Dear Friends,


This is the 11th issue of our weekly gardening newsletter for Houston, the Gulf Coast and beyond. This a project of The Lazy Gardener, Brenda Beust Smith, John Ferguson and Mark Bowen (both John and Mark are with Nature's Way Resources). We also have a great cast of contributing writers who will chime in regularly. We would love to keep receiving your input on this newsletter . . . . comments . . . . suggestions . . . . questions. . . .Email your thoughts to: Thanks so much for your interest.
Please .








A weed is no more  
than a flower in disguise, 
which is seen through at once 
if love give a man eyes 


- James Russell Lowell

Interesting dilemma now challenging wildflower watchers, and we home gardeners can help.  

It seems our now-common vesuvian weathers - most notably for us cooler winter temperatures and lots of rain - are starting to play havoc with both wildflowers and garden bloomers. 

As Chris LaChance, WaterSmart Landscaping Program Coordinator, noted: "This year Monarchs arrived/laid eggs before hardly any of my milkweed had leafed out."  (Butterflyweed is a milkweed.)

What does this mean for our "Habitat Highways," as Chris christened the available food/nesting pathways wildlife follows on its annual south-north-south treks?

That's what's worrying folks who (thank you!) monitor these things for the rest of us.

They'd like our help, according to Angela Chandler, Houston area horticulturist who lectures groups on creating both habitat and pollinator habitats (among other topics). 

She urges home gardeners to participate in Project Bud Burst, a National Science Foundation/Chicago Botanic Garden project. As a participant, she will add local information from their website to her own notations. Individuals monitor a plant(s) and report bloom times. They even have an app for people to use. 

Monitoring bloom times is easy, managing bloom times is hard. But perhaps the data collected will help with this. Hopefully in a future issue of this newsletter, Angela will update information on this topic.

In the meantime, treasure wildflowers in bloom now. Bluebonnets maybe weren't as beautiful as usual this spring.  But our recent trek to Fredericksburg via the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin was eye-popping with yellow coreopsis, crimson clover, white poppies, purple verbena, pink buttercups*, and lavender thistles, to name just a few. At  Wildseed Farms  outside Fredericksburg, John Thomas said he's seeing only a slight (week or so) delay in blooms. 

You don't even need to go that far to see incredible coreopsis: 




Coreopsis are delightful all over on roadsides throughout Texas and, as you can see above, in the cemetery on Broadway in Galveston. A tip o' the trowel to those who delayed the cemetery mowings. 

We can thank Lady Bird Johnson and John Thomas of Wildseed as two of the prime movers in making sure we have beautiful wildflowers on our Texas roadsides. 

John developed a wildflower seeding machine (it's a lot more complex than throwing seed around!). And Lady Bird (incredible woman that she was) stopped the Highway Department from mowing down all the emerging wildflowers by focusing not on the beauty they'd produce, but on how much money the state would (and does!) save by cutting out the first two mowings.  


Think about Lady Bird and John when you delight in our colorful roadsides.  All these wildflowers used to be mowed down before they could bloom. 


If you can't tell a lot of the yellow wildflowers apart, don't take it personally.  Neither can many so-called experts!  They even have a word for it: DYC.  (Damn Yellow Composites).

The problem is that flowers cross and change in nature, so many exhibit the various characteristics of totally different flowers!  Don't sweat it.  Just enjoy.

Don't recognize a lot of our wildflowers?  Here's a little primer:

COREOPSIS (pictured above in the cemetery): in other regions, these are used to make a mahogany red dye for yard, and was used by early Americans as a coffee substitute and to encourage fertility. (Don't try this or any other edible experimentation without extensive research on varieties!)




BUTTERCUPS / EVENING PRIMROSES: In this area we call these buttercups.  In other regions, "buttercups" are yellow.  Ours are so-called because if you smush one on someone's nose, it'll turn "buttery-yellow" from the pollen inside.  "Butter in a cup" - get it?  

Another name is evening primrose (altho they're not related to real primroses). Oenothera (botanical name) roots and shoots were used as a food by early Americans (and others), and were said to speed healing of wounds and bruises when used as polutices. The oil was used to stop PMS pain, and some even used it to aid in childbirth. (Again, varieties may have mutated over the centuries! Don't try this at home.)


