April 25, 2007

Welcome to Texas Gardener's Seeds, the weekly newsletter for Texas gardeners. Please do not reply to this e-mail as the sending address is not monitored. See the bottom of this newsletter for information on how to subscribe, unsubscribe, or contact the editor.

  Seeds celebrates one year of publication

One year ago we planted this seed. Today, with readership growing faster than we could have anticipated, we continue to visit your in-box every Wednesday with a mix of gardening news, practical information, humor, and gardening tips from your fellow Texas gardeners.

We hope you've enjoyed the first 52 issues and that you'll be with us for the next 52.

(If you've missed any issues, you'll be happy to know that they are all available on-line at www.texasgardener.com/newsletters.)

Basil in an ornamental bed. (Photo courtesy of parkseed.com)

Basil: the herb of kings

By Michael Bettler
Lucia’s Garden

Now comes the task of planting the spring garden. You penciled it all winter, started your seedlings or collected your starter plants, prepared the beds and amended the soil. Now is the time to introduce them to their new home. But before you do this, watch the nightly weather report. There is an old wives' tale that certain plants should not be planted until after Easter, either the day after or the Sunday after. This is to assure that the last cold has passed, among other challenges the garden may have in spring. It certainly has worked for me, and that is how I plant my spring Basil crop.

Basil (Ocimum basilicum) is my favorite "promise" plant. It promises wonderful salads and pasta dishes, appetizers and desserts, accents to cheeses, seafood, meats and vegetables, a clean flavor when added to tea cakes and cookies; and it promises to perform well in the garden. It is what I call a "green thumb" plant: it will do well when many others may languish or fail. It is an encouragement to beginner gardeners and a mainstay for the seasoned gardener. Its greatest predator is the over-anxious gardener/cook.

Basil is a member of the mint (Labiatae) family. This family is noted for having (1) flowers that are "lip-like" (hence the name), (2) square stems, and (3) leaves that form "whirls" (like a ceiling fan) of opposite pairs: north-south; east-west; north-south; east-west, all the way up their stems. This is the largest of the culinary herb families and includes catnip, horehound, hyssop, lavender, lemon balm, marjoram, the hundreds of varieties of mint, oregano, pennyroyal, rosemary, Salvia, savory, thyme and so many others. Why is their identification in this family so important? Because all members of this family grow in very much the same way, and more importantly, they are all harvested the same way. As a gardener/cook, this is important. When you harvest from a member of the mint family, at the base of the third or fourth "whirl" down from the tip, notice small leaf buds between the stem and the remaining opposite leaves. Those leaf buds are actually new stems: when you harvest a member of the mint family, it will double in its growth. Three weeks later you will have two new stems of whirls to harvest from, where you previously had one. (Harvest selectively and conservatively: the plant will appreciate everything left behind.)

There are more than 50 varieties of Basil. You only need about three to five for most cooking: (1) Italian sweet basil, (2) lemon basil, (3) opal or purple basil, and, possibly, (4) Cinnamon basil and (5) Thai spice basil. But please do not limit your garden or your kitchen to these. Within the basils, you will find many varieties with mild to intense flavors, tiny compact to broad "lettuce" leaves, light to dark shades of green and purple, and growth patterns from sprawling to columnar. It grows well in most soils, loves the sun and loves a good drink of water. (Hence, I call it a "green thumb" plant.)

Basil is one of the most universally cultivated culinary herbs. It is an excellent large container plant as well as an in-garden plant. That "4-inch" container plant can grow to 3 or 4 feet in height and width. Its Latin name translates roughly to a "scent/taste worthy of a king" as it appeared on royal banquet tables. It was a symbol of romance and love, protected homes from evil spirits and unwanted insect visitations, was used in baths and massages for beauty and sore muscles, and as a tea for both headaches and unset stomachs.

Basil, like all members of the mint family, is easy to encourage to grow: harvest it. From the tip, after it has produced at least three to five complete "whirls," harvest from the branch end with a good set of "bypass" garden shears. ("Loppers" tend to bruise or crush tender stems.) Do not let these cuttings touch the ground, but carry them into the kitchen where the leaves can be removed from the stems. Do not wash them as this will wash some of the basil flavor oils down the sink drain, and you will have to wait until the leaves dry thoroughly before you begin to process them. (Save the leafless stems. Dried, they can contribute to a wonderful "stove-top potpourri.")

