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Category Archives: Landscape Basics

Cardboard Gardening

Our first article about using cardboard in the garden was written in 2014.   Starla takes up this subject again below. Save your cardboard, and read her instructions.

Some tasks in the garden are not glamorous-ok a lot of garden tasks are that way-weeding, deadheading, and putting down mulch to name a few. With covid restrictions and shelter in place requirements keeping me at home,  several of the mundane jobs finally got my attention.

The trees have been trimmed, beds transformed,  plant material rearranged,  and, with the help of my husband, areas were weeded that were long overdue.

Now I need to mulch the paths in the area which were formerly my raised garden bed. You see, several years ago, I was inspired by friends to plant a vegetable garden and wrote about it in Dallas Garden Buzz.

I am a social gardener, so veggie gardening solo, was not as fruitful as I had hoped and now my beds are filled with weeds and paths are not walk-able. I wasn’t sure what to do about this problem until I read our garden’s weekly email.  Instructions on how to lay cardboard and mulch for a new garden area were included. Perfect timing!

Cardboard layer, mulch will be put on top

While at the garden, I found  cardboard had already been laid in several layers and then I came across Master Gardener intern, Dotti Franz. Tirelessly and seemingly indefatigable she was working to cover the 8 x 20 patch of cardboard with mulch.  It was hot with no shade, not ideal weather but because of determined Dotti I was inspired to pitch in and work with her.

Now it’s my turn in my yard.  These simple steps will help me as I take back yet another area of my yard!

Finished project, Dotti has covered the cardboard layer with mulch.

Here are the steps:
·        Place cardboard down overlapping and possibly several layers–
·       BE SURE THAT TAPE IS REMOVED FROM THE CARDBOARD BEFORE LAYING IT DOWN -the cardboard will decompose but the tape will NOT and it will be a nuisance.
·       Water the cardboard after it has been placed where you want it. – The heavier material is not likely to move and shift as much and the mulch has a better chance of sticking.  It will need to be watered again before all the mulch is distributed.
·       Put mulch down
·       If you have to transport mulch from a pile, a ”mulching”  pitchfork and wheelbarrow are needed-– we came to love the gorilla dump cart–Pull the lever and the back dumps!
·       Place the mulch on the cardboard and spread it with the flexible tine leaf rake.
·       Continue by overlapping where you’ve already been and then rake it to achieve coverage and the 4 inches of mulch –
·        After the mulch has been laid down, water it so it doesn’t blow away – There was a slight breeze which helped with our perspiration but not the fly away mulch.
This is not a one time job, good mulch will last a year or so, then you will need to have new mulch added.  Remember, the mulch is used to improve your soil and to keep weeds down and some people like it for its aesthetics.
  • Cardboard (the larger the better) – Remember remove tape
  • Water hose / water
  • Mulch – we have rough shredded tree mulch delivered to our garden —   bags are options as well
  • Rake with flexible tines
  • Wheel barrow to transport
  • “Mulching” pitchfork to move from pile to wheelbarrow
  • Water – moving mulch is hard work and we need to stay hydrated — before, during and after
  • Hat
  • Gloves
Thanks Jon, Fern, and Dotti for inspiring me and letting me know that I can do it.  I will tackle this job now that the weather is cooler.
Starla Willis

Tornadoes and Shade

My neighborhood lost many trees in the tornado last October. In an initial survey of 71 homes in Northwest Dallas, homeowners reported that at least 250 trees were lost on their properties.

Many of the residents of my formerly shady neighborhood were accomplished shade gardeners. Now they have lost plants that were in shade pre-tornado and must consider replacement plants that can tolerate full sun.

As gardeners in Texas, we have learned that when plants are labeled for full sun exposure we must mentally factor in a calculation for the Texas sun. Many plants, especially seedlings, need a break from the sun after 2 p.m.

Drip irrigation or a soaker hose, combined with 3-4 inches of compost or other mulch, will reduce evaporation and lower soil temperature. This will help but a shade structure or taller plant may be needed to prevent heat stress or worse.

Tall plants such as sunflowers or okra will do well for shading smaller plants.

Have you ever thought of planting sunflowers like these to shade plants?

Garden stores have ready made shade tunnels for rows of plants.  The same effect can be accomplished with 1 inch diameter flexible PVC pipe, garden stakes, and frost cloth. Care should be taken to allow good air flow in order to prevent diseases caused by excess humidity.

Or for those of us who don’t mind improvising, a variety of household items such as laundry baskets, umbrellas, and plastic garden tables will provide shade, if not elegance. Click through this slide show for examples:

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Cheesecloth may be placed directly over small plants and will lower temperatures by reflecting sunlight.

