October 25, 2006

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Sugar snap peas are among the varieties that can can be planted in the fall throughout much of Texas. Gardeners in far south Texas can also plant them in the winter. (Photo by Chris S. Corby)
  Oh! Sweet PeaA Cool Season Delight!

By Chris S. Corby

Here is a crop that is a challenge to grow but literally feeds itself and is one of those vegetables that is particularly delicious when consumed minutes after harvest. We are talking about Peas (Pisum sativum), a cool season crop, not to be confused with southern peas such as black eyed and crowder peas.

In the early days of our country peas were like tomatoes are today, perhaps the most popular garden crop. Thomas Jefferson, part-time president and full-time gardener, was renowned for his interest in peas. He grew 15 different types of peas in his garden at Monticello. He enjoyed competing with his neighbors to see who would produce the first crop of peas each spring. The winner would serve the new peas to the others in celebration of winning the contest.

Unfortunately, we are not as lucky as Jefferson was when it comes to the ideal climate for growing peas. The trick to growing peas successfully in Texas involves planting them in the fall, not spring; about 8 to 10 weeks before your average freeze date. Those of you who garden in far South Texas can safely plant peas in the winter, too, as long as they mature before temperatures exceed 75 degrees. Peas need to grow and mature during cool weather and can handle temperatures down to the mid 20-degree range but a freeze during bloom set can damage the flowers and result in a failed crop. So, you can see, some luck with the weather can be helpful as well.

Types of Peas

There are several types of peas including English peas, snow peas and sugar snap peas. Some varieties are dwarf, making them excellent choices for small gardens. As with any vegetable you should grow what you like to eat. Personally, it is hard to beat a mess of freshly picked sugar snap peas lightly steamed and drizzled in butter. But some folks like to grow dried peas to use in soups and stews or snow peas as a delicate addition to Chinese and other oriental dishes.

The other main difference between peas is that some varieties have wrinkled seed and some are smooth. The wrinkled seed varieties are usually sweeter but more sensitive to cold weather. If you are planting both types of seed try planting the wrinkled seed variety as an early crop followed in a few weeks by the smooth seeded variety to extend your harvest.

Soil Preparation

Peas will grow on just about any soil type from sand to heavy clay and prefer a soil pH between 6.5 and 7.5. If your soil is outside that range consider modifying it with lime if it is acid or with iron if it is alkaline. Peas are a legume and have the ability to fix nitrogen from the air so they usually do not need much supplemental fertilizer. They form a beneficial relationship with bacteria that is usually present in the soil. If this is the first time you have grown peas or other legumes in your garden you may want to inoculate your seed with a powdered form of this bacteria. You can purchase this innoculant from most mail order seed companies and local garden centers. To apply simply dampen the seed and place it along with the powder into a paper bag and shake well just before planting.

If you are planting peas where you gardened this past spring then your soil fertility should be sufficient. If you are in doubt, add a half-pound of 10-10-10 fertilizer per 20 feet of row or about 1/4 pound of well-rotted barnyard manure per square foot. Too much fertilizer will result big vines but few peas so do not overdo it.

Additionally, peas must have good drainage so consider using raised beds if you garden in soggy, clay soil. Soil crusting can be a problem with peas as well as other legumes as they will literally pull their heads off as they emerge from dry, crusted soil. To help eliminate this problem pre-soak the soil to a depth of 6 to 8 inches just prior to planting and keep the soil moist as the seedlings emerge.

How To Plant

Rows should be spaced as wide as the expected mature height of the variety since this varies from variety to variety. If you are planting a variety that is expected to reach a height of 36 inches then plant your rows at least 36 inches a part. You can plant double rows of dwarf varieties, 12 to 14 inches apart and allow several feet between double rows for air circulation and to serve as a walkway. Dig a shallow furrow and sprinkle the seed about 2 to 3 inches apart. If the weather cooperates, the seed should emerge within a week to 12 days. At this time, dwarf varieties should be thinned to 3-inch spacing while taller varieties should be thinned to a 5-inch spacing. Rather than pulling the plants up when thinning, use a pair of scissors to snip them so as not to damage the roots of the remaining plants.