If you are harvesting Basil in October or November, cut the entire basil plant about 3 inches above the ground, securing the plant in your other hand, and take it into the kitchen to process. (Resist the urge to wash it!) Separate the leaves from the stems and allow them to air dry for 30 minutes to an hour, unless you plan to use them fresh in a vegetable dish or in a salad with tomatoes and Mozzarella cheese with a sprinkling of olive oil, oregano and thyme. Rinse away spittle bug juice, discard yellow leaves or leaves with too many bug kisses on them.

Once harvested to their base level, the stalk and roots should be removed from the garden, their soil returned to the garden, and the stalks placed in a composting mulcher. They have done their work.

With a very few exceptions (not listed above) basil is an annual, and should be planted, cultivated and harvested as such. Its year begins in spring and ends in autumn. If you want basil in winter, harvest the leaves in October-November and make a thick pesto (paste), blending the leaves with a little regular olive oil, toss this pesto into a plastic freezer bag, and then into the freezer. When it is time in January for shrimp and pasta in a basil and garlic sauce, put a couple of tablespoons of basil pesto in a large pan, warm it with some freshly sliced or minced garlic, toss in the shrimp and cook until they turn red. Then serve this over fresh pasta, which may also be topped with an extra teaspoon of basil pesto, add a touch of Parmesan cheese and invite your friends over for a taste of garden freshness in the middle of winter.

If you have extra basil leaves, or some that you don't want to blend into a pesto, air-dry them on paper towels for an hour or while you go to the grocery store and buy a couple of bottles of (1) white wine vinegar, (2) red wine vinegar, (3) champagne vinegar, or (4) rice wine vinegar (not the 5% or 10% "white vinegar"), decant about 1 inch to 2 inches into a separate cup and stuff the bottle with basil leaves until it is once again full. Top it off with the saved vinegar, screw on the lid and set the bottle in a pantry or kitchen cabinet at room temperature for about 6 weeks. You then will have the basis of a good basil marinade for fish, meats, vegetables or an outstanding salad dressing.

Basil is a "green thumb" plant. It makes you look good as a gardener, and is always appreciated at the table. Enjoy it.

Entomologists are wondering whether numbers of post oak grasshoppers will explode this year like they did last year. The majority of these insects have short wings and are flightless; the grasshoppers, such as this adult, prefer to climb on trees and houses. Dr. Spencer Behmer, Texas Agricultural Experiment Station entomologist, is researching the grasshoppers' life cycles and biology. (Texas Agricultural Experiment Station photo by Dr. Spencer Behmer)
  Post oak grasshoppers emerging

By Edith Chenault
Texas Cooperative Extension

They're not afraid of heights, they're voracious, and Dr. Spencer Behmer wants to know if you've seen them hanging out in oak trees or on your house.

They're post oak grasshoppers, and Behmer, a Texas Agricultural Experiment Station entomologist, wants to research their life cycle and behavior.

If you haven't heard of them, don't feel alone. Until recently, most Texans hadn't.

"I didn't see them for the first 25 years of my career," said Dr. John Jackman, Texas Cooperative Extension entomologist. "I would have told you there weren't any grasshoppers that chewed on trees."

Five years ago, he said, the grasshoppers' numbers started growing, and last year, exploded in areas from Dallas to near Corpus Christi.

"We don't know a whole lot about them," Jackman said.

Terry Junek, a research assistant in one of the Texas A&M University department of entomology labs, began noticing the grasshoppers about four years ago. They were crawling up the side of her Wellborn home.

The majority of adult post oak grasshoppers have short wings and are flightless, Behmer said, but they love to climb up trees and houses.

"Last year they were in enormous amounts," Junek said, "and mainly on the east side of my house."

If hordes of grasshoppers on houses aren't bad enough, they make their presence even more obnoxious by leaving frass — or insect excrement — behind, which often leaves a near-permanent stain, Behmer said. The stain is the result of tannins — the compound used in tanning leather — which are found in oak leaves. As the frass dries, the tannins bind strongly to other chemicals. Once this has occurred, stains become very difficult to remove.

