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What Would We Do Without Turk’s Cap?

All gardeners have those tough spots where nothing seems to want to grow.  Dry shade? Morning shade followed by hot west sun? Neglected, hard to water spots? It’s enough to bring on a tension headache.

The bright apple green leaves and red furled blooms of Turk’s cap Malvaviscus arboreus var. drummondii are often just the right solution.  I love easy to grow plants, but this Texas native is almost beyond belief.  Shade, sun, or a little of both? Moist or just on rainfall alone?  Clay, loam, sand, or limestone soils (with good drainage)?  Insect damage? Very minimal. All North Texas gardeners have to do is cut the stems back to the ground after a hard freeze in the fall.

The blooms on Turk’s cap are so unusual.  The vermillion red flowers are twisted into a loose tube of overlapping petals, with a red stamen protruding from the center.  The flowers are said to resemble a Turkish turban, thus the name, Turk’s cap.  Butterflies and hummingbirds are drawn to the blooms.  The marble-sized fruit is edible and is enjoyed by a number of birds and animals.

Red Turk's Cap, Dallas Garden Buzz

At the Demonstration Garden, we have enjoyed a Turk’s cap with pink blooms for many years.  I hope it is the Greg Grant introduction, named after the first woman horticulture student at Texas A&M, Pam Puryear.  Her namesake has been designated a Texas Superstar by the AgriLife Extension Service.

Pink Turk's Cap

Pink Turk’s Cap

The variety name for Turk’s cap, Malvaviscus arboreus var. drummondii,  honors another groundbreaking botanist in Texas.  Thomas Drummond was a Scottish naturalist, born in Scotland about 1790.  In 1830, he came to America to collect plant specimens from the western and southern United States.  He arrived in Velasco, Texas, in March 1833, and collected 750 species of plants and 150 specimens of birds in the almost two years he worked in central Texas.

Although Turk’s cap will adapt to full sun (and I do have several blooming like crazy in west sun), I really think it should be ideally planted in morning sun, afternoon shade.  I have found that if Turk’s cap is in deep shade, the blooms are limited.  Although Turk’s cap is drought tolerant, the plant will wilt noticeably in full sun.  It loves heat, and is a dependable August bloomer.  The bloom season runs from May to November.

For a low maintenance light to medium-shade garden, mix Turk’s cap with southern wood fern and caladiums.


Pictures by Starla and Ann

For more perennial information see our post on Gardening With Perennials.

Ornamental Tree for Texas


You really can’t beat a Japanese maple for shady locations in your yard, but if you have a spot, like I do, on the edge of mature trees, you might consider one of the small ornamental trees that do well in north Texas.

Texas Redbud Cercis canadensis var. texensis

Texas Redbud Tree

What would spring be without redbuds?  Texas actually has three native redbuds, but you want to choose the right one for our alkaline, clay soil.  The eastern redbud brightens up the piney woods of East Texas.  The Mexican redbud grows as a multi-trunk tree on the rocky limestone soils of West Texas.  It cannot tolerate poorly drained soil.

As in “The Three Bears” children’s story, the third type, the Texas redbud, is just right–for north and central Texas.  It is smaller and more drought tolerant than its eastern relative, with thick, leathery leaves with wavy margins.  The Texas redbud is also commonly multi-trunked and will grow in well-drained clay.

Of course, we plant redbuds for their spectacular show of pink blooms in the early spring.  This small tree grows 15 to 20 feet tall and wide.

Mexican plum Prunus mexicana

Mexican Plum Tree

The Mexican plum plays on the same playground as the Texas Redbud. Each bloom at the same time in early spring and are about the same size. Consider planting redbuds and Mexican Plum together along your property line or as understory trees in a wooded area for breathtaking spring color.  The magenta flowers of the redbud contrast beautifully with the cloud of white blossoms from the Mexican plum.

Mexican Plum Tree FruitLike the Texas redbud, the Mexican plum is very drought tolerant, living on rainwater alone in all but the most extreme situations.  It grows 15 to 35 feet tall by up to 20 feet wide.  The one-inch wide white blooms are an important pollen source for bees.  Small oval plums—which will stain a sidewalk or patio—appear in late summer and are favorites of birds and small mammals.

