May 16, 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.

  Increased demand for water may make rainwater harvesting systems even more attractive

By Edith Chenault
Texas Cooperative Extension

Water resources will become more limited in the state of Texas due to increasing demand, said Dr. Bruce Lesikar, Texas Cooperative Extension agricultural engineer.

However, if we can capture part of our rainwater and use it in the landscape, that will offset the landscape irrigation demand on our drinking water supplies. Then we can efficiently utilize the water that is available to us.

Rainwater harvesting can be accomplished in several different ways, Lesikar said. The first is a system that catches rainwater runoff and diverts it to tanks for storage until used to irrigate the landscape plants.

"Rainwater harvesting tanks come in many shapes, sizes, colors and materials, so depending on your vision for your landscape, you need to choose the most appropriate material," he said.

Homeowners may want to choose a galvanized tank similar to the ones that were used for many years in rural areas. Others are made of wood or come with wooden frames to mask the tank. Still others are made of fiberglass or plastic and come in different colors or can be painted to match the landscape.

Rain gardens are a second rainwater harvesting option that can take several different forms. This rainwater harvesting technique takes advantage of natural or man-made depressed areas in the landscape that store water for short periods of time — usually 24 hours — before allowing it to infiltrate into the soil, he said. The water enters the soil and is used by the plants growing in the rain garden. A portion of the water may reach the groundwater or move to streams through the ground.

A third type of rainwater harvesting is soil storage and infiltration systems, which are sub-soil gravel systems that can store rainwater below the surface and allow it to infiltrate into the soil, he said,

The main advantage of rainwater is that it is a source of high quality water, he said.

"A lot of times our drinking water will have minerals and salt that can then build up in the landscape over time," Lesikar said.

Rainwater has few minerals and salts in it, and it works very well to irrigate plants. It usually has a lower pH as well, he said.

Rainwater can also help by leaching out the salts that build up in the soil and thus maintain soil health, he said.

Another benefit is that it cuts down the peak runoff rate that leads to problems in our streams and drainage ways.

"Before we build on a piece of property, the soil and vegetation that are on that property hold water from the initial rainfall event," he said. "But after we put buildings on it, driveways, sidewalks, those surfaces will not hold any water. So when a rainfall event occurs, you get a rapid first flush of water that moves off of those properties."

Rainwater harvesting systems slow down the first flush, which mimics the natural process.

That limits the impact on streams that we have in our urban areas, he said. .Therefore you have a high-quality water that you can use in your landscape, which is a benefit for you. It can reduce your water bills because you are not using potable water that you have to buy in order to irrigate your area. And you’re benefiting your community and your area by limiting water that leaves your property from that first flush and brings it back to more natural rain.

Wildlife also benefit from rainwater harvesting.

"Many people view rainwater harvesting for the production of landscape plants or flower beds," Lesikar said. "However, rainwater harvesting can also be used for watering wildlife in the area."

On smaller acreages, water will be available for rabbits, birds, squirrels or butterflies, he said. But even on acreages, water can still be provided for deer or other larger animals.

Before installing any system, homeowners need to know any restrictions that the community or city might have.

"You do need to consider how it's going to look in your landscape," Lesikar said.

The tank material or color needs to stop sunlight from passing into the stored water. Generally the few nutrients that are naturally present and collected from the guttering system allow algae growth, and sunlight can cause this plant to grow out of control, he said.

Screens may be used to filter out trash in gutters before it enters tanks.

Also, stored rainwater may attract pests such as mosquitoes, so homeowners will need to screen all inlets and outlets to tanks to control those, he said.

Extension has two publications to help with planning rainwater harvesting systems available through The first is Rainwater Harvesting (No. 6153), and the second is Harvesting Water for Wildlife (No. 6182).

Tidal Wave Cherry petunias, recently designated as Texas Superstars, resist lodging and are not usually damaged by heavy rainfall.
(Texas Cooperative Extension photo by Robert Burns)
  Heat-tolerant Cherry Red petunias designated newest Texas Superstars

By Robert Burns
Texas Cooperative Extension

Tidal Wave Cherry petunias are a bright red that can be seen from a quarter mile away, said a Texas A&M horticulturist.

Tidal Wave Cherry and its sister plant, Tidal Wave Silver, are the newest Texas Superstar releases. Tidal Wave Silver is "white with a lavender blush that mixes well with purple foliage in cool color schemes," said Dr. Brent Pemberton, research horticulturist with the Texas Agricultural Experiment Station.

