Feature Article of the Month

April Article

Taking Care of Your Lawn – a Love / Hate Relationship?


At the heart of every good lawn and landscape is the soil.  If your soil is unhealthy, well, what grows in it won’t be healthy either. Bagging your clippings may sound (and look) like the way to keep the grass pretty directly after you mow, but those clippings can actually serve as a nutrition for the soil.  As it decays, it feeds the ground underneath. So don’t bag it! (A brochure on “Don’t Bag It”)  Another suggestion to help the soil is to thinly spread a compost over your grass, water it in and let it find its way to the soil below.  Compost is a natural, miraculous fertilizer.


Watering our yards is a ritual – especially in the upcoming hot days of summer.  “It’s so hot! The grass needs a drink!” But not a little bit every day, and not at night, Watering once every 5-7 days, and watering deeply (at least an inch of water into the soil) will actually encourage your grass to grow deeper roots and healthier blades.


If you want to know exactly how much to water, you can use a cool technology for determining water needs for your yard.  Texas ET website calculates what rainfall we have received, and then tells you how much water (in inches) and how often you need to water your grass.  If you are technology savvy, it’s great! Click on the “homeowner” icon, scroll down and fill in the information, then click “calculate.”


If you’re technology “challenged,” then just use the 1 inch per week rule-of-thumb.  You can stick a dowel about 2 inches into the ground, and if it comes up damp, you don’t need to water today.


To measure water you are actually using on your lawn, place a shallow bowl (or a clean tuna can) in your yard.  When watering, note how long it takes for the container to fill up to 1 inch. That’s how long you will need to water once a week.


Fertilizer for your yard is a good thing.  And so is weed control. But be wary of using the commercial products that both “weed and feed” your yards.  They do work, initially, but sometimes create more problems. The “Weed” part soaks into the soil and is a “broadleaf” weed killer.  That means that any tree or shrub roots that extend under the soil into your yard will be affected by this herbicide, too.

For a printable publication on lawn care: Simple Steps for Lawn Care


March Article

Spring Planting Guide 

After cold, gray winter days, we start seeing the bright green shoots as if Mother Nature is telling us, “It’s time to plant!”  And then a weather front with freezing temperatures rolls in.  So, what should you plant in March in Waco?
Flowers? vegetables? shrubs? herbs?  Yes.

The average date for the end of frosty weather in our area is March 15 .  But take a look at any long-term forecasts to know if you will need to wait or cover plants after that date.

All of the nurseries are brimming with springtime plants; all silently screaming at you, “Take me! Take me!”  Choose what you can afford, what you can care for, or what new things you want to try.

If you’re looking for vegetables to plant this year, Texas AgriLife Extension Service has a list of  links for you such as:  Easy Vegetables to Grow, or suggestions for vast varieties to grow specifically in McLennan County:

If you haven’t had your soil tested, go by the Extension Office (420 N. 6th Street) and pick up a few soil sample bags and instructions.  It will cost you $10; but it will be a well-spent $10.  Once you know what your soil composition is, many decisions of what to grow sort themselves out.  Acidity or alkalinity and the nutrient makeup of your soil could be the key to why you can or cannot grow certain things in your yard.

You probably already know if your soil is mostly clay (hard as a rock when it’s dry, and sticky, mucky when it’s wet), or if it is only 6 inches deep with a literal rock bed below.  You also know if you have mostly sunny or shady areas; if you need drought tolerant plants; or if you need deer-resistant plants.  Happily, though, there are a multitude of plants for all of the above situations.

Decide if you want to tinker around in your garden on a daily basis, or if you want to have a fairly “maintenance-free” space.  Then do a little research on the plants you like that will fit your situation – and then go for it!

Bloom along with Mother Nature!

© Karen Hix 2018


February Article 


If you made a New Year’s resolution to get or stay fit, as a Gardener you are in luck because it turns out that gardening is one of the best activities (other than walking) for lifelong fitness. Digging up soil, setting plants, carrying water, weeding, pruning, mowing, and even walking around the yard can increase heart rate and tone up the body. Your brain even gets a workout as you plan garden designs and absorb information from resource materials. And people who garden tend to live longer than those who don’t. This article combines many resources (shown at the end of the article)

Benefits of gardening activities.

 When growing your own edibles, you know exactly what’s there; nothing compares to the fresh, sweet taste of food that has been home grown and harvested.

 Gardening on a regular basis can help minimize high blood pressure, bad cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease, depression, and osteoporosis.

 Exercise in the garden gives all major muscle groups a good workout.

 Gardening activities can burn at 100 to 200 calories per hour.

Specifically, gardening:

 Provides low intensity exercise which increases blood flow and heart rate, range of motion.

 Builds hand strength and dexterity. Alternate using your tools between the right and left hands.

 Increases vitamin D (“sunshine vitamin”) which helps prevent hyperparathyroidism or rheumatoid arthritis.

Be sure to wear sunscreen!

 Decreases stress levels. A 2011 Netherlands study showed gardening improves mood and decreases cortisol levels.

 Provides mental health benefits. A1995 study found that gardening and landscaping can reduce the risk of dementia in the elderly. “Horticultural therapy” has shown decreased severity of depression and other mental illnesses, and increased mental focus.

 Offers overall wellness. You can personalize this by aiming for full sensory experiences – the taste of edibles, the aroma of scented flowers and plants, and the visual appeal of colors and texture.

