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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

It Keeps on Blooming

rock rose in bloom


Do you want a Texas native plant that, like the Energizer Bunny, just keeps on going/or in this case, blooming throughout our over 100 degree weather?  If so, then consider planting our Texas native Pavonia (Pavonia lasiopetala).  Like many of our native plants it also goes by many different common names: Wright’s Pavonia, Rock Rose, Rose pavonia, and Rose mallow.

rock rose close up Of course, these last few names give one a clue as to the most eye catching part of the plant: its beautiful, showy, rose colored flowers that are roughly 1½ inches wide with a bright yellow center formed by the pistil and stamens.  These flowers appear from April to November on a small shrub that has velvety, scalloped leaves and that grows only four feet tall (usually smaller, if sheared back to encourage more blooms).

Native to the Edwards Plateau through the Rio Grande Plains, Pavonia prefers dry, rocky woods and slopes, and open woodlands.  Though it will grow larger and bloom more profusely in full sun, it can even take partial shade.  Unlike many members of the Mallow family, it prefers to be dry, growing on well-drained limestone soils or even our clay soils.  It requires very little water, once established, and is a great plant for a WaterWise landscape.

Perhaps the only downside to Pavonia is that though it is considered a perennial, it is a short-lived perennial, tending to decline after three or four years.  However, it readily self-seeds and younger plants will come up to replace the older one.  Pavonia can also be propagated, according to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, from softwood tip cuttings.  “These cuttings should be taken in the spring before the plant starts to bloom.  Cuttings with big buds or blooms are at a disadvantage.  The cuttings root and grow fast in hot weather.  Cut a stem three to six inches long, just below the node.  Remove all but the top leaves and place in vermiculite.”

If you haven’t already decided that Pavonia is the plant for you, another one of its very favorable attributes is that it is a hummingbird and nectar-loving butterfly and moth attractant.  So if you are looking for a tough little native plant that is not only beautiful but feeds the hummingbirds and butterflies, consider planting a Pavonia/Rock Rose.  You won’t be disappointed.



Pictures by Starla



Keyhole Gardening Review

Last week there was an article about Key Hole Gardening in the Dallas Morning News.  Read it  here.  In my opinion it did not elaborate enough on our beautiful efforts to teach Dallas County citizens about this garden survival method.

Annette teaching Keyhole Garden concepts.

Annette teaching Keyhole Garden concepts.

Our garden is located at 2311 Joe Field Road in Dallas, 75229. We share Dallas County property with the county’s Automovie Service Center and have been making gardens and teaching opportunities at this location since 2005.

Our aim is  to teach Dallas County residents sound horticultural practices combined with a heart for our natural resources.

We harvest rainwater to water our gardens and use drip irrigation.  Keyhole gardening uses less water and has naturally become a component of our education.

Another view of our Keyhole Garden

Another view of our Keyhole Garden

For an extensive education about Keyhole gardening, please review Annette’s writing on the subject.

As gardeners and stewards of our patch of dirt at 2311 Joe Field Road, we will always strive to present the less intrusive ways of gardening using the least amount of water and no pesticides.  Our gardens and our hearts thrive with this approach and through this blog and our classes, field trips and harvest to table presentations, we want to share what we have learned with you.

Thank goodness for the rain last week which filled out 2-2500 gallon rainwater harvesting tanks with water for our gardens!


Volunteering at The Demonstration Garden on Joe Field Rd.

The Class of 2013, as preceding classes have, was offered the opportunity to taste volunteering at a variety of sites during the Jump Start portion of our training.  With great trepidation and much innocence, I purchase some pruning tools to begin my adventure in publicly putting class learning into action.

So, one morning as scheduled, I got into my car and drove to the Joe Field Demonstration Garden.

