this environment. Many native plants have a very extensive root system to search out moisture and soil nutrients. Some plants have 2/3 of

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Preparing the Gardener for the Garden

The light breeze, blue sky and plenty of sunshine are inspiration to tackle any job outdoors. Get ready, set, and go! The gardening season is soon upon us in full swing and the urge to be outside in the garden is strong. Heed a warning for over-exuberant gardeners who like to jump in with both feet (and arms and hands). Before starting your work – prepare the gardener for the garden. The consequences of over-exertion can be quite painful and result in a dimming of the gardening spirit. An entire medical encyclopedia could be filled with the consequences of gardening. They include: blisters, strains, sprains, sore muscles, sun burn, back injuries, allergies, cuts and scrapes, rashes, hearing loss, eye damage, and broken bones. Most of these can be avoided with a few precautions.

Get ready for the physical exertions of gardening by doing some warm-up activities. This is particularly important

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There’s More Than One Way to Recycle that Christmas Tree

The Holiday Party’s Over Now What Do I Do With the Tree and Poinsettias?

The second week of January means that holidays are finished and life is slowly returning to a daily routine. The last three weeks saw Santa find his way down the chimney, the year 2011 arrive with a bang (thankfully only from fireworks) and holiday decorations find their way back into big red and green storage boxes destined once again for the far reaches of the attic or basement. What is left behind? Maybe it is the loaf of dark fruitcake being used as a doorstop, or possibly a stack of cards and leftover wrapping paper, some fading poinsettias, or a shedding spruce tree. To make a clean start, it is time to deal with the “leftovers” and move on. First the fruitcake. Toss it, bury it in the freezer for another eleven months, or lace

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Poinsettias – Symbols of the Holiday Season

Winter Rose Poinsettias at Longwood Gardens

It just wouldn’t be Christmas without the poinsettia. And in case you have forgotten your poinsettia facts since last year here’s a refresher on what you need to know about this festive plant. Whether poinsettias are in the traditional velvety red color or any of the new streaked, spotted or dyed forms of plum, peach, blueberry, orange or cranberry colors, these plants help set the stage for a great holiday celebration. For all the cheer that poinsettias bring, there are still some people that look upon this festive plant as poison. Stop, let it be said up front — poinsettias are not poisonous! This myth started almost ninety years ago in Hawaii and amazingly still continues to this day. Apparently an Army officer’s two-year-old child died after supposedly eating a poinsettia leaf. The Physician who made the diagnosis later realized he had identified

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Cold Frame or Hotbed – Extend Your Growing Season With a Simple Structure

Cold frames (or hotbeds) are simple structures that have two main purposes, to act like miniature greenhouses to trap radiant heat and to provide protection and insulation from the elements. Cold frames traditionally have a sloped top that is positioned for maximum sun exposure, lift off or slide open sash (lids), insulated side walls that sit on the soil surface or are excavated below ground. Cold frames and hotbeds differ only in that one is heated and the other isn’t. Both types are useful in the garden — particularly from fall through spring to protect plants during cold or stormy weather. They are handy for extending the growing season and to provide a warm, sheltered area to ripen tomatoes longer into the fall or winter, to start cool weather crops (lettuce and leafy greens, radish, peas, cabbage, and more) earlier, or in some locations to overwinter forced bulbs, root vegetables,

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Fall Rains

Let the Rain Fall

Our recent deluge of rain seems to be taking revenge for all those beautiful clear, sunny days of the previous summer. Being rain-free for so many days was a joy for gardeners, golfers, travellers or anyone wanting to spend time outdoors. Now we are all paying the price as low-pressure centers hover overhead and drop liquid precipitation on our gardens. As much as we complain about our dislike for the disruption and inconvenience of wet weather, it does have some benefits for plants.

Water is great in the fall to give broad-leaved evergreens a better chance of making it through the winter (alive and preferably also healthy). Broad-leaved evergreens are the plants that keep their leaves all year round (under normal circumstances). Hollies, euonymus, boxwood, cotoneaster, English ivy, kalmia, mahonia, pachysandra, pieris, pyracantha, rhododendrons, and vinca all fit into the general classification of broad-leaved evergreens. These

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What’s Wrong With My Plant? Book Review

What’s Wrong With My Plant? (And How Do I Fix It?)

