Surviving North Texas Summers: Tips for a Thriving Garden

Pink flowers in summer heat.This is the time of year when people find out if they chose the right plant in the right place with the right amount of water. The opposite of the deep-freeze of winter, this scorching summer heat and lack of rain is pushing plants to their limit. We are inundated with customers complaining about dead gardens and lawns. With water restrictions in place, it is really difficult to get your plants and grass enough water to withstand the onslaught of summer.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Properly designed, with sufficient moisture from an irrigation system or obsessive hand watering, your garden can in fact survive the summers of North Texas. As part of this, it is critical to water your plants deeply and infrequently. Deep watering is critical to helping your plants establish deep roots. Plants that are frequently watered may have the roots find their way closer towards the surface where they can be damaged by hot dry soil. If you are in an area with water restrictions, and even if you are not, you can accomplish this by extending the run time of each zone on the days it is designated to run.

Native Texas plant the Passion Flower.The heavy clay soils of North Texas can be difficult to water deeply, and you may see excess runoff from your garden and lawn soil onto the pavement. To prevent this, use a cycle and soak method. Modern irrigation systems have this “cycle and soak” programming built in for you to customize to your plants and soil. If you are noticing runoff from your clay soil, reduce the run time of the zone and add a soak time in your cycle and soak settings. This will allow the silt and clay to absorb the water that has been put down before the second irrigation cycle begins. All watering should be done in the morning or evening in order to minimize evapotranspiration and maximize soil absorption.

What is evapotranspiration? Evapotranspiration is the combination of water removed from soil and plants through the process of transpiration and evaporation. Both of these are accelerated by direct sunlight and high temperatures. This summer sun in North Texas is literally sucking all of the moisture from your plants, and if we have any wind it only gets worse! Even your most sun loving and heat tolerant plants can’t survive if more water is removed than can be supplied to them. So, if water restrictions are making it difficult to add enough water to your garden, it is time to look at stopping the amount of moisture you are losing.

Install shade cloth over delicate or heat-sensitive plants to provide some respite from direct sunlight. This is especially true for any plants that are exposed to the scorching afternoon sun. Shade cloth can reduce the intensity of sunlight, lower air and soil temperatures, and protect plants from sunburn. Additionally you can use windbreaks, such as hedges or fences, to shield plants from strong winds. Wind can exacerbate heat stress by increasing evaporation and drying out plants faster.

Lantanas love hot Texas summers.If you haven’t already, put down a layer of mulch. Mulch helps the soil to retain moisture, lowers the temperature of the soil, and provides excellent weed control. In addition, as it breaks down, mulch releases much needed nutrients into the soil. Old mulch should also be raked out and replaced occasionally if has dried out too much. Check your old mulch by dribbling a few drops of water on top: if it is immediately absorbed you should be fine. On the other hand if the small droplets of water bead on top of the mulch without being absorbed you should replace the dried out mulch with new mulch. We encourage the use of un-dyed shredded hardwood mulch that has been mixed with a little compost. Other choices of mulch include straw, leaves, or grass clippings.

Remember, it’s essential to understand the specific needs of your plants and adapt the protective measures accordingly. Factors such as plant species, maturity, and local weather patterns can influence the level of care required. Choose heat-tolerant plants that are well-suited for Zone 8. Better yet, always plant native plants wherever possible. These plants are better equipped to withstand the hot temperatures and frequent droughts that define the summer time in North Texas. Regularly monitor your plants for signs of heat stress, such as wilting, yellowing, or browning leaves. Adjust your watering and shading practices accordingly to provide the necessary relief.

Need help with your irrigation or sprinkler system? Does your garden need an overhaul or just a general checkup? Give us a call at 877-558-1496, or drop us a line and contact us here, to find out how Desiree can help you create a wonderful garden with a budget you can afford.

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All About Mulch

Healthy plants surrounded by a hardwood mulch.Garden mulch is simple topic that is often misunderstood by so many people. Mulch is far more than just a decorative finish for a garden bed. Used properly, mulch is one of the key ingredients for maintaining a healthy landscape. Used improperly and mulch can actually kill plants and drive off precious moisture.

