What is Soil? It’s not just dirt!

Plants obtain water and nutrients from the soil surrounding their root systems. Plants also use the soil to anchor them physically, allowing them to stand upright.

Soil is made up of weathered rock fragments which contain minerals, the decaying remnants of plants and animals, including micro-organisms, and the secretions from the plants and animals living in it. It contains varying amounts of air, water and micro-organisms.

Good soil is made up of about half solids and half pores or open spaces between the solids. The solids consist of minerals and organic matter. The minerals consist of a myriad of particle sizes, from those that can be seen with the naked eye to those so small that an electron microscope is needed to view them.

These minerals make up about 45 to 48 percent of all the solid matter in soil. An additional 5 percent is made up of organic matter – decaying plants and animals.

An ideal soil would consist of the above concentrations of minerals and organic matter and the other 50 percent would include 25 percent air and 25 percent water in the porous areas.

The air and water provide sustenance for plant roots. The organic material allows microbes to grow. The microbes in turn, help the plant retrieve minerals and nutrients from the soil.

For more information on soil, please click here.

Which turf grass is best

There are over 5,000,000 acres of turf grass grown along the Gulf Coast. All are warm-season turf grass, each with its own characteristics and its own pros and cons. Others, like buffalo grass – although considered a warm-season grass – do not do well in Gulf Coast lawns. There are, however, three types of grass which grow reasonably well here. (Lawn statistics for the Gulf Coast)

Bermuda grass

If you’re new to the area, and want to see what Bermuda grass looks like, go to the nearest sports field. Sports fields usually have one of two types of surfaces. One is artificial turf. The other is Bermuda grass. The chief advantage of this turf grass is it has few disease or insect problems and, although it is a warm-season grass, it is more cold tolerant than other warm- season grasses. However, the main requirement for Bermuda grass is that it needs full sun. It is also much more tolerant of traffic than other types.

One disadvantage is that it does not tolerate shade, it turns brown after the first frost. However, just because it turns brown after the first frost, it is still alive but dormant. It will return to green in the early spring. Many gardeners (including myself) despise Bermuda grass because it is aggressive, quickly invades garden beds and is a devil to remove.

Bermuda grass needs about one inch of water a week during the growing season (April-October). That includes rainwater. So, if it rains an inch this week, you don’t have to water it at all – good news on your water bill. In fact, the three warm-season grasses mentioned here go dormant in the winter. Here is an example of a lawn that has not been artificially watered in over 2 years.

St. Augustine grass

St. Augustine is the most commonly used turf grass along the Gulf Coast.It is relatively shade-tolerant and may remain green but dormant throughout most winters here. Like Bermuda grass, it does need a lot of water (about one inch a week). It is the most tolerant of salt water, which can be a boon during hurricane season.

This turf grass is susceptible to disease and insect damage, its two major disadvantages.


Zoysia grass is becoming more and more popular among residents along the Gulf Coast. It’s almost as shade-tolerant as St. Augustine and has few disease or insect problems, Zoysia also requires much less water than either St. Augustine or Bermuda grass and it tends to be more wear-resistant than either of the two other grasses.

A disadvantage is that it is the earliest turf to turn brown at the first frost. It is also the last to green up in the spring.

When to sod

Although theoretically, all three grasses can be sodded anytime, the very best times to sod are late October and early April. Those months are cooler than our hotter late spring and summer and allow the grass roots more time to grow without the stress of extremes of temperature. April is also the best time to aerate your lawn and add compost to it.

Is Spring Early This Year?

Officially, spring arrives in the United States on March 20. Spring comes early along the Gulf Coast though, and gardeners shouldn’t be too eager to plant just yet. A few warm days toward the end of February has prompted many, this gardener included, to jump the gun and begin putting in tender plants.

Even thought the USDA has published cold hardiness zones, and has projections for last frost, the parameters are quite large. For instance, the USDA indicates that absolute last frost date in region 9A (which includes a great deal of the Gulf Coast) is March 20. However, there are very few years when we had a frost that late. Not to say it can’t happen, The average risk for last frost in our area is March 1, although it may be a little later in the northern part of the county.

