Beautiful gardens by William Johnson

IS IT REALLY possible to grow a pineapple from the top portion of a fresh pineapple purchased from the grocery store? That’s a question I am sometimes asked.
The answer is that pineapples are easy and fun to grow at home. All you need is a warm environment, a sunny window and a fresh pineapple.

160420 Gardening - evening primroseMost of the dense patches of pink petals alongside our roads at this time of year are pink evening primroses. PHOTO CREDIT: William Johnson

The first thing you do is enjoy the pleasure of eating the “fruit” end of the pineapple. Then begin the process of growing your own pineapple plant by rooting the green vegetative top by placing it in a container of potting soil that provides good drainage.
Set the potted plant in a location that receives at least six hours of bright light each day. The pineapple is a tropical plant and frost or freezing temperatures will kill it.
By next spring, the plant should be well rooted and actively growing. Active growth can be encouraged with frequent light applications of a liquid houseplant fertilizer.
Pineapple plants are interesting foliage specimens, well worth growing for the leaves alone. But, if you’d like to go a step further, you can easily grow your own miniature pineapples.
Once the plant has covered itself with a complete set of robust new leaves, which generally takes six to nine months, it will be ready to “think” about flowering.
Oddly enough, a small slice of apple placed down in the central growing point of the new leaves has the ability to initiate flowering. As the apple decomposes, it produces ethylene gas, which brings about this physiological changeover.
As gases are involved, you’ll obviously need to cover the plant, preferably with an airtight bag of clear polyethylene film, such as a dry cleaner’s bag. Tie the bag securely around the pot and be careful not to punch holes through the thin film. Place the covered plant in a well-lit area that does not receive direct sunlight.
Replace the apple slice with a freshly cut slice every seven to 10 days. After a month or six weeks, you can remove the plastic, when Mother Nature will usually surprise you with a flower and small fruit. While it’s far less work and effort to purchase pineapples from a grocery store, the novelty of growing your own provides satisfaction in knowing that you’ve grown it yourself – plus it’s a great project to start with the kids!
Another question I was asked recently is what I would suggest in dealing with suckers or seedlings that emerge under oak trees. Could using a herbicide be harmful to the tree?
My answer is that you will have to tolerate the suckers because the more you cut them the more they multiply. Some homeowners keep them trimmed at a certain height and interplant Asiatic jasmine as a ground cover to help conceal oak sprouts as the foliage is similar.
Do not apply a herbicide to sprouts as they are probably connected directly to the mother tree and it could cause damage. The herbicide will do little more than defoliate the sprouts and could harm the tree to which they are attached.
William Johnson is a horticulturist with the Galveston County office of Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. Visit his website at

A roadside wildflower
that’s pretty in pink

THE BLUEBONNET definitely ranks as Texas’ most popular wildflower. However, the state is also home to more than 1,000 varieties of wildflower. Whether driving or strolling along, travelers canaenjoy lots of colorful wildflowers throughout the growing season.
One roadside flower is the pink evening primrose. At least that’s one of its common names. Others include showy evening primrose, white evening primrose and pink lady. While several different species grow in Texas, the species found most often in our particular area is oenothera speciosa.
The pink evening primrose is a familiar roadside wildflower at this time of year. Most of the dense patches of pink petals that travelers see alongside our roads are pink evening primroses. The pink evening primrose is a prolific bloomer from spring to mid summer and, depending on weather, again in the fall.
Despite their common name, some pink evening primroses produce near-white flowers that display pink or red veins and yellow centers. It is common to see a large patch of pink evening primroses with white petals growing next to a large patch with pink flowers.
The bowl-shaped flowers face skyward and are tissue-like, two to three inches wide, with prominent yellow stamens and pistils. They often contain a reddish tinge to their veins, which resemble a fine network of blood vessels.
Pink evening primroses are easy to grow from seed. However, they can become invasive in ornamental beds and even lawns. They send their roots far and wide during the winter, when no top growth is visible, then pop up everywhere in the spring.

Beautiful gardens by William Johnson

THE COUNTY’S AgriLife Extension Service office will be offering three public horticultural education programs this week.
First, we have a pecan grafting workshop set for tomorrow, Thursday.
Miracles occur all across Texas at this time of the year because it’s pecan-grafting time. The miracle is a person being able to take a native pecan tree or a tree that just does not produce good-quality nuts and turn it into a wonderful paper-shell variety pecan tree through the use of a sharp knife and a stick of grafting wood.

