There is no need to preach about organic gardening. It is evidence enough to observe the abundance of life and how a healthy bio-diversity creates balance.  Images below illustrate the intertwined nature of life.

Planting the right plants in the right spots, creating food, water and shelter sources enable to create a wildlife habitat even in small urban setting. Our tiny city lot was completely bare when we moved in. We planted a desert willow and Mexican plum among other trees, and added plenty of perennials (Turk’s cap and salvias among many others), we created a veggie garden where there is place for annuals as well. Within a year this completely changed our landscape – from barren and devoid of life to beaming with life. From honey bees to sphinx moths to hummingbirds to lizards and garden snakes and everything in between.

I discovered this year that bees need water, but they drown easily. So I set up a shallow bird bath with stones in it, so that bees have easy access to water and be safe at the same time. They gather around the water source by the dozens every day in the summer.

Desert willow is our hummingbird magnet and never fails. Bumblebees love it too! As well as many other insects. I found several Assassin Bugs on it this year. The veggie garden, with its changing crops and successions of annual flowers, creates an eco-system of its  own. There is always something alive there, busy to gather pollen or lay eggs. We always have abundance of butterflies, which are drawn to the butterfly bush, desert willow, Turk’s cap and salvias, among other things. Damselflies, dragonflies and paper wasps (which are not aggressive and help to control mosquito population) were particularly drawn to the Hyacinth Bean vine I planted on the fence along the chicken run, close to the water source and the never-ending source of pollen – basil.

Lizards particularly like the shade area of the garden, where potted plants are stored on wooden pallets. It also is the favorite hunting ground for Carolina wren.

It is a circle of life – good bugs taking care of the bed bugs, birds, lizards and snakes taking care of the excess of the bugs, spiders weaving spider webs…. Let nature take care of itself… and help only when needed. You will see the difference!

It is time we stopped and listened to Mother Nature is telling us. We don’t have unlimited resources and the weather patterns are changing. And so we need to change our way of thinking and doing things. The drought that has started in 2011 continues, and we need to adjust accordingly. We need to learn how to deal with extreme weather.

 Re-evaluate your landscaping. It is important to take the following things into account when designing or re-evaluating your   landscaping:

Purple coneflower

Purple coneflower

– check if the existing plants are native or well adapted to your area,

– prepare your soil right,

– always mulch,

– go organic and don’t forget to feed your plants to help them survive stress,

– water deeply and infrequently,

– create pockets in the garden that serve different roles, both visually and practically,

– don’t forget about wildlife,

– capture rain water,

Butterfly milkweed

Butterfly milkweed

– and lastly, don’t forget about your trees – they are extremely valuable and they are suffering! We tend to let trees take care of themselves. Because of their size we think that they can survive just about anything and need not our help. This is far from the truth. Trees are our great resource in so many ways – the clean the air, the add value to landscapes, they provide habitats for wildlife, act as sound barriers, produce oxygen, and help us save energy.


There are many plants that do well in north Texas. And then there are a few that do fantastic. Texas rock rose (Pavonia lasiopetala) is one of them. I have one in my front yard. It is, to be perfectly honest, neglected and left to its own devices.  It is in full sun and in poor soil. I watered it only once in the last 4 months.  Since we’re experiencing a prolonged drought, and have hardly had any rain this summer, I expected it to decline. Not die – I knew it would survive – but decline. Apparently I have underestimated it. Every morning it is covered in blooms. It satisfies my appetite for color this summer, while most things look like they are about to wither and die. This is a tough little native. Give it room as it tends to spread and make it a showpiece. It deserves it.

Texas rock rose

Texas rock rose

There is not enough awareness when it comes to invasive plants. We tend not to see the harm in planting an invasive plant precisely because it seems so harmless. How can a plant hurt anything?

An “invasive species” is defined as ‘an alien species whose introduction does or is likely to cause economic or environmental hard or harm to human health.’ (Executive Order 13112). 

An invasive species spreads, establishes its presence and takes over an ecosystem. It does not co-exist, it overtakes, chokes out the native species and diminishes biodiversity. It is devastating to the native ecosystems and costly to control.  Did you know? “Invasive species are a significant threat to almost half of the native species currently listed as federally endangered.”  Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Why should we care? Because native plants and habitats are important to our identity, sense of place and survival. To preserve ecosystems and biodiversity which are vital to our planet’s health.

Information about invasive species is spread out and often confusing. It is important to know the invasives for your particular region. Some website list them by state, some go as far as listing them by county. Below are some useful links to invasives in Texas.

