Introduction to the Brazos Gardeners Blog

Brazos Gardeners Blog – Introduction
Published: Sunday, 01 September 2013 14:46
Written by Donna Murray, Brazos County Master Gardener

In keeping up with current venues for communicating, we are getting in the swing of things with a Brazos County Master Gardener blog.  I’m told that this is to be a Master Gardeners perspective of a love of gardening, providing a look at what’s happening in our gardens, research based information on techniques and plants, and photos to boot.

That’s a lot to deliver.  My hope is that the blog posts will be slips-cutting of a plant used to grow new plant-of information or images that encourage you to use the resources available through the Master Gardener program to garden successfully, responsibly, and enjoyably.


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Fast Shade – Burn Baby Burn

Fast Shade-Burn Baby Burn
Published: Tuesday, 11 March 2014 14:00
Written by Donna Murray, Brazos County Master Gardener
Chinese Pistache

Chinese Pistache

Shade is the summertime magic word in Texas and trees are the natural choice. Add fast growing in the description and they can fall in the too good to be true category. Carefully check out the species that claim to grow like Jack’s beanstalk and you will see the dark side. Usually fast growth produces weak structure that can be easily damaged by wind and weather, and is more susceptible to insects and disease. Additionally, many fast growing trees are invasive species: ‘Chinese Tallow’, ‘Chinaberry’, and ‘Mimosa’ are in this list.

Personal experience has proved that quicker is not better. An Arizona ash Fraxinus velutina, I’ve heard it called Arizona trash tree, that sprouted in the pot of another plant, was installed in the yard. Planted for sentimental reasons, it was a seedling from the tree at our first apartment in Bryan, and it had the “benefit” of fast growth. About the same time we planted a Chinese Pistache, Pistacia chinensis, a moderate grower and a recommendation from a Brazos County Master Gardener.

The ash leapt upward and soon showed signs of insect invasion in the trunk. Virtually ignored the Pistache grew steady and strong. Meanwhile the fast ash had an entire side that died and its allure was fading as fast as its growth. The next summer completely dead it stood as an eyesore while the Chinese Pistache, having obtained the height of the skeletal mistake, now took the spotlight and provided an increasing area of shade and beautiful fall foliage. Tallying it up the ash cost five years that a better tree species could have been growing and the time and effort to dispose of the carcass.

If falling for the impulse purchase of quick shade, think “Burn Baby Burn”. Because the tree died, imagine sitting in lawn chair in full hot August sun, throwing money at a burning pile of dead limbs. Don’t be seduced by the sirens song of fluttering tags whispering “Fast growing”.

Check the Arboretum section on our website for trees that were selected for our area. You can visit the Brazos County Master Gardener Demonstration Idea Garden and Arboretum to see them and envision how they could shade your outdoor space.

Herbal Highlights – Survivors and Thrivers

Herbal Highlights – Survivors and Thrivers
Published: Sunday, 29 September 2013 14:46
Written by Donna Murray, Brazos County Master Gardener


After retreating inside all summer the welcome fall-like temperatures had me checking to see what survived and what shriveled.

Basil seemed to love the extreme conditions. ‘Globe’ basil, reseeded from previous season, ‘Cinnamon’ and ‘Thai’ basil all flourished. Left to flower, there was constant attention from bees.

Chamomile was added to the compost bin but will be replaced because I like it.

Chives – Garlic chives did well while the onion chives disappeared. Hopefully they went dormant and will put up new growth with cooler weather.

Horseradish was planted in a pot this spring. It has not been a lovely plant but I’m looking forward to harvesting and adding homegrown zip to foods.

Mints that threatened to take over planting beds saved me the effort of excavating them and took a dirt nap. Doing well are ‘Chocolate’ and ‘Habak’ Mentha Longifolia (narrow silver leaves) mints growing in pots.

Oregano had competition from the nearby basil but seems to be slowly making a comeback.

Rose – Earth-Kind® roses proved their worth this season and ‘Belindas’ Dream’ is in its fall flush of blooms with the cooler temperatures.

Rosemary was the hands down winner this year in my garden. It did wonderful and looked good all season.

Rue is still living in its pot and proving that it’ll survive most anything.Salad Burnet was a surprise seedling this spring and a refreshing green mound in the herb bed all summer.

Tansy has been a presence in the garden for years and took this season in stride. Cut flowers were added to a fall bouquet just this week.

Thyme Of the nine varieties planted this spring, two died, and six are recovering, but the ‘Silver’ Thyme was a bright spot all summer.




cinnamon, casil and garlic chives

Raised Beds for Seniors

Raised Beds for Seniors
Published: Tuesday, 17 September 2013 14:46
Written by Maggie Boriski, Brazos County Master Gardener
Raised Beds for Seniors

Raised Beds for Seniors

I am not talking about a bed one sleeps in but raised planting beds for vegetables, herbs and flowers. Some of us seniors have weak knees and sore lower backs. It would be pleasant if we could garden pain free. Constructing raised planting beds was our solution to dual challenges, personal physical limitations and heavy clay soil that can be found in the Brazos Valley.

