Category Archives: Trowel and Error


Walking through my garden this morning… there is such a lot of work to be done!  It has been nearly a month since I have spent any real time there.  Life just gets in the way sometimes, but it seems to hit full on in August just when things really need to get done for a fall garden.

Pomegranates!  Finally!

Pomegranates! Finally!

As frustrating as that is, it is also great to walk through the garden and see what all is still flourishing in spite of the neglect.  There are butterflies and bees every where.

We had our first pomegranate of the season!  I absolutely LOVE pomegranates.  I remember as a kid eating them at my great aunts house in Commerce, TX.  She had three trees that grew beside her driveway (the old fashioned kind of driveway that was just two strips of cement with grass in the middle.)  In the recent past, it would break my heart to go through the grocery store to see the pomegranates only occasionally sold as expensive “exotics” when I knew very well that they are perfectly happy to grow here.  Our pomegranate tree is just now mature enough to produce anything of consequence.  And it was wonderful!  The tree (turned bush-like by this spring’s tornado) looks like it is loaded, too.  We will have to prune it back heavily this spring so that it doesn’t completely kill out Great, Great Mamo Goode’s daylilies that originally lived just in front of it..

The apple tree is still maturing too.  It had five apples on it earlier in the season and we are now down to just one.  Hopefully it will make it all the way to harvest time.

The banana tree had gone from being just a mound on the ground (it dies back to the ground every year)

Our first pomegranate of the season!

Our first pomegranate of the season!

to being over 20 feet tall!  And, boy does it look luscious!  Maybe someday it will even produce a banana?  I know… wishful thinking.

The rest of the garden… like I said, there is a lot to be done… mostly in the form of pulling out dead plants.  Poor things.  It’s hard to go for a full month with barely a drink of water.

As for getting things planted, let’s see.  I have truly missed the boat on getting any melons planted.  Luckily, I have some musk melons that decided not to wait on me and planted themselves.  We haven’t eaten any yet, but hopefully they will be good.  the tomatoes may be complete goners.  We will have to see if any creative pruning will revive the old plants, but it is too late for new plants.  That is truly a shame!

I have some pepper plants that actually look the best they have since I planted them this spring.  Go figure.

I have let the okra go.  I should be horsewhipped for that one.  OKRA!  Gone.

The green beans look like they are putting on a lot of new blooms.  That is a good sign.  But the fancy purple podded pole beans I ordered will have to wait until next year.

So, of all the fancy seeds that I ordered for the fall garden, what can I still get planted?  On a wild hair, I ordered some green globe artichokes.  Since I have absolutely no idea when is the best time to plant those in Texas, I will go ahead and put out a few just to see.  The clover should have been put out much earlier, but since it was intended as a filler for the lawn, I will go ahead and put it out too.  Oh, who am I kidding.  Even though it’s late, I will go ahead and put out at least some of almost everything that should have been planted earlier: basil, cabbage, amaranth.  I’m only about a week past the recommendation for winter squash and pumpkin.  They HAVE to go in.  I have seed for Golden Hubbard Squash, Burgess Buttercup, Turks Turban and Baby Boo pumpkins.  Hopefully some of these varieties will be forgiving of my delay.

I’m still in range for the Thumbelina carrots, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, broccoli, and winter lettuce.  I also still have several things that are waiting on September 15 (or later) to go in such as the sugar snap peas.

I may be able to squeak out a fall garden after all.  As much as I love all my friends and family and the many activities that we get ourselves into, a good portion of this weekend will be devoted to the garden.  You are welcome to come and join me if you like.  Oh, and wish me luck!

-- Weather When Posted --

  • Temperature: 90°F;
  • Humidity: 42%;
  • Heat Index: 91°F;
  • Wind Chill: 90°F;
  • Pressure: 29.98 in.;


Here’s the Plan…

It’s time for fall planting and I have laid out the plan. Of course, being sick for the past week has already put me behind, but planting is not all that labor intensive and it’s still possible to catch up.  It’s pulling up all the old stuff and figuring out where to put everything that’s the hard part.  So here is the fall planting schedule.


Time to clean out and make room.

Time to clean out and make room.

  • Snap Pole Beans
  • Lima Pole Beans
  • Melons
  • Okra
  • Peppers
  • Potatoes


  • Snap Bush Beans


  • Pumpkins
  • Winter Squash
  • Tomato


  • Lima Bush Beans
  • Broccoli
  • Brussels Sprouts
  • Cabbage
  • Chard
  • Onion Sets
  • Parsley
  • Southern Peas


  • Cucumbers
  • Turnips


  • Beets
  • Carrots
  • Lettuce


  • English Peas
  • Sugar Peas
  • Spinach


  • Radish

Now, if I can just beat this summer flu and stay well I will be all set.