Let’s start by discussing dyed mulches. Mulch that has been dyed red or black is some of the most popular mulch out there, and one doesn’t have to look twice to realize why. It looks fantastic and can really make a boring garden bed pop. It used to be the case that dyed mulches used toxic and unnatural dyes. On occasion, especially with the cheapest mulch from the big box stores, this is still the case. By and large however, most dyed mulches use iron oxide for red and carbon for black and darker brown mulch. The toxicity of the coloring is no longer the issue: The quality and composition of the shredded wood is our main area of concern. With low quality dyed mulch manufacturers of the cheap stuff often use wood that has been stained, treated, or otherwise contaminated with chemicals we’d rather keep out of the garden. Whether it has been treated with creosote, arsenic, or old varnish and stains, any scrap wood is fair game for these unscrupulous manufacturers. Old pallets are another popular source, but the unknown origin of the wood still presents a problem for gardeners.

When it comes to selecting a mulch, look for a seal from the Mulch and Soil Council that certifies that your mulch meets their standards. Here at Desiree Gardens we prefer a shredded hardwood mulch made from all natural wood such as fallen trees. The majority of our in-house mulch comes from arborists who have cut down or pruned trees and need us to recycle it into garden beds. Dyes, if they are used, consist solely of iron oxide (which can be great for your beds needing more iron) or just carbon for the black mulches. Keep in mind that if you are using a black mulch that is dyed with carbon, you will need to rebalance the soil by adding some all-nitrogen fertilizer such as a 15-0-0.

Another solution we use for dark and black mulches is to partially compost the mulch or mix it with an existing compost. At the end of the day mulch is not just decorative, it is designed to break down and amend the soil as freshly composted nutrients wash into and break down into a rich loam. Cheaper bagged mulch is often dried out and actually will repel moisture instead trapping it and keeping it in the soil.

Mulch over cardboard weed barrier.If weed control is one of your goals with mulch you might consider putting down a base layer of cardboard to act as a weed barrier. This all natural product (don’t use the glossy stuff) efficiently controls most weeds and is an excellent solution for helping the soil to retain moisture. Inks in all modern cardboard printing is vegetable based and will not harm your garden. Top your cardboard off with a nice hardwood mulch and the cardboard and mulch will slowly break down to provide nutrients for your soil as it does its job as decorative finish.

The biggest mistake we see with mulch is two-fold: Not raking out old mulch, and adding too much mulch. This phenomenon is most pronounced under trees that have been “mulched” by less scrupulous landscape companies. If you’ve seen mulch “volcanoes” underneath trees then you’ve seen what we’re talking about: 12″-24″ of mulch piled up against the a tree like a miniature mulch volcano with the tree trunk erupting from the middle. Do not do this! Not only is the mulch trapping moisture against the bark of the tree, which can lead to fungal infections, but this practice often results in roots rising up and eventually girdling the tree and killing it.

Properly applied, mulch should be 1″-2″ deep on the ground underneath the tree canopy and extending out to the drip edge. Depending on the size, age, and water requirements of the tree some gardeners make a small berm 4″-6″ tall around the outside of the canopy drip edge. This allows irrigation methods such as using a flood bubbler to deeply water the roots under the mulch circle.

If you’re refreshing mulch, rake out the old mulch first. Adding new mulch over old mulch that hasn’t properly broken down just compounds the problem. If you have old mulch like this, and you are sure it’s an all-natural mulch, simply remove it and add it to your compost bin where it can continue to break down slowly. Now you can replenish the mulch with a moist fresh batch of all natural wood and hopefully a little compost mix as well.

Need help with your irrigation or sprinkler system? Does your garden need an overhaul or just a general checkup? Give us a call at 877-558-1496, or drop us a line and contact us here, to find out how Desiree can help you create a wonderful garden with a budget you can afford.

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Mid June Garden Update

A newly hatched Praying MantisThe summer sun has the soil warmed up nicely for all of our heat loving plants. Peppers, eggplants, cucumbers, squash, and beans should all be in the ground now. Tomatoes are likely big enough at this point that they, and other tall plants, would benefit from a cage or stake to support them. Don’t forget to prune suckers from tomato plants, and keep an eye out for hornworms that can destroy your crop.

Speaking of hornworms, it’s time to keep an eye out for other pests, and the beneficial insects that eat them. Our praying mantises have hatched, and the ladybugs are out in force patrolling for aphids. Spiders, wasps, small snakes and toads all contribute their share to pest control in your garden. While many people dislike these creepy crawlies, they are a necessary part of a healthy ecosystem in your garden. If you do find pests, you can mix a small amount of dishwashing liquid and spray them down. Diatomaceous earth powder works too, but it does not discriminate and will harm the beneficial insects as much as the pests. For snails and slugs traps work very well, and you can make your own by setting out a shallow dish or jar top filled with cheap beer.

