WebwormsWebworms produce a spider-like maze of webs, above right, that envelope leaves near the tips of branches. Webworms feed voraciously as a family group on the foliage contained within the spider-like webs. While they prefer mulberry and pecan, webworms will feed on a wide variety of other landscape trees and shrubs.

A checklist for the summer lull

JULY HAS arrived and that means heat and humidity are settling in as the summer season gets under way. Most of us put our gardens into a holding pattern in July. We just try to keep the bugs and weeds at bay and to keep cool. Here’s your gardening checklist for July.
Weed control seminar: Do you have a bumper crop of something growing in your landscape beds that you did not plant? Is your lawn more weeds than grass? What can you do about problem weeds that are taking over your yard?
Master gardener Anna Wygrys will provide a seminar on weed control from 9:00-11:30am on Saturday, July 25. It takes place at Galveston County AgriLife Extension’s office in Carbide Park, 4102-B Main Street, La Marque. Preregistration is requested by e-mail to or by telephone at 281-534-3413, ext 12, to ensure availability of handout material.
Discussion topics will include the most common weed problems in local landscapes and gardens, chemical and cultural management options and understanding how weeds gain a foothold in the home landscape.
Check new landscape transplants: Even though rainfall has been quite generous in the past few weeks, make periodic inspections on recently planted landscape trees and shrubs to check for adequate soil moisture.
The root system for a newly transplanted tree will not become well established for some time. During extended periods of dry weather, be sure to water new trees regularly to avoid stressing plants.
Taller lawns: Check the cutting height of your lawnmower. During the heat of Gulf Coast summers, consider raising the mower’s blade to a higher setting. The higher the cutting height, the less your lawn grass is stressed, resulting in a healthier lawn.
Low spots in the lawn: Low areas in the lawn may be gradually filled with shallow applications of good top soil where needed. However, avoid the temptation to apply a layer of sand over the entire lawn area just because your neighbor does. It’s an excellent way to introduce new weeds, smother your grass and encourage unwanted insects and disease problems.
Webworms and bagworms: “Do I have webworms or bagworms on my trees and shrubs?” This has been a frequently asked question in the past few weeks. Webworms are the ones that make the spider-like maze of webs around leaves near the tips of branches and bagworms are the ones that live inside brown bags that they drag along with them for protection.
Both these caterpillar pests can be controlled with organic insecticides. Dipel, Bio-worm Killer or other organic spray products containing bacillus thuringiensis is the stuff to use. The caterpillars eat it, become sick almost immediately, stop feeding and die within a few days.
Bagworms can be somewhat difficult to control, especially as they become larger. Conventional insecticides currently labeled for bagworm and webworm control include carbaryl, cyfluthrin, malathion
and permethrin.
Bark lice on trees: July is the month when many homeowners start reporting the appearance of strange webbing on the trunks and limbs of trees. Several concerned homeowners have already sent e-mails to me with digital photos of such webs on tree trunks. They are produced by colonies of very small insects known as bark lice.
The webs can give trunks and limbs the appearance of being “dressed” in a white stocking. Fortunately, bark lice – which really aren’t lice – don’t cause any harm to trees. In fact, they are beneficial in that they eat lichens and fungi growing on the bark. No control is needed.
Hanging baskets: To keep hanging baskets looking attractive, soak them in a tub of water every few days in addition to their regular daily watering. This is also a good time to fertilize baskets, but never apply fertilizer to dry plants.
Blackberries: July is the last month for pruning blackberry canes, which promotes secondary shoot growth. The blackberries should be lightly fertilized with a general-purpose fertilizer such as 15-5-10 or 21-0-0.
Crape myrtles: Crape myrtles are putting on a spectacular flower display this year. Their colorful period can be extended by pruning their flowers’ heads as soon as possible after they finish flowering.

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

WMJ PA240432 ~ Black Magic Rose by John Jons                                           Photo by John Jons

As every flower lover knows, flowers have a language of their own. Sentiments of various kinds have been associated with particular flowers. Whatever its origin, the rose, right, is undeniably the best-known symbol of love and beauty.