-- Weather When Posted --

  • Temperature: 77°F;
  • Humidity: 78%;
  • Heat Index: 79°F;
  • Wind Chill: 77°F;
  • Pressure: 29.99 in.;


A project almost complete…

The pond bed

The pond bed

We finally got our mulch!  And since the mulch is so hot, I really can’t put it out around plants quite yet.  BUT – I can put it out in the bed where I want to kill a lot of grass!!

Now when I say hot, what I mean is literally HOT.  It is steaming.  There is so much microbial activity breaking down all that fresh organic matter that it gets really hot.  To protect the other plants that I really don’t want to kill, I had put down other mulch and there is also a thick buffer layer of cardboard.

The pond is starting to come around.  The water lilies have started blooming.  The water is still pretty green from the algae bloom, but it is getting better.  I would do EVEN better if I would remember to keep it treated.

Water Lily

Water Lily

And filed under lessons learned: don’t forget to turn off the sprinkler… especially if it is falling into the pond.  Chlorine killed off all of our “mosquito fish” and all but three of our gold fish.  I will have to go get more of the mosquito fish.  We can’t be breeding mosquitoes!

We do have to watch the level of the pond though.  Evaporation has been incredible lately!  Luckily we got some rain last night and this morning.  We could use a lot more.  But I still need to keep several buckets of water de-chlorinating to refill the pond with.

We are not quite done with the project.  It will eventually wrap all the way around the chicken coop and meet up with the irises.  That will make mowing SO much easier.. and weed-eating too.  And there should be less ending up in the pond.

The cannas have almost recovered from the tornado and look a little less battered.  Maybe by fall, everything will be pretty again.

More To Be Done

More To Be Done

-- Weather When Posted --

  • Temperature: 83°F;
  • Humidity: 60%;
  • Heat Index: 84°F;
  • Wind Chill: 83°F;
  • Pressure: 29.87 in.;


Yeah! High today of only 98 degrees!

I was able to stay in the garden until noon.  This is the first time all week that I have been able to spend much time at all out there without bursting into flames.

Mr. Stripey Tomato

Mr. Stripey Tomato

So what did I do?  I pruned and tied up tomatos.  Did you know that it’s not necessary to plant entirely new tomatoes for a fall garden?  Well, it’s not.  If you prune off any dead stems back almost to the base, the plant will put out an entirely new stem there.  It also helps to prune back the ends of any really leggy branches that just can be tied up.  And don’t forget to keep them watered and mulched.  As long as there is still some life in the plant, it will come back strong in the fall.

I also pruned back some more storm damage from the tornado… yes, I’m still dealing with that.

We finally got our mulch delivered this week, so hopefully I will have help to build that bed around the chicken coop this weekend.  And as soon as it cools down a bit (the mulch is freshly shredded so it has a lot of biological heat going on) I will be able to put it out in the other beds.

Not being able to get out into the heat this weak, I have spent some of my time ordering seeds for fall. Here is what I ordered.

From Seed Saver’s Exchange:

  • Calypso Bean
  • Purple Pod Pole Beans
  • Fin De Bagnol Bean
  • Prickly Caterpillar
  • Buttercup Squash
  • Golden Hubbard Squash
  • Turk’s Turban Squash
  • Five Color Silverbeet Chard

From Pinetree Garden Seeds:

  • Waterfall Viola (it was on sale… and you have to have some pretty flowers for winter)
  • Green Globe Improved Artichoke
  • Pinetree Broccoli Mix (I’m doing the mixes for a staggered harvest)
  • Fallstaff Brussels Sprouts
  • Thumbelina Carrots
  • Winter Lettuce Mix
  • Spinach Mix
  • Baby Boo Pumpkin
  • Golden Ball Turnip

From Bountiful Gardens:

  • Cabbage Mix
  • Amaranth Mix (I just think it’s pretty and the birds love it.  Maybe I will figure out how to cook with it this year.)
  • Basil Mix
  • Crimson Clover (green mulch plants for garden and lawn)
  • Dutch White Clover
  • Pine Nut Pine (this will be a potted plant, I think.  I hope I don’t kill it.)
  • Super Sugar Snap Pea
  • Mixed Dwarf Nasturtium
  • Fragrant Mix Sweat Pea

I hope I can find room for everything.  Really, what I need is about four or five acres, right honey?  I’m thinking four or five acres right in the middle of town would be perfect.

