Blog posts categorized as: Time to Plant

Indoor lettuce

Dec 18, 2016

Salad greens are one of the easiest crops you can grow both indoors and out. While lettuces are a cool season crop for those of us in southern parts of the country (hot summers, mild winters but with freezes), and you can start lettuce outdoors in the fall to grow through winter. But by the time December rools around, temperatures can get too cold for good lettuce seed germination. So seeding lettuce indoors during winter is a great way to keep your harvest growing.

To speed up germination, use a humidity dome and a seedling heat mat to get things moving. Then set your lettuce seedlings under grow lights once they germinate. High Outpot T5 flourescent lamps are great for growing lettuce and other vegetative crops.

It's important to know that lettuce seeds need light to germinate, so don't bury them under the soil when you sow them.

You can sow lettuce seeds into seed plugs or 4" pots. Always drop 2-3 seeds in just in case one or two don't germinate. Thin out extra seedlings after germination.

One of my favorite varieties? 'Black Seeded Simpson'.

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.

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.

Pretty Peonies

Mar 28, 2016

While I typically recommend sticking to plants that are tough, tried and true in our Dallas landscapes, I’m a horticulturist: I love to experiment. No garden is static. Conditions are always changing and no plant is a permanent fixture. Some plants may live in your landscape for thirty years…others can bring you just as much joy in only one season. I’m all for planting beauties that may not be long-lived but put on a big show while they’re around. That brings us to peonies.


Peony Itoh ‘Mikasa’ – Perfect for containers if you don’t have the perfect garden spot!

If you’re a northern transplant to the south, you probably grew up with peonies as a common sight in spring. There are several categories of peonies: Tree, herbaceous and intersectional hybrids. I’ve found that all three can be grown here, but some do better than others. The intersectional hybrids (‘Itoh’ hybrids) seem particularly suited to our area. Certain species of tree peony tree (Paeonia rockii) tolerate our summers better than the others. Herbaceous peonies really need the right spot to thrive. Given just the right conditions you can successfully grow gorgeous peonies.


Itoh hybrid peonies are particularly pretty.

An eastern exposure is ideal for peonies. The morning sun will provide them enough sun to bloom and they’ll be shaded from the hot afternoon sun. Or, position near larger trees or shrubs that will shade plants in the afternoon. Peonies prefer loose, acidic soil, which we do not have. Amending garden beds with compost and a fertilizer created to feed camellias, hydrangeas and Japanese maples will help. Expanded shale works well to loosen and aerate soil. Be sure to water your peonies deeply twice a week once temperature get hot. Fertilize in spring and fall. In early winter, cut back your plants to the ground. Come late winter, you should see them start to sprout again.

Note that peonies need a chilling period in winter in order to bloom well in spring. So if we experience a consistently warm winter, you may not see plants bloom as well. Now is the time to find a good selection of peonies at the local garden center and they’re typically only available for a short time.

March: It’s tomato time in Texas

Mar 9, 2016

Regardless of the chance of a late freeze, it’s time to get serious about tomatoes. Growing prize-worthy tomatoes is a bit of a right of passage for most gardeners. In fact, tomatoes are typically the first the go-to-fruit for beginning gardeners. They’re easy, right? In some parts of the country, that may be the case. In Dallas? Not so much. North Texas doesn’t exactly offer up the easiest of growing conditions.

While many parts of the country have one condensed edible growing season that spans mid-spring through summer, we have several distinct growing seasons. Less heat-tolerant veggies, like spinach and lettuce, need to be grown fall through winter. Heat-lovers like peppers and eggplant won’t budge an inch until it gets hot. Tomatoes…well, they’re somewhere in between. While tomatoes are a tropical plant and are not frost hardy, they don’t reproduce well once our intense summer heat comes on.

The trick to good tomatoes is timing: Getting them planted such that they squeeze into those “in-between” times in our growing seasons. We have to plant spring crops before it gets too warm and fall crops before it gets too cold.

Here in Dallas, prime time for planting spring 4” tomato transplants is right about mid-March. However, if you hedge your bets and plant earlier, you’ll often get a better harvest. I typically plant mine before March 15th.  Once April 1st hits, it’s not advisable to plant 4” tomato transplants. If you live north of Dallas, say up in Frisco, you can probably get away with planting a week or so later. If you’re south of Dallas, then be sure to get plants in the ground by March 15th as a good target.

There are varieties of tomatoes bred to be more heat-tolerant. When you see the word “heat” somewhere in the cultivar name, the plant will most likely fare better in our climate. A couple of years ago a new line of grafted tomatoes called Mighty ‘Matos hit the market. Hybrids and heirlooms have been grafted onto a hardy rootstock in order to make these tomato plants more tolerant of diseases. Plants are vigorous and definitely worth trying in your garden this spring.

You’re sure to find some of the best selections of fresh plants and varieties out at your local garden centers this coming weekend. Be sure to get your soil prepped with plenty of organic compost and composted manure before you plant. Add a tomato or vegetable fertilizer at planting time. Once developing fruit reaches about ¼ it’s mature size, you’ll want to feed plants every two weeks with an organic, dry fertilizer. If you are feeding with a liquid feed, apply to the foliage and roots every week.

When it Comes to Strawberries, Sometimes Bare is Better

Mar 7, 2016

It doesn’t matter that it might get cold again or it could freeze a few more times. At some point you just have to pull the gardening trigger or you’re going to miss out! I’m not sure how one could resist getting out into the garden with the gorgeous weather we’ve been having, but if you haven’t perhaps I can offer up some motivation: Strawberries.

If you want them, now is a great time to get them in the ground. I just dropped a whole new crop of bare-root strawberries in the ground this past Sunday. Why bare-root you ask? Often, your best shot at getting a good selection of varieties is by going bare-root with berries. Plus, it’s more cost-effective.

Last spring I managed to score some of the new albino Pineberries in plug-form online (that means they arrive without a pot). I can’t tell you yet how they will perform in our Texas summers, but who could resist such a beautiful berry? Especially one that’s supposed to taste like a cross between pineapples and strawberries. I’m SOLD. The crazy green discs are strawberry plant supports I tried out, from Gardener’s Supply Co.

You can pick up handy packets of a variety of bare-root strawberries at local garden centers right now. They’ll be sold out soon, so don’t wait. Yes, you can buy potted strawberry plants later in the season, but you’ll often be limited on variety. Plus, late-winter and fall are the best times to plant in our climate. Be sure to follow the instructions on the packet for planting your bare-root berries. They’ll need lose soil (raised beds are best) in a sunny location.


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