Picture Perfect

Several years ago,  I saw a spread in Better Homes and Gardens that had a portrait of the featured home displayed in the living room.  I thought that was such a cool idea that I vowed to have a portrait of my own home done someday.  Well, that someday came this past weekend.

"The Nest" by Scott Heman

The artist of this most awesome painting is our nephew.  His name is Scott Heman and as you can see, he is a VERY talented artist.  This past Saturday, Scott delivered our painting.  OMG!  The painting is so lovely and his technique and attention to detail is amazing.  His painting perfectly captures the way our home feels to us on an early summer afternoon.  This portrait will make such a nice addition to our decorating scheme and we cannot thank him enough for doing this. 

The picture Scott used to create his masterpiece

For the past five years, all of our spare time and money has been spent on the remodel of our little country cottage.  All of the sacrifice and hard work are beginning to pay off.  The remodel is about 90% complete and this portrait is a way for us to celebrate our accomplishments.

Here is what our house looked like in the beginning. At this time, we literally had to go outside onto the proch to get to the only bathroom! Plus, there was no heat and or A/C.

Unless you have worked on an extended remodel, you can’t fully appreciate the toll it takes on you.  It is a bit like raising a child.  It drains your bank account and tests all of your emotional reserves.  However, in the end, it provides you with some of the most rewarding and enriching experiences of your life.  Now that we are approaching the end, I can truly say I am glad we did this.  We now have a lovely home that is truly ours.  Each and every surface and system in the house has been designed and touched by our two hands.  Our home is a perfect representation of who we are and how we choose to live.  My wife and I have now raised five kids and remodeled four homes.  While I highly recommend both activities to those who have not yet done it, this will be the last remodel for she and I.  Yes, I have come to the conclussion that raising kids and remodeling homes are both activities best left to the young!

Even as I write this, I know that our home will never be completely finished.  Just like us, the house will continue evolve as time goes by.  We may not have any more painting to do, but there are still two unadorned acres to make beautiful and many more estate sales to attend in search of that perfect piece.  Yes, even though the walls are done, the home is not finished.  As Sir Winston Churchill so beautifully stated, “This is the end of our beginnings”.

BTW, Scott is available for commissions. So, if you have anything that you want painted, let me know and I will be happy to hook you up.

MOH on Central Texas Gardener

Yesterday was a banner day for MOH.  About 10:00 a.m. yesterday morning, Linda Lehmusvirta and a film crew from Central Texas Gardener showed up to film my little potager.  This was very exciting for me and I enjoyed it thoroughly.  The only downside is it will take a while before my little garden makes its television debut.  Turns out television programs take an awful lot of prep and it will take a bit of work to get the final product edited and ready to view.

Linda and I doing the interview

 Over the past three months I have worked tirelessly growing the plants and improving the potager so that it will look awesome on TV.  Because of this, things have never looked better at my house.  There really is nothing like a big dead line to motivate you to get all of those honey do’s finished that have been put off for too long. 

My wife and I with Linda Lehmusvirta from Central Texas Gardener

The focus of the interview was growing the Texas fall garden.  I was asked to describe what I most commonly grew and how I grew it.  Since I grow organically in raised beds we spent quite a bit of time talking about soil and bed prep.  We also discussed the benefits of the paved walk paths.  I am not sure how long the interview lasted but I think I babbled on for about 30 minutes.  The interview will mostly likely be edited to about 3 or 4 minutes of dialog so it will be interesting to see what I actually said!

A pic of the lettuce, shallots and cauliflower that is growing in the triangular beds of the potager.

 I would like to say a special thanks to Linda Lehmusvirta of CTG for taking time to do this.  She was great and the film crew was awesome!  The whole experience was so much fun and Sally and I greatly enjoyed making new friends.

Growing Broccoli (Brassica oleracea) and Other Cole Crops

Broccoli flower head beginning to form. These heads are actually hundreds of little flowers. Harvest the head as soon as you see any yellow tint begining to form.