We like to plant our dwarf peas the lazy way. That is, we prepare a bed about 36 inches across. Then we scatter our seed across the bed about 3 to 4 inches apart and rake the seed into the soil. A few of the seed will stay on top but we always get a good stand this way and it saves our backs.

Provide Support

For best result provide some type of support for your peas right after you plant them. All varieties (even the dwarf ones) need some support. You can use chicken wire, tomato cages or short pieces of brush/tree branches. Make sure the support is adequate for the variety you planted. If you wait until your peas are up and growing you may damage the plants and their roots by waiting to install support then.


If you are lucky Mother Nature will supply all the water that your peas will need to be productive. Check your vines often and if the soil is dry at a depth of one inch go ahead and soak the soil to a depth of 6 to 8 inches. If you allow the soil to dry out between watering your vines will shed their blooms, resulting a poor crop. Also, apply a 2 to 3 inch layer of mulch such as grass clippings or leaves to the bed soon after your seeds have emerged.

Insects, Disease

Few insects bother peas, although aphids can be can be a problem. You can control them with an insecticidal soap. Occasionally, other foliage feeding insects like grasshoppers can be a problem. Fiber row cover can be used successfully to protect young pea plants from insect damage until they become well established.

Powdery mildew can literally wipe out a crop of peas. Be sure to provide good air circulation around your plants, use drip irrigation, harvest only when dry and apply sulphur at the first sign of mildew. Plants infected by Powdery mildew look like they have been dusted with baby powder.


When you harvest depends on which type of pea you are growing but always try to harvest peas just before you plan to eat them as the sugar that makes them sweet will convert rather quickly to starch. And if you are the first to harvest a crop of sweet, succulent peas, do as Thomas Jefferson did, give us a call and we would be happy to enjoy them with you.

Reprinted from Texas Gardener, November/December 2001.

Although devil’s shoestring
(Nolina lindheimeriana) is often referred to as ribbon grass, it is not a grass. It belongs to the lily family. (Photo by William Scheick)

A baker’s dozen of Lindheimer plants

In the November/December issue of Texas Gardener, which should be in subscribers’ hands and on newsstands now, William Scheick writes about New Braunfels resident Ferdinand Jacob Lindheimer (1801-1879), father of Texas botany. Scheick describes six of Lindheimer’s discoveries in detail, including wandflower and devil’s shoestring. Space didn’t allow for inclusion of all of Lindheimer’s discoveries, so Scheick provided Seeds with the following list of other notable Lindheimer plants:

  • Wild four o’clock (Mirabilis lindheimeri)

  • Copperleaf or three-seeded mercury (Acalypha lindheimeri)

  • Crown-beard (Verbesina lindheimeri)

  • Lindheimer’s bee balm (Monarda lindheimeri)

  • Rock daisy (Perityle lindheimeri)

  • Lindheimer morning glory (Ipomoea lindheimeri)

  • Big muhly (Muhlenbergia lindheimeri)

  • Lindheimer milkwort (Polygala lindheimeri)

  • Panicgrass (Dichanthelium acuminatum var. lindheimeri)

  • Lindheimer astragalus (Astragalus lindheimeri)

  • Texas prickly pear (Opuntia lindheimeri)

  • Lindheimer nailwort (Paronychia lindheimeri)

  • Silk-tassel (Garrya ovata var. lindheimeri)

Turf pictured is part of several plots used for experiments and research on Texas A&M's west campus. (Texas Agricultural Experiment Station photo by Blair Fannin)
  Turfgrass donated to Habitat for Humanity

By Blair Fannin
Texas Cooperative Extension

Turf grass once used for research at Texas A&M University is now beautifying Habitat for Humanity homes in the Bryan-College Station area.