Eve’s Necklace Sophora affinis

Fruit and Flower of Eve's NecklaceThis lovely small tree rewards gardeners all year round.  In spring, it is covered with 4- to 6-inch long clusters of pea-like pink flowers.  Green glossy leaves in summer are followed by distinctive black seed pods and yellow fall color.  The pods, from which the tree gets its name, resemble a black string of beads.  (Caution: the seeds are reportedly poisonous.)


Eve’s Necklace grows 15 to 25 feet tall by 10 to 20 feet wide and can be planted at the edge of or slightly under large shade trees like cedar elm.  It is related to the Texas Mountain Laurel Sophora secundiflora, which is evergreen.

Fall’s around the corner, and that would be the perfect time to add a small ornamental tree to your landscape.


Pictures by Texas Native Trees Database

Another small ornamental tree worthy of consideration: Vitex !

Red Yucca

 When the tall plumes of Red Yucca brighten up the Dallas landscape, it’s time to break out the mojitos: summer can’t be far behind. We’ve had a long, cool, graceful spring filled with the most beautiful roses in years. But today’s crushing heat and humidity signal the end of May, the last days of the school year, and the start of sun tan season.

Red Yucca With Larkspur in Background at The Demonstration Garden

Gardening just doesn’t get any easier than Red Yucca. You mix in expanded shale into your clumps of clay soil (for better drainage), plant the yucca, and watch its red blooms for 30 (THIRTY!) Weeks of the Year. Then you trim off the spent flowers at the end of the season. After yucca is established, you don’t even water it; the plant lives off rainfall. Poor drainage is its only downfall.

No wonder TXDOT plants these in large groups along the highway. Whizzing along at 70 mph, a large swatch of Red Yucca is breathtaking.

The one-inch bell-shaped flowers cluster up and down the stalks, rising 4 to 6 feet above the ground. Flowers are full of nectar and irresistible to hummingbirds. The most common flower color of Hesperaloe parviflora is the lovely coral outside, with pale yellow on the inside. A solid yellow selection is also available.

Close Up Red Yucca Bloom

Red Yucca is a great choice to use around swimming pools and patios. Combine it with ‘New Gold’ lantana to pick up the soft yellow insides of the bloom or Coral Autumn Sage to repeat the color of the yucca’s flowers. Add a few grasses and you’re ready for a carefree landscape.

Coral Salvia and Lantana, New Gold

Mix me another mojito and pass the sunscreen.


Close up photo of Yucca by Harry Cliffe

Plant Your WildLife Habitat

The flowers that are blooming in our WildLife Habitat right now were selected with a purpose.  We wanted to provide food for all kinds of creatures and yes, they are flying in to feast on our plants and eat our berries.   Monarch, Gulf Fritillary, and Giant Swallowtail butterflies have been identified. Skippers, bees, dragonflies, and birds are in residence.

Consider these Suggestions from landscapers around the USA of  The National Wildlife Federation for Your Backyard Habitat:

In every landscape I design and with the volunteer consultations that I do there is one plant that I always suggest: Asclepias (milkweed). I try to use native varieties, and A. incarnata (swamp), A. speciosa (showy) and A. verticillata (whorled) milkweeds are my gold medal winners—the wildlife garden equivalents to Shaun White. I like them not just for their importance in habitats—they are host plants for the monarch butterfly—but because of their educational value for children. My kids love to go out into our flower garden and check to see if there are any new monarch eggs, larvae or chrysalides, and they love watching the butterflies fly in to feed on the nectar.”—Mat Paulson of Moorhead, Minnesota.

 At the Earth-Kind® Water Wise Demonstration Garden we have planted Asclepias currassavica, tropical milkweed. (Love the super star reference made to Shaun White-Olympic snowboarding Gold medalist.)

