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Category Archives: Landscape Basics

Deadheading, Just Do It

DEADHEAD—it sounds maybe dangerous—at the least not pleasant. But, I needs to be done.  Here is why.

Flowers bloom for a reason, it has nothing  to do with making gardeners  happy.  Flowers have a serious mission—they want the world to be full of plants.  Not just any plants of course—plants  like them.

Flowers attract pollinators to allow fertilization and seed formation. That’s it.  That is what flowers want.  When they have set seeds they can and usually do, go on to the great beyond with joy—mission accomplished.

We must stop them. Plants covered with fading flowers and  seed heads  do not make for a cheerful summer  show.  Gardeners want  lots of flowers on healthy plants..  For this to happen—deadhead early and often.

Pretty Flowers But Could Be Better With Deadheading

Rudbeckia in Need of Deadheading

How to do it? It’s not at all hard.  For many plants, such as zinnias, coneflowers or cosmos cut the stem of the fading flower back to the first set of full healthy leaves.  This hides  the cut and encourages branching and new flowers.  Do not cut just below the flower.  This leaves a stem to turn brown –not at all the way to tidy up the garden.

Deadheading Cosmos

Deadheading Cosmos

For some plants, like salvias, the best plan is to shear back all the stems about two to three inches. This removes the dead flowers and encourages a fresh flush of blooms.

Be sure to collect the blooms—they are great for the compost.

Don’t forget your herbs! If you want basil for fall tomatoes keep those flowers cut—remember  they are tasty and can go straight to the kitchen.

Keep the Herbs Coming by Deadheading as shown

Keep the Herbs Coming by Deadheading as shown

More flowers—tidy garden—sounds perfect—so why the resistance??

First— summer temperatures are still with us and its hot—that’s true.  Early morning is an ideal time to go out—do a bit each day and things won’t get out of hand.  Evening works too—just don’t put it off.

You will be rewarded. You will see things that might well have been missed.  A quick visit by a hummingbird,  a just hatched baby anole or delicate lace wing eggs that look like a tiny modern sculpture.

A Reward-Lacewing Egg Sighting

A Reward-Lacewing Egg Sighting

What about bees and butterflies? .

Are they still using those flowers? Well no, those flowers are past their prime for pollinators too. Really you are doing a big favor when you remove the old flowers—more will soon appear as the plant continues to try and fulfill its mission.


Buy Discounted Tickets Now for DCMGA 2016 Fall Garden Tour

alexander yard

Five spectacular gardens by members of the Dallas County Master Garden Association will be featured on the 2016 Garden Tour set for Saturday, October 1st.  Visitors will see formal English gardens on Swiss Avenue, edible landscaping in Preston Hollow, a buzzing pollinator garden in University Park, native perennials and ornamental grass in Old East Dallas and landscaping for gracious entertaining in Bluffview.

Make your tour complete by enjoying a seasonal Garden Brunch featuring recipes from A Year on the Plate, the new master gardener cookbook.  Guests will be treated to a menu chosen from fall produce, including Iced Herb Gazpacho and Artichoke Bites.  Brunch will be served on a lovely Bluffview patio shaded by live oak trees from 11am to 1pm the day of the tour.  Visitors can also preorder a copy of A Year on the Plate, the new DCMGA cookbook, at the same location.

Presale tour tickets will be $15 and on the day of the tour, $20 each. Tickets for the Garden Brunch must be purchased ahead at $15 each.  A limited number of brunch reservations will be taken.

Presale tickets for the brunch and tour will be available soon on the website using PayPal. North Haven Gardens and selected Calloway’s Nurseries locations will sell only tour tickets in September.

Your ticket purchase will support a major fundraiser for the Dallas County Master Gardener Association. The 2016 Garden Tour is the first time DCMGA has opened its members’ gardens in three years. Please help make the tour a success by asking friends and neighbors to attend and by publicizing the tour in venues like Next Door. All profits go to fund the DCMGA educational programs and more than 30 community and school projects.



