Growing Wild Things
Anyone who has traveled I-75 north through Richardson in the spring knows that the Wildflower King is John Guthrie, Richardson’s superintendent of horticulture. Richardson’s wildflower program started in 1990 with eight timid acres; it comprised more than 100 acres this year. Here’s some fall planting advice from the king himself:
1. Sow your seeds either on Bermuda grass cut short or on bare ground that is lightly tilled. You can “water in” your seed, John says, to establish good seed to soil contact, but it’s not necessary.
2. Most wildflower seed doesn’t need to be buried; just broadcast it evenly over the soil. With larger seeded flowers, like bluebonnets, cover very lightly with dirt—no deeper than the seed is wide.
3. Is there a foolproof wildflower? John says the closest thing is the cornflower. He has also had excellent results with Drummond phlox, evening primrose, Texas paintbrushes, Red corn poppies, and, of course, bluebonnets.
4. To buy wildflower seed in bulk, John uses Wildseed Farms in Fredericksburg and Native American Seed from Junction, Texas.
5. When your wildflowers start to look more like weeds than wildflowers, just mow them down, says John. If you want them to re-seed, let them go for “two weeks of ugly” before mowing them.
Take Good Care of Your Tools
This is your conscience speaking: when was the last time you even thought about cleaning and sharpening your garden tools? Josh Bracken of Nicholson-Hardie gave us some one-minute strategies for tool cleaning and maintenance:
1. Get a couple of buckets and fill them with sand and light motor oil. After you use a tool, dip it in motor oil, just enough to moisten it. Wipe it clean, and then shove it in the sand. This works well for pitchforks, hoes, shovels—any simple tool with a blade and a handle. The secret is, every time you replace the tool, you’re actually giving it a lube job and a light abrasive cleaning.
2. After your fall clean-up, give your tools a makeover. For shears and clippers, oil the joints and give the blades a good sharpening with a whetstone.
3. Every experienced gardener knows about Felco pruning shears. Have you changed your blades lately? Replace your blades and you’ll harken back to that first time you used them, a sensation known only to Felco aficionados.
Dan Gatlin’s Method: Harvest Great Grapes
Repeat after us: growing grapes is not a snap. Growing grapes is not a snap. If you’re still game, here’s how vineyard expert Dan Gatlin suggests you get a grape harvest in the works.
The first and most important choice is the variety. “I recommend the Palomino grape,” says Dan, “but many others are possible.” Dan gets his grapes from California growers. “Geno’s Nursery in Madera will ship your vines out UPS without
“I don’t want anyone to think they can try this and have immediate
success,” he adds. “They might get mad at me.” We hear you, Dan.
That said: plant your grapes in April, knowing that your first year is all about establishing a strong root system. Dan recommends using grow tubes to get a jump on the process. Grow tubes are plastic cylinders about 3 feet high that help young plants because they form a sort of mini-greenhouse. While there may be an organic alternative, Dan says his annual growing cycle consists of spraying insecticide (he uses Sevin Liquid for cut worms in the spring) and approved-for-fruits fungicide as needed until it gets hot, and then weeding, watering, tying, and netting. Fancy training techniques are unnecessary for the amateur grower, but you will need to put netting over your fruit
clusters to protect them from birds.
Now, be patient. And call us when you bottle your first harvest. We want a taste.