-- Weather When Posted --

  • Temperature: 84°F;
  • Humidity: 56%;
  • Heat Index: 86°F;
  • Wind Chill: 84°F;
  • Pressure: 30.11 in.;


The hardships of summer…

African Daisy

African Daisy

Wow!  It has been a while since I  posted.  What with the tornado (debris was finally picked up this week), the 100+ degree heat in June, and a mini ‘stay-cation’ (since John was finally able to get a few days off) I haven’t been able to get much done here or in the garden.  And boy does it show!

Everything is just looking so miserable.  Some things are starting to come around a bit with yesterday’s and today’s cooler temps, but it was just too late for some things.  I was able to spend some time in the garden today and it was all yanking stuff out.  The hollyhocks are gone.  The cosmos, as lovely as they are, had become weeds – everywhere.  Grass was overtaking the beds.  Trees were coming up all over the place.  Some of the tomatoes finally succumbed to the damage from the tornado.  The African daisy is crispy.  The horseradish has a lot of brown leaves, but it will make it.

It sounds like I have done a lot – and I guess I have – but it’s not even a fraction of what needs to be



done.  I pretty much only got to one small bed.  I’m hoping that I will be able to spend a lot more time in the garden tomorrow.  I’m trying to access and decide what I want to keep and what really needs to go.  I have a rose, the ‘Shropshire Lad’, that has only had four blooms on it in the past five years… and they were all this year.  It still doesn’t look happy.  I hate to get rid of it since it at least has made more of an effort this year.  And it is a David Austin rose.  But it will probably never do well.

I don’t have any pictures from today.  I was too busy ripping stuff out.  These pictures are from

several weeks ago.  I will try to get more pictures tomorrow.

-- Weather When Posted --

  • Temperature: 80°F;
  • Humidity: 55%;
  • Heat Index: 81°F;
  • Wind Chill: 80°F;
  • Pressure: 29.88 in.;


What’s Blooming Today?

Echinacea purpurea

Echinacea purpurea

It has been just too miserably hot (and busy) lately to get out in the garden.   And it’s beginning to show.  The plants are all starting too look as wilted as I feel whenever I step outside the door.  It is already too hot by 10am to really feel like I can get much done.  The new candle tree that I bought this week looks like it may be toast.  I got it re-potted and watered it las night, but I missed watering it this morning and that’s all it took.

What is loving the weather is the Texas Star Hibiscus which has started blooming like crazy now.  The purple cone flowers (echinacea) is also going strong.  There are orange cosmos everywhere.  And the sunflowers that didn’t get zapped by the tornado are still great.  The daylilies (at least the ones that have not been buried by the pomegranate that fell on them during the storm) are looking hardy.  And, oddly enough, the snap dragons still look great.  Go figure.

I don’t have a complete list this week.  It has just been too busy.  Who would have ever thought the summer would be so crazy?  That’s supposed to happen during the school year.

We have had multiple days with heat advisories now, but there is supposed to be a break in the weather coming up… Sunday?  It looks like we get to cool off all the way down to 97 degrees.  Yipee!

-- Weather When Posted --

  • Temperature: 87°F;
  • Humidity: 53%;
  • Heat Index: 90°F;
  • Wind Chill: 87°F;
  • Pressure: 29.82 in.;


Heat Advisories!

Johns Trip to Arizona

John's Trip to Arizona

It’s still June and we are already having 100°+ days!  According to the weather station at Rheudasil Park in Flower Mound, today’s high was 99.7 degrees. is forecasting tomorrow’s high to be 102 degrees with a “real feel” of 108 degrees.  Heat advisory, humidity, “real feel” – gardening seems all but impossible.  And the plants are feeling it too.

But the gardening chores keep going so a game plan is in order.

  1. Don’t garden in the heat of the day.  Try to garden before 10am and after 6pm and stay in shady areas when possible.  This matches the times for watering restrictions in our area, so that is a good reminder of when to get out of the garden.  The reason water restrictions eliminate those times for watering is because evaporation is just too high during that time frame.  And if you are in the garden during allowed watering times, the sprinklers will help to cool the area off some.  You might even try gardening at night.  It’s amazing how the garden can change in the dark.
  2. You may think that the smartest thing to do in the hottest weather is to keep taking off clothes (just shy of being arrested for indecent exposure), but that would be the wrong thing to do.  Try to find a light weight, light colored, long sleeved cotton shirt that will allow air flow and soak up sweat, but will also reflect the sun’s rays.  Don’t forget a good sun shading hat.  I’m not a hat person, but I have become a believer in the power of a good hat.  A wet cloth around your neck can also be very helpful.  And don’t forget the sunscreen!
  3. Keep hydrated!  Take a big insulated cup of water into the garden with you – and drink it!  And DON’T drink alcohol in the middle of the heat.  Save that beer for the evening when the chores are done.  Alcohol is a diuretic–meaning that it promotes dehydration–and interferes with your body’s ability to regulate its own temperature. Alcohol also dilates your blood vessels, as does warm weather, and therefore makes you more susceptible to passing out.   Also stay away from the sugary drinks which don’t really rehydrate.  Sports drinks are better.

