Planting a newly rooted bougainvillea

I was fortunate enough about a year ago to be given a branch from a yellow /orange bougainvillea tree that neighbor was pruning.  I have one plant that I grew from the cuttings large ceramic container and now wish to place it in the ground. 

My questions are the following:

How deep should the hole be?    Do I need to put pebbles in the bottom along with peat moss?    How wide do the roots of this plant generally grow?    If I mix potting soil, manure and the ground soil will it be alright for the plant?
- Diana

Plant your new bougainvillea the same depth that it has been growing in the pot.    You may want to work a couple inches of compost into the planting hole.    If you have heavy clay, you can also add either peat moss or perlite.    In regards to manure, make sure that it is completely “composted” before you use it.    It can burn plants.  


Yaupon Holly

Yaupon Holly

Yaupon Holly (Ilex vomatoria) – by Heidi Linnemann,  Cameron County Master Gardener

One of the easiest to grow and most versatile of our native plants, you will enjoy adding the Yaupon Holly to your landscape.  Unlike the Christmas cactus we featured last month, the Yaupon takes no coddling or special treatment. The Yaupon sends down a tap root, making it drought and heat tolerant. It will grow in any soil, in full sun or shade (though the berries are better when the tree gets at least half a day of sun) – you don’t need a green thumb to enjoy this tree! 

The Yaupon is an evergreen, with glossy dark green leaves and a

Yaupon Fruit

pale grayish bark. It has small insignificant flowers in the spring, but is best known for the shiny red (or sometimes yellow) berries that cover the tree from late summer through fall. Note that it is only the female of the species that will bear fruit. Because this is one of the primary attractions of this tree, varieties sold in local garden centers are usually females.

There are cultivars of the Yaupon that come in any form you might desire. Dwarf cultivars (‘Nana’, ‘Stokes’s Dwarf’ and ‘Shilling’s Dwarf’) will grow to 5’ tall and spread 8’-10’.  If left alone, they will form into a rounded tall shrub, but can be easily trimmed to be a hedge. A columnar cultivar (‘Will Fleming’) and a weeping cultivar (‘Pendula’) are also available. The Yaupon can be trimmed to be single or multi-trunked, and in the wild it develops as a dense thicket offering birds great protection from enemies and elements.

Henry's Elfin Butterfly

Mockingbirds love this tree, and will flock to its fruit. The Yaupon is also a caterpillar host plant for the Henrys Elfin butterfly.

The scientific name of the Yaupon refers to the fact that Indians used the caffeine rich leaves and twigs of this tree to make a strong tea called Asi or ‘black drink’. They would drink this in large quantities and then vomit it back up. (Rest assured that this was self induced. The plant itself is not toxic.)


Soil Sampling

Is there a place where I can get some soil tested near Los Fresnos or perhaps San Benito?  – Eric G

There are three basic steps involved in obtaining a soil test: 

1) obtain sample bags and instructions,

2) collect composite samples,

3) select the proper test, and complete the information sheet and mail to the Soil, Water, and Forage Testing Laboratory at 345 Heep Center, College Station, TX 77843-2474.

The Cameron County Extension Office will have sample bags & instructions.  (1390 W Expressway 83, San Benito.  On the corner of Expressway 83 and Williams Road)   

Testing fees are:
Routine (R)-$10 per sample
Routine + Micronutrients (Micro)-$15 per sample
Routine + Organic Matter- $20 per sample
Routine + Micro+ Organic Matter $25 per


 The submission form (which I believe is also included with the testing bag) can be found at

To take a soil sample, take a shovel of soil six inches deep from 10 -12 spots around the sampling site.   Mix it up in a bucket.  Place the required amount into the sample bag.

