Blog posts categorized as: General Gardening

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

Heavy Rains Breed Mosquitoes

May 26, 2015

You may have noticed a bump in the mosquito population lately. I can't imagine why...Oh yeah, we've had about a million inches of rain! The continual and heavy rainfall has created the perfect breeding ground for mosquitoes. They're emerging in droves in the DFW area. NOW is the time to take preventative action if you don't want the city spraying chemicals around your property.

All it takes is a few handfuls of a natural larvicide to successfully prevent mosquitoes.

Bt (Bacillius thuriengensis var. israelensis) also known as Thuricide (liquid form) or Mosquito Bits, is my not so secret weapon to having no mosquito problems in my yard. This naturally occurring bacteria is fatal only to larvae and caterpillars. The species included in this product is particularly effective against mosquito larvae (and fungus gnats). All you have to do is sprinkle a few handfuls of the bits under your foundation shrubs, any landscape beds with automated irrigation or that you water regularly, drain boxes, low spots in the yard and even gutters.  Timing depends on the weather. If it's warm early, I'll put out my first application in April, if it's not then early May. Then again in June, July, August and September.  If you have ponds, birdbaths or live on a creek, purchase the floating dunk form and just pitch one, or a piece of one in the standing water.

The Bt attacks the mosquito larvae and kills them before they even have a chance to hatch. This bacteria is safe for children, pets, birds and fish. It's the most non-toxic and most effective treatment for dealing with mosquitoes.

Hopefully, you haven't been contributing to the moisture problem by running your sprinkler systems. The rain we've been getting is more than any landscape could hope to absorb.

If neighbors, or neighborhoods, got together on prevention we could make a huge dent in the city's mosquito population. Make a deal with your neighbors...if you live on a creek, each one of you should get together and buy a 4 or 6 pack of the mosquito dunks. Once per month from April through September, simply pitch one out the back door into the creek. You'll be amazed by the results. Do you have a housebound or elderly neighbor? How about buying a pack for them and dropping it off, or better yet, apply the bits or dunks in their yard/creek for them.

Bt is inexpensive and easy to apply. If you haven't picked up your Mosquito Bits yet, don't delay.

How Can You Not Love Bonsai?

Mar 15, 2015

Ah, it's that time of year when gardening is in the air...the perfect time to reignite particular plant passions (ok obssessions). If you're a plant geek, you've probably circulated through a number of plant-obsession phases, be it orchids, succulents or bonsai. If you've been thinking about getting back into bonsai, or are a bonsai newb (and you live in Dallas), head on over to North Haven Gardens today to check out the last day of the annual Bonsai Society of Dallas exhibit. There are some serious beauties on display.

Like thi 600 year old western juniper...yowzah.

or this mind blowing cedar elm...

They also have some seriously cool handmade pottery that can be used for specialty bonsai...

And some nice little starter plants...

Maybe once I get the piles of plants still in pots sitting around my yard into the ground, I'll delve back into zen of bonsai.


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