Celeste Fig

Do you ever want more function in your landscape than just something nice to look at? Don’t worry, you aren’t alone and we have something for you! Say hello to the Celeste Fig tree; Also known as Ficus carica ‘Celeste’. This handy little tree grows up to 7’-10’ tall and wide in USDA plant hardiness zones 6 -9.

The typical fig producing regions have mild winters and hot, dry summers. Fortunately, even with Houston’s humid weather and frequent moisture, it’s a great area for the fig tree to grow with little to no maintenance and watering! The interesting thing about this plant is that it has large, showy leaves which is not typical of plants that are more tolerant of hot, dry environments. So, if you are looking for a bold, large texture in your landscape design, then this may be a great fit.

I have personally grown this variety as well as other fig tree varieties in full sun, part sun, and dapled shade. A majority of my yard has to stand on it’s own two feet without any care or attention from me, and this plant is a perfect fit for my busy lifestyle.

The Celeste is great alternative to the classic Brown Turkey Fig tree produces a beautiful light brown and purple fruit alongside its classic green foliage. Adding to its low maintenance previously mentioned, it is pest/disease resistant and can produce a crop with a single tree. In the Houston area during years that do not have a late spring frost, I have received 2 crops from my trees – one in early summer and one in late summer.

Want to add even more variety? Then let’s quickly talk about what some of the other fig trees can provide. While looking similar, the classic Brown Turkey Fig produces a very sweet tasting fruit while not being as rich as those produced by the Celeste. Its fruit are also slightly larger and darker. The LSU Gold Fig, for the Tiger fans out there, has an attractive light green/yellow crop with a nice sweet fig flavor. The LSU Purple Fig produces a light red fruit with a mild flavor and high sugar content.

I may be a bit biased, but where is my Maroon, White, or Gig ‘Em fig tree? Just kidding. Another option, the Banana Fig, provides a light green to near yellow fruit with banana colored spots when ripe. Even the banana phone didn’t give you these! The last fig we’ll mention is the O’Rourke Fig. It is easily be compared to the Celeste Fig as it is also referred to as the Improved Celeste, but ripens earlier. A great option for those who do not want to wait or wants their fig crops spread out through the season.

No matter what your taste may be, there are countless fig tree varieties that can add versatility to your landscape while enhancing the look.

© HDG Landscape Design, 2019

Garden Potato

Solanum tuberosum, more commonly referred to as Garden Potato, is a cool season vegetable hardy in zones 1 to 7, or most of the continental United States. Potatoes produce best when planted in early spring with warm days and cools nights. Potato is a common culinary vegetable but is often overlooked by home gardeners, which is a tragedy because home grown potatoes are much better than store bought, both in taste and texture. They do need a cool climate, so can be grown as a spring crop in warmer climate zones such as Texas. They need full sun and acidic soils for successful growing.

When planting, do not use store bought potatoes with sprouts as your seed potato because they most likely have been treated with chemicals to prevent growing. Buying certified seed potatoes to plant is the best way to go. If you can only find a larger seed potato (they are usually the size of an egg), it can be cut in half so that at least two eyes are on a single piece.  Allow them to dry for a couple days before planting eye side up in a row in your garden, one foot apart and pressed into the soil. Cover your potatoes with about four inches of soil, repeat this one or two times as the plant grows creating a growing mound. They need consistent moisture, so make sure to water your potatoes regularly when the tubers start to form. Some good varieties for Texas include ‘Kennebec’, ‘Yukon Gold’, and ‘Red Pontiac’.

Potatoes can be carefully harvested in late May or early June on a dry day. The soil should be loose so digging will be easy, and be sure not to puncture the tubers. When the vine dies out you should harvest all of the potatoes remaining to prevent rot. Store potatoes in a cool, dry, dark place and refrain from washing until right before you use them.20160522_173151

© HDG Landscape Design, 2017

Plants for Fall and Winter Edible Gardens

HDG Landscape Design’s tried and true winter edible garden can be contained in a single large landscape pot. Using the thriller, filler, and spiller method, I like to plant a Meyer Lemon tree as a central focal point, a ring of bright green Butter Lettuce surrounding, 3 trailing Rosemary spaced evenly at the edge of the pot, and purple Pansies between. Yes, even the Pansies are edible, and the contrasting colors are exceptional!

