Beautiful gardens by William Johnson

The Master Gardener volunteers and Galveston County AgriLife Extension Office will co-sponsor a Fruit Orchard and Garden Tour on Saturday, May 20, from 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 noon. The program is free-of-charge and open to the public.
Three fruit orchards are on this year’s tour route. Each location will be open during the 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 Noon time period. You will have the option of touring all three sites or any combination of sites.
This year’s tour sites contain a wide variety of fruit trees ranging from an impressive fruit tree orchard (Fruits ’n Such Orchard located at 6309 Avenue U – Bogeyman Drive in Dickinson) and the Master Gardener Demonstration Orchard (located in Carbide Park in La Marque). Peach, plum, citrus, fig, apple and other fruit trees can be seen also.
All sites contain a wide variety of vegetables also. Vegetables are grown in dozens of raised beds at Carbide Park whereas vegetables are grown in the ground at Fruits ’n Such Orchard. Visitors may also tour an impressive herb garden next to the Fruits ’n Such Orchard. If you’re looking for the freshest produce to purchase, you can pick it yourself at the Fruits ’n Such Orchard.
If you are interested in seeing the amazing diversity of fruit trees that can be grown in a backyard, be sure to include a tour of Master Gardener Bill Verm’s home orchard located at 5202 Highland Road in Santa Fe.
If you have an interest in roses, be sure to visit the display beds of Earth-Kind roses located at the Carbide Park site. Homeowners love their magnificent blooms and fragrance.
Roses have had a centuries-long reputation of being the most neurotic members of the plant world. Consequently, gardeners spend considerable cash buying fertilizers, pesticides, and fungicides to sustain their roses, and much time pruning, deadheading, and watering them to keep them blooming. Roses that qualify for the Earth-Kind designation are very low-maintenance and perform very
well under a variety of growing conditions.
To obtain a map with directions to the tour sites, visit the Galveston County AgriLife Extension Office located in Carbide Park (4102-B Main Street) in La Marque (281-309-5065). A printable copy of the tour map and additional details are available online (
Area homeowners who grow—or plan to grow—fruit or vegetables for home use will find the tour sites to be of considerable benefit.
Gardeners’ Q&As
Q: My bougainvillea is several years old. I fertilize it regularly yet it blooms sparsely. What does it need?
A: One likely problem is that the plant is not getting enough sunlight. Bougainvilleas need at least 8-10 hours of direct sunlight every day. Another problem is excessive soil moisture. Be aware that some types of bougainvilleas bloom mostly in the fall in response to short days.
Q: How often should I fertilize my tomatoes plants?
A: It is necessary to fertilize the garden before planting tomatoes. Apply the fertilizer again when flowers start to set. From that point on, an additional fertilization (known as sidedressing) every week to 10 days is recommended. Plants grown on sandy soils should be fertilized more frequently than those grown on heavy, clay soils. A general sidedress fertilizer recommendation is one to two tablespoons of a complete fertilizer scattered around the base of each plant and worked into the soil.
Q. Why are some types of beans able to climb and others are not?
A. Pole beans are characterized by an indeterminate or vining growth habit, while bush bean varieties are determinate. In the vining type, flowers form in the axils of the leaves and stem, allowing the stem to grow indefinitely. In the determinate-type growth, the main growing point ends in a flower cluster, preventing stem elongation. Beans climb because of the twining growth habit of the stems.
Q: Do tomatoes require insect pollinators to set fruit?
A: Tomatoes do not require insect pollinators to set fruit. Tomatoes are wind pollinated in a gardening setting. Bumblebees may aid in pollination by shaking the flowers upon landing (a process is called buzz or sonic pollination). If you’re growing tomatoes in a greenhouse, you would need to give flowering stems a shake whenever you walk past to increase fruit set or run a small fan during morning hours to achieve adequate wind pollination.
William Johnson is a horticulturist with the Galveston County office of Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. Visit his website at

