Houston Gardening: Fruit Trees to Flowers, Butterflies to Basil, RCW Nurseries Speaks!

RCW Nurseries has been providing local Texans with flowers, trees, vegetables, shrubs, and other gardening supplies and landscaping services since 1979. You could say they know a thing or two[thousand] about plants. They’re specifically well versed on plants and gardening techniques that work great in the Houston area. So, when some of our readers asked questions about wildflowers, fruit trees, and soil, we decided to interview a real specialist. The Pink Armadillo is very grateful to Martin Fontenot, nurseryman of RCW Nurseries, for taking the time to answer our questions.

What are a few plants that you recommends we plant during the spring?

In Houston, above the level of annuals, pretty much anything you like. Since we are South of the temperate zone we have a 12 month planting season on most things.

Also, “Spring” is a somewhat vague term here in Houston. This year it started in late January, and other times it has waited until March. At the moment we are in the middle of April and it looks like we are going into what other areas would consider Summer.

The best idea on annuals to plant now would be to visit your local nursery. Note, I said nursery, not garden center. Find a place that hires nurserymen and women; professionals with plants. See what they have and ask questions about how long things will last.

Say someone wants fruit trees. What trees thrive in the Houston area?

The big three fruits in the Houston area are Citrus, Figs and Pomegranates. They were brought over here 500 years ago from Spain and they’ve been running whole hog since then. A bit behind them come things like Loquats, Plums, Persimmons (the oriental types taste best), Avocados (they have to be babied the first four years usually, but they pay you back with avocados), Jujubes, and several other wonderful things. Outside of the trees, don’t forget that tough old rose cousin, Blackberries, and, in a shady area, those wonderful Blueberries.

Speaking of berries, what about flowering plants or berries for attracting local birds and butterflies? Are there some plants they particularly love?

Okay, with butterflies, let’s be honest, they are simply attracted to any flowers other than garlic. They are not notoriously picky about their pollen sources. Some plants have special attractions, such as milkweed (Asclepius) being the only things Monarch butterfly larvae can eat. Frittelary’s have a notorious predilection for denuding the leaves of passion vines, et cetera. However, attracting butterflies is set up simply by there being flowers.

Birds in our area are rather catholic in their tastes. Japanese Blueberry, which is a late introduction to our area, still has a fruit that mockingbirds are mad for. Pretty much all local birds that are not carnivores join forces to make Fig Tree grower’s lives a constant battle. Some plants get a specialized crew, such as Hollies and Cardinals and Nuthatches, but most put out a fruit enjoyed by most birds. The great exceptions are Tallow and China Berry, which have waxy fruit.

What are some easy indigenous plants that you can just plant and let grow, without too much watering and maintenance?

Okay, let’s set this up carefully. Two notes about “native plants;” some are real pains and ugly as sin, while some of the strangers and newcomers are very worth planting in our area, thus increasing our plant diversity (even while other strangers such as Tallows work against said diversity).

That said, one must also be careful of lists of “native plants of Texas,” because what may flourish in El Paso or Lubbock may languish here, while many of our water-loving brood don’t last long in the drier parts of the state. Also, some plants that grow in full sun in Dallas want shade in Houston. Check a local nurseryman about your plants.
You can often make things from other parts of the state work with a little modification of practice.

One thing you can do is pass through the city and look at what is flourishing. If you do this, and want to find it in a nursery without knowing its name, either get some leaves from the plant or take a picture of it close up, and ask a plant professional.

There are a ton of new communities in NW Houston that don’t have big trees yet. What are some full-sun flowers you recommend, and what does RCW Nurseries carry?

Well, your HOA will hate you if you just leave the place open for the wildflowers, beautiful as they may be. At RCW Nurseries we have a ton of great flowering plants for sun around here. Rudbeckia (Black-Eyed Susan), Coreopsis, Gaillardia, Lantanas, Ruellia, and Milkweed, among others. I’d have to make you a field catalog to get them all in. A good way to find all these is to visit a local meadow that has not been mowed recently.

And how about areas like The Woodlands where yards are mostly shaded? What do you recommend they plant?

Tons of things flourish in the shade in Houston, from Blueberries, Plumbagos, Gingers, down to little annuals like Australian Violet and Impatiens. Your local nursery (and again I stress, NURSERY, not Garden Center) will be able to show you a lot of things to brighten that shade area.

Reader Submitted Questions:

I have Hydrangeas and I understand they change color based on the soil they’re in. If I want purple hydrangeas, what should I do?

You’d have to be really good at balance on this one. Basically, Hydrangeas go blue in acid conditions and pink in alkaline. If you can get the soil exactly between those two, you can achieve purple. Good luck on that.

I want to grow my own vegetables so I can have organic produce year round. What type of vegetables do you recommend I plant?

Given that we have three growing seasons here in Houston, you are in luck. And you have a huge range of vegetables and herbs to choose from. I recommend you get a very crucial book for our area, Year Round Vegetables, Fruits, and Flowers for Metro Houston, by Dr. Bob Randall and you’ll have all the information about which, how, and when to grow any of those wonderful vegetables and herbs.

What’s the trick to get rosemary to grow in containers? Mine keep dying.

It depends on the container; both its size and its ability to shed water. A full grown Rosemary needs something like a 15-gallon size pot. It also needs to drain well, so be sure to add some pot shards, gravel, or Styrofoam packing peanuts at the bottom of the pot. Feed it with something nice and organic about three times a year so it can maintain its immune system.

What are some herbs that thrive in Houston, and do you recommend growing them in containers, or beds, or either?

Oh, there are tons of different herbs to grow here. And most herbs have a wide range of places they will grow. Basils, mints, fennels, dills, chives and a hundred others should be available. Most will grow year round, although some, like Basil, only favor the spring to autumn time, and others, like Cilantro are only happy during the Autumn to Spring cycle.

If you are impressed with the level of expertise demonstrated in this interview, please stop by RCW Nurseries and ask your own questions! They’re open 8:00 AM – 5:00 PM Monday through Saturday, and 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM on Sunday.

RCW Nurseries is located at:

15809 Tomball Pkwy,
Houston, TX 77086
Phone: 281.440.5161

Visit www.RCWNurseries.com

RCW Nurseries

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