Before you start putting in tender tomato seedlings you might want to wait until nature tells you it’s actually springtime. Here are some indicators that herald the real arrival of spring:

The birds are singing

Backyard birds are one of the best indicators that springtime has arrived. Birds are extremely sensitive to weather. Bluebirds, for instance, are good harbingers. As the old poem goes: “Bluebirds are a sign of spring and gentle south breezes they bring.”

Other “early birds include the American golden plover, the purple martin although they sometimes arrive before the last frost, barn swallow and yellow-throated warbler. Check out the Audubon website or Cornell Ornithology website for identifications of these birds.

Doves (white-wing, mourning and Aztec, begin their cooing mating rituals in the backyard and elsewhere. Carolina wrens and pileated woodpeckers begin visiting trees in the neighborhood.


In about a week, begin looking for buds on your trees. Willows, pecans, and silver maples are good examples of early spring budding. Eastern and Texas redbuds are also early bloomers. These attractive trees bloom from the branches before leafing out and create a wonderful show with their tiny pink blossoms.

Many magnolias also begin blooming in very early spring. Star magnolias, saucer magnolias, Jane magnolias (tulip tree) and lily magnolias are some species that herald spring.

Flowering dogwoods are also an early indication of spring.


Some say that Carolina jessamine is the first harbinger of spring. With its golden yellow flowers climbing up leafless white oaks, sweet gum and our evergreen yaupon, it sends quite a message if you’re looking for it. Find it in wooded areas.

Another early spring bloomer is the pitcher clematis. Unlike its showy cousins, it sports a small purple flower- about the size of a 50-cent piece – resembling an upside-down pitcher. It grows in heavily wooded areas.  

Lightning bugs

If you’re lucky enough to live in an area where there are lightning bugs, know that these glowing insects are also an indication that true spring has arrived. Lightning bugs spend the winter as larvae munching on worms and other small invertebrates in soft moist soil. Highly sensitive to temperatures, they are a good indication that spring has arrived.  

Fish indicators

If you like to fish, largemouth bass bedding earlier than usual is also a good sign of an early spring. Largemouth bass go to shallow water to spawn when the daytime temperatures are consistently past the mid-60s and hits 70, and nighttime temperatures stay above the low 60s. Crappie also move to the shallows when bass begin bedding.  If you like saltwater fishing, black drum begin spawning after the last freeze, when temperatures stay consistently around 65 degrees.


When winecups, Indian paintbrush, and bluebonnets begin flowering earlier than usual, that’s also an indication that spring has arrived.  Although it’s too late to plant wildflowers now in Montgomery County – make a note in your calendar now to plant them next fall.


People can also inadvertently be good harbingers of spring as well. Seeing more people in the parks, more kids playing outdoors, more bicyclists, more hikers and more backyard barbecues? Keep your eyes open for these events in your neighborhood. Although we all like to follow calendars, many of us respond instinctively to the weather.

Where do those winter weeds come from and how do we control them?

Every winter and early spring along the Upper Gulf Coast, weeds begin appearing in even the best-maintained lawns. Chickweed, henbit, burweed, dandelion and other weeds, carried in by the wind, by birds, or merely lying in the soil for years until sprouting, begin their annual blight across our landscapes.

Whatever way they got there, our main concern is “how do we get rid of them?” Don’t despair. Homeowners have many choices to remove and eradicate these annoying plants.

Mow them down before they seed. Most of the weeds that appear in the lawn in late winter and very early spring can be destroyed completely by simply mowing them down before they form seeds. These weeds are annuals, like corn, tomatoes, begonias, petunias, nasturtiums and others – which means they only live for one year. They propagate their species by making seed and dropping it onto the ground in the spring. But if these plants are mown before they create seed heads, they cannot propagate. This is the least invasive method of getting rid of weeds in your garden.