Photo Credit: William Johnson

Beautiful gardens by William Johnson

AS SPRING blossoms and summer approaches, I usually receive more questions about the plants and produce in homeowners’ landscapes. This year is no exception and here is a sample of recent queries.
Q: Clumps of some type of organism have suddenly appeared on the trunks of my crape myrtle and oak trees. They look like bark except that they move from one area on the trunk to another throughout the day. What might they be?
A: I have received distress phone calls and e-mails from many, many homeowners describing this problem. Although the clumps appear to be problematic, they are not. They are composed of insects known as barklice.
Most folks raise an eyebrow when they think of lice infestation. However, barklice are not the same as parasitic lice found on humans and animals. The scientific name for the type that occurs in our area is cerastipsocus venosus. A closely related species that forms silk webbing on tree trunks occurs in our growing area around mid to late summer.
Barklice move together as a family unit, somewhat like cattle in a pasture so, not surprisingly, they are also known as tree cattle. They do not pose any harm to humans, pets or trees and are beneficial insects that feed upon lichens, fungi, algae, dead plant tissue, pollen and other debris located on tree trunks.
Adult barklice are about a quarter-inch long and jet black in color with a few white stripes and a pair of very long antennae. The immature or teenage stages are known as nymphs and they are wingless with distinctive yellow and black bands on their body. The adults and nymphs feed in a group.
The wingless nymphs and winged adults form quarter-dollar-sized to hand-sized clusters and move about in “herds” over the tree trunk as they “graze” on its food.  Some county residents have noted that the clusters will temporarily scatter when suddenly disturbed, only to rejoin again as a “herd” shortly afterwards.
Although the local barklice species occurs on many different types of tree, it is most often noticed on crape myrtles, probably because it is so conspicuous on that tree’s smooth, light-colored bark. I have also seen the species on oaks and, in the master gardeners’ Discovery garden in Carbide Park, several fruit trees, including citrus and mayhaw, also have barklice this spring.
Q: The bark on my crape myrtles is peeling off and it looks like it has been shredded and just hangs off the trunk and some of the lower branches. Is this normal?
A: As crape myrtles age, their bark will begin to peel off. The horticultural term for this is exfoliating. It’s normal and there is no cause for alarm. After the gray bark peels away, you might notice a different shade of underbark.
Some of the newer crape myrtle varieties have underbark that is cinnamon to dark brown in color, adding to the tree’s beauty, especially in winter. Go ahead and peel any loose bark off once it starts shedding to hasten the exposure of the underbark.
Q: Why are there a lot of small holes in the leaves of my eggplants?
A: This damage is caused by insects known as flea beetles. Row covers will provide some protection. An insecticide – such as Sevin – containing carbaryl as an active ingredient can be used. Be sure to read and follow the manufacturer’s directions.
Q: When should I harvest my Irish potatoes?
A: New potatoes can be harvested as soon as they reach a suitable size. Fully-developed potatoes for storage can be harvested when the top growth turns yellow. Do not harvest potatoes when the soil is very wet as it will increase the chance of rotting.
Q: I have noticed that a lot of professional landscapers mulch trees with shredded pine-bark mulch in a cone formation around the base of trees. Is this a good idea?
A: Mulching around trees is recommended but allowing mulching materials to come into contact with the trunk can severely weaken or even kill the tree. The constant moist conditions created by the mulch will rot the bark layer and damage the tree’s cambium, or growth, layer.
It is recommended that mulch about four inches deep be spread around the tree but kept a few inches away from the trunk. The rule of thumb is to build donuts, not pyramids, around trees.
Q: Will pine needles used as a mulch help lower the soil’s pH?
A: It is true that pine needles help create an acidic soil in native forests after hundreds or even thousands of years of growth and decomposition. But in a home landscape there is not enough time or plant litter to substantially modify our slightly alkaline gumbo clay soils.
William Johnson is a horticulturist with the Galveston County office of Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. Visit his website at

