Blog posts categorized as: Perennials & Annuals

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.

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.

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.

Special Offer from Garden Design Magazine

SPECIAL OFFER! My friends over at Garden Design Magazine asked me to offer up my favorite tough summer plant...in return, they are letting me give YOU a FREE issue when you subscribe to this stunning (ad free) quarterly Bookazine. Click the photo or HERE.

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.

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.

Time for Tropicals

May 11, 2016

If you’re looking to create a tropical feel in your landscape, now’s the time. The bit of sunshine we’re finally getting combined with the high humidity is certainly making Dallas feel pretty tropical right now.  May through early June is prime time for you snap up your favorite tropical plants at your local garden center. Tropical hibiscus, mandevilla, allamanda and bouganvilla are just a few of the most popular tropicals you’ll find. But there are so many more to choose from.

I love to use blooming and foliage tropicals in containers for an instant feeling of lushness in the landscape. Most tropicals make excellent container specimens so they’re the perfect choice if you need to quickly spruce up the patio for a party or your Memorial Day holiday weekend.

Tropical hibiscus are available in a dizzying array of colors and add the most tropical feel to any space. You can plant tropical hibiscus in containers alongside sweet potato vine or other trailing foliage plants. Or, plant them directly into the landscape as a feature in a sunny bed. If you’re planting in-ground, be sure you’ve amended your landscape beds with plenty of compost and some expanded shale to aid drainage. Fertilize regularly to keep plants in bloom.


Firebush loves the heat.

If you’re looking for a tropical that’s irresistible to hummingbirds, Firebush tops the list (Hamelia patens).  This tough, heat loving tropical brings butterflies and hummingbirds to your garden in droves. Firebush offers pretty green foliage and tufts of tubular red-orange blooms. A wonderful plant for both landscapes and patio containers. Plant in a sunny location and provide some supplemental water through summer.


Of course, my favorite Esperanza is ORANGE.

Another hummingbird-favored tropical, or semi-tropical, is Esperanza (Tecoma stans). While plants will sometimes through the winter in our Dallas gardens, often times you’ll lose them to a hard freeze. But that’s ok, because they’ll bloom non-stop until we hit freezing weather.  Esperanza is available in shades of bright yellow, to orange, to almost red.

Hummingbirds will make a beeline for this Esperanza whether it’s in a patio container or in the landscape. Plants require little care to look beautiful.

There are so many beautiful tropicals to choose from right now that I could never list all of my favorites. There are many tropicals that may not bloom conspicuously, but rather offer up wonderful foliage color and contrast. Be sure the bloomers get a sunny location and the foliage tropicals a bit of afternoon shade. You know all those tropical foliage houseplants you love? Any of them can be planted outdoors in patio containers and even the landscape if you give them some afternoon shade. Some of the most beautiful tropical containers are created by mixing unusual foliage tropicals with bright bloomers

Get Ready for Hummingbirds in the Garden

Mar 29, 2016

With such a warm winter behind us here in Dallas, we might be seeing hummingbirds in the garden any day now. Do you have the right kinds of plants in your lanscape to attract and feed these the tiny beauties?


Crossvine is typically one of the blooming plants to attract nesting hummingbirds.

The species of hummingbirds that we see here in Dallas, ruby-throated and black-chinned hummingbirds, spend their winters in Mexico and Central America. Hummingbirds typically begin arriving in the Dallas area in late-March; usually just in time to take advantage of blooming plants like crossvine (in full bloom right now) coral honeysuckle and buckeyes. The autumn sage are already blooming, which will definitely capture their attention.


White autumn sage, and salvias of all kinds, attract hummingbirds.

If you want to attract hummingbirds to your garden and you haven’t yet put out feeders, now’s the time. Plants hummingbirds love typically produce tubular flowers that accommodate their long tongues. While hot colored flowers (red, orange, yellow), tend to be preferred, the hummingbirds in my yard are just as happy to feed on white, blue and purple salvias.

In order to see an abundance of hummingbirds in your garden, you need to attract a female to nest in spring. By putting out hummingbird feeders late-March and planting specific spring-blooming plants, you can entice a female to take up residence nearby if other conditions are right. Plants they love in Dallas gardens include esparanza, crossvine, salvia, honeysuckle, columbine and red yucca.


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