Olive Tree

Native to Middle East
Drought resistant

I know nothing about them yet. I planted it in a spot that gets morning and mid afternoon sun. Despite the lack of rain it seems to be settling in okay. I’ve been watering heavily this week, I’ll taper that off and we’ll see how it does

Carissa Macrocarpa Natal Plum Shrub

Natal Plum Shrub
Natal Plum Shrub
Natal Plum Shrub

Native to South Africa
White flowers
Fruits in summer to fall
Does well in coastal areas, salt tolerant
Propagate by seed or cutting

Attracts night flying insects

It’s too soon to say too much, I’ve only had them a week. More photos and info to follow as I see how they do

Meyer Lemon Trees

This year I collected my first crop of lemons from my Meyer Lemon tree. The tree’s been here three years. The first two years it bloomed early and I lost the flowers to a late winter chill. I find it’s not uncommon for newly planted plants to be a bit confused about flowering times for a few years.

Lemon and all fruit trees need hours of full sunlight. If the tree isn’t getting full sunlight the fruit may not reach maturity before the cold weather sets in. That said I’ve seen lemon trees covered in healthy fruit late December.

Pruning fruit trees is very important for good fruit production. Light needs to reach all the fruit growing on the tree. When I prune the lemon tree I first remove any dead branches. Then I remove any branches that cross other branches. These will rub in the wind and create wounds that may get infested. Third I remove branches growing down, or growing straight up. Branches growing down get shaded and tend to be weak, ones growing straight up at 90′ angles to the branch they will take all the energy from the branch they are growing from. Lastly I thin out any branches preventing light from reaching into the tree.

In time the tree can reach 18′ tall. You’ll want to prune it to keep it low enough to easily reach the fruit.

Meyer’s Lemon trees are named after Frank Meyer who brought the tree here from China in 1908. The trees quickly became popular until the Meyer Lemon Trees came under attack from a virus in the 1940s. Banned in an effort to save the rest of the citrus trees a new version was bred that was virus free and brought back in the 1970s.

Meyer lemons have thicker skins and are sweeter than most lemons.

Once settled in the tree will often bloom twice a year and provide year round lemons.

Meyer Lemon Trees also make good balcony plants and will grow well in pots.

( also known as Valley Lemon in Texas )

Reasons your tree might not fruit:
– Too little sun
– Late frost kills blooms
– Lack of pollination, flowers but no fruit

Warning: No one told me lemon trees have very large, very sharp thorns. Wear thick leather gloves or tread carefully when pruning.

Easily grows from cuttings.

– scale – treat with insecticidal oils
Citrus greening

Meyer lemons are not considered true lemons being a cross between lemon, orange and mandarins.

Note: This and all the other fruit trees survived the extreme summer of ’11 none bore fruit

2016 I removed this tree. It grew, had a bumper crop of lemons every few years, but the lemons don’t taste very good and the tree was high maintenance. I decided it wasn’t worth the trouble.

Young tree may die back to ground during a cold winter, then grow back from root stock that is different than original tree. Many fruit trees are grafted onto sturdier root stock. If you’ve cut your tree back to the ground or let root suckers grow you may be getting fruit from the root stock, not the Meyer Lemon Tree. Some one told me that the thorny side has bad fruit. There are thorns on my Meyer Lemon Tree

Papaya Tree (Carica papaya )

This has to be one of the easiest plants I’ve tried. I stuck in in the ground last spring. Then it didn’t rain for 4 months, and we were on strict water rations. Didn’t even phase this papaya. As you can see it grew itself up and just now in mid August has begun to fruit. That said it needs warm weather, it died during the first frost it experienced.

Papaya trees can reach 20′ tall, I’ve yet to see one over 6′ in the Houston area. Leaves can be 2′ across, mine are about a 1′ in width and 18″ in length.

The stem is soft, rings are from previous leaves, much like a palm.

I’ve read fruit and flowering occurs year round, I’ve only seen fruit late summer to fall locally.

There are male and female plants, male flowers are on short stalks, female on the trunk. You need both. I guess I just got lucky.

Grow in full sun. Loves lots of water I’m told, this one seems to have been just fine with out it this summer.

Like many tropical plants it has a white, milky sap, which should make you think it is toxic and it is toxic. Unripe fruit must be cooked and don’t eat the leaves.

Close relative of passion vine.

South American Native used as an important food source in ancient times. Many grow wild near the Mayan ruins. Interestingly papaya contains an enzyme which helps to dissolve raw meat. In Africa papaya leaves are wrapped around raw meat before it is eaten. The meat is then cooked in the leaves. ( see note about toxin and don’t try this at home ) Some believe the juice of the fruit aids stomach problems.

Several viruses can attack papaya, watch for rings on leaves and destroy plant if found. Also cotton root rot can attack papaya.

Competitive gardening

While I’d heard of this or that giant vegetable winning awards at fairs I’d never really paid a whole lot of attention. But while I wasn’t watching giant vegetable growing has become a serious competitive sport. I expect much of that has to do with the internet allowing far flung devotes to connect.

If you are looking to connect with other giant vegetable growers you might start with Giant vegetables at the Garden Web Forum

Growing giant vegetables is much like growing giant flowers.
1) Start with a good variety, heirloom is best.
2) Remove all other fruits or flowers so all the plants energy into the one you want to grow supersized.
3) Fertilize regularly
4) Water regularly
5) And a bit of luck is need.

Pacific Giant Vegetable Growers Organization
Seed man offers giant vegetable seeds
Giant Vegetables ( directions for growing from Redwood Barn Nursery )

Time to plant the tomato seeds

Here in Houston we have two tomato growing times. One starts in mid Feb. and ends when the lows for the day are higher than 70’F, one starts mid Aug. and goes until the nights regularly get into the 50’s.