Homeowners across the county have reported occurrences of clumps of insects appearing on trunks of trees in landscapes. The clumps are actually composed of insects known as Barklice which move together as a family unit somewhat like a herd of cattle in a pasture. Barklice are beneficial insects and do not pose any harm to humans, pets or to trees.William Johnson

Beautiful gardens by William Johnson

Q: I have the same ugly blob in my mulched flower beds at home that is growing on the surface of the mulch in the vegetable bed in the picture left. What is it and is it harmful?
A: I address some gardening questions by e-mail, some by phone and some on-site. This question was asked by a gardener attending this month’s home fruit growers tour. The inquiring gardener was amazed – and a bit relieved – to come across blobs in the mulched vegetable beds at one of the tour sites. They looked just like the blobs growing on top of the layer of mulch in her flowers beds back home.
The growth is produced by organisms known as slime molds. The brightly colored blobs usually spread across mulched beds when weather conditions are favorable – high rainfall, high humidity and raised temperatures. Needless to say, the weather conditions over the past few weeks have provided an ideal growing environment to stimulate their growth.
Fuligo septica is the species of slime mold most common in our area; this species is typically brightly colored – ranging from yellow and pink to red, depending on the stage of growth. Its growths can expand to the size of a medium-size pizza before hardening. As they begin to dry out, the bright colors fade to brown and tan.  Breaking up the dried blob will reveal a dark brown to black inner core that contains the mold’s spores.
In their early stage of development on mulch, slime molds produce structures that look eerily like a creature in the starring role of a science-fiction movie about blobs.
Slime molds do not present a danger to humans or pets. They help break down plant matter, which aids the microorganisms essential to recycling plant nutrients and supporting healthy plant growth. Like several other critters that creep homeowners out, slime molds are actually good for the garden.
Q: What’s the difference between a tree and a shrub?
A: This is an interesting question that would seem to have a one-size-fits-all answer. If we look at only the most obvious examples, there would be no debate over the difference between trees and shrubs.
Nobody would look at mature oak trees and call them “shrubs”. Nor would anyone mistake Indian hawthorn shrubs for trees. But we’re dealing with Mother Nature here and the distinction is not always clear-cut.
We are challenged when we try to categorize everything under neat black-and-white headings that make humans feel most comfortable.
The generally acknowledged definition of a tree is a “woody plant having one erect trunk at least three inches in diameter at a point four feet six inches above the ground, a definitely formed canopy or crown of foliage and a mature height of at least 13 feet”.
In contrast, a shrub is characterized as a “woody plant with several perennial stems that might be erect or lie close to the ground, usually with a height less than 13 feet and stems no more than about three inches in diameter”.
The above descriptions provide sufficient distinctions to categorize most trees and shrubs. As is true with most things in life, there are exceptions. Some trees might have several trunks – crape myrtles being a prime example.
Some shrubs can be shaped into a small tree by training one trunk. One of my master-gardener volunteers has shaped his Texas red tip photinia to grow as a small tree with a height of 16 feet and a trunk diameter of five inches.
And where do banana trees fit? While we call them banana trees, they do not produce any woody growth. They are among the world’s largest plants without woody stems.
The banana is closely related to ginger and ornamental plants such as birds of paradise, amaranths and canna lilies. The banana is not a tree but the world’s largest perennial herb.
William Johnson is a horticulturist with the Galveston County office of Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. Visit his website at
Editor’s note: This article first appeared in The Post on May 25 last year.

