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Above: Nasturtiums, Watercress, Lavender, Fennel, and Broccoli

Gardening in North Central Texas is enough to make you throw away your trowel.  Our summers are hot enough for a blast furnace.  Our winter chill can freeze pipes and coat trees with ice.  We’re pummeled with spring storms and hail, but when we most need the rain, not a cloud is on the horizon.  Dallas’ unforgiving black clay forms clods hard as rocks and is so alkaline, its pH is off the chart.

DALLAS GARDEN BUZZ shares our journey through the triumphs and missteps of gardening in our North Texas heat, clay soil, limited water, and high alkalinity.  In the world of gardening, there is always a story to be told and sage advice to share.  As we dig, trim, harvest, and cook, we’ll give you the best information we can gather from our “hands on” work in the Earth-Kind/WaterWise Demonstration Garden on Joe Field Road in Dallas.

DALLAS GARDEN BUZZ is written by Dallas County Master Gardeners, volunteers trained by the AgriLife Extension Service, an agency of Texas A&M University.

Garden Progress

“It won’t be a chore, it will be a garden.”

 Quote by Jeannie Mobley

Come with us on this journey as we  build and transform our gardens at 11001 Midway Road.    “It won’t be  a chore, it will be a garden.”  You can see  from these pictures that we are enjoying the process.

Here we are beginning to build the raised beds:

Here we are, beginning to build our raised beds-Jim, Judy, Dorothy, Elizabeth

Jim, Judy, Dorothy, Elizabeth

Knowing we will be having school field trips in the spring, our first order of business was to get the vegetable garden beds built.  This was possible because of a generous donation from Loew’s on Inwood.

Vegetable Beds and our Crew of Dallas County Master Gardeners

Vegetable Beds and our Crew of Dallas County Master Gardeners

We are also working on a shade garden demonstration for the lucky people in Dallas, Texas who have shade. The courtyard at Midway Hills Christian Church is being renovated.   Asian Jasmine and Mondo Grass have been removed to make way for shade gardening with winter color in mind, WaterWise of course.

Hans and Michele, part of our Courtyard renewal team!

Hans and Michele, part of our Courtyard renewal team!

This spring you will see swaths of daffodils and Hardy Amaryllis .  The Amaryllis came with us from the old garden. You’ll see; they multiply like crazy.

Evelyn on the left, Sarah, Carolyn, and Cynthia on the right, Amaryllis top right

Evelyn on the left, Sarah, Carolyn, and Cynthia on the right, Amaryllis top right

By the way, this would be a good time to study bulb nomenclature and you can do that by clicking here.


Pictures by Starla


A Passion for Passion Vine

Passion Flower

Passion Flower

Though it doesn’t bloom until the heat of summer, usually long past Easter, the flowers of Passifloraceae are often said to refer to the symbolism of the Christian crucifixion, from which it gets one of its common names, passion vine.   The beautiful and unusual pink, blue, red or purple blooms are said to represent Christ’s passion. The 10 petal-like parts represents the disciples of Jesus, excluding Peter and Judas; the 5 stamens the wounds Jesus received; the knob-like stigmas the nails; and the fringe or corona the crown of thorns; while the leaves are reminiscent of the Roman spear; and the tendrils are their whips. However like many plants, the passion vine has other common names. The name Maypop, which is used by many Southerners, comes from the loudly popping sound that the hollow, yellow fruits of P. incarnata make when crushed.

     Passiflora is a genus of about 500 species of flowering plants.  They are mostly vines, with some being shrubs, and a few species being herbaceous.   In North Texas several species of passion vines grow well here.  The two most common passion vines found in area nurseries are the Texas native Passiflora incarnata (Maypop) and the Hardy Blue Passionflower, P. caerulea.  Maypop can withstand temperatures as low as 18 degrees F, while P. caerulea can tolerate temperatures to around 25 degrees.  Other species of passion vines are becoming more available; however most of these are tropical plants and should be either treated as annuals or brought inside for the winter.

Passion Flower Fruit

Passion Flower Fruit

      Though the leaves of passion vines have been used in herbal medicine as a remedy for sleep disorders, nervousness, and many other ailments by indigenous peoples and the fruit was a staple of their diet, today most gardeners grow the plant for its quick growing, vining qualities, beautiful flowers and as a butterfly host plant.