Right now, I am eating so much broccoli that my skin has a greenish tint! Back in September I planted 36 plants of three different varieties and now I am being rewarded with tons of big, full heads of broccoli every night. Now there is absolutely no way that my wife and I can eat this much broccoli. However, that is never really a problem. To me, one of the greatest joys that I receive from my garden is the ability to share my harvests. People are always so happy to receive fresh, all organic produce directly from the garden.

The first four heads that I harvested this year. the large head in the back was 8" in diameter.

You might wonder why on earth I planted so many broccoli plants. I normally grow broccoli in the fall, just not this much. However, this year I was offered an opportunity that I just could not pass up. The largest gardening program in Texas, Central Texas Gardener, offered to come and film my little potager. I was thrilled. However, there was a catch; they wanted to film in December! So, I had a challenge. What could I grow that would make the potager look great in the middle of the incredibly unpredictable Texas winter?  So, that’s how I wound up with so much broccoli. I needed something fool proof to make sure my garden looked good for the cameras of CTG and broccoli fit the bill.

Now my garden does not have just broccoli in it. It also has a lot of cauliflower and cabbage (plus flowers and lots of other root crops). They made the cut for the same reason as the broccoli, they are fool proof.

Notice the slight yellow starting to show. this head is ready for harvest.

Broccoli belongs to the plant family Brassicaceae. The genus is brassica and plants that belong to it are often called simply brassicas or cole crops. Cole comes from the Latin word caulis which means stem or cabbage. The genus Brassicas contains some of the most important agricultural crops in the world. This family has been a favorite food of humans for so long that there are species that have been improved to allow us to eat literally every part of the plant. Rutabagas and turnips are brassicas that are grown for their roots. Kholrabi is grown for its stems. Cabbage, kale, brussel sprouts and mustard are grown for their leaves. Broccoli and cabbage are grown for their large, edible flower heads. All brassicas are very good for you. They contain vitamin C, lots of soluble fiber and various cancer fighting compounds as well.

Growing Cole Crops – Almost all cole crops are great choices for the garden. In fact, because of the mild winters that we have in Zones 7 thru 9, we can usually grow them in both the spring and the fall garden. Brassicas like cooler weather and they can easily survive temperatures in the middle twenties. It grows best when the daily temperature is in the mid seventies and nights are 20 degrees cooler. Because of this, it is best to plant your brassicas in early spring (February) or late fall (September). Most varieties in this genus mature in 90 to 120 days so plant according to when temperatures will be best suited for them. Do not plant too late in the season as they strongly dislike high heat.

I love the large foliage of broccoli.

Brassicas need full sun exposure and respond best to soil that drains well and has been deeply worked with compost. All brassicas are fairly pest free but they can get aphids.  They are also often plagued by cabbage worms and cabbage loppers.  Both of these pests are the larva of moths and they can defoliate a plant if the infestation is severe (more likely to happen in the spring).  You can control these with floating row cover or BT.

The brassica’s biggest enemy in the fall is the grasshopper. Young plants are very susceptible to grasshopper feeding. To help the plant beat the grasshoppers, place one gallon tin cans with the top and bottom cut out over the plants until they are about a foot tall. I am not really sure why this works, but it does. My theory is that either the grasshopper can’t see the plant or they cannot fly in way that allows them land inside of the can.

As far as I know, I have grown every type of brassica and I love them all. However, broccoli has a trait that makes it my favorite of all the cole crops. With most cole crops, you harvest the vegetable and then the plant is done. Not broccoli. Cut the green head and in a few days, additional little florets will start to form around the site of the cut. While these florets will not reach the size of the original flower head, they are just as tasty and each plant will produce several of them.

Little broccoli florets forming around the site of an earlier harvest.

In my mind, cole crops are the absolute best plant family to grow in the fall Texas garden. Give them good soil, plenty of sun and regular water and they will reward you with some of the most flavorful and nutritious things you can take from your garden.

Nut Sedge-The Worst Weed in the World!

