November 22, 2006

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Rosemary in bloom. (Photo by Chris S. Corby)

Rosemary, the "herb of remembrance"

By Michael Bettler
Lucia's Garden

At this time of year, in plant nurseries and the front of large grocery stores, you will see "Rosemary Topiaries" in the shape of Christmas trees. They are "loss leaders" at the grocery stores. Buy a couple of them for your garden. They are shaped from the upright varieties of rosemary. Its other varieties are "prostrate," laying down and looking dramatic on stone fences, in rock gardens, and in large garden pots and decorative urns.

Rosemary is a wonder herb. With more than 100 varieties to choose from, you'll probably be offered only three to five at your local nursery. They are all an aromatic welcome to your home that neither you nor your guests will forget. And that is appropriate as rosemary is the "Herb of Remembrance."

It is used at both weddings and funerals to mark the event of a passage. A precious two-inch tip cutting can be used as an enclosure in Christmas Cards, a reminder from the sender to the recipient of the good times had over the past year. It can be used in sympathy cards, get well cards and celebration cards of all kinds. It is central for sentiment in the "Language of Flowers."

Rosmarinus officinalis is its Latin name, meaning "dew of the sea." It is well known as a Mediterranean coastal herb, but it flourishes in other climates as well, and does very well throughout Texas. The different varieties show no major differences in their culinary use. There is one unusual and striking variety to look for, R.O. "Gorizia," and if you can find one, get it, It is the most dramatic of the upright rosemaries. Its branches may grow to two feet in length. It has long leaves that are noted for being a rich dark green on the tops and a light gray-green on the bottoms. Strip the leaves off one branch and put them in a marinade or in vinegars, or chop them in bread or biscuit dough, or put them over chicken or a roast. You have a long stick left: the very best natural shish-kabob skewer in the world, adding rich rosemary flavor to tomatoes, onions, bell peppers, and any meat skewered on it, beef, chicken or pork.

Or you may want take a 6 to 9 inch branch from any of the upright varieties, strip all but the last two to three inches of rosemary leaves from the branch's tip, twist-tie a couple of sprigs of thyme, sage and oregano to the tip and you have just made the best bar-b-q brush in the world. Dip it in your sauce to spread onto grilled meats and vegetables. When you have cleared the grill of what you are cooking, lift the grate, toss the "brush" on the coals, put the lid down, walk away and let the smoke drive your neighbors crazy with curiosity of what you are cooking.

But what does this have to do with Rosemary Christmas Trees? There is a legend about the rosemary bush hiding the Holy Family from Herod's army, explaining how the white flowering rosemary came to have blue and purple flower varieties. It is an interesting piece of mythology that surrounds this wonderful plant. (Rosemary has played a part in many different cultures' histories.) But what you must know is that rosemary really flourishes this time of year. A variety know as "ARP," discovered in Arp, Texas, by Madalene Hill, has been known to be in full bloom in winter and to survive snow and Texas winters.

The rosemary's prominence as a "Christmas tree topiary" is that it can be shaped to resemble a Christmas tree, and that's all. Rosemary is a member of the mint family, as are also all the mints, thyme, marjoram, oregano, sage, and so many others. It can be shaped into a small tree.

When you get the rosemary "Christmas tree" home, most folks like to decorate it and put it on a table. One word: Don't.

Most homes in Texas have central air and heating. This can dry out the rosemary, but worse, it takes the moisture out of the soil in the 6" or 1 gallon pot it is planted in, and that is certain death. The rosemary plant was put into that pot three to six to nine months earlier and put into a green house to grow tall. It was fed and watered on a regular basis in the green house and thrived. As the plant produced branches, it was allowed to get as wild as possible, then taken into a barn and given a shaping haircut to the branch tips to form the Christmas tree shape. That having been done a couple to times, it is ready to go to market, to you, perfectly healthy and usually happy.

When you bring it home, it has probably not had a drink for a week. It is root bound in the pot you bring it home in. Put it in a small tub of water and let it soak up moisture for about 30 minutes. This insures that the entire root ball is watered. Take it out and let it drain. Then you can move it in if you want. And every three to four days, take it back out and give it another drink of, say, 15 minutes. It will stay green as long as it is happy, but watch it carefully: too much water, the bottom stems turn black; too little water, the bottom stems turn brown.

Repot the rosemary at your earliest convenience into a terra cotta pot about 2 to 4 inches wider than the pot it came home in. (Soak a terra cotta pot for about 10 minutes in water so that it is saturated wet when potted.) Use a potting mix of 1/3 playground sand, 1/3 compost, and 1/3 potting soil, without the "miracle water crystals." Herbs prefer dry feet.