     In general, passion vines require full sun (though they can tolerate some partial shade), regular watering, and excellent drainage.  According to Scott Perry’s article, Planting Passion, in Texas Gardener magazine, a 10-5-20 fertilizer should be applied several times a year at four-to six-week intervals throughout the growing season.  However, overfeeding can cause root damage; and fertilizers too high in nitrogen can cause excessive foliage development and reduced flower development.

     Passion vines, which can grow up to thirty feet in a season and should be grown on a strong support, are remarkably pest free.  However there is one “pest” that can defoliate a passion vine quite quickly.  However, this same “pest” is the reason why many butterfly enthusiasts grow passion vines in their gardens.  The passion vine is the sole host plant for several Texas butterflies of the family Heliconius.  This family includes the Zebra, the Julia, and the Gulf Fritillary (a very common butterfly found in Dallas.)  The rather fearsome looking (but harmless to people) caterpillars, when feeding on the passion vine, derive some toxic compounds from the leaves. This, in turn, makes the larvae and butterflies somewhat toxic to predators.  Many butterfly gardeners either grow a large enough stand of passion vines so that some defoliation will not matter or relocate the caterpillars to a designated butterfly garden where the passion vine is grown specifically to be a host plant.

One More Picture of the Amazing Passion Flower

One More Picture of the Amazing Passion Flower

     If you are interested in planting a passion vine in your yard and “growing your own butterflies,” a very good place to purchase many varieties of passion vine is at the Texas Discovery Gardens ( plant sale.  This year’s sale will take place on April 18-19th, 2015, with the Members Preview Sale on the 17th.   It’s a great place to buy organically grown butterfly host and nectar plants as well as many unusual varieties of plants not found at most area nurseries.

     See you there!!


Pictures by Starla

Note: The Passion Vine at our Demonstration Garden flourished without fertilizer of any kind.



2014 in Review

Elizabeth wrote this as a Farewell to the Field or How to Move an 8,000-square foot Garden, but it also recaps nicely most of 2014 and what it was like to be a part of our garden last year.  Ann

garden panoramoic -front garden

Most (sane) people cringe at moving a rose bush.  The Dallas County Master Gardeners who regularly volunteer at the Demonstration Garden on Joe Field Road took a collective deep breath this summer.  Then they rolled up their sleeves and got to work moving the 8,000-plus square foot garden.

The 80- x 100-foot primary garden included the color wheel, raised vegetable beds (six 3- x 20-foot beds plus two smaller beds), the wildlife habitat, and an arbor.  Cindy and Roger managed about eight rounds of compost measuring 5 feet across.  A packed— and very dirty—garage of tools and assorted gardening gear, a kitchen, bins and a file cabinet of educational materials, tables and chairs, and a refrigerator rounded out the list.  And one punch bowl!

The Demonstration Garden on Joe Field Road had been in the same spot for nine years.  Dallas County put the site on the market in June and within days had several contracts.   Texas A&M AgriLife Extension told the master gardeners to circle December 31 on their calendar as the final exit date.  (This date was later moved up six weeks to November 10.)  Controlled panic ensued.

Ten brave souls volunteered to serve on the Relocation Committee.  Of course, it’s a bit more difficult to relocate if you don’t know where you’re going, and you don’t know what to look for at proposed sites.    Oh, and what’s yours at the old site to take with you?

The relocation committee had to keep up an off kilter tap dance; when the right foot was off tapping to one beat, the left foot had to be working just as hard—at something else entirely.


We brainstormed about possible locations in North Dallas, Carrollton or Farmer’s Branch to be close to our long-time volunteers.  Churches, established master gardener projects, parks, and rec centers came to mind.

Lynn pulled together a site evaluation document that helped us compare, for example, parking capacity and availability of electricity at different site visits.  A new handout explained the garden’s history and goals during site visits.  A survey polled participants in the garden.

We knew we had a lot of “stuff” at the Joe Field site, but what—legally—belonged to us, to Dallas County, or to the new owners?  First you have to know what you have.  Volunteers went cabinet by shelf by garden path and listed everything in the garden.  Sarah, who compiled five pages of inventory, became known as the “Queen of Stuff.”

Annette and our Garage of Stuff

Annette and our Garage of Stuff


The heat hovered in the high 90s with crushing humidity.  What “better” time to drive all over North Dallas and look at possible sites for an 8,000-foot garden?

