Fall, Winter

Cool Weather Designs

It’s that time of year for hosting visits with family and friends. The temperatures are becoming milder, and your yard and patio are no longer saunas. Fall in Houston means nourishing rainfall and plenty of breezy sunshine. It’s the perfect time to amend your soils with organic compost, and to plant some cool season annuals and perennials.

Some of our favorite Houston fall color plants are: Lobelia, Pansies, Violas, Cyclamen, Amazon Dianthus, Sweet William, Snapdragons, Calendula, Alyssum, Kale, Dusty Miller and Swiss Chard. The fiery orange blooms and cool purple petals are wonderful complements to any fall décor. And though we rarely get snow in Houston, a few plantings of white Dianthus, Alyssum, or the snowflake-patterned Dusty Miller can give that cool weather touch.


Prevent Brown Patch In Your Lawn

We love to see fall colors in our trees and in our gardens, but not so much in the grass! Cooler weather, unfortunately, promotes other growth as well: cool-season bugs and fungi. Brown patches in turfgrass are often caused by the Rhizoctonia species fungus and fall sod webworms. The best way to prevent brown patch in your lawn is to avoid over-fertilizing with high nitrogen fertilizer during the fall and winter. The fungus moves from plant to plant in standing water, so if your lawn had puddles in the summer, those areas are prime candidates for the brown patch in the fall.

Re-grading your lawn can address these issues, and improve drainage. Lawn aeration also helps by removing extra thatch, bringing better air circulation and water penetration. Preventative application of fungicide may be necessary for areas where the fungus has occurred in the past.

Contact us at Sterling Design & Landscape Resources to talk with one of our experienced landscape designers. We would love to help you with your fall gardening needs.


Attack the Creepy-Crawlies

It’s that spooky time of the year again when the creepy-crawly caterpillars come out to turn your lawns into a horror movie. Sod Webworms and Cutworms – they’re not really worms but moth larvae or caterpillars. But like classic horror movie monsters, these caterpillars are usually not seen during the day. They feed at night.


Sod Webworms cause the most damage when they are newly hatched from their eggs when they feed on the foliage of turfgrass. Damage is often seen as a small area of leaves that are yellow to brown. In closely-mowed turf, symptoms will appear more quickly and prominently.


Cutworms get their name from their habit of “cutting” off a seedling at ground level by chewing through the stem. Some species are subterranean and eat roots. One of the most common garden pests is the variegated cutworm, which can defoliate entire gardens and fields in a matter of days.

So how do we combat these nocturnal marauders?


Sod Webworms, Cutworms, and even the day-walking Army Worms (above) are easily controlled by most liquid insecticides approved for turfgrass: bifenthrin, malathion or any of the synthetic pyrethroids or carbamates out there.

If you’re looking for a 100% organic solution: bacillus thuringiensis, otherwise known as Liquid Bt, is a natural bacterium that only targets caterpillars. It’s a great addition to the liquid insecticide regimen. Any Sod Webworm, Cutworm or Army Worm that bites into a Bt-treated blade of grass should react like Dracula drinking holy water.

It takes more than one treatment to eradicate these harmful caterpillars from your lawn. This is because the insecticides target only the larvae as they crawl along the grass. It’s harder to get the eggs since they are stationary, and it’s difficult to get the moths (that lay the eggs which become the caterpillars) as they fly about. By going back over the treated areas again, the insecticide has a chance to get the newly-hatched eggs and further deters moths from landing in the area to start the cycle anew.

We recommend treating the affected area 3-4 times in a 21-day period to make sure the Worms don’t rise from their graves.

If you’ve walked through your yard and had tiny moths scatter up around your feet, that’s a likely signal that these caterpillars are on their way. But if you treat your lawn using the control methods listed above, you’ll get control of them before they can turn your lawn into Blight of the Living Dead.

Contact us at Sterling Design & Landscape Resources to talk with one of our experienced landscape designers. We would love to help you with your fall gardening needs.


Put Color Back In Your Life

(Originally published by Sterling Design in Heights Pages Spring 2017 Issue)

Did the winter freeze take the color out of your garden? Are your plants looking drab and lifeless? Now is the perfect time to start fresh. The first step is choosing the right color palette. Here are a few examples that can transform any winter-ravaged garden into a neighborhood masterpiece.


Split-Complementary Color Palette

By choosing the colors next to the one on the opposite side of the color wheel, you can add complexity while softening the contrast a bit. Colors still pop and invigorate without looking garish. Modern designs use diverse heights and shapes to add even more interest. If you like variety and want an informal, fun garden space, this approach is for you.



