5 things to help your landscape survive the summer


School is out and summer hot weather has arrived.  with such extreme conditions in summer, what can you do to help your landscape survive and come out healthy in the fall?  Here are 5 things to help your home garden through the summer:
1.       Check your sprinkler system to make sure your programming is compliant and run a sprinkler test to make sure you don’t have any broken heads or lines.  My sprinklers usually run around 3am and I am definitely not out there checking for geysers shooting up from a broken head.  But this can be a common occurrence from lawn mower damage or just system aging.  So choose a day, tell your kids to put on their swimsuits, and have an old-fashioned sprinkler run for the kids while you check to make sure the heads are all operating and facing the right direction. 
2.       Water deeply and infrequently.  Why?  Watering in this fashion encourages plants to develop deep, long roots which can access moisture away from the surface of the soil where it is less likely to have evaporated.  You want to wet your garden or lawn to a depth of 6”.  This usually means adding about 1” of water per week.  How can you measure to see how long you should water to add 1”?  Set out a few straight sided tuna-type cans in an area and turn on your sprinklers for 10 minutes.  Measure the height of the water in the cans and take an average.  Then divide 10 by your average reading.  This will tell you how many minutes it will take you to get 1” of water out of your sprinklers. 
3.       Irrigate when the water is least likely to evaporate before soaking in. Get the most from your system by sticking to the cool early morning hours between 3am and 9am.  Watering at night can promote disease because of the prolonged wet conditions.
4.       Mulch any bare soil in your garden.  Mulching helps reduce moisture evaporation from soil as well as reduces temperature fluctuation for plants. It also reduces the possibility for soil to develop that hard-packed top layer that seems to thwart attempts at getting any shovel into it.  And ultimately, mulches decompose to add organic matter into your garden soil.  So count that as a double incentive to add mulch to your garden.  You can choose from a variety of mulches- hardwood mulch, pine straw, leaves or even sawdust (not from treated lumber, please!)   
5.       Install drip irrigation in appropriate areas.  No, lawns will never be the best place for drip irrigation. But what about some garden beds where you can convert some of the sprinkler heads into drip or micro-sprinklers?  These allow you to place water right where your plants need it and virtually eliminate water evaporation. There are lots of online guides on how to make this conversion.

1st graders end the year showing off potatoes

Last week, the first grade classes finished up their weekly classes in the Titan Gardens with two activities.  The first was the harvesting of the potatoes.  Even though it is a bit early for the harvest, we wanted the kids to get a chance to dig up their potato plants. Since we had a few varieties of potatoes, we knew that one class’ harvest might differ from another.

All but one class had multiple potatoes on the plants they dug up.  And the one that didn’t have as many on all of their plants?  It was the class that had the tallest potato plants all season, “Yukon Gold” variety.   We discussed with the kids how plants can put energy toward growing tall or producing fruits and vegetables, but sometimes they don’t have enough energy to do both in such a short period of time. And sometimes our growing seasons don’t match up perfectly with our school season, so we were definitely digging these guys up a bit early. 

Here they are proudly showing off their potato plants with the little potatoes sticking out. 

So maybe not enough for potato salad for everyone, but we had a blast growing them.  Moms and dads, don’t be surprised when your little one starts sneaking potatoes out of the kitchen and planting them in the ground.  You just might wait to see if anything comes up!

4th graders eat like birds in the garden


In early May, a few 4th grade classes went out to the garden with birds on their mind.  When they arrived in the garden, they had a snack waiting for them composed of foods that a bird would eat.  

Included on the menu was popcorn, sunflower seeds, dried cranberries, worms (the gummy kind, not the dirt-covered kind) and peanut butter.  They also enjoyed sipping nectar from juice boxes.  While enjoying their bird-licious snacks, garden volunteers discussed what native Texas birds eat each of these treats and shared some facts about native Texas birds like cardinals, mockingbirds, hummingbirds and blue jays.

After snacking, the classes took some time to observe changes in the 4th grade planting bed, seeing how the seeds of the bluebonnets had formed and were beginning to dry and how other plants had begun to flower. 

>Don’t Miss Inside Austin Gardens Tour 2011- May 14th

>Today, the Austin Garden Bloggers were treated to a pre-tour showing of 4 of the gardens on the Inside Austin Gardens Tour, presented by the Travis County Master Gardeners.  Every time I do one of these tours, I am amazed with how inspiring looking at other gardens can be.  Even if they are not my style (that is, if I know what my style is) there are always things I take away to incorporate into my gardening, even if just a thought.  Each garden was so different, yet they had all not only defied what the “normal” is in their neighborhood, but had also inspired a few neighbors on their street to take a step in creating more waterwise gardening approaches.

