Fresh in White

Mar 23, 2016

It’s that time of spring when, in amongst a cacophony of color, white flowers slip onto the scene and steal the show. The first white irises just started blooming around town, which for me is always the official signal that spring has arrived. While color plays a big role in my garden, so do accent neutrals like white and silver. White flowers help soften the feel of a landscape, bring sophistication and light up the evening garden. Here are a few of my favorite fresh in white spring bloomers:


Iris ‘Immortality’. How much more white could this be? The answer is none, none more white.

Whites are always the first of the bearded iris to grace our gardens in spring. There is none more beautiful, in my humble opinion, than ‘Immortality’. This cultivar produces masses of huge pure white blooms that are also fragrant. Bearded iris are one of these toughest and most prolific of our water-wise perennials. Plant them with abandon!


Summer Snowflake

It might just now be spring, but the summer snowflakes have officially arrived. One of my favorite perennial bulbs for Dallas gardens, summer snowflake (Leucojum aestivum), is blooming right now.  Native to North Africa and the Mediterranean region, this hardy bulb is one of the easiest to grow and naturalize in Texas. While the common name is summer snowflake, this bulb actually blooms in spring for us. Bulbs produce clumps of dark green strap-like foliage followed by flower clusters that each develop several white bell shaped blooms. Flowers are mildly fragrant and sport small green dots at the ends of the petals. If you love lily of the valley, but have finally accepted they just won’t grow here, this will be your closest substitute in our climate. Plant in sun to part shade in perennial borders or ground cover beds.


Tulip ‘Maureen’

I’m a big fan of tulips…despite the fact that you pre-chill and plant new bulbs each year. I can’t imagine my spring garden without them. There’s never been a single year when I haven’t planted ‘Maureen’, my go-to pure white tulip. This sturdy and reliable variety never disappoints. The blooms are long-lasting and provide bright contrast to darker flowers and foliage in the garden. They’ll also practically glow in the dark, making them perfect for your moonlight garden.


Narcissus ‘Thalia’

Narcissus ‘Thalia’ may appear delicate and dainty, but it’s a Texas tough and water-wise perennial bulb. ‘Thalia’ grows in clusters that multiply each year and produce masses of pure white, fragrant blooms.  Plant in the sunniest of locations or in part shade. ‘Thalia’ makes the perfect companion for roses and salvias in the perennial border, or planted naturally along the edge of wooded areas.

Give Your Trees Some TLC

Mar 21, 2016

Temperatures are hitting the 80s, the fruit trees are beginning to bloom and the bees are buzzing. Spring is upon us! Finally.

With intense spring storms surely on the horizon, now’s the time to give your trees a bit of post-winter TLC. If you haven’t had your trees inspected by a certified arborist in a while, do so now, before wind or hail storms make it into the forecast. Often, hazards that aren’t obvious to you can be lurking in your large shade trees. Damage caused by physical injury, ice or decay can quickly split large branches or fell entire trees once a strong gust of wind comes along.

Poor tree pruning runs rampant in Dallas. If the person you have hired to prune your trees shows up with a step ladder and a pole pruner, I’d highly suggest you cancel the appointment and run. Always ask for proof of ISA Certification and make sure your tree care company is insured and bonded. Pruning trees is a science and it takes knowledge and experience to do it right. One bad pruning job can ruin your precious tree and leave it more susceptible to storm damage, pests and diseases.


Large girdling roots were removed from this live oak and the root flares properly exposed.

Oak wilt disease is already on the move in our trees in Dallas and Fort Worth. This destructive disease can kill large oak trees within a matter of weeks. It also spreads from tree to tree through roots that connect the trees underground. If you have oak trees in high risk areas, you may want to have preventative treatments administered to your trees now. Oak wilt disease starts spreading actively around the end of February in Texas and continues through mid- to late-June. It’s best not to have oak trees pruned during this time, unless a certified, qualified tree care specialist has recommended specific pruning and knows how to handle disease prevention.

I’ve noticed a lot of trees around town right now with girdling roots. These are roots that wrap around the base of the trunk and the large structural roots and they can cut off the supply of water and nutrients, not to mention restrict growth. Girdling roots should be professionally pruned away before they cause big problems.

