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Author Archives: Dallas Garden Buzz

Raincatcher’s Garden Glorious Spring

April 11, 2021

Come see our garden at 11001 Midway Road. Nestle carefully in front of our bluebonnets for photos!

Ann Lamb

Pictures by Starla Willis

Growing and Harvesting Shallots in the Edible Landscape

Last fall around early November we filled two of our swing set raised beds with shallot bulbs. During the winter months they continued to grow, even through the unprecedented freeze. This past week we noticed that the green tops were starting to wither and fall over. Our shallots were letting us know that harvest time was close. 

Shallots ready for harvest

Tuesday morning, we made the decision to pull them out and prepare the ground for our next crop. A little careful digging around the base of each clump followed by a gentle tug helped us to coax them out successfully. The next step was to let them dry for about a week or two. 

Shallots drying out after harvest

Shallots typically mature in about 90 to 120 days. Because ours were started as a fall crop, we chose to pull them after about 120+ days. If we had allowed them to stay in the ground until mid-April, a more pronounced bulb shape would have developed. But the pepper plants that Jim started for us were growing rapidly in the greenhouse and needed to be transplanted in the shallot bed. Springtime weather had arrived, and our shallot days were over. 

Over half of the shallots were spread out across a wire mesh frame for drying in the sun. On rainy days, they were moved to the garage. The remaining shallots were used to make an incredibly flavorful spring soup from Half Baked Harvest, Herby French Shallot Soup. 

Shallot soup looking so yummy

Shallots are easy to grow and add a perky touch of green to the winter garden. Next fall, we’ll expand our crop to other sunny areas of the edible landscape where shallots can be harvested at different times during the spring. A big pot of Herby French Shallot Soup will be our reward.

Linda Alexander, Dallas County Master Gardener, Class of 2008

Rising Sun Redbud Tree Continued….

On October 6, 2020, we posted an article on this blog about our new Rising Sun Redbud Tree.  We planted it with such great expectations of year round color including spring flowers and a combination of three different colors of leaves throughout the summer.  Then came February 2021!  For the past several weeks, we have been wondering whether this newly planted tree would survive the “storm of the century.”   A couple of days ago we got our answer.  At close inspection, we saw flower buds starting to form.  Within a few days, it exploded with beautiful light purple flowers closely followed by some light green leaves. 

I have been encouraged watching plants coming back to life over the past few weeks.  Many plants looked dead but now are starting to show signs of life.  I’m sure we will lose plants at Raincatcher’s garden as well as our own gardens, but so far I am feeling hopeful that these plants have a great will to continue to live!!!

Jackie James – Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 1993

Photos by Jackie and Starla Willis

Arbequina Olives

We harvested the arbequina olive tree last November and preserved the fruit in a very strong brine. The brine leaches out the bitter oleuropein that makes olives straight off the tree inedible. The result was tasty but very salty!

Gardeners at Raincatcher’s took every precaution possible in mid-February to stave off sub-freezing temperature damage. Looking back, we wish we had double wrapped our precious Arbequina Olive. We don’t think our olive tree will survive but are waiting a few more weeks to see how it fared.

Brown leaves due sub freezing temps

In the meantime, we have olives to enjoy!

Beverly Allen, Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2018


Going for the Green

March 15, 2021

St. Patrick’s Day is quickly approaching and we’re ready to bring out the ‘green’. But with last month’s devastating winter weather event, our garden needs a little “luck of the Irish” to show more of its true color. 

Plants that persevered under a blanket of fallen leaves include chervil, cutting celery, French sorrel, bloody sorrel, salad burnet, red stemmed apple mint, spinach, everbearing strawberries, creeping thyme and sweet woodruff. A few others are just now peeking out from the cold ground with their delicate little leaves and branches: anise hyssop, calendula, dwarf trailing winter savory, German chamomile, lemon and bee balm, pineapple sage, sweet fennel and summer savory.

With the help of Gail Cook and Jim Dempsey, our very own ‘seed starting saints’, an impressive list of seedlings are due to make an early spring appearance in the edible landscape. Alyssum, anise, aster, bachelor’s button (cornflower) impatiens, variegated rocket cress and sweet William will start arriving in late March and April. 