So I went looking for tomato plants last week but none were to be found. Local mom and pop nurseries have tomato plants the big box stores don’t get it and had none. I settled for some ‘Better Boy’ seeds. They have sprouted and I’m proud to say I’ve remembered to water them daily.

I was talking to Nancy at ‘My Garden Spot’ and she told me she had been saving the seeds from the heirloom tomatoes that you find in the supermarket. I don’t know why that thought never crossed my mind, but it hadn’t. I picked up some heirloom tomatoes and will set aside some seeds this week.

To use the seeds from the heirloom tomatoes, save a few on a paper towel and let them dry out for about a week. Then plant as usual.  I tried this last fall and the plants were much sturdier and better producing than the plants I had purchased at the store.

Later I learned on Twitter from Plan Garden that tomato seeds should be fermented first. Purchase your heirloom tomatoes and let them turn to mush on your counter before removing the seeds. This is supposed to help with germination, and is reported to kill disease that may be present in the tomatoes and strengthen the seeds.

I’m told they will not germinate otherwise, but mine did fine with out fermenting last fall. So try it either way or both ways. I did some poking around and most of the old school gardeners recommend fermenting your tomatoes before removing seeds.

You’ll want to put your fall tomato plants in pots or some sheltered section of the garden. There are always a few unexpected cool days early on.

I also only filled the pots half to three quarters full with dirt. Tomatoes are a vine and benefit from having the bottom covered with dirt as they grow.

This’ll be my first fall crop down here. I’m pleased with the summer crop progress over earlier crops so I have great hopes for these guys.

Nancy also tells me there tend to be less bugs and other problems with her fall crops.

So start your fall tomatoes!


Tomatoes have turned out to be one of my biggest challenges in Houston. In New England you bought your tomato plants and stuffed them in the ground on Memorial Day. You might toss down a handful of fertilizer at that time. Then in August you had 8′ tall plants with a bushel full of tomatoes each.

It doesn’t work that way down here. Which is bad. It is so hot down here all the market tomatoes have been refrigerated somewhere along the way and once you refrigerate a tomato you may as well throw it out. It has no flavor after that.

You have two growing seasons for tomatoes in Houston. The first batch goes in Mid March and is done once night time lows stay above 70’F usually late June or early July. The second batch goes in mid August and goes until nights stay down under 50’F. Tomatoes are picky about putting out fruit. You need low temperatures above 50’F and below 70’F for tomatoes to make tomatoes.

More importantly tomatoes do not like clay soil. Not even a little. They will grow but not well and seem to settle in to the spot where you don’t pull them out because they look like there is hope but they never do better than that. You will need to put them in a raised bed or in large pots.

Tomatoes are heavy feeders which is also a challenge in Houston. They need a steady supply of fertilizer. Too much and you will have gorgeous plants with no tomatoes, too little and you’ll have small scraggly looking plants with no tomatoes.

My best success so far has been to pot up tomato plants in large pots. I purchase a bag of fertilized potting soil for each plant and toss in a handful ( 1/4 cup ) of time released fertilizer. Then as your tomato plants grow use a liquid fertilizer that you can spray on the leaves as well as into the soil. When you plant your tomato bury it deep. Tomatoes are vines and will easily root all along the stem that is below the soil line.

Tomatoes need full sun, even here. If you do not give them full sun they will not be able to reach full growth in the short growing seasons we have.

Watering should be steady. Too much water and your tomatoes will split.

Tomatoes are the number one method to get nematodes in your garden. Check the roots when planting them and do not plant any with swollen roots or bumps on their roots. Nematodes are permanent.

Tomatoes are self pollinating. The flowers close and each flower pollinates itself. Feel free to give your plants a little shake to help if it hasn’t been windy.

The Master Gardener’s Handbook recommends the following varieties: Bingo, Carnival, Heatwave, Celebrity, Merced, Sunmaster, and Cherry tomatoes Small Fry and Red Cherry.

I was happy with the Big Boys I planted this summer.

Problems you might have:
Fusarium wilt: The plant is slow growing and wilts. Leaves yellow then brown and there is no fruit. The only way to know for sure is to kill the plant and do an autopsy. If you slice up the stem you will see brown streaks. There is nothing you can do. Future plants planted in the same area will also be infected Try pots or a raised bed somewhere else.

Lack of nitrogen: Bottom leaves are yellow with green veins, grow is slow. New leaves are tiny. Fertilize.

Lack of potassium: Slow growth and small brown spots appear on the leaves. Leaf edges turn yellow and leaves curl down. Fertilize.

Leaf miner: White squiggles appear on the tomato leaves. Remove all leaves that are marked. Apply an appropriate pesticide.

White flies: Wiggle plant and lots of them will fly off. Try a yellow sticky trap out in the garden. There’s not much that works on these guys.

Horn worm: Man these guys are big and ugly! They are exactly the same color as your green tomato. The tomatoes look like some large critter has taken a bite out of them. I pull them off and kill them.

No tomatoes: Too much fertilizer, too little sun, temperatures at night below 50’F or above 70’F.

Tomatoes have cracks in skin: caused by uneven watering.

Blossom end rot: The tomato rots on the bottom, usually from too much water or too much fertilizer or from a lack of calcium in the soil. Add calcium chloride 4 tablespoons per gallon of water.

Brown spots on leaves after a rain: Ozone damage, when the rain comes from the southeast part of the city it may bring ozone with it. The ozone damages tomatoes and peanut plants. While it looks bad your tomatoes should be fine.

More information:
Houston Vegetable Garden Blog
Cover your tomatoes for healthier, prettier produce and longer growing seasons