Trees of Texas – Aggressive Invaders

Invasive Plants of Texas

Texas Invasive Species

Eco Alerts by Region

Central Texas Invasive Plants

Invasive Plants in Southern Forests

Some of the invasives are sold by nurseries and many buyers are unaware of the plant’s nature. Purple loosestrife, vitex and nandina are some fairly well known examples. Sterile varieties of some invasive species are available and can be used safely in the landscape.

Wheel Bug

July 17, 2011

I have never seen a wheel bug until this morning. This majestic looking bug reminded me of a cross between a stink bug and a praying mantis. I saw it sitting on my Meyer Lemon tree and was fascinated. I took some photos and run inside curious to find out what it was. It did not take long to identify it.

Wheel Bug

Wheel Bug

A wheel bug (Arilus cristatus)  is a predator both in its mature and immature stage. It feeds on caterpillars (including webworms), beetle larvae, aphids and other soft-bodied insects. Unfortunately, they also prey on lady bugs and honey bees. Wheel bugs got their name because of the ridge (or wheel) located on their back.

Wheel Bug

Wheel Bug

They are typically solitary and their population is fairly low. They do bite, but are not agressive, and will only bite when threatened, so do not try to handle them. Their bite is painful and will last for several minutes.

I will be looking out for a wheel bug next time I am in the garden. It is not an insect that you would forget.

Create a wildlife habitat.

November 13, 2010

We all strive to have beautiful gardens, but we do not always know how to attract wildlife to our gardens. Here are a few tips to help create wildlife habitat.

Minimize rototilling. Sometimes tilling is necessary. However, once you till and add organic matter life begins to grow in the soil. From this point forward tilling would do more harm than good.

Be careful when working in your garden. When you encourage wildlife, it is very likely that you will come across nests or resting animals when you do yard work. It is a good sign of life in your garden and a healthy ecosystem. Try not to disturb the creatures inhabiting your garden and work around them.

Do not leave your lights on unless absolutely necessary. Lights attract insects that should be feeding or mating. Many kinds of insects are disappearing, partly because of the widespread existence of man-made night light.

Never use a bug zapper. These electrical devices are nonselective, attracting and killing many insects, both good and bad.

Always use white sugar to prepare hummingbird food. A mixture made with white sugar closely resembles the naturally occurring nectar in flowers. Mixtures made with the other ingredients can kill butterflies.

Leave spider webs alone. A spider web is nature’s sticky trap. It is a work of art that helps reducing insect populations. Using pesticides to kill insects is damaging, as it removes links from the food chain. A spider that eats insects becomes part of a food chain.

Provide water for wildlife. No matter where you live, providing a water source in your yard will bring in wildlife that you might not otherwise see.

Provide shelter for wildlife.  Plant a variety of native shrubs and trees. They will serve as nesting sites or shelter during feeding. Evergreens provide shelter in the winter. Low growing plants will provide protection for small animals, such as rabbits.

Do not forget to provide shelter for ground dwelling species, such as toads and squirrels, by placing small piles of rocks, branches, or a decaying stump in your yard.

When placing birdhouses in your yard, determine what kind of bird you want as a attract, as birds have specific requirements for the type of house and the size of the entry hole they need.

Finally, provide building materials. Suitable nest building materials include 8 to 10-inch lengths of string, yarn, strips of cloth, or thread as well as cotton, wool, excess hair from your cat or dog and dried grass.

Plants get hot too!

August 16, 2010

It’s been so hot… for so long… it’s hard to be outside. Instinctively we either escape to air-conditioned spaces or seek shade. Plants get hot too, and they have no way of escaping. It is our role to bring some relief to our gardens, and help it survive.  There are a few simple ways that will help your garden survive the extreme temperatures.

  1. Mulch your garden. Mulch helps to cool the soil down in the summer and protect from the cold in the winter. It also helps in retaining moisture.
  2. Water wisely. Yes, your garden needs your help when temperatures hit high 90’s, and there’s no rain. Even xeriscape gardens need help to maintain beauty. Water early in the morning and spot water in the evening if necessary.
  3. Foliar feeding makes for stronger plants. Foliar feeding is a great and easy way to add nutrients to your garden and help the plants beat the heat.  It’s like a drink of a freshly squeezed lemonade with delicious honey on a hot day. It’s refreshing and energizing.
  4. Shade is a nature’s hat. Use it when you can. If you have potted plants, move them to a shady location, preferably one that will get morning sun and protect the plants from the scorching evening sun.
  5. Deadhead and trim. It’s hard to look pretty all the time. Your plants need your help to keep that fresh look. Deadheading encourages new blooms, and both trimming and deadheading make the plants look neater.

Happy Gardening!

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