Learn how to become a plant doctor – No Ph.D. required is the selling pitch on the cover of this new book. The irony of this statement is that this book is written by a Ph.D. But it certainly doesn’t read like an academic book. It is a hands-on, practical book that will be a big help with identifying and deciding on a course of treatment for many plant problems in any garden.

Co-Author David Deardorff is a plant pathologist and botanist who lives and gardens in Port Townsend, Washington. Kathryn Wadsworth is a naturalist who shares her love and gardening and the outdoors through writing and photography. Although the authors hail from the Northwest, the garden problems they describe are pretty much universal across the continent.

Good books to help serious gardeners and Master Gardeners identify

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What Makes a Good Gardener?

The qualities of a good gardener are a bit like a fruitcake recipe. The type that takes half the grocery store and involves days to make it from scratch. By mixing many small ingredients together an entirely different product is achieved. Gardeners are like this too. Their personalities are made up of lots of smaller positive qualities that when combined form the essence of a gardener. Like good fruitcake, sometimes it just takes some time to “cure” (and a little rum helps too) before a gardener really becomes a great gardener.

Whatever the skill level, gardening often changes a person into something better. Gardening does have a positive effect on people. Many studies have shown that being around plants lowers the blood pressure and calms the nerves. Except for dealing with a wisteria that refuses to bloom after seven years of vigorous growth, the physical activity and emotional healing experienced

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The Year of the Marigold

The National Garden Bureau (NGB) has announced that 2010 is the year of the marigold. So let’s celebrate this great flower.

Marigolds, native to the New World and sacred flower of the Aztecs, journeyed across the Atlantic Ocean twice to travel 3,000 miles north of their center of origin. This lengthy serpentine journey is a testimony to the rugged durability of marigolds. The National Garden Bureau celebrates the marigold, one of the most popular annuals grown in North American gardens.

Growing to 12" (30 cm) this African Marigold cultivar called 'Taishan Yellow' is a delight.

Marigolds are native to the Americas from Argentina north to New Mexico and Arizona. The earliest use of marigolds was by the Aztec people who attributed magical, religious and medicinal properties to marigolds. The National Garden Bureau found the first recorded use of marigolds in the De La Crus-Badiano Aztec Herbal of 1552.

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Beyond Marigolds – Growing Seeds Part 2

Once easy-to-grow seeds such as marigolds are mastered, it is time to tackle plants that are a little more challenging.

Starting seeds is an extremely rewarding activity and even trying to germinate some of the challenging seeds can be very successful if a little research is done to find out which techniques should be used.

If certain basic conditions are met, most annual and vegetable seeds do not require special treatment to achieve a high percentage of germination. The seed, which must be viable and mature, needs a proper balance of environmental conditions (moisture, temperature, light and air). Some more challenging seeds have natural inhibitors to germination and require special treatment. Such inhibitors include: a small dust-like size; a hard moisture-proof seed coat; a reluctance to germinate until maturity; a chemical that must be leached away; or specific requirements of light or darkness. These seeds may seem like they

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Sowing Seeds

Spring seems to arrive a little sooner when gardeners start their own plants indoors. Starting plants from seed is a very rewarding activity and there are many locations throughout the house suitable for starting seeds. The two critical factors are the amount of light and the soil temperature. Generally, a consistent temperature near 75 degrees F. (21-24 degrees Celsius) is ideal. This can be achieved on top of the refrigerator or on a heating pad. For adequate light consider the area under cupboards with fluorescent lights, a window sill, or on the floor of a solarium.

The first leaves of seedlings emerging

When should annual flower seeds be sown? Sowing dates are a little flexible because many factors have an influence on a seedlings rate of growth. These include light levels, day and night temperatures, fertilizer application, soil type, timing of transplanting, moisture levels, and seed age. The best

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Window Sill Gardening

Window Sill Gardening with African Violets and Gesneriads

African violets and members of the gesneriad family such as the gloxinias, Streptocarpus, and lipstick plants will thrive in conditions that are easy to achieve in most homes once some basic environmental conditions are addressed. Window sill gardening is not free of challenges, but these are not insurmountable and overcoming them makes the rewards that much nicer. One of these challenges is dealing with light levels that vary depending on the window orientation and time of year. Indoor gardeners may have to use a compromised window for plant growth that is not the ideal situation. Supplemental (artificial) light may be the answer to this problem. Another challenge is the temperature of the growing area. The best light might be up against the window which is also the coldest location. Gesneriads are sensitive to cold and hot temperatures that are beyond a comfortable