Victorian Complementary Color Palette

The Victorians used tones of opposing colors to achieve a serene and stately formality. The complementary colors provide drama and interest, while the muted pastel tones soften the conflict between the two. If your house exterior already has a Victorian palette, or if you want to create a formal garden space, this might be perfect for your needs.



Mid-Century Modern Monochromatic

The Mid-Century Modern aesthetic focuses on architectural simplicity and bold textures. So the best approach is to accentuate shape over color. Use a monochromatic color palette to give depth to the shadows and background. If your house has (or if you plan to install) exposed stonework or striking architectural features, this approach will harmonize with your existing (or future) shapes and forms.


There is an array of color schemes to utilize, and a rainbow of new plants waiting at the nursery to fill your garden with life. Find further inspiration through Pinterest, gardening magazines, or color theory sites like Call us at Sterling Design & Landscape Resources to talk with one of our experienced designers. We would love to help put color back into your life.

Sterling Design & Landscape Resources





How to Save Your Plants From Summer Scorch

We’re slowly heading into fall, but those cooler temperatures are still a while off. If your garden is looking a little sun-baked, we’ve got just the right treatments to give them a bit of emergency Tender Loving Care. And now is a great time to get your garden ready for fall by guarding against weeds. First up: a Summer Tonic for heat-stressed plants.

Summer Tonic Recipe

This recipe is from Angela Chandler, a member of the Harris County Master Gardener Association. You can read her blog here. Angela’s summer tonic is a combination of Epsom salt, liquid seaweed (kelp), and SuperThrive®.  She wrote …

Despite the name, Epsom salt is not a sodium salt like table salt, but rather a source of the minerals magnesium and sulfur. Gardeners have used Epsom salt for decades, and it has many uses in the garden. Magnesium plays a crucial role in photosynthesis – the process by which the plant converts light energy into chemical (food) energy.

Seaweed (kelp) provides roughly 60 trace minerals plus amino acids and enzymes. It enhances root development, stimulates microbial activity, and promotes the production of auxins (natural plant growth hormones).  SUPERthrive® is a combination of vitamins and plant hormones. It is not a stand-alone fertilizer but can be added to fertilizers. It is well known to reduce transplant shock.


  • 5 gallons of water
  • ⅔ cup liquid seaweed
  • ⅔ cup Epsom salt
  • 1 tablespoon SUPERthrive®

The ⅔ cups are based on a recommended application rate of 2 tablespoons per gallon of water – ⅓ cup is 5⅓ tablespoons. If the products you use recommend more or less, adjust as required. You can substitute Garrett juice for the liquid seaweed, but you will need to increase the amount to 1¼ cup per 5 gallons. Garrett juice includes compost tea and horticultural molasses as well as seaweed.

Water your plants thoroughly the day before application. Then apply the tonic as a drench, wetting the root zone of the plant. You will use ½ to 1 gallon for shrubs, and less for perennials, vegetables, and bedding plants. It will take several days to see results. How often to apply depends on how stressed the plant is, how long the heat lasts, and the general health of the plant in the first place.  Container plants may benefit from using this tonic weekly, but if you choose to do this, dilute it by half with water. This follows the “weakly, weekly” practice and can keep easily stressed plants, like root-bound ferns, happy through the summer.

With any supplement, there is a tendency to think that if a little is good, more is better. We have to remember, however, that any excess we apply can leach out of the soil and end up in the watershed. It is best to apply conservative solutions on a regular basis rather than a large amount all at once.


More Immediate TLC Treatments

Humic/Fulvic Acid Complex

  • Feeds the beneficial microbes that live in the soil
  • As positive microbes increase, the soil becomes restructured to support plants better

Humic/Fulvic Acid Complex stimulates root growth, provides over 47 minerals, promotes more efficient absorption of minerals by the plants through the roots and leaves, removes salts and toxins, loosens clay soils allowing more oxygen flow, increases the soil CEC (nutrient capacity) and buffers pH.


  • Provides a quick stimulation to plants when applied during their growing season
  • A way to get nutrients absorbed into the leaves and roots by applying directly to the plant

Molasses also contains protein, B Vitamins, and many minerals i.e.: Potassium, Iron, Calcium, Magnesium, and Copper. Molasses is a great food source for beneficial soil bacteria and will help remediate salts and toxins from the soil. And if you have pest insects that cycle in the soil like Fungal Gnats, Thrips, and Mealy Bugs; Molasses will do a great job of wiping them out.


