The Tom Green County Agrilife Extension office held their annual gardening seminar at the Tom Green County 4H facility on Saturday, February 29th. The seminar was named, “Turf, Trees and Tomatoes, the Three T’s of Texas Horticulture.” Hosting the event was the Tom Green County Texas A&M Agrilife Extension Service office. Allison Watkins, the horticulturist for the Tom Green County Agrilife Extension office was the hostess for the Extension Office.

Along with Watkins, 2 other Agrilife agents made presentations; Dr. Russ Wallace, Professor and Extension Vegetable Specialist Department of Horticultural Sciences

Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center in Lubbock and Dr. Chrissie Segars, Assistant Professor and Extension Turfgrass Specialist, from the Agrilife Department of Soil and Crop Sciences in Dallas.

Agrilife spared no expense or experience for the seminar, with Wallace coming in from Lubbock and Segars from Dallas. Wallace is a highly respected professor and researcher with his Ph.D in Vegetable Crops from Cornell University. Wallace’s territory for Agrilife covers the Texas High Plains and Panhandle regions.

Segars earned her Ph.D in Crop sciences from Oklahoma State University and is the go-to person when it comes to turf grass. Her interests include Turfgrass Management, Turfgrass Physiology, Athletic Field Management and Player Safety as well as Reducing Inputs in Turfgrass Management.

There isn’t much that Watkins doesn’t know about trees and she, as well as Segars and Wallace, covered an extensive amount of information in an easily understandable and gardener-friendly manner. The presenters answered technical questions about chemicals and mixes as well as less-detailed questions such as, “What grass do I plant in the shade?” Every question was important and the presenters encouraged participation. The time limits for each class weren’t enforced, which allowed everyone time to ask all of the questions that they wanted to.

The seminar, as promised, offered everything anyone could want when it came to turf, trees and tomatoes.

Watkins started off the day with her presentation on, “Tree Selection and Establishment.” Watkins began with several quotes about trees, including one from Alexander Smith, “A man doesn’t plant a tree for himself. He plants it for posterity.” Watkins then delved into the topic of trees. She went over tree selection and establishment such as selecting native trees or adapted trees and consider mature size. Watkins also covered selecting a site, or rather, a tree, “Select a tree for the site, not a site for the tree.” She also covered the subject of purchasing trees; Don’t buy root bound trees; Select trees with good form; The biggest tree is not always the best; as well as “Inspecting for girdling roots and double leaders,” Watkins pointed out that only the outer ring of a tree will take up the water. She talked about transplant shock, “Smaller trees will go through less transplant shock than larger tree,” and discussed handling of trees, “Always handle a tree by the root ball and not by the trunk.” She covered Oak Wilt as well, with one bit of information centering on how the disease is transmitted. Buying infect oak firewood from other places and bringing it here can spread Oak Wilt. You can find out further information on Oak Wilt at www.TexasOakWilt.org.

The remainder of Watkins’ class covered prepping the site for your tree, planting the tree and protecting the tree. Watkins also said that that staking a tree should only be done as a last resort. Her presentation, as well as the presentations from Wallace and Segars included slides with photos of the do’s and don’ts.

Watkins also gave out information on recommended trees for this specific area of the state, which included; Texas Redbud; Mexican Redbud; Oklahoma Redbud; Mexican Buckeye; Chisos Rosewood; Mexican Paloverde; Evergreen Sumac; Western Soapberry as well as many more species that she said do well here with the proper care.

The next class was “Growing Tomatoes,” and was taught by Wallace. It seems that growing tomatoes is woven into the DNA of every Texas gardener and it was a hot topic at the seminar. Wallace is not only the Extension Agent Vegetable Specialist, he’s also a tomato judge at the fair in Lubbock and in the Panhandle. Wallace grows tomatoes for Texas A&M Agrilife at their facility in Lubbock and is a master of the red fruit that is the subject of so much frustration one year and pride the next year for Texas gardeners. Yes, tomatoes are fruits but they’re considered vegetables by nutritionists.