Demo Garden Fall 2013

It was not difficult to locate the gardens on a map or to navigate the streets.  When I got out of the car, I was greeted and welcomed by several experienced Master Gardeners who were very attached to the site and glad to see me.  Is attached the correct word?  Devoted to?  Enamored by?  In love with?  I have discovered that the passion exhibited by those involved with the various sites is communicated with relish and joy.  This was easily seen and felt as the Joe Field ladies divided me and my classmates into groups and took us on a tour of the variety of areas before assigning us tasks to perform.

Was I interested in composting?  Did I want to learn about drip irrigation?  How about pruning?  (Anyone know the difference between pruning and shearing?  I can now tell you what the difference is.)  Mulching?  Transplanting?  Sun plants?  Shade plants?  Vegetables?  Raised beds?  The color wheel was amazing as were the roses.  Truthfully, roses usually don’t do anything for me but even I was impressed with the variety, vibrancy, and size of the rose bushes.  (Many of the bushes were the size of some trees I’ve seen.  I’ve got two scrawny rose bushes in my front yard that haven’t grown much in three years so how did Joe Field do this magic with theirs?)

I recognized plants that live in my own garden but darned if I could name them.  Voila!  The Master Gardener leading my small group easily gave me the name of those plants and told me about their needs.  I kept asking, “How’d she know that?  How can she keep all this knowledge in her head and come up with it on a moment’s notice?” I wonder if I will ever be that familiar with plants.

I was very aware of the phenomenal use of space.  The areas were not particularly overplanted but were, nevertheless, packed with plants and more plants and provided inspiration and ideas to take home to my own garden and beds.

There is so much going on in terms of what is growing that it is impossible to take it in with just one visit.  Maybe that is a lure—come back and learn some more.  Not a bad idea.  Between that chance to learn (and to serve) and the camaraderie of the seasoned volunteers, Joe Field Demonstration Gardens is a smart and happy choice for Master Gardeners.  I’m glad I can visit and revisit this rich site.  Tuesdays are the targeted day of the week for volunteering just in case you want to try it out.  Maybe we will see each other and learn together.


Picture by Starla

Map to our gardens here.

Another Sign of Fall

Many people associate the arrival of fall by the appearance of red, gold, and yellow leaves on trees or seeing groups of pumpkins suddenly pop up on people’s front porches.  However for those of us who have native trees/shrubs, fall also means seeing the clusters of purple berries on our American Beautyberry.

Callicarpa americana

Callicarpa americana

American Beautyberry grows best in partial sun and often used as an understory tree.  Found growing wild in East Texas thickets, this deciduous, 4-6 foot shrub or small tree has small, unspectacular greenish-white flowers in the spring, but is known for its showy clusters of purple berries in the fall.

It prefers moist soils but can be grown in the sun with supplemental watering; and it is tolerant of various soil types.  Aggie-Horticulture suggests pruning its long, arching branches back by 1/2 in the winter if a more compact shrub is desired.  Most Beautyberries have purple berry clusters; however there is a white-berried variety, C. americana var. lactea.  The Demonstration Garden grows a Mexican variety called Callicarpa acuminate ‘Texas Maroon”  which has maroon berries.

Callicarpa acuminate ‘Texas Maroon”

Callicarpa acuminate ‘Texas Maroon”

There is some controversy about whether the berries are toxic to humans.  Several sites say that unripe berries should never be eaten.  Native Americans used the roots of Beautyberry as a diuretic, the leaves for dropsy, and a tea made from the roots and berries for colic.  The leaves and roots were used in sweat baths for the treatment of malaria, rheumatism and fevers.  The leaves themselves can be rubbed on the skin as an external mosquito repellent.  Some sites however, including Aggie-Horticulture  say that jelly made from ripe Beautyberries is excellent.  However, as with many plants that are foraged from the wild, “diner beware.”

There is no controversy however that ripe Beautyberries are one of wildlife’s favorite foods.  In my own yard, I only able to enjoy seeing the ripe purple berries for about a week before the mockingbirds have eaten every berry off of my large tree.  Green Dean, who writes about foraging for wild edibles, reports that the Beautyberry is a squirrel’s version of take out.  Other birds that enjoy eating the berries are robins, catbirds, cardinals, mockingbirds, brown thrashers, and finches.