In early May our gardens will be filled with three different varieties of basil, Jimmy Nardello peppers, jalapeno peppers, tomatillos, marigolds – ‘lemon gem’ and tangerine’, papalo, roselle hibiscus and white velvet okra.

It makes us so happy to see the garden going green again. Let’s celebrate with an old Irish wish…

May your paths bloom with shamrocks, and your heart ring with songs, and the sky smile with bright sunshine all this happy day long.

Linda Alexander, Dallas County Master Gardener class of 2009


Local Gardeners and Their Lovely Lime Trees

March 3, 2021

Our dear friends, Sheila Kostelny and Paula Spletter, are master gardeners extraordinaire. Paula is a graduate of the class of 2009 who works at Northhaven Gardens as their Creative Director, specializing in color pot combos. She is a garden lecturer and speaker with an extensive knowledge of herbs and succulents. And, with the impressive gift of a custom designed greenhouse built by her sweet husband, gardening year ‘round is her greatest pleasure.  

Paula Spletter with her citrus collection

Sheila also graduated in 2009 and has just recently completed her vegetable specialist certification from the Texas Master Gardener Association. Her backyard-raised herb and vegetable garden beds leave you starry-eyed with wonder. Sheila, too, enjoys having a greenhouse to take her through the seasons. 

Sheila and her lime tree which looks a little sad this year but has produced one lime. Usually it is more productive.

Together, these two ladies have guided us through many gardening projects at Raincatcher’s Garden of Midway Hills. We love to spend time with them and, yes, when they speak, we listen!

Just recently, we ran across a photo that left us drooling. It was the creative work of nationally acclaimed food stylist and photographer, Eva Kosmas Flores. Photos of her Coconut Lime Tart with a Coconut Graham Cracker Crust inspired us to learn more about the possibility of growing lime trees locally. Paula and Sheila were just the gardeners needed to advise us in the endeavor. Join us in this informative and inspiring Q & A as they take us on a journey of Texas lime tree “tips’”.

To start, when did you become interested in growing lime trees?

Paula: I think when my little sister moved to Florida. When I would visit, she had a variety of citrus trees in her backyard. I’ve always enjoyed growing citrus trees and have quite a collection. I prefer the taste of limes over lemons. A thornless lime is a must have!

Sheila: I have had a Meyer lemon tree for probably 10 years that I purchased at Sunshine’s Miniature Trees on Greenville Avenue.  Since that time, I’ve added Persian Lime, Sweet Kumquat, and Arctic Frost Satsumas.  

Was there a particular variety that you felt most appropriate for our Zone 8 climate?

Paula: Not really. I went by what was recommended by Texas A & M for our zone and of course what garden friends had success with.

Sheila:  To be quite honest, I purchased the Persian Lime tree from Costco 4 years ago.  It wasn’t a purchase that I researched ahead of time.   

Lime trees are tropical plants so how do you manage year-around care?

Paula: They do prefer some late afternoon shade, especially in our harsh summer months. Surprisingly, they can take pretty cold temperature in short bursts. It’s the prolonged cold temperatures that destroy good tissue. What can’t fit in my “barn” are on flat bed dolly’s and rolled into the house. They are generally starting to bloom in the winter, so I get the extra bonus of their scent. 

Sheila:  The ability to bring these potted trees into my greenhouse at the threat of 32-degree temperature is a luxury I cherish.   I have one Arctic Frost satsuma planted in the ground in my west garden and one planted in its original pot in my raised bed.  At the point that I realized that this weather storm was going to hang around a while, I removed the potted satsuma and put it in my greenhouse.  I’m not sure if either of them will survive at this point as they have survived temperatures as low as 9 degrees.

When is harvest time and about how many limes does each tree yield?

Paula: For me, harvest is in late fall. The current Mexican lime I have I might get a dozen, or so, limes off it. They are smaller limes and tend to ripen quicker. Fortunately, the birds seem to leave them alone. Strong winds tend to knock the blooms off so I don’t get as many as I should.

