Lazy Gardener & Friends for October 3, 2019

By: Nature's Way Resources | Published 10/03/2019


Dear Friends,

Here is the 311th issue of our weekly gardening newsletter for Houston, the Gulf Coast and beyond. We really appreciate all of our readers hanging in there with us, sharing stories and inspiring us in so many ways. 
Thanks so much!
This newsletter is a project of The Lazy Gardener, Brenda Beust Smith & John Ferguson. (John is with Nature's Way Resources). We also have a great supporting cast of contributing writers and technical specialists who will chime in and tweak away 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.
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"I merely feel emptyness. A hollow of
dead brush where flowers used to bloom"
-- Suzanne Collins, "The Hunger Games - Mockingjay"
Suzanne phrased it beautifully -- even though she wasn't writing about my garden -- the feeling I get when one of my plants looks like it's giving up the ghost.

But, traditionally this is the season for many plants to look like they're dying. Hopefully miracles are right around the corner.

Already I can see green shoots (amid the brown) on plants that, I'm hoping, simply decided to go dormant rather than fight our nonstop blistering heat and recent waves of drought interspersed with monsoon floods. They -- far better than we -- appreciate that Mother Nature always bats last.
Several emails from readers asked about their "Are-these-dead?" plants. Even Christine York's dwarf ruellia (Mexican petunia,left) has her worried. I didn't think anything short of an actual fire would stop this one. Even then, it will probably re-sprouts from persistent roots.

Be patient. Give them a chance now that it's getting cooler. If your fingers itch to DO SOMETHING!, pinch off dead leaves/stalks. Several good things can come from this:

Better the plant should use it's probably-by-now limited energy resources to keep its roots healthy for, hopefully, more growth in coming months
Dead leaves accumulating on stalks might send signals to the plant that it's time for a deep winter-type, rather than a temporary dormancy
Pruning often triggers a new growth spurt, maybe stimulating more flower production as temperatures become more civilized
Pruning can be wonderful mental therapy -- "She's crazy!" (snip, snip), "Stupid man!" (snip, snip), etc. Let your garden work for you!

Sometimes being lazy (my usual approach) and ignoring dieback pays off. Certainly worked for Audrey B. in Montrose area. She wrote: "...while back, I read one of your articles about not digging up dead-looking plants (in the Spring after a frosty winter) until you’ve given them several months (until Summer) to make sure they are really dead." Audrey's once gorgeous Rangoon creeper froze back. Digging it up didn't work. Too big. She ignored it. It took two years, she writes, "... but now it’s back! My yard once again smells wonderful with these gorgeous flowers!"

NOTE: As wonderful as Rangoon creepers are (this is not Audrey's pictured), do know they are very enthusiastic growers that require a strong support.

Soil often dictates color of blue or pink hydrangeas. But green?
Deany Meinke comes up with great questions. Her pink hydrangea isn't dying. Flowers are turning green. I'd heard of blue hydrangeas turning pink. For decades I took cuttings of Mother-in-law's huge, magnificent blue hydrangeas in Vidor, just north of Beaumont. A few survived (never for long) but bloomed pink. She told me to put rusty nails in the soil. Didn't work.

This old fashioned remedy was based on the premise hydrangeas need more iron or aluminum (I know, same thing but . . .) than most of our Houston soils provide. Hydrangeas love sandy, slightly acidic soil such as is found in East Texas.

But turning green? New one for me, although some whitish-green hydrangeas now available. Checking around, I found lots of possibilities, some of which apply to flowers-in-general that lose their color:
Iron/aluminum deficiency mentioned above. An azalea or tomato fertilizer may help correct this by making the soil more acidic.
Flower colors often fade after pollination. A plant's colors attract the right pollinators. When the job's done, no need for all that intensity. If this is the case, color should return on next year's blooms
Some flowers react more strongly than others to stress (extreme heat and sun, flooding, change of environment). Unnaturally muted or loss of color may be the result.

An old wives tale says using Epsom salt on hydrangeas will turn them blue. Not true. What you can try is aluminum sulfate.

Sad to say, with hydrangeas (and other flowers too), it may just be a case of old age. Although I warn readers to only use Houston-area gardening advice, I do love this quote from Gardening Know How website:

"Although science cannot always explain why flower color fades, it is clear that flowers, like humans, have a lifespan and often as they near the end of their lifespan they tend to produce less vibrant blooms than they did at the beginning of their life. If you experience flower fading and your plant is not stressed, just accept it as part of evolution of your garden and don’t try to fix something that really is not broken."

ONE OF MY FAVORITE LANDSCAPE VISITORS, the Yellow-crowned Night Heron, is the new official "Bird of Houston." This lovely crawfish-lover was selected over 59 other local birds in a recent Houston Audubon Society's Bird of Houston competition. Yellow-crowned Night Herons like to nest in pine trees and feed on crustaceans and other amphibians. Chronicle nature writer Gary Clark reported when his son first saw one, he said: “Wow, they look like space aliens from Star Trek!”