Rosemary is a full-sun 12 months of the year kind of plant. Rather than bring it in to decorate a table, buy two of them and decorate the entrance of your home. Put little red bows and small colorful balls on them outside and they will last all through Christmas, through winter and all year as a plant to help you remember this season. And there is nothing like cooking with Rosemary, but that's another edition.

Two heads are better than one, especially when seeking variety in the salad bowl. (Photo by Chris S. Corby)

Lettuce: Choices for success

By Chris S. Corby

Pity the poor soul who has to eat a wedge of iceberg lettuce with a dollop of salad dressing. As gardeners, we are blessed with a kaleidoscope of choices when it comes to the color and texture of the lettuce varieties we plant for our own consumption from crunchy green romaine to bright red leaf lettuce the choices are many.

It is not very difficult to grow lettuce successfully in Texas. The trick is to make several small succession plantings of several different varieties in order to add variety to the salad bowl. If you plant one 20-foot row of black seeded simpson, chances are most of it will end up in the compost pile. But four to five shorter rows of several different varieties will, most likely, be devoured with a cry for more.

Cultural requirements

If lettuce is finicky about anything, it has to be the weather. It prefers cool, stable temperatures with low humidity. And, unless you garden in the Rio Grande Valley or deep south Texas, it is necessary to provide cold protection to late-fall lettuce plantings. Otherwise, wait until early spring to plant. You can direct-seed lettuce four to six weeks before the last average killing frost. For earlier production, start transplants indoors three to four weeks before you plan to set them out.

Unless you like a daunting challenge, like "mission impossible," avoid planting iceberg type lettuce varieties. It takes perfect conditions and a relatively long, cool season to grow iceberg lettuce successfully.

Planting tips

Lettuce is one of those vegetables that is easy to grow using organic methods. Add plenty of organic matter to your planting bed before planting your lettuce seed. Also, apply one to two pounds of rotted manure per square foot of bed. Lettuce responds well to a high level of fertility, particularly nitrogen.

Go easy with the seed as lettuce is easy to germinate. Just prepare a loose, fine-textured seedbed; avoid planting too deep and keep the seedbed moist until germination occurs. If you end up planting too thick, the small lettuce plants you remove during the thinning process can be used in salads.

Once your lettuce is up and going, keep it well watered between rains. Apply an organic mulch to help maintain moisture levels.

Lettuce pests

Several different kinds of worms have an affinity for lettuce, but they are easy to control. Just apply Bt, a biological worm killer that is harmless to humans. Aphids, another common lettuce pest, can be held in check by encouraging lady bugs to visit your garden. If uncontrolled, aphids can not only cause direct damage to lettuce but spread disease throughout a planting rather quickly.

Downy mildew and Botrytis are two diseases that attack lettuce, usually during periods of high humidity. While we cannot control humidity, we can practice crop rotation and good sanitation in an effort to keep them to a minimum.

Harvest time

Harvest your lettuce whenever you want a salad. It is good at all stages of maturity except when it matures during hot weather. Then it becomes bitter.

Most varieties can be harvested in stages, thus extending their usefulness. We like to harvest our lettuce early in the morning while it is crisp and firm from the morning dew.

Reprinted from Texas Gardener, November/December 1999.

  Readers' Gardening Tips

"If you are saving seed from a favorite plant make sure the plant is dry," writes Doris Abrams. "Collect the seed in midmorning after any dew has evaporated. If wet weather persists, pull the whole plant and hang it in a dry location like a garage or shed until it completely dries before collecting the seed."

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...

Back in the 18th century, folks used to lay banana skins in planting holes since they would rot quickly and supply calcium, magnesium, sulfur, phosphates, sodium and silica to the new plants.


  Upcoming Garden Events

Festive sights and sounds will fill Moody Gardens, Galveston, at the fifth annual Festival of Lights November 18 through January 6. This entertainment-filled celebration will kick off the holiday season on November 18, with Santa Claus parachuting in to switch on the lights. Transforming its lush garden setting into a winter menagerie of lights, Moody Gardens will be adorned with more than a million twinkling lights and dozens of light displays. In addition to experiencing the lights, guests can also strap on a pair of skates and slide across the ice at the Outdoor Ice Rink or listen to holiday music performed by area bands. Indoors, visitors can take pictures with Santa or see the giant poinsettia tree. Moody Gardens will show a variety of holiday-themed films during the Festival of Lights. Several special holiday packages are also available for groups of 30 or more that can include luxury bus transportation, event admission and the holiday buffet. Special Festival of Lights packages are also available at the Moody Gardens Hotel November 18-January 6. For more information, please call (800) 582-4673 or visit