Add organic material in spring and fall. Most lawns here are varieties of St. Augustine turf. St. Augustine is a very rugged, aggressive and durable warm-season grass. Healthy, strong, disease-free St. Augustine will eventually force out weeds. A quarter inch application of organic material, once in mid-October and another in mid-April will help the St. Augustine grass itself to eliminate the weeds.

Pull the weeds. Work-intensive and probably not the preferred method for homeowners and landscapers alike, this requires a lot of stooping, bending and kneeling. If one seeks a good workout, then this might be an acceptable method.

Pre-emergent herbicides. I do not recommend chemical herbicides. Herbicides containing benefin, trifluralin, isoxaben, pendimethalin and dithiopyr are effective as pre-emergents do work, but residents must be very careful in their use, read and follow instructions to the letter, avoid run-off (they can cause damage to both fresh and salt water marine life, as well as beneficial microbial life in the soil), and ensure that children and pets are not around when applying. Also, avoid tracking the material into the home. Wash clothes worn during application and run the washing machine empty immediately after washing those clothes.  If the above doesn’t scare you or at least get your attention, then you should probably read Rachel Carlson’s book, Silent Spring.

Let the weeds grow. Although neighbors and covenants would probably object, the adage of “one man’s weed is another man’s flower” does have a certain charm.  And, as Emerson said: “What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have never been discovered.”

The only garden tools you absolutely need to get the job done.

“What tools should I get for gardening?” It’s a question I get just about every time I give a gardening lecture.

I’ve got a lot of gardening tools. Hand rakes, and four of five different shovels and spades, several types of pruners, a couple of pruning saws, as well as a bow crosscut, three or four hoes, some long- and short- handle weeders, dibbles, a hori-hori knife, a ton of hand tools, and a plethora of other instruments.

Interestingly, I rarely use them. For my vegetable gardening, I generally use only seven tools.

Hoe – I use a Japanese Draw hoe for weeds, to break up clods when I add soil to my raised beds, and to help create rows. It’s just the right size for me, and, because of its design, I can even use it with one hand.

Rake – I use a plain garden bow rake. It’s useful for spreading out soil and compost on my beds, and really helps in levelling beds. For fine leveling, I just turn the rake upside down with the tines sticking upward and drag the top of the rake across the soil. I also use my rake to mark rows for beans and other vegetables.

Hand trowel –  My bend-proof garden trowel works well for digging holes for transplants, for patting down soil or adding soil or compost over seeds. It’s stainless steel and rust resistant, and I don’t have to worry about it bending (which has happened to less well-built trowels more than once. There are several makers who carry bend-proof trowels, so check them out and decide which is best for you.

Wagon – I grew tired of rolling an unwieldy wheelbarrow around the garden, especially when it was full of soil or other heavy materials. So, I splurged and bought myself a nice little wagon. It’s made of strong plastic, can hold up to 300+ pounds, and I can pull it along – a lot easier than pushing a one-wheel wheelbarrow. The wagon also has a lever that allows me to dump the contents – a great boon when unloading heavy compost.

Gloves I have two sets of gloves. The nitrile pair is for summer use, and they last me for about one season. The other is more heavy-duty and somewhat insulated which I use for winter work.

Pocket knife – I always carry my Kershaw pocket knife. As a master gardener, I never know when I will get called out to check someone’s plants, and I can use my trusty knife to do a little soil investigation. It’s great for cutting twine, perhaps cutting small soil roots, prying seedlings out of pots and scoring rootbound seedlings.

My pruners – I have a set of Felco pruners, which are over 10 years old. Whenever I work in the yard, I always carry them in their holster attached to my belt. There are always situations that come up where my Felcos will be useful. And I keep them sharpened and well-cared for. I swear by my Felcos. And they offer right and left handed pruners…something us lefties see very seldom.

That’s about it. I won’t say that I never use my trenching shovel, because I do need it on occasion. Or my scoop shovel that comes in handy unloading a yard of compost from my pickup.  Very occasionally, I will use one of my pruning saws to trim an errant shoot from my vitex or redbud. But those are really exceptions to the rule.