I’ve also seen mistletoe coming on strong in many trees around town. Mistletoe is a parasitic plant that sucks water and nutrients out of your tree. Mistletoe is more easily removed before your tree has leafed out, so there’s still some time to have this work performed.

Mason Bees are Powerful Pollinators

Mar 12, 2016

If you grow vegetables, berry bushes or fruit trees (or all of the above) then you already understand the importance of successful pollination. Flowers need to be pollinated in order to successfully produce a fruit. Even if you don’t grow your own produce in your backyard, your trips to the grocery store would be pretty bleak without pollinators. While there are many pollinators in the insect world, honey bees have traditionally been the workhorse pollinators of agricultural crops. But it’s not just our food crops that need pollinators.  According to published research, cross-pollination by bees supports at least 30% of the world’s food crops and 90% of wild plants. Bottom line: We need bees.

You probably know that urbanites have taken to beekeeping with more interest in the last few years. I personally keep several honey bee hives myself. While we need more beekeepers, the reality is that beekeeping is not for everyone. It’s costly, requires hands-on education and a serious commitment to tend your hives and continue learning. If you have small children that regularly use your yard, then you may not be able to accommodate beehives on a small urban property. Here in the city, you also have to take more precautions to safely keep bees, being that we all have neighbors close by. So then what do you do if you want to increase your home garden yields and help the overall bee population, but you’re not prepared to become a beekeeper? Mason bees are the answer.


A baby blue orchard bee emerges from its cocoon in my garden. Hello!
Mason bees are gentle. This just-hatched blue orchard bee takes its first bath on my hand.
 

Did you know? There are thousands of bee species in North America other than the European honey bee. If you’ve ever spent time watching the blooming plants in your garden, you’ve probably seen many different types. If we can boost all of their populations, our food supply will be in much better shape. In fact, by boosting populations of other species, we can help mitigate some of the pressures on honey bees. Mason bees are a group of what I call “gentle super pollinators”. They don’t produce honey, but they don’t sting or require hive maintenance. While the females do have a stinger, they rarely if ever use it. The Blue Orchard Bee, which occurs naturally in our area, is one such mason bee.

Now is the time that baby mason bees will begin hatching out of their winter cocoons. You can pick up dormant cocoons of blue orchard bees and nesting materials right now at local garden centers (call ahead to check availability or have them order for you). Mason bees, unlike honey bees, don’t build honey comb in a hive. They simply nest in narrow holes or tubes they find in wood and hollow twigs. I’ve even seen them nesting in holes in my home’s exterior brick. You can purchase mason bee houses, which you fill with paper or reed tubes. It can take several seasons for your own little mason bee population to build up and that hinges on you providing nesting material. Other than the nesting material, all you have to do is sit back and let these powerful pollinators do their thing!

March: It’s tomato time in Texas

Mar 9, 2016

Regardless of the chance of a late freeze, it’s time to get serious about tomatoes. Growing prize-worthy tomatoes is a bit of a right of passage for most gardeners. In fact, tomatoes are typically the first the go-to-fruit for beginning gardeners. They’re easy, right? In some parts of the country, that may be the case. In Dallas? Not so much. North Texas doesn’t exactly offer up the easiest of growing conditions.

While many parts of the country have one condensed edible growing season that spans mid-spring through summer, we have several distinct growing seasons. Less heat-tolerant veggies, like spinach and lettuce, need to be grown fall through winter. Heat-lovers like peppers and eggplant won’t budge an inch until it gets hot. Tomatoes…well, they’re somewhere in between. While tomatoes are a tropical plant and are not frost hardy, they don’t reproduce well once our intense summer heat comes on.

The trick to good tomatoes is timing: Getting them planted such that they squeeze into those “in-between” times in our growing seasons. We have to plant spring crops before it gets too warm and fall crops before it gets too cold.

Here in Dallas, prime time for planting spring 4” tomato transplants is right about mid-March. However, if you hedge your bets and plant earlier, you’ll often get a better harvest. I typically plant mine before March 15th.  Once April 1st hits, it’s not advisable to plant 4” tomato transplants. If you live north of Dallas, say up in Frisco, you can probably get away with planting a week or so later. If you’re south of Dallas, then be sure to get plants in the ground by March 15th as a good target.