My heart-felt thanks to those who sent in caladium substitute suggestions based on my plea last week:

Colchester White Dusty Miller,  
Centaurea cineraria  'Colchester White' 
ANGELA CHANDLER: (I told you she's good!) My favorite "white" for drought tolerant gardens is Colchester White Dusty Miller, Centaurea cineraria 'Colchester White'.  It is dependable all the time.  It will take OCCASIONAL wet feet for short periods, but not long term.  It is advertised for full sun, but I love it at the feet of taller roses that sometimes has 'bare legs' in the summer.  It takes heavy shearing very well, but if left alone it just forms a billowy mound of white.  More white than silver, and not a wimp like annual Dusty Miller.  It's beautiful. I gave cuttings to Treesearch several years ago, and I think they are propagating it.

DIANE PRICE: You could use Kaempferia's. There are many varieties. They might not be completely white, but many have white spots. They last most of the season and come back year after year.  They love the shade. You'll probably find some at Jerry's Jungle Garden sales and, of course, Treesearch Farms and March Mart (Mercer Arboretum & Botanic Gardens).

Cora species of Vinca
GERRY: I have been growing Cora species of Vinca for several years. They (include) two versions of white -- one with a tiny fusia or red center and the other one is all white.  They bloom all summer with very little watering.  They withstand the winters very well -- biggest problem is that reseed themselves so if they do freeze, wait until warm weather and there will be tons of tiny seedlings coming up. I have been giving my seedlings away and then just hoe the rest  off.  Sometimes the stalks will come back up  after a freeze from the roots.  I prune mine when they become scraggley or too tall and then they bush out and continue to bloom.  Mine get sun most of the day. Get lots of comments about them. 

Thanks and I plan to take my own advice to always try a few of a lot of different things, rather than putting in tons of one plant, for a lot of reasons. Not the least of these is is that if you decide you don't like it - or, worse yet, it doesn't like you! - then you've wasted a lot of time, energy and money.

"THE LAZY GARDENER'S GUIDE ON CD" - Specifically for Houston Area gardens - WHAT TO DO EACH MONTH -when to fertilize, prune, plant what where, best plants for sun, shade, butterflies, hummingbirds, etc. Based on Brenda's quirky 40+ year Houston Chronicle Lazy Gardener column. PDF format, print out only the  month you need.  $20 total, checks payable to Brenda B. Smith. Mail to: Lazy Gardener's Guide on CD, 14011 Greenranch Dr., Houston, TX  77039-2103. 
"THE LAZY GARDENER'S GUIDE ON CD" - Specifically for Houston Area gardens - WHAT TO DO EACH MONTH - when to fertilize, prune, plantwhat where, best plants for sun, shade, butterflies, hummingbirds,etc. Based on Brenda's quirky 40+ year Houston Chronicle Lazy Gardener column. PDF format, print out only the month you need.  $20 total, checks payable to Brenda B. Smith. Mail to: Lazy Gardener's Guide on CD, 14011Greenranch Dr., Houston, TX 77039-2103.

For correspondence that is specific to Brenda, feel free to email her directly at 

May 25: The Houston Area Daylily Society in conjunction with the Houston Hemerocallis Society and Cypress Creek Daylily Club will be hosting their annual Daylily Show and Plant Sale at the Gethsemane Lutheran Church located at 4040 Watonga, Houston, Texas 77092. The Flower Show is from 1:00 -3:00 pm and the plant sale will begin at 10 am until sold out.  Admission is free. 
May 25: 9 am-5 pm. Jerry's Jungle Gardens Plant Sale, private collection, 712 Hill Road. Daylilies, crinums, gingers are blooming,  and NEW Plants from recent collecting. . 
May 25: Butterfly and Hummingbird Gardening 101 Clinic, 10:15 am at both Cornelius Nursery locations, 1200 N. Dairy Ashford and 2233 S. Voss;  Free. 

May 28: 7:30 p.m., Hibiscus Society Program at the Garden Center in Herman Park, speaker: John Ferguson, topic: soil food web, for more information contact John Newton at 832-222-2965.


June 1: 10 am, The Arbor Gate. Attend a Field Trial without the Field; Saturday, June 1, 2013

Hear about & see the latest breeding of ever-popular caladiums. We'll have the latest introductions from the past 5 years to see, as well as the newest trial varieties to evaluate & vote on. Let your voice be heard - here's a chance to let the breeder know what you, the public, wants to see come to market. All your votes & comments will be compiled & added to the trial results for 2013, out of which 6-8 new varieties will be chosen. This is part of a formal field trial, that usually only large growers & university researchers get to attend - so come on out & give us your opinion! For more information, visit  .

June 1, 2013 - Designing your outdoor spaces with naturally inspired elements.

Learn key tips to boost the look of your Texas landscape. Sometimes we all need a little help getting started with a project. Join us as we walk through the basics of landscaping. From soil preparation, to a simple design, to selecting plants... we'll help you get started. We promise!

Join us at 10:15 a.m. for the clinic, Landscape Design 101. This 10:15 a.m. clinic takes place both Cornelius Nursery locations. Learn more at


June 3: Open Garden Day The Harris County Master Gardeners at Precinct 2 will be hosting Open Garden Days twice monthly during June, July and August on 1st & 3rd Mondays.  Hours are from 8:30 am - 11:00 am.  Master Gardeners will be on hand to answer your gardening questions and will present educational programs from 9:30 am - 10:30 am for children & adults. Programs for June 3: For Children -  "Plant Identification Game & For Adults - "Why is Plant Identification Necessary." Where:  Genoa Friendship Garden, 1202 Genoa Red Bluff, Houston, TX  77034.


June 4: 7 p.m. The Butterfly Enthusiasts of Southeast Texas 
(BEST-NABA) Meeting on Tuesday, June 4 at 7PM at The Museum of Natural Science in the Cockrell Butterfly Center.  Mark Bowen will be our speaker at our June 4th meeting. His talk will be about managing your natural habitat garden organically. He will explore some state of the art organically techniques and trouble shooting tips for managing and enhancing your natural habitat in a manner that is butterfly/wildlife friendly. He is the author of the books Habitat Gardening for Houston and Southeast Texas  and Naturalistic Landscaping for the Gulf CoastMeetings are held on the first Tuesday of every other month starting in February at The Houston Museum of Natural Science in the lower floor of the Cockrell Butterfly Center at 7:00PM. For more information go to 

June 8, 2-5 p.m., USGBC Program at the Bernhardt Winery, 9043 CR 204 

Plantersville TX 77363, speaker: John Ferguson, topic: soil food web, wine tasting included, 


June 8: 10 am, Tomato Contest. Judges will choose winners in the categories of largest fruit and best tasting fruit. Don't miss out on the fun! For entry and category information, please go to  and click on Class Schedule. FREE AND OPEN TO THE PUBLIC, CHILDREN WELCOME!  

June 8: 9:30 a.m. - 3:00 p.m. The Plumeria Society of America will hold two sales this year (June 8 & July 20). There will be a Gorgeous Bloom display of the flowers available, an 'Ask the Experts' table plus door prizes throughout the day. Arrive early for best selection. For more information visit   or Like us on Facebook. Bay Area Community Center, 5002 NASA Rd 1 Seabrook, TX (Clear Lake area)


June 8: 10:15 a.m. Learn the naturally inspired colors of the Summer garden!

Spring gardening in Texas is a joy ... then summer arrives. Some folks might shut the door and crank up the A/C but not true Texas gardeners! With the right information and the right plants, your landscape becomes a canvas for a Summer show of natural color. Let us provide suggestions for plants that thrive in our Texas heat. Learn the best site selections and important care tips. Join us at 10:15 a.m. for the clinic, Choosing Summer Plant Options.

This 10:15 a.m. clinic takes place both Cornelius Nursery locations. Learn more at


June 9: 1:30 - 3:30 p.m. Introduction to Beekeeping. Lecture by John Berry

at Wabash Antiques & Feed Store,


Honeybees are an integral part of our food production system. You can enjoy the benefits of their pollination, and honey more easily than you might think. Join us for a two-hour class meant to help you get started keeping bees. Topics covered included: honeybee biology and behavior, beekeeping history, and beekeeping equipment, including beehive parts and their functions. 


There will be plenty of question and answer time included at the end of the class.


June 9: American Hibiscus Society/Lone Star Chapter Show and Sale, 1-4 pm, Bellaire Community Center 7008 S. Rice, Bellaire, TX  


June 12: Mercer Arboretum & Botanic Gardens. Lunch Bunch. Wed., June 12, noon - 2 pm, Spring Creek and Harris County Precinct 4 Greenway Projects: With just a few miles of connecting trails, the Spring Creek Greenway and adjoining Cypress Creek Greenway have the potential to connect over 300 miles of existing hard surface and equestrian trails, as well as many Precinct 4 parks and natural spaces from Humble to Tomball. Join Mike Howlett, greenway project manager, for an overview of the largest forested urban corridor in the United States, and discover the multitude of flora, fauna, and recreational opportunities that abound here.  Anyone seeking additional information or requiring special assistance to participate in any program should contact Mercer at 281-443-8731 or online at .


June 17. Open Garden Day. The Harris County Master Gardeners at Precinct 2 will be hosting Open Garden Days twice monthly during June, July and August on 1st & 3rd Mondays.  Hours are from 8:30 am - 11:00 am.  Master Gardeners will be on hand to answer your gardening questions and will present educational programs from 9:30 am - 10:30 am for children & adults. Programs on June 17: For Children - "Butterflies" & For Adults - "Irrigation for your Home Gardens." Where:  Genoa Friendship Garden, 1202 Genoa Red Bluff, Houston, TX  77034. FREE AND OPEN TO THE PUBLIC, CHILDREN WELCOME!

June 19, 10 am. Master Gardener Lecture Series. Suzy Fischer will be speaking on "Edible Landscape". She is a founding and current board member of Urban Harvest.  Her mission is to promote healthy communities and sound nutrition by educating the public. FREE AND OPEN TO THE PUBLIC. Where:  The Meeting Room at Clear Lake Park (on the lakeside), 5001 NASA Parkway,  Seabrook, TX  77586.

July 12: 11a.m., Brazoria County Master Gardeners, Texas AgriLife Extension Office, 21017 County Road 171, Angleton, spearker: John Ferguson, topic: composting (back yard and small scale), for more information contact Dana Morisse-Arnold (979) 864-7713. 


July 17, 10 a.m., Harris County Master Gardeners, Pct. 2 at Clear Lake Park, speaker: John Ferguson, topic: health and the environment, for more information contact Edie LeBourgeoisat at  (281) 998-7660.   


July 20th: 9:30 a.m. - 3:00 p.m. The Plumeria Society of America will hold its second sale in July. There will be a Gorgeous Bloom display of the flowers available, an 'Ask the Experts' table plus door prizes throughout the day. Arrive early for best selection.     For more information    or Like us on Facebook. Location: Fort Bend County Fairgrounds  3350 Hwy 36S--Rosenberg, TX.  

Recipe for Success has summer internships available. For more information, visit 


Sharing Your Love of Orchids with Kids.

Sandy Stubbings, Education Committee, American Orchid Society.

What can the American Orchid Society do to interest the youth of today in orchids? That is the question that has been consistently addressed by the Education Committee of the AOS. For any orchid lovers who are involved in Girl Scouting, we have developed an Interest Project and iron-on Patch. The Interest Project is written out and ready to administer. Since we are just beginning to explore possibilities, we are eager to work with Scout personnel to modify and/or develop the requirements for issuing the patch or to have your girls work on the Interest Project as formulated, earn the patch and evaluate it. Both the project and/or patch are available for your use (at the cost of postage) by contacting Sandy at


Several leaders who have contacted us have had very good project ideas for girls to earn the patch. Many requirements of the American Orchid Society Interest project can be fulfilled at an orchid show. One excellent idea is to have Girl Scouts help with local shows to earn patches and many of the requirements of the ready - to - use project can be met in this way.


If Girl Scouts are interested in assisting other children, there are several available activities they can put together and use at an orchid show. The activities can be made into a "Kid's Corner" and the Girl Scouts can put it all together and supervise it on a rotating schedule during the show. The activities have been successfully used and tested at several Houston Orchid Society and SWROGA Shows. Again, please contact Sandy Stubbings at for further information.


Submit calendar items to  Events must be submitted by the sponsoring organization. Please note: "garden calendar request" in the subject line.
Need speakers for your group?  Brenda's "Lazy Gardener's Speakers List" of area horticultural/environmental experts is available free for the asking. Email your request to:





MULCH CORNER                                    








Last week we talked about Redwood mulches available in Houston area and along the Gulf Coast. This week we are going to look at the best type of mulch "Native Mulch".


For years gardening experts have claimed that this was the best mulch of all and scientific research has backed them up. "Native" mulch is made from recycled fresh green tree and brush material that was recently alive and comes directly from a grinding operation. The Texas Association of Nurserymen (TAN) recognized "Native Mulches" as a separate class of mulches from barks and other materials in their 1997 product directory. Native mulches are available as fresh ground or aged (composted) and in many variations.


Native mulches started becoming available in recent years as society became aware of the importance of recycling brush and tree trimmings instead of burning them or placing them in a landfill. Recent research has found that mulches made from recycled native trees are the highest quality available. They are also among the lowest in cost by offering real value since they are made locally and do not have high transportation costs associated with them.


Local native mulch is produced from a mixture of native trees (primarily hardwoods), conifers, brush and any other species growing in a given area with bark, wood and sometimes leaves included.  Native mulches have a high percentage of buds, shoots, leaves, and cambium bark layers in them. These materials are rich in protein and other nutrients which is why deer and other animals eat them as a food source. These native mulches are many times higher in nutrients than barks. Native mulches encourage biodiversity of beneficial microbes and earthworms in the soil and feed plants as they decompose.


Years ago consumer awareness was the only negative, since the appearance is different than pine bark or shredded hardwood bark. However as these mulches have become more available this perception has changed. Studies and market acceptance have shown that most people prefer the native mulch since it actually looks more natural than barks or other alternatives.


Composted or aged Native Mulch?


Native mulch that is aged or composted first before application is of the highest quality. The heat generated during the composting process kills any pathogens and weed seeds that might have been present. The composting process also concentrates the nutrients contained in the raw material and stabilizes nitrogen.  Additionally, the composting process breaks down the lignin and cellulose contained in the raw material rendering a less attractive home for termites and many pathogens after it is applied. The composting process allows very high levels of beneficial microbes to develop and grow in the mulch increasing its value.

Screened composted native mulch is also an excellent amendment to use in soil mixes as it supplies energy to the soil (stored in its chemical makeup) in the right form for beneficial soil organisms to use. Grinding and screening (particle size) will determine the appropriate usage. A two year study from Texas A&M University (TAMU) has found that native mulch and compost out performed all other erosion control methods. It was also the lowest cost! Research in Florida has confirmed TAMU's work. Research at the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center has found that plants grown in substrates rich in biodegradable organic matter (such as found in Native mulches) support microorganisms that induce systemic resistance to disease (American Nurseryman, October 1, 1997).


As a bonus for those in the South dealing with imported fire ants, using a quality composted native mulches may reduce mound density. Many landscapers, gardeners and others have observed and reported a reduction (not elimination) in the number and size of fire ant mounds on areas where composted native mulches were used. It is believed that the native mulches increase the density of organisms that attack and prey on the fire ants reducing their numbers. This has not been confirmed by rigorous research and would be an interesting area of study for our universities.


In general, a 3-4" thick layer should be used on ornamental beds and 4-6" layer around trees and shrubs. It comes in many formulations and sizes. It is sometimes blended with shredded hardwood bark to obtain a familiar appearance (lowers quality) or with compost to increase the quality even higher. It has been used as a potting media in container grown plants, to root cuttings and often works better than bark for many species of plants.


General benefits: Economical, the composting process concentrates nutrients and stabilizes nitrogen, the heat kills weed seeds and pathogens, improves plant and soil health, sets up quickly to resist blowing or washing out, reported to prevent many plant diseases, encourages microbial biodiversity in the soil, reported to increase tree and plant growth rates. Subject to less freight cost and less transportation that causes pollution hence much more environmentally sensible. The usage of native mulch also saves valuable landfill space or air pollution from burning since it is made from recycled materials. 


