Too Hot? Bring the Garden Indoors

Jul 5, 2017

It’s too dang hot outside. I don’t blame you if you want nothing to do with your outdoor garden at the moment. So why not take a break from the heat and focus your green thumb on your indoor garden? Now is a great time to refresh the indoors with some easy-care houseplants. Here are a few of my favorites for brown-thumbs and small spaces:

ZZ Plant: Short for Zamioculcas zamifolia (hence the nickname) is about as forgiving as a houseplant can be. ZZ plants can be grown in low-light indoors and hold up to rare waterings. If you forget to water or don’t have bright light in your home this one’s for you.

Mother-in-law’s tongue: Sansevieria sp. earned their common name for their sharp, tongue shaped leaves. But it’s their tough-as-nails constitution that makes them the perfect plant for hardcore plant abusers. Again, this plant will tolerate now light conditions and sparse waterings. I once tortured one in my office during grad school just to see how long it could go without water. It made it 9 months before it ever showed the slightest bit of stress.

Chinese evergreen: Aglaonema sp. are easy to care for and new varieties offer up striking foliage colors. The new Aglaonema ‘Red’ sports wide tropical leaves splashed with shades of red and pink. Chinese evergreen will tolerate low-light, dry indoor air and forgetful waterers.

Now is a great time to feed your gardening need, but still stay out of the heat, by freshening up your home or office with a few new houseplant companions.

Bloomers that Beat the Summer Heat

Jun 23, 2017

If you recently looked at the temperature forecast for the upcoming week you probably ended up uttering something along the lines of “ugh”. With temperatures soaring into the high 90s, most of us are beginning to spend more time indoors. Despite the heat, your garden doesn’t have to look dull; there are some plants that still strut their stuff in the midst of our ridiculous summer temperatures. Here are a few of my faves:

Old fashioned zinnas simply don’t get the attention they deserve these days. If you’re looking for easy to grow, heat-tolerant annuals you can grow from seed, there’s hardly a better performer than tall zinnas. I throw seed out in the garden in spring, step away and let them do their thing with little to no follow up care. They make great cut flowers as well.

See those white and yellow daisies in the background of the photo? Those are shasta daisies. Shasta dasies are an easy and low-maintenance perennial plant that puts on an impressive show of spring-like blooms all summer. Again, a great cut flower.

Begonias are as stable of the summer garden here in Dallas, but often you’ll see the common garden begonia looking less than perky in August. Begonia ‘Bonfire’ bucks that trend and puts on a spectacular show through the heat of summer.

Mexican bird of paradise is not only stunning in the landscape, but stunning when temperatures seem unbearable. This large tropical shrub makes quite the summer statement and the hummingbirds love it.

Hibiscus of all colors and sizes thrive in our intense summer heat. Their large and brightly colored blooms will bring your summer landscape to life; plus fill it full of butterflies.

There are many tropical summer bloomers that not only take the heat, but look great right through it. If your patio containers need a refresh, now’s a good time to hit your local garden center for heat-tolerant bloomers.

More Rain to Come?

Jun 19, 2017

I think most of us have been shocked by the heavy doses of rainfall and flooding we've experienced the last few springs in the Dallas area.  We just had another rainy day and more storms may be coming through.  While rain is usually more than welcome around these parts, excess rainfall does present some challenges to our landscapes.

Be sure your rain barrels are covered to prevent mosquitoes from breeding.

Some of the issues you may be having in your garden as a result of all the extra moisture include increased insect and disease populations. Fungal diseases are especially happy right now. Black spot on roses, sooty mold on ligustrum, entomosporium leaf spot on photinias and Indian hawthorn to name a few.  Brown patch, gray leaf spot and take all root-rot are in just about every St. Augustine lawn in town. Reduce the frequency with which you’re watering and limit any supplemental watering to the early morning. Night watering breeds lots of fungus. If it’s rained in the last week, do not run your sprinklers.

Insects that have been a problem this spring include whiteflies, mealy bugs, slugs, pill bugs and tent caterpillars. Slugs can be treated with Sluggo, a natural product, pill bugs can be knocked out with Spinosad and caterpillars treated with Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis).  Mosquito populations are also booming due to the consistent moisture. Mosquito larvae can also be killed using the granular form of Bt, available in both bits and dunks. This is the best method (besides eliminating standing water) to prevent mosquito infestations. Visit your favorite local garden center for great tips on how to handle these diseases, pests and treatments.

Remember that your established landscape (trees, shrubs, turf) only needs an average of 1” worth of rainfall per week; be it from actual rainfall or your irrigation system. Water-wise and drought tolerant plants need less. So as long as the rainfall continues, keep those irrigation systems turned off. Once the rain subsides, you can add back in a weekly watering if you feel your plants are beginning to show signs of stress; as well as watering your foundation. Twice-per-week lawn watering is typically only ever needed in late-July and August when temperatures soar to the 100s. Even then, healthy lawns with a deep root system won’t need watering that often. New plantings will require additional waterings until they root-in and become established. Remember that Dallas watering restrictions are permanent and are still in place despite the recent rains.

