Blog posts from October 2011

Get that pesto made!

Oct 30, 2011

Still have basil in the garden here in Texas? If so, I'd say today is the perfect day to get it harvested and start making Pesto to put away for the winter.

Basil won't tolerate temperatures below 40 F degrees and we've already dipped to 40F at night, and into the mid- to high- 30's in some parts of Texas at night. Pine nuts, the traditional ingredient in pesto, can be pricey...but you don't have to use them. You can use any other nut you have on hand like walnuts or almonds - it's just as good! And remember, you can make pesto from many different doesn't have to be basil. One of my favorite pesto combinations is cilantro and walnuts. So pesto isn't just for warm season herbs!

If you're making mass quantities of pesto right now like I am, you'll want to freeze pesto portions for future use. I like to scoop the pesto into ice trays, which make just about the right amount for a single portion. Cover the pesto in the tray with some plastic wrap and freeze. Then just store in freezer safe ziploc bags. Yum!



The Perfect Planting Weather

Oct 25, 2011

Just a quick note to say what perfect planting weather we're having! Fall is the absolute best time in Texas to plant just about everything; trees, shrubs, groundcover, perennials, bulbs and cold hardy herbs and veggies. Planting now gives your plants a good 8-9 months to start getting established before the onset of summer stress. If you planted warm season veggies at the beginning of summer, and cold-hardy veggies and herbs in late-August and September, then you're probably harvesting along with me. Currently, I'm seeding more salad greens and planting cole crops (broccoli, cauliflower, etc.), daffodils, Dutch iris, pansies and violas and Iceland poppies. OH and purple Pak Choi. Be sure to check out my article on growing Pak Choi in the Nov/Dec issue of Neil Sperry's Gardens Magazine.

Often you may find it difficult to find certain plants you would want to plant in fall. Thus, I often hear the complaint that "I don't plant in fall because no one has what I want..." Well, this comes down to a classic supply and demand situation. Most folks plant in spring. Period. In fact, most independent garden center customers shop a few times in spring, then don't go back until the next spring. Much of this behavior has to do with the fact that many Texas residents are transplants from up North, where spring is traditionally your one main planting season and it is the best time to get new plantings established. That's just not the case here in Texas, where we have a year-round gardening climate. So, gardening consumers have conditioned the growing market to cater to spring when it comes to providing the biggest and best selection of plant material. Good independent garden centers will work hard to bring in the best selection they can in fall and keep encouraging you to plant. But alas, with traffic being so much slower than it is in spring, there is often just not enough supply or supply of certain items available from the growers for fall...because there has traditionally been so much less demand. Chicken and egg kind of situation. So, you should plant in fall...and if you want more to select from, then make a point to visit your local garden centers this fall to shop and be sure to tell staff what you're looking for! Happy planting...

Stop gardening for summer in Texas…I’m over it!

Oct 11, 2011

Skip Summer. This is my new mantra, lol. What about the OTHER nine months of growing season we have here in Texas? I'm all for skipping summer from now on, because there's plenty of happy successful gardening to be had the rest of the year. The thing we have to remember though is we're lucky enough, in the DFW area, to have a 12-month gardening season. We are blessed with nine whole months that are relatively easy on maintenance. So why do we base all of our gardening decisions, and purchases, around 2 1/2 to 3 months of summer?


Most homeowners and gardeners, however, spend most of their mental energy, and gardening budget on planting for summer. Most people do the bulk of their planting here in April and May....only to have to struggle to keep these new plantings alive through August, often losing that battle with more moisture sensitive varieties. Why do we do this to ourselves?...when the BEST time to plant is fall and winter for perennials shrubs, ground covers and trees.  By planting your most expensive and extensive landscape plantings now, you'll have a much easier time getting them established before the next hot summer. Plant now, and your landscape will endure a hot dry summer much better, with less maintenance, than if you wait until Spring to plant. Sure, some varieties are more available in spring, so of course, plant those varieties when they are available.