Some visits were rather formal: call, set up an appointment, meet with representatives, and walk all over the site.  Others were a little more casual: drop in on a promising rec center and chat up the director. Jackie made phone call after phone call to the City of Dallas Parks Department. Some were mired in paperwork; others didn’t have meeting rooms or storage. Some were too far.  Most didn’t have kitchens.  Timelines weren’t in sync with some sites. In all, we looked at a community college, churches, an established master gardener project, a future master gardener project, and a rec center in August and September.

The tap dance speeded up.  What about the plants at the Joe Field site? What could be safely moved? What stays? Do we have a spot for huge climbing roses? (Wait—we don’t know where we’re going.) When is it safe to move ——?  How? Can you propagate the plant if it’s too large/established to move?

Plant Prop Guru-Roseann

Plant Prop Guru-Roseann

For answers, we turned to propagation guru Roseanne Ferguson, who graciously agreed to give a workshop in September. Jim and the potters started on iris in mid-August, which is the best time to divide corms. Daylilies and bulbs were next on the list.   Volunteers walked through the garden trying to decide which plants could be relocated and which could more easily be bought as new plants for the new site.

Plant Propagation Class Participants

Plant Propagation Class Participants


The summer heat was like a blast furnace; record high ragweed added to the misery. The month passed without rain.

Jams and Jellies For Sale

Jams and Jellies For Sale

The tap dance picked up a different beat: money.  Ann had always been careful with expenditures.  Educational luncheons and plant sales added to the coffers this year.  Still our savings were not even close to the large sums it takes to put in a new large garden.  Elizabeth and Linda met for hours to plan Farewell to the Field, a goodbye fundraiser on November 4th.   Plans were made to sell favorites from the Joe Field garden at the October 23rd Master Gardener meeting, including Basil Pesto, Lemon Verbena Jelly, and Pomegranate Jelly.  Canning and baking started full tilt in the tiny Joe Field kitchen when it was too hot to work in the field. Gardeners turned on the heat in their own kitchens, and jar after jar of yummies were made for the craft sale. Volunteers offered to start looking into grants and foundations.



Site visits continued in the heat.  It was very reassuring to the Joe Field volunteers that —like Sally Field at the Oscars—they like us.  They really like us!  Every visited location said they would welcome a garden like Joe Field.

Midway Hills Christian Church (MHCC) at Royal and Midway Roads kept coming to the top of the list of site candidates.  The church, brought to our attention by Susan, a member and Joe Field gardener, had recently adopted a Green Chalice initiative. This goal, part of the national church, directed the small, but growing, congregation on a path to show stewardship of the environment.  Its buildings, dating to the 1960s, had vacant space for Joe Field garden educational materials.  The Dallas Cooperative Preschool had recently moved to an education wing of the church.  The Da Vinci School buzzed next door; indeed, many private and public schools ringed the campus.  A recent re-roofing was designed with gutter accommodations for rain barrels.  A fellowship hall looked out onto a courtyard.  A commercial kitchen could be reserved for luncheons.  And best of all, there was land, almost a football field of land, waiting for a WaterWise garden.

Our New WaterWise Garden Site at Midway Hills

Our New WaterWise Garden Site at Midway Hills

Talks continued with representatives of the Joe Field site’s new owner, the Dallas County Commissioner, and Texas A&M AgriLife Extension to nail down what belonged to whom and where it was finally going.

Our exit date moved up six weeks: November 10.  Work on propagating, potting, labeling and charting exiting plants went into high gear.  Hundreds of plants went to gardeners’ backyards to await their new home.

Plants Being Taken Home-Susan

Plants Being Taken Home-Susan

Annette and volunteers welcomed elementary students from Grace Academy to their fifth year of visiting Joe Field.


Clear, hot, dry.  The first half of the month was fall only on the calendar.

Representatives of Texas A&M AgriLife Extension walked the proposed site at Midway Christian.  Representatives of MHCC walked the garden at Joe Field.

Conversations continued with MHCC on what their plans were for different areas of the property.  Volunteers brainstormed on future possibilities for the garden.  Elizabeth and husband Mike measured and re-measured the MHCC property, the first stage of drawing up a garden conceptual plan.

The diggers and potters worked at a feverish pace. Susan directed Michele and Sue at the potting table under the shed.  An unbelievable 300 cuttings and 678 plants were put in pots, registered, and sent to foster homes. Susan started babysitting plants at the TDG greenhouses for the new garden. Lisa’s color garden was almost empty, its plants dug and relocated.