160413 Southeast Texas Olive

Randy Brazil, owner of Liberty County-based extra-virgin olive-oil producer Southeast Texas Olive, will tell Galveston County residents on Saturday about growing olives in the state.  PHOTO CREDIT: Southeast Texas Olive

Whether you’re a seasoned pro or a novice beginner, being able to successfully graft a pecan tree then watching the new graft “take” never loses its thrill.
Wouldn’t it be neat if you could learn how to actually create such miracles with your own two hands? Well, not only can this happen, it will happen tomorrow, Thursday, April 14, from 1:30-3:00pm, when you can attend a workshop at 7851 Winding Trail Way, Santa Fe, to learn first-hand the techniques for successful pecan grafting. Pre-registration is not required.
Graftwood collected from several varieties of pecan tree will be made available at the field day. A donation of $1 per stick of graftwood is requested and the funds will be used to support future educational programs.
Graftwood needs to be kept moist and cool at all times until it is used so, if possible, take a cooler and several gallon-sized “zip lock” plastic bags if you’d like to buy some sticks.
For further information, contact the County Extension office at 281-309-5065 or visit the website mentioned in my sign-off below for a downloadable map. Click on the Extension Educational Programs link.
Come out to learn the techniques of grafting so you can make and nurture your own creation that you can be personally proud of for many, many years to come.
Next, on Saturday, we will present a seminar on tawny crazy ants.
When an invasive ant species has “crazy” as part of its common name, it’s likely you would suspect it can pose problems. The tawny crazy ant is an invasive species that came into the Houston area a little over 14 years ago and has been a problem in some residential areas here since that time, with many homeowners and beekeepers dealing with the pest.
The tawny crazy ant was formerly called the Rasberry crazy ant after Tom Rasberry, a pest-management professional from Pearland who in 2002 first realized he was dealing with a new ant species.
The ants are called crazy because they don’t trail like other ant species but move erratically in all directions. Tawny crazy ants are so competitive and develop such huge populations that they will displace established colonies of red imported fire ants – and that’s saying something.
They do not have a single nest where the queen stays but have several nests and queen areas essentially forming a super colony made up of a lot of smaller colonies.
Paul Nester, a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service entomologist who has conducted extensive research studies on tawny crazy ants, will present an educational program about the species on Saturday, April 16.
The program will begin at 9:00am at AgriLife Extension’s Carbide Park office, at 4102B Main Street, La Marque. Pre-register by e-mail at or by phone at 281-309-5065.
Last but not least, on Saturday we have a presentation on the best olive trees to grow in Texas. The state has been known for its oil production for some 150 years but move over crude oil – a new oil industry is sprouting in what could bring our state’s producers cash and its consumers a local edible delight – olive oil.
Olive trees, which are native to the Mediterranean region, have been documented on almost 800 acres in the state and many folks affiliated with the new industry believe the acreage is closer to 2,000, according to AgriLife Extension horticulturists.
For some growers, the new crop represents a niche that can be marketed to a consumer base that is seeking healthy foods produced locally.
Randy Brazil will provide the presentation. Randy and his wife, Monica Ann, own and operate Southeast Texas Olive, a company that produces extra-virgin-grade olive oil from an orchard of 34,000 organically grown olive trees in Devers, which is in Liberty County between Dayton and Beaumont.
The Growing Olives In Texas seminar will run from 1:00-2:30pm on Saturday, April 16, at the county’s AgriLife Extension office in Carbide Park. Pre-register by e-mail at or by phone  at 281-309-5065.
William Johnson is a horticulturist with the Galveston County office of Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. Visit his website at

Beautiful gardens by William Johnson

APRIL IS A wonderful time to enjoy your garden. Many citrus trees are in full bloom and azaleas are nearing the end of their spring bloom season. Trees are putting out their new foliage, which is such a delicate green. Add the pleasant temperatures and you have a strong invitation to spend time out in the garden.
I hope you have already planted the trees and shrubs that you want to plant for the year and are ready to concentrate on annuals, perennials, vegetables and lawns. Here’s a checklist for keeping up with the chores while enjoying the pleasures of April.

160406 Gardening - Canary Island date palmFew plants offer the beauty and charisma of palms. Whether you are putting your first palms in your garden or are an experienced collector just adding one more species, plan on attending a seminar on the culture and care of palms by a master gardener on Saturday, April 9, at the Galveston County AgriLife Extension office in Carbide Park in La Marque. PHOTO CREDIT: OJ Miller