Here are some thoughts that I took away from the gardens:

Rebecca Matthews did a beautiful job of exuding fun in her garden.  From the knitted covers for trees and rocks to the chandelier to the fountains.  I am most definitely going to use her letter wall as inspiration for a letter wall for each of my kids.  Her watering can fountain was amazing and squeezed into the walkway going into her backyard.  Surprises around every corner.
Sue Nazar has a big concrete fish that I adore.  It is so understated that you can walk right by and not notice, like I did, but when you see it, it is just perfect in that spot and you can’t take your eyes off it.

  I have to hit myself everytime I go to a nursery and just keep repeating this phrase.  Because I see something I like and I buy…one.  One little plant.  That then sits where it is placed and just looks lonely.  I walk through Sue Nazar’s garden and just love how crowded and lush it appears.  And weeding?  Good luck weeds if you can find space to come up in all that foliage.


Link Davidson, the Master Gardener who designed Wendy Brennan’s garden, is the master of this approach.  I told Link I want to be his sidekick on the next Big Trash Pickup Day just to watch him in action.  From the air conditioning screens creating a beautiful open wall to the cut sidewalk pieces to the bright red hydraulic press (that is the perfect color, Link!), amazing!

I saw this idea in more than one garden, but Sue Nazar’s little cottage in the backyard was a perfect example. She had a beautiful red pot just downhill that showed off well in the same red.


When we visited Sheryl Williams’ garden, we all stood in the front yard and talked and talked and talked about her front yard. Sheryl removed all of her lawn and installed an area of Texas Sedge.  This picture does not do justice to the beauty of the sedges and the movement of their seed heads back and forth.  Drought tolerant, striking, and deer resistant.  The triple crown for me.

Sue Nazar found this out the hard way when the Vitex that she had cut and decked over decided it didn’t want to be vanquished from her garden.  So it just found a way through the deck boards.  Sue has accepted its presence with frequent cuttings and it just keeps growing happily.

Thank you to all of the garden owners for sharing their gardens with us. I encourage you to take the tour this Saturday, May 14th.  Gardens open from 9am-4pm and you can purchase a $10 ticket that admits you to all of the gardens on the tour- amazing price.  Tickets can be bought at each garden location.  More info at Inside Austin Gardens Tour

Our plants move on to other gardens

Last summer, as school was just around the bend, we got busy cleaning out the grade level beds at the Titan Gardens so grades cold start fresh in the fall for planting. But what to do wth all of the great plants? It just so happened that two girl scouts were working hard with the Travis County Master Gardeners to create a children’s garden at the Austin Children’s
Shelter. So we compared lists and happily donated whatever plants of ours could be used in their planned new garden.

I am happy to announce that the Children’s Garden project has won those two girl scouts the Gold Award, the highest award given by the organization. The chldren’s garden offers a wonderful environment for both mothers and their children to enjoy nature. So it should give us pride to know that our plant donations from the Titan Garden have found a new garden in which to pay a yet another part in chldren’s lives.

Ten Nature Activities for Kids and Adults

With Summer fast approaching, lots of kids will use their summer freedom to catch up on video games and sleep late.  That’s all fine in moderation, but YOU can help your child get outside by offering activities that you can do together.  The below article is reprinted from the Children and Nature Network blog.  Let it inspire you to be your child’s nature teacher this summer.  And feel free to come by the Titan Garden to do some exploring this summer.  

Got dirt? “In South Carolina, a truckload of dirt is the same price as a video game!” reports Norman McGee, a father in that state who bought a small pickup-load of dirt for his daughter and friends. As McGee’s photo shows, the dirt was a great success. I told his story a couple years ago in this space. The story is worth repeating. So is Liz Baird’s idea — along with a few new ideas.

Liz  keeps a ” wonder bowl” available for her children. When Baird was a little girl she would fill her pockets with natural wonders—acorns, rocks, mushrooms.
“My Mom got tired of washing clothes and finding these treasures in the bottom of the washer or disintegrated through the dryer,” Liz recalls. “So she came up with ‘Liz’s Wonder Bowl,’ and the idea was that I could empty my pockets into the bowl. I could still enjoy my treasures, and try to find out what things were, and not cause trouble with the laundry.”

