Grow Tomatoes in Your Closet?

Dec 20, 2016

It's freezing outside. But living without fresh tomatoes? That's just not an acceptible condition. So this underused closet in my home is now a tomato growing closet!

This 3 x 3 closet is now fitted with reflective film, to maximize light delivery, as well as a Sun System dual watt digital ballas light fixture, which operates both High Pressure SodiHium (HPS) lamps and Metal Halide (MH) lamps. The 250 watt HPS lamp currently in the fixture provides the light spectrum necessary for good fruiting. The young vegetative seedlings, however, are grown under a "cooler" spectrum of light using high output flourescent lamps.

What are you Modern Homesteaders growing in your closet?

Indoor lettuce

Dec 18, 2016

Salad greens are one of the easiest crops you can grow both indoors and out. While lettuces are a cool season crop for those of us in southern parts of the country (hot summers, mild winters but with freezes), and you can start lettuce outdoors in the fall to grow through winter. But by the time December rools around, temperatures can get too cold for good lettuce seed germination. So seeding lettuce indoors during winter is a great way to keep your harvest growing.

To speed up germination, use a humidity dome and a seedling heat mat to get things moving. Then set your lettuce seedlings under grow lights once they germinate. High Outpot T5 flourescent lamps are great for growing lettuce and other vegetative crops.

It's important to know that lettuce seeds need light to germinate, so don't bury them under the soil when you sow them.

You can sow lettuce seeds into seed plugs or 4" pots. Always drop 2-3 seeds in just in case one or two don't germinate. Thin out extra seedlings after germination.

One of my favorite varieties? 'Black Seeded Simpson'.

Worms on the Ferns!

Sep 16, 2016

Growing plants indoors, be they low-light houseplants, or flowering and fruiting plants you're growing under plant lights, doesn't mean you're going to be free of the kinds of pests and diseases you have to deal with in the outdoor garden. In fact, it's often the assumption of new indoor gardeners that they won't have to deal with any pests, and they're often surprised when pests become one of their first challenges.


Can you see that dark colored caterpillar munching on my little ferns? Drat!!

The reality is that most plants you bring into your home probably bring a few hitchhikers along with them. A seemlingly healthy and attractive plant you purchase and bring home may all of a sudden appear less than healthy. There may also be "evidence" of the critters doing damage.


See all those little "balls"? That's frass; a nice word for pest poop!

Recently, I added some small fern plugs to my Ambienta plant grow lamps. Shortly thereafter, they didn't seem to be looking their best, and I noticed frass (poop -those little pellets you see in the photo) collecting around the bottom of the plants. Yep, they've got worms! Most likely the eggs, or even tiny caterpillars, were hitchiking on the plants, and got to work munching away and growing after I planted the ferns. Caterpillers that chew on plants tend to munch either during the night or day, then retreat back under the soil, or to the center of the plant - making it hard for you to spot them right away. So, you have to look for the frass.

Picking off the caterpillars is the first step to controlling them, as that will help remove most of the critters doing most of the immediate damage. Then, I'll spray these little ferns with a solution of Thuricide (Bt), an organic larvacide that will kill the up and coming caterpillars as they munch on the foliage.

Stunning & Stylish Iceland Poppies

Sep 14, 2016

Once you get addicted to gardening, you’ll also find yourself addicted to certain plants. One such addiction of mine is the Iceland poppy. They never get boring, are always in style and I’d plant them year-round if they’d only cooperate.

Iceland poppies are technically a perennial, but behave as such only in the northernmost parts of the United States and into Canada. In our climate, Iceland poppies should be treated as a cool-season annual, or biennial, if you will. In Texas, it’s best to plant Iceland poppies in the fall, along with your pansies and violas. This allows them to put on a larger root system and thus produce a bigger spring show of blooms. Plants will bloom in the fall and until the first hard frost. Often, they will continue putting on blooms through the winter. Hard frosts will nip the blooms, but won’t hurt the plants. In spring, you’ll be rewarded with a burst of blooms in late February or early March, to accompany your tulips and daffodils. Plants will continue to flower until temperatures heat up in mid- to late May. Iceland poppies don’t like the heat and will die off with the onset of summer.


Iceland poppies make a loving spring companion to Mexican feather grass.

Every part of the poppy plant, from the silvery foliage to the unique furry flower buds, offers a bounty of interest. They are the perfect companion for other cool-season plantings such as parsley, kale, pansies and violas. In its natural state, Papaver nudicaule is usually found in shades of white and yellow.  The recessive colors of orange, pink and red are brought out through selection, and all colors are generally offered as a mix in the garden center.

You can also plant Iceland poppies in the spring, but you’ll get a much better show from them if you plant them October through November.

Whiteflies in the Garden

Sep 11, 2016

Extra summer rainfall and humidity might be great for your garden plants...but they are also great for garden pests! I've seen an explosion of whiteflies all over landscape plants this past week.


See those little white specs? Those whiteflies are sucking liquids out of this Viburnum.

Whiteflies are tiny flying insects that can infest your outdoor and indoor plants. They suck moisture out of your plants and can cause damage and stunt growth. Insecticidal soaps and horticultural oils are typically strong enough to control whitefly infestations, but know that you'll have to do several follow up treatments, as new whiteflies will continue to hatch while conditions are favorable. So whitefly infestations can take time to eradicate.

In an organic garden, where you encourage a balance of wildlife, nature can help you take care of a whitefly problem. I came across this lovely spider web filled with whiteflies. I realize not everyone is crazy about spiders, but they are incredibly beneficial in our environment and landscapes. They control a lot of pests for you, so when you see spider webs in your garden, let them be!

If you've had whiteflies on your garden plants, chances are you'll have them again the next time conditions are favorable. You'll want to keep an eye out in early spring and plant on treating the same plants preventatively with a natural treatment of your choice.

Time to Plant Clematis

Sep 10, 2016

Temperatures are cooling here in Dallas, especially at night. We even got a little more rain last night. This is your signal it's time to get planting! If you love Clematis vines, like I do, your plants will have a much easier time getting established if you plant them now through October, than if you wait until spring.

Halleck_Clematis Ramona
Clematis 'Ramona' growing in my garden.

Fall is the very best time to plant perennials, shrubs and trees in Texas. But, unfortunately, garden center inventories don't always offer the plants you're looking for, or the quantities you need. Why? Well, most homeowners still don't realize fall is a superior time to plant, so they just don't buy as much during the fall season. That means garden centers are wary of bringing in the kind of inventory they need to. It's a bit of a chicken and egg situation.

Halleck_Clematis varieties
On this delivery, I scored Arabella, Clematis candida, Ramona and Snow Queen. I'm already drooling!!

That means you may need to turn to mail order companies to find what you're looking for, like I just did for some particular Clematis varieties I was seeking. Most garden centers only bring in a limited stock of Clematis in spring, and none in fall. So I was really please to find a beautiful selection available at Buy Clematis Direct. They even have some of the blue bush-like 'Arabella' Clematis that have been on my garden list for a while. They also have some lovely idea books on their website.

The condition in which mail order plants arrive can vary. So I was particularly impressed with the expert packaging on these plants, even with a double stack of flats in the box. Each plant was protected in plastic and paper wrap and hard dividers kept plant from being crushed. The plants are fresh and healthy.

Plant clematis vines in areas where the top of the plant will have sun for a good part of the day, but the root zone will be shaded by other shrubs or perennials. It's not a bad thing if clematis get a bit of afternoon shade in the heat of summer. Clematis vines are good for planting on small trellises, obelisks, mailboxes or other fixtures. They are not heavy or destructive, so don't worry about them damaging the support structure.

Clematis may remain partially evergreen in our winter climate, or they may die down do the ground with hard winter snaps. New growth will emerge the following spring. What the vines don't tolerate well is wet, soggy roots during the winter when soil temperatures are colder.

If you're going to mail order for fall planting here in Texas, you'd better do it quick, as many of these companies are in more northern locations; that means they'll run out of inventory sooner or stop shipping due to colder temperatures in their area. Buy Clematis Direct is in Florida, so you probably have a bit more time to check them out.