Nut Sedge (Cyperus rotundus), or nut grass as it is often called around here, is one of the most invasive weeds in the entire world.   I am not making that up.  It is currently listed as invasive in over 90 countries across the globe.  Since there are only about 196 countries out there, that means that nut sedge is a major problem for 46% of the entire world.

The origins of nut sedge are most commonly attributed to Africa.  However, there are varieties that are native to southern and central Europe and southern Asia.  Where ever it came from, everyone that I know wishes it would have stayed home.

In my mind, nut sedge is the quintessential weed.  It grows where it is not wanted, it spreads incredibly quickly and it is almost impossible to control.  In fact, it is one of the very few weeds that will not be stopped by rubber mulch or plastic sheating.  My botanical brother Morgan McBride loves to tell the story of his above ground pool.  Before installing it, he stripped the site of vegetation, sprayed with round up and brought in sand to level the site.  He worked all of two days to get it all assembled and then he left it alone until the next weekend.  When he went out to fill it, 5 DAYS LATER, the bottom of his brand new pool had 50+ nut sedge sprouts sticking right up through the rubber bottom.  Needless to say, he hates nut sedge too.

I am writing this post because, once again, I am faced with a major outbreak in one of my beds.  Three weeks ago, I cleaned out a large bed.  I pulled all of the weeds that I could see, laid down eight layers of newspaper and then covered it all with about 6” of hard wood mulch.  Imagine my surprise when I was watering just two weeks later and discovered approximately 100 of these little green devils all over my freshly mulched bed!

Until this last bit of mulching I thought I had eradicated most of it in my beds.  I am certain that most nut sedge comes into my yard concealed in the materials that I am applying.  There is just so much nut grass in my newly mulched bed that it had to be in the mulch I used.  And here in lies one of the major problems with this green devil.   You can mulch it, you can dig it, you can compost it and you can run it through a shredder and it will still come back.

Biology of a Pest – Why is nut sedge such an effective weed?  Well, the answer lies in its biology.  First of all, it’s a sedge.  All sedges have a very thick cuticle covering them so many topically applied herbicides do not even get into the plant.  And, even if it did, it wouldn’t solve your problem.  You might kill the parts of the plant that are showing but the tuber (or “nut”) of this plant is what allows it to come back time after time.  This tuber lies deep in the soil and it is connected to the plants by very fragile roots.  That’s why pulling it does very little good.  You may get what you think is the plant and all of its roots, but in reality, you most likely left the nutlet behind.  This nutlet can lie dormant for up to two years.

Another problem with nut sedge is that in addition to the tubers, it also spreads by rhizomes.  These underground roots shoot out sideways from the nutlet and create another tuber that will, in turn, sprout another plant.  These rhizomes and tubers can be as deep as 14” in your soil.  Digging, and I mean deep digging, is really the only way to get rid of this pest in an organic manner.

If you are not of the organic mindset, then there are a couple of chemical products out there that have been shown to be fairly effective against nut sedge.  First is a product called Sedge Hammer (which I think is a really cute name).  Sedge Hammer contains a chemical called halosulfuron and it is the very best thing out there.  It requires you to coat the plant with it through a spray or a direct application.  I have used it both ways (in a previous garden, before I tried to be an organic grower) and for me, it was most effective when I used a brush like applicator and actually “painted” each plant with it.  Another trade name for halosulfuron is Manage.  This product is readily available at most garden centers.

Another effective product is imazaquin.  Imazaquin is sold under the brand name of of Image.  Both of these products are designed to be absorbed by the roots so you should water soon after application.  Also, for best results, treat your nut sedge when it is young.  The bigger it gets , the harder it is to kill.  Also, don’t be surprised if you have to apply several treatments to get the control desired.

P.S. Round Up (Glyphosate) also works somewhat against this scurge.  If using Round Up, make sure to spray when the plants are young, spray often and make sure there is nothing that you care about growing anywhere close to nut sedge.

