Looking for some ideas to enhance your yard or garden? How about some choice plants for the garden? The Smith County Master Gardener-sponsored Fall Garden Conference, called "Bulbs and More," may be just the ticket to help you get out of the summer doldrums and take advantage our "second spring" fall planting season.

This free event takes place Saturday at Harvey Convention Center, and starts with a feature presentation by Denyse Cummins, a recently retired horticulture agent for the LSU AgCenter. Ms. Cummins is a well-known pubic speaker and has spoken at the Texas, Louisiana and Arkansas state Master Gardener conferences, as well as cut flower and sustainable agriculture organizations.

In retirement, she is developing gardens in Shreveport, Louisiana, Colorado and Costa Rica, and has returned to her first love, growing horticultural crops. Ms. Cummins talk is "Building a Sustainable Garden" or "Working With What You've Got." I like the title of this program, as I believe gardeners should be working with whatever conditions their garden site presents, rather than trying to drastically alter it to grow plants not particularly adapted to those conditions. In her talk, she will discuss prepping soils, using less fertilizer and water, recycling and choosing plants. There will be time at the end of her talk to ask questions.

Following Ms. Cummins, I will give highlights of some of the newer plants being offered for sale starting at 11 a.m. following the conference. There also will be a Master Gardener education table where you can pick up educational publications and ask your gardening questions to knowledgeable local gardeners.

The doors for this free event open for registration at 8:30 a.m., the program begins at 9 a.m. and the sale starts at 11 a.m. and goes to 1 p.m.


Here's a peek at a few of the plants offered for sale.

Trees: Two unusual redbud varieties will be for sale. "Traveller" is a striking, slow-growing, weeping redbud that is perfect as a striking accent plant in the landscape. It has the typical rosy blooms in early spring, but it is its dramatic, downward growing branches that draws the eye the rest of the year.

"Rising Sun" redbud is a newer, grafted variety of our native redbud that has stunning, colorful new foliage. As the leaves emerge in spring, they start off with a tangerine orange/yellow blend. They slowly fade to yellow, and then the typical green color. The combination of new growth against a foil of darker foliage is dramatic.

Red maple is a native East Texas tree, and we are offering a variety called "Summer Red," so-called because the new growth starts off with reddish-purple young shoots, fading later to green, and ending the season with yellow fall foliage.

Shrubs: Three varieties of native hybrid azaleas will be available this year. These are not your typical round-form, evergreen azalea shrubs, native to the orient, that dominate our wonderful azalea trail. Azaleas native to the U.S. are all deciduous, losing their leaves in late fall, and have an upright growth habit. They shine in early spring when they burst into bloom with their large trusses of fragrant flowers. The varieties in the sale are all hybrids of more than one native species, and do great in the South.

"Stonewall Jackson" is a Tom Dodd Confederate series hybrid deciduous azalea (crosses between Exbury azaleas with the heat-tolerant native Florida azalea) bred for the heat and humidity of the South. Like most native azaleas, it needs moist, well-drained acid soil and prefers afternoon shade, but needs moderate sunlight to bloom well. This variety is fragrant and has spectacular medium orange-gold blooms in early spring.

"Sunrise" is a native Aromi hybrid deciduous azalea, with red-orange open to yellow orange flowers similar to "Stonewall Jackson," but more yellow in overall appearance.

"Welch's Yellow" is similar to other native deciduous azaleas, but this selection has large, pastel-yellow flowers with no orange.

"Pink Lemonade" blueberry is a plant you can grow as a shrub and eat its fruit, too. Pink Lemonade is a blueberry with, yes, pink berries when ripe that are as tasty as any blueberry you could grow. Like all blueberry plants, they need full sun, well-drained, acid soils with plenty of organic matter. Pink Lemonade is reported to be self-fertile, but benefits from pollination from another rabbiteye blueberry bush nearby.

Grass: Also being offered are two grasses and a carex, a grass-like plant. Pink Muhly Grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris) is a favorite for its attractive, airy pink blooms beginning in October. This short perennial grass is perfect for sunny spots with good drainage.

Shenandoah Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) is a native grass growing 3 to 4 feet tall with striking red tips to the foliage in summer and topped with airy pink plumes in the fall. Needs full to part sun and is tolerant of drought, wet soil, dry soil and other adverse conditions. Good winter interest but cut clumps back to ground in late winter or early spring.

Orange Carex (Carex testacea) looks like a grass, but is actually in the sedge family. Its leaves are bright green at the base, but the foliage displays a nice orange-brown color in spring and summer, becoming noticeably more orange in winter. Good for shady areas. Needs rich, moist, well-drained soil.

Perennials: There are several choice perennials being offered this year, including both red and pink Turk's Cap (a favorite of hummingbirds), John Fanick phlox (a Texas Superstar), gloxinia Bolivian Sunset or Evita, Purple Heart, Acimenes and Ajuga Catlin's Giant, to name a few.

Of course, the long history of this sale has consisted of providing good quality bulbs that are proven to thrive and multiply here in East Texas. There are more than 20 varieties of narcissus and jonquils, plus other bulbs, including rainlilies, spider lilies, surprise lilies, oxblood lilies, crinum lilies, parrot lilies, Spanish bluebells, hardy amaryllis, summer snowflakes (Leucojum), and a few species tulip varieties.

You can see the complete list of plants and descriptions by going to the Smith County Master Gardener website (scmg.tamu.edu) and click on "Coming Events."

The Tyler Chapter of the Native Plant Society will also sell native plants at the Bulbs and More sale.


Keith Hansen is Smith County horticulturist with the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. His web page is http://EastTexasGardening.tamu.edu. His blog is http://agri-life.org/etg. And find him on Facebook at facebook.com/easttexasgardening.


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