 Fosters confidence and satisfaction. An overwhelming sense of pride comes at the end of a season. “Job well done.”

How to work out properly in the garden. You should always check with your doctor for any strenuous activity advice. Having gained an understanding of the activities involved in gardening, your doctor would likely agree that gardening provides all three types of exercise: endurance, flexibility, and strength.

 Stretch first. And stretch every day, whether you garden or not.

 Concentrate on deep breathing while you work.

 Increase your range of motion, by exaggerating the raking or digging motion.

 Take regular breaks Try not to accomplish too much at one time. Instead, limit activities by breaking down tasks each day into short intervals. For instance, rather than weed the entire garden at one time, try doing it for only 10 to 15 minutes. Take a break and go to something else for another 10 to 15 minutes. (You don’t have to finish it all at once!)

 Sit if you have trouble bending or kneeling.

 Lift heavy bags and items carefully. Remember the old saw: “Lift with your legs.” Also, watch the twisting. Use your feet to turn instead of your back.

Conclusion. A research study in 2016 by the National Center for Biotechnology Information sums it up best, “We therefore suggest that government and health organizations should consider gardening as a beneficial health intervention and encourage people to participate in regular exercise in gardens.”

Resources to check about gardening fitness:

https://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/features/get- fit-by- gardening#1

https://www.gardeningknowhow.com/garden-how- to/lifestyle/garden-fitness- more-than- a-hobby- its-good- for-you.htm


https://www.alive.com/lifestyle/the-dirt- on-gardening/


© Karen Hix 2017

January Article

New Year Resolutions for Gardeners

With the New Year comes new beginnings.  New Year resolutions are part of our culture:  Be happier. Lose weight. Start a hobby. But how about making a few for your gardening success this year?

Choose a few that you know you can accomplish.

Here are a few for your consideration:

  1. Clean out the shed and go through old materials. Identify any materials that have sat unused for more than six months and box them up for the next pesticide disposal day.  Also discard unlabeled or solidified material.
  2. Prepare your beds early. Be the proverbial “early bird.”  Plant seeds and let them germinate indoors and be ready to transplant them as soon as the last frost is gone.
  3. Successive plantings of vegetables.  Don’t you hate it when you have pounds of tomatoes and mounds of onions and buckets of blackberries all at one time?  You knock yourself out freezing, cooking, canning; and then once they’re gone! It’s too late to plant a new crop.  So, this year, “time it out.”  Put out those cucumbers, and then 2 weeks later, put out another set; repeat until the first ones are not producing any more.
  4. Add a native species to your landscape.  Natives are hardy, durable survivors (No, hydrangeas and hostas are not native to Texas)
  5. Take a risk; plant something new.  Or plant it in a new way. New varieties of plants come out every year.  Choose a smaller size so you won’t feel badly if it doesn’t work in your garden.  Choose a new Texas Superstar.  Choose something that is just beyond your climate zone.  Try hydroponics.  Try upside down tomato plants.  (On second thought, go ahead and try hydrangeas and hostas
  6. Go on a gardening excursion.  When’s the last time you visited an Arboretum?  Dallas, Fort Worth, San Antonio, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, Woodway Arboretum.  Just go.  Spend the day to stroll and enjoy.  And notice those well-cared for landscapes in your own neighborhood.  What are they doing that you could try in your yard?  Even a stroll through one of the local nurseries is food for thought and dreams.
  7. Document your garden.  When did you plant those last year?  How long did it take for carrots to mature?  Which one of those cherry tomatoes produced the most last year?  Did you fertilize last week?  If you don’t document it, it’s hard to remember
  8. Be more realistic about the amount of time available for gardening.  Grand ideas.  We see those picturesque views and say, “I want that!”  It may take you years to get that same look.  Also, be realistic about the seasons.  It does take time to prune, weed, harvest, prepare the soil, inspect for (and deal with) pests. Plan accordingly.
  9. Take regular breaks or at least switch movements or activities often to save muscles and joints from the abuse of repetitive motions. You don’t have to dig the entire bed, or mulch every square inch, or weed every tiny shoot in one swoop of time.  A little at a time – one patch here, one section there.  It will get done, and your body will thank you later. Again – plan accordingly
  10. Learn the “good guys” from the “bad guys” in the bug department.  Don’t be so quick to zap everything that crawls or flies.  Encourage the good bugs by planting appropriate flowers such as alyssum and asters. You may not realize it, but insect predators and parasites are helping you in the battle of the bad bugs. Learn what you can do to help them.  Pollinators are crucial to your success.  And even wasps can be beneficial. Now, fire ants and stink bugs are on most everyone’s “terminate” list all the time, every time.
  11. Go “natural.”  One man’s weed is another man’s ground cover.  Dandelions and hen-bit are the earliest growers in the spring and the bees NEED them before everything else starts to bloom.
  12. Plant more herbs and use them in cooking.
  13. Sniff more flowers. Plant things that smell heavenly – it soothes the soul. The saying “Stop and smell the roses” is true!
  14. Cut back on the use of plastics and chemicals in your gardens.
  15. Grow a few extra vegetables and share with your neighbors or food bank.
  16. Conserve water – use a rain barrel; use drip irrigation or use an olla

Baby steps are ok.  If you only accomplish one of these this year, your gardens will be better off at the end of this year!


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