If you love buying tools, go ahead. But if you want to keep things simple, or you’re working on a tight budget, the seven things I mentioned are really the only tools you absolutely need to have a bountiful  garden (vegetable or ornamental).

One word of advice: clean your tools and put them out of the weather after you use them. I wash mine with water making sure all the dirt and grime is off the tool. Then, I use rubbing alcohol and an old rag to sterilize them. I then coat them with a fine film of oil. My pruners and knife usually need sharpening, so I make sure I sharpen them, sterilize them and use a little drop of oil to keep them from rusting. Take care of your tools and they will last a long, long time.

Plant tomatoes soon!

I know it’s still January, but spring comes very early along the Gulf Coast. I’ve already ordered seeds for my spring vegetable garden, along with some annual flower seeds to enhance the look of my native garden.

The USDA tells us that the “average” date of the last frost here is around February 27. It also reports that we are “almost” assured that we will receive no frost between March 20 and November 1, making the frost-free growing season around 270 days.

I shoot for the average, and always plan to get my spring garden planted by the end of February, or the first week of March at the latest.

I try to get tomatoes in as soon as I dare, because even the shortest maturing tomatoes take about 55 days to produce fruit. That means that tomatoes won’t begin to come in until the third week in April. Tomatoes with longer maturities may go into May. By that time, it’s beginning to get really warm. Since tomato pollen is no longer viable when daytime temperatures reach 85-90 degrees and nighttime temperatures are at 75 or higher, it’s important to make sure they’re planted early enough.

If I wait until March 20, the date I am almost assured of no more frost, some of my tomatoes won’t be maturing until late May. By then it’s going to be far too warm for them to set fruit.

Here are some varieties which do well along the Upper Gulf Coast, along with how long it takes for the harvest to come in.

Variety Days to Harvest
                   Large Tomatoes(12 oz. +)
Better Boy 70
Bush Goliath 68
Sunny Goliath 70
                 Medium 4-11 oz.
Carnival 70
Celebrity 70
Champion 70
Dona 65
Early Girl 52
First Lady 66
Heatwave 68
Chico III 70
Roma 75
Viva Italia 75
                      Small (under 3 oz.)
Jaune flame 75
Jolly 70
Juliet (Grape) 60
Small Fry 65
Sun Gold (Cherry) 65
Sweet Chelsea (Cherry) 65
Sweet Million 65

The Hooded Skunk makes its appearance on the Gulf Coast.

The other chilly evening, as I sat on my deck, contemplating the universe (and watching a satellite traverse the sky), a soft sound interrupted my reverie. I assumed it was the neighbor’s cat, who often visits me for a head scratch.

I looked down and froze. It wasn’t the cat at all, but a skunk…a weird-looking skunk. Having been raised on a farm in southwest Louisiana and having lived in the country, I have seen many skunks, but have never seen one like this. It stopped just a yard from my feet (which were propped up on a chair), I figured I was in trouble. I was too far from the backdoor, and the patio table blocked me from fleeing into the dark yard. My mind raced through the treatments for skunk spray, but at the moment, I couldn’t think of any.
Amazingly, the animal didn’t appear to see me. It stopped at the edge of the deck, still just a few feet away, looking around the edge of the deck into the darkness and seemed to be listening to some sound that it obviously heard, but I could not. Then it ambled away into the darkness, leaving me a little shaken. Worried that it might return and see me, I slowly arose and made my way back into the house.
Usually, the smell of a skunk precedes it, alerting other potential threats to stay away. But this time there was no scent.
Back in the house, the wife and I looked through out books and searched online for the animal. Instead of stripes, it had what looked like a pure white fright wig that extended from the nose to the tip of the tail, drooping down over its sides.

It was, we learned a hooded skunk – (Mephitis macroura) – translated to foul odorous, long tailed animal.