There are varieties of tomatoes bred to be more heat-tolerant. When you see the word “heat” somewhere in the cultivar name, the plant will most likely fare better in our climate. A couple of years ago a new line of grafted tomatoes called Mighty ‘Matos hit the market. Hybrids and heirlooms have been grafted onto a hardy rootstock in order to make these tomato plants more tolerant of diseases. Plants are vigorous and definitely worth trying in your garden this spring.

You’re sure to find some of the best selections of fresh plants and varieties out at your local garden centers this coming weekend. Be sure to get your soil prepped with plenty of organic compost and composted manure before you plant. Add a tomato or vegetable fertilizer at planting time. Once developing fruit reaches about ¼ it’s mature size, you’ll want to feed plants every two weeks with an organic, dry fertilizer. If you are feeding with a liquid feed, apply to the foliage and roots every week.

When it Comes to Strawberries, Sometimes Bare is Better

Mar 7, 2016

It doesn’t matter that it might get cold again or it could freeze a few more times. At some point you just have to pull the gardening trigger or you’re going to miss out! I’m not sure how one could resist getting out into the garden with the gorgeous weather we’ve been having, but if you haven’t perhaps I can offer up some motivation: Strawberries.

If you want them, now is a great time to get them in the ground. I just dropped a whole new crop of bare-root strawberries in the ground this past Sunday. Why bare-root you ask? Often, your best shot at getting a good selection of varieties is by going bare-root with berries. Plus, it’s more cost-effective.

Last spring I managed to score some of the new albino Pineberries in plug-form online (that means they arrive without a pot). I can’t tell you yet how they will perform in our Texas summers, but who could resist such a beautiful berry? Especially one that’s supposed to taste like a cross between pineapples and strawberries. I’m SOLD. The crazy green discs are strawberry plant supports I tried out, from Gardener’s Supply Co.

You can pick up handy packets of a variety of bare-root strawberries at local garden centers right now. They’ll be sold out soon, so don’t wait. Yes, you can buy potted strawberry plants later in the season, but you’ll often be limited on variety. Plus, late-winter and fall are the best times to plant in our climate. Be sure to follow the instructions on the packet for planting your bare-root berries. They’ll need lose soil (raised beds are best) in a sunny location.

Killing Plants Like a Pro

Feb 26, 2016

Too often, noob gardeners and plant lovers are discouraged from further cultivating their green tendencies due to the killing: The killing of their plants. Guess what noobs...you think you've got black thumbs? Puhlease. Let me assuage some of your plant-death guilt by telling you that as a professional horticulturist, I've killed way more plants than you ever will in your lifetime. EVER. And guess what else? That's ok and I'm going to keep doing it. With relish.

The world will not end and you get to try again. In fact, killing plants is the only way you really learn how to grow them the right way (good thing it doesn't work that way with puppies).

People get really touchy about this subject. Many, after killing only one plant, give up plant-keeping and gardening althogether; before they've really even gotten started. Is it sensitivity? Or Ego? Do we think we're entitled to get everything right, all the time, the first time? C'mon. Cut yourself some slack and allow yourself to enjoy both the fleeting joy and the wisdom you'll gain from killing a few plants now and again.

Same goes for cut flowers and blooming gift plants. Why must they be permanent? What do we think they owe us? C'mon. Surround yourself beauty. Even the fleeting kind. It's worth it.

OH, and the best part of killing plants? You get to buy more. I'm just sayin'.

So what...you forgot to water the philodendron in your living room and overwaterd the echeveria, both to death. Show me your dead philodendron and I'll show you the 100 I've murdered.

Walk it off. Go buy more. Figure it out. I BELIEVE IN YOU.

Now, go get your garden on this weekend. No excuses. Toughen up cupcakes

Fresh Asparagus Anyone?

Feb 22, 2016

Now's the time to get to planting some of the most desirable homegrown veggies. Specifically, asparagus.  Asparagus needs to go in the ground before mid-March.