Even if you see our expansive clay soil cracking after heavy rains, realize that there is probably still a fair amount of moisture in the soil beneath those cracks. Those cracks are a result of the clay soil quickly shrinking at the surface as temperatures rise after heavy saturation.  Over-watering your lawns and landscapes will only lead to more root rot diseases and overblown insect problems

In The Garden: Third Year’s A Charm

Apr 14, 2017

The "Terrible Twos" aren't just for toddlers.

If there is one thing that gardening can teach you, it’s patience. Crafting a beautiful garden or a productive veggie bed takes time and practice. Many failures will happen on the road to success. Often, we head to the garden center with a vision; then expect that vision to manifest overnight. Rarely is that the case and disappointment ensues. Whether you’re building your garden DIY style, or having it designed and installed by a professional, you’re going to have to give your plants some time to settle in an come in to their own.

These are images of plants hitting their third year in my garden, when they really started to put on a show (after looking fairly pathetic for the first two years). Rose ‘Pat Austin’, Clematis ‘Ramona’, Salvia ‘May Night’, white Autumn Sage.

For most small shrubs, vines, perennials and perennial bulbs, the third year in the garden is the charm. As the old garden saying goes “the first year they sleep, the second year they creep, the third year they leap!”

When newly planted, you must remember that your plants are basically still container plants with a limited root system. You’re going to have to water them more often and you can’t expect much top growth within the first year. Most of the plant’s energy needs to go towards developing a vigorous root system with which to take up water and nutrients.

By the second year, plants will begin to put on some top green growth, but don’t expect peak performance or an abundance of blooms. Roses and perennials may still seem a bit scraggly. This is the stage when you might start questioning your plant choices and think that they “should be looking better by now”.  Hold tight.

It’s typically the third year in the garden in which your plants will begin to reward your patience. This is when they’ll start to look like the specimens you see on the tag or in that glossy plant catalog. You’ll typically see a growth spurt of top growth and blooms. Now, this doesn’t mean that it takes three years for all plants to reach their mature size; while many herbaceous perennials will come into their own during the third year, it often takes much longer for larger shrubs and trees to reach their desired size.  But it is the time when  you can expect to see a significant flush of new growth on most plants.

Now, for larger trees know that it often takes much longer for them to get established. The three year rule is still works for most trees 10-gallons, or smaller, when planted. Large-caliper trees can take more than three years to really begin to put down a good root system and start putting more energy into top growth.

So before you rip out your scraggly perennials or blame your landscaper and and ask for replacement plants, remember that just like you would your toddler, you need to give your plants a chance to grow out of their terrible twos.

Daffodils Are On Their Way…

Mar 10, 2017

Daffodils are about to throw down in Dallas.

If you love daffodils like I do, then you might also be tapping your fingers on the window whilst repeating “open, open, open…”. Daffodils are just about to throw down in Dallas. You may have seen a handful pop open just before this last ice event. While it might be tough for some of those blooms to recover, there are plenty on the way that have yet to open. If you want to add daffodils to your garden this fall, now is the time to start paying attention to what’s blooming so you can pick your


Narcissus ‘Professor Einstein’ dressed smartly in orange.

Planting these easy-to-grow bulbs is one of the best things you can do to brighten up late-winter landscapes. With at least 25 different species of Narcissus spp., and more than 13,000 hybrids available, possibilities seem endless. Mail order catalogs offer the most variety when it comes to purchasing daffodil bulbs, but choosing the right ones can be like rolling the dice. While traditional yellow trumpet daffodils are the most recognized daffodils, they certainly aren’t the only choice for Texas gardens. In fact, many of of the trumpet daffodils can leave you disappointed if you were hoping to perennialize or naturalize your bulbs. Large-cupped, Small-cupped, Triandrus and Jonquil hybrids tend to perform better in our climate and soils.

Here are a few of my less traditional daffodil favorites:

‘Thalia’ (Triandrus daffodil) If you love white flowers then ‘Thalia’ should be at the top of your list. This tough and reliable perennial creates large clumps and features pure white flowers with a wonderful fragrance. Each stem produces clusters of 2 to 3 blooms. A late-bloomer, ‘Thalia’ will close out the daffodil season in April.


Narcissus ‘Thalia is stunning in white.

‘Professor Einstein’ (Large-cupped daffodil) I can’t resist a pop of bright orange in my garden, so ‘Professor Einstein’ is a must-have. The bright orange cups paired with pure white petals creates a showstopping combination.  This award-winner is a good perennializer in our climate.

‘Chromacolor’  (Large-cupped daffodil) I have a hard time resisting the peachy-pinked cupped daffodils as well…I’d have to say ‘Chromacolor’ is the best of them.  The huge flowers can reach 5-inches in diameter with an intense coral to pink cup.  One-of-a-kind and gorgeous.

Mason Bees are Powerful Pollinators

Mar 6, 2017

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.


A baby blue orchard bee emerges from its cocoon in my garden. Hello!

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.

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!

Pruning Your Fruit Trees

Jan 30, 2017

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.

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?


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