Tropical ButterFly Weed In The Wildlife Habitat

 “The purple flowers of aromatic aster (Aster oblongifolius) provide color in the late summer and fall and attract swarms of pollinators. The plant’s short, shrublike appearance makes it a good candidate for more formal landscaping applications. The silvery checkerspot butterfly, pearl crescent butterfly, and asteroid moth utilize this plant as a host. Tolerance to poor soil conditions has allowed me to add it to my own suburban residential lot. This aster is naturally found in the eastern and north-central United States.”—Perry Eckhardt of St. Charles, Missouri

Aster Growing At The Demonstration Garden Wildlife Habitat

“Purple coneflower (Echinachea purpurea) is a great nectar plant in any butterfly garden and is used by many other insects as well. I think it’s like candy to them. Purple coneflower is also a favorite of American goldfinches and sparrows, who love the seeds. Plant big clumps for the best effect.”—

Purple Coneflower In A Dallas Garden

“One of my favorite native beauties, which is also a hit with the birds, is the American beautyberry. This large shrub makes a wonderful understory plant, perfect for shady areas in your yard or along riparian areas in need of restoration. This beautyberry takes care of itself in the maintenance department, requiring little effort on the part of the caretaker. The open branching structure, brilliant green leaves, and fuchsia-colored berries of this plant make it a lovely addition to any habitat garden. The birds will thank you by devouring the tasty berries, and the butterflies will come calling to taste the sweet nectar of the dainty whitish pink flowers.”—Alice Nance of Austin, Texas

Butterfly Weed, Aster, Coneflower, and Beauty Berry are a benefit to our Demonstration Garden and we thought you might like to include them in yours!


Texas Style Fall Color

Fall Gardens in Dallas trump summer gardens!   Remember this instead of  falling into discouragement in our 100° plus days with hardly a drop of rain. The Dallas County Master Gardeners who garden at the Demonstration Garden on Joe Field Road all agree we  love our version of fall color!

Bottle Tree Framing a view of Maximillian Sunflower, Desert Sage, Lantana, and Salvia Blue Spires

This area of the garden is relatively carefree after amending the soil, careful plant selection, and mulch, mulch, mulch!

Rosy Creek Abelia, Salvia Blue Spires, Muhly Grass, Papyrus On The Right In Our Pond

We do have an agonizing  bind weed issue that keeps us humble, but we will save that part of the story for another time. 

 Enjoy the mellow quality of Autumn in Texas. Temperatures are less and color is more!


Yaupon Holly, Full Of Fruit In The Fall

 We have three female Yaupon Holly (Ilex vomitoria) trees in the Wildlife Habitat of the Raincatcher’s Garden.  The fruit ripens in the fall and will attract Northern Mockingbirds, Cedar Waxwings, and other fruit-eating birds.  The evergreen foliage provides good cover and sometimes nesting sites, for songbirds.  Although the the foliage will be more dense in full sun than in part-shade, this species is well adapted to both.  Pruning practices also affect the density of the cover it provides.

When buying yaupon trees, the easiest way to be sure you will get fruiting trees is to select them in the late summer or fall, when you should be able to see fruits on a female tree.  Because yaupons are dioecious, pollination by a male tree is required for the female tree to produce fruit, so you may want to plant a male (non-fruiting) tree among your females.  However, Dallas has many yaupons, and female trees often seem to be pollinated by males from other gardens.   Fortunately, fall is our best season for planting trees. 

'Pride of Houston' Yaupon Holly At The Demonstration Garden

The beautiful fruits are properly called drupes rather than berries, because there is a single seed in the center of the fruit, surrounded by an outer skin and a fleshy middle layer.


Fall At The Demonstration Garden

This fall we have been busy preparing new garden areas.  Aadil Khambati built this arbor as part of his Eagle Scout project.  Our Master Gardeners are planting ornamental grasses to rim the walk circling The Color Wheel. We love working in the cooler fall weather and our plants  thank us for giving them a better start before summer’s high temperatures hit!

New Arbor Leading Into The Raincatcher's Garden, Susan, Jan, Abbe, Hans

As you walk through the new arbor, you will see The Color Wheel  blooming  riotously. This was planted in late spring to give gardener’s ideas for color contrasts and harmonies in their own gardens.  Don’t we all wish for the “eye of an artist” in our gardens?  Start here at our garden and learn the principles of the color wheel.

The Blues Of The Color Wheel, Salvia leucantha, Salvia farinacea, Purple Heart Next Door

Examine the reds of our color wheel. Are you pulled towards exciting, warm colors?  Lisa has planted several red Salvias, Lantana, and even Mexican Poinsettia with splashes of an orangey red on green leaves. 