Periwinkles: One warm-weather annual that many folks set out too early is the periwinkle. Planting periwinkles before mid April makes them much more susceptible to a fungal-blight disease known as phytophthora stem blight and root rot, which can wipe out sections or an entire bed of plants. So delay planting them until the weather is consistently warm.
Azaleas: As flowering finishes, evaluate your azaleas for needed pruning. April and May are good months to trim your bushes but do so only if necessary. Generally, a little shaping is all that is required. Controlling size is a common reason for pruning, especially if large-growing cultivars have been planted where smaller ones should have been used.
You should begin to manage your azaleas’ size when they reach their maximum desirable size. Unless you are trying to create a formal clipped hedge, avoid shearing them with hedge clippers because it destroys their attractive natural shape. It is better to use hand pruners to selectively remove or shorten branches to achieve the desired shape and size.
First, identify the tallest or widest shoots or branches on a bush that is too large, then prune the branch back a few inches inside the interior of shrub growth. When the shortened branch sprouts, the new growth will be inside the shrub, creating a thicker, fuller plant.
And the new growth will not immediately stick out above the rest of the bush – something that commonly happens if pruning cuts are made just back to the edge of the bush or when azaleas are sheared.
Keep pruning back the tallest and widest shoots until the shrub is the proper size. You can continue to prune occasionally, as needed, using this technique until late June or early July at the latest. After that, the chances increase that you will remove flower buds when you prune. Alternate-season-blooming azaleas, such as the Encore varieties, have a shorter window of opportunity and you should prune them as soon as the major spring blooming period is over.
Storing leftover seed: Many flower or vegetable seeds left over after planting the garden can be saved for the next season by closing the packets with tape or paper clips and storing in a tightly sealed glass jar in your refrigerator until needed.
Adding one or two tablespoons of powdered milk in a cloth bag to reduce the humidity within the jar can be beneficial to maintaining long-term viability of the seeds.
Summer annuals: One tendency is to buy transplants of summer annuals with only open flowers. Young transplants that have few or no flowers might be a smarter purchase as they will grow larger before flowering. The result will be a more impressive floral display in your garden.
William Johnson is a horticulturist with the Galveston County office of Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. Visit his website at

Johnson, William             William Johnson

Beautiful gardens by William Johnson

Amaryllis readily adapts to our Gulf Coast climate and, once established, it can become a long-lasting part of the home landscape with minimal care.
It is a popular bulb that provides a stellar performance in many local homes during April and few flowering bulbs can surpass its stately beauty.

160330 Gardening amaryllis in bloomAmaryllis is a good investment for providing striking and dependable flower color in April, with few flowering bulbs surpassing its stately beauty. PHOTO CREDIT: William Johnson

Most local specimens are probably hybridized forms of the plant, which was discovered by Eduard Poeppig, a young physician from Germany, while on a plant-hunting expedition in Chile.
Although we frequently see these beautiful plants for sale in pots around Christmas time, they can be raised successfully out of doors in our mild climate.
Amaryllis grows from a large, multi-layered bulb that is similar in appearance to the onion. It produces large, trumpet-shaped flowers, growing as large as eight inches across in clusters of two to six flowers per stem. The leafless, hollow stems can grow to be two to three feet tall.
Although the dominant flower color of amaryllis locally is red, other colors include shades of orange and pink, as well as white and striped petals.
Remove dead blooms before seeds are produced. If not, flowering the following season is likely to be reduced. Removing dead blooms also helps to maintain the aesthetic value of the planting.
Amaryllis thrives in any reasonably good garden soil including our gumbo clays as long as drainage is good. Some gardening articles recommend that amaryllis bulbs be planted in an area that receives part sun – about six hours of direct sun and then shade in the afternoon – but you are likely to see amaryllis thriving in full sun to part shade in our area.
Once planted and established, amaryllis can be left alone for years. A light sprinkling of a general-purpose fertilizer in March and June and watering during unusually dry weather are all they need.
Beds should be mulched with an inch or two of shredded pine bark or other similar organic mulch to help reduce weeds and conserve moisture.
You can leave the bulbs in the ground for several years – typically for two to four years of growth – then divide them in the fall season. This is one tough plant and I have divided my amaryllis in late winter – February – and the plants still produced a respectable mass of flowers in late spring.
You can dig and reset amaryllis every September or October. While it is not necessary to dig, separate and replant each year, doing so will encourage uniform flowering and larger blooms. Digging also provides an
opportunity to discard unhealthy bulbs, to increase your plants by removing and replanting young offsets – bulblets – and to amend the bed with organic matter.
Whether you’ve never had an amaryllis before or you have been growing them for years, it is a good investment for providing striking and dependable flower color in April.
William Johnson is a horticulturist with the Galveston County office of Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. Visit his website at

Gardeners’ Q&A

Q: Is it time to fertilize my lawn?
A: Mid-March to mid-April is the recommended period for fertilizing lawns. A good way to determine when to fertilize is to wait until you have mowed the lawn grass twice within a 10-day period.
If you fertilize too early, you will be fertilizing the winter weeds! This allows time for your lawn grass to green up naturally without pushing it into growth. Use a 3-1-2 ratio fertilizer – such as 15-5-10 – and distribute with a broadcast – cyclone – spreader. Uniform distribution is essential to prevent light and dark streaks in the lawn.

