Lawns need little care now

With Christmas right around the corner and the National Weather Service predicting a cooler- and wetter-than-average winter for the Gulf Coast region, the next few months might be the perfect time to sit before the fire with a good book and a warm drink.

During the cooler weather, you might have to take some of your more subtropical and tropical potted plants indoors, but you shouldn’t have to worry about your lawn.

Lawn Dormancy

Warm season grass goes dormant during the cooler months.That doesn’t mean it is dead. It does mean that the grass blades turn yellowish or even brown during the winter months. That’s because the grass plants are shifting their growth from above to below the ground. This is when St. Augustine and other warm season turf grasses build their root systems. Good root systems built during the cooler months mean stronger and more disease and pest-resistant plants in the spring.

Good soil practices

Taking care of your lawn is a process. We’ve all heard the phrase “don’t put a $10 plant into a $1 hole.” What that means is that for any plant – turf grass included – the soil must be fertile, full of beneficial microbes, and must provide a nutritious environment for plants to generate new roots and expand existing root systems. To create good soil conditions, homeowners must make sure that the soil beneath their lawn is healthy.

Since increased precipitation is expected, there should be little or no reason to water lawns during the winter and early spring (late February and early March along the Gulf Coast). In fact, last year, our systems indicated that lawns needed no irrigation during the entire winter period.

It’s not too late to start a winter herb garden

There’s nothing like the fragrance of rosemary in a warm kitchen during cold and dreary winter days. Or the taste of fresh chives chopped on a baked potato. Or cilantro in that salsa you’re making.  These herbs, as well as others, can be grown outside during the winter. B


High in vitamins K, C and A, parsley’s spicy and slightly peppery taste pairs well with tomato-based sauces, potatoes, poultry,grain-based salads, seafood and egg dishes.

Parsley is very easy to grow. Spread the tiny seeds out in a pot, or into your garden bed. Cover the seeds lightly with some compost and press down to make sure the seeds are in contact with soil. Water gently every other day (unless of course it rains) until they sprout. Then continue watering as needed.

Although there are many cultivars of parsley, there are basically two types – flat leaf (also called Italian parsley) and curly leaf.  Originating in the Mediterranean area, people use it as a spice and a vegetable. The taproot is used as a food in European cuisines.

Parsley has high nutrient value, particularly in folates, iron, copper and many trace elements,  vitamin value, particularly in vitamins K, C and A.

Cilantro (Coriander)

Closely related to parsley, cilantro is also a great source of antioxidants. Using it to flavor food can also help to lower salt intake.Used for thousands of years, the dried leaves have been found in a cave in the Middle East dating back to 6,000 B.C. Cilantro has also been found in digs in ancient Egypt.

Some studies suggest that this herb may decrease the risk of obesity, diabetes and heart disease and, when used in cooking meat, can reduce heterocyclic amine (HCA), a chemical derived from meat cooked at a high heat. HCA has been associated with a higher risk of cancer.

The leaves of this plant are called cilantro, while the seeds are called coriander. Cilantro and its cousin are related to about 3,700 other plant species including carrots and celery.


This is a fragrant evergreen herb – also native to the Mediterranean. Part of the mint family, which includes oregano, thyme, basil and lavender and dozens of other plants, it’s a good source of iron, calcium and vitamin B-6.

Rosemary is best started from cuttings, although seeds work almost as well.  It likes dry,well-drained soil, and prefers sun, but it will do okay in partial shade. It is a perennial, and can live for many, many years. Not only is rosemary a great herb, but it also makes a very attractive accent plant in the garden, adding its fresh fragrance to the outdoors.

Studies indicate that rosemary also has some beneficial effects in slowing human and breast carcinoma cells and other studies concluded that it might be useful as an anti-inflammatory agent. Many people put rosemary in bath water to soothe aching joints. It is high in iron, calcium and vitamin B6.


Chives are close relatives of garlic, shallot, leeks and scallions. In colder climates, chives may freeze back, but in southeast Texas,they rarely do, especially if they are in a sheltered area. They can also thrive in partial shade.

Use chives as garnishes, salads, egg salad sandwiches,vegetable stocks, potato dishes, omelets, and really anything that meets your taste. They do not do very well when cooked too much, so if you use them in soups or omelets, introduce them just before serving.

Originating in China and Siberia, hardy and drought-tolerant, chives can grow up to one foot tall in closely grouped stalks. They sport attractive lavender flowers in mid-summer. Chives do exceptionally well in containers.