Diggers and Potters at Work

Diggers and Potters at Work


Hans and Arbor Removal

Hans and Arbor Removal

Judy, Hans, and Jim took apart the arbor, its supports buried 4 feet deep by overeager Eagle Boy Scouts.

Annette, Judy, Sarah, Evelyn, Linda S., Kim, and Michele sorted, cleaned and boxed up the kitchen and dirty garage.  What can be boxed up now? What do we need for upcoming events?  Susan, Diana, Jean and Patty packed. Hans kept digging and digging.

Volunteers signed up to cook for the Farewell to the Field luncheon and the October bake and craft sale.  Ceciliee and Cynthia whipped up some killer salsa for the sale. Jim and Tim said goodbye to our large water cisterns.  Volunteers submitted names for the new garden. One proposed name was a riff on our blog, Dallas Garden Buzz.  Sanity prevailed, and we did not adopt the Buzz-ards, as our nickname. We were now officially the Raincatcher’s Garden of Midway Hills, an Earth-Kind®  WaterWise Demonstration Garden, a collaboration of Texas A&M AgriLife Extension, the Dallas County Master Gardener Association and Midway Hills Christian Church.

Ann and Lisa negotiated with Texas A&M AgriLife Extension and MHCC on the project approval document.  Elizabeth designed a conceptual plan showing how the color wheel, wildlife habitat and other parts of the Joe Field garden could be shaped into a new garden space at MHCC.  Texas A&M AgriLife Extension approved the project at MHCC.   Paul and Stephen, our MHCC contacts, presented the project and drawing to the church board meeting.  Gary smiled and encouraged and helped.

Sue and Kim-It's Time to Move!

Sue and Kim-It’s Time to Move!

It was time for the final move.  Suburbans filled the parking lot.  Exhausted volunteers rolled log seats onto Lisa’s trailer. Glenda was the ultimate trouper, showing up to help with a broken foot. Tomato supports, bamboo poles, worm boxes, and box after box of materials went into waiting vehicles.  When items like the refrigerator and loaf cistern were too large to move, Abbe and Neil came to the rescue with large trailers.  Cindy and Roger moved all the compost.  As our Joe Field garden emptied, the storage sheds and unused playground at MHCC filled.  Dallas County came to claim their part of the garden.

Move Day!

Move Day!


Farewell to the Field Tablescape

Farewell to the Field Tablescape

Linda spent Halloween Friday afternoon setting up for the Farewell to the Field fundraiser—at Joe Field.  But the weather report kept getting worse, and by Monday the outdoor luncheon had to be moved five miles at the last minute to the MHCC fellowship hall to escape a driving rain. Patty borrowed chairs.  The church had lots of tables, but few tablecloths that matched.  Almost 50 guests for the feast had a golf umbrella escort through the pouring rain, with more than 20 volunteers cooking, serving, and setting up.  The MHCC pastor bought a pumpkin cheesecake at the bake sale and added a nice contribution to our new garden.

Carolyn, Gail, Elizabeth, and Dorothy worked frantically to pull together a budget request for the November 11 board meeting, two weeks after the Farewell luncheon.  Emails flew as they pinned down costs for items like crushed concrete, drip tubing, and boards for the new raised beds.  Carolyn consolidated the project’s goals and accomplishments with a power point presentation using Starla’s pictures.  Gail worked and reworked the presentation.  Elizabeth crunched numbers.  Dorothy gave great ideas. Ana researched the number of master gardeners and schools near MHCC. Members of the DCMG board were invited to MHCC to see the site of the new garden.  About 25 garden volunteers waited through a long morning of presentations at the board meeting. To the relief of the volunteers, the board approved enough money to put in phase one of the long awaited garden.

As with any large project, it takes the talent and hard work of many people.  The gardeners at the new Raincatcher’s Garden of Midway Hills are ready to begin the new year!


Pictures by Starla






Growing Asparagus

Jerry Parsons and Sam Cotner, Extension Horticulturists
Texas AgriLife Extension Service

Asparagus is a highly productive vegetable best suited to cooler areas of North and West Texas. Grown for the stems or spears, a well tended planting yields 8 to 10 pounds or more per 100 square feet of bed or 24 to 30 pounds per 100 feet of row. For most home gardeners, one row is adequate. 

An asparagus planting lasts 15 to 25 years without replanting if it is well cared for and the climate is suitable. It does not do well if summers are extremely hot and long and winters are mild. 