More detailed information can be found at



Christmas Cactus

Christmas Cactus, Schlumbergera  -  by Heidi Linnemann, Cameron County Master Gardener

Native to the mountain rain forests of Brazil, the Christmas Cactus is part of the Zygo-Cactus family and is classified as an epiphyte as they are found in the forks of tree limbs where they grow in decayed leaves and other natural debris. Although part of the cactus family, they are truly different in all aspects from the desert cactus we know so well.  They don’t like direct sun, sandy soil or arid conditions.

Probably the best known of the epiphytic cactus, this plant is easily grown and has a long life. Hybridizing has resulted in varieties that come in a myriad of colors, and with attention to light, water and temperature, you can create blooms throughout the year.  The soil for this plant should be a combination of rich humus or compost and sand or perlite. As a succulent, the plant can store water, but unlike other cacti, it does not want to be dry. This plant loves humidity, so you might want to place the pot on a saucer containing an inch or so of gravel which you then keep moist. Water thoroughly when the top half of the soil is dry. 

Once the holiday (blooming) season is over, the plant needs to have a month of rest. It should be placed in a cool, dark place and limited water should be given. Do not panic if during this time it looses some leaves or appears to be weak. Do not prune, shape or pinch the Christmas cactus during this time. Once new growth starts, fertilize with a weak solution of liquid plant fertilizer every 2 or 3 weeks. (We recommend a 0-10-10).  Cool temperatures (55 -65 degrees) and long nights are required for 6 weeks. If the temperature is above 65 degrees, the plant needs 12 -13 hours of total darkness to start bud production. (Try placing the plant in a dark closet, or covering with a dark cloth.) When the plant starts developing flower buds, stop fertilizing and only water enough to keep the leaves from becoming shriveled.  But this IS the time to move the plant to a spot with normal indirect light. Try to keep the plant evenly moist, and do not resume your fertilization until the flowers have started to bloom.  

Bud or flower drop can usually be attributed to over-watering, lack of humidity or insufficient light. Bud drop will also occur if the plant is exposed to drafts. It’s smart to not repot too often, as this plant likes to be pot bound. You  can increase your collection by root cuttings.  The cuttings should be at least two stem segments (paddles) long. Allow the cuttings to dry for several days to allow the cut end to form a callus which helps prevent root rot.     Enjoy!


Why don’t my crape myrtles bloom?

My question is about crepe myrtles.   Mine look awful, they do not always flower,  the buds seem to just turn brown each and every year, some flower, but some do not.   And yet I pass by some homes and business and theirs seem to flourish !   Could it be I should replant them and maybe feed them something special ?  – Yvonne

Master Gardener Angela responds: 

Excerpt from:
“Crape Myrtles for Central Texas Landscapes
by Skip Richter, Travis County Extension Horticulturist / Texas Cooperative Extension

Crapes love sunlight, preferably at least 6 hours of direct sun. Although tolerant of a range of soil types, they perform best when provided good drainage. Work some compost into the soil throughout the planting area, rather than just in the planting hole. They will grow and bloom better with some extra nutrition. Select a fertilizer low in phosphorus (the middle number) for best results. A 3-1-2 or 4-1-2 ratio product works fine. Apply a light application of fertilizer in late February or early March. If they lack vigor, they may benefit from another application in May. Keep them mulched to discourage weed competition and protect the soil surface.

Also, several articles suggest that many people over-prune their crape myrtles.  Very little pruning is needed on a crape myrtle.  Prune only to remove dead wood, broken branches, or suckers that appear at the base of the plant or along the trunk in the spring. When pruning a young crape myrtle, select 3-7 permanent trunks.  Seed pods do not need to be removed, but can promote faster re-blooming in summer. 

Information taken from the article “Stop the Crape Murder” by Greg Grant, Research Associate, Piney Woods Native Plant Center, Stephen F. Austin State University Nacogdoches, Texas


Fall Planting

I am a new resident of Brownsville and I am interested in sprucing up my new backyard. New to the South Texas region, I have no idea of what to plant or when. I know that September is an unusual time to plant flowers/plants, but I am looking for a group project. Do you know of anything that would grow particularly well during this time of year? I would appreciate any suggestions you might have.

