Blog posts from June 2016

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.

Lots of Rain equals Lots of Pests!

Jun 20, 2016

I think most of us are still surprised by the amount of rain we're getting this spring, especially considering last year's downpours and flooding.  While rain is usually more than welcome around these parts, the excess spring rain has created some ral challenges this year. Rain yet to come will perpetuate them.


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 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.

Basil: Plant and Grow Your Own Pesto!

Jun 17, 2016

The basil is coming on strong in the summer garden and it’s time to start harvesting.

While its closest association is with Italian cooking, basil is actually native to India and used extensively in Indian cuisine. This fragrant and flavorful member of the mint family was originally only used for medicinal purposes. Basil tea was used to treat anything from digestive problems to headaches and anxiety. Today, basil is a culinary essential and there a multitude of varieties and flavors to choose from. With more than 150 species of basil currently grown around the world, the choices can be almost overwhelming. Scents and flavors range from lemon and anise to cinnamon. There are large-leafed sweet basils that grow large and bushy, small-leafed upright varieties such as ‘Sweet Aussie’ and even a tiny-leafed miniature variety called ‘Boxwood’. No matter your space or size of container, there is likely a Basil variety just right for you.


Basil ‘Boxwood’ has tiny leaves and a natural globe shape.

If you’re as addicted to making fresh pesto as I am then a regular supply of fresh basil in the garden is a must-have. Once you’ve made your own pesto, store-bought pesto just won’t do. The challenge with basil can be its tendency to go to flower and seed quickly and abundantly, leaving you with leggy plants that won’t continue producing much if any foliage. You’ll need to keep flower buds deadheaded proactively to keep plants producing new leaves. ‘Pesto Perpetuo’ is a variety that doesn’t flower, leaving you with an endless supply of fresh foliage to harvest.

If you haven’t yet planted your basil, you can do so all summer-long. Plants can be grown in patio containers or mixed into your ornamental and vegetable gardens. Basil needs a full sun location and semi-regular waterings to thrive.

Passion Flower: Prized Garden Possession

Jun 10, 2016

There are few flowers we grow here in Dallas that are as exotic and intriguing as the passion flower. If you happen to have a passion flower vine in your garden, then you’ve no doubt been enjoying an explosion of blooms. While the heavy rains have caused many homeowners and landscapes some serious grief, vines like passion flower have happily soaked it up. Vines have grown leaps and bounds over the last two months and the honey bees, bumble bees and other pollinators couldn’t be happier about it.


Passion flower quickly attaches to any nearby structure, be it a fence or arbor.

If you’re looking for a perennial vine that can quickly cover a structure, such as an unsightly fence or a featured arbor, passion flower vine is a wonderful choice. There are a number of species and varieties of Passiflora spp. available, with flower colors of white, blue, purple, pink, red and orange. Some passion flower varieties aren’t completely cold hardy here in Dallas; they may die down to the ground in winter, but typically reemerge the following spring.

Passiflora caerulea, or blue passion flower (pictured in the photos), is a cold hardy specimen that typically keeps most of it’s above-ground vines and foliage over winter in Dallas, depending on the weather.  Passiflora incarnata, also known as purple passion flower or may-pop, is one of the more cold hardy and popular species for our area. Both will host butterfly larvae and produce small fruits. If you want deep red flowers, Passiflora vitifolia is widely available, although plants aren’t quite as winter hardy.

If you’re looking to attract butterflies to your landscape, passion flower vine should be at the top of your shopping list. Gulf fritillary will flock to your vines en masse. They will lay their eggs on the vines, as it is a host plant, so be prepared for their caterpillars to munch on your plants a bit. Passion flower vine recovers quickly, so there’s no need to fret about any damage.

For the best results, plant passion flower vine on a southern exposure with plenty of direct sun. Plants can tolerate some dappled or late afternoon shade; too much shade will thin out the vines and limit blooms. Be prepared for vines to grow large and assertively. They’ll attach themselves with spiraling tendrils to any nearby structure. Now is the best time to find a good selection of passion flower at your local garden center.

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