Q: My azaleas are still blooming. When should I fertilize them?
A: Wait to fertilize azaleas until after the major bloom season is finished. Consider using a fertilizer specially formulated for them that provides plant nutrients in the right ratio and also helps to maintain the acid soil conditions they need.
Because azaleas have a shallow root system, many gardeners have found it to be beneficial to apply several light fertilizer applications over time rather than all at once.

Beautiful gardens by William Johnson

Most of us especially enjoy seeing blooms produced by fruit trees that signal the end of the winter season. To a commercial peach producer, the sight of colorful blooms signals an approaching task known as fruit thinning. Homeowners should also realize the importance of this not-so-easy task of relieving peach trees of their “overload”.

160323 Gardening Peach thinning with dimeThinning fruits is the hardest of all tasks for the novice peach grower but it must be done to produce a high-quality harvest. Peaches should be thinned before they reach the size of a dime. Include the following if caption space permits: Master gardeners will conduct a hands-on demonstration on thinning peach trees tomorrow, Thursday, at the horticulture demonstration garden in Carbide Park, La Marque.
PHOTO CREDIT: William Johnson

Even though you unmercifully pruned the poor creature’s branches soon after last year’s harvest season was over, the tree is likely still to have too many peaches on it in order to produce a high-quality crop in summer.
Most peach trees in our area have produced an abundance of fruit this spring, meaning that most trees are even more likely to have too many peaches to produce a high-quality crop of fruits – and that in turn means that some fruits have to go!
How does one properly thin the fruit of a peach tree? First and foremost, you must have will power!
In an earlier column, I mentioned that a properly planted, properly pruned and well-cared-for peach tree is capable of producing up to 400lb of peaches. It takes about 382 small peaches measuring three quarters of an inch in diameter but only 158 measuring 2.5in to make a bushel.
One bushel of peaches typically weighs 48 to 50lb. In other words, you can produce ample amounts of inferior-size peaches without thinning or you can aim for larger specimens. Not thinning is a lot less effort and the end result in total poundage is likely to be similar – so it seems like a no brainer.
Thinning is the hardest of all tasks for the novice fruit grower. Last week, our county’s master gardeners started thinning fruits on peach trees in the horticulture demonstration garden in Carbide Park and I was reminded of how difficult this task is when one of the newer members exclaimed that she would not have had the courage to remove so many baby peaches.
Peaches should be thinned when the fruit is still as small as a dime. The longer the fruit has to mature in ideally thinned condition, the larger it will grow – less competition for nutrients and water equals larger fruit.
How late in the season can you wait to thin? If you can easily cut through the pits of the peaches with a sharp knife, then it will be of some benefit to thin. However, remember that the earlier thinning is accomplished the greater the benefits in terms of fruit size and quality.
If you have just one or only a few trees in the back yard, it’s easy enough to remove the peaches by hand – just give them a little twist and off they come. The fruit should be thinned until all remaining peaches are at least six to eight inches apart on the branch and there are no twin – or side-by-side – fruits.
When thinning, look at the number of fruits remaining on the tree and not at the ground. Looking at the ground is likely to prevent you from removing enough fruit.
Excessive fruit load can cause tree limbs to break. Excessive fruit set will often also result in small fruit with poor flavor. One more cautionary note: excessive fruit set can also result in alternate bearing in which the tree will produce little or no fruit in the year after a large fruit crop.
When you complete your peach thinning, the ground will be covered with small peaches and you probably will feel that you have lost your entire crop. But in reality, at harvest time you will probably realize that you have not thinned enough.
A few years ago, I thinned a peach tree and counted the number of fruits. I had removed more than 1,000 peaches at the half-dime diameter stage; trees normally abort a portion of the initial fruit set as fruits enlarge.
Be sure to attend hands-on demonstrations of peach fruit thinning provided by members of  Galveston County Master Gardeners Association. The first demonstration will be provided tomorrow, Thursday (see inset for more information).
Needless to say, peach thinning is not one of the more enjoyable tasks at the orchard but biting into a sweet juicy peach later in spring makes all your hard work well worth it!
William Johnson is a horticulturist with the Galveston County office of Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. Visit his website at

At a Glance:

WHAT: Hands-on demonstrations on thinning peaches
WHEN: 9:00-11:00am, Thursday, March 24
WHO: Galveston County Master Gardeners Association
WHERE: Horticulture demonstration garden, Carbide Park, 4102 Main Street, La Marque

WHAT: Texas-Tuff Landscape Plants – Blooming And Beautiful – a PowerPoint program on choosing healthy, hearty plants that will be ornamental as well as welcoming bees and other pollinators, birds and butterflies to your landscape. The program will touch on ways to bring beauty to the garden.
WHEN: 6:30-8:00pm, Tuesday, March 29
WHO: Master gardener Sandra Devall
WHERE: Galveston County AgriLife Extension office, located in Carbide Park, 4102 Main Street, La Marque
RSVP: Pre-registration required – call 218-309-5065 or e-mail

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