Dr. Kurt Steinke, a turfgrass researcher with the department of soil and crop sciences at Texas A&M, was renovating field plots used for trial studies on the west side of campus when an idea came to him. He thought of a way to give the Bermuda grass a second life instead of turning it into waste.

"I wanted to remove a rather large section of turf to replace it with a different species," he said. "In the past, the sod has just gone to a junk or debris pile. We figured why not see if Habitat (for Humanity) would be interested in taking the sod and putting it to good use."

William Gavranovic, owner of Horizon Turf, a local sod farm operation, volunteered equipment and labor to strip the old sod and make 115-foot rolls. Habitat homeowners also assisted in laying the sod in their own yards, Steinke said.

By the time the sod was removed and rolled, enough turf was available to fill 11 yards.

"We just felt this turf had a use instead of it heading to a local landfill," Steinke said. "We're glad it could be used by someone and help out the community."

  The lighter side of gardening
You know you're a Texas Gardener if…

By Chris S. Corby

Your garden is never large enough when you plant it and always too large when it comes time to weed it.

You have memorized every word in more than 30 seed catalogs but you can't remember your wedding anniversary.

No matter how well you care for the grass in your lawn, it always seems to grow faster and better in the flower beds.

Neighbors turn away from you on the street when you approach them with "free" zucchini.

You trim the weeds in your garden with a string trimmer rather than pull them up.

You roll the windows down on your spouse’s car anytime the chance of rain reaches 20 percent.

You carry photos of your tomato plants to show off to strangers in line at the grocery store or bank.

You have been 'cited' for collecting garbage bags full of leaves and grass clippings.

Your idea of a fun date is going out to the garden and talking to your plants.

You spouse sues your garden for alienation of affection.

You have been known to walk out in the middle of a cold night to cover your plants with blankets.

  Readers' Gardening Tips

"Chlorosis, or iron deficiency, is a common problem in the western two-thirds of Texas," writes Matthew McKinney. "If the leaves on your plants turn yellow while the veins remain green then your plant probably has chlorosis. You can treat the affected plant with an iron supplement or make your own by soaking old scouring pads in water for a week or so, then pour the liquid around the base of the iron-deficient plants."

Have a favorite gardening tip you'd like to share? Texas Gardener's Seeds is seeking brief gardening tips from Texas gardeners to use in future issues. If we publish your tip in Seeds, we will seed you a free Texas Gardener T-shirt. Here's a chance to get published and be a garden stylist as well! Please send your tips of 50 words or less to the editor at: Gardening Tips.

  Did you know...

In the old days, trees were often beaten to make them fruit. The thinking was that the bark of a tree is very tight, with little room for nutrition to flow through the cambium layer. If the bark was split and loosened, more nutrients could flow through the tree. In some areas, apple trees had their throats cut (bark slit) with a knife and the trees would often prosper.


  Upcoming Garden Events

The Johnson County Herb Society will hold its Herbal Thymes Show and Symposium, Saturday, October 28 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., Cleburne Senior Center, Cleburne. The event will feature speakers, demonstrations herb plants and related products. For more information, contact Esther Chambliss at (817) 263-9322 or visit www.cleburnearea.info/herbies/.

The San Antonio Botanical Garden, 555 Funston, will host Animal Botanical Mini-Camp for 11- to 15-year olds 9 a.m. until 11 a.m., Saturday, October 28. Children with special needs are invited to learn about plants and animals with hands-on activities, crafts and games. $15 each session and advance registration is required. Call (210) 207-3270 for more information or to register or slindhom@sabot.org for more information and registration for classes.