Mostly vegetarian, its preferred food is prickly pear,  but it will also eat insects, bird eggs and small vertebrates. Unlike our native skunks (Mephetis mephitis) which means foul-foul odorous animal – (notice that “foul” is used twice to describe the striped skunk with which we are more familiar), no record of rabies exists among the hooded skunk population, although their spray is just as horrid. They do however have parasites- nematodes, roundworms and fleas, which fairly well excludes them from human consumption.

We also discovered that my skunk was far out of its habitat range, which includes far southern New Mexico and Arizona, and near the Chisos Mountains in  west Texas. It’s range also continues on to most of Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras Nicaragua and northwest Costa Rica.

They tend to den near rocky areas, crevices or human-made objects with a permanent water source and plenty of plants. The, like most of the skunk family, are nocturnal and solitary.

Possible reasons for the hooded skunk to have extended its range to east Texas is increased population density, more land taken up for farming, and climate change. As I have mentioned before, we are seeing more and more animals move northward from more tropical and hotter climes. 

As you can see from the photo, it’s a rather interesting animal. I would warn against petting it, however. Since it’s nocturnal,you may want to leave yourself a quick exit path if you are caught unawares staring at the stars on your patio.

Lawns need little care now

With Christmas right around the corner and the National Weather Service predicting a cooler- and wetter-than-average winter for the Gulf Coast region, the next few months might be the perfect time to sit before the fire with a good book and a warm drink.

During the cooler weather, you might have to take some of your more subtropical and tropical potted plants indoors, but you shouldn’t have to worry about your lawn.

Lawn Dormancy

Warm season grass goes dormant during the cooler months.That doesn’t mean it is dead. It does mean that the grass blades turn yellowish or even brown during the winter months. That’s because the grass plants are shifting their growth from above to below the ground. This is when St. Augustine and other warm season turf grasses build their root systems. Good root systems built during the cooler months mean stronger and more disease and pest-resistant plants in the spring.

Good soil practices

Taking care of your lawn is a process. We’ve all heard the phrase “don’t put a $10 plant into a $1 hole.” What that means is that for any plant – turf grass included – the soil must be fertile, full of beneficial microbes, and must provide a nutritious environment for plants to generate new roots and expand existing root systems. To create good soil conditions, homeowners must make sure that the soil beneath their lawn is healthy.

Since increased precipitation is expected, there should be little or no reason to water lawns during the winter and early spring (late February and early March along the Gulf Coast). In fact, last year, our systems indicated that lawns needed no irrigation during the entire winter period.

It’s not too late to start a winter herb garden

There’s nothing like the fragrance of rosemary in a warm kitchen during cold and dreary winter days. Or the taste of fresh chives chopped on a baked potato. Or cilantro in that salsa you’re making.  These herbs, as well as others, can be grown outside during the winter. B


High in vitamins K, C and A, parsley’s spicy and slightly peppery taste pairs well with tomato-based sauces, potatoes, poultry,grain-based salads, seafood and egg dishes.

Parsley is very easy to grow. Spread the tiny seeds out in a pot, or into your garden bed. Cover the seeds lightly with some compost and press down to make sure the seeds are in contact with soil. Water gently every other day (unless of course it rains) until they sprout. Then continue watering as needed.

Although there are many cultivars of parsley, there are basically two types – flat leaf (also called Italian parsley) and curly leaf.  Originating in the Mediterranean area, people use it as a spice and a vegetable. The taproot is used as a food in European cuisines.

Parsley has high nutrient value, particularly in folates, iron, copper and many trace elements,  vitamin value, particularly in vitamins K, C and A.

Cilantro (Coriander)

Closely related to parsley, cilantro is also a great source of antioxidants. Using it to flavor food can also help to lower salt intake.Used for thousands of years, the dried leaves have been found in a cave in the Middle East dating back to 6,000 B.C. Cilantro has also been found in digs in ancient Egypt.

Some studies suggest that this herb may decrease the risk of obesity, diabetes and heart disease and, when used in cooking meat, can reduce heterocyclic amine (HCA), a chemical derived from meat cooked at a high heat. HCA has been associated with a higher risk of cancer.