Plus, when it comes to vegetable gardening, you get 9-months of production, with much less maintenance, on cool season veggies and herbs. Most people kill themselves trying to grow an amazing 2-month summer vegetable garden here (only to be plagued by the long list of challenges to deal with here on crops like tomatoes, squash and the like), but forget about the 9-months of salad days they could be having...easy greens all the way around. Not to mention the enjoyment of 9-months of cool-season color annuals. Do we have to deal with a few freezes here and there? Sure, but I usually only have to cover plantings 3 or 4 times per winter. Most cool-season plants are very cold hardy here.

None of us actually want to hang out in our gardens in the deep summer anyway, at least not in the kind of summer we just had. For at least two months, most of us are cooped up inside in the air-conditioning and never see hide nor tail of our landscapes unless we're leaving for or returning from work. Even I spent little time in my garden this past brutal summer, and I LIKE it hot. Even when it's 100 degrees, I'm still puttering out in my garden. But 110 though...and that about does it even for me.

So, I guess all I'm say is that I give you permission to skip summer...and enjoy the rest of the year in your garden! wink

Looking for a heat and drought tolerant perennial?

Oct 10, 2011

I get asked daily about what people can plant in their gardens here in Texas that will be low-maintenance, drought and heat tolerant, bloom with ease and tolerate some shade. There are not a lot of plants that fit that bill. If you're asking yourself that question and you want to plant right now (because it's PERFECT planting weather), then, WELL...what about Daffodils?

Yes, daffodils. I know, most of you will probably say, "but, daffodils are bulbs...". And you're right, they are bulbs. But they are also really tough drought tolerant perennials that can be planted in areas that receive some shade. They are especially great under deciduous trees, because they'll receive plenty of direct light while they are growing and before the trees leaf out.

The type of daffodils that typically perform best in the heat and humidity of the South are most of the Jonquil hybrids, however most Narcissus do very well. You'll find that the classic Trumpeted types are the group that tend to be least-adapted in terms of multiplying or long-term perennialization. The large- and small-cupped types do better.

Some of my favorites include 'Quail', N. bulbicodium, 'Jetfire', 'Hawera', and 'Thalia'. I also love the pinky/peach cupped varieties like 'Precocious' and 'Pink Charm', not to mention some of the fun split-corona types like 'Orangery'.

October-December is prime time to plant your daffodil bulbs in Texas. When you do plant, plant them deep! You'll find they are happiest when planted about 8"-12"inches deep, as the bulbs/roots like the cooler soil temperatures. Plus, this allows you to plant some seasonal color, like violas, right on top of them. The exception to this would be the mini-daffodils which have much smaller bulbs -they can be planted 4"-6" deep, so they are perfect for tucking in around already established perennials.

Mix some bulb-food in with the soil when you plant and water in. In the spring, after blooming, you'll want to allow the foliage to continue to grow, until the leaves start to fade and flop over, then you can cut the foliage down, but not before. Feed your established bulbs just after they finish blooming each year with a bulb food.

Daffodils will go dormant by the time summer comes they won't even notice that the rest of us are baking away in the heat!

Woolly Pockets planted up!

Oct 9, 2011

Yesterday morning I mounted and planted up two brown Woolly Pocket planters on my dining room wall. If you're in the Dallas area, you can get them at North Haven Gardens.

They look pretty fab already, but I imagine once the plants fill in more it will look even better. You'll want to use a mixture of plants that will provide some height, some fill with texture and foliage color, and some trailers that will eventually grow to cover much of the planter. For indoors, I suggest sticking to tropicals that can handle lower light conditions. You can even do African violets, orchids and the like as long as you have a nice bright North or South facing window.  If you want to grow more blooming color, herbs or veggies then you'll want to mount your Woolly Pocket outside. In Texas, I DO NOT suggest trying to maintain wall planters like this on a West facing wall or spot that gets sun most of the day...Maintaining adequate moisture could be pretty problematic. Morning to mid-day sun with a few hours of afternoon shade would work best.