Dallas Red Lantana, Salvia, Canna, Rosemary In The Background

At the Earth-Kind® WaterWise Demonstration Garden on Joe Field Road we are making the most of Fall Gardening in Texas!

The Oxblood Lily

On New York runways this fall, the trendy color is oxblood.  You will see leather jackets, wool pants, purses, and boots drenched in oxblood.   Last spring the color was tangerine tango, next year it might be beechnut  green.

Not to be out done by the fashion world, Texans have been enjoying Oxblood Lilies (Rhodophiala bifida) for over 150 years. Think back in Texas history to the 1840’s when German settlers immigrated to Central Texas for the early cultivation of this bulb.  Like these settlers, Oxblood Lilies are tough and tenacious and thrive all over the Central Texas area on old farms and abandoned homesteads.

Oxblood Lily Close Up

Unlike fashion dictates for 2012, the oxblood lily will endure for generations and mulitply.  Plant them in part shade or full sun. The red blooms are short lived but will last a little longer with afternoon shade.  They bloom in early September following rain and are also known as School House Lilies.  After the flower dies; thin, deep green leaves will continue until early summer.

For a small investment, your garden can enjoy the bright hues of the Oxblood Lily.  Plant them in the fall through December 1.  Next year what people are wearing will change but your garden will always be in style.

Oxblood Lilies At The Demonstration Garden With Dwarf Yaupon


Keyhole Gardening

Keyhole gardening is considered an “African survival strategy” in a land of scarce resources and unforgiving climate.  According to reports from the BBC, 3 keyhole gardens can feed an African family of 10 for an entire year. 

A humanitarian aid organization in southern Africa developed this particular sustainable gardening method.  The design originates in permaculture which is a branch of ecological design & engineering that develops sustainable human settlements & self-maintained agricultural systems modeled from natural ecosystems. 

          A keyhole garden is the “ultimate raised-bed planter.” It consists of a circular shape w/ a 6 foot diameter & stands about waist-high.  A notched-in section like a pie-shaped wedge allows access to the plants.  It can be constructed from local recycled materials & incorporates a central composting basket into which food scraps/organic wastes are placed.  The garden is also watered through this basket.  It uses far less water than conventional gardens & recycles as it grows.  From a birds-eye view this garden reminds one of a keyhole.  

Keyhole Garden Bird's Eye View and Side View

 Keyhole gardening is an adaptable concept & almost any kind of raised bed of about a 6 foot diameter can be converted.  The basic idea is functionality & efficiency: producing the most nutritious organic produce in the least amount of space using minimal water.  Cattle water troughs, tractor & truck tires, old bathtubs, & boats are repurposed examples.

     This concept has been replicated by landscape architect Dr. Deb Tolman in partnership w/ ranchers Jim & Mary Lou Starnater.  Their property, located on the edge of the Hill Country in the  community of Clifton, Texas is similar to southern Africa, “scorching heat, thin layers of topsoil, & elusive rainfall that can make for a brutal summer.”

The Beginnings Of Our Keyhole Garden

     We constructed our version in the Composting area using reclaimed materials & a bit of ingenuity.  Kevin used heavy cord & a large screwdriver to scribe a 6 ft. diameter circle on the ground as our reference point.  He and  Roger set 4 ft. metal stakes to hold fence wire into the basic circular shape w/ an inset wedge to provide access (keyhole) to the garden.  Into the center went the temporary vent/self-watering stack (later we’ll construct an inner basket measuring 1 ft. diameter & 4 ft. in height).  

Harvesting Compost For The Keyhole Garden

  The students from Independence Life Preparatory School  lined the interior and base of the keyhole garden structure w/ cardboard & set up alternating layers, 3 in. deep, bottom to top, of brown & green compostable matter.  The inner stack will also be filled w/ alternating layers (kitchen scraps & other herbaceous matter) of green & brown.