Beautiful gardens by William Johnson

THE COOL front that arrived over the weekend was refreshing. As May will soon be arriving, we should be prepared for warming weather and longer, sunnier days – a change of seasons.
We have had a few significant rainstorms in April; the weather station in the master gardeners’ demonstration garden at Carbide Park, La Marque, recorded a rainfall of 3.9 inches a few days ago. Here’s hoping that the rainfall over the month of May occurs in installments evenly spaced over time and in amounts.
With busy days in store for the May gardener in completing spring chores and preparing for summer, the following gardening educational programs and gardening checklists will be helpful:
Garden Tool Care: a hands-on workshop: Galveston County Master Gardeners Association members Henry Harrison and Tim Jahnke will demonstrate the proper use and maintenance of garden tools. There will be a discussion on tool types followed by a hands-on demonstration on cleaning, sharpening and using the tools.
Additional discussion topics will include selection of quality tools, ergonomically designed tools, basic sharpening, rust prevention and removal, safety, restoring antique tools, fluids, oils and solvents, techniques for tool use and storage.
You can also take up to three of your garden tools to the workshop for reconditioning.
Henry and Tim will help you get your tools ready for a productive garden season and provide knowledge about keeping them in top working condition.
They will conduct the workshop on Saturday, May 6, from 9:00-11:00am in the master gardeners’ demonstration garden and it will take place rain or shine. The class size is limited to 30 students so pre-registration is required, either by e-mail at or by phone at 281-309-5065.
Home fruit growers’ tour: Three fruit orchards are on this year’s tour, which will be conducted on Saturday, May 20. Each location will be open from 9:00am to 12:00 noon.
This year’s tour sites contain a wide variety of fruit trees ranging from a peach orchard at Fruit ’N’ Such orchard at 6309 Avenue U in Dickinson, the master gardeners’ demonstration orchard in Carbide Park and a sizeable home orchard in Santa Fe.
You may download tour maps and additional details from my website, the address for which is below, by selecting its Extension Educational Programs link. Additional information will also be provided in next week’s Beautiful Gardens column.
Demonstration-garden tour and open house: The county’s master gardeners are inviting residents to tour their demonstration garden in Carbide Park on Monday, May 1, from 10:00am to 4:00pm. The garden consists of several sections, with themes including butterflies, serenity and Earth kindness, as well as dozens of raised vegetable beds and nearly 100 fruit trees.
My co-workers and I also extend an invitation to residents to attend our open-house activities at the county’s A&M AgriLife Extension Service office in Carbide Park from 10:00am to 4:00pm on Monday, May 1.
We encourage you to bring plant and insect samples for identification or, if you prefer, you are welcome to just drop by, visit with us and tour our facilities.
Lawns: Many homeowners will level out low spots in their lawns at this time of the year using sharp sand or bank sand as the only filler. While this is a common practice, it is not a good one. Use of sand to fill low areas in a lawn is very likely to cause problems later on, with unsatisfactory grass growth.
Such areas will suffer more from drought stress during the summer and will probably have problems with soil nutrient uptake. For best results, use a good-quality topsoil to fill in low areas of your lawns.
Blackberries: Look for this fruit to come into production in May. As canes that produce fruit this season finish bearing and start to die back, they should be removed at ground level. “Tip back” new canes to encourage branching; next year’s blackberries will be produced on these canes.
Vegetable fertilization: For vegetables’ best growth and yield, apply small amounts of nitrogen fertilizer – called side dressing – every couple of weeks. This will keep them growing vigorously so they reach their maximum yield potential.
William Johnson is a horticulturist with the Galveston County office of Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. Visit his website at

If you take care of your tools, they will return the favor. Learn how their proper care and routine maintenance make any gardening project easier, safer and more successful at a workshop on May 6.William Johnson

