Ten Plus Ways to Improve Your Yard in the Fall

Ten Plus Ways to Improve Your Yard in the Fall

By Stephen Shelton

“Fall is for Planting” is the old nurseryman’s slogan. It gives new plants time to get adjusted to their new location. Whither you are planting new shrubs and trees or transplanting from one location in the yard to another, water all new plantings by sticking the hose end into the dirt around the plant when planting to eliminate any air pockets in the soil so the plant can establish new roots before winter.

  1. Since my wife and I moved into our present home, I have removed over 25 trees and shrubs that had to be trimmed every couple of months because they were shaped like big balls all over the yard or were overgrown in the space they were planted in. Fall is a great time to do this! Don’t be afraid of removing plants that are to big or overgrown in your landscape. Fewer plants with room to grow to their mature sizes look better and are less work than lots of bushes that have to be trimmed regularly. And, did I say, it’s less work?

2.  I recommend two fertilizations a year (Spring & Fall). Labor Day is a good time for
fall. Options are: organic fertilizer like Milorganite or a 3-1-2 ratio balanced

3.  Continue your twice a week water schedule. I run my sprinkler system at 4 A.M. for
ten minutes, then again at 5:15 A.M. for ten minutes and again at 6:30 A.M. for ten
minutes. This allows for deeper water penetration during hot weather. Once the
temperature drops below 90, I will set my system to run twice instead of three time.

4.  Before the leaves begin to fall, get out that ladder and clean out your gutters.

5.  I hope you are composting. My wife and I have cut out about 60%of our garbage
by composting and recycling. We compost all fruit and vegetable waste, grass
clippings and cardboard packaging. By turning it at least twice a week and adding
water when dry, we make beautiful black dirt for our plants.

6.  Flower beds need your attention in the fall as your summer flowers begin to
decline. Add compost to your soil and plant Mums, Alyssum, Pansies and winter
vegetables like spinach, kale, and lettuces in your beds for homegrown produce.
You can also plant onions, turnips, beets and other root crops in the fall.

7. A great time to prune your trees is after they lose their leaves.  (See my blog post
on proper pruning techniques at )

This is a common mistake when pruning with loppers. You want a flush cut along the main branch.Enter a caption


8. Always collect your leaves in the fall and add them to your compost pile or leave the          bags at the curb for your neighbors who compost.

9. Fall is a great time to wash your windows. You will be surprised at how much
brighter  your outlook on life will be through clean windows. (Best window cleaning
solution is equal parts denatured alcohol and water, in my opinion.)

10. I love to cook out in the fall. Make sure your grill is in good working order and
replace  any worn out parts.

11. With cooler weather and shorter days, consider stringing clear LED lights in and
around your patio or terrace for evening entertainment.

12. Finally, check out your fire pit, gas heater and chimeneas to make sure they are in              good working order.

Always have a hose or fire extinguisher handy in case of an accident.

This may sound like a lot, but many of these projects take less that a day to accomplish. Spread out over the next three or four months, and you can do the work and still have time to enjoy your yard. If you have questions or comments go to

Don’t be afraid to play in the dirt.

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Grub Alert!

I thought I had drought damage after the heat spell a few weeks ago.  When the yard looked worse after three inches of rain, I took a closer look.  Man was I surprised to discover I had a white grub infestation. I hadn’t noticed an unusual amount of June bugs to make me suspect grubs. Then I noticed it was worse under the street light at the curb. (You might want to check your lawn near street lamps and outdoor lights that are on most nights.)   After pulling up most of my parkway, I decided to check with the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service’s, “Ask a Pro”, for Tarrant County about organic options for grub control. I have been developing an echo-friendly sustainable yard and garden since I moved into our present home, and I sure don’t want to do anything to destroy what I’ve worked so hard to create.  I didn’t want to poison the grubs and every other living bug, worm, pollinator, and beneficial insect in my yard with a chemical insecticide.

The expert responded a day latter with several organic methods.  He listed finished compost or compost tea, beneficial nematodes, lemon scented dish detergent (1 part detergent to 2 parts water), Bacillus popilliae (milky spore bacteria).  I chose to go with the beneficial nematodes because they help control not just grubs, but fire ants, Japanese beetle grubs and a whole host of other detrimental insects without harming earthworms, bees, or other pollinators.  He also recommended to apply whichever method by August 20th for optimum results.  

I want to thank Steve Chaney, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service for his help.

Check out how Earth-Kind your landscape is at


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Proper Pruning Techniques

Proper Pruning Techniques

A tree is a great thing of beauty that lives for years, decades and in some cases for centuries. It hurts my soul to see one trimmed improperly. It’s hard to believe, but improperly trimming a tree can actually shorten its lifespan, or kill it outright. I’m no arborist, but I am an experienced tree trimmer. So, as summer gives way to autumn I want to encourage you to take the time to trim your trees properly. It will save you time and money in the long run.

Tree trimming is as much an art as it is a science. Stand away from the tree and look at its overall form. Different species of trees grow in different shapes with different structures. The best time to prune is when a tree is dormant, but it isn’t the only time you can prune. Trees damaged by strong winds need to be cleaned up and pruned as soon as possible to prevent further damage and stress to the tree.

