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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 at 11001 Midway 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.

Butterfly Migration

Exciting things are going on at the Raincatcher’s Garden of Midway Hills – It’s now Fall and the irrigation is almost done – thanks to many hours of trenching, laying pipe, setting up the drip beds — the children are coming to the garden and exploring the area we have set aside for wildflowers, learning about vegetables, compost and the flowers that inhabit our butterfly areas — And we have had our first sighting of a tagged butterfly!

While out in the butterfly area, a small round dot was seen on a monarch that was feasting on some lantana. After closer inspection with the help of my trusty zoom lens on my camera, I realized that this butterfly had been tagged for its trip down south this winter.

A Butterfly From Kansas Visiting our Garden

A Butterfly From Kansas Visiting our Garden

Not exactly sure of what to do, I researched information about the Monarch Watch and the efforts to tag them. Turns out the process is relatively simple. Get the information from the tag and email it to the address or the phone number located on the tag, including the Number that is assigned to the monarch, the date and location spotted. I was able to send a picture, but that is not required.

After a couple of days, I received an email back from Kansas University stating that the information was received, but they were unable to tell me where the butterfly was originally tagged because the tagging information has not yet been submitted.   Hopefully we will hear about our little guy making it all the way to his destination — and then back again.

Keep your eyes out and your camera ready for these exciting visitors to our area and our gardens.  You may have a part in documenting their journey.


The Big Tree

The Big Tree at Goose Island State Park

The Big Tree at Goose Island State Park

I visited The Big Tree this week at Goose Island State Park during my trip to the Rockport area for the Hummer Celebration.  The Big Tree is a live oak over 1,000 years old and was  named the Champion Live Oak Tree of Texas in 1969.

The “Big Tree” statistics:

  • Trunk circumference:  35 feet 1.75 inches or 10.71 meters
  • Average trunk diameter:  11 feet 2.25 inches or 3.41 meters
  • Crown spread:  89 feet or 27.1 meters
  • Height:  44 feet or 13.4 meters
  • Age:  In excess of 1,000 years

There are smaller live oaks surrounding this venerable old tree, almost as beautiful.

One of "The Baby Trees" near The Big Tree

Some of “The Baby Trees” near The Big Tree

My friend, Susan a resident of Rockport, said “I love to come here to see this tree.”  The age of it and the graceful, gnarly limbs pulled me, too, towards it. Maybe I thought of it as a survivor. A testament to standing in the face of adversity.

The tree has inspired several poems.  This is my favorite:

I have gathered sun and rain to grow green leaves,
Swaying softly in spring, rustling like applause in fall.

My limbs have shaded generations;
My roots have reached for centuries;
My children and their children’s children surround me,
Here in this peaceful part of my land.

Golden sunlight diamonds have glinted on the ground around me.
Cold fingers of ice have touched my heartwood.
Dust-dry days of sandstorms have scoured my skin.
Torrents of rain, driven by gales have rushed at me,
And I have swayed, but stayed unbroken.
Silver moonlight has kept me company many a night.

Yet through all the seasons, sorrows, bitterness, and beauty,
All of the history I have withstood and witnessed,
There has been one thing I could not do.

I could not grow green dollars, or silver, or gold.

Will you help me, standing here before me?
Then we may both grow old together,
As old friends should,
One of flesh, one of wood.

by Mary Hoekstra, Rockport

One day the trees we have planted at The Raincatcher’s Garden of Midway Hills will also be as inspiring!


Hummer Celebration Pictures from last year here.

Take a look at Raincatcher’s Garden Trees.




Bluebonnets and Indian Paintbrush

Bluebonnets and Indian Paintbrush

I start itching when I think of wildflowers. I guess I was slow as a kid in linking cause and effect– wildflowers and chiggers– together. I would merrily gather an armload of Indian blanket and pink evening primrose in the field next door, and next thing I knew, I was covered with red dots that itched for a week. When we went traipsing through the fields in Ennis last spring, I didn’t sit in a bluebonnet patch for a picture. We just smiled—standing up.

You can’t help but grin when you see Texas wildflowers. Former first lady Laura Bush, who’s our neighbor at the Raincatcher’s Garden, says, “Spring is my favorite time of year in Texas…The bluebonnets and Indian paintbrush that dot roadsides are more than just beautiful, they are indigenous symbols of our state.”

