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Rockwall County Master Gardener Spring 2023 Newsletter

March - April - May

In this issue...

Upcoming events

Composting - part 1 of 4

Texas natives: Buffalograss

Milkweed for monarchs

Texas Superstar® plants

Spring vegetable guide


Hello gardening friends!

We have been busy planning for the year ahead! We look forward to visiting with the Rockwall community through classes and fun events where we can share with each other our enthusiasm for all things plants. We hope you enjoy our spring newsletter!

Upcoming events

Don't miss the last of our spring classes taught by Rockwall Extension Master Gardeners!

Click here to check availability including our upcoming class, Texas Superstar® Plants.

Spring Plant Sale!! We can't wait to bring you your favorite perennials and warm season annuals. We will have Texas Superstar®, native and pollinator plants! Stay tuned! Pick-up will be in April. Order forms will be emailed in March.

Interested in becoming a Rockwall County Extension Master Gardener? A call for applications begins in April for the upcoming 12-week Fall class

(mid-August through early-November). Applications will be due by June 24, 2023. Watch the website for details.

Composting - what is it? why do it?

“Composting” - It's an interesting word and even more interesting concept. So many of us who want a beautiful landscape and/or a productive garden have heard the word, but may not have had the opportunity to explore “composting.” “Composting,” the word itself indicates that action is needed! So, let’s get started. This article, first in a 2023 series, will outline what “composting” is, why it is recommended for gardening, and what is needed for efficient, effective composting.

What is it? Composting is simply decomposing or converting organic waste to a stable, usable form. Composting typically takes place using one of two processes; anaerobic decomposition or aerobic decomposition. Anaerobic decomposition, or putrefaction, takes place without oxygen. Composting by anaerobic processes will produce foul odors. The aerobic composting process requires oxygen and is the more common and preferred process for horticultural purposes. One of the benefits of aerobic processes is there is no unpleasant smell associated with it. 

Why is composting recommended? Composting is one of the key Earth-Kind® gardening practices recommended by the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. Multiple benefits of composting include:

  • Compost releases nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorous, and potash into the soil.
  • Compost changes the structure of soil improving drainage in clay soils and nutrient holding in sandy soils.
  • Compost helps soil absorb and retain water.
  • Compost increases the number and diversity of soil microbes.

Another benefit is that more composting could reduce trash going into our landfills. It is estimated that currently 20% of trash going in Texas landfills is made up of grass clippings, leaves, and pruning from shrubs and trees.

What is needed for composting? Necessary components for composting include:

  • A variety of organic materials
  • Microorganisms
  • Water, air and nitrogen
  • Proper temperature
  • Space for the compost pile
  • Time – for the composting process
  • Time and energy– for managing the compost pile

Organic materials may include leaves, grass clippings, pruning from shrubs or trees, saw dust, newspapers, straw, cattle and horse manure, and plant based table scraps. The quantity and diversity of microorganisms are primarily obtained from the organic materials being composted and the surrounding environment. The compost pile will be more efficient if there is adequate moisture. However, too much moisture will lower the temperature of the compost pile and may yield anaerobic composting and its adverse effects. Proper oxygen levels and temperature are maintained primarily through regular turning of the compost. Temperature of the compost pile should be maintained between 120-170°F.

Upcoming articles in this series will provide information on the space requirements and equipment needed for composting, starting and maintaining the compost pile, how to best use the compost in your garden and troubleshooting issues that may arise.  

Resources for getting started:

Guide to Composting and Earth-Kind® Composting Fundamentals

Texas natives

Buffalograss - Native Turf Texas Tough

As summertime breezes float over the hills and plains of Texas, Texans long to walk barefoot through their own bit of prairie. We Texans must love our prairies, since nearly every residential and commercial development has been sodded with acres of grasses such as bermuda, zoysia, or St. Augustine. Prices are rising for chemicals, equipment and a valuable natural resource, water!

Let’s take a look at an alternative to these water hungry grasses. Buffalograss, Buchloe dactyloidesa, is a Texas native turf grass. This grass is naturally drought tolerant and disease resistant. Both the cool green summertime color and the rich golden flax winter tones of Buffalograss are exceptionally attractive. Remember, great herds of buffalo in North America grazed on this native grass. When water is limited, buffalograss is competitive against weeds including Johnsongrass, dallisgrass (my nemesis) and bermudagrass. It can tolerate temperatures from +120˚F to -30˚F. Since buffalograss is hardy and disease resistant, there is little need for supplemental fertilizer and pesticide. The Texas Water Commission suggest this watering schedule for common warm season turfgrasses: buffalograss every 21-45 days, zoysiagrass every 7-10 days, bermudagrass every 5-10 days, and St. Augustine every 5 days.


