Garden Catalogs, Mini Horticulture Guides

catalogs“Garden Catalogs, Mini Horticulture Guides”

By Suzanne Milstead


Winter arrivals of plant catalogs bring expectations, and many hours of contentment to all of us gardening enthusiasts.  We can’t wait to thumb through the mirage of old and new favorites, and new trials of hybrids.

Before ordering give careful consideration to the special conditions of your own yard:

  • The most important information to know is your plant zone (USDA Hardiness Zone). The Bryan/College Station area is zone 8b.
  • What kind of soil and water do you have? (Soil testing is available at AgriLife Extension
  • How much sun does it receive? Full sun, Morning or afternoon sun?

What you need to know about the plant itself:

  • Is it an annual or perennial?
  • What’s the mature size, blooming season, and special features of this plant?
  • Do I want to experiment with something new or use the tried and true favorites?

After placing your order and receiving the seeds or plants, what then?   My advice–don’t toss those catalogs.   They are a wealth of information for planting successful gardens. Place a sticky note on the front of the catalog and list the items with page numbers.  Circle in bold permanent markers, those plants you did order so you won’t forget.

However, best of all, seed and plant catalogs put faces to names.  Colorful, plant pictures help to make good choices for the landscape and garden along with the description.  I really like the new introductions and unique colors of a commonly, grown plant and those designated as All-American.  (All American Winners have been tested by a network of independent judges who determined their garden performance was superior, usually consistent and reliably good varieties.)  Catalogs may also offer ‘heirloom’ plants with desirable traits for growing. And if these advantages aren’t enough, consider this: seed catalogs put in your hand a mini-horticultural reference.   As with anything, beware of descriptions that seem too good to be true. If it claims to grow 25 feet in one year-will it take over the entire garden and be difficult to eradicate?  Also seed companies that are based in northern states are usually describing how a plant performs in northern states. 

Catalog highlights might include any of the following:

  • Time to plant-Planting dates depend on site location and geographic weather patterns. Dates for planting are gauged on seasonal rainfall in your area rather than by temperature.
  • USDA Plant Hardiness Map-Present a range of average annual minimum temperatures for each zone with recommendations for spring or fall planting. Variations within each zone are factors to be considered such as altitude, exposure to wind, proximity to bodies of water and excessive or minimal rainfall.  Best bet is to contact your county extension agent for local information on planting considerations.
  • Starting from Seed-Consider site location, soil type, hours of sunlight and shade, drainage, weeds or nearby trees. Select a site that drains well.  Germinate in trays or out in the flower beds?
  • Seed Germination– Depth, germination days, optimum soil temperature.
  • Controlling the Elements– Watering frequency by hand or irrigation; fertilization, sunlight.
  • Factors Causing Poor Results-Impatience, poor drainage, deep soil planting covering too deep, inadequate watering, and planting at wrong time of year.
  • What do the Symbols Mean? Life cycles of plants indicated by A=annual; An annual plant is a plant that usually germinates, flowers, and dies in one year.  P=perennial; A perennial plant is a plant that lives for more than two years.  B=biennial; A plant that completes its life cycle within a two-year period. Germinates in the spring, overwinters, flowers the following spring or summer and dies back the following fall.
  • Herbicides which are safe to use with your plants.
  • Special Collections-Examples such as butterfly and hummingbird seed blends and mixes usually in larger quantity and how much to use per square feet.
  • Additional Information-Latin name and cultivar, description, size, suggested use, range map.
  • Disease Codes refer to what diseases the plant is resistant to. A rule of thumb,  the more letters or codes after the plant, the better.  Usually, definitions of each letter are referenced in the catalog.  Example: In tomatoes,  “F” or “FF” means the plants are resistant to the Fusarium oxysporum fungi that cause Fusarium wilt.


Catalogs help you make better choices at purchase, but also later when the seeds or plants arrive, you can use it as a reference for where to plan, how to plant, what color to expect, when it should flower, and how to care for them.  Keeping the ‘free’ catalog guide helps you become a more successful gardener while saving money.


On-line Catalog Resourses:

All American Selections:

Free catalogs:

Ten Seed Catalogs:

Pinterest: search for seed catalogs




Cut Flower Gardening  By Suzanne Milstead

Cut Flower Gardening 

Create your own flower arrangements with a cutting garden and keep your house full of fresh flowers throughout the growing season. Whether you plant seeds or use plants, here’s a few suggestions.

Group each plant species together and plant in squares for easier cutting.  Traditionally, repeat blooming annuals are the most popular choice for cutting gardens since you will get a longer season; however, plant any flower that has a long and sturdy stem to hold up the flower in an arrangement.

