Gardening in West Texas is not for the faint of heart, but the rewards of having and growing your own garden can be worth the struggle. If you’re one of the many in the Big Country who faced challenges and even failures in your quest for green growth, take heart. Abilene Scene asked Audrey Gillespie, a member of the Big Country Master Gardeners, to answer gardening questions and offers tips for beginner gardeners.
Q WHAT ARE SOME OF THE BEST PLANTS, FLOWERS AND HERBS TO CULTIVATE IN AN INDOOR ENVIRONMENT?
A Herbs like basil, thyme, cilantro, mint and more can be grown indoors, although they will be more short-lived and less vigorous than their outdoor counterparts. Individual pots grown on a windowsill and the extremely easy and fun kokedama (check out YouTube videos) moss containers that can be hung in convenient spots are just two ways to display your favorite culinary or “scent”- sational plants. It is great fun to snip fresh herbs as you need them, as well as being economical.
Some choices for hanging baskets that will be happy gracing your indoor space include spider/airplane plants, Apothos ivy, English ivy, peperomia, and, in areas with a littlemore humidity, Boston fern.
Sanseverias, or snake plants, make a nice upright statement and, according to NASA research, are one of the best plants for cleaning the air in enclosed spaces.
It might be surprising to hear that an easy flowering plant for indoors is the phalaenopsis orchid. The flowers are so exotic that it seems that it would be fussy. It is not. Most bloom more than once a year and have a long bloom time.
Aglaonema (Chinese evergreen), ficus, draecena, and diffenbacchia are other good choices. Succulents are happy in the drier indoor atmosphere.
Q WHAT KIND OF SUCCULENTS GROW BEST IN THIS CLIMATE AND WHAT CARE?
A Succulents are perfect plants for the Big Country. They love it hot and dry. Clay soil needs to be amended with expanded shale, composted topsoil, even gravel to allow for good drainage. A rock mulch is ideal. Water seldom, if at all. If growing succulents outdoors, you need to know your growing zone. Abilene is zone 8a, with lows down to 10 degrees in the winter. Be sure the plants you buy are zone 8 or a higher number. Otherwise, they will freeze in the winter. Many agaves, yuccas and sedums thrive here, but some will not, which is why knowing exactly which variety you have is important.
Tender desirable varieties, like aloe vera, can be brought indoors for the winter.
Q WHAT ARE BEST PRACTICES FOR CREATING AND SUSTAINING AN HERB GARDEN?
A Many of the herbs we grow in Texas are Mediterranean and are happy in our dry heat but need well-drained soil. They are perfect candidates for a raised bed or even a large container. Herb spirals are popular and instructions to build are available on many online sites.
Check plant tags for mature size and light requirements. Allow room so that the herbs won’t be overcrowded as they mature and arrange so that the ones that need the most light are planted on the south and west sides where they will be happy.
Keeping herbs clipped will keep them bushy and productive. When allowed to bolt, or go to seed, quality is reduced. Annuals die once they have set seed, so snip away.
Q ARE THERE ANY NEW GARDENING TRENDS?
A Growing vegetables along with other plants in ornamental beds and even hanging baskets is becoming more popular. “Landscaping with Edible Plants in Texas,” by Cheryl Beesley, and Pam Crawford’s “Easy Container Combos: Vegetables and Flowers” are both great books to explore for those interested.
People are beginning to demand more from their plants. Why not have a rose that is beautiful, scented, disease-resistant and a great source of Vitamin C from the rose hips sported after the flowering is done? My favorite that checks all the boxes is ‘Carefree Beauty.’ Coral honeysuckle is a great native vine with lovely flowers that also attracts hummingbirds. If that were not enough, it is also a host plant for some butterflies and moths. No more sitting around just looking pretty.
Pollinator gardens are a hot trend right now as populations of these important insects continue to decrease. Using more native plants and reducing the use of pesticides are key points and promise ever more beautiful landscapes.
For more information, contact the Big Country Master Gardener Association at 325-672-6048 or email@example.com.