Commercially, there are four main varieties of Texas native Buffalograss:

Prairie – Developed at Texas A&M, performs best in soils with high clay content and neutral to alkaline soil pH. Rockwall soil type -Blackland prairie.

609 – Developed at the University of Nebraska. Has a quick rate of spread.

Stampede – Semi-dwarf

Texoka – Ideal for planting in wildflower areas

Learn more at Warm Season Turfgrasses for North Texas and Buffalograss.

Milkweed for monarchs

Milkweed (Asclepias spp.) is the host plant for caterpillars of the monarch butterfly. Not only is milkweed a great nectar source for hungry butterflies and other insects but it is required for the survival of monarchs.


We have all heard that monarchs are in decline due to habitat loss. Look at any undeveloped field in our area in the spring and you will find (native) milkweed growing and thriving naturally. As those fields are developed, we are losing our native milkweed. In an effort to help the monarchs, many homeowners are now growing milkweed in backyard gardens.


Why all the controversy surrounding tropical vs native milkweed? I planted my first milkweed about 5 years ago. It was non-native tropical milkweed (Asclepias curassavica). Fast forward 5 years and I no longer have any tropical milkweed and instead have green milkweed (Asclepias viridis), a Texas native. Tropical milkweed has year-round foliage and flower production in southern states. This allows for monarchs to continue breeding and laying eggs instead of migrating further south (read more here). Those that stay instead of migrating do not survive the near freezing temperatures of winter. Tropical milkweed has also been studied for its role in the spread of OE (Ophryocystis elektroscirrha), a parasite that infects butterflies that host on milkweed, including the monarch. OE in monarchs increase where tropical milkweed flourishes. If an infected milkweed continues to thrive through winter and does not die back like native milkweed species, the infected plants will persist and continue to infect monarchs the next season and throughout spring and fall migrations.


What do you do if you already have tropical milkweed? Sometimes tropical milkweed is all we can find in our local big box stores. If you grow tropical milkweed, be diligent about cutting it back in early October and keeping it cut to 6 inches throughout fall and winter. This will discourage monarchs from creating a breeding ground and will help to eliminate OE spores present on the plant. Try to find a retailer that sells native milkweed. Some local nurseries sell native milkweed in the spring but be sure to ask about pesticide use…a nursery milkweed plant that has been treated with pesticide will kill the larval (caterpillar) stage of a monarch.


What native milkweed should you look for? Texas has over 30 native species of milkweed. With several that grow easily in North Texas. The two most common native milkweed species that grow in the Dallas area are green milkweed (Asclepias viridis) and antelope horns milkweed (Asclepias asperula). Another native species, butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa), is a showier option. Keep in mind that flowers do not usually appear until the plant is well-established. However, monarch butterflies will still utilize the plant to lay eggs and the caterpillars will complete their lifecycle happily feeding off the leaves. Learn more at TPWD Identification of Milkweeds in Texas

Featured Texas Superstar®!

Tangerine Beauty Crossvine

Bignonia Capreolata

To be designated a Texas Superstar®, a plant must perform well for growers throughout the state and perform well in field tests throughout Texas. Tangerine Beauty Crossvine was discovered growing in a garden in San Antonio in the 1980s and was designated a Texas Superstar in 2022. Add this Texas native pollinator and perennial to your home garden for evergreen beauty throughout our growing seasons. We have a large Tangerine Beauty Crossvine growing in the Children's Garden at our Discovery Garden.

Attend our Texas Superstar® class taught by one of our Extension Master Gardeners! Click here for ticket information. Space is limited.

What it takes to be a Superstar®

Every plant earning the Texas Superstar® designation undergoes several years of extensive field trials by Texas A&M AgriLife Research and the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, both part of the Texas A&M System. They must show superior performance under Texas’ tough growing conditions. During the field trials, plants receive minimal soil preparation, reasonable levels of water and no pesticides.  

Find these plants at your local nursery and be sure to look for the Texas Superstar® logo on the plant tags.

Vegetable gardening with Laura!

It is tempting with the weather we’ve been having – but resist the temptation to rush planting. Especially tomato and pepper transplants that are very tender to frost. Generally plants don’t get that big of a head start if planted earlier. The average last frost date for Rockwall (Zone 8a) is March 15th.