Using native mulch also helps reduce greenhouse gasses.  When organic materials are placed in a landfill they undergo anaerobic decomposition producing methane which contributes 23 times more to global warming and some nitrogen oxide which contributes 200X more than carbon dioxide.  Also since native mulches are made from recycled materials they qualify for points in the Sustainable Sites Initiative (future LEED landscaping guidelines).


Note:  Course ground and unscreened composted (aged) native works best from a physical, chemical and biological perspective. However, a screened version is more cosmetically appealing and works better as a soil amendment. Sometimes available in a double ground form that looks similar to some shredded barks.





A question we often get asked is "Can I use the wood ash from my fireplace in my garden?"


The answer is a qualified YES.  Wood ash has a lot of minerals (plant nutrients in it)   however it is very alkaline and too much will change the pH of your soil.  A trick I use is to collect the ash from my fireplace and place the ash into a 5 gallon bucket with a lid on it to keep it dry. 


When there is a breeze and just before it rains, I remove the lid and use my electric blower. I aim the airstream over the bucket and slowly lower it until it starts sucking out the ash and scatters it into the wind.  Note: Do not aim the airstream directly into the bucket or it will get all over you.


The wind will carry a very fine dusting of ash all over the yard. The rain (or sprinklers) will wash the ash into the soil.  The minerals are returned to the soil where the microbes will make them available to the plants.  The later of ash is so small per square foot that it does not affect the pH of the soil. 


The next time I need to get rid of ash I wait till the wind is blowing from a different direction so eventually the whole yard is covered.  I have been doing this for years with great results.




We routinely receive lots of questions about diatamaceous earth. As a result, John decided to take a shot at covering the topic in brief.  




Diatomaceous earth (often abbreviated D.E.) comes from a soft sedimentary rock deposits called "Diatomite".   It is a soft very fine grained rock, rich in silica that is composed of the remains of fossilized diatoms.  Deposits of diatomite are found all over the earth and range in color from white (very pure) to buff, grey and occasionally black.


The deposits were formed by the accumulation of microscopic single celled aquatic plants called diatoms, a form of algae.  Their external skeleton is composed of amorphous hydrous silica (SiO2,nH20) known as opal. They range in size from one micrometer to one millimeter but most are 10-200 micrometers in diameter and they occur in many shapes.


Diatomite is chalky and very light with high porosity, almost chemically inert hence it is very useful in making cement and for use as a filtration medium. Raw dry D.E. can absorb 1.5 to 3 times its weight in water. Processed D.E. can absorb up to six times its weight in water.


Diatoms are single cell aquatic plants that live in fresh or salt water and use silica (quartz mineral) to form their exoskeleton.  When these plants die they settle to the bottom and can form thick layers of sediment that over geologic time becomes diatomite.


The raw rock deposit is refined by crushing, drying, size reduction and calcining depending on the application.


Its name came from its usage as a stabilizing agent for nitroglycerine when making dynamite, hence the name Diatomite.  Its two largest uses are as a filtration media for swimming pools and as a insecticide (swimming pool D.E. does not work as a insecticide as it is processed differently) .


When processed as a non-toxic insecticide, D.E. absorbs lipids away from the outer waxy layer of an insects exoskeletons causing them to dehydrate. Must be uncalcinated ( not heat treated) and be less than 12 microns in size. Spiny diatoms work best for this application. In addition to dehydration D.E. gets caught between their exoskeleton joints and as they move it acts like little razor blades and cuts them up. It must be kept dry to work hence one must reapply after a rain. D.E. is effective on slugs and snails, bed bugs, ants, earwigs, cockroaches, silverfish, crickets, fleas, millipedes, and  centipedes.


Other applications include; filtration for beer, wines and greases, absorbents, toothpaste, pet litter, metal polishes, high temperature insulating material, sound insulation, paints, plastic products and cement. Medical grade D.E. is also used for a de-worming in animals and humans.




                       GOT GARDENING QUESTIONS? 
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Save 20%: Redeem this coupon for a big discount on Nature's Way Resources Fungal Compost ( ). Please note: this offer is for bulk material (by the cubic yard) purchases by retail customers only at Nature's Way Resources, located at 101 Sherbrook Circle, Conroe TX.
Offer Expires: 6/1/13