Maximilian Sunflowers (Helianthus maximiliani)

Maximilian Sunflowers lining the entrance of Wldseed Farms in Fredericksberg

As you drive along the high ways and by ways of our great state this fall, notice all of the native plants that are in full bloom.  Fall is a great time for many native flowers and perennials.  One of the most stunning and prolific of the fall blooming Texas natives is the Maximilian Sunflower.  It is hard to drive anywhere in Texas right now and not see this stately and beautiful plant.  Maximilian Sunflowers produce stalks that can reach 8’ to 10’ in height.  The tall stalks can be completely covered with bright yellow flowers from their base to their tip.  These flowers produce tons of little seeds that ensure that they, and many species of wildlife, will survive until next year.

Close up of the heads of these beautiful flowers

Maximilian sunflowers are actually a perennial plant.  Even though they flower and disperse their seeds like an annual, their roots will survive even the harshest of Texas winters.  Due to this combination of perennial roots and very productive seed heads, Maximilian Sunflowers often develop into very large and thick colonies of plants.  The yellow flowers of these colonies result in fabulous drifts of yellow that paint the fence rows and ditches of fall rural Texas.

The stalk of my Maximilian right before it bloomed, This stalk is about 9′ tall

Even though Maximilian’s are native, they do very well in cultivation.  I have this plant in my beds and so do many of my friends.  It is a great pass along plant.  In fact, that is how I got mine.  My friend Cynthia Mueller brought me some shoots from her established colony this previous spring.  Cynthia has a very beautiful stand that she divides every year and shares with all that want them.

Maximillians in the front border of my potager

Since Maximilian Sunflowers are a native plant, they will do well in low water situations.  However, if you want them to be truly spectacular, water them just like any other bedding plant (about 1” of water per week).  They love full sun and will grow in just about any soil type.  Because of their tall foliage, you may be required to stake or prune them.  If pruning, trim them down to about 2’ or 3’ in late June or early July.  This will keep the plant from growing much over four feet.  When pruned in this manner they can make a very attractive hedge or border. Also, since Maximilians are sunflowers, they last forever as a cut flower in your fall bouquets.

Maximilian’s in mixed Fall bouquet from my beds

My wife and I recently visited Wildseed Farms in Fredericksberg.  They use Maximilian Sunflowers extensively throughout their property and the results are beautiful.  While on their property, I noticed Maximilian used as a stand-alone specimen, in stunning combinations and in mass plantings.  Each use of the plant was very appealing to the eye.   This large scale, fall blooming plant will reward you with beautiful flowers for years to come and, as an added bonus, this tough and reliable fall perennial will draw in several species of birds, moths and butterflies to your garden.  If you would like some for yourself you can order on-line (or visit) Wildseed Farms or  get a start from a friends garden.  This lovely perennial will reward with years and years of reliable blooms.

Four Tips for Growing Outstanding Fall Color

Nothing says fall like flats and flats of pansies. Photo by Morgan McBride

If you haven’t already done so, right now is a great time to plant your fall color. If you have been to a garden center lately you probably knew this. Every garden center that I visit is covered in pansies, snap dragons and kale; and with good reason. These cool season crops grow really well here, they look great in the landscape, they brighten up the gloomy days to come and they can take just about the worst that a Texas winter has to throw at them. In addition, if properly cared for, they will continue to bloom right up until your spring annuals begin to flower and take over.

The secret to success with your fall planted annuals lies in your soil. While these crops will all survive in a wide range of varying soil types, they will thrive in a well prepared bed. Every year I hear different people give tips about what you should add to your soil to properly prepare it for planting these fall annuals. Since I hear the same tips year after year, the advice must be sound. Listed below are the top 4 organic soil amendments that you can add to make sure your fall annual plantings thrive.

Kale and other brassicas are excellent for the fall color bed. Here is a curly purple variety that will compliment the yellow pansies in the prexious picture. Photo by Morgan McBride

Organic Material-Good soil is full of organic material. Organic material, or compost, makes the soil more arable, increases its ability to hold water and nutrients and feeds the microorganisms in the soil that convert the stored nutrients in compost into a form that is usable by the plant. Certain types of compost do have small amounts of NPK that are instantly available to the plant. However, it takes time for nature to convert the majority of the nutrients in the compost into a form that the plant uses. So, truly healthy soil is amended twice a year, every year.

