For The Answer
Express-News Weekly Column
Saturday, February 3, 2001
Submitted by Calvin Finch, Ph.D., Director of Conservation, SAWS, and Horticulturist
This is the first weekend of the San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo. For gardeners, The Texas Trail tent is the center of attraction at the Rodeo.
The Tent is open from 10 am until 9 pm through the duration of the Rodeo (February 3 through 18). The theme is Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow. An old-fashioned garden decorates the entrance and, as usual, the bass tank, Texas Zoo, and wildlife and gardening displays are fun. If you want a list of the experts in water conservation and gardening and when they will be on hand check out the San Antonio Water System website at www.saws.org or call 704-7527.
A favorite feature at The Texas Trail tent is always the plant sale. Every year Dr. Jerry Parsons and his Bexar County Master Gardener team select a few plants from their present research program or recent past to offer to area gardeners. The proceeds go to the San Antonio Livestock Exposition Scholarship Fund. The fund has assisted thousands of urban and rural youth in obtaining higher education, plus it supports youth gardening in the San Antonio area, a program near and dear to my heart.
This year the plant sale will offer three varieties of tomato, Oscar okra, Crawford reseeding lettuce; pink and violet Laura Bush petunias; blue and pink bunny bloom larkspurs; and maroon, red and blue bluebonnets.
One of the tomatoes is a Celebrity-size selection that is resistant to spotted wilt virus. Another is the Surprise golf ball-size cherry tomato. It is a determinate plant that does not take over your whole garden. The Abundance cherry tomato is a heat setter that produces a huge quantity of small fruit. If you buy tomatoes at the Rodeo plant them in one-gallon containers filled with potting soil until the weather warms up in late March.
The bluebonnets and larkspur are good xeriscape plants, most wildflowers and reseeding annuals are. Plant the larkspurs in full sun against a fence or another location where winds do not sweep through. The plants will get at least 3-feet tall and be covered with blooms so wind can bend them over.
Larkspurs bloom in March and April. Hummingbirds like their blue and pink blooms. After the bloom period they drop their seed. If the seed makes contact with the soil, come next spring there will be hundreds of seedlings. After the tops decline and the seeds have dispersed, plant summer annuals in the bed. One thing you cannot do, however, if you want reseeding annuals to come back year after year, is to mulch. The seed must reach bare soil.
The Texas state flower is the bluebonnet. Dr. Jerry Parsons has been working with the various natural occurring color phases for years. This year at the Rodeo the maroons, a limited number of reds, and some blues will be available. Treat them like annuals by planting them in the flowerbed on 2-foot centers. Bluebonnets are big plants if they are in good soil.
If you want to start a perpetual bed of bluebonnets, select a field or lawn area in full sun where there is lots of bare soil visible. None of the wildflowers compete well with thick turf. Sometimes they work in buffalo or Bermuda lawns but never in St. Augustine or zoysia.
The best location for bluebonnets is an unirrigated field or spare lot where the soil dries out so much each summer that very little foliage covers the soil. Plant your seedlings from the Rodeo in clumps of five or six. Like the larkspur, the seeds will form after the flowers fade. The declining plants must stay in place until the seeds are dispersed.
Excessive water is the primary killer of bluebonnets. Water them once when you plant them and then rely on the rain.