It is also preferred that the flower maintain its appearance for several days after cutting. For this reason daylilies which only bloom for one day or petunias which have small stems would not make good choices for cut flowers.

 Get creative. Berries, trees, shrubs, ferns, and grasses add texture and color to arrangements. Even fruits and vegetables from your kitchen garden can add a fun and unexpected flare to your arrangements.

A few helpful tips to make your cutting garden a success:
Plant the garden in an area with good sun exposure. Start with a good soil that is enhanced with compost. Mulch to retard weeds and maintain soil moisture.  (If using seeds, wait until the plants are mature.) Keep plants blooming by cutting exhausted blooms (Dead heading)

Favorite Annuals for cutting gardens:
sunflowers, stock, larkspur, zinnia, coneflowers, phlox, salvia, bachelor buttons
Favorite Perennials for cutting gardens:
ornamental Grasses, yarrow, salvia, black-eyed Susan, daffodil, ageratum, roses

Recommended Resources: Dr. Bill Welch, Bountiful Flower Garden, Perennial Garden Color

cut flowers


Branching Out by Suzanne Milstead

Branching Out-

As habitats continue to shrink, we’ve all been encouraged to replace this loss with plantings in our yards to support wildlife.   While we do plant annuals and perennials consider adding trees.

Trees provide shelter and food for a wide array of wildlife. More than 100 animal species eat acorns including rabbits, squirrels, and gamebirds. Songbirds and small mammals consume fruits and seeds. Woodpeckers, red tailed hawks, and owls nest in the cavities of hollow or dead trees.  Butterflies, moths, and honeybees use trees as nectar sources.

A few of my favorites include:

Vitex (Texas Superstar) is drought tolerant and produces purple or white spikes spring to fall.  After the spring bloom, trim the dead spikes for reblooming.  This is a favorite for hummingbirds and butterflies.

Mexican plum is a native that gives you fragrant blooms in early spring.  A profusion of white flowers create a feast for the bees.

Rusty blackhaw viburnum is another native flowering white tree with gigantic white clusters of blooms. It blooms mid spring.

American Beautyberry is a native tree or shrub, easy to grow as an understory.  The dark purple fall fruit attract a variety of birds including our state mockingbird.

vitex                        mexican plum


beauty berry

For an easy to read chart use this web site:






A Seed Is a Promise


A Seed Is a Promise is a title that describes the joy and anticipation of planting seeds outdoors.  With a few steps, you can have a spot of vivid color in your garden while also welcoming butterflies flitting all over your flowers.  It’s easy to do to get the best results.  Determine the type of flower you want to plant.  Some very easy, no fail plants are cosmos and zinnias. 

  1. Read the back of the seed packet.  It describes the best location and helpful hints.
  2. Sow seeds at the right time. The seed packet will tell you the approximate time, but the weather and soil conditions in your garden will guide you
  3. I always presoak the spot I’ve chosen as it takes lots of water for our soil to become moist.  Make sure the surface looks like fine crumbs.
  4. Scatter seeds on top of the soil. Lightly cover the seeds with a dusting of potting soil. (Check the seed packet to see if the seeds need light to germinate.)
  5. Water with a gentle mist or shower.  Don’t let the soil dry out.  Depending on our heat, you may have to water morning and late afternoon.
  6. Be sure and label the area you’ve planted.
  7. Once the seedlings appear, water with a ½ diluted solution of water soluble fertilizer.
  8. Continue to water daily until the plants are larger, then water as needed.
  9. This colorful spot of zinnias from my garden were given to me from Norma Jean Stokes who shared her seeds at one of our meetings.  As I sit outside now with my glass of tea, I am filled with joy knowing a friend gave me a beautiful ‘gift’. 


seed packet            20171104_131548-EFFECTS.jpg

Susie’s Tree Ministry

“Susie’s Tree Ministry”

By Suzanne Milstead

Most everyone has heard of the legendary Johnny Appleseed because of his kind and generous ways of giving away apple seeds for people to plant.  His simple acts gave him symbolic importance in conservation by leaving a legacy of trees in America.  This pioneer spirit of conservation is alive and well in our garden club member, Carolyn Sue Guillotte.

Carolyn has a mission.  She believes in preserving the earth caused by clear cutting of trees. One only has to do an internet search to see the multiple benefits to our environment, one of which is clean air.  “It would be pure hell on earth with no trees.” says Carolyn.

