Looking for expert advice from someone like you but with years of experience doing what they love? Well look no further. LandscapeTexas.org has enlisted the expertise of a Texas lawn and garden blogger to pass along some tips and tricks that won't only solve some everyday headaches, but inspire you as well.


Spring

A rose is a rose is a rose, unless it's an easy care rose, and then it's a dream come true 

I never understood all the fuss about roses. Sure, they're beautiful and fragrant and romantic, but who wants a plant that's finicky, disease prone and covered in thorns? Not me.  But then I started hearing about Knock Out roses and other easy care roses that were winning gardeners' hearts all over the state.  I tried a Knock-Out, and it was love at first bloom. And now that's it's spring,  I'm on the lookout for other disease resistant repeat bloomers to try. A visit to Texas A&M's Earth-Kind rose list has piqued my interest in Perle d'Or and Cecile Bruner, especially given that a rose has to prove in longterm field trials that it can thrive in high heat, high humidity and less than perfect soils in order to make the list. So if you're a budding rosarian who's considering adding roses to your landscape, check out the Earth-Kind list. And if that gets you dreaming about a field of roses in your backyard,  consult  a certified landscape or nursery professional in your area for an even longer list of easy care roses.  And while you're at it,  check out all the other helpful bits of gardening and landscape information here at Landscape Texas.

For more about low-maintenance roses for Texas: 

http://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/earthkindroses/

http://www.hgtv.com/gardening/growing-groundcover-roses/index.html

http://www.csmonitor.com/The-Culture/Gardening/diggin-it/2010/0201/The-top-easy-care-roses


Do-it-yourself front yard makeover

You just bought a house you really love.  Every time you step inside the front door, you can't help but smile.  It really is your dream house.  Only trouble is, you don't feel the same way when you're going out the door.  That's when you have to look at the front yard.  And it's definitely not the landscape of your dreams.  What were the previous owners thinking!?

You know that simply plopping a few new plants in the ground isn't going to help much.  Your yard needs a major makeover.  But your bank account needs time to recover after that big down payment on the house.  So you can either put on a thick pair of rose-colored glasses, or roll up your sleeves and get to work.  Maybe you can't afford professional help just yet, but there are a few things you can do to get things moving in the right directions.

  • Collect pictures of landscape designs, and check out professionally designed landscapes in your neighborhood.  Make notes about what you like and what you don't like.  Browse the photo galleries of TNLA member sites (Such as Southern Botanical and McDugaldSteele).
  • If your yard is seriously dated (a generic single-file row of plants along the foundation and property lines), you'll probably want to create wider planting areas, at the very least.  Consider replacing oversized or drab shrubs and perennials arranged two or three deep, with smaller plants placed in front of larger ones (check the mature size listed on the label).
  • Add seasonal blooms, but keep in mind that foliage can add interest too, so seek out plants with red, purple, or variegated leaves in a variety of textures.  Think about shapes tooa tall slender conifer placed near a full-figured viburnum creates a compelling contrast.
  • Set aside ample space for hardscape and trees.  Stone walkways, arbors, and benches add function and create "the bones" of your landscape, the framework that you see year-round, when flowers are in bloom and when they're not.
  • And finally, create a focal point.  Depending on the size of your yard, a small ornamental tree or a large potted agave might be all you need.  Or try a piece of sculpture or a bird bath to balance the size and shape of other landscape elements.  A focal point provides a pleasant place for your eyes to rest.  And it can also help to distract you from elements that aren't so easy on the eyes.

When the time is right for you and your budget, consult a certified professional to help you take your lanscape to the next level.

Click here for more ideas for transforming your outdoor spaces!

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An edible retrofit

You paid a pro to landscape your yard, and you love the way it looks, but now you want to add some edibles.  The good news is you don't have to say goodbye to that well-designed look.  Here are five subtle but aesthetically pleasing ways to work edibles into your landscape:

1. Plant a grapevine in a large attractive containeer filled with good quality potting mix and train it to grow on a trellis attached to a wooden privacy fence.  The vine will need regular water, slow-release fertilizer, and 4 to 6 hours of sun.  A certified nursery professional can tell you which grape varieties will grow best in your part of the state.

2. Plant a peach, pear, or apple tree at the sunny end of a perennial border that contains winter and spring bloomers and winter blooming annuals.  After the fruit is harvested and the tree has dropped its leaves, the winter sun shining through the bare limbs will help the flowers around the base of the tree strut their stuff.

