November 5, 2008

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Whitewing doves nesting in a cedar elm planted in the author’s backyard. (photo by William Scheick)

The garden reader:
Arboreal ambassadors of nature

By William Scheick
University of Texas at Austin

Nalini M. Nadkarni. Between Earth and Sky: Our Intimate Connection to Trees. University of California Press, 2008. $24.95. 336 pp.

"Too many trees!"

That was a complaint made by a prospective buyer while looking over our north Austin property, which was rife with healthy trees.

I was baffled.

How was it possible, I wondered, to have too many trees? Wasn't their umbrella of shade a blessing in the scorching sunlight and blast-furnace heat that plague Central Texas most of every year?

When we moved from that home to Oak Hill 13 years ago, one of my first yard projects was to plant trees. There were majestic live oaks thriving in the front, but little of anything vegetative grew in the back. The reddish granular backyard looked like formidable Martian terrain. We referred to large sections of it as "dead zones" because not even weeds took root in them.

I worked on that problem by "building up." I formed a series of long retaining walls and then filled them with wheel-barrowed truck-loads of soil.

Thinking about what trees to plant, I scoped out the neighborhood. That's usually a good indicator of what will flourish in an area. Mine was dominated by old live oaks, dying sycamores, spindly redbuds and prickly Ashe junipers — a lot of Ashe junipers. Of course there also were Chinaberries and Chinese tallow trees, invasive freebees not worth keeping.

I considered planting more live oaks in the back, but I knew that they grow slowly and are vulnerable to oak wilt. This disease is now spreading throughout Austin, in fact, and has already killed trees a few blocks from our home.

Arbor diversity, I hoped, was a better long-term bet.

When trees were sale-priced at a local nursery, I purchased a number of non-oak species suitable to Central Texas conditions. The intention behind my shotgun approach was to let the trees themselves show me which types could excel in our backyard.

Sturdy cedar elms, fast-growing lacebark elms and colorful Chinese pistachios, it turned out, would rule the place. Eventually I removed the less successful trees and propagated some seedlings of the winners. Now our backyard is a shaded haven for us, our dogs and nesting birds.

I couldn't imagine the yard any other way — and not just for the eye-soothing shade, erosion control and avian visitors. There's just something wonderful about trees that's hard to put into words.

My experience with the cranky prospective home-buyer aside, I know I'm not alone in this feeling about trees. Studies show that people appreciate trees more than any other landscape plant. And these studies also show that well-spaced trees with wide-spreading crowns get the most approval.

The sense of wonder stirred by trees is exactly what Nalini Nadkarni investigates in Between Earth and Sky. "I love trees," she declares, "how they look, how they behave, how they smell and sound, and how I feel when I am around them."

Between Earth and Sky is not a technical book. Written for the average reader, it's a celebration of the many ways, beyond material uses, that trees enrich our lives.

There is, for instance, a chapter on the role of trees in health and healing. Included is an account of how trees outside the windows of a hospital in Texas shortened patients' recovery time.

Apparently time itself is registered atypically in many Texas trees. Instead of producing annual tree rings, Ms. Nadkarni explains, Texas droughts can cause trees to go dormant. This results in irregular and hard-to-interpret ring patterns which become a headache for dendrochronologists — people who study trees in relation to time.

Even so, for the rest of us, the measurability of a tree's connection to time is not a big deal. That intimate connection already lies very deep in our minds.

Among many examples, Ms. Nadkarni quotes a memorable Japanese poem associating the impact of time's passage on our lives — the "weight" of memories — with the image of branches bowed toward the ground. She also observes, concerning time, that planting trees "can foster their renewal and at the same time extend our own imprints beyond our lifespan."

Many readers will enjoy Ms. Nadkarni's informative chapters on the symbolic place of trees in art, religion and spirituality. Insightful, too, is a final chapter on "mindfulness" — how trees, "as ambassadors for the rest of nature," inspire us to feel and think about our place and our responsibilities in the scheme of things.

In our razzle-dazzle world of instant-everything, the enduring serenity of trees invites us to pause and reflect.

Fall into winter

By Tara McKnight
CEA- Hort.
Texas AgriLife Extension Service
Wichita County

With this being the first of November, colder days are here to stay. Here are a few items that can be done outside before winter truly sets in.

  • Bring in any houseplants that may have been placed outside during summer to enjoy the temperatures. Check them for diseases or insects and trim back any excess growth first. Place them in a bright area in the house away from a vent. The dry air from the heater can dry the plants out faster.

  • If you still have plants going to seed, collect the seed for next year. Make sure the seeds are completely dry before you place them in an airtight container for storage. Always label your seeds so you know what you have next spring.

  • Don’t get in a hurry to prune woody plants. Late December through February is usually the best time to prune them.

  • Place orders for seeds this month so you will have them available when you are ready to plant. By ordering early, you will be more certain of getting the varieties you want. In addition to ordering seeds that you are already familiar with, try a few new kinds each year to broaden your garden contents.

