Recommended Gardening Books for Houston
by Donald Ray Burger
Attorney at Law

Below is an alphabetical listing of the gardening books I recommend for Houston gardeners. I have tried to keep the list short and include only my favorites. Apparently I have too many favorites! Many of these books are specialty books, addressing a limited gardening area. I am sometimes asked to recommend one book for the beginning Houston gardener. I can't narrow it down that much. However, if you are going to only buy five gardening books, my current choices for all around usefulness for the beginning Houston gardener are (in alphabetical order): (1) The Lazy Gardener's Guide, by Brenda Beust Smith; (2)Native Texas Plants, by Sally Wasowski with Andy Wasowski: (3) The Organic Rose Garden, by Liz Druitt; (4) Perennial Garden Color, by William Welch; and (5) Year Round Vegetables, Fruits and Flowers for Metro Houston (A Natural Organic Approach Using Ecology), by Bob Randall, Ph.D.

Antique Roses for the South, by William Welch. 1990. Taylor Publishing Company. Hardback. 201 pages.
I got this book in 1991. It is a great book on antique roses. The first half of the book covers finding old garden roses, landscaping with them and arranging them. Rose crafts such as making pot pourri are also discussed. The second half of the book covers growing antique roses and contains pictures and descriptions of the growing habits and size of many of the antique roses that are suitable for the South, including Texas. Wonderful pictures. If you love antique roses, you need this book.

Attracting Birds to Southern Gardens, by Thomas Pope, Neil Odenwald and Charles Fryling, Jr. 1993. Taylor Publishing Company. Hardback. $24.95. 164 pages.
Many shrubs and trees will attract birds to your garden. This book tells you which varieties to plant and which birds find them useful. It is geared to the south, but most everything applies to Houston. I think attracting wildlife to the garden brings your yard alive. Visitors will marvel at what they see. Get this book and you will grow beautiful plants that will, all on their own, help bring our feathered friends calling. This is a very helpful book. Don't miss it.

Butterflies of Houston & Southeast Texas, by John & Gloria Tveten. 1996. University of Texas Press. Paperback. $19.95. 292 pages.
This is a fantastic book on butterflies. There are tons of great color pictures of the butterflies in Houston and the larval form of said butterflies. This book makes a great field guide, and also contains listings of the food plants for the larval stages of butterflies. Remember, the best way to bring butterflies to your garden is to plant the foods the larval form of butterflies (caterpillars) like to eat and then let them eat in peace. If you spray insecticides in your garden don't be surprised if you have a shortage of butterflies! This book is highly recommended.

Butterfly Gardening for the South, by Geyata Ajilvsgi. 1990. Taylor Publishing Company. Hardback. $34.95. 348 pages.
I highly recommend this book. It is thorough beyond belief yet easy to read. It is geared for our area and has everything one needs to know to get into butterfly gardening. Great color pictures. Detailed info on each butterfly, including range, flight times, nectar foods and larval foods. If you are going to buy only one book on butterfly gardening, this is the one I recommend.

Critters: Common Household and Garden Pests of Texas, by Bill Zak. 1984. Taylor Publishing Company. $15.95. Hardback. 240 pages.
I got this book in 1984. It has really great pictures of most of the bugs one is likely to encounter in Texas. Standard chemical treatments are recommended for the most part. Get the Texas Bug Book for an organic approach. Also, Critters is becoming hard to find. If you come across a copy, I still recommend you latch on to it.

A Gardener's Guide to Growing Bulbs on the Gulf Coast, by Sally McQueen Squire. 1998. River Bend Publishing Company. Spiral bound paperback. 114 pages.
This is the book to get if you plan to grow bulbs in Houston. Our warm winters and wet springs and summers present unique problems to bulb growing. But not to worry, this book has everything covered. If a bulb will grow here, this book discusses it and gives specific advise on making it flourish. Don't miss this book if you like to grow bulbs.

Gardening with Native Plants of the South, by Sally Wasowski, with Andy Wasowski. 1994. Taylor Publishing Company. Hardback. $29.95. 196 pages.
This book is similar to Native Texas Plants in the way it is set up, but with minimal overlap of the plants discussed. It covers the entire south, but USDA zones are always given. If you are going native you really need both this book and Native Texas Plants. The book is encyclopedic. If you can't make a wish list after reading this book, you must have run out of paper! Highly recommended.

The Garden-Ville Method, by Malcolm Beck. AMS Publications. Paperback. $6.95. 132 pages.
I like this book. I have read it more than once. If you are considering going with an organic approach to gardening, this book is very inspirational. Malcolm Beck is a seminal thinker in organic gardening in Texas. This short book will get you fired up to try the organic approach to gardening and give you basic information to get started.