The garden needs help dealing with the heat also…

  1. Mulch!  Keep a good layer of mulch on all soils to hold in the moisture.  It really does work.
  2. Water deeply and less frequently.  Don’t immediately run for the hose if you see plants drooping in the middle of the day.  Most likely, they will spring back up as the temps cool off at night.  Adding water to plants in the highest temps may just boil your plants.  Watering slowly and deeply (to at least one inch) and then allowing it to dry some in between waterings will encourage the plants roots to grow deeper to cooler and moister soils.  Don’t forget the “finger test” – stick your finger down deep in the mulch and see how dry it really is.  Looks can be deceiving.  Potted plants don’t have a “deeper” to go to.  Potted plants will most likely need to be watered daily during the hottest days of the year, but try to water them in the cooler hours.
  3. Add compost, manure and other organic matter to improve the condition of the soil. This actually makes a huge difference in the temperatures that the soils are able to take and still retain moisture for your plants.  It also simply boost the health of your plants so that they are able to tolerate the heat better.  Do NOT add fertilizers in the heat of the summer because it will only cause stress to the plants by forcing them into growth just when they should be slowing down for the heat.

Be smart and stay cool!

-- Weather When Posted --

  • Temperature: 82°F;
  • Humidity: 71%;
  • Heat Index: 87°F;
  • Wind Chill: 82°F;
  • Pressure: 29.92 in.;


Why is Gardening in Texas So Difficult?

Whale's Tongue Agave at the Dallas Arboretum

Whale's Tongue Agave at the Dallas Arboretum

Well, considering that Texas is as large as most countries, there is a lot of terrain to cover.  Texas includes everything from marsh, to desert, to mountains and forests.  Geology, geography, water and climate all come together to determine what kinds of plants will grow where.  Yes, you might be able to grow something completely alien to your area, but not without altering one or more of these conditions.

Where I live is primarily a prairie system with timbers crossing here and there where the creeks run through.  The native timbers comprise mainly of Juniper, Shumard Red Oak and Redbud where the soils are shallow.  In the bottoms, there are Hackberries, Pecan, Bois d’Arc, Walnut and Cedar Elm.  The open prairies lands have Passumhaw and wild Plum thickets along with our native grasses – Little Bluestem, Big Bluestem, Eastern Gamagrass, Brown-seed Paspulum, and Yellow Indiangrass, Buffalo Grass and Blue Gamma Grass.  Many of these are now listed on the imperiled or critically imperiled Global Conservation list.

The geology in our area is comprised of rocks that were laid down in fossilized sediments from Cretaceous seas which used to cover North Texas about 80 million years ago.  I know – it’s hard to imagine that all of this hot, dry and often cracking land used to be covered by tons of water, but it was.  The shells of microscopic sea creatures were compressed into limestone, which is what gives our soil its alkalinity – pH of about 8.0.  A lot of plants prefer a much sweeter (acidic) soil around a pH of 6.3 to 6.8.  Silt in the seas became clay and shale.  The clay is actually rich in nutrients, but it is locked away from plants.  The clay also expands and contracts depending on the moisture content, which can be hard on roots and housing foundations.  The limestone and shale were eventually “uplifted”, the waters receded and the Trinity River cut though them carrying sand and soils from elsewhere.  Wind and rain, floods and storms, and decaying matter have all had a hand in changing the composition of the soils over time.  The geology of the metroplex encompasses The Taylor Limestone in far eastern Dallas County, Eagle Ford Shale in western Dallas County, and the Woodbine sands in Arlington and Grapevine.

The geography of our area is mainly determined by water – the three branches of the Trinity River and several man-made lakes.  The Trinity River is the longest river which is entirely in Texas from beginning to end.  The three main branches are the East Fork, the Elm Fork, and the West Fork in Grayson, Montague, Archer and Parker counties and they flow all the way to the coast.  The branch nearest me is the Elm Fork Branch which flows southwest from Gainsville parallel with I-35 and meets up with the West Fork somewhere near the old Texas Stadium in Irving.  We also have Lake Grapevine right in our backyard which is a man made lake fed by smaller creeks between the West Fork and the Elm Fork of the Trinity River.  Why does this even matter?  Think humidity.  No, it’s not a dry heat.  Areas near bodies of water also experience warmer micro-climates.  Bodies of water also have something to do with the patterns of the winds and rains which I haven’t quite figured out yet for our area.