If rabbits are an issue, a chicken wire cage draped with cloth may mitigate both pest and light problems (unless the rabbits are especially determined).

Texas weather presents many challenges but successful gardeners know how to play it by ear.

Beverly Allen, Master Gardener class of 2018

Pictures by Starla Willis

Cindy’s Secret Garden

What do you do when you want to garden, but the space is not your own, and you’re not exactly sure how long you’ll be there? My friend, Cindy, started with a blank slate.

The triangular area had hardscape already in place in the form of a cemented stone path, and was bordered by fencing on 2 sides and house on the other with almost no plants except some wood ferns and small hollies.

In The Beginnings

Some areas were sun baked but there were also shady areas due to the interesting configuration. Cindy and I walked the area and began to dream about a secret garden — one that would bring color and joy through the windows of the rooms that looked out onto the wasteland.

This transformation took months to visualize – the soil was amended with expanded shale and compost – As winter days were coming to a close, basic plans took root. Shareable plants were introduced, or transplanted from other areas and seeds were cast.

Perennials Shared by Friends Now at Home in Cindy’s Garden

Trips to the bargain bins became a treasure hunt – recycled and reused planters found a home on the fencing. Hanging baskets were hung.

Hanging Planter, a Recycled Find

By May the garden was taking shape and by mid June – blooms were everywhere.

Cindy’s Garden in June

This little space has gone from desert to delightful due to diligence and determination and very little dough!

Thru the Looking Glass, so to Speak, Cindy’s New Garden

Approximate cost of this back yard redo: $250 for soil expanded shale, compost and mulch. $200 for perennials. Total: $450.

Starla Willis


This is a KOAN or paradoxical thought koans are used to open the mind so new ways of thinking can find room. So will it work??  It’s worth at least a try.

The first part is easy. No matter what one’s belief system, there surely have been warnings of the danger inherent in a reliance on earthy possessions.

The second part—A weed is a treasure—That does seem to require an open mind and a new way of thinking.

How can it be that a weed becomes a treasure?

The first step—get into the garden and get to work. Already the gardener is reaping benefits both physical and mental—looking for weeds just cannot be done from a distance.

Finding weeds develops the mind—each green thing must be evaluated—remember self-seeding annuals and baby perennials are there too so care is needed. Learning to identify plants is a valuable skill—now you have more to share with others!

Larkspur is a self seeding annual, so it gets to stay!

Careful garden work can reveal when a plant has taken more than its fair share of resources—its become a weed—action can be taken before this overly ambitious plant smothers its neighbors.

Henbit, you are crowding verbena. You must go!

When a weed is removed space and water and nutrients are now available for another plant to thrive.

While looking for weeds—don’t forget to look around—at weed level beautiful tiny things are seen that would be missed otherwise.

The gardener sees the space become more beautiful—what a happy sense of accomplishment that all started with seeing a weed. So maybe weeds are more like TREASURE MAPS.  Valuable because they lead us to see what can be done to make our spaces  beautiful.

Susan Thornbury

Pictures by Starla



“If you leave a thing alone you leave it to a torrent of change. If a white post is left alone it will soon be a black post”  GK Chesterton said that in 1908.  He went on to say that it takes constant vigilance just to keep things the same.

Perhaps garden cleaning is not the first thing that comes to mind when reading Mr. Chesterton’s words. Perhaps the healthy eating plan was not carefully followed during the holiday and sadly things did not remain the same.

But now think about the garden. The natural look is wonderful however it actually requires the constant vigilance to maintain.  When a few plants overtake their companions and then move on to cover paths and obliterate borders, that is no longer really any look at all.  The fact is action is required if a space is  to be a garden.

Roger cleaning up the garden and putting fallen leaves to good use by shredding them for garden mulch. Yeah Roger!

Susan trimming back plants in our herb garden.

So, it is time for garden clean up. It’s a job with no glamour and little thanks but gardeners are tough and the time is NOW.

Susan Thornbury

pictures by Starla Willis

  • More garden clean up specifics will be posted next week. Get your tools ready!
  • It’s time to prune roses in Dallas. Click here for information.
  • Apple trees at Raincatcher’s Garden? Yes! Subscribe to our blog for future posts. We will give all our succulent secrets about planting apples.

Killing Nutgrass

If ever there was a villain in the garden, nutgrass would be the culprit.