The language of flowers

AS EVERY flower lover knows, flowers have a language of their own. From time immemorial, sentiments of various kinds have been associated with particular flowers.
The range of human sentiments is expressed in one form or another by these fragile blooms and as a psychologist has aptly noted “Flowers are a perfect replica of human life.” It’s the delicate, subtle meanings given to flowers that elicit emotion in the receiver.
The language of flowers has been around for centuries and even has its own special terminology known as floriography. Writings of the ancient Greeks, Romans, Egyptians and Chinese all included flower and plant symbolism. Meanings were probably passed orally through a largely illiterate audience.
Flower language was a flourishing art in the Middle Ages. It enabled a couple to express themselves without writing or speaking (one could be overheard and letters intercepted) in the presence of peers and chaperons. Since these courtships often took place over very long periods of time, the chance of someone noticing and interpreting correctly any particular flower in the exchange was slight.
Patterned to fit the ideals of courtly love, flower language allowed intentions to be declared, refusals and acceptances to be made, assignations arranged, and lovers dismissed. Flowers sent messages depending on context, accompanying flowers, and how they were delivered.
The 1800s seem to have been the heyday of flower symbolism. During Victorian times many small colorful handbooks were produced to guide the giver and recipient as to the meanings. Unfortunately, depending on the culture and the author, not all of the books agreed on meanings. Even today different cultures assign different messages to the same flower. One would only hope that each party was literally on the same page when it came to the interpretations.
Today flowers are still an important part of our anniversaries, birthdays, weddings, funerals, holidays and ceremonies although we may not know their true meaning. Wedding bouquets often include ivy that symbolizes fidelity. If you are looking for new ways of saying I love you, consider a bouquet of these flowers: forget-me-nots (true love); red tulips (perfect love); red rose (desire and love); amaryllis (pride, splendid beauty); coreopsis (love at first sight); phlox (our hearts are united); gardenia (I love you in secret); gladiolus (you pierce my heart); lily of the valley (let’s make up) and violet (I return your love).
If you’re the bargain hunter type, then the hyacinth is the flower of choice as it can mean games, play or forgive me. I guess this is the perfect flower for a gentleman to give to a lady as it pretty well covers all the bases and provides a good form of positive “relationship insurance” for the male gender although I have not yet run that by Dr. Phil. Let’s face it, it’s a given that men probably need to be forgiven for something at any given moment (I’ll probably get some amens from the feminine gender on this).
Whatever its origin, the rose is undeniably the best-known symbol of love and beauty. It is common knowledge that red roses mean I love you. For those with deep pockets or in the dog house, a dozen roses will convey the ultimate statement. On the other hand, a single rose reflects eloquent simplicity and single-minded of emotion—this approach also comes in handy when credit cards have been maxed out.
Lesser known nuances of meaning are attached to different colors and types of roses so it’s worthwhile to get the definitions straight. Red and white together mean unity, pink means grace and gentility, and yellow symbolizes joy. If you want to stir things up a bit, send orange or coral roses to speak your desire.
The custom of exchanging flowers may have less to do with romance and chivalry than with anxiety. For the shy or uncertain, handing over a bouquet of flowers is an easy way to express sentiment. But matters can become complicated here as how the flowers were presented and the condition of the flowers was also important.
Flower symbolism has a few inherent problems. It did not take a genius to figure out that wilted flowers are not a good thing. Or it could have just meant a slow messenger or that the delivery route taken included being caught in a traffic gridlock on the Gulf Freeway.
The language or symbolism of flowers can be confusing for the unobservant. On the other hand, should the complexity of communications by floral selection become too daunting on an occasion, be assured that the language or symbolism of a new Jaguar or BMW is always clear, universal and appreciated!

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                  Photo courtesy of
When brugmansias, or angel trumpets, right, come into bloom, the effect is breathtaking.  A plant in full bloom is covered with a multitude of dramatic, funnel-shaped flowers hanging down from the branches, as if trumpets were directed at Earth from Heaven above.

Angel trumpets are ‘heaven scent’