That brings us to climate… if you averaged everything out, the DFW area would probably look idyllic.  BUT… the weather is very erratic here.  The first freeze stops plant growth and has been know to come as early as October or as late as February and yet the average is November 17.  There is often also a late SURPRISE! spring freeze.  Although the average last freeze is considered to be March 14, it has been know to come as much as a month later.

Other factors that effect gardening here are urban warming, severe weather such as hail, tornado and sever thunderstorms.  Denton County has a hardiness zone rating of 8a, but urban areas where concrete holds the heat can have later freeze dates than rural areas.  Urban areas also have higher summer temps and night time temps (as much as 10 or 15 degrees), which become important when growing tomatoes because they like to cool off a little at night.

There you have it… that’s why Texas is so difficult to pin down.  And if you have gardened in other parts of the country, that is why you are having to learn from scratch.  Now, I’m off to clean up more storm damage!

-- Weather When Posted --

  • Temperature: 93°F;
  • Humidity: 37%;
  • Heat Index: 94°F;
  • Wind Chill: 93°F;
  • Pressure: 29.82 in.;


What’s blooming today?

Not much after that storm!  But there is one new addition..

Some kind of lily.

Some kind of lily.

I don’t even know where this one came from or what it is.  If you recognize it, drop me a line in the comments and let me know.  It sure is pretty though.

-- Weather When Posted --

  • Temperature: 85°F;
  • Humidity: 57%;
  • Heat Index: 87°F;
  • Wind Chill: 85°F;
  • Pressure: 29.83 in.;


What’s the big deal about invasive plants?

I have been given a lot of plants over the years that I have decided to remove from my garden either because they simply started crowding things out (whether it was native or not) or because I found out that it was on an invasive species list for Texas.

A lot of people confuse aggessive with invasive.  Some plants that are aggressive are actually natives.  According to Texas, “[a]n invasive species is a species that is non-native or alien to the ecosystem under consideration and whose introduction does or is likely to cause economic or environmental harm or harm to human health.”  Invasive species are introduced, either accidentally or intetionally, into a system in which they often have no predators, competitors or disease vectors to hold down thier populations.  They can easily and quickly overwhelm local native populations and drive many of them to extinction.

A friend asked me “Well, isn’t that the way it’s supposed to work? Survival of the fittest?”  And the answer is yes and no.  Plants and animals have been moving from place to place forever, however, with our technological advances and modern mobility people are facilitating those introductions at much higher rates than have ever been seen before.  In the words of the biologist E.O.Wilson, “On a global basis… the two greatest threats of biodiversity are, first, habitat destruction and, second, invasion by exotic species.”

Invasive species also have an economic impact.  Again, according to Texas, “invasive species cost the U.S. approximately $135 billion annually.”  Invasive species can “interfere with ecosystem function by changing important processes like fire, nutrient flow, and flooding.”

Most invasive species are introduced accidentally, piggy-backing on another plant, being carried in on shoes, boats, cars, bicycles, motorcycles, socks, hiking boots or pets.  Some, however, are intentionally introduced as a feed source, landscape ornamental, erosion control, or some other such measure but then they quickly get out of hand.

Here are some great measures for gardeners to remember when planting to avoid invasive plants(some on the prohibited – meaning illegal – list, such as ‘water lettuce’) from Be Plant

Nandina - an invasive species

Nandina - an invasive species

Plant non-aggressive plants.  Garden with ease, forget the spreading ivy’s.

Look at your seed and mulch mixes. Make sure they’re weed free for garden safety.

Avoid spreading invasive plants into natural areas. Protect your park, pull a bad plant.

Native plants can’t be beat. They stay in place with gardening grace.

Treat those invasive plants by handpulling, spraying, spading and shading.

Wait to dispose of invasive plants until they are in repose. Compost or carry but just don’t tarry.

If you have a garden pond or pool, don’t let the plants rule.

Seedling volunteers need management and sometimes banishment.

Every plant needs a place, put your favorite invasive’s in pots or a secure space.

I’m currently training to be a “Citizen Scientist” with Texas  In the process I have found another plant in my landscape that I need to remove.  The nandina, which seems innocent enough  in my landscape, has got to go.  It is not aggressive in my yard, but it does produce a lot little berries that the birds would be more than happy to take and drop in the surrounding forest to invade and push out our native species.

-- Weather When Posted --

  • Temperature: 70°F;
  • Humidity: 39%;
  • Heat Index: 77°F;
  • Wind Chill: 70°F;
  • Pressure: 30.19 in.;