Blood Meal- Blood meal is a by-product of the beef industry. It is basically dried and powdered cow’s blood. Blood meal is one of the highest non-synthetic sources of nitrogen. In fact, it is equivalent to an application of a 13.25% commercial nitrogen fertilizer. It also contains a trace amount of phosphorous and potassium. In addition to being a great source of readily available nitrogen for plants, it also activates many of the microbes that are feeding on the organic material.

Pansies are one of the most planted flowers in America. Photo by Morgan McBride

Bone Meal-Another by-product of the slaughter industry, bone meal is an organic source of phosphorous. Ground bone meal works as a slow release treatment. This is fine since most soils are better at holding phosphorous and potassium than nitrogen. Bone meal contains roughly 12% phosphorous and 4% nitrogen. Calcium is another essential nutrient for plants and bone meal is an excellent source of this.

Peat Moss-Peat, as Peat Moss is often called, is a dried form of moss. It is an excellent soil conditioner and provides nitrogen to the soil as it breaks down. However, the reason most people recommend adding peat to your beds is because of its amazing water holding capabilities. Peat can hold up to 20 times its own weight in water. This is very important to us in the arid southwestern part of the U.S.  By adding peat your will improve your soil and reduce your water bill.

Thornless Prickly Pear-The Perfect Plant?

Thornless prickly pears and maximillian sunflowers at Wildseed Farms in Fredericksberg.

My botanical brother Morgan McBride swears that thornless prickly pear (Opuntia ficus-indica) is the perfect plant. You don’t have to water it, it flowers, you can eat the pads and the buds, and it’s evergreen. Plus, if a piece of it falls off onto the ground, it will grow you another plant. I am not sure if I agree with him completely, but you have to admit, he makes a good point.

While I am not as enamored with thornless prickly pear as Morgan is, I do really like the plant. One of my favorite plant combinations of all time was at the weekend place of Dr. Bill Welch. He paired the sculptural, medium green cactus with a dark burgundy castor bean that he got from my plant mentor, Cynthia Mueller. The dark burgundy was a perfect back drop and the combination was stunning. I also felt it was, for lack of a better word, appropriate. Texas is a big place. Some think of it as a southwestern state while others consider it definitely southern. The pairing of the quintessential southwestern plant (the cactus) with the very southern castor bean made me conclude that this was the perfect plant combination to express the dichotomy of Texas.

Thornless prickly pear fruits ready for harvest

Thornless prickly pear does appear in the wild. However, the plant that most of us grow is a hybrid developed by a California breeder named Luther Burbank. Mr. Burbank was busy developing plants around the turn of the century. His two biggest successes were the Russet potato and the thornless prickly pear. Mr. Burbank was a shameless promoter and rather sloppy plant breeder. Because of his poor record keeping, we have no idea what plants he actually used to create the plant we now call thornless prickly pear. Regardless, he was very proud of his creation and he sought to market it as dry land forage for cattle. While the cactus did not catch on as a forage crop (turns out it will grow all of its thorns back if it is subjected to extreme drought), no one can argue with its success as an ornamental.

The cactus blooms in the spring (and sometimes fall). The flowers are typically yellow but can be found in white and red. The fruits of the cactus are very sweet and some say they taste like a very sweet watermelon. Native Americans loved the fruits of this plant so much that they are often called Indian Fig.

Thornless prickly pear and fall asters

Like any cactus, the thornless variety is incredibly easy to grow. Just stick a pad (or nopal) half way in the ground. Water every once and a while and in no time flat you will have a very large mass of cactus. In fact, this stuff is so hardy that it is difficult to control if it is planted in a well drained site with plenty of water.

I don’t know if thornless prickly pear is the perfect plant or not. However, you have to admit, it does have a lot going for it. It is attractive, durable and makes quite a statement in the landscape. Very few plants evoke as strong a sense of place as do cactus. So, if you are looking for something that is guaranteed to grow, thornless prickly pear may be the plant for you.

Lone Star Gourd Festival

One of Judy Richie's stunning art gourds. Photo by the artist

This past weekend, my lovely wife and I headed out for a much need mini-vacation.  For our “romantic get away” we decided to go to the Lone Star Gourd Festival in Fredericksberg, Texas.  We picked the Gourd Festival for several reasons.  First, I love gourds.  The gourd festival is a great place to see some really incredible art being made with gourds.  Second, I just submitted an article to Texas Gardener about gourds and I wanted to meet Judy Richie.  Judy is an incredibly talented gourd artist and her art will be featured in that article. 

A classic example of the finishes and deep front cuts with weavings that Judy has pioneered

Judy has been making gourd art for over ten years.  She is a pioneer in the gourd art world and many of her pieces are featured in several galleries through out the US.  Judy is a talented artist in every skill that can possibly be used to convert an ugly brown dried gourd into something that is truly museum quality art.  She is a master carver, engraver, weaver and finisher.  She was the first to deep cut into the side of a gourd and then adorn those openings with intricate weavings.  She has also developed several of her own finishes that make her art unique and instantly recognizable.

This vibrant piece shows all of things that Judy is famous for: incredible finishes, carving, weaving and inlay. the small piece inlayed in the bear is an ancient Native American pottery shard.

I first discovered Judy’s art at the “The Copper Shade Tree” in Round Top, Texas.  Gerald Tobolo and his wife are the owners of this gallery.  Gerald is a master coppersmith and he started this gallery to highlight his work and the work of other craftsmen working in Texas.  Judy’s art is one of the centerpieces of his collections and one of his better sellers.  According to Gerald, “Judy’s work is so versitile and varied.  Some of her pieces have a distinct Western flair while others resemble art pottery.  In fact, I recently had a customer buy one of her pieces for his craftsman style home.  This customer is a stickler for accuracy in his home.  Even though, no gourd was probably ever featured in a craftsman style home, he loved the fact that the Judy’s piece would “fool” his guests by making them think it was a very fine piece of hand thrown pottery.”

Judy’s business is called “Redcloud Originals”.  Please check it out.  Her website is full of great examples of her work and it also lists the galleries that she exhibits in and her show schedule.

Even though Judy was the main reason I went to the festival, she was not the only artist there.  Once again, I was amazed at the variety and quality of art being created out of gourds.  Scroll down for some pics of things that caught my eye at the 2011 Lone Star Gourd Festival.

The "Traveling Gourd". This is a HUGE gourd that was sent to each chapter in the Texas Gourd Society. There, artists from each chapter added to it to make a gourd that is truly representitive of all of the great things in the Great State of Texas.


I thought this was a cute and original treatment. Great for a child's room.


My favorite creation in the competition room

Organic Weed Control Presentation for the Bear Creek Master Gardeners

Last week I had the honor of speaking to the Bear Creek Master Gardener’s group in Houston.  The group invited me to give what I like to call a “lunch and learn”.  They grilled hamburgers for the members and then everyone settled in for the talk.  There were over 150 Master Gardeners in attendance.  Now there is of course a danger of doing a talk at lunch.  You know what a comfortable room and a full tummy can do.  Luckily for my ego, I did not see too many people dozing off during my presentation. 

The cover of the Texas Gardener issue that led to my "Weed Free-Organically" presentation for the Bear Creek Master Gardeners.

The presentation was entitled “Weed Free Organically”.   It was based on an article that I did for Texas Gardener several months ago.  In my talk, I emphasize a four pronged approach (I call it the 4 P’s)to organic weed control.  The first “P” in my program is “Preparation”.    If you are going to have any luck at all controlling weeds organically, you are going to have to do proper bed preparation to remove as much plant material as possible.  Solarization and smothering are the two best methods that I have found to remove all of the vegetation from a large-sized bed.  Proper bed preparation will make the other “Ps” much more effective.

“Pre-emergent” methods are the second part of the 4P approach.  There are not a lot of pre-emergent weapons available in the organic gardener’s arsenal.  Corn Gluten Meal is one.  It has been shown to be effective in field trials at Texas A&M.  However, the most effective pre-emergent tool a gardener has is mulch.  Mulch is by far and away the best thing you can do in your garden.  It deprives young weed seeds the light they need to germinate, feeds the soil, conserves moisture, insulates roots and then turns into compost.  I cannot over emphasize the importance of mulch in the garden.  We talked about when to mulch, how to mulch and what to mulch with.  In fact, probably on third of the one hour talk was dedicated to this very important topic.

The next “P” in the 4P approach is post-emergent tools.  Ideally, you don’t want to have to use post emergent weed control methods at all.  In the ideal world, you would have no weeds that needed to be pulled or killed.  However, since we don’t live in a perfect world, we discussed the use of acetic acid as a safe and effective herbicide.  We also discussed good hand weeding techniques and new tools (the circle hoe) that speed up your weeding chores.  We also talked about burning your weeds ( a very effective favorite of mine) and boiling water (an almost useless exercise).

The final “P” in the 4P method is persistence.  Like I reiterate each time I talk about organic weed control, I use all of these methods in my garden and I still have weeds.  However, by persistently using these methods year after year I get fewer and fewer weeds each season.

A special thanks goes out to Teresa See for inviting me to this very enjoyable afternoon event.

I would like to say a great big Thank You! to Teresa See for inviting me to talk with this outstanding group of gardeners.  Teresa is the the second Vp for the group and she is also responsible for the Library and Welcome Garden.  She was so welcoming and her spirit was indicitive of the entire group.   Their hospitality and receptiveness made for one of the most enjoyable afternoons that I have had in a long time.  The Bear Creek Master Gardeners regularly feature speakers on a wide range of topics.  All of their programs are at the Bear Creek Agrilife Extension facilities.  On Oct. 18, Jeanie Dunnihoo will be presenting “Herbs” at 7:00 p.m.  Joe Masabni, from Texas A&M Agrilife Extension will present “Raised Bed Gardening” on Nov. 1.  That is the “Hamburger Tuesday” meeting.  Burgers are $3. The meal is optional so feel free to attend the lecture “sans food” if you like.  Also, all of these talks are open to the public so be sure and invite all of your non Master Gardener friends!

Doing Rye Grass Right

The drought has really done a number on my yard.  In order to have something more than mud and dry weeds in the yard this fall and winter, I have decided to seed rye grass.  Now I have never put out rye grass before.  So, I decided to consult an expert before I went out and spent a whole lot of money and then wasted it by doing the job wrong.  My buddy, Morgan McBride, has worked in the green industry his entire life.  For over twenty years, he has designed, installed and maintained landscapes all over the DFW Metroplex.  Since he is an expert in turf management (and he would talk to me for free) I decided to ask him the proper way to seed rye grass.

Lovely rye grass sod. Photo from the website of lazyjfarms.com.

The Basics- Rye grass (genus Lolium), is a cool season annual grass commonly used for lawns, livestock food, green cropping and erosion.  There are also perennial species out there but the term “perennial” is a little misleading.  In Texas, the perennial species will only come back in areas of medium to heavy shade.


Morgan recommends using a perennial rye blend. It costs a little more but it will generally give you a more even coverage.  Photo by Morgan McBride

When seeding your lawn you need to be aware of which type of rye you are going to use.  The cheapest rye grass seed are the single variety annual types.  This type of seed is sold in your nursery or big box for around $20 per 50 lb bag.  The annual type works fine but it does not germinate as well as the perennial types.  Because of this you will need to seed at a higher rate.  Also, the varieties most commonly sold in our part of the world are VERY fast growers.  So, if you don’t mind mowing every three or four days, then the single variety annual type will be fine.


Rye grass (genus Lolium), is a cool season annual grass commonly used for lawns, livestock food, green cropping and erosion control. Photo by Morgan McBride

If you want to get the best coverage possible, you will probably be better served by purchasing a perennial blend.  These blends typically contain three varieties of perennial rye.  While the price is usually around $60 per 50 lb bag, you can seed at a lower rate.  Also, with three varieties, you greatly increase your chances of getting an even germination over the entire lawn.  With three verities you will get one that will do well in sun and one that will do well in the shade.