IT PROBABLY would not be a surprise to learn that many of my friends are gardeners. Visits to the homes of gardening friends sometimes take on the appearance of a “house call”, when I am asked about disease and insect pest problems and even the identification of a mystery plant.
During a late evening on a recent visit, I was delighted to catch a whiff of an amazing fragrance hanging in the air. Like most other gardeners faced with a similar situation, I set off to track the origin of the scent and it didn’t take long. It is hard to overlook a plant that brings such a dramatic presence to the garden.
The plant producing this distinctive fragrance is known as angel trumpet, which is classed within the solanaceae family, along with tomatoes, potatoes and petunias,
Angel trumpet is also known as brugmansia, which in turn is also the name of its genus. Brugmansias are tropical plants native to northwestern South America. They are easily grown in a moist, fertile, well-drained soil in full sun to part shade. There are several species and hybrids of brugmansia that grow as well here.
The brugmansias are large-growing, tree-like plants reaching heights of 10-15 feet in Galveston County if our winters are mild. Heights generally will be shorter in parts of the state where the plants freeze back during winter.
When brugmansias come into bloom, the effect is breathtaking. The trumpet-shaped flowers are large, about nine inches long flaring to about six inches across, and can be white, pink, peach or yellow and very showy.
A tree in full bloom is covered with these dramatic funnel-shaped flowers hanging down from its branches as if trumpets were directed at Earth from Heaven above. At dusk, the white-flowered types glow, and, if you light the plant at night, the effect is awesome – use a spotlight directed upward from below the plant.
The fragrance of the flowers is most noticeable in the evening when the wind is calm—the soft, seductive scent floats in the air like expensive perfume with light lemony overtones. To stick your nose right into a flower and take a whiff is almost intoxicating.
Brugmansias can begin to bloom as early as April or May after a very mild winter, as this past winter was. They continue to produce their flowers in flushes or waves throughout the summer and into the fall, often continuing well into December if the weather stays mild.
Some cultivars produce flowers that start off-white then turn a delicious salmon pink. Others produce white, yellow, pale orange, peach or pink flowers. There are even double forms available and some with variegated leaves.
Brugmansias belong to that wonderful group of plants that is easily propagated and passed from gardener to gardener. It is easy to root a six- to eight-inch cutting taken from the end of a branch during the summer. Remove leaves from the lower two thirds of the cutting and any flowers or flower buds. Using a rooting hormone is optional but can speed rooting.
Stick your cuttings half their length deep in a container of potting mix and sharp sand or a half-and-half mix of perlite and vermiculite. Keep them in a shady area and make sure the rooting mix stays moist. Rooting generally takes place in six to eight weeks.
Nurseries occasionally have brugmansias for sale and several online mail-order companies offer a good selection of colors. Early to mid summer is a great time to plant them so they will have a longer time to grow and become established before they have to go through their first winter.
During the winter, plants growing in the ground will need some protection should near-freezing weather occur. They are reliably root-hardy, however, and mulched plants usually will re-sprout from the ground in April.
Whether you know them as brugmansia or just angel trumpet, these remarkable plants can add a tropical accent to your garden and delight the olfactory senses. Be aware, however, that all parts of brugmansia plants are poisonous, so watch toddlers or young children when they are around them.

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

Johnson, William             William Johnson

Peaches in May 2005                                  Photo by William Johnson
Unusually wet weather that extended into the peach-harvest season this year has resulted in peaches being not as sweet tasting as in most years. High water uptake by peach trees dilutes the level of sugars in the fruits, which decreases their sweetness.

Spring’s rain affects many of our plants

DID THE overabundance of cloudy days this spring affect the growth of vegetables? How much light is lost on a cloudy day?
As Star Trek’s Dr Spock might say in answer to the first of these questions, it would be logical to think so. The preponderance of overcast days this spring was noteworthy in addition to the ample rounds of showers and thunderstorms.
In fact, tomato plants growing in the demonstration garden in Carbide Park this spring seemed to have slower growth rates and reduced plant vigor. However, such an observation would merely be a supposition as I have no research-based data to support or to disprove it.
I knew I would need some assistance from someone with expertise in plant physiology as it’s been too many years since I was enrolled in a plant physiology class during graduate-school days
I contacted Gaylon Morgan, a professor in the department of crop and soil sciences at Texas A&M in College Station.
He provided some interesting facts on the topic and noted that this spring’s unusual weather conditions have had numerous impacts on crop production.
Cloudy days have lower levels of light intensity and solar radiation than sunny days.
Then we got into terms such as photosynthetically active radiation – PAR – and I quickly decided that I am bordering on TMI – too much information – so I elected to provide a Reader’s Digest condensed version.
A research study conducted in Iowa reported that light intensity could be reduced by 25 to 50 per cent on partly-cloudy to cloudy days and by more than 60 per cent on rainy days.
This same study reported that yield was significantly reduced in field corn by shading at the silking stage – when an ear of corn produces silks – and during post-silking stages.
Even though the study was on field corn yields and very few studies have been conducted on vegetables, Morgan said the same concepts would apply to vegetables.
Cloudy days can reduce daytime temperatures, which in turn can reduce a plant’s growth rate, but that’s a whole other chapter in plant physiology.
Therefore, I can now say with confidence that, yes, this spring’s overabundance of cloudy days has had an impact on our vegetables. And I have now exercised my mind so much that I have a brain cramp; I enjoyed my graduate-school days but I’m also glad that I have graduated.
Here’s another question: My peaches produced good size fruits this spring but the fruits were noticeably less sweet than those produced last year – why did this happen?
The upside of a wet spring is that peach trees are likely to produce larger, juicier fruit. The downside of a wet spring that extends into the harvest season is that the water dilutes the level of sugars in the fruits, which decreases their sweetness.
While we cannot control rainfall, peaches would be significantly sweeter if rainfall would lessen during the period when they start to ripen and through the harvesting season. During the drought of 2011, many home peach growers reported harvesting amazingly sweet peaches.
Dry weather during the ripening period can also affect the amount of sugars and other flavor-modifying compounds in many other fruits and vegetables.
Chili peppers, for instance, produce higher levels of alkaloids, particularly capsaicin, which binds to heat receptors on the tongue and causes that familiar hot, spicy sensation. Flavors can become intensified in some vegetables, including beets, onions and garlic, when weather is a bit on the dry side as the plants approach harvest time. Most tomatoes harvested this spring are quite juicy but noticeably lack flavor.
A final question: My peach tree flowered out well in early spring and produced good foliage. Most of the fruit fell from the tree and then the leaves started to turn yellow and fall. What happened?
Peach trees perform well in Galveston County but, among fruit trees grown in this area, they require by far the best soil drainage. More home peach growers have reported the loss of their peach trees thus far this year than any other year since I have been an extension horticulture agent in the county.
When the soil is saturated with rain, pore spaces that normally hold air are filled with water. Because plant roots get the oxygen they need from the air in those spaces, the roots can literally drown in a soil that stays waterlogged over an extended period.
A sick root system leads to a sick plant. Plants in this situation often lose vigor, look wilted, turn yellow and become stunted or even die.