There aren’t many perennial vegetables we have the luxury of growing here in Dallas. Asparagus is an exception that can establish and produce for up to twenty years. When harvested and prepared fresh, you’ll enjoy spears that are much more tender and flavorful. While there are some tricks to growing great asparagus, overall it’s less challenging than you might expect. Basically, asparagus needs climates that have a hard freeze in the winter (check). They tolerate high soil pH, which we have here in Dallas (check). They also need lots of sun (double check). Beyond the basics, there are a few more tips for planting a great stand of asparagus.


Looking for something unusual? Try asparagus ‘Purple Passion’.

Remember that your asparagus can live in the same spot for 20 years or more and it doesn’t like to share. Dedicate a sunny raised bed just for your asparagus in a sunny location. While you’ll read that asparagus tolerates some shade, I’ve found that without a good 6 hours of direct sun, plants can become thin and weak. Asparagus likes being in a spot where the late-winter sun will warm up the soil early on. Loosen the soil with plenty of organic compost, some composted manure and expanded shale.

You’ll buy asparagus crowns bare-root from your local garden center now. Look for 1 or 2 year-old crowns. You won’t be able to harvest your asparagus until the 4th season in the ground, so 1 or 2 year crowns will give you a jump start.

Soak your crowns for about 20 minutes before you plant. Dig trenches in your bed 12-inches wide and 6-8 inches deep. Spread the roots out, growing point up, and set in trench about 1-2 feet apart. Back fill your soil and mulch the bed. Keep the beds weeded as asparagus doesn’t like competition. Asparagus is a heavy Nitrogen feeder so be sure to fertilizer well through the growing season. Keep consistently moist in summer, but not wet. Know that asparagus plants grow into 5-foot tall feathery plants…so give them some space!

If you like to experiment, you may want want to grow an heirloom variety or a purple-stalked variety like ‘Purple Passion’.

Now, this is just a quick asparagus primer. Be sure to stop by your local garden center for all the best tips and tricks to growing fantastic fresh asparagus.

Time to Prune Fruit Trees in Texas

Feb 4, 2016

It’s just about that time to prune your fruit trees, while they’re still dormant. Fruit trees are treated a bit differently than shade trees when it comes to pruning. While we never want to over-prune or over-thin our large shade trees, smaller fruit trees are often heavily pruned each year in order to produce the best yields of fruit. Timing your fruit tree pruning can be a bit tricky, especially with our fluctuating weather here in Dallas. Your goal is always to prune as late as possible, but before any bud break occurs on your tree. Some fruit trees will start blooming by mid-February, so now’s the time you need to start pulling out your pruning gear.

Each variety of fruit will bloom at a different time. The best approach to timing your pruning is to prune the later blooming trees first, followed by the earliest bloomers. That means you’ll  start with apples and pecans (although large pecans should be pruned by a professional tree care company). Peach and plum trees will follow, as they bloom the earliest here in Dallas.

Hard pruning of fruit trees should begin the first year they are in the ground. Hard pruning to properly shape the tree continues each winter for the next several years. As trees mature, you’ll perform lighter maintenance pruning. Depending on the type of tree, you’ll either train it using the central leader method, or the open center method.

Apples, pears and plums should be pruned using the central leader method. This means you allow the tree to grow a central main trunk that is tall than all the surrounding branches. The rest of the tree is shaped into a pyramidal form.

Heavier fruiting trees, such as peaches, nectarines, apricots and almonds, perform better when pruned using the open center method. By removing the central leader branch, you’ll create more of a vase shape to the tree. This allows more sunlight to reach all of the central branches and reduces branch breakage.

You’ll also need to do some “thinning” and “heading”.  When you thin branches, that means you’ll remove them at their base. This allows more light into the interior of the tree. “Heading” involves pruning off the tip of the branch in order to encourage more fruiting lateral branches.

If you have fruit trees and have fallen behind on necessary pruning, or you’re thinking about planting new fruit trees, now’s the time to pick up a fruit tree pruning book to learn the best techniques.

Haven’t planted fruit trees yet? Now’s the perfect time. Local garden centers should have a good stock of fruit trees that are appropriate for our climate and can give you a primer on pruning.

Originally published on D Home blog.


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