Asparagus is grown from 1-year-old plants or “crowns” planted in January or February. Crowns grow from seed planted in flats or peat cups in October for January transplanting, or they are transplanted from an existing asparagus bed. To get healthy, vigorous plants, buy 1-year-old crowns from a nursery or garden center or order them from a seed catalog. It takes 1 year to grow a good crown. 

It requires 3 years from the time the crown is planted until the bed is in full production. Buds arise from the crown when conditions are favorable and develop into edible spears. If these spears are not harvested and are allowed to continue growing, they develop into “fern-like” stalks. 

From these “ferns”, the mature plant manufactures food and stores it in “storage roots.” This reserve supplies the energy necessary to produce spears the following year. 

Asparagus does best in a deep, well-drained soil with full sunlight. 

Soil Preparation 

Since an asparagus planting lasts many years, good seedbed preparation is essential. The soil should be free of trash, soil insects and weeds such as johnsongrass and bermudagrass before planting. 

In late fall, spread a 3-inch layer of organic matter such as manure, rotted sawdust or compost over the beds. Till or spade to a depth of 10 to 12 inches and turn the soil so all organic matter is covered. Asparagus grows well in high pH soils but does not do well if the soil pH is below 6.0. Test the soil before planting the beds and add lime if needed to adjust the pH to 6.5 to 7.0. 


Before planting new asparagus beds, till in 2 to 3 pounds of 10-20-10 or a similar analysis fertilizer per 20 feet of row or as directed by a soil test report. 

For established beds scatter 1 to 2 pounds of 10-20-10 fertilizer per 20 feet of row before growth begins in the spring, late January or early February in most areas of Texas. Add an additional 1 to 2 pounds per 20 feet of row after the last harvest. If available, use a nitrogen fertilizer such as 21-0-0 at this time. Water the fertilizer into the soil. Low fertility can cause fibrous spears. 


Martha Washington, UC 157, Jersey Giant and Mary Washington tests have shown hybrid asparagus varieties produce more than the standard varieties, but they are not widely available to home gardeners. 


Since asparagus will be in the same place several years, it is important to select the right spot. Asparagus plants make a good border around the edge of a garden or along a fence. 

After asparagus beds are tilled, mark rows 4 to 6 feet apart. Dig a furrow 4 inches wide and 6 to 12 inches deep. Place the crowns in the furrow, cover with 2 to 3 inches of soil and firm the soil around the roots. Do not fill the entire furrow at once. Plant crowns 6 to 12 inches deep in loose soils and 4 to 6 inches in heavier soils. 

Place crowns 12 to 14 inches apart. Planting too closely can cause small spears. Wider planting results in larger spears but lower total yield. Control weeds but do not injure the crowns. Fill the furrows gradually as the shoots grow. This covers small weeds, and they die from lack of light. By the end of the first season, the furrow reaches its normal level (figure 1). Deep planting of the crowns allows cultivation with garden tools or tiller (do not till too deep) without damage to crowns. 


Asparagus plants like frequent, deep watering. Water the beds thoroughly as needed. Allow the top 1 inch of soil to dry before watering again. The time varies from 3 to 5 days depending on temperature. Asparagus roots reach 10 feet deep if the soil is adequate and moisture is available. 

Care During the Season 

Keep weeds pulled or hoed from the beds. Asparagus beds require little care after the first 2 years. Control weeds without damaging the spears. In early season, till the soil when fertilizer is applied before the spears begin growth (figure 2). Control weeds during the season by raking lightly or mulching. After the last harvest, cut back all top growth. Apply fertilizer and till lightly 1 to 2 inches to kill weeds. 

Cover the bed with a 3-inch layer of clean straw, compost or other mulch material, water thoroughly and allow to grow the rest of the year. This helps insure a good harvest the next year (figure 3). 

After the first hard frost/freeze of fall, cut fern tops off at ground level and mulch with manure. In southern areas the fern may not be killed by a freeze and should be removed in late November. Any spears which sprout may be removed and eaten. 


Harvest asparagus spears from established beds for about 8 weeks. Do not harvest too soon from a new planting. 

Harvest spears when they are 4 to 10 inches long. To prevent spears from becoming fibrous, harvest at least every other day. The fibrous condition is caused by overmaturity or inadequate fertility. Spears with loosely formed heads are overmature. 