If you decide to have a garden bed at ground level, the frame should be bottomless for good drainage. The soil is the floor of your bed. First, we needed a starving Aggie to dig out the existing soil and be available to replace it with compost amended soil. He could also lay down the drip irrigation system.

Bed designs are endless and layout decisions are at your pleasure. Consider a bed height of around two feet with a cap or lip on the top. Two feet above ground level is an acceptable height to sit and work in the bed and to rest.

There are many frame materials to select from: UV-stabilized polypropylene, rock, brick, concrete, or naturally rot-resistant cedar or redwood. Railroad ties are popular but may contain creosote and may have toxins according to MSU Extension article “Raised-Bed Gardening“.

Install flexible pipe frames, either triangular or rounded over your garden beds. They will be in place to put a protective cover over your plantings when needed.

Two rectangular raised beds, three feet by six feet, gave us sufficient space for a harvest of vegetables, herbs and flowers. There are only two of us and we still had plenty to share with neighbors. This size allowed easy installation of a drip irrigation system down the middle with feeding tubes off to the right and left with small emitters attached at each planting.

Better yet, why not get the starving Aggie to construct a raised bed on legs. A four foot by four foot wide bed, eighteen inches deep would be easy to fill with compost or potting soil. Attach heavy casters/wheels to the bottom of the legs. Roll it into the sun during the day and back into the garage at night for protection of the plants, extending the growing season. Roll it closer to the kitchen for harvesting. Add a shelf underneath for gardening tools and potting soil, etc.

If you can add a bench adjacent to or close between beds, you can sit and enjoy your labors and you have a quick place to go to if you are feeling a little light headed. Keeping a cell phone handy is another suggestion for safety. Being a mature age doesn’t mean you have to give up gardening, just be creative in how you do it.

Pretty but Poisonous

Pretty but Poisonous
Published: Tuesday, 03 September 2013 14:46
Written by Maggie Boriski, Brazos County Master Gardener
Poisonous Plants

Poisonous Plants

Are we putting our pets at risk in their own backyards? We create beautiful landscapes to add value to our property as well as for our family’s enjoyment. For many of us, pets are included as part of our families. When evaluating choices of plants or when dealing with existing plants in the landscape, consider the toxic potential of some plant species. While our children can be warned not to handle or ingest certain plants or plant parts, dogs and cats are usually less responsive to our warnings.

Oleander (Nerium oleander) is widely utilized as an ornamental along roadways, in resi- dential areas and home landscapes (particularly for screening). Used because of its dark green, leathery foliage and showy flowers, Oleander is one of the most toxic plants in wide use (2,3).

Oleandrin, the toxic principle in the Oleander plant, is a powerful cardiac toxin. The ingestion of only a few leaves can cause cardiac failure. Clinical signs can be observed within 4 hours of ingestion and may include weakness, hyper-salivation, and abdominal pain and increased (tachycardia) or decreased (bradycardia) heart rate.

Another plant containing a powerful cardiac toxin is the Kalanchoe 3, 4. These flowering succulents are popular in the garden, in containers, and as houseplants. All parts are poisonous but the flower has the highest concentration of the cardiac glycoside referred to as bufadienolides. Depression, hypersalivation, and gastrointestinal signs can begin within a few hours of ingestion and progress to cardiac arrhythmias, rapid heartbeat and respiratory distress. Cardiac arrest is the cause of fatal ingestions.

Lilies belonging to the genus Hemerocallis (including day lilies) and to the genus Lilium (including Easter lilies) also pose poisoning risks to pets, particularly cats 3. These plants contain a toxin, which can result in kidney failure. Lillies are found in gardens or used as houseplants. All parts are considered toxic but the leaves seem to be the most frequently ingested. Clinical signs can develop within 12 hours following ingestion but might not be seen for several days. Vomiting, depression and decreased or increased urination are seen. Seizures, disorientation, tremors and ataxia can also occur in some animals.

Plant toxicity is not limited to these examples. Numerous references list plants toxic to humans and pets 1. Prompt treatment of plant toxicity is critical and often the clinical signs are not specific enough to determine which plant might be involved. So it is important to look for clues should your pet become sick, particularly if the pet has been seen grazing or chewing on plants. Be prepared to provide the scientific names of any suspect plant species or collect samples of plants that appear to have been chewed. This information on plant identity can be critical to ensure proper veterinary treatmeant 3.

[Read about other common poisonous plants and plant partson Aggie Horticulture]


1. Aggie Horticulture Web page. http://aggie- February 7, 2011.

2. Hart, C. R., Garland, T., Barr, A. C., Carpenter, B. B., Reagor, J. C. Toxic plants of Texas. B-6105, 12/00. Texas Agriculture Extension Service. pp 132-133

3. Milewski, L. M. and Kahn, S. A., An overview of potentially life-threatening poisonous plants in dogs and cats. J of Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care 16(1) 2006. pp 25 -33.

4. Smith, Geof, Kalanchoe species poisoning in pets. Veterinary Medicine. November 2004. pp 933-936.