I placed the planters on a wall that faces a North facing window, so they get lots of bright ligh (but no direct sun rays) all day. I used North Haven Gardens Premium Organic Potting Soil, which is a mix I created. This is a medium to heavier weight mix with some expanded shale. Even though a peat based indoor potting mix would be lighter, I felt that due to the wicking action of the planters, too much peat could dry too quickly and be difficult to rehydrate. Make sure to put down a drop cloth of some will make a mess, lol. I planted with several trailing Philodendrons, a large purple Philo, Prayer plant, and several types of ferns. All of these species will appreciate the light exposure and do well with an air root-prunign type container such as the woolly pocket.

I mounted two pockets using the dry wall brackets included, in an overlapping fashion so you wouldn't see the bottom brackets or wall-space. Filled 1/2 way with soil, then went about arranging the plants. Make sure to wet the rootballs before you plant. Top-dress with potting soil but make sure you leave at least 1/2-1" clearance to the top edge of the pocket.

When you water, make sure to apply the water to the "tongue" of the planter, not directly to the soil. I used my small copper watering can because the spout is tiny and can deliver just enough, but not too much. water to the planter. The water will wick down and be pulled up by the plants through the "fabric". Don't ever apply more than 3 cups of water in one application.

You might also consider keeping a plant mister on hand as these types of tropicals do like a bit of extra humidity. Don't apply too much water to the foliage this way or you'll end up with water drips on your wall or floor.

Just remember, while you may see photos of this planter online, planted up indoors with herbs and edibles, realize that plants like that requiring a lot of direct sun won't sustain indoors more than a few weeks...stick to tropicals indoors and edibles outdoors. If you mount a substantial grow light over the planters, then you could probably get away with salad greens and some herbs indoors.

I have a feeling that I'm going to have to put up several more of these in my house...they are my favorite new gardening product and I think they are especially perfect for those who have limited garden space, live in a condo or apartment or want an easier way to display plants indoors. I've already had a few friends request them as Xmas presents! Guess I'd better get to work...

Vertical Garden Planters

Oct 6, 2011

While at the True Value show up in Philadelphia, I found a couple of vendors that just joined the group that sell products I've been wanting to carry at the garden center for a while (they just weren't very retail friendly yet). Now that both vendors have worked out some better strategies for getting their product into independent garden stores, I'll be bringing them both in.

First are the Woolly Pockets. Now, I called them up when they first went into business...but the prices or merch'ing options just weren't right. Now that some of that is on track, I've ordered the brown "Wally" pockets...which just showed up.Very cool. They can be used inside or outside, have a water wicking and barrier system. You can grow houseplants indoors, or annuals/perennials/tropicals/herbs and veggies outdoors. We'll see how this one color does, then I can always select from black, tan and blue if you guys (customers) are interested.

I also plan to bring in the GroVert green wall systems. They finally have a smaller product available with a water wicking system that can be paired with a frame they are now making for wall art. Or, you can modularize multiple pieces to do a whole wall.These can be used indoors for houseplants/tropicals, or outdoors for succulents.

My biggest concern with these vertical growing systems is always the summer maintenance issues. Texas is darn hot and dry in the summer, and if you've ever tried to keep hanging baskets pretty in summer you know you have to water them daily. I think as long as you don't put these grow systems on a hot or West facing wall, or expect them to be low-maintenance in terms of water during the summer, you can create very pretty spaces with them. Using them indoors will be much easier. Use the Woolly Pockets for larger plant material, due to their larger planting reservoir. The GroVert system is going to be better suited to smaller terrarium plants indoors, and succulents outdoors, due to the smaller planting reservoir.

Look for us to have some upcoming how-to workshops on both of these growing systems up at North Haven Gardens.

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