  • November through February is a good time to plant trees and shrubs.

  • Bring in late-blooming plants such as decorative kalanchoes or Christmas cactus so they may finish flowering in the warmth of the house.

  • Reduce the fertilization of indoor plants from late October to mid-March. An exception would be plants in an atrium or a well-lighted window.

  • Drain gasoline from power tools and run the engine until fuel in the carburetor is used up.

  • Drain and store garden hoses and watering equipment in a readily accessible location. The lawn and plants may need water during a prolonged dry spell.

  • Continue to set out cool-season bedding plants, such as pansies, violas, stock, snapdragons, and dianthus.

  • Apply a 2-3 inch layer of mulch to all of your planting beds. This will keep the plant roots warmer in the winter.

  • Prepare beds and individual holes for rose planting in January and February. Use composted manure, pine bark, and similar materials mixed with existing soil.

  • Protect your lawn from excessive winter damage by providing irrigation during dry periods.

  • Plant spring-flowering bulbs if you haven’t already done so. Be sure to refrigerate tulips and hyacinths for 6-8 weeks prior to planting.

  • Take advantage of good weather to prepare garden beds for spring planting. Work in any needed organic matter, and have beds ready to plant when needed.

  • Don’t spare the pruning shears when transplanting bare-rooted woody plants. Cut the tops back at least one-third to one-half, to compensate for the roots lost when digging the plant.

  • Take advantage of bad weather and holiday time to study seed and nursery catalogues as well as good gardening books.

Gardening tips

Starting plants from seeds this winter? It pays to remember that damping off disease or the wilting and early death of young seedlings is caused by a parasitic fungi living in or near the surface of the soil. Crowded seedlings, high humidity and lake of aeration all support this condition.

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 send 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...

Poinsettia, the popular Christmas plant, is native to Mexico where the Aztecs called the plant Cuetlaxochitl and used it to make a reddish purple dye. It received its modern name in honor of Joel Roberts Poinsett, the first American minister to Mexico. Poinsett is responsible for bringing the popular plant to the United States in 1825 where it is the most popular flowering potted plant in modern time even though the flowers are really bracts or modified leaves.

Upcoming garden events

The Woodlands: Brenda Beust Smith in How to Reduce the Size (for the Ecology's Sake) without Infuriating Your Neighbors rescheduled for Thursday, November 6 at 7:30 p.m. Best known for her Lazy Gardener column in the Houston Chronicle, Brenda Beust Smith shares her gardening wit and wisdom. Learn easy-care landscaping methods that are earth-friendly as well. L.G.I. Lecture Hall at McCullough Jr. High, 3800 S. Panther Creek Dr. For more information visit on Environmental Services or call (281) 210-3900.

Buda: The Master Gardeners of Comal, Guadalupe, Travis and Hays Counties will sponsor a gardening conference entitled “Heirloom Treasures — Jewels of the Garden,” Saturday, November 8, from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the Texas Disposal System’s Exotic Game Ranch and Pavilion in Buda. Featured speakers include Dr. Bill Welch of Texas A&M, Roses and Perennials; Dr. Tina Cade of Texas State, Landscape Design; Sean Watson of the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center, Heirloom Seed Saving, plus more. Visit our vendors, including Texas A&M Press, for books, garden ornaments, plants, herbal soaps, lavender products, birdhouses and much more! Malcolm Beck will brew up fresh compost tea for us — bring your own pint or quart bottle! Visit for more event details, registration form and driving instructions.

Wichita Falls: The Red River Orchid Society is hosting a seven-state orchid symposium, show, and sale at the Howard Johnson Plaza Hotel, 401 Broad Street; Wichita Falls, on Saturday and Sunday, November 8 and 9, from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. both days. The show and sale are free and the public is encouraged to come. This event will feature vendors selling orchids and supplies as well as orchid exhibits which will showcase competing growers displaying thousands of orchid blooms, ranging from the beautiful to the bizarre. For additional information, e-mail


Kilgore: Northeast Texas Organic Gardeners meets at 10 a.m. on the first Wednesday of each month at Wildwood Eco-Farm in Kilgore. For more information, call Carole Ramke at (903) 986-9475.

Allen: The Allen Garden Club meets on the first Thursday of each month at 7:30 p.m. at the little blue-gray house located at 102 N. Allen Dr., Allen. For more information, visit

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

Schertz: The Guadalupe County (Schertz/Seguin) Chapter of the Native Plant Society of Texas (NPSOT) meets the second Tuesday of each month at the Guadalupe County Annex, 1101 Elbel Road, Shertz. A plant exchange and meet-and-greet begins at 6:30 p.m. followed by a program at 7. For additional information or an application to join NPSOT, contact

Friendswood: The second Tuesday of each month the Harris County Precinct 2 Master Gardeners hold a free evening educational program for the public, called the Green Thumb Series, at Southeast Church of Christ, 2400 W Bay Area Blvd., Friendswood, about 1 mile west of I-45 and Baybrook Mall. For more information visit or call (281) 991-8437.