Prepare for Weeds

The autumn season is no time to fall down when it comes to controlling and pre-treating weed pressure. And for southern lawns, the turn toward Labor Day provides little respite, with fickle weather patterns requiring a studied game plan.


The best time to control perennial broadleaf weeds is in the early fall, rather than waiting until spring because you’ll get more active ingredients into the roots.

Prepping for autumn isn’t predicated on herbicides alone. Rather, your preemergence plan should combine applications with a review of spring data, along with the study of irrigation systems, shaded areas, and mowing heights.

Contact us at Sterling Design & Landscape Resources to talk with one of our experienced landscape designers. We can help you find the right plan for your landscape, and ensure your garden is weed-free, healthy and vibrant.


Freeze Recovery Rules for 2018

The following is from an article posted by Randy Lemmon of “GardenLine with Randy Lemmon

Prompted by the prolonged cold that ushered in 2018, here are my long-standing rules for dealing with landscapes in the aftermath of a freeze.  As you read them, please note that we will not touch fruit trees … especially citrus … until at least late February.

1. Cut brown back to green

If it’s crispy and brown, cut it back to the greenwood. Hibiscus, lantana, hamelia and other perennials are great examples.  Or, you can just leave crispy and brown freeze-damaged plants alone until you feel certain no more freezing weather is ahead.  If you do cut back damaged plants to greenwood, promise that you will super-protect them if we get surprised by another forecast freeze.
There are two reasons:  
a. The fresh-cut will act like a straw, pulling freezing temperatures directly into the plant. And that can totally kill a perennial that otherwise could handle such weather.  
b. If you cut back, and temperate weather prompts new growth, the new parts will be highly susceptible to damage from any future freezing weather.

2. Consider leaving it alone

If you cut a brown and crispy plant to the ground and see no sign of green, but the root system seems to be firmly locked in, consider leaving it alone to see if it comes back. (Be sure to protect what’s left during any future freeze.) If the root system moves around easily — like a car’s stick-shift — it’s dead. You can remove the whole thing.

3. Get the mushy stuff out

If it’s mushy, gushy or gooey, get rid of it! Cut it out, remove it – do whatever it takes to get the nasty stuff out of there.  If you cut all the mushy, gushy, gooey parts away from tropicals like bananas or split-leaf philodendrons, you’ll likely be left with just a tiny bit of green material near the ground.  Protect it from future freezes that can kill the root system. But you really need to get the mushy stuff out, because it could harbor fungal diseases that will be pulled into the plant.

4. Check tall palms

If a palm frond (those of queen palms are good examples) is drooping over, cut it out or back. If a palm frond is standing up, leave it alone. After the January 2010 freeze, we had to wait months before we knew if some palms were coming back.  The only true way to determine if a palm is dead is to examine the inside of the crown, where new growth emerges.  But most of us don’t have the tree company equipment or ladders tall enough to do such visual observations.  A racquetball buddy who was worried about his queen palms sent me a picture saying he thought they looked fine to him.  I told him that I didn’t want to rain on his parade, but he might not know the full extent of some palm damage for another 30-45 days.

5. Check small palms

On palms small enough to get to the fronds (a dwarf pygmy date palm is a good example), pull on those in the interior to see if they stay attached. If they easily slide out, the plant is dead. If they hold tight, the plant may still be alive, but you will have to wait and see.  And if you removed some fronds/leaves, but you think the palm may still be alive, remember to protect the open slots during any future freeze. Otherwise, the dangerous cold will be drawn into the plant through those open areas.

6. Scalp the yard

If you feel confident that we’ll get no more hard freezes through mid-February, it’s time to scalp the yard. Essentially, you’ll try to vacuum up any dead grass so live roots are open to the air, sunshine, water, and fertilizer. This year, we have the first true need to scalp lawns since February 2011.  That was the last time we had a freeze that actually impacted typical lawns here.  And, as you might suspect, another hard freeze could actually kill a scalped St. Augustine lawn.  So, don’t do it until at least Feb. 15, unless you are really confident there’s no more chance for a hard freeze.

7. Break down the thatch

If you think your St. Augustine lawn has a lot of thatch built up, don’t mechanically de-thatch – scalp instead. There are products – essentially anything containing humus or humates – that will help break down the thatch.

Check out my article on the need to the scalp that also includes details on de-thatching and the many myths surrounding that issue.


Please share this information with friends and neighbors, and encourage them to tune in GardenLine each weekend in 2018 to learn more about recovering from extreme weather and succeeding with all types of gardening along the Gulf Coast.  And get hooked up with GardenLine on Facebook, too.  We post timely information there on a regular basis.