Chives are high in vitamins K and A and contains large amounts of flavonoid antioxidants. They are high in calcium, iron, magnesium,potassium, copper and manganese and provide large amounts of thiamin, niacin, zinc and other beneficial minerals and acids. There is also some evidence that chives can inhibit salmonella populations.

Indoor herbs

Most herbs can be grown indoors, although parsley and cilantro thrive in cold weather. Oregano, mint, thyme, rosemary, chives and most other herbs do as well indoors as outdoors. However, all of them require some light.

Herbs in containers

Whether you plant herbs indoors or outdoors, remember that herbs in containers require different treatment than herbs grown in the ground.Container-grown herbs, like any other potted plant, need good potting soil,instead of garden soil.  While garden soil is suited for herbs grown in the ground, where water and air can move around easily, and nutrients are readily available, the same isn’t so for container plants. Potting soil is generally made up of composted bark and leaves, peat moss, and perlite or vermiculite. They generally need more water than herbs in the ground.

Planting in the ground

Plant herbs in gardens using a good lawn and garden mix and add organic compost as well. Make sure it is well drained. In fact, you can plant most herbs in among your vegetables. Don’t crowd them though. Since good garden soil should be alive with microorganisms, worms and tiny insects which aerate the soil, and mycorrhizal fungi which helps herbs obtain nutrients from the soil, the herbs in the garden probably won’t require as much care as those indoors.

General rules for herbs

  • Harvest regularly.
  • Don’t overcrowd.
  • Don’t allow the plants to flower early in the season. Keep pinching off flowers that are forming. Some plants, like cilantro,are annuals, and, once they form seeds, they die. Keeping the plant from forming flowers (and thus seeds) is a way of prolonging the life of herbs.
  • Be sure to check the labels of any chemicals placed on herbs. Look for the words “safe for edibles” on the label. This goes for both fertilizers and pesticides.
  • Water properly. Herbs don’t need a lot of care.  Water them in the morning when they need it. Put down some good mulch but leave some space between the mulch and the plant’s stem. Water the soil around the plant not the leaves. Watering the leaves will only produce mildew and disease.
  • Choose healthy plants. Or plant them from seed
  • Don’t be afraid to prune or cut back herbs. This makes them hardier, thicker and better tasting.

Gardening Books to Read or Gift This Winter


When the weather’s cold and wet, and the gardener in you is getting a serious case of cabin fever, you might want to prepare for these days ahead of time by reading some of the top gardening books of Texas. In addition, some of them are great reference books as well, and will give you pointers about a variety of garden situations. Any of these books also make ideal Christmas presents for gardeners.

1. Native Texas Plants: Landscaping Region by Region, by Sally Wasowski and Andy Wasowski. This book contains beautiful color photographs of wildflowers which do well for each region of Texas, from southeast to the Panhandle. It includes a number of landscaping designs that will inspire you.

2. The Vegetable Book, by Dr. Sam Cotner. This great, timeless book on vegetable gardening in Texas was out of print for a long time. Used copies of the book sold for as much as $100. Now, Texas Gardener magazine has brought the book back into print for under $35. It has been described as “the most informative and comprehensive ‘how to’ book on vegetable gardening in Texas.” Many gardeners follow Cotner’s exhaustive directions on planting, caring for and harvesting every common vegetable that grows in this area. This is a must-have book for any gardener’s library. The late Dr. Cotner was head of horticulture at Texas A&M.

3. Teeming with Microbes, by Wayne Lewis and Jeff Lowenfels. The winner of the 2011 Garden Writers of America’s Gold Award, Teeming with Microbes explains the intricate and delicate balance of soil’s ecosystem. Healthy soil is teeming with life and this book explains the process in a language that the layman can understand. It has opened many eyes about the microbial life that should exist in soil.

4. Texas Month-By-Month Gardening, by Robert “Skip” Richter. With an easy-to-follow format, this publication provides a rich, month-by-month picture of gardening, especially that all-important timing of when to do what. It includes everything you need to do each month and covers all plant groups – annuals, perennials, groundcovers, trees, edibles and all things in between. There are also some great color photographs demonstrating techniques and plant identification. Richter is a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension agent (he once served as Extension agent for Montgomery County) and is a nationally recognized gardening authority.