The San Antonio Botanical Garden, 555 Funston, will host a Trees for San Antonio: Planting, Pruning and Care, Saturday, October 28, 10 a.m. until noon. Mark Peterson, SAWS Conservation Program Coordinator, will demonstrate proper techniques for planning and maintenance of trees. Admission to the garden: $6 adults, $3 children 3-13, $4 students, military and senior citizens. Admission to the event is included with admission to the garden. For more information, contact (210) 829-5100 or visit www.sabot.org.

The 2006 Annual Garden Tour in Victoria County will take place on Saturday and Sunday, October 28 through 29, showcasing five gardens at historic homes in Old Victoria. Imagination will be fulfilled beyond garden gates with the theme "Nature's Beauty Beyond the Gate" in fall and pre-Halloween garden settings. Highlighted garden plants will be catalogued in educational materials and for plant sale identification on the weekend of the tour. Guided tours at $18 per person are scheduled from 9 a.m. through 5 p.m. on Saturday and 11 a.m. through 5 p.m. on Sunday. Individual garden tours are $5 per garden. Workshops will be conducted on culinary cooking and holiday decorating from the garden for additional fees. For further information, contact Victoria County Extension Office at (361) 575-4581.

The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center hosts "The Amazing World of Dragonflies and Damselflies," with Dr. John Abbott, Ph.D. Thursday, November 2, 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. Explore the amazing world of dragonflies and damselflies with Dr. John Abbott. Through breathtaking photography, Dr. Abbott will review their habits, riparian habitats and the many wonderful species particular to central Texas. Lectures are free to the public. Parking lot opens at 6:00 p.m., speaker reception at 6:00 p.m., lectures begin at 7:00 p.m. No reservations are necessary, but seating is limited. For more information, contact sbrueggerhoff@wildflower.org.

Mercer Arboretum & Botanic Gardens, 22306 Aldine Westfield Road (one mile north of FM 1960), Humble, will host a Chrysanthemum Sale, Friday and Saturday, November 3 and 4, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Enjoy the chance to purchase chrysanthemums for your home and garden. Many varieties will be on sale and the experts will be here to answer your questions about these wonderful plants. For additional information call (281) 443-8731, or visit www.hcp4.net/mercer/index.htm.

Mercer Arboretum & Botanic Gardens, 22306 Aldine Westfield Road (one mile north of FM 1960), Humble., will host a Chrysanthemum Program, Friday and Saturday, November 3 and 4, 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. Learn all about these versatile and beautiful plants. This program will coincide with the sale both days. For additional information call (281) 443-8731, or visit www.hcp4.net/mercer/index.htm.

The San Antonio Botanical Garden, 555 Funston, will host the Fall Garden Fair Saturday, November 4, 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. Celebrate the natural and cultural heritage of the South Texas Plains. Family craft activities, Texas Native Trail scavenger hunt, and entertainment by Charro Jerry Diaz and family. Admission to the garden: $6 adults, $3 children 3-13, $4 students, military and senior citizens. Admission to the event is included with admission to the garden. For more information, contact (210) 829-5100 or visit www.sabot.org.

Mercer Arboretum & Botanic Gardens, 22306 Aldine Westfield Road (one mile north of FM 1960), Humble, will host “Lunch Bunch: Gardening 101,” Wednesday, November 8, noon to 1 p.m. Get ready for spring by picking up tips on gardening basics like preparing a bed and choosing plants. Bring a sack lunch to enjoy. Call for reservations. For additional information call (281) 443-8731, or visit www.hcp4.net/mercer/index.htm.

The Texas Gourd Society will hold its 11th annual "Show and Tell" at the Waco Convention Center, Waco, November 11 and 12 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday and from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday. The two-day show will include gourd artists, seminars, demonstrations and much more. Admission is $5 for adults; children under 12 free. For more information, visit www.texasgourdsociety.org.