Well, it’s the season to dot roadsides. For us, that’s Midway Road. And we’re throwing not dotting.

The Raincatcher’s Garden borders on busy Midway Road, a six-lane artery running north-south through North Dallas. Next spring, about 20 feet of that boundary will be ablaze with “Texas-Oklahoma Native Roadside Mix” from Native American Seeds in tiny Junction, Texas. Texas bluebonnet, Indian blanket, greenthread, plain and lanceleaf coreopsis, purple coneflower, Mexican hat, winecup and Indian paintbrush plus a few more are in the mix.

Looking Across Midway Road of The Raincatcher's Garden, Wildflowers Srping 2016!

Looking Across Midway Road of The Raincatcher’s Garden, Wildflowers Spring 2016!

Planting in the fall gives seeds a chance to sprout or break seed dormancy. Some seeds need a chilling period (cold stratification). Others have a hard seed coat that needs to be worn down (scarification) before they can germinate. Following nature’s schedule gives seeds a chance to be ready for spring’s warm temperatures and rain.

The first step to spring wildflowers is to simply mow the existing vegetation as close to the ground as possible. Think scalping, but in the fall. Then take a sturdy metal rake, and pull aside the thatch for the compost pile. You want to have bare spots. Again using the rake, lightly till the surface of the soil no deeper than one inch. Any deeper, and you’ll disturb dormant weed seeds which could sprout. Smooth the area, again using your rake, and remove any leaf litter or debris.

Rustle around in the garage and find an adjustable, hand-carried mechanical seeder. Some species have small seeds that are hard to distribute evenly; paintbrush and bluebell seeds look like fairy dust. To scatter the seed, mix one part seed with four parts damp masonry sand, coffee grounds, perlite, potting soil or other carrier. Broadcast half of your seed/sand mixture in one direction. Refill your spreader and sow the other half in a direction perpendicular to the first sowing.

Happy seeds must get cozy with the dirt. The soil helps the seeds retain moisture for germination. The seed should either rest on the ground or at most be gently tamped down with a light stomp. Any more than 1/8” deep, and the seed may not have the energy to push through the dirt. Some of the seeds will be visible.

Opinions differ as to watering the seed. Some experts leave water up to the fall rains. Others, like butterfly expert Geyata Ajilvsgi, lay in soaker hoses. At the Raincatcher’s Garden, we’re going to try a little of both. Our new sprinkler system will be set to water the first few weeks to keep the newly planted soil from completely drying out, as suggested by the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. As it gets cooler in the fall, the time between waterings can be longer.

We’re also going to plant some wildflowers outside of the sprinkler spray, and see if the fall rains are sufficient for growth. Wait until at least 50 percent of your wildflowers (of each species) have dropped their seeds before mowing in the spring. Use the highest setting on your lawnmower when mowing to keep from damaging emerging seedlings.

The Raincatcher’s Garden is getting some help planting wildflower seeds for next spring. Fourteen students in the Episcopal School of Dallas primer class have learned the story of Miss Rumphius, whose grandfather traveled the world and retired by the seashore. He asked his granddaughter, Alice (Miss Rumphius), to also travel and settle by the sea—and had one more request. He asked her to do something to make the world more beautiful.

Miss Rumphius gathered lupine seeds and scattered them along the Maine coast, as our visiting students will do with wildflowers along our roadside planting. They have mixed wildflower seeds with clay into little balls and will throw them on our wildflower area. Former first lady Lady Bird Johnson, who worked tirelessly to preserve America’s natural landscapes, would be thrilled.


Pictures by Ann


Dallas Morning News Talks Trees at The Raincatcher’s Garden

If there’s a spot in your yard that could use some shade, it’s time to think about planting trees.

Fall and winter are the best time to plant ornamental and fruit trees, arborists say.

“October, November, December — it’s the optimal time,” says Steve Houser, a certified arborist and a leader in the Dallas Citizen Forester Program.

Late-year planting allows roots to get established “before the summer blast furnace,” adds Eric Larner, an urban forestry specialist for Dallas County Master Gardeners.

“Our main planting season is probably November through March,” says Larner, 73, of Carrollton.