5. Rodale’s Book of Composting, Rodale Press. Composting is a growing habit among gardeners, particularly in Montgomery County. It’s a great way to feed the soil with beneficial microorganisms and nutrients, while disposing of dead leaves, grass clippings, tree trimmings and kitchen scraps. This book includes easy-to-follow instructions for making and using compost.

6. Doug Welsh’s Texas Garden Almanac, by Dr. Douglas F. Welsh Ph.D. and Aletha St. Romain. A particularly entertaining and well-written book which prescribes garden activities for each month, as well as some great treatises on roses, fruit and nut trees, pruning techniques, water conservation, and weeds.

7. Texas Wildflowers, by Campbell and Lynn Loughmiller. A Texas classic which many residents use as a reference guide to identify both common and rare wildflowers. The book contains both personal descriptions and color photographs of 381 native wildflowers, and includes both the scientific and common names, a glossary, and a bibliography.

8. Trees of Texas: An Easy Guide to Leaf Identification, by Carmen Stahl and Ria McElvaney. This guide to more than 200 of Texas’ most common trees includes life-sized black and white photos of leaves, nuts, fruit, flowers and bark. Accompanying the photos are description of the species, value to wildlife, and interesting folklore, cultural and historic notes. The photos are stunning and this book makes a wonderful conversation piece.

9. Wildflowers of Houston and Southeast Texas, by John and Gloria Tveten. Color photos and descriptions of wildflowers indigenous to the area enhance this seminal work by the Tvetens. History and lore of each species accompanies the work, and a list of key identifying features allows for quick reference in the field.

10. The Texas Tomato Lover’s Handbook, by William D. Adams. Dr. Bill Adams is a tomato guru, and this step-by-step guide brings his expertise to the reader. Dr. Adams’ book is both humorous and informative. For a bumper crop of tomatoes, this is a book that every gardener should have on their shelf.

11. The Southern Kitchen Garden: Vegetables, Fruits, Herbs and Flowers Essential for the Southern Cook, by William Adams and Tom LeRoy. Tom LeRoy is the former horticulture agent for Montgomery County and well-known for his gardening expertise. This collaborative work between LeRoy and Adams is essential reading for all vegetable gardeners in Montgomery County.


10 reasons not to plant a winter lawn

As St. Augustine grass goes dormant in the fall, many homeowners over seed their lawns with winter rye. While winter rye does add a lush greenness to an otherwise dull lawn, homeowners may want to rethink this habit.

  • Save water. Winter rye needs watering three times a day for the seed to germinate. Once established, ryegrass needs watering every three to four days. Dormant St. Augustine needs little or no water.
  • Save money. In much of the area, annual sewer rates are determined by the amount of water used during the winter months of December, January and February. This is typically when the least amount of water is used. The watering requirements for winter rye increases the amount of water used dung that period, thus raising sewer bills for the rest of the year. Additional costs include mowing, labor and cost of seed.
  • Prevent fungal diseases. Although damage from take-all patch and brown patch becomes evident in late spring and summer, these diseases actually attack St. Augustine in the winter. Other fungal diseases like rust and powdery mildew are common in winter rye. Winter rye seed may be infected with one or more of these fungal diseases. Irrigation during the winter actually encourages these to infect and damage the lawn.
  • Save on fertilizers. St. Augustine does not require fertilization in the winter. Winter rye usually does.
  • Prevent pests from infecting St. Augustine. Rye grass attracts army worms, wire worms and aphids, all of which can wreak havoc with St. Augustine. Many of these insects can overwinter in the topsoil and return in spring to re-infest the lawn.
  • No need to scalp lawns. Planting winter rye usually means scalping the lawn first. The problem here is that St. Augustine should NEVER be scalped. St. Augustine spreads by above-ground stolons. Scalping severely damages the plant.
  • Decrease noise pollution.  While some enjoy the droning of mowers and blowers, these noises may not be the most welcome sound while sitting in the backyard on a mild winter day.
  • Preserve the quality of water.  We don’t live in a vacuum. Foregoing the planting of winter rye means less fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides and fungicides will be used. A significant portion of water pollution of our streams and waterways comes from runoff of these products.
  • Give your St. Augustine a break!  Over seeding with winter rye can be very stressful for St. Augustine.  Scalping the lawn to plant ryegrass stresses it. In spring, rye competes with St. Augustine for water and nutrients, further weakening it.
  • Save time and frustration.  Seed germination problems, diseases, irrigation, fertilizing, noise, stress to the grass and to the homeowner, are additional reasons to forego winter rye.