Sheila:  Harvest time is around November for me.  My lime tree struggled this year and I’m not quite sure why.  It really started to kick start in December (of all times) and was beautiful when it was placed in my greenhouse in mid-January.  It started putting out an abundant amount of blooms and produced 4 limes.  At one point, I had my greenhouse heater a bit too high and the citrus didn’t like that at all.  It showed its displeasure by promptly shedding it’s leaves, leaving me with ONE lime left.  Typically, I can expect about 5 or 6 limes a year and they are wonderful.

What do enjoy most about having lime trees in your garden?

Paula: Oh, the blooms! The scent is intoxicating! I cut stems full of blooms just to have in the house.

Sheila:  As with all my citrus, I love being able to watch it produce from bloom to fruit and, as with anything homegrown, enjoy its rich sweetness and flavor like no other.

How do you use the limes from your lime tree?

Paula: They usually don’t ripen at the same time so I’m bad about just peeling and eating them off the tree. But they do make great margaritas!

Sheila: As I mentioned, my lime harvests haven’t been luxurious.  However, there’s nothing like a vodka and soda with a squeeze of home-grown lime.  😊

Linda Alexander

Coconut Lime Tart with Graham Cracker Crust

Advice from Texas AgriLife on growing citrus

The joys of growing Citrus in North Texas

Cheers for Chervil!

February 25, 2021

As volunteer master gardeners took a walk-about around the garden this week to access freeze damage to our plants, something unexpected caught our eye. Our lovely, delicate little chervil plants had not only survived the freeze but appeared to be just as perky and robust as before. Left unprotected during the extreme cold event, they seemed to be welcoming us back into the otherwise “brown” garden. 

Chervil, Anthriscus cerefolium, is a member of the carrot family. (Coincidentally, just a few steps down from our chervil plant, a tiny little carrot sprig had survived, as well.) Chervil is an annual herb that grows best in cooler weather. In our Zone 8 climate, it succumbs to the sweltering summer heat. Seeds can be sown in place in early spring and again in fall. Some of our local garden centers already have 4” pots in stock, as well.

Chervil growing in our garden after the freeze

The taste of chervil can be described as parsley-like with a hint of myrrh or anise. You may know it as one of the herbs that make up the traditional French herbal spice mixture fines herbs. Fresh chervil wilts easily, so harvesting as close to preparation time as possible is advised. Use it generously in salads, cream soups, with eggs and salmon and added at the last minute to many classic sauces. 

Scrambled eggs sprinkled with chervil

In 2014, we discovered a recipe that earned the “super star” award in our cookbook, ‘A Year on the Plate’. Every Herb Pesto received a perfect score from our tasting committee. Most members agreed that the small amount of chervil (1 tablespoon) called for in the recipe gave it a refreshing lift. 

Chervil grows best in a location with morning or filtered sun and rich, slightly moist soil. At Raincatcher’s, we planted it on the south end of our Hügelkultur bed where it receives filtered shade from the red oak tree. We also have a clump growing in the sensory garden where it is thriving in morning sun and afternoon shade.

A graceful clump of chervil growing in your garden is something to be celebrated. Its feathery, pale green foliage with tiny white flower clusters that reach 3 inches across is a charming plant for the fall, winter or spring garden. Our vote is for all three!

Linda Alexander

Assessing Freeze Damage in Your Landscape

February 24, 2021

Question: Will my landscape survive last week’s deep freeze?

Answer: The short answer is: it’s too soon to tell.   Damage to soft, tender plants may be immediately recognizable; leaves look water-soaked, dark green and withered. Stems may collapse and get mushy.  However, damage to woody plants, trees and shrubs may take longer to appear and will depend on the part of the plant that was injured and the growth stage of the plant at the time of frost.  Buds, shoots and small branches are the most susceptible.  Winter damage usually does not become apparent until spring, when growth normally resumes. Winter damaged plants are slow to initiate growth, may show distorted growth, death of leaf and flower buds, or die-back of shoots and branches.  

With warmer temperatures on the horizon, it may be tempting to rush out and begin pruning branches and shoots that look dead. Instead, we encourage you to wait. 

Winter is still with us and the average last frost date is around March 16. Premature pruning can actually aggravate the damage that has already been done.  Pruning cuts will expose previously protected plant tissue to the elements.  Pruning can stimulate new growth that will then be susceptible to freezes later in the season.  Because dormant branches and dead branches can look the same, there is a risk of removing healthy tissue the plant needs for recovery in the spring.  Allowing dead limbs and foliage to remain at the tops of plants can help protect the lower leaves and branches from future frost.