The post oak grasshoppers become adults in late April, and from early May to mid-June the females lay their eggs in the soil. A female typically lays five to six eggs at a time in a pod, and will produce two to four pods over her lifetime. In the spring, when post oak leaves begin to emerge, the eggs hatch and the nymphs begin to climb trees to feed. They go through at least five developmental stages before becoming adults, all the while munching on leaves. Currently, they are still in the pre-adult stage, he said.

The grasshoppers prefer post oaks, but Behmer has heard reports of them feeding on other oak and hickory trees, even defoliating them.

To help him find out more about these post oak grasshoppers, Behmer is asking for the public's help.

"If someone thinks they have these grasshoppers, they can e-mail me (s-behmer@tamu.edu) with general information about where they are," he said.

The exact location of their house isn't necessary, he said, but a zip code and a nearby major intersection would be helpful. If possible, they should send a digital photo of the grasshopper so he can positively identify it. Behmer wants to use this information to begin mapping their location throughout the state and to create a database.

He's also raising the grasshoppers in his lab, with Junek supplying nymphs she has already found this year.

Junek is also giving him other valuable insights gained through personal observations. Last year, when the grasshoppers reached adulthood, she caught them and fed them to her chickens. The chickens readily ate them, giving Behmer a clue that they are not toxic to other animals. Normally, chickens will not eat what will harm them, Behmer said.

Behmer is still not sure what the Easter weekend cold snap will do to the grasshoppers' population, but he wants to study that too. Junek said they were still crawling up the side of house on April 8, even though their numbers were reduced.

Further information on post oak grasshoppers is available from insects.tamu.edu/fromthefield/postoakgh.html, and at Behmer's research Web site at behmerlab.tamu.edu/index.html.

What does new construction mean for trees?

Building construction affects our trees in a major way. Trucks and other construction vehicles, and even people walking on site, can cause soil compaction and long-term damage to trees. Additionally, grade changes made near vegetation can seriously disrupt roots and, in some cases, can cause death in trees.

Many factors such as age and species affect the rate at which a tree declines from damage.

While symptoms are often not noticeable at first glance, some visible indicators include:

  • Delayed bud-break
  • Stunted light green to yellow leaves
  • Crown thinness
  • Premature fall coloration
  • Leaf abscission

How can you best prevent construction damage to trees?

Provide a barrier. A fence is ideal to protect trees against encroachment of construction equipment. It will also minimize soil compaction and prevent debris from affecting the root system.

Prune. It’s important to remove dead and dying branches that can cause hazards. Avoid removing healthy branches unless absolutely necessary.

  Anniversary quiz...with prizes

In celebration of the first anniversary of Seeds, we have decided to give away free Texas Gardener caps...but there's a catch: To receive your free cap you must be one of the first five readers to answer the following Green Thumb Teaser correctly.

Green Thumb Teaser

1. What makes gardening in Texas different than "Up North"?

A. Hot Summers
B. Difficult Soils
C. Water Quality
D. All of the above

2. The 1015Y onion is named for which of the following?

A. A famous aircraft from World War II
B. The year onions were discovered in the wild
C. The proper planting time for onions in the Rio Grande Valley

3. The City of Tyler is best known for which of the following?

A. Roses
B. Earl Campbell
C. Pine trees

4. Which famous person do most Texans associate with wildflowers?

A. Lady Bird Johnson
B. Willie Nelson
C. Roseanne Barr

5. What is the State tree of Texas?

A. Walnut
B. Pecan
C. Filbert

6. Which state grows the biggest and the best tomatoes in the United States?

A. California
B. New Jersey
C. Texas

Send your answers to the editor at: Quizmaster. The correct answers will be revealed next issue, and might even be debated the issue after that!

Be certain to include your mailing address in your e-mail so that we can ship your cap directly to you if you are a winner.

  Gardening tips

"Recycle empty cardboard milk and juice cartons into seedling pots and plant markers," writes Omega Baker. "Cut in half. Use bottom half for seedlings. Cut top half into pointed strips for markers. Use regular ink pen to fill in markers. Recycled labels and pots are waterproof, sturdy and free. Compost at season end."

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...