Orphaned No More – Our Incredible Edible Landscape Project

Here at Raincatcher’s, we have a wide variety of demonstration gardens spread all around: we have an orchard, raised vegetable beds, ornamental trees, five types of turf, butterfly gardens, compost demonstrations and even a mixed ornamental bed in the courtyard. But there is one, last, orphaned space; it’s known as the old playground, and in some ways, it’s the church’s secondary entrance.  Which means it’s a very visible space that most people walk past and all cars drive by.  Wrapped in cyclone fencing, the playground was deemed ‘unsafe’ by regulatory agencies, and had been sitting unused when we moved to the church from Joe Field, the location of our previous garden.  We initially used the old playground as storage for all the plants, soil, and other large objects we brought over during our move. Then we disassembled the playground equipment and put it aside, in case we might be able to use it for another purpose.

Playground "Before" Transformation

Playground “Before” Transformation

A year has gone by. The gardens have been installed.  The plants, soil, and other large objects have been moved into their new homes, and it became clear that the playground parts were not going to be needed.  We removed them, and what was left inside the cyclone fence was a greenhouse, the air conditioning mechanism for the church, a couple of compost bins, a chicken coop, mature trees, and the frame for the old swing set.  When you step back from that, you realize that the space is reminiscent of what most homeowners have in their own yards:  some nice things, some not so nice things, a fair amount of shade, some sun.

What it’s inspired us to do is play. (The space was a playground, after all!)  We’re going to be experimenting in this, last, garden, but we’ll be experimenting with a purpose.  Over the next year(s?), we’ll be installing an edible landscape in this space, this crowded, pre-owned space with some sun and a fair amount of shade.  We’ll be designing around our obstacles, turning them into features, and we’ll make the shade our ally instead of our adversary.  We’ll be showing off all sorts of different techniques from hugelkultur to vertical gardening to straw bales to edible flower beds.  Some will be raised, some will be inground; everything will be edible.  There will be some new crops, variations on common crops, and some old crops with new parts to eat.  And so in addition to growing these foods, we’ll also show you how to prepare and eat them.

Why are we going to do this? Because this space has so many similarities to the average homeowner’s yard, it’s a perfect teaching and demonstration tool, and teaching is our mission.  Why do it as an all-edible landscape?  Because there are many examples of ornamental landscaping, and plenty of examples of edible gardening, but there are not as many of edible landscaping.  We’re doing this because people are becoming interested in growing at least some of their food, but are often concerned that it won’t look good, or they can’t because they have too much shade.  This old playground gives us the opportunity to show everyone how they can create a beautiful landscape with edibles.

How are we going to do this? We’re going to do this in stages.  First, we’re going to start with the hardscape.  One of the biggest concerns people have about landscaping with edibles is the aesthetics – whether it’s an overgrown tomato plant, or the fallow season (too hot, too cold to grow edibles) for their climate.  To have a beautiful edible landscape, the first thing you need to do is make sure the landscape looks good before any plants are planted.  Plants (crops) are the ornamentation on top of a good looking base structure, your hardscape.  After all, there will be times when you may not have plants in your landscape; you might have had a crop failure, or have just harvested dinner!

In our next post, we’ll talk about hardscape ‘rules’, and show you how we’ll be incorporating them into our landscape.

Come along and follow our adventures – celebrate with our successes, and learn from our failures!

The Incredible Edible Landscape Team

Lila Rose

Picture by Starla

Note: Lila Rose will be speaking at the Whole Foods at Preston Forest soon about Edible Landscaping. Will add date to this post, so check back with us.

Linda’s Pond

I found a little oasis last week even though the temperature was 97 degrees.  My friend and Master Gardener, Linda, has a beautiful little pond outside her kitchen doors.

Linda's Pond

Linda’s Pond

Funny thing, this is a garden of greens relying on shape and texture rather than the usual riotous August blooming flowers. Note: no periwinkles!

Linda's Japenese Maple at the Pone

The garden is built of Holly Fern, Japanese Maple, Liriope,  Crinum, small fig ivy and the rounded leaves of Leopard Plant. Linda’s Leopard Plant, Farfugium japonicum ‘Giganteum’, thrives next to the water.

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Koi darted about. What originally drew me outside was seeing one of the Koi leap into the air.

Koi at Linda's

Linda told me a story of a Koi who jumped out of the pond and landed at the foot of a snail.