Larner helped select five trees planted in the master gardeners’ Raincatcher’s Garden at Midway Hills Christian Church. The garden, which includes a butterfly garden, flowers and vegetables, is designed to show the public what works.

The gardeners planted three oaks — a chinquapin (quercus muehlenbergii), Mexican white oak (quercus polymorpha) and Lacey (quercus glaucoides) — a cedar elm (ulmus crassifolia) and ginkgo (ginkgo biloba).

Notice that a live oak and red oak, two of the most popular trees in Texas, were not included.

“We need to get away from live oak and red oak,” Houser says. They are particularly susceptible to oak wilt, a disease that kills a tree, then spreads through the roots to kill other oaks nearby. Cedar elms are reliable, adaptable shade trees that are drought tolerant and turn golden yellow in the fall.

Larner says a ginkgo is part of the mix to add something a little unusual.

“The ginkgo is becoming more popular because it is drought tolerant and more likely to have fall color,” Larner says.

A ginkgo warning: Be sure it’s a male tree. Females produce stinky fruit, Larner says. “I don’t think retailers are selling females, but you need to check.”

When it comes to shade trees, probably the bigger the better. Trees with a dirt root ball wrapped in burlap are the best, but they are also more expensive, Larner says.

A container tree from a local big-box store can be fine, if it’s carefully selected and planted. If possible, ease a tree out of the container at the store to see if the roots are somewhat vertical or look more like a woven basket.

If the roots are wrapped around the root ball, they will need to be pulled out and even cut to keep them from strangling the tree after it’s planted.

The same guidelines apply to fruit trees, says Larry Stein, a specialist with Texas AgriLife Extension Service. Except he likes to plant even later.

“If I had my choice, I’d plant in the winter,” he says. January and February are his favorite time. Bare-root trees, those whose roots are usually wrapped with little or no soil, are more likely to be available. “They are cheaper,” Stein says, and you can see whether the roots are healthy. Often they are found at feed or farm supply stores.

Container-grown trees are more readily available, he says, and will do well if planted carefully. Ideally, fruit trees should be 3 to 4 feet tall. If they are taller, it’s best to trim the central trunk at the top. Side limbs should also be pruned, Stein says. Peaches, pears, plums and other fruits do well in Texas. Apples can grow but are subject to cotton root rot, Stein says.

Homeowners interested in the more unusual can try persimmons. The key, the arborists say, is to pick a tree and plant. The shade, and maybe fruit, will be well worth it.

Karel Holloway is a Terrell freelance writer.


Why plant a tree?


Trees provide shade.


They help clean air.


They can lower utility bills.


Roots hold soil in place.


Trees add value to property.


Choose the right tree


Decide what kind of tree you want. Will it primarily provide shade? Screening from an unwanted view? Fall color? Edible fruit?


Pick the right spot. Is there room for the size tree wanted? Remember to think about how far the tree will reach when it’s fully grown.


Will it interfere with driveways, walkways or the home’s foundation?


Will the selected tree interfere with power lines when it is full size?


Think about the amount of shade it will provide. Will it shade the home’s windows? When it’s full size, will it provide too much shade for grass or flowers to grow?


Does it have undesirable characteristics? Is there unwanted fruit? An unpleasant smell?


How to plant a tree


Select the proper site with appropriate soil type. Eric Larner, a Dallas urban tree specialist, says he ran into solid rock just a few inches down when helping plant at the master gardeners’ demonstration garden. The planters dug through the rock and planted. The tree didn’t do well, Larner says.


Measure the root ball and dig a hole 2 to 3 times the ball’s diameter.


The hole should not be too deep. The top of the root ball should be level with the ground.


If the hole is too deep, backfill with dirt taken from the hole. Steve Houser, a certified arborist, says it’s better to plant a tree too high than too far into the ground.


Remove the tree from the container. Make sure girdling roots are pulled or trimmed.


Place the tree in the hole and fill in with removed dirt. Fertilizer is not needed. Some compost can be mixed with the fill dirt, if desired. Larner says to be sure to stomp the dirt down so the tree won’t settle too much later.


Use a slow-running hose to thoroughly water the tree.


Put mulch around the newly planted tree, pulling it away from the trunk.