Annette With Students from Independent Life Prepatory School

 Unlock your own Keyhole Garden

Follow these guidelines to get started: 

1. Measure a 6-ft. diameter circle to define the inside wall of your garden.

2. Notch the circle (like cutting a wedge of pie) so you can access the basket at the center.

3. Construct the exterior walls about 3 ft. high using rocks, metal, timbers or any material that can support the weight of wet soil.

4. Use wire mesh to create a tube about 1 ft. in diameter & about 4 ft. high. Stand the tube in the center of the circle.

5. Line the outer walls with cardboard & fill the garden area (but not the wire mesh tube in the center), with layers of compostable materials, wetting down as you go. Fill the last few inches with compost. The soil should slope from a high point at the top of the center basket downward to the edges of the garden.

6. Fill the center basket with alternating layers of compostable material, along with layers of kitchen scraps & herbaceous weeds that provide the plants with moisture & nutrients.

7. Water the center basket & the garden only when the plants will not survive without it. This forces the plants’ roots down toward the center basket.

8. Feed the garden by adding more kitchen scraps, lawn clippings, etc. to the center basket.

9. Consider arching framework of thin wires over the garden. During the hottest months, the wires can support a shade cloth, & in winter, plastic sheeting creates an instant greenhouse.

10. Enjoy the fruits & vegetables of your labor!

Sources: Texas Co-op Power, Feb. 2012, pp14-15 “Keyhole Gardening: Unlocking the secrets of drought-hardy gardens” by G. Elaine Acker;; (Send a Cow Charity, Africa).

Watch this inspirational video,  Keyhole Gardening in Africa.


August Blooms In Dallas

The Earth-Kind® WaterWise Demonstration Garden is blooming even through August.

Fourteen out of twenty days in August have been over 100°.  To maximize our water usage, we have set up drip irrigation in all our beds and we water this garden and others  with rainwater harvested from our large shed with 5,000 square feet of metal roofing.  Usually we don’t get enough rain for our drip system in the latter part of summer and have to revert to city water, but last week we had about 4 inches of rain at the garden!  What didn’t go into our two 2500 gallon cisterns swished into our rain garden for more capture. 

Most of these pictures were taken from our newly planted Color Wheel garden.  Link back to the * July Bloom report so that you also know what was blooming in August in the rest of our gardens. Combine these plant lists to keep your garden flourishing through the summer.

Read the list of blooms clockwise from the  large, top left picture.

Flowers Blooming in August Dallas Gardens

1. Pink Gomphrena and Cuphea 2. Gomphrena Fireworks, Gomphrena globosa ‘Fireworks’ 3. Periwinkle-Cora Vinca blackberry, Catharanthus roseus 4. Hot Pink Moss Rose Portulaca olerancea ‘Samba Hot Pink’  5. Jewels of Opar, Talinum paniculatum 6. Moss Rose, Portulaca olerancea 7. Trailing Lantana, Lantana montevidensis 8. Yellow Zinnia

Flowers Blooming In Dallas August Gardens

1. White Lantana and white coneflower 2. Orange Zinnia 3. Mexican Petunia-Lavendar, Ruellia brittonia 4. Lafter, Buck Rose 5. Mexican Bush Sage, Salvia leucantha 6. Orange Lantana, Lantana horrida (camara) 7. Bell Flower,  Campanula rotundifolia  8. Gregg’s Mist Flower, Eupatorium greggii

Flowers For Dallas Summer Gardens

1. Salvia coccineas with  Cora Vinca 2. Pink gomphrena, Gomphreana globosa 3.                       4. Red Gomphrena, Gomphrena aageana ‘Strawberry Fields’ 5. Summer Poinsettia or Mexican Fire Plant, Euphorbia cyathophora 7. Sunflower, Helianthus annus

Flowers Blooming In August In Dallas

1. Mexican Honeysuckle, Justica spicigera 2. Pearlie Mae, Buck Rose 3. Onion Chives 4. Maggie 5. Althea, Hibiscus syriacus ‘Helene’ 6. Esperanza or Yellow Bells, Tecoma stans 7. Canna-dwarf-Tropical Series 8. Quietness, Buck Rose

*Refer to the July Blooms report . Only  Phlox #11,Autumn Sage #16, and Salvia guaranatica#21 are taking a break and not blooming in August.  All the rest on the July list are giving us that last bit of summer pleasure.


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