"Both petunias have been tested in locations across the state — Overton, San Antonio, Dallas and College Station — and been found to thrive in summer conditions," said Pemberton, who is based at the Texas A&M University System Agricultural Research and Extension Center at Overton.

Texas Superstar program is a cooperative effort between university and industry leaders to identify pest-resistant plants adapted to Texas conditions, Pemberton said. The candidate plants are never sprayed with any pesticide and grown at several locations in rigorous Texas A&M Agriculture field trials.

Petunias have been a popular plant for home gardens and landscapes for years, Pemberton said. There are a "rainbow" of colors available to Texas gardeners for just about as long. But what hasn't been available is a petunia that is both showy and that holds up to the heat and humidity of Texas summers.

Tidal Wave Cherry and Tidal Wave Silver are not the first petunias designated as Texas Superstars. In 1999, the 'Laura Bush' petunia, developed by Greg Grant, Stephen F. Austin State University lecturer and columnist for Texas Gardener, was designated a Texas Superstar, Pemberton said.

"Greg's release was representative of a new class of petunias referred to as the 'trailing petunia,'" he said. "Both Tidal Waves are also trailing petunias."

Both new varieties need at least six hours of sun each day, he said. In the heavier soils of the Dallas and San Antonio areas, chlorosis — yellowing of leaves — is a problem with some petunias but not with the new SuperStars.

"Good drainage is beneficial," Pemberton said.

Both Cherry and Silver varieties grow from 18- to 20-inches tall when spaced 1 foot apart. If planted at wider spacings, they will spread up to 4 feet but won't grow quite as tall.

The plants resist lodging and are not usually damaged by heavy rainfall. They can be lightly trimmed in mid- to late-summer, though they should be fertilized afterward, Pemberton said.

It's not necessary to fertilize before planting, but Pemberton recommends applying something similar to a 19-5-9 slow-release mix at the rate of 2 to 3 pounds per 100 square feet a week afterward.

"Water-soluble fertilizer high in analysis such as 20-20-20 may also be used with the first application being made the day the petunias are planted," he said. "Apply the water soluble fertilizer as instructed on the container."

Petunias have few serious insect or disease problems. Slugs and aphids are the occasional exceptions. As for fungus diseases, these can be largely avoided if petunias are not watered from above.

"This can be accomplished by the installation of drip irrigation tubing in the flower bed before planting," Pemberton said. "It is also important to remember that petunias don't like water on their flowers.

"Note that, after a rain, petunias close up and appear to be wilted. So, when you water, use a watering wand or drip irrigation system so plants are watered well at ground level. Once water has touched the flower, it will take several days before it is fully open again, though the Tidal Wave flowers recover more rapidly after rains than the grandiflora types."

In Experiment Station tests, both Tidal Wave varieties have survived winters in north Texas "as long as the soil has good drainage," he said.

Pemberton also recommended petunias be purchased as flowering plants in containers 6 inches or larger.

For more information on the Texas Superstar program or to find the nearest official Texas Superstar retailer, go to

  St. Augustine takes beating from drought, freezing temperatures and disease

By Mike Jackson
Texas Cooperative Extension

Dr. Jim McAfee has heard it time and again about St. Augustine grass this spring: "You mean my lawn's not the only one?"

You're not alone if your St. Augustine lawn has patches of dead grass or is gone altogether, said McAfee, a Texas Cooperative Extension turfgrass specialist.

The popular species is suffering this season under a harmful set of circumstances.

A prolonged drought and hard freezes last winter were enough by themselves to weaken St. Augustine, he said. But the weather conditions also left the grass vulnerable to take-all root rot and nigrospora, two diseases that can ravage lawns.

"We've seen a significant loss of St. Augustine," McAfee said. "It's probably the No. 1 problem with lawns right now."

The grass is dying around Texas in dry areas where the weather gets cold, he said.

"It's not just in Dallas and Fort Worth; it's all over."

St. Augustine is falling victim because it is a subtropical variety that is best suited for warmer coastal areas that get more rain. There wouldn’t have been much anyone could have done to protect their lawns, he said. Even regularly watered grass suffered from the drought.

"People think that everything should be OK because they’ve watered," McAfee said. "But go lie on a beach in the sun all day. You can drink all the water you want, but see how you feel at the end of the day."

Some people might not know they have a problem because weeds can fill in and turn brown patches green, he said.