Arbor Gate will hold its 10th Annual Christmas Open House Saturday, December 2, from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. at 15635 FM 2920, Tomball. Expect lots of food, friends, music and more. Admission is free. Call (281) 351-8851 for more information or visit them on-line at

Each year, for the last several years, John Panzarella has had a citrus tasting and open house at his home, 404 Forest Drive, Lake Jackson. The next open house will be Saturday, December 9, from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Everyone is invited to taste citrus and see fruit trees. Panzarella has approximately 200 different varieties of citrus, 50 percent to 70 percent fruiting, plus several varieties of persimmon, sapote, guava, pawpaw, loquat, pomegranate, avocado, papaya, fig, peach, passion fruit, mango, and pecan trees growing in his backyard. There will be approximately 50 to 60 varieties of citrus to taste. Come taste the citrus, and see the 3rd largest citrus collection in the state of Texas and the largest collection north of the Texas Rio Grand Valley. Come see and taste the giant Panzarella orange and the giant Panzarella cluster lemon. See grapefruit, tangerines and oranges all growing on the same tree. Admission is free. Call (979) 297-2120 or e-mail for a new date if extreme bad weather is predicted, or if you have other questions.

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

Harris County Master Gardener Fruit Tree Sale & Symposium will be held Saturday, January 13, 2007, at the Harris County Extension Office, 3033 Bear Creek Dr. Houston. Preview 8 a.m.; workshops 8 a.m. until 2 p.m.; sale 9 a.m. until 2 p.m.; lecture and demonstration topics and times TBA. For more information, call (281) 855-5600 or visit

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 beginning in December.

The Texas Organic Farmers & Gardeners Association will present the 6th annual Texas Conference on Organic Production Systems, "The Local Food Revolution: Bringing Texas Home" January 27 through 27, 2007, in Mesquite. Speakers include Fred Kirschenmann, Distinguished Fellow from the Leopold Center and Jessica Prentice, chef, educator and author of Full Moon Feast. Included among the activities will be farm tours, a new farmers workshop, and an organic home gardening workshop. For additional information, call (877) 326-5175 or visit

The San Antonio Botanical Garden, 555 Funston, will host "Chocolate Day," Saturday, February 10, 2007, 11 a.m. until 3 p.m. Activities include chocolate tastings, chocolate mint plant giveaway, exotic fruits tastings, and children's crafts. 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

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 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 or call (325) 388-8849.

The San Antonio Botanical Garden, 555 Funston, will host a Spring Plant Sale, Saturday, March 31, 2007, 9 a.m. until sold out. Purchase healthy, hardy plants suitable for the San Antonio environment and get expert advice from SABG volunteers, many of whom are Master Gardeners. 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

The Greater Fort Worth Herb Society presents its 21st Annual Herb Festival May 19, 2007, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Fort Worth Botanic Gardens in Fort Worth. The Festival will feature the sale of herb plants and herb-related products. There will also be a silent auction, crafts, music, demos, food and much more. Special event speakers will be Randy Weston of Weston Gardens and Mary Doebelling of Our Thyme Garden. Admission is $5 for adults. The Botanic Gardens are located at 3220 Botanic Garden Blvd Dr., Fort Worth. For more information, please visit or call (817) 966-7126.

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

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

The Arlington Organic Garden Club meets from 7 p.m. until 9 p.m. on the last Thursday of each month (except November and December) at the Bob Duncan Center, 2800 S. Center Street, Arlington. For more information, contact David at (817) 483-7746.

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

  The Vegetable Book answers your questions

Why do your onions fail to bulb? Why do your tomatoes stop producing in July? What can you do about garden pests?

Whether you're a newcomer to Texas or have gardened here your entire life, you may be filled with questions about growing vegetables in Texas.

Dr. Sam Cotner, retired head of the department of horticulture at Texas A&M, spent more than 20 years working with commercial vegetable growers and providing statewide leadership for the Texas Extension Service's home gardening program, and he answers all of your questions in The Vegetable Book: A Texan's Guide to Gardening.

$26.63 plus shipping*

Order by calling 1-800-727-9020 or order on-line.

 *Mention Texas Gardener's Seeds when ordering by phone during the month of November and we'll waive shipping charges. (Discover, MasterCard and Visa accepted.)

  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.

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Publisher: Chris S. Corby Editor: Michael Bracken

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