Fall is  a great time to plant in the Rio Grande Valley.   Virtually any tree or shrub will thrive if planted now.   Save your tropicals to plant in the spring. 
 Following is a short list of annuals, vegetables and herbs that do well this time of year.   
Vegetables – cauliflower, broccoli, tomatoes (if you get them in before Nov 1), and peppers. 
Herbs – cilantro, parsley, Mexican tarragon, chives, dill
Flowers – impatience, Nasturiums (plant before Oct 31), petunias. 

A good resource for gardening in deep south Texas is Successful Gardening in the Magic Valley of Texas.    It was compiled by Dist. VI, Texas Garden Clubs, Inc.  many years ago – but the information is timeless.   I know that many of the local garden centers in the Rio Grande Vally carry it.     It contains a month-by-month planting guide that is extremely helpful. 
The Cameron County Master Gardeners also have a monthly “To-do List” on our website.  It can be found here.

This info from a previous inquiry: 

Fall and winter vegetables include:
brussel sprouts
leaf lettuces
Personally, I also grow tomatoes (from transplants) in my fall garden. Cherry, roma, and other smaller varieties have a shorter maturation date and do better for me in the fall. Some years we get lots of tomatoes and others it gets colder earlier and they don’t fruit until spring.

Herbs that can be grown during the fall and winter include
Mexican marigold
Many of these herbs will carry over into the spring and summer.


Quinta Mazatlan

Quinta Mazatlan

A group of Cameron County Master Gardeners visited McAllen’s Quinta Mazatlan to tour their gardens.     Along the walking trails, are mainly native plantings.      The one native that was new to all of us was brush holly, Xylosma flexuosa.   It was covered in beautiful yellow, orange and red berries. 

Our tour guide, John Bush

Thanks to John Bush for sharing great info about the mostly plant material and history of the garden.   John pointed out the scale on this cactus.  When crushed it exudes a red substance, which is used in many natural dyes.  In face, some people grow prickly pear cactus strictly to attract this particular scale. 

Zurly and Bill

The house and patio area are planted with palms and tropicals (and a few natives tossed in).   Zurly and husband, Bill, posed underneath a beautiful Golden Shower Tree, Cassia fistula.   We were told that in May, it was completey covered in the golden blooms. 

Bloom from a Golden Shower Tree

Quinta Mazatlan had some lovely areas to picnic in. 

If anyone had any pictures they would like to post, send them to   


Butterflies, dragonflies, hummingbirds, & bees

In spite of our high temperatures, the plantings at The Arboretum are fairing well.   During Tuesday’s workday, we were able to take a few pics to share.   
Entrance to the outdoor classroom

Succulent Bed near the Compost Demonstration Site

I’m not sure who planted this succulent bed surrounding one of the mesquite trees, Prosopis glandulosa, but it’s looking great.    These various aloes, yuccas, and succulents are thriving in the filtered light and unammended soil. 

Ruellia or Mexican petunia

Ruellia or Mexican petunia

Ruellia, also known as Mexican petunia or wild petunia,  is perfect in these locations.   It is a vigorous self-seeder and considered a nuisance by some gardeners.   Don’t let it get established where you don’t want it!  It has deep roots and brittle stems that tend to break when you try to pull it out. 


Ruellia, aka Mexican or Wild Petunia

Ruellia also looks great edging the Outdoor Classroom.


Zinnias at the entrance bed

Zinnias and common sunflowers

Although we’ve let the grass and weeds get out of hand, these zinnias and sunflowers are still very welcoming.  

Butterfly on Butterfly Weed

And for those of you who are wondering about the title of this post.  We saw tons of butterflies, dragonflies, bees and one hummingbird.   The little beauty above was working the butterfly weed.   Butterfly weed is a nectar plant.  It blooms on new growth so you don’t have to worry about pruning.  It’s a self-seeder and will spread easily.