TAMU recommends delaying pruning until time reveals the areas of living and dead tissue and until the threat of additional frosts and freezes has passed.  Fortunately, trees and shrubs have the ability to leaf out again if the initial growth is damaged or destroyed. Good care during the remainder of the year, such as mulching and watering during dry periods, should aid in the recovery process.

The University of Massachusetts has a great site about the effects of cold damage on landscape plants.  Not all the information will be applicable to our Texas climate, but the principles of assessment and treatment of frost damage can be used in any situation where a severe and unexpected freeze has occurred.  

 

Margaret Ghose Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2017


More questions about freeze damage?

Dallas County Master Gardeners would like to help.

Volunteers staffing the Dallas County Master Gardeners Help Desk provide FREE gardening advice to area residents. These Master Gardeners welcome the opportunity to help solve your gardening problems.  You can easily contact us by sending an email to dallasmg@ag.tamu.edu

This is the best way to contact the Help Desk.  Include your name and zip code, with as much information as possible regarding the nature of your problem.

Ice Creations in the Garden

February 20, 2021

Just before the extreme winter temperatures fell upon us last week, my husband called me quickly to our backyard. He was concerned about the unusual ice formations surrounding the stems of our Frostweed plant. Had he forgotten to turn off the sprinkler system or was our plant in distress?

Most years, after those beautiful fall blooms have faded and the plant turns brown, we would already have cut it down to ground level. Seems this year, it was overlooked. As we carefully touched the somewhat intriguing white substance, it was evident that the plant stems were covered in frost.

After doing a little online research, I discovered the reason for the plants name.  Frostweed, Verbesina virginica is a Texas native biennial that ranges in height from 3 to 6 feet. Our plant has easily reached the six-foot mark. It blooms in late summer and continues blooming until frost. The plant was named Frostweed because of this unique characteristic of producing intricate ice formations from its stems. Only a few species of plants are capable of producing these ice creations, more generically referred to as “frost flowers.”

Frost flowers at Raincatcher’s Garden

As early as 1833 John Herschel, son of the famed astronomer William Herschel, who discovered the planet Uranus in the 18th century, made an interesting observation. In a letter printed in Philosophical Magazine he describes going for an early morning walk several winters before noticing “a remarkable deposition of ice around the decaying stems of vegetables.” A few days later, he found a similar strange ice formation, this one seeming to emanate in a kind of riband-or frill-shaped wavy excrescence.”

Herschel’s letter is one of the earliest recorded observations of the phenomenon of “frost flowers” (sometimes called ice flowers or ice ribbons). However, he could only hypothesize about the cause of these formations. Not able to explain, he concluded that “It is for botanists to decide.”

Scientists are unsure why only a few plants in nature produce crystal ice patterns into ribbons or clusters that resemble flowers, and why only certain types of plants are affected. One theory is that frost flowers develop when air temperatures are freezing but the ground temperature is warm enough for the plant’s root system to be active and the air temperature is cold enough to freeze the upward flowing plant juices. Perhaps, as the moisture in the plant freezes, the ice crystals push out through the stem. They may emerge from a small slit to form thin ribbonlike strands. Or they may split open a whole section of the stem and push out in a thin, curling sheet.

Another theory is that the stems rupture and crack in just the right way so sap oozing out forms into wide ribbons that freeze into the ice patterns.

As you can see from the photographs, our frostweed plant seems to have formed frost crystals resembling spun cotton candy. Notice, also, that the formations are mainly around the base of the plant descending upwards for about two feet.

Frost Crystals

Whatever the true scientific reason for this phenomenon of nature, we now know that next fall when blooms are spent, frostweed will remain in our garden throughout the winter months. Even our 5-year-old granddaughter, Sadie, was so intrigued with the crystals that she couldn’t resist gathering up a handful. Oh, the joy of experiencing childlike wonders found only in nature.

Linda Alexander

Pictures by Linda Alexander and Beverly Allen

Related Posts for more learning about Frostweed:


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