Rockport: The Rockport Herb & Rose Study Group, founded in March 2003, meets the second Wednesday of each month, with the exceptions of June and July, to discuss all aspects of using and growing herbs, including historical uses and tips for successful propagation and cultivation, meets at 619 N. Live Oak Street, Room 14, Rockport at 10 a.m. Sometimes they take field trips and have cooking demonstrations in different locations. For more information, contact Linda (361) 729-6037, Ruth (361) 729-8923 or Cindy (979) 562-2153 or visit

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

College Station: The A&M Garden Club meets on the second Friday of each month during the school year at 9:30 a.m. at the Exit Center, 1600 Rock Prairie Road, College Station. Expert speakers, plant sharing, and federated club projects help members learn about gardening in the Brazos Valley, floral design, conservation topics, and more. For more information, 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

Sugar Land: The Sugar Land Garden Club meets on the third Tuesday of each month, September through November and January through April at 10 a.m. at the Sugar Land Community Center, 226 Matlage Way, Sugar Land. The club hosts a different speaker each month. For more information, visit

Denton: The Denton Organic Society, a group devoted to sharing information and educating the public regarding organic principles, meets the third Wednesday of each month (except July, August and December) at the Denton Senior Center, 509 N. Bell Avenue. Meetings are free and open to the public. Meetings begin at 7 p.m. and are preceded by a social at 6:30. For more information, call (940) 382-8551.

Houston: The Native Plant Society of Texas — Houston (NPSOT-H) meets at 7 p.m. on the third Thursday of each month except for October (4th Thursday) and December (2nd Thursday). Location varies. For locations, for more information on programs, and for information about native plants for Houston, visit

Rosenberg: The Fort Bend Master Gardeners meet at 7:15 p.m. on the third Thursday of each month except December at the Bud O’Shieles Community Center located at 1330 Band Road, Rosenberg. For more information, call (281) 341-7068 or visit

Seguin: The Guadalupe County Master Gardeners meets the third Thursday of each month at the Texas AgriLife Extension Bldg. at 210 E. Live Oak at 7 p.m. For more information, phone (830) 379-1972 or visit

Longview: The Northeast Texas chapter of the Native Plant Society of Texas meets the third Thursday of each month at St. Mary’s Parish Hall in Longview. For more information, call Logan Damewood at (903) 295-1984.

Edna: The Jackson County Master Gardeners present their "Come Grown With Us" seminars on the fourth Tuesday of each month, January through October, beginning at 7 p.m. at 411 N. Wells, Edna. The seminars are free, open to the public and offer 2 CEU hours to Master Gardeners or others requiring them. For additional information, contact the Jackson County Extension Office at (361) 782-3312.

Fort Worth: The Organic Garden Club of Forth Worth meets at 7 p.m. on the fourth Tuesday of each month except July and December at the Fort Worth Botanic Gardens main building. Refreshments are served. For more information, call (817) 274-8460.

Seabrook: The Harris County Precinct 2 Master Gardeners hold an educational program at 10 a.m. on the fourth Wednesday of each month at The Meeting Room (on the Lakeside) at Clear Lake Park, 5001 NASA Road 1, Seabrook. The programs are free and open to the public. 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. To ensure inclusion in this column, please provide complete details at least three weeks prior to the event.

The Southern Kitchen Garden

By William D. Adams and Thomas R. Leroy

A kitchen garden, or potager, is a celebration of the seasons: brimming with vegetables, herbs, flowers, and even fruit trees, it’s our link with nature and a source for fresh produce. The kitchen garden has always been an important part of life in the rural South, at times meaning the difference between being well-fed or going to bed hungry. In recent times, the kitchen garden has become more fashionable and now more and more homeowners are reaping the delicious rewards of growing their own food.

A kitchen garden needs little more than a small raised bed, so an aspiring gardener with only a modest backyard will have plenty of room to get started. If you have more space on your hands, then you can include some produce requiring a little more space like fruit trees, corn or pumpkins.

In the book, the authors with take you through the process of starting your very own kitchen garden from location to soil preparation to planting and then to harvest. It is also loaded with useful information on propagation, pest control and is laced with mouth-watering recipes and beautiful color photographs.

$21.30 plus shipping*

Order online with credit card at or call toll-free 1-800-727-9020.

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Wish you’d saved them?

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Doug Welsh’s Texas Garden Almanac

Doug Welsh’s Texas Garden Almanac is a giant monthly calendar for the entire state — a practical, information-packed, month-by-month guide for gardeners and "yardeners." This book provides everything you need to know about flowers and garden design; trees, shrubs, and vines; lawns; vegetable, herb, and fruit gardening; and soil, mulch, water, pests, and plant care. It will help you to create beautiful, productive, healthy gardens and have fun doing it.

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Texas Gardener’s Seeds
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