What’s your family doing in the coming months, not only to help your kids be healthier, happier and smarter — but you too? Here are ten suggestions:

1. Think simple: Create a wonder bowl like Liz’s, or buy a pickup load of dirt, like Norman did. Some of the best places to play, and toys, are the simplest and least expensive. Did you know that the National Toy Hall of Fame has inducted the cardboard box and the stick?
2. Start a Family Nature Club. Download C&NN’s guide to creating a network of like-minded families who want to get their kids outside, but need the support of others to help make that happen. It’s a new form of social networking! New: The Family Nature Guide is now also available in Spanish.
3. Invite native flora and fauna into your life. Maintain a birdbath. Replace part of your lawn with native plants. Build a bat house. For backyard suggestions, plus links to information about attracting wildlife to apartments and townhouses, see the National Audubon Society’s Invitation to a Healthy Yard.
4. Encourage your kids to build a tree house, fort, or hut. But don’t do it for them. You can provide the raw materials, including sticks, boards, blankets, boxes, ropes, and nails, but it’s best if kids are the architects and builders. The older the kids, the more complex the construction can be. For understanding and inspiration, read Children’s Special Places, by David Sobel.
5. Suggest  camping in the backyard. Buy them a tent or help them make a canvas tepee, and leave it up all summer. Join the NWF’s Great American Backyard Campout.
6. Become a Natural Leader. Being a nature mentor isn’t just a job for parents and grandparents. Young people helping other young people get outside is catching on. For example, in Mississippi, teenager Josh Morrison founded Geeks in the Woods with his friends. He defines ” geek” as a ” gaming environmentally educated kid,” and says he and his friends—” tired of being labeled” tech addicts—can have their PlayStations and their outdoor time too.
7. Find a guide book. Consider “I Love Dirt,”; Joseph Cornell’s classic “Sharing Nature With Children”; and “Coyote’s Guide to Connecting with Nature.”

8. Go online. Take a look at the growing number of good online guides for parents. Among them: the free online Parents’ Guide to Nature Play offered by the Green Hearts Institute. Our sister Web site, Nature Rocks, created in alliance with ecoAmerica, the Nature Conservancy, REI, the American Camp Association, and other groups, offers a “family fun nature planner” designed to help you find all sorts of nature activities, plus tools to help guide and plan your adventures, including a Family Nature Staycation guide. Also, a “Find Nature” feature — plug in your ZIP code and find out about nature activities near your home.
9. Join the movement. This month, all of C&NN’s partners and initiatives are uniting for a major push not only to get people of all ages outside, but to encourage service projects to benefit the naturalworld as part of the process—it’s called Lets G.O.! (Get Outside). You’re encouraged to join one of the already scheduled Let’s G.O.! events, or organize your own — and post it on C&NN’s map of activities.
10. Relieve your stress. All the health benefits that come to a child come to the adult who takes that child into nature. Children feel better after spending time in the natural world, even if it’s in their own backyard. So do adults, who have Nature-Deficit Disorder, too.

Richard Louv is founding chairman of the Children and Nature Network. He is the author of “LAST CHILD IN THE WOODS: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder,” which includes 100 Actions that families and communities can take. His newest work is “THE NATURE PRINCIPLE: Human Restoration and the End of Nature-Deficit Disorder.”

>Here we go…up and up!

>  Macho Mocha…you can’t get a much better name for a plant than that.  It just rolls off the tongue and makes me feel like I’m listening to the guy in the Old Spice commercials with that deep voice.  This ‘Macho Mocha’ Mangave has been moved around my garden quite a bit- probably four times before it found it’s latest home in the full full full sun bed- did I mention it gets lots of sun?  Anyway, frost damage from Old Man Winter led to a little leaf trimming from me.  It promptly responded by sending up a spike.  Here it is just starting out.

And it just kept getting bigger and bigger and bigger. Here’s the top of it as it was growing.

A gorgeous plant whether it is blooming or not.  I personally love the purple “freckles” on it. 

Finally, at about 11 feet tall, it started to bloom.  Nothing like the yuccas with their white petals.  Everything is about fine details with this plant, from it’s purple speckles on the leaves to the filaments that come out on the bloom spike.

How does our garden grow?

Last week, the first graders got up close and personal with the plants in the Titan Gardens.  Armed with magnifying glasses, their assignment was to observe a specific plant with their team up close to notice things about it.  Did it show signs of being used as food or shelter for insects?  Was it flowering?  Had it produced seeds yet?  What shape were the leaves?  How were the leaves arranged on the stem?

They have been learning about the different stages of plant growth in their classroom so investigating to find out what stage a specific plant was at in the garden helps them to put their lessons to work in the real world. 

We have continued to tend to our potato plants- noticing that some of them are REALLY growing big necessitating more lumber to be added to the potato tower so we can add leaf mulch around the stems where the potatoes will be produced.  And we have continued charting the growth of our beans-practicing gathering data to use in a bar chart.  Between the 4th and 5th week of measuring, our beans nearly doubled in size, surprising most everyone who predicted growth would slow down.  Now, if only those beans will come out before the end of school!!