What’s in a name: heirlooms, hybrids and GMOs

When it comes to understanding and distinguishing the difference between heirloom plants, the lines are clear to commercial growers, but may be a bit blurry to the home gardener.

Heirloom plants

If you’re part of the baby boomer generation, your grandparents, and probably your parents grew heirloom vegetables almost exclusively. Most heirloom seeds have been handed down from generation to generation – most regions of the country. They were hand-picked by gardeners for a special trait – perhaps the specific taste of a tomato, or the hardiness of a squash plant. Some may have been developed by a university when commercial breeding of vegetables was just beginning – at least a half century ago. Some heirloom varieties are centuries old.

The most descriptive aspect of heirloom plants is that they are all open pollinated, which means they are pollinated by wind or insects and no human intervention is needed. Also, the characteristics of heirlooms tend to remain stable from one year to the next.

There seems to be general agreement among gardeners that heirloom varieties taste better than hybrids or GMOs.  However, heirlooms are known for certain inconsistencies. The harvest time may be unpredictable, and the size of the fruit can vary widely.

Some heirloom fruits and vegetables include lemon cucumbers, Mexican Sour gherkin cucumber, Pink Accordion tomato, Lebanese Bunching effplant, green nutmeg melon, Romanesco broccoli and Chiogga beet.


Since heirlooms were generally used for home consumption, Gardeners grew them for flavor. However, with increasing U.S. population after World War II, commercial growers began looking for consistencies in harvest time, size, amount of production, ship ability and color of vegetables and other plants.

Plant breeders create hybrids when they intentionally cross-pollinate two different varieties of a plant, hoping to create a new hybrid variety that contains the best traits of both parent varieties. Although hybrids are often confused with genetically modified organisms, there is a significant difference.

Of course, cross-pollination takes place naturally as well but when hybridizing, growers carefully control the pollination to make sure that the traits they are looking for occur with the offspring. Traits they may be looking for are resistance to disease, insect or fungal infections, and bigger or more uniform size. Creating the right hybrid takes many long years of experimentation and recording of traits.

The Juliet (Roma) tomato is an example of a hybrid tomato. So is Sun Gold, a yellow cherry tomato.

Sime of the good traits of hybrids are: dependability in size and color, uniformity in color and flavor, better disease resistance, higher yield and less care required.

Hybrid corn goes back centuries –  to the Mayans in Central America. Hybrids include carrots, cucumbers, melons, tomatoes, broccoli, cabbage and squash.

GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms)

These are plants (or animals) whose genes have been changed using genetic engineering processes. Scientists use genetically modified organisms to produce medicines and foods.

In plants, scientists have been transferring genes for years now. Genes have been transferred within the same species, across species and even across kingdoms. GMOs are also being used in the research and production of pharmaceutical drugs, experimental medicine and, of course, in plants.

There are many GMO crops and many GMO seeds available. Some of the commercial vegetables and food we eat have been genetically modified. The idea behind GMO engineering is to produce a trait in a plant that does not occur naturally in the species.

In plants, GMO species are bred to create resistance to pests, diseases, environmental conditions. It can also help in reducing the amount of large amounts of the food product spoiling that occurs during long transportation. Genetic engineering of plants can also make them resistant to herbicides.

GMOs are not restricted to plant species. Many foodstuffs contain GMOs: baking powder, citric acid, condensed milk, glucose, glycerin, lecithin, maltodextrin, protein isolate starch, sugar, vegetable fat, and vitamins B!2 and E. If you object to consuming GOs, buy certified organic and look for the non-GMO label.

Heirloom plants are not hybrids and hybrids are not genetically modified organisms. Hybrids and heirlooms are not genetically manipulated in labs. They don’t contain foreign DNA from a species that is very different.

GMOs however, cannot exist without laboratory manipulation, Monsanto is the largest developer of plant GMOS, and are followed by several other biotech companies.

Mike Serant of Microlife discusses organic fertilizers and lawn products

Bob Dailey checks in with Mike Serant, Owner of MicroLife Fertilizer. Learn about MicroLife, why its a great product line but also the science behind it and all life.

Here’s an article from Mike’s webpage:

Only with Organics can we grow the best testing and healthiest food possible.

One major reason Americans per capita, have more diseases than any other developed country is the vast majority of our food is poor quality. We can change our destiny by buying and growing the cleanest food possible and that is with Organics.