Herbs should be gathered in dry weather, first thing in the morning before their essential oils evaporate in the sun. Hang bunches of herbs upside down to dry so that the oils flow into the leaves. Once dry, store them in airtight containers away from sunlight and they should last for several months.


  Upcoming garden events

Brownwood: The Brownwood Garden Club is sponsoring the free Heart of Texas Wildflower Exhibit and Plant Sale Thursday-Saturday, April 26 through 28 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Activity Center of First Baptist Church, Brownwood. Specimens of wildflowers from Brown and surrounding counties will be displayed and identified by common and scientific names. At 1 p.m. Friday, John Begnaud, Extension Horticulturist from Tom Green County, will present the program "Landscaping with Native Plants." Saturday, Dr. Jack Stanford will speak on "Central Texas Wildflowers." Maps of suggested routes to view wildflowers will be available, and Dr. Stanford will lead a field trip following his presentation. For more information, call (325) 646-8739.

Tyler: The 9th annual Tyler Men's Club "Spring Fling" plant sale will take place Saturday, April 28 from 8 a.m. until 2 p.m. at the Tyler Rose Garden in the East Pavilion (Farmer's Market Shed). The ere is no admission charge and the event will be held "rain or shine." Additional information is available at http://home.earthlink.net/~tylermensgardenclub/.

Longview: The Northwest Texas Chapter of the Native Plant Society of Texas is having its annual plant sale at Wal-Mart, 2440 Gilmer Road, Longview, on April 28 beginning at 8 a.m. and usually sells out by noon. Attendees who join the NPSOT will receive a plethora of butterfly plant seeds. For additional information, contact emmanell@peoplepc.com.

Austin: It's About Thyme, 11726 Manchaca, Austin, will host "How to Select, Plant and Grow Palm Trees in the Austin Area," a free lecture and demonstration by Hays County Free Press gardening columnist Chris Winslow, Sunday, April 29, at 2 p.m. For more information, call (512) 280-1192 or visit www.itsaboutthyme.com.

El Paso, Fort Worth, Dallas: Visit America's very best, rarely seen, Private Gardens. The Garden Conservancy's Open Days Program has been opening the gates to America's best private gardens since 1995. The 2007 season features more than 350 gardens across 21 states. Learn about gardens participating in your area through the Open Days Directory, an annual publication listing open gardens with garden descriptions, open dates and hours, and directions. To purchase a Directory or for more information, call (888)842-2442 or visit www.opendaysprogram.org. The $5 admission fee supports the expansion of the Open Days Program around the country and helps build awareness of the Garden Conservancy's work of preserving exceptional American gardens such Peckerwood Garden in Hempstead. 2007 Texas Open Days: El Paso: May 5 & 6; Fort Worth: October 14; Dallas: October 20.

Tyler: The Smith County Master Gardeners will host the 6th annual Spring Home Garden Tour May 5, Tyler. Area gardens will be showcased and will offer visitors ideas an inspiration for their own garden, large or small. Master Gardeners will be on hand to answer questions or discuss planting ideas. For more information, call (903) 894-7950.

Austin: It's About Thyme, 11726 Manchaca, Austin, will host "It's About Thyme Herb Festival," an afternoon of cooking and gardening demonstrations with vendors and music, Saturday, May 5, noon until 6 p.m. For more information, call (512) 280-1192 or visit www.itsaboutthyme.com.

Elmwood: The Anderson County Master Gardeners are hosting their third Annual Spring Conference "Let's Talk Water" Friday, May 11 from 8 a.m. until 3 p.m. at Elmwood Gardens, 680 ACR 446, Elmwood. Speakers include Dr. Monty Dozier, Dr. John Nielson-Gammon, Keith Hansen, and Dr. Dottie Woodson. For more information, call (903) 723-3735 or visit aggie-horticulture.tamu/anderson.

Denton: The Denton County Master Gardeners will hold their 6th annual Walk in the Garden Tour and Plant Sale on Saturday, May 12, from 9 a.m. until 3 p.m. Five gardens will be featured, ranging from expansive country acreage to smaller scale city gardens. There is a focus on vegetable gardening. Information on tickets and garden locations may be obtained at www.dcmga.com or the Denton County Extension Office, (940) 349-2883.