The leaves of this plant are called cilantro, while the seeds are called coriander. Cilantro and its cousin are related to about 3,700 other plant species including carrots and celery.


This is a fragrant evergreen herb – also native to the Mediterranean. Part of the mint family, which includes oregano, thyme, basil and lavender and dozens of other plants, it’s a good source of iron, calcium and vitamin B-6.

Rosemary is best started from cuttings, although seeds work almost as well.  It likes dry,well-drained soil, and prefers sun, but it will do okay in partial shade. It is a perennial, and can live for many, many years. Not only is rosemary a great herb, but it also makes a very attractive accent plant in the garden, adding its fresh fragrance to the outdoors.

Studies indicate that rosemary also has some beneficial effects in slowing human and breast carcinoma cells and other studies concluded that it might be useful as an anti-inflammatory agent. Many people put rosemary in bath water to soothe aching joints. It is high in iron, calcium and vitamin B6.


Chives are close relatives of garlic, shallot, leeks and scallions. In colder climates, chives may freeze back, but in southeast Texas,they rarely do, especially if they are in a sheltered area. They can also thrive in partial shade.

Use chives as garnishes, salads, egg salad sandwiches,vegetable stocks, potato dishes, omelets, and really anything that meets your taste. They do not do very well when cooked too much, so if you use them in soups or omelets, introduce them just before serving.

Originating in China and Siberia, hardy and drought-tolerant, chives can grow up to one foot tall in closely grouped stalks. They sport attractive lavender flowers in mid-summer. Chives do exceptionally well in containers.

Chives are high in vitamins K and A and contains large amounts of flavonoid antioxidants. They are high in calcium, iron, magnesium,potassium, copper and manganese and provide large amounts of thiamin, niacin, zinc and other beneficial minerals and acids. There is also some evidence that chives can inhibit salmonella populations.

Indoor herbs

Most herbs can be grown indoors, although parsley and cilantro thrive in cold weather. Oregano, mint, thyme, rosemary, chives and most other herbs do as well indoors as outdoors. However, all of them require some light.

Herbs in containers

Whether you plant herbs indoors or outdoors, remember that herbs in containers require different treatment than herbs grown in the ground.Container-grown herbs, like any other potted plant, need good potting soil,instead of garden soil.  While garden soil is suited for herbs grown in the ground, where water and air can move around easily, and nutrients are readily available, the same isn’t so for container plants. Potting soil is generally made up of composted bark and leaves, peat moss, and perlite or vermiculite. They generally need more water than herbs in the ground.

Planting in the ground

Plant herbs in gardens using a good lawn and garden mix and add organic compost as well. Make sure it is well drained. In fact, you can plant most herbs in among your vegetables. Don’t crowd them though. Since good garden soil should be alive with microorganisms, worms and tiny insects which aerate the soil, and mycorrhizal fungi which helps herbs obtain nutrients from the soil, the herbs in the garden probably won’t require as much care as those indoors.

General rules for herbs

  • Harvest regularly.
  • Don’t overcrowd.
  • Don’t allow the plants to flower early in the season. Keep pinching off flowers that are forming. Some plants, like cilantro,are annuals, and, once they form seeds, they die. Keeping the plant from forming flowers (and thus seeds) is a way of prolonging the life of herbs.
  • Be sure to check the labels of any chemicals placed on herbs. Look for the words “safe for edibles” on the label. This goes for both fertilizers and pesticides.
  • Water properly. Herbs don’t need a lot of care.  Water them in the morning when they need it. Put down some good mulch but leave some space between the mulch and the plant’s stem. Water the soil around the plant not the leaves. Watering the leaves will only produce mildew and disease.
  • Choose healthy plants. Or plant them from seed
  • Don’t be afraid to prune or cut back herbs. This makes them hardier, thicker and better tasting.

Gardening Books to Read or Gift This Winter


When the weather’s cold and wet, and the gardener in you is getting a serious case of cabin fever, you might want to prepare for these days ahead of time by reading some of the top gardening books of Texas. In addition, some of them are great reference books as well, and will give you pointers about a variety of garden situations. Any of these books also make ideal Christmas presents for gardeners.