Trees help us breathe and provide a home for quite a few diverse kinds of animals and insects. Trees help prevent floods by utilizing the water and their roots holding onto soil. Trees are effectively the lungs of the environment. They take much of the carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and release oxygen via photosynthesis. Therefore, the greenhouse gas load is reduced and effects of global warming are also brought down. Trees provide the human species with a constant supply of oxygen. Trees provide refreshing shade which most of us couldn’t live without in our Texas heat.  Trees give us food, materials for shelter, paper, and other by-products of our everyday lives.

Knowing the benefits that trees provide, her ministry was born.  Since 2005, Carolyn has given away thousands of tree seedlings to family, friends, neighbors, churches, master gardeners, garden clubs, her DAR club and most anyone who wants one.  It’s like the movie, Pay It Forward, where one good deed starts many more.  The Texas DAR recognized her conservation efforts by presenting Carolyn with a Certificate of Merit.

Carolyn pays for the seedlings with her own money and doesn’t ask for any recognition or favors in return.  She just hopes you care for the trees she freely gives and then she knows that her mission is complete.    She leaves a conservation legacy for many years to come with her tree ministry.

Here’s my mulberry tree from Carolyn: mulberry tree given as seedling to Suzanne


Theme Pocket Gardens  by Suzanne Milstead


lemon gardenHave a sunny spot in your yard?  Try planting a theme pocket garden.  In the photo above, you see a lemon themed garden.  Yellow flowers abound with either annuals or perennials.  Some herbs are there, too, such as Lemon verbena, Lemongrass, Lemon thyme, Lemon balm, Lemon basil.  This lemon garden just makes me happy.  Fresh herbs are one of the most important ingredients in my cooking, and it’s so lovely to have a little patch out back and on the porch where I can snip mint, basil, and oregano. None of these herbs are direct substitutes for real lemon, but they certainly have their own similar citrus scents and freshness of flavor. They are all easy to grow and great for the garden.

butterfly image


Other themes: Many of us already have allotted garden space for a Butterfly Garden.  In doing so, we have provided needed food and habitat for these lovely creatures.  Some of the other critters you might see here would be ladybugs, aphids, and spiders.  Keep a log of butterflies using the pamphlet, Butterflies of Central Texas.  In no time, you’ll begin to readily recognize them. Find the guide in the checkout lanes of HEB, and Barnes and Nobel.  It’s perfect for Central Texas.


15 tea herbs

This spring I started my tea garden.  One valuable resource is this book, 15 Herbs for Tea.  I’d lost my copy, but easily found it on Amazon.  Tuck some herbs amongst garden vegetables and smell the scented oils by rubbing a leaf in your fingers.  Visitors at my home are just amazed!  (Flowering herbs also bring in native bees.)


Last suggestion is a Cut Flower Garden.  If you love flowers, and who doesn’t, this one is for you!  My favorites are sunflowers, zinnias, and gomphrenas.  However, our best resource is Dr. Bill Welch’s list on Aggie Hort.  Dazzle your family and friends with cut flowers.  Great for nature and for you.

cut flowers
















Ditch Diving


(First appeared in Lone Star Gardener, Suzanne Milstead, author)

Perhaps you have heard of the practice of ‘dumpster diving’ where people look for treasures amongst the trash.  But, my take on it, is to go ‘ditch diving’.  I’ve found many unusual wildflowers growing in roadside ditches including a native milkweed, Asclepias virdis or green antelope horns.

Asclepias virdis or green antelope horns

Few people would care what happens to this plant, but milkweed isn’t your average weed.  It is a common sight of roadsides, fence rows, meadows, sunny woods, and abandoned fields.  Over 100 species of milkweed exist in North America, but only about one fourth of them are known to be important host plants for monarch butterflies.

Milkweed plants (Asclepias) is also a highly sought nectar source for many other butterfly species!  Aside from attracting Monarch butterflies for egg-laying, milkweed entices swallowtails, painted ladies, American ladies, red admirals, fritillaries, and hairstreaks for nectaring. Milkweed also draws hummingbirds and hummingbird clearwing moths for nectar.


However, what’s happening to those roadside areas?  TXDOT quickly mows after our annual spring wildflower blooms and homeowners keep their lawns and ditches mowed, too.  Fields, roadside areas, or urban gardens are needed for monarch habitat. Adult monarchs may feed on the nectar of many flowers, but they breed only where milkweeds are found.

We can be good stewards of our land.  How?  Mow around the milkweed.  Mow around the wildflowers until they go to seed.  Grow a meadow of native flowers and grasses.  Plant milkweed in your home landscape.  One readily available milkweed can be found at your local garden center, the asclepias or butterfly weed.  Easy to grow, these plants reseed easily and return to your garden year after year.


To find out more about saving habitat and the monarch search these sites: