Ornamental Grasses

In the gardening world, there is always something interesting to see, no matter what season it is.  During fall time in Texas, we get to see the beautiful colors of ornamental grasses.

Fall is generally the time that grasses bloom.  The inflorescence, or flowering part of the plant, opens and often has a soft, delicate color.  Ornamental grasses in the landscape can be a beautiful way to add some color, texture, and movement.

Just outside my office window is a field of King Ranch Bluestem.  Normally I would classify it as an invasive grassy weed to be eradicated, but I confess to secretly enjoying it this fall because the golden pink seed heads ripple like waves in the wind.

Ornamental grasses are easy to care for and most like well-drained soil in a sunny location.  You can cut back grasses in short clumps in early spring and consider dividing them every three years.  Grasses can also help prevent erosion and stabilize the soil, so they might be a good option if you have a sloped area in your lawn.  Ornamental grasses can be used as an accent plant in your landscape, but they are also a showstopper in mass plantings.

If you are interested in adding ornamental grasses, fall is the time to scope out the ones you like while they are blooming and make a plant shopping list for the spring.  They come in all shapes and sizes from Pampas Grass that can get up to 10 feet tall with showy white inflorescence, all the way down to Mexican Feather Grass that is one to two feet tall.  Gulf Coast Muhly is a Texas native grass that gets about three feet tall and has a pink inflorescence.

Have fun outside exploring some new plant ideas and enjoying the beautiful fall weather!

Tree Diseases and Problems

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Watch the Williamson County Master Gardener Monthly Meeting here.  Master Gardener Wayne Rhoden gave a great talk on Tree Problems and Diseases.


Large Patch Fungus in Lawns

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Does your lawn look like something from the movie “Signs” with Mel Gibson?  Big circles of grass that is dying back?  You are not alone, but fortunately this is just a fungus and not aliens!

Large patch is a common disease of warm season turfgrass, especially St. Augustine and Zoysia grass in Texas.   It is caused by the fungus Rhizoctonia solani.  This fungus is present in the soil and thatch layer all year long, but it thrives in cooler temperatures when the soil is wet.  We got a cool front and rain a couple weeks ago, and many lawns started showing symptoms of large patch shortly after that.

The first symptoms of large patch are circular patches in the lawn with orange or yellow borders.  These are almost perfectly shaped circles, and then it spreads out from there.  The large patch fungus infects the grass’s sheaths, stolons, and roots.  The diseased shoots pull out easily from the sheath.   In fact, an easy and practical way to diagnose large patch is to see if you can easily pull the grass blade out of the sheath.

Large patch infection occurs in areas that are over-fertilized late in the fall, have poor drainage, get too much water, and have excessive thatch.  Good management of your lawn can help prevent the environmental conditions that make it easy for large patch to establish.

Proper fertilization plays a big role in preventing large patch.  The last time to fertilize in the fall is six weeks before the first frost.  Fertilize the first time in the spring about three weeks after green-up.

Try to improve drainage in areas that hold water for long periods of time.  Remember that you can probably turn off your automatic sprinkler system until late spring since we have more rain and cooler temperatures now.  Just water in the fall if we have extended dry periods.

Core aeration and vertical mowing will decrease thatch and discourage disease.  Using the proper mowing height will also help.  Mow at two to three inches for St. Augustine and one to two inches for Zoysia.

If you do have large patch, fall is the recommended time to apply a fungicide.  Try to apply fungicide before or immediately after the disease begins in the fall.  Spring fungicide applications are not recommended because warmer spring/summer temperatures will limit the spread of large patch.  You can find many options for fungicides labeled for controlling large patch at local nurseries.

When Should You Plant a Tree – Now!

Summer has gone by so quickly this year, and it is hard to believe that we are almost into fall.  This is great news for a gardener in Texas because we can do a lot of lawn and garden work in the fall, and we do not sweat quite as much while we do it!

It might seem counter-intuitive but fall and winter are a great time to plant trees.  Planting in the cooler months allows trees to develop a healthy root system before putting on new growth in the spring and the stress of summer heat.