The Law of Nutrition states; “When any organism is fed the highest nutrition possible, that organism will hit it’s optimum potential and have the least amount of problems.”

This is true be it plant, animal, or human. Since the 1970’s, most American Farmers and most American food processors care more about volume than our health.

We can change all that by “Going Organic.” And by simply following Nature Law, we get excellent harvest and delicious foods that are safe. Organics programs are easier than going chemical and we feel much better about them. There is a science called Biophilia that tracks the DNA connection between plants and humans. Quite amazing to know that we are related to plants and when we take of our plants, they take care of us. A wonderful book that helps to explain this is “Your Brain on Nature” by Dr. Eva Selhub. Dr. Selhub will be coming to Houston via OHBA in January 2019. For more information head over to

It is important to note that all chemicals fertilizers provide poor nutrition to plants and hurt soil health. Soil health and plant health are directly tied together. We want a fertilizer that improves both. Also recognize that chemical fertilizers only provide up to 7 minerals, but plants need at least 52 to be healthy and the human body has 79 elements in it. When we feed plants only 7 elements, there is tremendous disconnect with what is required for good health.

Remember, ‘we are what our plants eat.’ When pants are grown with chemicals, malnourishment sets in and plants become susceptible to pest insects and disease. The chemical industry answer to this is to spray poisons on plants. That poison doesn’t go away and when we, as humans, eat malnourished foods that have poisons sprayed on them, we too, get sick. Another great note for Organics is that when plants get a full load of minerals their flavonoid metabolites are enchanted, and flavonoids are another way or saying flavor. That’s why well grown organic foods always taste better.


Danny Millikin discusses organics at The Memorial Park Conservancy

Bob Dailey sits down with Danny Millikin to talk about The Memorial Park Conservancy, Organic Gardening and much more!

Daniel is a plant health enthusiast who loves soil, soil biology, root anatomy and the way they all work together. Prior to joining the Memorial Park Conservancy staff, he served as the Lead Horticulturalist for Hermann Park Conservancy, and previously operated an organic, edible-focused landscaping company. Daniel is a ninth-generation Texan and due to his strong Texan heritage, is drawn to native Texas plants and conserving the natural setting. He has always loved Memorial Park and the nature in motion that he experiences here. He attended Stratford High School on the west side of Houston and is a Spartan to the core. Daniel enjoys spending time with his wife, their two daughters, and their rescued pets. He loves introducing beginner vegetable gardeners and native novices to new or better ways to grow their own plants. He hosts the radio show “HomeShow Garden Pros” on SportsRadio 610 every Saturday morning.

Over four million people have access to Memorial Park each year. The Park boasts 30 miles of hiking trails, winding, wooded roads, and numerous sports facilities. The Conservancy is a non-profit organization.

Read more about The Memorial Park Conservancy here

The W.I.S.E. Guys help homeowners save water and money

Bob Dailey interviews a WISE guy about the water conservation programs at and other municipal water districts.

More about The W.I.S.E. Guys

A free and fast way to have your irrigation system checked. If your irrigation system is a few years old, some sprinkler heads may have broken can break. Plants may have grown blocking spray patterns, your landscape may have changed, or the water pressure may be different from when your lawn or plant beds were installed.

That’s where The W.I.S.E. Guys come in. A free service offered by many municipal utility districts in Texas, the W.I.S.E. Guys are licensed irrigators vetted by the MUD, who will do a complete assessment of your irrigation system. If your area MUD doesn’t offer this service, encourage them to do so.

Read more about the W.I.S.E. Guys here

Interfaith’s Organic Vegetable Garden

Sarah Munday, with Interfaith of The Woodlands’ Veggie Village, at the Alden Bridge Community Garden.


Veggie Village, community donation gardens, are welcoming places where people work and learn together while providing fresh organic produce to the Interfaith Food Pantry and Senior Living Complexes. The gardens are located at the Alden Bridge Sports Park and Wendtwoods Park (in the Village of Creekside) in partnership with The Woodlands Township and many community volunteers.

Read more about Veggie Village

Exploring rainwater harvesting with Master Gardener Mike Mendeck – Part 2

Part 2 with Bob Dailey at the Texas A&M Agrilife Extension service for Montgomery County in Conroe walking to Mike Mendeck . Mike is a master gardener and a rainwater harvesting specialist. Here, Mike takes us through the extensive rainwater harvesting systems at the Montgomery County Texas A&M Agrilife Extension Service in Conroe, Texas.

Read more about Master Gardeners here

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