Even though Walker County is in the middle of a Texas May, the odd swings in weather have allowed gardeners to continue to plant some items. If you hurry, you can still get okra in the ground. Southern peas, sweet potato slips, watermelons and cantaloupes should be going in this week.
When planting okra, whether individually or in rows, spacing is important. Keep plants at least 3 feet apart to allow the plants to branch. The burgundy foliage and pod variety are perfect to include in your yard as a landscape plant. They make a great plant to combine with perennial ornamentals. Try the aptly named “Burgundy” okra to have harvest in 55-60 days. Remember that okra plants can reach heights of 8-9 feet tall.
Before you put your squash, pumpkins or melons out, prepare your ‘hills’. This is where you should pay attend to the packet instructions on spacing. Also, these ‘hills’ may dry out quite quickly depending on the sun and wind in their space. It is critical that the soil surface stays moist while the seeds are germinating. You may have to water daily to keep the area moist.
Another important step with squash (especially), pumpkins and melons is to place a lightweight row cover fabric over the plants. This is the easiest way to deter pests from eating up your tender seedlings. You may also want to plant repellent plants such as catnip, tansy, marigolds or bee balm (Monarda) as companion plants. Mint is also usually suggested but can be a runaway thug in our gardens here in Texas.
Herbs are still available and an excellent idea in both the vegetable garden and landscape. Basil goes great near your tomato plants if you have room and it won’t be shaded out. There are so many kinds of basil, that it might be worth your while to try several. Spicy globe basil, Thai basil and Genovese basil are in my terra cotta pots. Be sure and snip basil before it goes to flower unless you want to leave the plant for the bees. I snip my spicy globe basil regularly because it tries to bloom almost weekly. At the end of the summer or when the plants become leggy, I will leave it to bloom for the bees. Remember that basil dies after flowering, but you can leave it to go to seed if you wish.
Annuals that can still be planted by seed, cuttings or little starters are: coleus, portulaca, purslane, tropical sage (Salvia coccinea-a fabulous butterfly plant), zinnias and cosmos.
We recently planted two different types of zinnias in the Demonstration Gardens Butterfly/Memorial Garden. Last year the single-bloom, tall zinnias we seeded lasted until late September. These zinnias proved to be a hit with butterflies, bees and even some flies that are pollinators. This year we decided to try the single-bloom type again as they provide a landing platform for the butterflies and some of the larger, solitary bees such as bumblebees and carpenter bees. We planted a cutting variety as well to see if they will really rebloom after being cut.
Cosmos are another addition to the summer garden that can take the heat. Full sun is required. Although they will grow in partial shade, you will have fewer blooms and the plants will be less sturdy. Cosmos don’t need fancy, amended soil. As long as the soil is well-drained, slightly acidic and not overly rich, you can enjoy the flowers through September.
There are two types of Cosmos with Cosmos sulphureus being the North American native that has yellow blooms. This native is highly drought tolerant and can be 2-6 feet tall with double or semi-double flowers. If you want a globe of sunshine in your yard, this is the plant for you!
Cosmos bipinnatus are the more common type found in your seed packets. These are the daisy-like flower variety that come in white, pink, red and orange. They grow from 1-4 feet tall and are easy to sow and keep. Both types can get floppy. It’s a good idea to plant them next to a taller plant that they can lean against, or be prepared to do a little staking. Cosmos are virtually pest and disease free!
In shadier areas, try impatiens, pentas or caladiums for your color spots. There are ‘Hot Lips’ salvia under our Cypress trees in the Demonstration Gardens and the Oakleaf Hydrangea look particularly lovely right now.
For more information on summer gardening for your home, contact the Walker County Master Gardeners by calling the Walker County AgriLife Extension Office at 936-435-2426 or drop us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Master Gardeners are typically ‘in’ the Demonstration Gardens on Thursday mornings.
The Walker County Extension Office is also on Facebook. WalkerCoTxAgrilife has been established to provide updates and information to Walker County residents and landowners on a timely basis. The Walker County Master Gardeners are also on Facebook! Check out both of these Facebook pages and hit "like" to join.