Beautiful gardens by William Johnson
THE WEATHER was ideal for the master gardeners’ spring plant seminar and sale on Saturday. However, our bar for ideal weather for the sale is quite low – no freezing, no heavy fog, no heavy rain and no hail on the day.
Even though there was a heavy rainstorm the day before the sale, several hundred gardeners made the trip to see what they could buy and many of them commented on the quality of the fruit trees on hand, as well as the quantity.
The sale is conducted each year to raise funds for operating the master gardeners’ demonstration garden in Carbide Park in La Marque and to educate area residents on gardening techniques.
This year, home growers were able to select from a wide array of tomato varieties – a total of 39 – as well as different types such as heirlooms, hybrids, determinate, indeterminate and bush types.
If you were not able to attend the sale, you will be afforded a second opportunity to purchase citrus and fruit trees, as well as spring vegetables, at the horticulture demonstration garden in Carbide Park from 9:00-11:30am tomorrow, Thursday.
For information, go online to the master gardeners’ website at aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/galveston/index.html or contact the county’s Agrilife Extension Service office by e-mail at
firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 281-309-5065.
People attending Saturday’s event had a variety of questions on growing vegetables and citrus and other fruit trees, as well as a variety of non-fruit-tree questions. Below is a sampling of the questions asked.
Along with the sale’s master gardener volunteers, I did enjoy meeting and interacting with the customers at the sale. Here’s to next year’s!
Circling the wagons and other queries
THESE questions were among those asked by enthusiastic gardeners during Saturday’s spring plant sale:
Q: How can I persuade my moth orchids to re-flower?
A: This question was asked when customers were told that the moth – or phalaenopsis – orchids on display had been grown from plants that had been discarded because they had flowered once and had not flowered again.
I think most folks buy moth orchids for their elegant and exotic flowers produced on long, graceful and arching flower spikes that somewhat resemble a flight of pale moths in moonlight – hence their common name.
The master gardeners were able to stimulate the discarded plants, which, at the time, were not flowering but were otherwise healthy, to flower because of the expertise of Clyde Holt, a master gardener who excels at growing orchids of all types.
Extracting the most value from moth orchids — four to eight weeks of bloom and repeat flowering in a few months — is not impossible but does demand a methodical approach.
Clyde’s remedy to stimulating them to repeat their flowering is straightforward. He notes that they should be exposed to bright sunlight but not direct sun exposure. He says the single biggest reason that moth orchids crash or “refuse” to repeat-flower is improper watering – usually under-watering but sometimes over-watering, or a combination of the two.
He waters his moth orchids at home twice a week and fertilizes them at least once a month using a diluted – half-strength – soluble fertilizer and says fertilizing twice a month with a quarter-strength soluble fertilizer would be worthwhile also.
The proof is in the pudding in this regard as the master gardeners practiced Clyde’s recommendations and grew the stunning moth orchids with new flower buds that amazed visitors at the plant sale. Needless to say, the moth orchids quickly sold out.
Q: What kind of planting hole do I need to prepare to plant my peach tree?
A: When a gentleman asked me this question, I thought about Mrs White, my high-school English teacher, as I responded. I asked: “How much did you pay for that peach tree?” – Mrs White thought it to be rather rude for anyone to answer a question with a question, even if it is an indication that one is listening and paying attention.
I explained to the buyer that he should put a $20 tree into a $20 planting hole. A $20 planting hole is not a time-consuming activity. It should be no deeper than the root ball of the tree but at least twice as wide as its diameter.
Save the excavated soil because it needs to be placed back into the planting hole. Do not try to improve it with amendments such as a commercial garden-soil mix or even compost. Roots have a tendency to not “venture out” from the fluffy amended soil and the tree can become root-bound.
This is particularly true for heavy gumbo clay soils. Water tends to pool in a planting hole amended with a garden soil-mix or compost. If its root system becomes waterlogged, the fruit tree will die.
As it is moved back to fill the planting hole, be sure to lightly tamp the soil to settle and firm it as well as to avoid creating large air spaces in the backfill. Don’t use your foot to hard-pack the soil as doing so is likely to result in excessive compaction around the roots.
Q: Will my citrus trees do well if grown in containers?
A: That would be a definite “Yes”. Many types of citrus tree will do well in containers if adequate care is provided and if you have a sufficiently big container. However, do not expect as big a tree as one grown in the ground.
Also, it is most important to purchase citrus trees grafted onto Flying Dragon rootstock as it dwarfs the tree but still produces full-size fruit. Citrus grafted onto Flying Dragon rootstock also has a few extra degrees of cold hardiness.
It is important that a large enough container is used – at least a 15-gallon container should be used for most dwarf-type trees while up to 30-gallon containers should be used for larger specimens. Many gardeners use half-whiskey-barrel planters, which are available at many gardening outlets, to grow citrus plants.
Be aware that fruit and citrus trees grown in containers must be watered often and throughout the year including winter.
Q: What is the difference between “clingstone” and “freestone” peaches?
A: Almost all fresh peaches sold in grocery stores and at roadside fruit markets are freestone. They are generally softer and juicier and, because their pits pull away from the flesh so easily, they can be cut nicely into uniform pieces for tarts or pies.
Clingstone peaches are used mostly for canned fruit and work best in recipes calling for diced or pureed peaches.
One note of importance is that a clingstone peach’s fruit contains more pectin than the fruit of a freestone, so clingstone peaches are the best type to use when making jelly. I find both types of peaches to be flavorful when left to mature on a tree and picked fresh.
Q: Will you sell this wagon?
A: The pros and cons of American capitalism have been debated time and time again. I hear this question at each of our plant sales. Some customers are ready and very willing to pay an unfair cash-on-the-spot price based on the market demand for our wagons after we open the sale yard, but I always respectfully decline the offers as our wagons are already in short supply.
Q: Does the cost of a fruit tree include planting it in my landscape?
A: Several such questions, and variations of them, were asked at this year’s sale.
Two customers were aware that I consider chocolate to be one of the major food groups and pledged that ample chocolate could be provided to seal the bargain. President Donald Trump would probably consider them to be savvy dealmakers.
I have not yet read his book but my answer to the offer was still “no”.
William Johnson is a horticulturist with the Galveston County office of Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. Visit his website at aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/galveston/index.htm.
Linda Garren-McKillip, left, and Cindy Croft groom plants grown by master gardeners for last Saturday’spring plant sale. The master gardeners are offering a second opportunity for the public to purchase plants at their horticulture demonstration garden in Carbide Park, La Marque, tomorrow. – William Johnson