Linda's pond snail

Luckily she was there and scooped him up and back into the pond. My only question was why would anyone leave this little oasis?


Pictures by Ann

Other plants along Linda’s pond: Yaupon Holly and Little Gem Magnolia for background color, Star Jasmine on the fence, Hostas, and ‘White by the Gate’ Camellia in the beds and of course a few herbs: pineapple sage, lemon verbena and basil.

Cycle and Soak Irrigation

May 2015 was the wettest single month on record in Texas. June followed with almost 4 inches of rain. But now things are heating up and you may be thinking it’s time to water your grass.

Here’s advice from Texas A&M: “Rather than watering on the same schedule each week, adjust your watering schedule according to the weather. Irrigate deeply. Then wait until the grass begins to show signs of drought stress before watering again. Symptoms of drought stress include grass leaves turning a dull, bluish color, leaf blades rolling or folding, and footprints that remain in the grass after walking across the lawn. To time watering properly, look for the area of the lawn that shows water stress first. Water the entire lawn when that area begins to show symptoms.”

When it’s time to water, use the cycle and soak irrigation method as described by Dr. Dotty Woodson.





The Color Purple

One of the main tasks at The Raincatcher’s Garden right now is installing drip irrigation.  Our liscensed irrigator, Doug Andrews of Double D Landscapes is at the helm.

Doug Andrews, Double D Landscapes

Doug Andrews, Double D Landscapes

The process of irrigating a large garden like The Raincatcher’s Garden is cumbersome.  Purple has become our new favorite color and the reason is that our future plans include harvesting water collected from the roof of  nearby buildings. The color purple is used to identify pumps, tanks and pipes carrying reclaimed water for reuse. Purple or what looks like a pretty shade of lavender  means non potable or non drinkable water.  At our garden on Joe Field Road we had two large 2500 gallon cisterns collecting rainwater off our large shed. We don’t have them yet for our new garden and will judiciously use city water in the meantime. Anyone want to donate rainwater cisterns?

Purple Tubing  for Drip Irrigation Installed at The Raincatcher's Garden

Purple Tubing for Drip Irrigation Installed at The Raincatcher’s Garden

In the meantime, our plant success  depends on our amended soil, heavy mulch application, and hand watering.  More rain is welcome!

Find out more about Drip Irrigation as taught by Dr. Dotty Woodson, here.









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PLEASE READ THIS BOOK:   Bringing Nature Home-How Native Plants Sustain Wildlife in our Gardens by Douglas Tallamy PhD

Do you feel pretty good about your understanding of the importance of native plants in your landscape?  Or—do you think “the native plant thing”  is yet another fad and  you know red roses and nandinas form the framework for all “good” gardens?  It doesn’t matter at all—either way—this is the book for you.

This is not the perfect book for us here in Texas.  The author lives in the Northeast and any of the plants profiled are specific to that region.  However, that in no way diminishes its value.  The basic ideas remain the same whatever the location.  Dr. Tallamy, whose doctorate is in entomology, presents the wonderful, terrible idea that what we, as caretakers of our land, no matter the size, are making life or death decisions for a host of creatures simply by our plant choices.

The book effectively makes it clear that  Nature is “here” in our gardens now.  We cannot assume that plants and animals are fine somewhere “out there in the wild”  because  there just is so little of the wild left.

That’s upsetting—it means taking responsibility for our actions.  But it’s also an incredible opportunity to make a difference for ourselves, our family, our community—and beyond.

The introduction presents the major concepts to be considered.  The wild creatures we want in our world simply will not be able to live without food and places to live.  Things look grim,  for creatures are gone or greatly reduced in numbers.  But hope is there  it’s not too late to save many plants and animals—but to do it we must change our ways.

Alien plants have replaced native ones  to an alarming extent.  Now all plants capture the energy from the sun but most alien plants are not able to  provide support to native insects they cannot eat them.  Insects are the major way that energy is transferred to other creatures.  This is not just the author’s opinion—there is research to prove it.

Increased use of native plants can produce at least a simplified version of the diverse ecosystem that used to exist.  The charts that show the insect populations supported by native plants as opposed to alien ones are truly eye-opening.