The first thing to do about damaged turf is be patient, he said. As temperatures warm up, the St. Augustine might eventually spread and fill in brown or yellowing areas.

Avoid using herbicides on weeds, which could stress the grass further.

"If it's all brown and dead go ahead and re-sod it," he said. "If it's still somewhat green, give it time."

Don't waste money on fungicides unless you know for sure what is killing the grass," he said.

For testing, grass samples can be sent to a local lawn expert or to Texas A&M University's Plant Diagnostic Lab, Rm. 101, L.F. Peterson Bldg., College Station, TX 77843, McAfee said.

  Gardening tips

"If you want to add compost to your garden but your plants are already established," writes Ian Paisley, "just use it as a mulch on top of the ground were it will slowly seep into the soil while keeping the soil moist and preventing weed growth.

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...

Old-time gardeners never watered their squash plants. They grew squash directly on the compost heap, where the plants drew all the moisture and nutrients they needed.


  Upcoming garden events

Waco: The McLennan County Master Gardner Annual Plant Sale will be held Saturday, May 19, 9 a.m. until 3 p.m. next door to Mocek's, 4601 W. Waco Drive, Waco. Lots of plants from the yards of Master Gardeners will be available under the tents.

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.

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 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

Austin: The Fifteenth Annual Texas Bamboo Festival will be held on Saturday and Sunday, August 25 and 26 at Zilker Botanical Garden, Austin. Sponsored by the Texas Bamboo Society, the event will celebrate the wonders of bamboo with presentations, demonstrations and education information, including Bamboo 101, a Bamboo Kite Making Workshop led by Greg Kono, and Bamboos of Southeast Asia presented by Harry Simmons. Bamboo plants and crafts will be for sale. For additional information, call (512) 929-9565 or visit

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

Rockport: The Aransas/San Patricio Master Gardener Association “Hidden Gardens Tour & Fall Plant Sale” will be held Saturday, September 29 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. for the Hidden Gardens Tour and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. for the Fall Plant Sale at Green Acres, 611 East Mimosa Street at Pearl Street, Rockport. Get your tickets and maps at Green Acres for this one-day event in addition to purchasing those much-wanted plants that you can’t find anywhere. The maps will lead you to wonderful Hidden Gardens in both Aransas County and San Patricio County. Be sure to take the time to wander through the demonstration gardens at Green Acres, which are continuously being updated and maintained by the Aransas/San Patricio Master Gardener Association. Admission is $10.00. For pre-registration tickets and/or questions contact the Aransas County Texas Cooperative Extension, Rockport, at (361) 790-0103.

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 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: Fort Worth: October 14; Dallas: October 20.

Belton, Temple, Killeen: The Bell County Master Gardener Association will host the Fall Glory garden tour Saturday, October 20, from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. Gardens in Belton, Temple and Killeen will be showcased. Admission is $5 for adults. For additional information, contact Sue Morgan at (254) 698-8668.

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

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

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

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

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.

  Book Sale:
  The Louisiana Iris

A comprehensive guide to the culture of the Louisiana Iris, Marie Caillett and Joseph K. Mertzweiller's The Louisiana Iris represents more than 200 years of combined experience of the editors and 18 other contributing members of the Society for Louisiana Irises. This book is not available through the on-line bookstore. Limited supply available.

 $29.84 while supplies last!

  Southern Lawns

If you're tired of your neighbor bragging about his superior lawn, this is the book for you! Southern Lawns provides complete step-by-step instructions for planting and/or maintaining every major type of southern grass lawn, including Bermuda Grass, Centipede, St. Augustine, Zoysia, Fescue and Kentucky Bluegrass. In addition to a special "month-by-month" section with activity lists for every month of the year, author Chris Hastings includes a complete glossary of lawn care terms. This book is not available through the on-line bookstore. Limited supply available.

 $26.62 while supplies last!

  Texas Wildscapes

Noreen Damude and Kelly Conrad Bender's Texas Wildscapes helps gardeners design gardens to provide habitat for native wildlife. More importantly, it furnishes lists of beautiful and useful native plants appropriate to the specific region of Texas in which you live. This book is not available through the on-line bookstore. Limited supply available.

 $26.63 while supplies last!

Order any of the above books by calling 1-800-727-9020.

(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.

Missed an issue? Back issues of Texas Gardener's Seeds are available at

Publisher: Chris S. Corby Editor: Michael Bracken

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