The Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Office at 9020 Airport Road in Conroe is open for normal business hours. For gardening questions call (936)539-7824.
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Plant of the Month
Camelia Pink Perfection
By Elisabeth Castro, Master Gardener
Cannot grow roses because of too much shade? Try camellias. Contrary to popular belief, camellias are not fussy or difficult to grow. In addition, when nothing else is blooming in our winter months camellias are hard at work.
According to The American Camellia Society there are over 200 known species of camellias all native to Asia with the vast majority from China. Of the many species in cultivation, we are familiar with four species sold as landscape shrubs: japonica, sasanqua, vernalis, and hiemalis. One other species also grown in Houston, Camellia reticulata is more difficult to find.
Camellia sinensis, the tea plant, has not been successfully grown in Texas. Our hot days and humid warm nights eventually cause the bush to decline. Tea is commercially grown in South Carolina with its humid subtropical climate and plenty of rainfall in summer similar in climate to the tea growing regions in China.
Know your camellia before you decide to plant one, as not all camellias have similar growing conditions. The most popular camellia, the japonica is actually a tree but because its grow rate is so slow it may take several years before it reaches its height of 12-20 feet. It is winter hardy in zones 7-9. Areas under pine trees are ideal to grow camellias, but any area with protection from strong winds and dappled shade will work. Camellias like slightly acidic soil (PH 4.8 to 5.5) and well drained soil. The sasanqua camellia can handle more sun than the japonica. The foliage of sasanquas is generally smaller as is its bloom size. The shrub has an open, airy habit which works well as a hedge.
Sasanquas are first to bloom starting in November through December, followed by the japonicas Mid-January through March.
Camellias are beautiful evergreen shrubs with glossy, leathery leaves and single and double blooms. Fragrance is ephemeral in camellias but the cultivars that claim to have fragrance usually have names with ‘Fragrant’ or ‘Scent’ such as ‘Fragrant Pink’ and ‘Ack-Scent.’
The search for fragrant cultivars began in the 60’s by breeding C. lutchuensis, the most of fragrant of all camellias. Camellia hybrid Quintessence was the result of crossing a japonica and lutchuensis. It is a small, growing camellia with single white flowers and a musky fragrance. We sold this variety at our fall plant sale in 2018. I have grown it in a pot since then and it is bursting with fat buds.
A popular C. sasanqua is ‘Kanjiro’ with deep pink semi-double blooms. C. vernalis ‘Yuletide’ has single orange-red flowers. It blooms at Christmastime. ShiShi Gashira often sold as a dwarf sasanqua is actually Camellia hiemalis. It is slow growing and will only reach 5-6 ft. The single dark pink flowers with pronounced yellow stamens cover the bush from November to early January.
C. japonica ‘Pink Perfection, a double-form blooms pink with tinges of yellow dates back to 1875 and is still a favorite in southern gardens as is ‘White by the Gate’, a white double form.
For more information see Dr. Welch’s article on Camelias
January in the Garden
By Bob Dailey, Master Gardener
Seed Catalogues and Planning Your Garden
We get so excited by the beautiful (and undoubtedly retouched) photos of all those wonderful plants in the seed catalogues we’ve been ordering that we’re ready to lay our money down and start obsessing about the wonderful garden we’ll have this year.
Some of us have learned – through painful and expensive experience- that buying all the seeds and plants that catch our eye tends to be counterproductive. The first secret to good gardening is good planning.
In a previous posting, we recommended keeping a garden journal. Part of that journal should be a plan for the coming year’s garden – both for your landscape and, if you have one, your vegetable garden.
For your landscape, are there plants that are not doing well? Do they need to be transplanted in another site? Should they be discarded and replaced by something better suited for that area? Are there other locations that you want to expand? If so, what plants would you like there?