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Gesneriads for the Windowsill

More Great Windowsill Plants That are NOT African Violets

The lipstick plant is a trailing gesneriad family member botanically called Aeschynanthus. Most of the flowers in this group are bright red or reddish-orange and tubular in shape. One type, Aeschynanthus lobbianus has a flower structure when in bud that looks like a burgundy lipstick case that is winding open to reveal bright red lipstick inside.

Sinningia (gloxinia) is a large and diverse group of plants that contains the large showy trumpet flowers of the florist gloxinia. Also included are miniature plants that are not much larger than a quarter.

Episcia are a gesneriad group that are grown more for their colourful foliage than for their small, single flowers. Episcia ‘Cleopatra’ is one of the favourites because of its leaves which are pale pink, white, and light green. It is very striking but a challenge to grow because

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Pretty Pansies

Pretty Pansies

It is instant color time in the garden with the addition of pansies, Johnny jump-up (Viola tricolor), or violas! These short-lived perennials are excellent autumn and winter grown plants for the garden. They are usually treated as winter annuals and enjoyed while the tropical plants spend the winter inside or dormant.

The cheerful, round blooms of pansies clear, penciling lines or with blotched faces. What’s not to like!

Many pansies are faintly scented with early morning or dusk being the best time to give them a sniff test. The yellow or blue pansies are reputed to have the strongest scent. Plant many together to concentrate their fragrance or plant them in containers close to a main door.

Great for containers, garden beds, window boxes, etc. with a huge range of colors to coordinate for your designing pleasure.

Pansies love the cool & cold weather. Snow and ice

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The Exotic Frangipani

Frangipani, a wildly tropical plant; in name and exotic looking foliage and flower, is a contrast of sorts. The foliage pre-bloom is coarse and the stems lanky, but once the plant opens even one flower – all that changes and the plant becomes a tropical blooming beauty. With exquisite flowers having a richness and depth of color that few flowers can achieve, Frangipani adds “icing to the cake” with an enticing citrusy, cocoa butter/cinnamon fragrance to the garden as well.

Frangipani blooming in Zilker Botanical Garden, Austin, Texas in May

The plant is known as Plumeria, named in honor of the seventeenth century French botanist, Charles Plumier who travelled to the Antilles and Central America recording many plants and animals. At the age of 16 he joined the religious order of the Minims in France and devoted himself to mathematics and physics. After being sent to Rome, Plumier began

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Winter Weather and the Garden

Winter Garden Concerns How is this unseasonably warm weather affecting plants that are trying to hibernate in the garden? The sunny, warm temperatures are delaying some plants from getting fully ready for the winter. The importance of plants getting preparing for the upcoming winter should not be underestimated. Winter is a harsh season.

Early winter ice storms won't harm this pansy flower but other plants may be damaged

Unseasonably low temperatures within the next couple of weeks will damage plants that are not fully “hardened-off” or those that are marginally hardy. This is particularly true in our area of unreliable snow cover. Gardeners cannot be guaranteed the insulating protection of snow.

Other situations that might cause havoc on plant health this winter are a quick thaw in January or February resulting in flooded areas over the frozen soil. A quest to keep roads and paths clear of snow and

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Garden Plants for the Overlooked Fourth Season

Perennials in the Garden for Fall and Winter Interest

Looking for ideas on how to design an attractive garden for the overlooked winter season usually means wading through lists of trees and shrubs for the most attractive fall foliage colour and winter form. With a little luck, there might even be a few days of colourful berries to peak interest before birds or cold temperatures change the view. After a few minutes the lists become quite monotonous with two key plants; winterberry holly and red twig dogwood. When many gardeners are faced with staring out the window for what could be months at the frozen landscape, it is important to broaden our list of winter interest landscape plants.

Snowy winter scene in upstate New York

There are many more plants that can add interest to the picture than Ilex and Cornus. Very little attention is paid to the

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