3. In late February, or any time during a mild winter, plant small drifts of leafy lettuces, spicy purple mustard, and curly kale anywhere you find a bare sunny spot.  In early spring, carve out a space in front of a grouping of shrubs or a large agave and plant red Swiss chard transplants (depending on your existing landscape palette, you might want to choose yellow or orange chard).  Arrange the plants in a pleasing pattern and space them 8 to 10 inches apart.  To harvest, pick leaves as needed for cooking, but don't pull out the whole plant.  Winter greens and lettuces continue to produce new leaves as long as their growing tips and roots are left undisturbed.

4. Fill a galvanized metal tub with a good potting mix and slow-release fertilizer and plant a mix of purple mustard greens and green kale.  Using a hammer and nail, make holes around the base of the tub for drainage.  Set the tub of greens on a sunny south-facing porch or patio and be prepared to smile and nod to passersby who ooh and ahh at the sight of your colorful and multi-textured display of greens.

5. In a sunny sideyard, install a metal or wooden trellis (4 ft. by 6 ft. works well) or small arbor and plant runner beans or vining lima beans.  Keep seeds evenly moist until they germinate and sprout.  Water regularly through the growing season, and pick beans often so they will keep blooming and producing.  In most parts of the state, beans can be planted in early fall and again in spring as soon as the soil warms.  A vining bean in bloom is a lovely sight, but most folks would probably agree that it's not nearly as lovely as a mandevilla vine in bloom.  The bean, however, is the winner in the good eating department.

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Green gift ideas from your garden

Looking for green gift ideas?  How about an edible bouquet of garden greens?

An arrangement of Swiss chard, fennel, and baby carrots with green tops makes a lovely gift for a dinner party hostess who appreciates fresh, homegrown food.  Wash the vegetables, trim stems as desired, and place in a glass vase filled with water.  Or if the hostess is a foodie who loves Italian-inspired recipes, present her with a pesto bouquet.  Place leafy cuttings of Red Rubin basil, sweet basil, and lemon basil in a small vase filled with water.  And finally, if the hostess is particularly health-conscious, consider giving her a mixed bouquet of fresh kale (green curled, winter red, and blue curled) wrapped in brown wax paper and tied with jute string.

A potted rose is a gift that keeps on giving

Plant a white KnockOut rose in a white ceramic pot and present it as a wedding gift.  Add some slow-release fertilizer to the potting mix (if it odesn't already contain fertilizer).  Wrap a length of white ribbon around the pot and tie the ends into a bow.  Attach your greeting card to the bow.  A white rose as a wedding gift celebrates youth and innocence and sends best wishes for a life filled with love and growth.

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e planted in earlyDon't stop wateringWater Smart
 

Adopt these watering practices and you'll be watering smarter:

1. Water plants deeply, but less frequently, to encourage deep root growth and drought tolerance.

2. Use drip irrigation or soaker hoses for shrubs, trees and vegetables to reduce evaporation and apply water directly to the root.  Consider installing a timer so you don't have to remember to turn the water off.

3. Use a rain barrel, storage tank or buckets to capture rainwater from your downspouts for use in watering your garden.

4. Water in the morning or evening when temperatures are cooler to minimize evaporation.

5. Adjust sprinklers and drip irrigators so only your lawn is watered and not the house, sidewalk, or street.  Regularly inspect irrigation systems to make sure they're working properly.

Click here for more information about the state's Water Smart initiative!

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Get the dirt on your dirt

Healthy soil is key to a healthy and happy landscape, whether you're growing vegetables or ornamentals.  Here are 5 easy steps to improve the health of your soil.

1. Get a soil test to find out if your soil has any major deficiencies.

2. At least once a year, turn two or three inches of compost into your planting areas, or top dress with a mixture of compost and mulch.  Top turf areas with one inch of compost.

3. Keep all planting area covered with at least two inches of mulch.  Wood chips, dry leaves, pine needles, or coarse compost are all good options.

4. In vegetable gardens, rotate crops when possible or alternate with cover crops (buckwheat and field peas, for example)

5. Use herbicides as as last resort if at all, and if you have pest problems, follow the guidlines of Integrated Pest Management.

For more information about soils and optimum growing conditions, consult a certified professional landscaper or nursery professional in your area.

Click here for more information about healthy soil!   And for even more information, click here!