Protect the trunk with a purchased protector or slit the side of a 2-liter plastic bottle and place it around the trunk.


Water as necessary, depending on how dry the soil is. Houser says just poke your finger in the ground to see whether it’s damp a couple of inches down. Water if it’s dry.


SOURCE: Dallas Morning News research

More information about our tree selection here.

Berm and Tree Planting Video.

How to Plant a Bare Root Tree Video.



Touch-Me-Not or Sensitive Plant, Mimosa pudica

Do  you ever experience going back in time?   Ok, not time travel per say, but something reminding you of a place, a person,  an event, a smell, a plant,  a food  and you go back  to a simpler time

Most recently,  it was the smell and taste of a peach cobbler.  This time  going back to my grandmother’s kitchen and her orchard where we played in the red sandy soil for hours on end.

All of a sudden you are transported to that moment, the memory washes over you, and you smile at the wonder, the beauty, the remembrance. What takes you back?

The Touch-Me-Not Plant and It's Pretty Pink Flower

The Touch-Me-Not Plant and It’s Pretty Pink Flower

For me,  the touch- me- not plant  found in the field took me back to my first introduction of the magic of the leaves closing up when touched. I was a child again: amazed, mesmerized, and in awe of the wonders of this world.


Take the trip back:  treasure it, enjoy it,  relive it; because soon enough the reality of today will be present.






Peach Jalapeño Salsa Dog

Just in Time for Labor Day Weekend!

hot dog and peach jalapeno salsa


2 large ripe peaches, quartered

1 jalapeño pepper, cut in half and seeded

1 lime, juiced

1 tablespoon chopped cilantro

1 pinch kosher salt

1 package Hebrew National hot dogs

1 package potato hot dog buns


  1. In a high speed blender or a food processor add peach quarters, jalapeño pepper, lime juice, cilantro and salt.
  2. Puree quickly (less than 30 seconds) to create a chunky salsa puree. Set aside while hot dogs cook.
  3. Grill or boil hot dogs, add to a bun and top with salsa.



Goodbye Summer and Recipes

We’ve tested and tasted, savored and enjoyed but now it’s time to say farewell.  Our memories have been sweetened with the most delightful flavors of summer; juicy, plump blackberries, tantalizing tomatoes and the star of the show – those luscious, versatile peaches (many would agree, perhaps, summer’s finest fruit).  Yes, we would take them through every season if nature allowed.  But, we must let go and only dream about the spring and summer yet to come.

From the Raincatcher’s Garden: We wish you and your family a restful, and pleasure filled Labor Day weekend.  Join us on our seasonal garden journey by subscribing to Dallas Garden Buzz.

blackberries in carton


Blackberry Brie Bites


1 tube refrigerated crescent rolls (Pillsbury 8 oz.)

1 round Brie Cheese (8 oz.)

¼ cup blackberry jelly (Smuckers Spreadable Fruit)

24 fresh blackberries

24 large toothpicks, optional


  1. Separate the crescent rolls into 4 rectangles. Press the seams together and cut into

6 even squares. Press into 24 mini muffin tins.

  1. Cut the rind off the Brie cheese. Cut into 24 small squares. Place on square into each crescent lined tin. Spoon a small amount of blackberry jelly on top of each cheese square. Fold the tips of the crescent rolls over, if desired. Bake at 350 degrees F for 12-15 minutes. Remove from the oven and top with a fresh blackberry on a toothpick. Serve immediately.

Yield: Makes 24 crescent cups.


Tomatoes for recipe

Gorgonzola-Tomato Salad


Gorgonzola Tomatoes4 ounces Gorgonzola cheese

¼ cup minced fresh parsley

3 tablespoon minced shallot

2 tablespoons minced fresh basil

6 medium tomatoes, thinly sliced

⅓ cup olive oil

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste



  1. Freeze cheese 30 minutes or until firm. Grate cheese into a small bowl; add parsley shallot, and basil, stirring gently to combine. Arrange tomato slices on a large serving platter. Sprinkle cheese mixture over tomato slices.
  2. Combine olive oil, lemon juice, mustard, and salt and pepper to taste, beating well with a wire whisk. Drizzle dressing mixture over salad.

Yield: 6 servings


Peach recipe tomorrow!



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