There are also some pests where you’ll have to make a judgement call: Swallowtail caterpillars absolutely love dill and fennel, and can denude a plant in just a few days, but if you kill the caterpillars you won’t have the beautiful butterflies they turn into. Gulf Frilly caterpillars love Passion Flower vines and their voracious appetites can reduce the number of amazing blooms you get, but again: No caterpillars, no butterflies. In our experience, simply having healthy plants is usually enough that the caterpillars can get their fill and the plant can survive just fine.

The weather lately here in North Texas has brought us an abundance of rain, but anyone who has lived in Texas very long knows that this rarely lasts. As the rains taper off and the heat continues, it will be more and more important to water appropriately. Deep soaking watering is vastly preferable to more frequent shallow watering as it will encourage the growth of strong deep roots. If you are hand watering or using a sprinkler you should water very early morning to minimize evaporation. In the same manner, drip irrigation is even better as it applies water to the soil directly where it is needed. You can cover your drip lines with mulch to further eliminate evaporation of the water.

Speaking of mulch, you can’t really go wrong applying another layer of mulch around your plants. Not only does this help to conserve soil moisture as alluded to above, but it will also suppress weed growth and help stabilize soil temperature. We use organic materials like straw, wood chips, and even shredded leaves as mulch, and place it over a layer of cardboard or newspaper (junk mail works too, just not the glossy stuff.) If you get mulch from a garden center or nursery, you should avoid dyed mulch. Red and black dyed mulch is the most common, but the chemicals in the dyes can have negative effects on your plants. A good 100% hardwood or cypress mulch is what we recommend, and it looks just as good as a fancy dyed mulch.

It’s also time to start harvesting some of your plants! Blackberries, plums, green onions, and asparagus are already starting to ripen. If you grow asparagus, this should be your last harvest of the year and the plant should be allowed to rejuvenate as an ornamental until the next harvest.

June is also the time to plant annual flowers that thrive in the warm weather. Consider colorful options such as cocks comb, marigolds, zinnias, cosmos, petunias, and sunflowers. Most of these plants appreciate full sun. Prepare your annual beds with a good mix of compost, landscapers mix, and top off with mulch.

Remember, specific gardening tasks can vary depending on the microclimate and individual garden conditions within North Texas, and readers to the north or south of Zone 8 will have slightly different timing.

Give us a call at 877-558-1496, or drop us a line and contact us here, to find out how Desiree can help you create a wonderful garden with a budget you can afford.

Ditching Lawns for Lush, Diverse Gardens.

From the AP: America’s love affair with the lawn is getting messy

More and more people are getting away from plain, boring lawns, and moving to diverse gardens that provide abundant color, texture, and foliage, while at the same time providing ample resources for pollinators such as bees and butterflies.

From the article: Monrovia, a major grower of plants for nurseries and other outlets, has seen lots of interest in a “Garden of Abundance” trend -– a more “alive-looking” yard with a variety of plants, says company trend watcher Katie Tamony. She says it’s a way of thinking about your yard “as not just being yours, but part of a more beautiful, larger world that we’re trying to create.”

Plants that attract pollinators were the category most sought-after in a survey of Monrovia’s customers, she said.

Many counties and municipalities have jumped on board as well, and are encouraging residents who transform their yards into diverse gardens by handing out placards and yard signs. Native plants, as opposed to monoculture lawns, are an environmental boon not just to pollinators, but they also consume much less water than a traditional lawn. Even those who continue to maintain their lawns are moving to native grasses that can better tolerate droughts and require very little additional watering.

Throughout the pandemic, and even with it drawing to a close, more and more people are seeking to create their own little safe havens where they live. With the huge increase of people working from home, it’s become paramount to have more natural beauty and lush green landscapes and gardens are one way people seek that out.

Whether it’s a small balcony garden of potted plants, a collection of indoor tropicals and succulents, or a large outdoor garden with hardscapes and water features, Desiree Gardens can help you create the garden space of your dreams.

Contact us today for a free one hour consultation to see how we can help you achieve your dreams.