Growing Fruits and Nuts in the South: The Definitive Guide, by William Adams and Thomas LeRoy. 1992. Taylor Publishing Company. Hardback. $24.95. 202 pages.
One of the best kept secrets of Houston gardening is that it is easy to grow fruit in your back yard. Especially citrus. This book covers pears, peaches, berries, grapes, citrus, figs, nuts and much, much more. It tells how to prune for maximum fruit and which varieties do best. You might be surprised how easy it is to fit a fruit tree in your back yard, but once you do you will not be disappointed. Don't neglect this book.

Herb Gardening in Texas, Second Edition, by Sol Meltzer. 1992. Gulf Publishing Company. Paperback. $11.95. 87 pages.
I have the Second Edition of this book. Got mine in 1992. There is a revised edition out now. This book is a comprehensive guide to growing herbs in Texas. Everyone should grow herbs. Sol's book will help you succeed.

Houston Garden Book, by John Kriegel and the Editors of Houston Home & Garden Magazine. 1983. Shearer Publishing. Hardback. $24.95. 400 pages. I have mixed emotions about this book. It is a very conventional volume, and shows its age. Still, there is much useful information here, and that information is specific to Houston. There are better books out on many of the areas this book covers, but it is a solid publication worthy of inclusion in any Houston gardener's library.

The Lazy Gardener's Guide, by Brenda Beust Smith. 1997. River Bend Company. Paperback. 72 pages.
I don't know if I can restrict myself to recommending just one book for gardening in Houston. But if I could, this would probably be the book. This book is not a detailed book on each plant, how big it gets, when it blooms or the endless variations on colors. What it is is a month-by-month guide on what to do in your Houston garden and which plants are the easiest to grow here. Brenda writes a column in the Houston Chronicle on lazy gardening. This book is filled with plants that thrive in Houston, even on benign neglect. If you get this book and follow Brenda's guidelines you will have an outstandingly healthy garden. The book also has sample layouts of easy to care for plants for sun, shade, and in between. Herb gardens are covered, as are wildflower gardens, fragrance gardens, butterfly gardens and hummingbird gardens. Essential to lazy gardening in Houston. Highest recommendation.

Native Texas Plants, by Sally Wasowski with Andy Wasowski. 1988, 1991. Gulf Publishing Company. Paperback. 406 pages.
When I began planning the gardens at Talking Leaves I realized that I would have to go with native plants because there weren't enough hours in the day to care for finicky ones. Natives usually have the grace of performing with minimal care. This book was my initial guide. Although it covers the entire state, the range is given for each plant, so one can figure out what will grow in Houston. There are great pictures of each plant. There is even a pronunciation guide to the Latin name. Height, spacing and bloom period are given for each variety. This book is very comprehensive. I couldn't do without it. Highly recommended.

Perennial Garden Color, by William Welch. 1989. Taylor Publishing Company. Hardback. $29.95. 268 pages.
The charm of perennials is evident. Plant once and be rewarded forever. This book is a great guide. It gives the USDA Zone for each plant, its height and the bloom period. It is not geared specifically for Houston, but Zone 9 plants will usually thrive here. Bob Webster, the radio gardening host of KTSA in San Antonio (550 AM) calls this the most expensive gardening book ever. Not because of the price but because you will want to buy one of everything! The book features great pictures and a very readable text. Just watch to make sure the plant you want will grow in Zone 9. Highly recommended.

The Organic Rose Garden, by Liz Druitt. 1996. Taylor Publishing Company. Hardback. $21.00. 210 pages.
When I read this book in early 1997 it completely changed my approach to growing roses. Most roses that are disease resistant are covered in this book. It is not restricted to old garden roses, but they do predominate. What I like about the book is the personal touch the author has provided. I don't know if she has grown each of the roses she discusses, but if she hasn't she surely knows someone who has. She devotes almost a half pages to each rose she discusses. The discussion is thorough, but engaging. This book will provide you much knowledge of easy to grow roses and hours of fantasy just dreaming of what you would do if you only has room for a "few" more roses. Highly recommended.

The Secret Life of Compost, by Malcolm Beck. 1997. Acres U.S.A. Paperback. $19.00. 150 pages.
If you read only one book on composting, this should be it. Malcolm Beck is the leading advocate in Texas on the benefits of composting for your garden. This book explains how he got into composting, why we should use compost in our gardens, how Garden-Ville makes its compost and how we can make our own. The generous use of compost is an essential key to organic gardening. This book gives the why's and how to's.