Many flowers are edible, and even the Meyer Lemon flowers and other bulbs such as tulips can be used to decorate a cake or plate as a dual edible and beautiful addition!

© HDG Landscape Design, 2016

Mexican Feather Grass

Nassella tenuissima, more often known as Mexican Feather Grass is a common ornamental grass in Texas landscapes and still referred to Stipa tenuissima by some authorities. This perennial grass can reach 24” to 36” in height and 15” to18” in width. Ornamental grasses in general are grown for a texture and interesting foliage. Mexican Feather Grass has a light and airy texture consisting of green foliage with tan to cream plumes. This grass blooms throughout late spring to mid-summer. Hardy throughout most of Texas, Mexican Feather Grass is a great choice for a low to mid-level accent needing full sun and infrequent watering.20160626_172845

Mexican Feather Grass is one of my favorite grasses to use in the landscape because it provides movement as it sways in the breeze. Its graceful stems contrast with broad leaved succulents, bright flowers, and xeriscaping plants, such as Agave, Red Yucca, Lantana, Salvia, and even boulders and river rocks. Mexican Feather Grass works particularly well as a lining plant for pathways because the leaves and plumes fall over the edges of the path to provide a softer transition and immersive feel. It will self-sow freely which may be beneficial if used in large landscapes and meadows or even on slopes for purposes of erosion control. When used in containers and modern design it would be wise to deadhead the plant to control growth.

Maintenance at least once a year is suggested. Removing gray colored old growth is simple and will allow for more air flow between the healthy grass blades. I have found the best way to manage this is to run your fingers through the blades like you are detangling long hair. The dead growth will remove easily, and it will give you an opportunity to restructure the plant if you found it laying too far on one side.

*Warning: This plant doesn’t like soggy, wet soil and roots will rot in these conditions!!

We love to pair this plant with Agave, Soft Leaf Yucca, Gold Star Esperanza, Vitex, Salvia, Texas Sage, and other Texas Superstar Plants.

Other Names: Silky Thread Grass, Mexican Needle Grass

 

© HDG Landscape Design, 2016

Fuyu Persimmon

Diospyros kaki ‘Fuyu’, more often known as Fuyu Persimmon, is a highly sought after variety of Persimmon due to the sweet, non-astringent taste.  You will often find Persimmon fruit to be an astringent variety in most commercial stores. There is a small ripe window for Persimmon, so, if you’ve purchased an astringent variety, then it is likely you have eaten Persimmon too early and with a puckered face. It’s no wonder nurseries carry the Fuju Persimmon tree at a slightly higher cost than other varieties, and if you have had a grocery store mishap as I have, then you will appreciate the higher cost and buy the Fuyu tree anyways.

20160609_171930You can expect this tree to reach anywhere from 10′ to 15’ in height from zones 7-9. The Fuyu is self-fertile like most Persimmon varieties, but it is an excellent pollinator for the Maekawa-Jiro which is not self-fertile.

The fruit of the Fuyu Persimmon contains lower tannin content (the cause of the astringent taste) once the fruit turns from green to orange which allows a larger window of time to eat the fruit (can be eaten even when hard). The Fuyu is known to be a heavy producer with brilliant orange fruit shaped like a slightly flattened tomato from late October through November.

Due to the small ornamental size, edible and colorful value, and the fact that the Fuyu is self-fertile, it is an excellent fruiting tree for small residential properties or gardens with limited space.   Although Loquat is used in zone 9 as a screening hedge, for some color from edible fruit, and large evergreen leaves, the Fuyu can provide similar interest. It has broad leaves, similar fruit coloring as loquat, but has additional added value through fall color in the leaves. The use extends further than a Loquat as the Fuyu tends to be used more as an ornamental tree, and thinning the tree is encouraged to allow for more light and fruiting.

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Lamb’s Ear

If you are looking for a deer resistant, low maintenance and drought tolerant evergreen ground cover (zones 8-10) or perennial (zones 4-7), Lamb’s Ear is the ideal plant for you.  Resembling the down-turned, soft ears of a lamb, Stachys byzantine, commonly called Lamb’s ear, is a low growing, soft textured perennial with fuzzy, greenish-silver leaves. It grows from 6”-8” tall, and spreads to 12”.  Although mostly grown for its foliage, it will produce a spike-like, purplish-pink to white flower in spring and summer.

The best location to plant lamb’s ear is in a spot with part-sun to sun conditions with well-drained soil, but it is also known to handle areas with light shade or filtered sun provided the area also drains well. Lamb’s ear can survive in most soils except wet; it will rot if kept in an area with standing water or if watered too much. If you live in a heavy rain area, then build your beds to drain away from this plant and amend the bed area soil for better drainage.

Lamb’s ear will easily grow in zones 4-10, but in areas with hot and humid summers, such as the San Antonio area, it may turn brown from heat stress if not placed in a location that receives some afternoon shade. Lamb’s ear also will self-sow, and can be propagated by dividing the roots, which should be done every three years to encourage new foliage and to prevent root matting. It can also be sheared if it is becoming leggy.

This versatile perennial can be used as informal edging along a path or flower bed, in groups of three or more, as a container plant and is tolerant to grow just about anywhere. Lamb’s ear’s rich texture and silver color is beautiful when contrasted against darker foliage plants and even boulders in a rock garden.

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Varieties:

The two most used varieties are ‘Helen Von Stein’ and ‘Big Ears’.

‘Helen Von Stein’ variety has the most tolerance to stress from hot and humid summers as mentioned above. It flowers either sporadically or not at all, and does best in zones 5-10. Its silver foliage grows 12”-18” tall and spreads 24” wide.

‘Big Ears’ variety is a bit larger than the average Lamb’s Ear, 10” high and 18”-24” wide and has greenish-gray foliage.

Cucumber

Cucumbers, or Cucumis sativus, are a great selection for home gardening and come in two types: slicing and pickling. Cucumbers can seem to take up a lot of space due to their 4 to 6 foot vines, but if grown vertically on sturdy panels they take up less space and can prove to be one of the most productive small garden crops.

The first step is to choose what type of cucumber you want to grow. Slicing types can grow fruit up to 8 inches long and 1 inch wide when mature. They are most often used in salads, veggie trays, and can be preserved as bread and butter pickles. For traditional pickles, both sliced and whole, it is best to grow a pickling cucumber that is much smaller, up to 4 inches, when mature. If space is limited it is best to plant pickling cucumber if you can’t plant both.

Climbing Vine

Much like for tomatoes, cages can be beneficial to cucumbers. Cages allow the vines to grow up easier than some other form of trellis or fence. Plants can be planted closer together, approximately 3 feet by 3 feet apart, because the vertical growth uses less space. You may need to assist your plants with attaching themselves to the cages by guiding the young vines through the openings a couple times.There are many benefits to growing these vegetables vertically such as less disease susceptibility, more space for other crops, and an increase in air circulation.

Cucumbers do not like cool temperatures, so when direct seeding wait until the soil temperature is above 60 degrees and there is no chance of frost. Your cucumber seeds should be planted 1-1.5” deep in hills 3 to 4 feet apart (when not using cages), with 2-3 plants per hill. Doing this will increase the likely hood of a successful plant and extra plants can be removed after emergence. Cucumbers must be grown in full sunlight and should not be planted near trees because tree roots will steal their nutrients and water. Fertilizer and plenty of water are needed for cucumbers to grow properly. If it does not rain in a given week, the plants should be soaked well.

Pests and diseases can prove a problem to cucumbers, the most common of which are aphids, cucumber beetles, and leaf miners. As a last resort, one may use appropriate insecticide but be sure to spray in the afternoon so as not to disturb the honey bee pollination.

Sliced Cucumber

 

Recommended Varieties for Texas:

Slicing: Cucumis sativus ‘Sweet Slice’, Cucumis sativus ‘Sweet Success’

Pickling: Cucumis sativus ‘Calypso’, Cucumis sativus ‘Liberty’

Reasons to Live in Houston – Summer – From a Gardening Perspective

Summer

Frequent summer rains allow for easier garden maintenance and supplemental watering is required only every other day with no rainfall.  If you have irrigation in your garden area, then watering is even easier especially while you are on vacation. My recommendation is to leave your garden at ground level instead of using a typical 12”-18” raised bed, add irrigation risers to your system where you have established your vegetable garden, and a simple electrical dog fence will keep out your furry friends. The mild summer temperatures make working in your garden a more realistic expectation.  I like to apply a slow release fertilizer when rains are frequent and after plants are established. I recommend a brand requiring approximately 1 application every 3 months.

