Jacki Bakker shows how to prune a tomato plant into smaller ones that will not be stressed by the August heat during a fall plant maintenance class Monday at the Harker Heights Activities Center.

Area gardeners are hoping to gain higher yields in their gardens as autumn follows a cooler, wetter summer this year.

Jacki Bakker hosted a free class about fall plant maintenance at the Harker Heights Activities Center on Monday.

“Fall is a time for maintenance,” Bakker said, adding that unwanted vegetation and invasive species can be pulled by hand and killed with organic or conventional pesticides. “Remember that even with ‘safe’ pesticides and fertilizers, the more you use the worse for you it is. Use them as directed, and don’t overdo it!”

Some of the “common-sense-gardener” course included basic garden tips, how to handle bugs, how to prune tomato plants, an explanation of why knowing frost dates helps for planning cooler weather crops, and important maintenance of tools.

Handouts included a vegetable garden planting guide, and detailed optimal fall seed planting dates for the Texas Hardiness Region 3, and USDA Hardiness Zone 8.

Bakker gave a live demonstration on how to prune a tomato plant into smaller ones that will not be stressed by the August heat. In addition, Bakker brought fresh herbs from her own garden to inspire and share with others.

“I’m not a gardener, I just came to get some leads on starting a fall garden,” said Bob Trudo, who lives just outside of the Harker Heights city limits. “I learned if tomato plants get ‘leggy’ it’s probably too much nitrogen. And how to prune back tomato plants so they can last more than one year.”

Bakker’s self-taught experience reflects extraordinary results derived from ordinary trial and error, a deep knowledge of practical science, and inquiries into countless books, magazines and online publications. Bakker combines organic solutions to problems and conservative use of conventional chemical elements in her approach to gardening.

“I learned a lot about the balance of the potassium, the nitrogen and the phosphorus used for specific things,” said Julie McBride, of Harker Heights, pointing out how different elements in fertilizers impact plant growth.

Ruby Hatfield, of Harker Heights, was pleased to learn how using epsom salts in the soil can make bitter-tasting carrots taste sweeter.

“I enjoyed learning about straw bales for potatoes, some resource directions (like) the author Greg Brandt, some chemical approaches, specifically bone meal for phosphorus to stimulate fruit production,” said Hal Schiffman, of Harker Heights. “And pre-soaking seeds, I think that’s going to be an interesting tip.”

There will be a seed and plant swap from 1 to 2:30 p.m. Saturday at the Harker Heights Activities Center, 400 Indian Trail. Local gardeners of all levels are encouraged, but not required, to bring clearly labeled seeds, bulbs or plant cuttings. Participants will find gardening-related business vendors selling wares, providing advice and answering questions. For information on either event, call Sarah Mylcraine at 254-953-5466.

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