Texas Sage Blooms Abound

Aug 2, 2016

When rainfall and humidity show up, so does a bounty of purple. You may have noticed a bevy of Texas sage blooms around town for off and on a few times this summer, in conjunction with some unexpected summer rains.

What makes them bloom?

Texas sage respond to a couple of different signals that tell them it’s time to bloom. High humidity or sudden soil moisture before and after rainfall will push plants to bloom; seemingly overnight. Texas sage plants are sometimes called “barometer bush” due to this effect. The recent unexpected humidity and rainfall we experienced last week was just what your Texas sage plants have been waiting for.


Texas Sage ‘Rio Bravo’ in full bloom.

Texas sage are one of the prettiest and toughest of Texas native shrubs. Plants are mostly evergreen and produce stunning silver foliage that perfectly complements the lavender to purple blooms. There are a number of varieties to choose from, most growing to an average of  5-feet tall and wide. If you need something smaller, keep your eyes peeled for dwarf varieties such as ‘Thunder Cloud’. If you want something a bit more expansive and impressive seek out ‘Rio Bravo’. It grows 5 to 6-feet tall and wide and is a heavy bloomer.

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Texas Sage thrives in full sun and well-drained alkaline soil. They will tolerate a bit of shade, but too much shade will result in leggy plants that don’t bloom heavily. Supplemental water in summer will help plants grow faster and bloom more, but over-watering or poor drainage will kill Texas sage quickly.

Crimes against horticulture

When it comes to certain shrubs, au natural is the way to go. Texas sage is one such shrub. One of the worse horticultural offenses committed here in Dallas is the constant shearing of Texas sage shrubs into what I can only describe are large caterpillars…or balls. WHY? Please don’t.


SO…so wrong. Don’t plant shrubs that are too large for the space and you won’t have to butcher them.

1. Continual shearing of Texas sage will weaken them…and kill them.

2. You lose all the blooms when you shear them (so why plant them in the first place?)

3. They look terrible. Just, terrible.

So pretty please, put the hedge shears away and let these beauties do their thing.

As we head into fall, it’s a great time to start refreshing the landscape and adding new shrubs and trees such as Texas sage.

Fig Newton Trees

Jun 23, 2016

When we lived in Little Forest Hills, my husband and I had two-mile route we walked regularly through the neighborhood. Around the corner from our house was a lovely mature fig tree. One day, during one of our walks, he commented on the tree and asked what it was. “Well honey, that’s a fig tree” I replied. “You mean, like Fig Newtons??” he asked in all seriousness. “Yes dear, that’s a Fig Newton tree.” I laughed, he laughed, and to this day every fig tree he sees is a “Fig Newton tree”. This story reminds me that not everyone is that well acquainted with figs or how to grow them.

Fig plants need a full sun exposure to produce fruit. Full sun means a minimum of 6-hours of direct sunlight, but more is better. Make sure to find an open site with sun most of the day. If possible, plant figs on a southern exposure where the early developing fruit will be more protected from winter cold.

Mature trees are cold hardy to about 15 or 20 F. However, we often drop below 15 F in Dallas during winter months, which can kill all of the top-growth on your fig plants. Most often they’ll grow back from the root zone, but it does set you back in terms of fruit production.Depending on the variety, they can quickly reach 15 – to 30-feet tall. While figs tolerate many different soil types, good drainage is key. Don’t plant them in low spots in the garden where excess moisture accumulates.
Note that in times of heavy rainfall, plants may experience a growth spurt and push off developing fruit. So if you’ve lost many fruits at one time, it’s most likely due to excess watering or rainfall in a short period of time.

Some of the best common fig varieties for Dallas are ‘Celeste’, which is very cold hardy, ‘Brown Turkey’, ‘Alma’, ‘Magnolia’ and ‘Kadota’. We have four Fig Newton trees in our current garden, including ‘Brown Turkey’, ‘Celeste’ and ‘Italian Black’.

Fig Fact: Common figs are unique in that they do not require pollinators for the fruit to develop. What you’re actually consuming when you eat a fig is modified stem tissue, rather than mature ovary tissue. In common figs, both the male and female flower parts are inside the stem tissue. What you find in the fruit that look like “seeds” are actually just unfertilized ovaries that did not make fruit.


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