The subject of tomatoes went well beyond the 60 minutes that was schedule for the topic, but the subject never bogged down or hit a lull. There was a great deal of conversation and numerous questions about growing tomatoes. Some of the information put out by Wallace included: Tomatoes are a tropical fruit; they like an average temperature of 70-80 degrees; they don’t tolerate freezes; they like a pH of 5.5 – 7.3; they don’t like salinity (some fertilizers contain salt and tomatoes don’t like it); they prefer consistent moisture and don’t like to be waterlogged; they prefer starter fertilizer; they respond best if regularly fertilized with small amounts throughout the season. Wallace said that Miracle Grow™ is a good fertilizer, especially starter solutions. Miracle Grow™ is made in Ballinger at Buddy’s Plant Plus.

Wallace said that drip-irrigations systems worked best for growing tomatoes and stressed the importance of keeping them regularly fertilized and watered uniformly throughout the season.

Wallace also covered the selection of tomato varieties. Some of the varieties covered were Phoenix, Shady Lady, Solar Fire, Sun King, Celebrity, Classy Lady, Sun Master and BHN 444. The pros and cons of each variety were discussed in depth, as well as their resistance to various diseases and pests such as Verticillum Wilt (V), Tomato Spotted Wilt Virus (TSWV), Tomato Yellow Leaf Curl Variety (TYLCV), Fusarium (F), Nematode (N), Tobacco Mosaic (T), Alternaria Stem Canker (A) and Stemphylium solani (S), which also known as Gray Leaf Spot.

Wallace covered how to identify problems in your tomato plants, such as iron deficiency, which can be spotted by a yellowing/bleaching of leaves. Iron deficiency is common to soils with high pH and salinity; Physiological Heat Roll was also discussed. Physiological Heat Roll is caused by heat stress. He also spoke about how to address issues such as Physiological Heat Roll: Use shade cloth to protect them from the sun; cool down the plant with a spray bottle of water. Wallace said that irrigating your tomatoes more will not help. Perhaps the most concerning, at least to Texas gardeners, is that tomato flowers will pop off when they hit 92° - 93°. Giving them protection from scalding afternoon sun is critical when our temperatures get into the high 90s and 100s.

Segars covered the subjects of, “Turf Irrigation,” and “Hot Topics in Turf.” Segars said that good turf grass can help in several ways, “It can absorb pollutants, heat, noise, dust and it can prevent soil erosion. She said that the primary selection criteria should revolve around heat/drought tolerance, irrigation requirements, traffic tolerance, desired use and the time of year the turf is most used. Anyone who has endured a west Texas summer knows the frustration of watching your lawn turn brown in July when water restrictions set in and you can only water your yard once a week while temperatures bake it at 100°.

When it comes to native grasses and drought-resistant grasses, Segars said that Buffalo Grass is the only native turf grass in the USA. She said that Buffalo Grass and Bermuda grass are the most drought-resistant grasses and the Zoysia grass thrives in filtered shade. St. Augustine is another good grass for shady areas. Buffalo Grass is the most cold-tolerant grass. According to Segars, the downside to Zoysia is that it is a slow-growing grass. All of the grasses and varieties of each grass were covered during the class, along with how to care for them and how to build a great lawn, even in drought conditions.

If you’d like more information on the material covered in the classes or have questions about horticulture, you can email Watkins at aewatkins@ag.tamu.edu or call her at (325) 659-6528.

If you would like more information or have questions about growing tomatoes, or vegetable gardens in general, you can email Wallace at: rwwallace@ag.tamu.edu or call him at the Lubbock Agrilife Extension office at (806) 746-4057.

For questions about grasses, Segars can be reached at Chrissie.Segars@ag.tamu.edu or follow her on Twitter: Hairyligule21. The phone number to the Agrilife Dallas office is (972) 952-9212.

The annual Concho Valley Master Gardeners plant sale is on April 4th, from 8 a.m. until noon (or sold out, whichever comes first). Last year over 4,500 plants were sold. The event is wildly popular and most plants are sold out within 1-2 hours of the doors opening. The event is at the Tom Green County 4H facility and it’s best to get there 30 minutes to an hour early to get in line.

In September the 9th Annual Fall Landscaping Symposium will be held at the Tom Green County 4H facility.

You can find out more information, as well as Allison Watkins horticulture updates, soil testing and Earthkind Landscaping at www.txmg.org/conchovalley.