So, if you want a shrub/small tree that will provide fall color and feed the wildlife (and perhaps you too), think about planting an American Beautyberry.  You won’t be disappointed.


October In Our Garden!

Our garden at 2311 Joe Field Road in Dallas, Texas has turned delicious!

This is Salvia greggi ‘Raspberry’, a perennial you will want in your water wise garden! Hmmm…looks good enough to eat, but please don’t.  Plenty of edibles  from our garden are coming.

Blooming Salvia Greggi, raspberry color

Jim made pumpkin pie for us after cooking up these pumpkins we grew!

pumkins and squash on countertop

We have been picking pomegranates in our garden and are ready to make our famous pomegranate jelly again.

Two Master Gardeners holding a bucket of pomegranatesLisa picked pomegranates from a neighbor’s tree; after asking permission. Imagine they didn’t want the fruit!  Should we share a jar of our pomegranate jelly with them?

Master Gardener holding a bucket of pomegranatesIf you would like to buy a jar of pomegranate jelly made from Sarah’s recipe and these pomegranates, come to our Dallas County Master Gardener meeting on Thursday, October 24th at 11:30 am at the Farmer’s Branch Rec Center.  All welcome!


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.

Princess Caroline In Our Dallas Garden

Grasses Planted June, 2013, 2311 Joe Field Road, Dallas, Texas

June 18, 2013

In mid-June we  planted ornamental grasses between the arbor and the Mexican plum tree:

  • Pennisetum purpureum (Purple Fountain Grass)
  •  P. alopecuroides ‘Hamelin’ (Dwarf Fountain Grass)
  •  Muhlenbergia capillaris (Pink Muhly Grass)
  • variegated Liriope
  •  Princess Caroline, a Pennisetum hybrid, our favorite. 

We planted 3 1-gallon size Princess Carolines on 3 foot centers. The foliage is a lush purple with leaves that are wider than that of Purple Fountain Grass. These plants are filling in very quickly despite the heat and drought early in July. This welcome rain should really give them a growth spurt.

Same Area After One Month's Growth

July 9, 2013

This area was full of weeds, dallisgrass and nutsedge when we began to prepare it in 2012. Mulching with newspaper/shredded tree trimmings took care of most weeds; dallisgrass and nutsedge required hand digging for removal. We amended native soil with expanded shale and compost during the winter. Spring rain and warmer temps bought germination of weed seeds as well as the beautiful poppies and larkspur you’ve seen in previous posts. Since planting the new grasses, drip irrigation is now in place and weeding continues each week, especially to root out residual nutsedge. At our next opportunity, adding a 3” layer of shredded tree trimming mulch should finish this area off nicely.

Close Up View of Princess Caroline Grass

We think you will like this ornamental grass as much as we do!

To read more about  Pennisetum purpureum ‘Princess Caroline’ click here!

Susan S

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

2013,A Beautiful Spring in Dallas

Dallas gardeners have enjoyed a long, lovely spring and I don’t think we have glowed enough about it . If you feel like glowing, make a comment at the bottom of this post.  We will send a package of seeds from our garden to the first 10!

Think back to our post, A Texas Spring?  Week after week, we have enjoyed blooms galore!

We planted these Oxeye Daisies in 2009 and this year they have been a “best of show” type exhibit. 

Oxeye Daisies Blooming at The Demonstration Garden

Our Earth-Kind® Roses have bloomed continuously as you can see looking through Lafter and Maggie. 

Earth-Kind Roses, Lafter and Maggie at The Demonstration Garden on Joe Field Road

Our Iris have finished blooming so we must say goodbye to them.

How appropriate this one is called Bye Bye Blue!

Iris with Poppy Blooming in Background


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