It is one of the most hated weeds and very aggressive, robbing desirable plants of water and nutrition.   Nutgrass rankles my sister  so much she tells me she can see it out of the corner of her eye as she walks through her garden. Then, like any good gardener she attacks it and tries to dig up the whole plant along with the rhizomes and the tubers (also called nuts). Any tubers left behind will generate a whole new set of weeds.

Though it looks like grass, the plant is actually a sedge. The  varieties most often seen are  Cyperus esculentus (yellow nutsedge) and Cyperus rotundus (purple nutsedge).  Even our own garden has an unwanted plot of purple nutsedge in the Edible Garden area.

What should we do about this problem intruder? How can we kill nutgrass organically in a large garden area? *Kim Kirkhart has had success with her variation of the  loose landscape fabric method taught by Skip Richter, Texas AgriLife Extension  Agent for Harris County.

What’s  needed:

  • Heavy black plastic
  •  Plastic pots
  • Bricks or rocks to hold plastic in place
  • Time-this method takes several months  up to a  year

Recycled Plastic Pots

Begin by setting plastic pots in the garden area. The pots have a dual purpose. They  hold up the black tarp and also spot kill nutgrass. 3 or 4 pots are stacked together (turning them each to cover their holes).

As you can see, not all the nutgrass is under pots.  Don’t worry though, those invaders will die under the tarp, without light.

Heavy Black Plastic

Next lay the black plastic over the whole garden area on top of the pots. The pots keep the plastic elevated so emerging nutgrass shoots can not puncture through the plastic and let light in. Overlap the seams of the plastic to keep the light out.

Bricks hold the plastic in place, remember to keep the plastic lifted.

Carefully place bricks or rocks around edge of plastic and wait for the nutgrass to die.

This organic way of killing nutgrass requires patience. We started this process July 26 and plan to take off the plastic in October in time for fall gardening. We will let you know the results of our test!

Pictures  by *Kim Kirkhart, DCMGA class of 2006

Ann Lamb

Click here for Skip Richter’s article, Weed Wars.  We have used the expert advice in this article for our method of killing nutgrass organically.

The Rainbow Garden at Raincatcher’s

If your green thumb is ready to branch out into living color, visit our Rainbow Garden for inspiration and plan on taking lots of photos. You’ll find a colorful mix of flowers and vegetables growing in harmony. In the summer heat, early morning is a good time to stop by. Enjoy iridescent dragonflies and come face to face with giant bees casting their drunken shadows on the garden, touch fuzzy silver green lamb’s ear, and see if you can identify standing cypress. (Hint- it is red.)

See the violet morning glory threaten to take over the purple heart growing beneath it. Compare the many shades of blue flowers and notice the exuberant orange Mexican sunflower. Inhale the aroma of fresh basil and see how the eggplant and strawberries are doing. 

Now take a shady break under the garden’s charming vine-covered entrance arbor and make notes before heading to the nursery to create your own rainbow. The rainbow garden doesn’t get any shade from the hot summer sun and receives only minimal supplemental water so you know these plants can take the heat in your own sunny spots at home. Drop by anytime and let the garden inspire you.

Gail Cook

 Pictures by Starla Willis and Ann Lamb

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Grass Plots at The Raincatcher’s Garden of Midway Hills

We have  five plots of grass, each 10’x20′. Drip irrigation has been installed under each plot. Walk from east to west to learn about the grasses and their water needs.

Buffalo grass occupies the west end of our demonstration as the grass needing the least amount of water. We have watered our Buffalo grass  twice this summer.  Too much irrigation risks the invasion of unwanted Bermuda grass. Sodding is recommended rather than seeding.

Above: Buffalo Grass

Above: Buffalo Grass

The HABITURF plot is next to buffalo grass.  We started this grass by seed, August 2015.

Above: Jim Reseeding Habiturf

Above: Jim Reseeding HABITURF

The prize for the prettiest color goes to the low water St Augustine.

Above: Low Water St. Augustine

Above: Low Water St. Augustine

Unfortunately this grass is not available to the public yet; maybe next year.

Jim told me he likes the Zoysia best.   Try this grass barefooted.  It feels so soft.

Above: Zoysia Grass Palisades

Above: Zoysia Grass ‘Palisades’

He nicknamed the tall fescue as “bad boy” becuase doesn’t look very good at our garden.  We should re-evaluate, though, when temps lower because it is a cool season grass. We plan to reseed the fescue this week.

Above: Tall Fescue,

Above: Tall Fescue, ‘Rebel’

Look to the right under Raincatcher’s Resources on our front page

for  more information about our grass plots.