When to apply – When Morgan was doing turf management he always had September 15 circled as the date to start spreading rye.  However, climate change has taken away the certainty of that Sept. 15 date.  For your rye grass to prosper, it needs the days and nights to be at least 20 degrees different in temperature.  This year, it is now almost the middle of October and we are still barely getting that 20 degree spread.  Also, while the rye will germinate when the day/night temperature spread is 20 degrees, it will not really “take off” until that temperature spread is 30 degrees.  Using this knowledge you can select a date that is best in your area to spread your seeds.


For your rye grass to prosper, it needs the days and nights to be at least 20 degrees different in temperature. Photos by Morgan McBride

Preparation – Before spreading your rye grass you need to do two things.  First, rye needs to come in contact with the soil.  To increase your seeds’ chances of survival you will need to mow your grass very close to the ground.  If you have a thick St Augustine lawn you will need to scalp it.  Also, germinating rye grass cannot tolerate drought of any kind.  To increase your germination rate your soil needs to be thoroughly moist.  Since the drought has been so bad this year, Morgan recommends watering deeply for one to two weeks before spreading your seed.

Application – Once you have purchased your seed, get out your spreader.  If you buy the perennial blend you are going to want to set it to apply about 10 lbs per 1000 sq ‘.  So, your 50 lb bag will cover about 5000 sq’.  For best coverage, Morgan recommends setting the spreader to put out about half the recommended rate and seeding twice in different directions.  The Heritage Ranch Turf News Blog has a great post about this including pictures.  Please check it out as well.

When using the single variety you will need to seed at a higher rate.  Set your spreader to put out about 15 to 20 lbs per 1000 sq’.  This higher rate is used to offset the generally lower germination rates of the single variety types.


Morgan spread rye grass on this bare spot in his backyard. Two weeks later the rye grass has covered the spot. Photo by Morgan McBride

Getting it established – Once you have spread your seed you will need to be very diligent in your watering routine for a couple of weeks.  Rye grass needs an even moisture level for the most successful germination rates.  If you have a sprinkler system this should be much easier for you.  Set your sprinkler to do a short cycle in the morning, noon and afternoon.  If you do not have a sprinkler system, and you cannot be home during the day, go to your local nursery or big box and buy a battery operated hose timer.  This will be the best $20 you can spend for your rye.

When rye germinates it sends out a small, curved single root spike.  This spike is called a hook.  The hook must remain moist and in contact with the soil if it is going to have any chance of turning into grass.  That is why frequent watering is required for the first two or three weeks.

Fertilization – Rye grass is often used as a cover crop for vegetable gardens because it is so high in nitrogen.  Since rye is such a good sink for nitrogen it is a very good idea to feed your rye regularly with a high nitrogen fertilizer.  While not as easy to find as it used to be, something like a 12-0-0 is a good choice.  If you cannot find a pure nitrogen fertilizer, buy the one that has the highest N value you can find.  Broadcast your fertilizer at the same rate as you applied the seed at least once a month; the more the better.  The more nitrogen you put out the more attractive your grass will be.  Highly fertilized rye will turn a deep blue green that is just as lovely as Kentucky Bluegrass.


Two weeks after planting the rye grass is firmly established. Over the next few the grass will begin to form clumps that will form a soft and solid green carpet. Photo by Morgan McBride

Mowing – If there is drawback to rye, it is the fact that you will have to mow your lawn all winter.  However, if you don’t mind doing this there is a good chance that your winter lawn will look better than your summer lawn.  Set your mower high and mow frequently.  This will turn your lawn into a deep, soft carpet that is joy to both look at and run barefoot through.

Most of Central Texas got some much needed rain this past weekend.  The temperatures are also expected to start dropping.  So, according to Morgan, this week is the perfect time to spread your rye grass in central Texas.  If you want a lush, green lawn this winter (and you are not under watering restrictions) head out to your favorite lawn supplier and get that rye now.