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South Texas Living

Cut flowers to plant now

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March 7, 2012 | 2,003 views | Post a comment

Q. Is it too late to plant sweet peas for the year? What else makes a good cut flower and is different?

A. Sweet peas should be growing strongly now. It is debatable whether a crop seeded now will beat the heat to bloom, but the plants already growing should be filling up your trellis. Mulch over the root system with live oak leaves and keep them watered for a short but memorable show of intensely colored, fragrant blooms. Sweet peas are one of my favorite cut flowers.

It is a good time to plant gladiolas. With long stems of red, white, pink, violet, yellow, and numerous bicolor, blooms they make a spectacular show in the garden or as a cut flower. Try a row this year.

Q. Can we put leaves in the compost pile? We have two distinct leaf drops in our yard. The next one is live oaks.

A. Yes, leaves make good raw material for compost production. Dry leaves are slow to decompose in the pile, unless they are mixed with green material. Weeds pulled from the garden or grass clippings mixed 50/50 with leaves results in very fast decomposition. If you have more leaves than green material, add a couple of cups of lawn fertilizer spread over the pile.

Q. Which lawn grass has the best traffic tolerance? We are putting in a new lawn and have two large dogs.

A. Bermuda has the most traffic tolerance. Zoysia is second best and St. Augustine and buffalo grass have the least tolerance. Keep in mind that Bermuda grass requires full sun. Zoysia grass has some shade tolerance. It works best if the lawn is allowed a few months to become established before the dogs are tuned loose on it!

Q. When can we plant tomatoes and what are the best two varieties?

A. I think around April 1 is the best time to plant tomatoes. Some gardeners try to start in March. There are many good varieties for this area. My favorite is Tycoon. I also like Merced, Surefire, Heatwave, and Celebrity. Other good varieties are 444, BHN602, Sun Pride, Phoenix, Solar Fire, and Rodeo Cherry.

Q. Last week you answered a question about turnips and rutabagas. Why would anyone grow those two vegetables when they could grow carrots, and beets which are more nutritious and much tastier?

A. I like all of the vegetables you describe. Turnips and rutabagas are the easiest to grow and produce the most yield. Carrots are relatively easy. Beets are the most difficult of the four to grow and don’t yield as much over a period of time and garden space. That being said, beets are my favorite of the four root crops.

Q. How can you say leaving a sugar feeder out all winter does not encourage hummingbirds to stay rather than migrate, and contributes to their death from cold?

A. Bird behavior experts say it. I suspect they have experimented by putting out numerous feeders without any effect on holding birds. The few who stay make the decision on other factors. They would stay even if there were no feeders.

Calvin Finch is a horticulturist and the San Antonio Water System’s project director of regional initiatives and special projects. Hear him on “Gardening South Texas” on KLUP 930 AM radio Saturdays noon to 2 p.m., and 1-3 p.m. Sundays. Or, e-mail him at

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