The San Antonio Botanical Garden, 555 Funston, will host “Coffee Day” Saturday, January 13, 2007, 11 a.m. until 3 p.m. Just in time for the crisp wintry air, this annual family day event features coffee tastings and other exotic treats. Coffee Day is a celebration of tropical plants for edible pleasure and medicinal purposes, derived from the jungle. Admission to the garden: $6 adults, $3 children 3-13, $4 students, military and senior citizens. Admission to the event is included with admission to the garden. For more information, contact (210) 829-5100 or visit www.sabot.org.

Urban Harvest will host its annual fruit tree sale Saturday, January 20, 2007, 9:30 a.m. until 1 p.m. at Emerson Unitarian Church, 1900 Bering Drive, Houston (West of Loop 610 between San Felipe and Westheimer). A pre-sale talk discussing the fruit trees available at the sale begins at 8:00 a.m. and continues until 9:20 a.m. There will be a large selection of citrus trees, as well as trees that produce peaches, plums, apples, pears, figs, pecans, grapes, blackberries, persimmons, and more. For more information on fruit varieties and directions to the sale, check the Urban Harvest website www.urbanharvest.org beginning in December.

The Highland Lakes Master Gardener Association will sponsor the Ninth Annual Hill Country Lawn & Garden Show March 31, 2007, at the Lakeside Pavilion in Marble Falls. It is open 9:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Free Admission and seminars. It features garden related vendors, demonstrations, a children's booth, raffle and seminars by Malcolm Beck, Bill Luedecke and the Antique Rose Emporium. For more information go to hillcountrylgshow.com or call (325) 388-8849.

The Garland Organic Club meets the first Sunday of each month in the little red school house at 1651 Wall St., Garland. All interested gardeners are invited to attend. For more information, call (972) 864-1934 or (800) 864-4445.

Austin Organic Gardeners meet at 7:00 p.m. on the second Monday of each month at the Zilker Botanical Gardens in Austin. For more information, visit www.main.org/aog.

The Dallas Organic Garden Club meets at 6:45 p.m. on the fourth Thursday of each month at the Fretz Park Recreation Center, located at the corner of Hillcrest and Beltline Road in Dallas. For more information, call (214) 676-4326 or visit www.dogc.org.

If you would like your organization's events included in "Upcoming Garden Events," please contact us at Garden Events.

  Texas Trees featured in November/December Texas Gardener

Managing Editor Michael Bracken writes about the Texas Forest Services' seedling program, which provides seedling trees from Indian Mound Nursery in Alto and West Texas Nursery in Idalou, and the significant role it plays in reforestation, aforestation and urban forestry programs.

Also in the November/December issue of Texas Gardener: Contributing Editor Skip Richter provides advice on "Winter Soil Care"; William Scheick describes the work of Ferdinand Jacob Lindheimer (1801-1879), celebrated today as the father of Texas botany; Ann McCormick suggests "Garden Gifts in Good Taste" for the coming holidays; Contributing Editor Greg Grant tells us what's up this month "In Greg's Garden"; and tips on growing strawberries and making compost.

Subscribe on-line.

  Fiber Row Cover valuable year-round

Grow-Web encourages plant growth and development, and also provides protection from insects, birds, diseases and frosts. It is also air and water permeable and allows for ventilation. Grow-Web provides excellent protection to seedlings when applied directly to the seedbed.

 $30.64 per 12.3' x 32.8' roll (includes shipping!)

Order by calling 1-800-727-9020. Not available through on-line bookstore.

(Discover, MasterCard and Visa accepted.)


Texas Gardener's Seeds
is published weekly. © Suntex Communications, Inc. 2006. All rights reserved. You may forward this publication to your friends and colleagues if it is sent in its entirety. No individual part of this newsletter may be reproduced in any manner without prior written permission from the publisher.

Missed an issue? Back issues of Texas Gardener's Seeds are available at www.texasgardener.com/newsletters.

Publisher: Chris S. Corby Editor: Michael Bracken

Texas Gardener's Seeds, P.O. Box 9005, Waco, Texas 76714 ● www.TexasGardener.com