1. Native Texas Plants: Landscaping Region by Region, by Sally Wasowski and Andy Wasowski. This book contains beautiful color photographs of wildflowers which do well for each region of Texas, from southeast to the Panhandle. It includes a number of landscaping designs that will inspire you.

2. The Vegetable Book, by Dr. Sam Cotner. This great, timeless book on vegetable gardening in Texas was out of print for a long time. Used copies of the book sold for as much as $100. Now, Texas Gardener magazine has brought the book back into print for under $35. It has been described as “the most informative and comprehensive ‘how to’ book on vegetable gardening in Texas.” Many gardeners follow Cotner’s exhaustive directions on planting, caring for and harvesting every common vegetable that grows in this area. This is a must-have book for any gardener’s library. The late Dr. Cotner was head of horticulture at Texas A&M.

3. Teeming with Microbes, by Wayne Lewis and Jeff Lowenfels. The winner of the 2011 Garden Writers of America’s Gold Award, Teeming with Microbes explains the intricate and delicate balance of soil’s ecosystem. Healthy soil is teeming with life and this book explains the process in a language that the layman can understand. It has opened many eyes about the microbial life that should exist in soil.

4. Texas Month-By-Month Gardening, by Robert “Skip” Richter. With an easy-to-follow format, this publication provides a rich, month-by-month picture of gardening, especially that all-important timing of when to do what. It includes everything you need to do each month and covers all plant groups – annuals, perennials, groundcovers, trees, edibles and all things in between. There are also some great color photographs demonstrating techniques and plant identification. Richter is a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension agent (he once served as Extension agent for Montgomery County) and is a nationally recognized gardening authority.

5. Rodale’s Book of Composting, Rodale Press. Composting is a growing habit among gardeners, particularly in Montgomery County. It’s a great way to feed the soil with beneficial microorganisms and nutrients, while disposing of dead leaves, grass clippings, tree trimmings and kitchen scraps. This book includes easy-to-follow instructions for making and using compost.

6. Doug Welsh’s Texas Garden Almanac, by Dr. Douglas F. Welsh Ph.D. and Aletha St. Romain. A particularly entertaining and well-written book which prescribes garden activities for each month, as well as some great treatises on roses, fruit and nut trees, pruning techniques, water conservation, and weeds.

7. Texas Wildflowers, by Campbell and Lynn Loughmiller. A Texas classic which many residents use as a reference guide to identify both common and rare wildflowers. The book contains both personal descriptions and color photographs of 381 native wildflowers, and includes both the scientific and common names, a glossary, and a bibliography.

8. Trees of Texas: An Easy Guide to Leaf Identification, by Carmen Stahl and Ria McElvaney. This guide to more than 200 of Texas’ most common trees includes life-sized black and white photos of leaves, nuts, fruit, flowers and bark. Accompanying the photos are description of the species, value to wildlife, and interesting folklore, cultural and historic notes. The photos are stunning and this book makes a wonderful conversation piece.

9. Wildflowers of Houston and Southeast Texas, by John and Gloria Tveten. Color photos and descriptions of wildflowers indigenous to the area enhance this seminal work by the Tvetens. History and lore of each species accompanies the work, and a list of key identifying features allows for quick reference in the field.

10. The Texas Tomato Lover’s Handbook, by William D. Adams. Dr. Bill Adams is a tomato guru, and this step-by-step guide brings his expertise to the reader. Dr. Adams’ book is both humorous and informative. For a bumper crop of tomatoes, this is a book that every gardener should have on their shelf.

11. The Southern Kitchen Garden: Vegetables, Fruits, Herbs and Flowers Essential for the Southern Cook, by William Adams and Tom LeRoy. Tom LeRoy is the former horticulture agent for Montgomery County and well-known for his gardening expertise. This collaborative work between LeRoy and Adams is essential reading for all vegetable gardeners in Montgomery County.


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