All the chapters on insects are educational—but the one on aphids—do not miss it.  Aphids are amazing creatures—you will never think of them as disgusting little pests ever again.

If you read even a part of this book you will gain insight into the complex web of interactions between plants insects and other animals.


Pictures by Starla


Cardboard for Weed Control

At our old garden, we faced the  problem of all other gardens: weed invasion. At our new garden, we are making a concentrated effort to try to reduce the problem of weeds. You may have seen some of our Master Gardeners carrying cardboard from trash picks ups, we even get calls from friends donating “nice cardboard.”

Lisa Hauling Cardboard to The Raincatcher's Garden

Lisa Hauling Cardboard to The Raincatcher’s Garden

We prefer the plain brown stuff, stripped of packing labels and any plastic and broken down please.

We lay it down, overlapping seams, with 3-6 inches of mulch on top. Several layers of cardboard is permissible and  more mulch equals less weeds.  Some say to water the cardboard to make it more pliable. Of course, during this rainy year we have not had to do that.

Cardboard Peeking Out From Under Mulch, More Mulch to be Added

Cardboard Peeking Out From Under Mulch, More Mulch to be Added

And here’s a word about our mulch selection: you can see our mulch looks organic.  We use chopped up tree trimmings, not purchased mulch.  If you are buying mulch (we prefer free), don’t buy the colored mulch that has dye added.

Mulch Close-Up

Mulch Close-Up

Besides cardboard and mulch, what do you need?  Willing labor!

Thank You Judy, Abbe, and Michele!

Thank You Judy, Abbe, and Michele!

Our most recent mulch drop off came from Dallas Arborilogical Services. More is needed to build our beautiful, weed free garden. For drop off information, call the Dallas County Master Gardener hotline, 214 904 3053 and say The Raincatcher’s Garden sent you.


Pictures by Starla


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 Raincatcher’s Garden of Midway Hills, a Research, Education and Demonstration garden at 11001 Midway Road in Dallas.

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

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Let’s face it.  Shrubs can be boring.  We all have the house in our neighborhood with green “meatballs” or “meatloaves” arranged haphazardly along the foundation.  Throw a line of pruned green along the edge of your house and you’re done. Right?

Shrubs are like clarinets and flutes in the high school band; they provide the structure for all the other components of the landscape—or musicians.  If you think of your landscape as a grouping of upright trees for a canopy, lawns for flooring, and annuals and perennials for bling, the careful choice of shrubs is essential.

How do you use shrubs in a landscape? Shrubs can provide many functions:

  • screen unsightly views or strong winds
  • break a landscape into outdoor spaces
  • serve as a background for a garden accent
  • give scale and unity
  • provide beauty from foliage, flowers, or contrasting foliage.
Shrubs at the Demonstration Garden include blooming Spirea and Abelia in the background

Shrubs at the Demonstration Garden include blooming Spirea and Abelia in the background

Choose shrubs based on their mature size.  My neighbor planted holly as a foundation planting several years ago.  The shrubs are now 10’ x 10’—you can guess where this is going—and she has cut large rectangles in the middle of the hedge, following the outline of the windows.  This look has not been featured on HGTV.  Read the label on your shrub purchase.  Many shrubs now come in smaller sizes, perfect for one-story homes and compact landscapes.

Some shrubs want sun, some shade, and some don’t care.  Oh, that kids were that easy. Cast iron plants are a staple in deep shade.  Dwarf yaupon holly is dependable in full sun to part sun; in deep shade they will survive, but not grow.

Don’t go crazy on the number of shrub species for your landscape.  Limit yourself to five or six varieties for the front yard, more for the back yard.  Group shrubs to contrast foliage textures or colors.

Mike and I often duck into a local sports bar/fried oyster and fish restaurant. While Mike is eager to settle down with a plate of catfish and the football game, I often want to linger in the carefully planned landscape of shrubs.  Situated in Dallas’ blowtorch west sun by a six-lane major street, the shrubs give patrons a Gulf of Mexico beach feel.  Wax myrtles and Texas sage screen the parking lot from heavy traffic.  Horsetail and nandina line the sidewalk.  Large palms flourish in the heat as foundation plantings. Oh, did I mention the food’s great, too?


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