William Johnson is a horticulturist with the Galveston County office of Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. Visit his website at

Johnson, William            William JohnsonPeach tree summer pruning                                   Photo by William Johnson
The annual summer pruning of peach trees after the harvest season                                                                   
is a critical management practice for producing easily harvested and                                                         heavy crops of quality peaches. Hands-on demonstrations of summer                                                      pruning of peach trees will be conducted on Thursday, June 3, at the                                                        master gardener demonstration orchard in Carbide Park.

Diary for a lush June

RAINFALL has certainly been plentiful this spring and daytime temperatures can be expected to climb into the nineties with the arrival of June.
Even though our summers tend to be on the warm side, productive home gardeners still can gather colorful bouquets from the landscape and fresh vegetables from the garden. The productive landscape and garden will call for early summer care, and important and timely gardening chores.
June’s gardening calendar includes:
Peach tree pruning: Two major challenges of successful home peach production are thinning the overabundance of fruits at the right time, and in the right amount, and the seemingly unmerciful act of summer pruning of branches that look so healthy.
The annual summer pruning of peach trees is a critical management practice for producing easily harvested, heavy crops of high-quality peaches. If left unpruned, peach trees will become too tall and tangled to comfortably and safely harvest, and yields will start to decline.
Summer pruning should be carried out soon after all fruits have been harvested. That time is fast approaching for most varieties. As crucial as this practice is, home peach growers are often unaware of the importance of summer pruning and how to perform the task.
Whether you are a novice or wish to enhance your current skills on summer pruning of peach trees, take steps now to reserve a space to participate in a hands-on training session on pruning peach trees tomorrow, Thursday, June 3. Two sessions will be conducted at the master gardener demonstration orchard in Carbide Park, 4102 Main, La Marque.
The first session will be held at 9:00am and the second at 10:30am. Because the sessions offer hands-on training, participation is limited to 22 individuals on a first-come-first-accepted basis.
Vegetable harvest: Harvest vegetables frequently to ensure continual production. When not harvested on a frequent enough basis, many vegetables will reduce production of flowers and channel their energy into seed production in the maturing fruit already on plants.
Blackberries: Once blackberry plants have completed their current crop, they should be fertilized. The “stalks” (called fruticanes) that produced this years crop will soon die back and should be removed to reduced disease problems. A new set of green “stalks” (called primicanes) should be present and these will produce next year’s crop of blackberries.
Summer annuals: It is not too late to plant colorful summer annuals during June and early summer, especially if transplants are used. Plant dependable summer annuals such as vinca, impatiens, salvia and portulaca.
To stimulate continuous production of flowers by annuals, remove the faded blooms often, which will induce more branching and more blooms. Seasonal flowering plants will also profit from an occasional feeding with a light application of a balanced fertilizer.

At a glance
TITLE: The Fabulous Fragrant Frangipani (Plumeria)
DATE: Saturday, June 6
TIME: 9:00-11:00am
SPEAKER: Master gardener Loretta Osteen will present a PowerPoint program on how to grow plumeria, use the flowers and propagate by seeds, cuttings and grafting.
TITLE: The Culture And Care Of Palms In Galveston County
DATE: Saturday, June 6
TIME: 1:00-3:00pm
SPEAKER: Master gardener O J Miller has more than 15 years of experience with growing palms in our area. His presentation will include an introduction to palms, an overview of palms commonly found at nurseries in our area, planting methods, fertilization, freeze preparation and general care. The program will include a discussion on palms recommended for Galveston County and the surrounding area.
LOCATION: Both programs conducted at the Galveston County AgriLife extension office in Carbide Park, 4102-B Main Street, La Marque. Pre-registration is required, either by e-mail at or by phone at 281-534-3413, ext 12.