Beautiful gardens by William Johnson

OVER THE years, I have become an ardent admirer of bulbs of all types. They are easy to plant and care for and suitable for beds or containers. It’s hard to believe that so much beauty can come from such humble origins.
The newest blooming bulb addition in my landscape is an Easter lily, the source of which is a potted specimen I received a few years ago – I was not about to discard such a beautiful plant that was at the end of its bloom cycle.
Lilium longiforum is the botanical name for the Easter lily, which does not bloom during Easter under natural growing conditions. Greenhouse growers pot up the bulbs in the fall and force them into bloom for the holiday.
Part of the challenge in producing Easter lilies for Easter is that the holiday does not fall on the same day each year. Easter occurs on the first Sunday following a full moon on or after the vernal equinox, March 21, so Easter lily production schedules are slightly different each year.
The primary method for forcing flower production is known as vernalization – a cold, moist treatment applied to the bulb for a defined period. After bulbs are subjected to this treatment, growth is forced under greenhouse growing conditions.
I receive questions at this time of year about the feasibility of planting Easter lilies in the home landscape after the holiday is over. You can plant your Easter lilies outdoors after the holiday. Pinch off flowers as they fade but don’t cut the foliage.
Indeed, after the last flower has withered away, a potted Easter lily can be planted in the landscape. Do not remove the green foliage as it is needed to help reinvigorate the bulb for next year’s flower.
Prepare a well-drained garden bed in a sunny location amended with organic matter such as compost. Good drainage is a major key for success with lilies.
To ensure adequate drainage, create a raised garden bed by moving soil to the top a few inches higher than the surrounding soil level. Plant the Easter lily bulbs six inches deep from the base of the bulb to the top of the mulched surface, assuming at least a two-inch layer of mulch.
Plant bulbs four to six inches apart. The planting hole should be wide enough that the roots can be spread out easily. Work the soil in around the roots and water it immediately after planting.
Easter lilies like “their feet in the shade and their heads in the sun”. Mulch with a two-inch layer of compost or shredded pine bark. This helps conserve moisture in between waterings, suppresses weed growth, keeps the soil cool and provides nutrients as it decays.
As the plants’ leaves and stems begin to turn brown and die back, cut them back just above a healthy leaf on the stem. New growth will soon emerge but it is unlikely that a second flowering will occur later in the summer.
Easter lilies that have been forced to flower under controlled greenhouse conditions will flower naturally from mid May to mid June in the following and subsequent years and will reach a height of three feet or more.
During the winter, maintain a generous layer of mulch. Carefully remove it in the spring to allow new shoots to come up. Apply a slow-release fertilizer during the growing season when new shoots emerge in the spring. Apply the fertilizer to the soil around each plant about two inches from the stem and water it in.
While it’s wonderful to see these beautiful flowers adorning the interiors of homes and churches at this time of the year, it is also nice to know that they can become long-lived, reliable spring-flowering bulbs for Gulf Coast landscapes.
Finally, as an Extension Service horticulture agent, I have provided a variety of presentations on many topics over the years. My early presentations utilized 35mm photographic slides and a slide projector. My, how times have changed.
I now use PowerPoint presentations and the improvements from display quality to ease of program preparation make it well worth the agony of having to learn a new process.
One of my favorite topics to present and discuss is the diversity of the beneficials that occur in our local gardening area.
Beneficials include way more than honeybees and lady beetles and I invite gardeners to attend my upcoming presentation on the subject, the details of which are shown above.
William Johnson is a horticulturist with the Galveston County office of Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. Visit his website at

At a Glance:

Beneficials In The Garden
William Johnson will lead a seminar from 6:30-8:00pm on Tuesday, April 25, at Galveston County AgriLife Extension Service’s office in Carbide Park. Pre-registration is requested, either by phone at 281-309-5065 or by e-mail at

Greenhouse-grown plant sale
Master gardeners will hold a greenhouse-grown plant sale from 9:00-11:30 a.m. on Thursday, April 20, at the master gardeners’ demonstration garden in Carbide Park. A variety of vegetable transplants and ornamentals will be available. Cash or check sales only – no credit cards.

Carbide Park is at 4102B Main Street, La Marque.

The Easter lily’s white trumpet-shaped flowers have become a time-honored symbol of beauty, hope and life during the Easter holiday. Potted flowering specimens can be planted in the landscape now and will produce blooms next summer. –  Photo: William Johnson