The Southern Gardener's Book of Lists, by Lois Trigg Chaplin. 1994. Taylor Publishing Company. $17.95. Paperback. 186 pages.
I love lists. And this is the best book of lists on Southern plants of which I know. Although this book is not geared exactly for Houston, almost everything in it will apply to us. This book does not give detailed information on each plant. What it does is give a list of suitable plants for almost any category one can imagine. How about annuals that bloom unaided from spring until frost. How about perennials for cracks and crevices. Or low shrubs that won't hide windows? Or vines that do well in poor, dry soil. I could go on forever. This book is fantastic. You name the problem area of your garden and Chaplin will have a list of plants that will solve the problem. Highly recommended.

The Southern Heirloom Garden, by William Welch and Greg Grant. 1995. Taylor Publishing Company. Hardback. $29.95. 190 pages.
I like history. I like growing history. Especially beautiful history. This book is about growing history. It covers the cultural foundations of gardening in the south and emphasizes the plants that make up that foundation. These are the plants your grandmother grew. Or should have grown. They are not necessarily the latest trend setters, but they are definitely plants of beauty and, usually, easy to grow. The USDA zones are given along with a history of the plant. There is nothing wrong with modern plants, but there is also nothing wrong with these venerable selections. If you want some historical context in your garden, get this book. Highly recommended.

Southern Herb Growing, by Madalene Hill and Gwen Barclay, with Jean Hardy. 1987. Shearer Publishing. Hardback. $29.95. 196 pages.
I like to eat. I like to garden. I like to grow what I can eat. Herbs are the spices of cooking and this book is filled with both recipes and tips on growing herbs. If you were lucky enough to eat at the Hilltop Herb Farm in Cleveland, Texas, you have tasted the wonderful results of the herb gardening of Madalene Hill and Gwen Barclay. If you missed that restaurant (and especially if you ever feasted there) give this book a try. It will inspire you both to grow herbs and to use them in your kitchen. Highly recommended.

Sunset Western Garden Book, by the Editors of Sunset Books and Sunset Magazine. 1988. Paperback. $18.95. 592 pages.
I refer to this book a lot. It is not geared specifically to Texas, but almost any plant we can grow is covered. Scientific names are given, along with plant size and care information. Encyclopedic. Not for casual reading, but a fantastic reference book.

Texas Bug Book, by Malcolm Beck and John Garrett. 1999. University of Texas Press. Paperback. $24.95. 168 pages.
This book is great. Almost every bug, beneficial or harmful, is covered. The pictures in this book have to be seen to be believed. They are not just the standard closeup of the bugs. They are fantastic, detailed and informative. So is the text. Thorough beyond belief. If you are looking for a gift for your favorite gardener, get this book. It has the answers. A wonderful book.

The Texas Flowerscaper, by Kathy Huber. 1995. Peregrine Smith Book. Hardback. $21.95. 144 pages.
Kathy Huber has performed an invaluable service with her unique book. If you are planting a flower bed, logic dictates that tall plants go in the back, medium plants in the middle and short plants in the front. Kathy's book let you tell at a glance if the plants you have selected "work" together in form, texture and color. The book has watercolors of all the plants. It is cut in thirds. Thus, you can put any tall plant in the "back," any medium plant in the "middle," and any of the short plants in the "front." Because of the way the book is designed you will know at a glance if you like the combination. Check this book out. You may find it is just what you need to visualize those bed you are planning!

The Vegetable Book: A Texan's Guide to Gardening, by Dr. Sam Cotner. 1985. TG Press. $26.95. Hardback. 421 pages.
I like the format of this book. Instead of the usual one-third to one-half page per vegetable write up one sees in so many plant books this book often devotes several pages to a particular vegetable. The book contains both color photographs and nice illustrations. If you want more information than when to plant and how much space each plant takes, this book will provide it. Of course, all that is here, but there is more coverage than in many other books. The book is geared to the entire state, but the text indicates when a piece of information is applicable only in a particular part of the state. This is a nice introduction to vegetable growing and a great companion to Bob Randall's Year Round Vegetables, Fruits and Flowers for Metro Houston . Get them both and you will be set to fill your cupboard.

Year Round Vegetables, Fruits and Flowers for Metro Houston (A Natural Organic Approach Using Ecology), by Bob Randall, Ph.D., Executive Director, Urban Harvest. 1999 (Revised yearly) Year Round Gardening Press. Spiral bound paperback. 260 pages.
Wow. This book must be a labor of love. Dr. Randall revises it yearly to keep up with the latest information. I own a treasured copy from 1992. Each year the book keeps getting better. If you want to grow vegetables, fruits and flowers in Houston, this is the book. The book takes a practical approach, with an organic bent. Detailed information is provided on when to plant, number of plants to plant, spacing, diseases to watch for and specific varieties that do best in Houston. If you get only one book on growing vegetables and fruits in Houston, get this book! Highly recommended.

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