Interested in flowers, not grass ?

 Come to our garden today to learn the best bulb choices for Dallas.

Enjoy Certified Master Gardener C.A. Hiscock’s tips for picking bulbs for Dallas’ warm winters and clay soils. The free class will be from 11 am to noon, Tuesday, September 27th at the Midway Hills Christian Church Fellowship Hall, 11001 Midway Road.  C.A. will discuss choices from crinums to rain lilies and will have handouts with favorite suppliers and resources.

Support the Master Gardener Raincatcher’s Garden with purchases of bulbs from Brent and Becky’s Bulbs. Delivery for our area will probably be in late November, the perfect time for planting bulbs.

Go to and from the pull down menu, select Dallas County Master Gardeners. With one click, you’re ready to select the bulbs you want from the Brent and Becky’s website.  Smaller jonquilla and tazetta daffodils do particularly well in Dallas and often have four to eight flowers per stalk.


Pictures by Starla


Mary Louise Whitlow’s Garden, October 1, Garden Tour

Above: Whitlow Garden on Tour, October 1

Above: Whitlow Garden on Tour, October 1

Mary Louise Whitlow had an “ah ha” moment in the 1990s. She was watering the grass taking up her home’s parkway with a garden hose.  “Why am I doing this?” she asked herself.  “I don’t even like grass.”

Next thing you know, the grass was out, and she had started on what became a large pollinator garden of native and adapted plants.

Over the years, the garden has expanded past the sidewalk and up the yard’s slope to stop at the shade from her large pecan tree.

Mary Louise grew up in the charming home, one of the few original houses remaining in University Park.  Her grandmother gave the pecan tree to her parents when they moved in the house in the mid-1950s.

Mary Louise’s landscape philosophy is straightforward: buy one or two plants of a variety and see what works with limited water, fertilizer and organic pesticides.  Now she has “more salvias than you can count.”  She particularly loves Gregg’s mistflower and frostweed because the plants attract Monarch and Queen butterflies.  She has found zexmenia to be as “tough as nails” and pipevine so resilient that “the caterpillars eat it to a nub and it’s back in a week.” The Jerusalem sage yellow blooms are so beautiful, she says, that her neighbors “stop and stare.”

Two hugelkultur gardens are mounded by the front door.  Mary Louise has found that the layers of rotten tree limbs, branches and soil are very efficient in breaking up Texas clay soil and retaining moisture.  She has successfully planted tomatoes in decomposing organic straw bales in the backyard.

Her backyard chain-link fence is lined with fig trees, including ‘Alma’, ‘Brown Turkey’ and ‘Celeste.’  Mary Louise harvested enough figs this year to can 71 pints of fig jam.


Click here for full garden tour information.

October 1st, Dallas County Master Gardener Fall Garden Tour

alexander yard

Call it love at first sight. Linda and Art Alexander were in the market to purchase a new home in 2006.  They swooned over a Bluffview listing awash in April wisteria, dogwood, azaleas and tulips.  They quickly signed the contract.

Her landscape reflects a love of entertaining. One of Linda’s favorite quotes is: “The ornaments of your house will be the guests who frequent it.” The Alexanders have hosted more than 100 get-togethers at the 1948 ranch designed by noted regional architect Charles Dilbeck.

Visitors to the Alexander garden can see how Linda carefully edited mature landscaping from previous owners to frame the historic home. She developed cohesive garden rooms on the large lot, adding shrubs and perennials along the circular drive to welcome visitors.  Tall live oak trees shade conversation and seating areas for backyard entertaining.  She even planted Oklahoma-red pentas for the fall Texas-OU Red River Showdown post-game party. Linda’s updated raised vegetable beds are tucked behind the guesthouse.

Following herb expert Marian Buchanan’s advice, she particularly loves to grow herbs and uses them for cooking, flower arrangements and in the landscape. She says Art likes the herb scents when he brushes against the plants on a garden path.

You’ll often find Art and Linda in the garden swing in the backyard patio. They welcome the morning sun, cuddle a new grandchild and enjoy the yard they call “our sanctuary.”


We will be featuring one garden a week until the October 1st Fall Garden Tour on Dallas Garden Buzz. Tour tickets can be purchased now online at the Master Gardener website.  Brunch will be served at the Alexander home and are also available now.  Plan ahead and purchase your tickets because the brunch tickets are limited. The menu will be based on recipes from the Master Gardner cookbook, A Year on the Plate. To pre-order the cookbook, click here.

Tour Tickets purchased before October 1-$15

Brunch Tickets-$15


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