Cut asparagus spears 1 to 2 inches below the soil level. At least one-half the length of the spear should be above the ground. Never cut the spear within 2 inches of the crown to avoid damage to the developed buds. Never cut asparagus spears above the ground and allow stubs to remain (figure 4). Discontinue harvest when spear diameter becomes less than 3/8 of an inch. 

Reprinted courtesy of Texas AgriLife Extension Service.

Moving Asparagus

If your house caught on fire, you might have thought about which prized possessions you would grab on your way out. What would it be: a photo album, childhood memoir, or book?

What if you had to leave your 9 year old garden in a rush?  We had to do that very thing.

For sure our asparagus plants needed to be moved to our new location. Two or three years ago we had planted two packages of scrawny looking asparagus crowns in a trench.  They looked dead and we didn’t think they would come up, but in a miraculous way they thrived!

Now we had to hurry to bring these very same asparagus plants to our new garden. Hastily the digging began!

 Asparagus Roots

Asparagus Roots

The roots had grown to gargantuan proportions. Even that didn’t stop us and we got a little silly about it!

Kim, Sue, Ann, and our Saved Asparagus Roots

Kim, Sue, Ann, and our Saved Asparagus Roots

We picture our asparagus flourishing in our new garden at Midway Hills as a sort of Asparagus Lane at the entrance to our new vegetable garden. And why not; asparagus is a perennial vegetable and really pretty throughout the year except after the first freeze when you cut it back.

There’s nothing finer than Asparagus from your very own garden.

Close up of Asparagus Shoots

Close up of Asparagus Shoots

So, dear friends, we will be talking hopefully about fresh asparagus this spring.

I am just glad we got ours out in time!


Pictures by Starla and Kim

More notes on Asparagus tomorrow.


It’s That Time of Year

 They may go by many names, but whether you call them Weihnachtskaktus (German), Cactus de Noël (French), Cacto de Navidad  (Spanish), Thanksgiving Cactus (American), Holiday Cactus (US) or even Crab Cactus (referring to the clawed ends of the stem), you can’t go to any garden center or grocery store this time of year without being tempted to buy a Christmas Cactus (Europe/US/Canada).   But just how do you keep them healthy—and, as importantly, get them to bloom again next year.  Like poinsettias, another holiday flower, there’s a trick to that.

What do You Know-This is Actually a Thanksgiving Cactus

What do You Know-This is Actually a Thanksgiving Cactus

According to Clemson Cooperative Extension, Thanksgiving cactus (Schlumbergera truncata) and Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera bridgesii) are popular, fall- and winter-flowering houseplants native to Brazil, where they grow as epiphytes on tree branches in shady rain forests.  Their flowers are available in a wide variety of colors including red, rose, purple, lavender, peach, orange, cream, and white.

Strangely enough, what we call “Christmas cactus” and find most often in stores starting around November is most likely the Thanksgiving cactus  (Schlumbergera truncata), as it blooms almost a month before Schlumbergera bridgesii.  If you really want to impress your friends with your horticultural knowledge, the way to tell the two apart, according to the Clemson website, is to “look at the shape of the flattened stem segments, which are botanically called phylloclades.  On the Thanksgiving cactus, these stem segments each have 2 to 4 saw-toothed serrations or projections along the margins. The stem margins on the Christmas cactus are more rounded.

A second method to distinguish between these two Schlumbergera species is based on the color of the pollen bearing anthers. The anthers of the Thanksgiving cactus are yellow, whereas the anthers on the Christmas cactus are purplish-brown.”

Since Holiday cactus originated in shady rain forests, it is best to grow them in light shade.  The secret to good repeat flower production involves temperature regulation (do not let the temperature go over 90 degrees once the flower buds appear) and photoperiod (length of day and night) control.  Fourteen hours or more of continuous darkness each day for at least six weeks is required for complete bud set to occur.  Street lights, car lights or indoor lightening can disrupt the required dark period.  My mother, who once grew a Christmas cactus so large and with so many buds that she donated it to a horticultural center when she moved, would put her Christmas cactus in a dark closet every night for six weeks starting in September.

Watering and fertilizing the Christmas cactus is fairly easy.  Though Holiday cactus can tolerate being somewhat under-watered during the summer, once buds appear the soil should remain slightly moist or the buds may drop.  Clemson recommends fertilizing once monthly with a dilute 20-20-20 fertilizer from the time new growth starts in the early spring.  As Holiday cactus have a higher requirement for magnesium, Epsom salts (one teaspoon per gallon of water) can be used also, but not applied at the same time as the other fertilizer.  The plants do best grown in well-drained soil and like being somewhat pot bound.  The most common problem is over-watering which produces root rot.