When trimming trees, the thing to remember is restraint is good. Start by cutting off less than you think you need. Use a sharp saw with a clean blade. When removing limbs from any tree, always cut the limb off at the trunk or joint where it is attached. Never leave a stub sticking out from the tree at the cut. This will create problems that will look unsightly, invite decay and attract unwanted insects that can damage the tree.

prunning 1

Review safety procedures and wear appropriate clothing. Check your surrounding for any exposed electrical cords and nearby power lines. When you begin pruning look for damaged or diseased limbs first and remove them. Next, look for limbs that are rubbing against each other and remove the smaller or most damaged of the two. Once this is done stand back and reevaluate the tree.

Some trees like Live Oaks tend to grow thick with small branches that prevent sunlight from reaching the ground. These small limbs that are less than an inch in diameter can be removed just about anytime. This allows the lateral limbs to spread out and grow stronger. On young trees that are still growing, you will need to remove lower limbs as the tree grows until you can walk comfortably under the canopy of the tree. As the tree ages, new branches will continue to grow from older branches and sag toward the ground which will need to be removed to allow clearance under the tree. Other evergreens like pines and magnolias can be pruned as needed throughout the year.

Deciduous trees, that lose their leaves in the fall, usually need less pruning. Unless damaged by a storm or accident, pruning should be done when dormant. Again, look for branches that are dead, damaged or diseased and remove them first. Some trees have sprouts, or suckers, that come up at the base of the tree or along the drip line. These can be removed at any time.

One last word of caution, never, ever top a tree! With that said, there are exceptions to this and every other rule. When the top is broken out of a tree you can still save the tree, but it will never grow like it should and will always be scarred. Fruit trees are often topped to make it easier to harvest the fruit, but here again, it doesn’t benefit the tree to top it. It just makes it more convenient for harvesting the fruit.

Parable of the Hibiscus Seed

Parable of the Hibiscus Seed

I am what many would consider an avid gardener. I have been at it for over 50 years. I started mowing yards when I was about 12, worked for City of Dallas Park Department during the summers in high school, and I have owned a plant nursery, or maybe it owned me. I worked my way through college and seminary doing landscaping. All the while making cuttings, collecting unusual plants by division and over the last several years collecting seeds from not so common plants in our area.

I received a packet of 10 seeds of perennial hibiscus as a bonus when I ordered some coleus seeds online a couple of years ago. I had never grown hibiscus before so I planted the seeds and got three viable plants from the lot. One had pure white blooms and two had white blooms with red throats. The plants grew to approximately four feet tall the first year. They died back to the ground and I transplanted the roots to a new bed the following year and all three plants grew to about five feet with blooms the size of dinner plates. So far so good. I moved them again this past winter. My wife accuses me of moving plants around the yard like my mother use to re-arrange furniture in the house. This time I planted the two red throated plants together and moved the white one to a different bed. This year the two planted together are six feet tall have bloomed for three months so far, and started producing flowers, about the size of dessert plates, and so far I have gathered five seed pods off the plants.

I collected 445 seeds from the five seed pods pictured.

I wonder how many might sprout if all were planted and how many more seeds might be harvested from those seeds? It reminded me of a biblical parable know as “The Parable of the Soils”. In the parable the sower of the seed cast his seed so that some falls on the path where it was trampled under foot and the birds ate the seed before it sprouted. Some fell on rocky soil where the seed sprouted and withered in the heat because their roots are shallow and weak. Some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up with the seed and choked it out, and no harvest was produced. The rest fell on good, fertile soil and produced a crop of 30, 60 and 100 fold.

So, If I were to sow 400 seeds and 3/4ths failed to grow, and I had 100 fall on good soil where they could produce a harvest of new seeds, how many seeds might I end up producing?FOOTNOTE: Footnote

If my math is correct the first year’s production of seed would be approximately 5,700 seeds. (30 X 30 = 900, 30 X 60 = 1800, 30 X 100 = 3000, 900 + 1800 + 3000 = 5700) Year two using the same approximate ratios you would have 297,580 seeds.FOOTNOTE: Footnote

And using the same formula for the third year the harvest would be 270,000 seeds.FOOTNOTE: Footnote

As a landscape/nursery/gardener, I know that too many things can happen to reduce the yield of seeds from any single plant of crop. Living in North Texas we deal with drought, flood, tornados, searing heat, bone chilling cold, urban sprawl and climate change to name a few. It could cause some to hoard what they produce, fearing failure. It could also cause some to not even try because it’s too hard. It can also cause some of us to share what we have with others to encourage ever increasing production for the future.

I fall into the last category. I believe we can all share from out of surplus to bless others and make our community, state, country and world a better place in which to live. I can only do what I can do, but together we can do so much more. Together, we can live our lives out of a vision of plenty and work toward more for all rather than more for the few. How we steward our land, water, seeds and produce is meant to benefit our fellow man. People are what matter.

It’s a good lesson from a small seed pod.

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