Seed Outdoors – Beans (Lima, bush, pole, snap), Beets, Carrots, Corn, Cucumbers, Greens (Collard or Mustard), Leeks, Lettuce, Melons, Radishes, Scallions, Spinach, Squash, Swiss Chard, Turnips, Zucchini

Transplant – Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts, Cabbage, Cauliflower, Cucumbers, Greens, Kale, Lettuce, Melons, Peppers, Squash, Swiss Chard, Tomatoes, Zucchini


Seed Outdoors – Beans, Corn, Cucumbers, Gourds, Melons, Okra, Peas, Pumpkins, Radishes, Squash, Zucchini

Transplant – Cucumbers, Eggplant, Gourds, Melons, Okra, Peppers, Pumpkins, Squash, Sweet Potato Slips, Tomatoes, Zucchini


Seed Outdoors – Corn, Cucumbers, Gourds, Melons, Okra, Peas, Pumpkins, Radishes, Squash, Zucchini

Transplant – Cucumbers, Eggplant, Gourds, Melons, Okra, Pumpkins, Radishes, Squash, Sweet Potato Slips, Zucchini

Seed Indoors – Eggplant, Peppers, Tomatoes


A few popular herbs to plant after the danger of frost include: Basil, Thyme, Oregano, Sage, Chives, Parsley, Cilantro, Lemon Balm, Mint, Lavender, Dill, and Lemon Verbena.

If you remember our Fall edition, I promised to write about garlic scapes (pictured above)! Garlic scapes are the stem and flower bud of the garlic plant. Scapes grow straight up and then coil. They look like long, curly green beans once they’re cut. If you planted garlic in the fall, you will have to harvest these scapes since you want the plant to direct it’s energy into forming the garlic bulb instead of flowering. This is a bonus to growing garlic as scapes are wonderful to cook with! They do have a pungent garlic flavor; I recommend blanching them to tame their flavor before using in most recipes. While a quick google search will yield a ton of recipes, here are just a few ideas:

  • Roast them – throw them on the grill or under the broiler until they are roasted. Serve them as a side dish
  • Add them to an egg dish – Chop finely, sauté, and add to scrambled eggs, an omelet, frittata or even quiche!
  • Make compound butter – chop finely and add to softened butter. This compound goes especially well on steaks or on a toasted baguette.
  • Make pesto – adding garlic scapes to pesto lends a great flavor to pasta, pizza, and even a marinade for chicken.

Weird but wonderful

No, it isn’t Audrey II from the Little Shop of Horrors, it’s our own Texas plant the Sarracenia alata (alias Pale Pitcher Plant, Yellow Trumpets, Pale Trumpet, Trumpet Pitcher Plant, Flycatcher) the  largest carnivorous plant in East Texas. But don’t worry when hiking in the wetlands, it only eats bugs. More info, here.

Interesting Insects

Crane Fly. These are not giant mosquitoes! Crane flies do not bite or sting. Their entire life cycle takes around a year, mostly spent in the larval and pupal stages. Adult crane flies only live a few days – just long enough to mate and lay eggs. Adults may not even eat! These clumsy flies only have love on their tiny minds. The next time one makes its way indoors, simply cup it gently to release outdoors.

Fun fact

Did you know that a Texan saved the European, particularly the French, wine industry? In the mid-1800s, Phylloxera (a root louse) started wreaking havoc on European vineyards. By 1868, more than 6 million acres of vineyards in France, Germany and other regions had been destroyed. The wine industry, and the economies of these countries, were on the brink of total disaster. T.V. Munson, of Denison, TX came to the rescue! He had been studying native grape varieties from all over Texas and had been developing improved hybrids. He shipped hybrid rootstock he developed to France, where it was grafted to with European grapevines. These grafted grapevines were Phylloxera resistant and saved the wine industry! Every bottle of French wine be it Champagne or Bordeaux – has its roots from Texas.


Pop quiz!

One of these food crops is not from the rose family (Rosaceae), do you know which one?

Winter Poll Results:

75% of poll takers have not attended a class taught by Rockwall Extension Master Gardeners. You're in luck! Check our spring schedule at

Contact us

Rockwall County Master Gardener Association

915 Whitmore, Suite B

Rockwall, Texas 75087

972-204-7660 | | website | facebook

Wednesday Gardening Hot Line: “Ask a Master Gardener!” Volunteers will be answering calls and emails every Wednesday from 10:00 a.m. until 12:00 p.m. Call (972) 204-7660 or email us anytime at:

Please take our short Rockwall County Master Gardeners Survey to help improve our educational outreach.


Michele Campbell, Editor

Contributors: Virginia Davis, David Hickman, Sarah Lawson, Polly Mosley, Kim Townsend, Laura Wheelis, Todd K. Williams, Debora Zerneri

EnviroSmart is published by: Rockwall County Master Gardener Association part of Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, the Texas A&M University System. The information given herein is for education purposes only. Reference to commercial products or trade names is made with the understanding that no discrimination is intended and no endorsement by Texas A&M AgriLife Extension is implied.

Todd Williams - County Extension Agent

Ag/ Natural Resources


Texas A&M AgriLife Extension provides equal opportunities in its programs and employment to all persons, regardless of race, color, sex, religion, national origin, disability, age, genetic information, veteran status, sexual orientation or gender identity. The Texas A&M University System, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the County of Commissioners Courts of Texas Cooperating.

Texas A&M Horticulture

Texas Master Gardener

Rockwall County Master Gardeners