Christmas cactus is easily propagated by cuttings, so if you are looking for a present to give to your gardening friends, you might try growing them yourself.  However, whether you want to go to all the trouble of getting them to bloom or whether you just want to consider your Christmas cactus as a “holiday annual plant,” go ahead and purchase that beautiful Christmas cactus at the store.  After all, what says “Holiday” to a gardener more than poinsettias and Christmas cactus.


Picture by Starla


Move over husband Mike.  I’m in love, but I can’t spell—or pronounce–his name.

To bring you up to date, the old 8,000 square foot garden on Joe Field Road is now moved lock, stock, compost pile, tomato support, and rototiller to a fabulous new location at Midway Hills Christian Church, Royal Lane and Midway Road.  We also have a new name, Raincatcher’s Garden of Midway Hills, an Earth-Kind ® Water/Wise Demonstration Garden, a collaboration of the Dallas County Master Gardener Association, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension, and Midway Hills Christian Church.

Midway Hills Christian Church, Site of our New Garden

Midway Hills Christian Church, Site of our New Garden

MHCC has generously offered us a 100’x300’ field for a new garden and plans are hatching.  Just like butterflies will—we hope—this spring.

We brainstormed the components that we wanted to bring (or not) to the new garden: vegetables, an education garden, and a wildlife habitat. And some new things we wanted to feature, like urban trees and turf.  But probably tops on people’s list was a butterfly garden.

Which brings me to my new love: skippers, brushfoots (not “feet), whites, sulphurs, blues, hairstreaks, and swallowtails.  I’d like to learn to be a lepidopterist, but I’ve got to set some time aside to learn to roll out that moniker.

Diving into Butterflies of Texas by Geyata Ajilvsgi and the Dallas County Lepidopterist’s Society website maintained by Dallas butterfly expert Dale Clark was absolutely fascinating.

Variegated Fritillary (Euptoieta claudia)

Variegated Fritillary (Euptoieta claudia)

I learned if you want to attract grass skippers, you need an abundance of host grasses like bluestem and side-oats gramma in your garden.

Most gardeners know to plant dill, fennel, parsley, and rue for swallowtail caterpillars, but they also have a hankering for citrus, celery and Queen Anne’s Lace.

We’re familiar with the Pirinae family of sulphur’s and white’s passion for broccoli and cabbage. But the Coliadinae family of whites and sulphurs pine more for senna, marigolds, clover, and false indigo for host plants.

Cloudless Sulphur Butterflies on Turk's Cap, Photo by Janet D. Smith

Cloudless Sulphur Butterflies on Turk’s Cap, Photo by Janet D. Smith

Hairstreaks look for oaks, mistletoe, Texas bluebonnets and okra. Blues are thrilled with frostweed, lima and garden beans, and snouts want sugarberry and net-leaf hackberry. Fritillaries swoon for maypop and passionvines, monarchs for milkweed.

Brushfoots remind me of a 17-year-old football player.  They’ll clean out your garden “refrigerator” of almost everything.  Wildflowers to thistles to American elm, to frogfruit are on the host plant menu.

As we’re planning the garden, there’s more to think about than host and nectar plants.  You want your plants in full sun (more nectar), have enough water to prevent wilting (nectar stops with inadequate moisture), use favorite colors of purple, pink, yellow and white, and include a variety of bloom shapes.  Some little guys forego the nectar plants and pull over for old fruit, a fermented sugar mixture, or a damp salt and sand mixture for amino acids.  Rocks and logs in the sun give a spot for basking.  Old logs and brush provide Red Admirals and Mourning Cloaks a spot for hibernating.

The monarch has gotten a lot of press lately concerning the declining amount of milkweed necessary for its caterpillars.  We plan on having a Monarch Waystation, based on recommendations from Monarch Watch, filled with native and tropical milkweed for the trip north and favorite nectar plants for the fall migration to Mexico.

Monarch Butterflies Nectaring on Blue Salvia at our Old Location

Monarch Butterflies Nectaring on Blue Salvia at our Old Location


As our plans take place, we are looking forward to late spring and summer, and we hope, a large garden full of fluttering beauties.


Pictures by Starla and Ann and Janet

More about Monarchs!



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