Houston: The Westbury Garden Tour — Great Backyards in Westbury will take place Saturday, May 12 from 1 p.m. until 5 p.m. See five gardens for $7. Tickets may be purchased at 5506 Briarbend.

Salado: The 4th annual Salado Yard and Garden Tour, a tour of yards and gardens in the historic village of Salado, will highlight characteristic and varied private and public gardens for the Central Texas landscape. From large to small, rambling to organized, annuals to perennials, water wise planting to courtyard container gardens, there is something for everyone to enjoy. The tour will be Saturday, May 12 from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. and Sunday, May 13 from 1 p.m. until 4 p.m. Gardens will be self-guided with volunteers helping to answer questions when needed. Tickets will be $15 to view all gardens and are good for the two days. Maps will be available leading to each location with a description of each garden. Tours will be conducted rain or shine. The tour is sponsored by the Salado Garden Club and the Public Arts League of Salado. For further information, visit the Village of Salado website at www.salado.com or call (254) 947-8300.

Victoria: The Victoria County Master Gardeners Spring Plant Sale will be held May 19 at the Victoria County 4H Activity Center (at the airport) 259 Bachelor Drive, Victoria, from 8 a.m. until 2 p.m. or until sold out. The plants for sale have been raised by the Master Gardeners themselves. You know the plants will grow in our area because they come from our area! Come also to see the Victoria Educational Garden along with its newest expansion. The expansion Grand Opening is to be held May 20th.

Ft. Worth: The Greater Fort Worth Herb Society presents its 21st Annual Herb Festival May 19, 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 www.greaterfortworthherbsociety.org or call (817) 966-7126.

Austin: It's About Thyme, 11726 Manchaca, Austin, will host "Choosing the Perfect Crepe Myrtle for Your Garden," a free clinic for gardeners to learn about disease resistance, choices of size, and length of bloom time, presented by Hays County Free Press columnist and crepe myrtle expert Chris Winslow, Sunday, May 27, at 2 p.m. For more information, call (512) 280-1192 or visit www.itsaboutthyme.com.

San Antonio: The San Antonio Botanical Garden is sponsoring a trip to Italy September 4 through 15, featuring Italy's villas and gardens. Escorted by Bob Brackman, the Director of the Garden, an exceptional itinerary has been designed for lovers of leisurely travel and beautiful homes and gardens. Famous for their gardens, Italians still build on their ancestors' legacy with the creation of exquisite country villas surrounded by terraced, fountain-filled gardens that have become symbolic of Italian style. Experience the rich cultural heritage of Italy. Visit special gardens, famous museums, the important cities of Florence and Rome, plus the Lake District, and the small villages which make Italy so charming, such as Cinque Terre, Santa Margherita and Tuscan villages. Feast on fabulous Italian cuisine and enjoy la dolce vita. Land cost per person sharing is $3550 plus air, which includes a $100 tax deductible donation, most meals and gratuities. For more information, contact Marianne Martz of Fuller Travel at (210) 828-6311 or marianne@fullertvl.com.

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

Rockport: An herb study group founded in March 2003 meets the second Wednesday of every month at the ACISD Maintenance Department (Formerly Rockport Elementary), 619 N. Live Oak Street, Room 14, Rockport at 10 a.m. to discuss all aspects of using and growing herbs, including the historical uses of the herbs and tips for successful propagation and cultivation.

San Antonio: The San Antonio Herb Society meets at 7 p.m. on the second Thursday of each month at the San Antonio Garden Center, 3310 N. New Braunfels (corner of Funston & N. New Braunfels). For more information on programs, visit www.sanantonioherbs.org.

Dallas: The Rainbow Garden Club of North Texas meets the second Sunday of each month at 2 p.m. Everyone is welcome. Meetings are held at member's homes and garden centers around the area. For more information, visit www.RainbowGardenClub.com.

Dallas: 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) 824-2448 or visit www.dogc.org.

Arlington: 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.

  Getting hammered by bad plant selections?  

Looking for four seasons of bright, colorful flowers that are tough enough to survive Texas conditions? Tough-as-Nails: Flowers for the South author Norman Winter names the ideal annuals, perennials, bulbs, grasses and vines for any southern location.

 $29.89 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 May 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. 2007. 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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