What do you want to plant in your vegetable garden? And when should you plant them? If you’re starting tomatoes from seed, you need to start them inside right now. You can find great directions on how to easily build an inexpensive and easy-to-construct a grow light system, and good propagation techniques in Robert “Skip” Richter’s book, “Month-By-Month Gardening in Texas.” Using indoor propagation techniques, you can start seedlings in a safer environment. Your seedlings don’t have to be relegated only to vegetables. Annuals and perennials can also be started indoors.
If you haven’t had your soil tested for a while, you might want to have one done. Texas A&M Agrilife Extension Soil, Water and Forage Testing Lab in College Station is an easy and inexpensive way. You can mail a sample in and in about two weeks, you will receive a report back.
If the St. Augustine grass is looking bare under trees, you might think about doing a little pruning to thin the tree canopy. Or you may want to take up the grass and replace it with shade loving plants or groundcover.
In Southeast Texas, many deciduous trees wait until mid-winter to drop their leaves. Leaves on lawns can prevent sunlight from reaching the lawn underneath. Several solutions to this are: 1. Use a mulching lawn mower to chop them up. Fallen leaves contain many nutrients that can be recycled into the soil this way. 2. Compost them.
In Montgomery County we receive more rain in the winter than any other time so the need to irrigate is lessened. Lawns don’t need to be irrigated at all, generally speaking. That’s because lawns, especially St. Augustine, need only an inch of water per week. Our average winter rainfall is three to four inches a month, which translates, of course, to an inch a week. You may need to water annuals if the beds dry out. However, if you’ve applied mulch over the soil, you shouldn’t have a problem with the soil drying out. Perennials usually have deeper root systems and generally do not need winter watering.
Critter of the Month
Picture by National Audubon Society
by Elisabeth Castro, Master Gardener
Texas has nine out of the ten species of wrens in North America. The Rock Wren is a year-round resident of the Trans-Pecos and Panhandle. The Canyon Wren can be found mainly in West Texas and South Texas along the Rio Grande Valley, the Hill Country and southern Panhandle. The Marsh Wren, as the name implies, resides in the coastal marshes from Jefferson County to Aransas County. Similarly, the Sedge Wren occupies the marshes of East Texas and coastal prairies. The Cactus Wren, so called, you guessed it, has its habitat year-round in the Rio Grande Valley in deserts, canyonlands, creosote and thorn bush. The Bewick’s Wren (pronounced like Buick) can be found in the Hill Country westward into the Rio Grande Valley in brushlands and thickets. The Winter Wren lives year-round in the Appalachians and migrates to Eastern Texas in winter where it prefers wooded areas with leaf litter. The House Wren, also a migrant to Texas, can be found in the coastal plains and southern brush country.
Then there is the Carolina Wren. Boisterous small bird with a loud voice. The males sing a series of quick whistled tones often described as teakettle-teakettle or cheery, cheery, cheery, with several variations. Only males sign, females provide support with loud calls.
The Carolina Wren is the official state bird of South Carolina but is also a year-round resident in the Pineywoods, Post Oak Savannah, eastern Edwards Plateau and Coastal Prairies of Texas.
The male and female mate for life and stay together in a territory year-round. They will visit backyards if there is food available. Primarily insect eaters they will come to bird feeders for suet and peanuts. You can find them foraging in pairs in the bark of trees and branches, and the ground.
Although they will nest in cavities and nest boxes, they seems to prefer to build their messy, bulky nests in overturned pots, garage shelves and bike helmets left outside. They typically have 2-3 broods per year with a clutch of 4-6 eggs, white or pale pink colored with brown specks. Incubation is by the female only and takes 12-16 days. Both parents bring food to the nestlings.
The Bewick’s Wren probably comes closest in appearance to the Carolina Wren in that both have the white stripe above the eye and can be found in the Hill Country. But the Carolina Wren is slightly rounder with a darker orange-brown color topside and buff underside compared to the Bewick’s Wren’s brown back.
Carolina Wrens are fun to hear and watch especially when they vigorously defend their territory with loud calls and constant signing.