Unfortunately the excess natural watering increases the number of weeds to pull. The best way to deal with weeds is to pull them as soon as you see them growing close to the vegetable plants. Once these weeds are rooted around your vegetable plants it is more difficult to pull one plant without the other following.  It is rare that your plants will tolerate this kind of excessive soil disruption. Some common problematic weeds include Stinging Nettle which feels like an ant bite when you touch them. If you prefer to not deal with weeds like these, then some organic and non-organic solutions are available. Preen is available in both forms as a pre-emergent which means your vegetable seeds must germinate before you apply the chemical.  I prefer to hand pull most of my weeds which allows me to plant seeds throughout the growing season.

Mid-summer brings lots of pests that were not present in spring and early summer.  Some pests can be avoided if “tasty” pest plants are established nearby. Planting Amaranth, known as both a weed and a crop, is a good way to let bugs feast on your plants without eating all of your produce. Chemical solutions to pest problems are not particularly effective, which is why cleaver solutions like an Amaranth crop may be necessary.  Other solutions like adding beneficial insects, such as ladybugs, are also a good way to reduce your pest problem. Keep in mind that these beneficial insects must have a habitable environment for them to stay in your garden.

Late summer is a great time to finish your summer harvest and begin your late summer/fall planting. Many of the same summer vegetables can be planted again in August, and by September new vegetables can be introduced to the garden. Starting pumpkin vines at this time will not win you a prize at the state fair, but it can give you a chance to pick some small jack-o-lanterns by Halloween. To keep these types of fruits from rotting immediately, weeds, grasses, and pests will need to be kept away. As with any vegetable or fruit, excessive moisture and punctures will begin their decomposition.

Pumpkin - HDG Landscape Design

Reasons to Live in Houston – Spring – From a Gardening Perspective

Spring

Early spring is the perfect opportunity for fruit tree planting. Peaches, Loquat, Kiwi, Fig, Pomegranate, Blueberries, and more fruiting trees and shrubs are best planted in the early Spring to avoid the stresses of summer and winter on the plant before they are established.

Blackberries are in full bloom for weeks before fruiting. You can see this sea of large white blossoms along fences and throughout fields while driving around the suburbs. These wild berries are great for canning jams, jellies, and pie filling.

Once the blackberries begin to ripen, it is time to plant late spring and early summer vegetables. Begin with basil, peppers, eggplant, corn, and okra then add your vines including watermelon, pumpkin, and cucumber. Give your vines plenty of room to grow (or they will take over everything). It is always a good idea to consider planting a second set of all vegetable seeds 1 month later so that all of your produce does not ripen at the same time. Peppers and okra can be particularly difficult to start from seed, and sometimes it is easier to start the seeds indoors.

Blackberry Flower - HDG Landscape Design

Mammoth Sunflower

Mammoth Sunflower - HDG Landscape Design

Varieties of Helianthus are my favorite summer flowering plants. If you are not known for your green thumb, then this may soon become your favorite garden flower as well. The Mammoth Sunflower is a particularly interesting variety as it will grow over 10 feet tall with flower centers reaching over 8″ in diameter. If you are looking for a beautiful cut flower, then this variety is probably not for you. Instead, try the “Teddy Bear” variety for successful cut flower arrangements that will last.

Like all other Sunflowers, the Mammoth Sunflower is an annual that prefers full sun, is easy to grow, drought tolerant, and heat tolerant with yellow flowers that bloom in summer. It can be grown easily from seeds using a direct sowing method with a shallow planting depth of about 1 inch and requires very little maintenance or attention afterwards. The only problem that can be encountered with Mammoth Sunflowers is that  they may outgrow their supports quickly. To keep these giants from falling over, stalks need to be either staked, buried deeply after seedlings emerge and begin falling over, or roots need encouragement to grow deeply on their own to support the plant. This can be done using a method of infrequent but deep watering which I have found works better than other support methods.

Although this variety is grown for interest, it is also grown commercially as well. Mammoth flowers may only be showy for a couple days (another reason why they are not excellent flowers for arrangements). However, many people take advantage of this flower’s ability to produce hundreds of edible sunflowers seeds after their flowering interest has subsided. I recommend waiting to harvest seeds until after the sunflower head droops and the backside turns yellow to brown. Seeds should be allowed to dry before being stored if not eaten immediately.