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Tough growing conditions call for tough plants

No one ever said that Texas was an easy place to live.  At any given time, depending on what corner of the state you're in, it's either way too hot, way too wet, way too dry, way too cold, or not nearly cold enough.  Rarely is it just right.  (OK, maybe it's just right for a few months in spring and again in fall.)  Needless to say, these weather extremes are hard on plants as well as people.  And since your plants can't get up and run indoors every time they get too hot or too cold, it's best to choose plants that are well-adapted to your area.  A certified landscape or nursery professional can help you choose perennials, shrubs and trees that will enhance your outdor living spaces and thrive despite the wily ways of Texas weather.  If you've got a problem area because of less than ideal growing conditions, you might want to give one or more of these reliable tough guys a try:

Coneflower: Pretty and pink and very versatile.  It blooms well in sun or partial sun, and can adapt to just about any soil type or moisture level.  It grows taller (up to 3 feet) and blooms bigger when it gets plenty of water, but once established, it will do its best to bloom a little even in very dry, low light conditions.  A true troooper.  And birds and butterflies love it.

Purpleheart: Careful where you drop a piece of this passionate groundcover.  It can set down roots in the blink of an eye with almost no water an very little soil, which explains why this very determined survivor can be a nuisance if it's not contained.  But if you've got it where you want it, you will love its reliability and its color.  A hard freeze will knock it back, but it will quickly return as soon as nighttime temperatures remain above freezing.  Can be trimmed for a tidy look or left wild and unruly.

Cast Iron plant: The perfect plant for deep shade.  Even small amounts of summer sun can damage this evergreen plant, leaving brown, crunchy edges on its large, dark green leaves.  But in the right spot, it's a miracle plant that will survive heavy rain, no rain, extreme heat, extreme cold, and even slow draining soil.  Just keep it out of direct sun.

Rose of Sharon: Once established, this reliable old-time garden favorite will bloom its heart out during rainy growing seasons and sit quietly during dry growing seasons.  It's not fussy about soil and it will still manage to pop out a few blooms in very low light conditions.  It is happiest in dappled sun and partial sun.  The lovely hibiscus-like florwers come in many colors and shapes.  Considered a small, ornamental tree, but now also comes in dwarf sizes.

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Garden to table cooking is easy when you add herbs and vegetables to your landscape

Many homeowners make room for tomatoes, but what about Swiss chard?  Or fennel and kale?  There's not time like the present to start growing your own vegetables so you can make healthy dinners at home.  And there's nothing quite like stepping outside your back door to gather vegetables and herbs for your evening meal.  Your kids will probably want to helpvegetable gardens are popping up in school yards all over the country, and Texas schools are no exception.  Here's a simple but tasty tomato salad recipe to get you started:

Panzanella (Italian Bread Salad)

8-9 large homegrown tomatoes, coarsely chopped

Handful of salad tomatoes, halved

1 cup sweet basil leaves, cut in thin strips

3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced

8 1-inch thick slices of day old baguette, cut into cubes

1 cup cucumber, peeled and cubed

1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced

3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

1/2 cup red wine vinegar

Salt and pepper to taste

1/4 cup freshly grated parmesano reggiano cheese

Lightly salt tomatoes and onion slices, place in a bowl and set aside for 10 minutes.  In another bowl, stir garlic into 1/4 cup olive oil, add bread cubes and toss until bread is well coated.  Place bread on baking sheet and bake in a 375 degree over until toasty and brown, but not blackened, about 10 minutes.  Place bread on towel to absorb excess oil.  Combine and lightly toss tomato and onion mixture with basil, cucumber, vinegar and the remaining olive oil.  Add salt and pepper to taste, then toss with toasted brtead cubes.  Top with grated cheese and serve immediately.

For more garden recipe ideas, click here!  For more, click here!  Want even more?  Click here!

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Got shade?  Lucky you.

With just a little planning, you can turn an unappealing, low-light area into a place that beckons you to come sit for a while.  Of course you can't grow sunflowers or tomatoes there, but you can grow lush ground covers with bright blooms and variegated foliage, and multi-textured ferns and lilies.  Add a comfortable bench and a winding mulch-covered path and you've got a restful retreat.  Here are a few plants you might want to include in your shady retreat.

Flax lily: This graceful and tender perennial adds a bright splash of white to a dark corner.

White or red turk's cap: A good choice for dry or moist shade.  Hummingbirds and butterflies love it.

Salvia coccinea: An easy care native that blooms (in white or red) in the shade.  Reseeds freely.

Cast Iron plant: The large dark green strappy leaves of the Cast Iron plant add a tropical touch to a dry or moist shade garden.


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