We have a wide variety of trees that do well in Central Texas from small trees like the Anacacho Orchid that is six to 12 feet tall all the way up to the Burr Oak that can grow 80 feet tall!  I highly recommend looking through the Tree Selection and Planting Guide on our website at: https://williamson.agrilife.org/links/trees/.  The guide has a good list of trees recommended for our area, along with a detailed planting guide.

I have a few favorites such as Burr Oak, Live Oak, Chinese Pistache, and Montezuma Cypress.  I am trying to pick a tree for my front lawn, but this self-proclaimed plant nerd is struggling to choose just one!

If you would like to plant a tree in your landscape this fall, consider these factors when selecting and planting your tree.

  • Choose a tree that fits your space. Many urban lots have small lawns, so consider a tree that only grows to 10-20 feet tall.
  • Try to avoid future problems when you choose your planting location. Are there powerlines nearby?  Plant smaller trees away from the lines.  It is never pretty to have your tree trimmed in a V-shape or L-shape to protect the power lines.  Do not plant too close to sidewalks or your house.
  • Consider planting trees that will shade the south and west side of your house to lower your utility bills. Afternoon shade over the roof of your home can reduce temperatures inside the home by as much as eight to 10 degrees.

Soil Preparation

Today, I had a fun opportunity to teach a group of kids about the things plants need to thrive and grow.  The list is pretty short: soil, light, water, air, and nutrients.  One essential thing for a gardener to understand is the importance of soil because soil is the storehouse for water, air and nutrients and it provides a place for the plant to grow.  If you are just getting started in gardening, start with some good soil preparation!


Late Summer Lawn and Garden Tasks

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The year has gone by so fast, and it is hard to believe August is already almost over!  Our lawns, trees, and gardens are certainly showing the signs of a hot, dry summer.

This time of year, we are trying to keep things alive during the heat and starting to prepare for fall.  Here are a few tips to help. (more…)

Cicada Killer

What’s Black and Yellow and Flies All Over?

There is an insect in town that has everyone buzzing!  This insect is black and yellow and can be up to 1 ½ inches long, and it flies.  Can you guess what it is?

You might be thinking about the Murder Hornet, or Asian Giant Hornet, that has been making the news for the last few months.  Fortunately for us, the Asian Giant Hornet has not been found in Texas!  But we do have a black and yellow wasp that is making the rounds in July and August, the Cicada Killer.


Mystery Seeds Arrive in Texas

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The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) urges anyone who receives an unsolicited package of seeds to mail those seeds to the location listed below for your state. If more than one location is listed for your state, please select the location closest to your residence.

Instructions for Mailing Seed Packets:

  • Place the unopened seed packet and any packaging, including the mailing label, in a mailing envelope. If the seed packets are open, first place the seeds and their packaging into a zip-lock bag, seal it, and then place everything into a mailing envelope.
  • Please include your name, address, and phone number so that a State or Federal agriculture official can contact you for additional information, if needed.
  • In some cases, you may also submit your information online. Instructions are provided below if that is an option in your state.

If you are unable to mail the package to one of the locations below, please contact your APHIS State plant health director to arrange a no-contact pick up or to determine a convenient drop-off location.


Texas Choose the closest location:


Attn: Elias Gonzalez

100 Los Indios Blvd.

Los Indios, Texas 78567


Attn: Gerardo Gonzalez

120 San Francisco, Bridge II Complex

Building 5, Room 505

Laredo, Texas 78045


Houston PIS

Attn: Alejandro Gammon Officer in Charge

19581 Lee Road

Humble, TX, 77338


Dallas Ft Worth Work Unit 75261

Attn: Janet Ussery, Officer in Charge

P.O. Box 610063.

Dallas, Texas 75261


Attn: Harald Grieb

3600 E. Paisano Dr.

Room 147-1

El Paso, TX 79905




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Sometimes the things we find in nature can be so much fun!  For example, have you ever heard of an Elm finger gall?  It looks like little green fingers coming out of the leaf.  Or how about gouty oak gall that causes round galls on oak twigs?

Finding several round galls on your oak twigs or even fuzzy balls on the backs of oak leaves can be disconcerting!  It looks like the tree is growing strange things, and something terrible must be happening.


Tree Health – Oak Leaf Blister

Texans are very proud of our oak trees.  During the heat of July and August, underneath the shade of a large live oak tree is a great place to be!