Houston Audubon's Natives Nursery at the Edith L. Moore Nature Sanctuary specializes in local native prairie grasses and wildflowers along with understory plants grown from local prairie remnants by Audubon staff and volunteers -- filling a niche of hard-to-find natives.

are free — Just email
is based on her 40+ years as the Houston Chronicle's Lazy Gardener

John's Corner....

The results of a 25-year experiment in Kansas was performed on prairie soil using sprinklers to simulate rain. A team from Rutgers University found that, contrary to our intuition, a 35% increase in rainfall led to a 21-33% reduction in water infiltration into the soil and a very little increase in water retention. Science Daily, September 2019

Over watering our lawns is one of the most common issues people have, resulting in many problems from disease to increased insects and weeds. I was at a farm near La Grange this past weekend and noticed that St. Augustine turf grass had escaped and was growing wild in several areas on sandy soils to heavy clay. It was thriving in spite of not having a drop of rain for over 10 weeks and zero fertilizer. It had heavy competition from native grasses, shrubs and trees yet It had no disease or pests.

Another great reason to be a gardener has been discovered. A recent article in the journal Science Translational Medicine, July 2019 was on the link between our gut microbes and muscle growth. They found that certain microbes strengthened our muscles which is extremely important as we age. These good microbes come from healthy soil that we are exposed to when we garden organically and get our hands dirty or eat food grown in healthy soil. Every day the link between healthy soil and healthy people continues to increase. As Mike Serant of MicrolifeTM fertilizer fame likes to say: “Healthy Soil = Healthy Plants = Healthy People.”

A new study published in the journal Nature Microbiology (2019), has found that 90% of the serotonin in our bodies is produced by microbes in our gut, where it influences gut immunity. It turns out that the gut microbes tell our gut cells to produce serotonin which the microbes import into their cells. Serotonin helps us feel good, it is believed to be part of our immune system, and helps us deal with stress. The researchers found that the antidepressant drugs fluoxetine or Prozac reduced the amount of serotonin transported into the microbial cells and reduced the number of these microbes. Another reason to be a gardener and immerse our hands in healthy soil so we can keep a supply of this good microbes in our bodies.

We often talk about the poor quality and low nutrient density of our food. Here is the link to another organization trying to teach folks about this issue. The Bionutrient Food Association.

A common weed in North America is the Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale), an herbaceous perennial that belongs to the Asteraceae family of plants, along with daises and sunflowers. Native to Europe, dandelion seeds were brought by European colonists coming to America, where they were initially planted for culinary and therapeutic use and they have spread across America. 

One of the roles of this plant in nature is to correct soil problems. It likes compacted soil and soil low in available calcium. Being an annual, as the plant dies, the deep taproot decomposes allowing air and water to enter the soil breaking up the compaction. The deep taproot also collects or recycles calcium (Ca) from the sub-soil and returns it to the surface in its leaves. When it dies the leaves decompose releasing the calcium.
The Dr, Mercola newsletter has a nice article on the culinary and health benefits of this plant. 16 Health Benefits of Dandelion

One of our native plants, the common Elderberry (Sambucus nigra ssp. Canadensis) is famous for its health benefits (just search on-line for health benefits and elderberry). One of the mechanisms has now been explained as the elderberry flower contains Quercetin. This compound has a wide range of benefits including antioxidant, anti-viral, helps circulatory issues, fights chronic inflammation, helps with hay fever, mood disorders and much more. The berries are used to make wine, jelly and even cobblers.

The large clusters of white flowers are not only beautiful in our gardens they are delicious (think elderberry fritters) or garnishment for a salad. Pollinators from bees to butterflies love the pollen and nectar from the flowers and birds love the berries. For the gardener it is also drought tolerant even though in can grow in standing water. It has few if any disease or pest problems, grows in any soil from sand to heavy clay. It is a perennial that gets more beautiful over time and blooms for over 6 months of the year.

There is a new documentary that illustrates the corruption in the USDA, EPA and many of our agricultural universities that have pushed toxic chemicals on the people of the world. It is titled “A New Resistance” and features Round-Up as it explains how glyphosate causes many of our health problems. The trailer is less than 3 minutes in length and can be seen at the link below.
ANR Final Trailer

To give an example of the corruption our regulatory agencies the “Food Babe” a food blogger reveals the shocking differences between U.S. and U.K. ingredients lists - accusing American brands of trying to “poison consumers” with high numbers of additives and chemicals. The article can be found at

We have talked about the dangers of fluoride many times from how it hurts plants in our landscape to our pets and our health. Below are links to several recent articles by environmental groups on the dangers of fluoride.

Natural News has an internationally certified testing lab where they test the safety of products the USDA, EPA and FDA will not, exposing the lies we have been fed and they have a few articles on this issue:

The mass dumbing down of humanity is now confirmed by scientists

Fluoride chemicals added to U.S. drinking water are unprocessed TOXIC WASTE; water fluoridation needs to end

Dr. Mercola is an MD that has been writing about how to prevent health problems for years:

Harmful Effects of Fluoride Continue to Mount






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