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Problem & Solution
March/April 2017

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Garden Warming?
Problem:
P It seems like the weather is changing in Texas. Except for a couple of really cold weeks, this winter has been much warmer than normal. What impact might this have on spring planting? Should we anticipate putting our gardens in earlier this year than last, or should we plant as usual?

Hillary Bogus
Austin


Solution: It is not unusual to have a warm winter or a streak of warm winters followed by colder winters. That is how you calculate a normal winter — by averaging it out. When winter seems to us to be milder than normal, we often push the envelope and plant a little early. When we do, though, we are prepared to protect tender seedlings or replant if necessary. Many gardeners in Central Texas planted onions last fall only to have them wiped out by temperatures in the teens in January. A warmer winter, yes, but cold enough for long enough to destroy many vegetable crops.

Tomato Confusion
Problem: I get confused by the codes that follow the names of different tomato varieties. What do they mean and are they important?

Jeff Weekly
Galveston


Solution: Each of those codes indicates resistance to a particular disease. These are not genetically modified (GMO) traits but rather a product of plant breeding and selection. If a disease is prevalent in your area, it would be wise to select a variety with resistance to that disease. Also, bred-in disease resistance is a good tool for organic gardeners to employ since it eliminates or reduces the need for using pesticides. Here are some of the codes to look for on tomato seed and plant labels:
V — verticillium wilt
F — fusarium wilt
FF — fusarium, races 1 and 2
FFF — fusarium, races 1, 2, and 3
N — nematodes
A — alternaria mold
T — tobacco mosaic virus
St — Stemphylium (gray-leaf spot)
TSWV — tomato spotted-wilt virus

Water Everywhere
Problem: There is a low spot in the corner of my backyard where the fence intersects with that of three other neighbors. When it rains, water pools several inches deep and creates a small lake that extends into all four yards. Nothing grows there, so after the water dries up, the ground is nothing but hard-packed dirt. The cost of installing a drain is roughly $5,000, which I would have to bear alone. A much less expensive option is to simply build up the ground, which would solve my problem but which would drive more water into my neighbors’ yards. Is there some other option, such as a rock garden, that might be attractive and inexpensive, but which would not leave me with a drowning pool or with upset neighbors?

M. Bracken
Hewitt


Solution: First of all, city code and neighborly etiquette would preclude changing the grade so that the water drains to your neighbors. That leaves you with two options:

  1. Create a marsh by planting water-loving plants, cattails, water lilies, etc. Then add mosquito dunks to any standing water to eliminate mosquitoes. If you follow this course, don’t be surprised to notice dragonflies, birds, frogs and snakes showing up in the new environment.
  2. Install a French drain running from the low spot in your backyard to an even lower spot in your front yard so any standing water would run to the storm drains in your street. This would be relatively easy to do as long as you don’t have to go under any concrete. First, rent a trencher to do the digging. Then trench and install perforated PVC pipe 4–6” in diameter at the low spot. Cover it with gravel or crushed rock. Then connect it to solid PVC pipe of the same diameter going to the street. Use a level to make sure the pipe slopes to the street.

Of course, when digging, avoid any buried water, gas or electric lines, and call 811 for a pre-excavation check.