The Cobbler’s Kid – #2

Continuing the series showcasing our sad landscaping at home, our beautiful Turk’s Cap at the kitchen table window is now even prettier with it’s infestation of whiteflies:


The black mold allows the perfect backdrop for the bright white insects, which feed on the underparts of the leaves.  At about the same time the cobbler got around to noticing the damage, the whiteflies celebrated their 15th generation of living off the poor plant, which is turning black, refusing to bloom, and screams for help all day.


Whiteflies usually like tropical plants, potted plants, tomatoes, and cotton.  Or plants stuck in the ground under a roof eave and crammed between the corrugated metal walls of a veggie garden and the cement siding of a house.  Plants needing phosphorus are extra susceptible, and apparently, ones that get hardly any exposure to sunlight or circulated air and whose outer branches frequently get slept on by Jake the Dog. 

So last night, the cobbler sprayed some homemade garlic-pepper spray, which is probably too concentrated and will end up killing the plant, to make the bugs mad.  This morning, a round of organic fertilizer to boost nutrients and minerals.  A few repeat treatments and a couple shovels of compost around its base should pull the Turks Cap out its comfy coma and fling it back into the painful realities of the real world that it suffers through every day.   

Oh, and while he was at it, the cobbler planted some lettuce seed in the garden with his kid, just in case the bugs run out of stuff to eat.

No Love For Weed Fabric

There is no shortage of topics that landscapers and gardeners contradict themselves on; how big the tree hole should be; whether gravel is ever ok to use as mulch; how to design a landscape; the best irrigation strategy, blah blah blah.  But hopefully, our observations during a recent project can help harmonize the debate on one of those many topics, weed fabric:


Bermuda grass growing through weed fabric


Nancy wanted to clean up the weedy mess in the death strip between the front side walk and street and replant with wildflower seeds.  So we pulled out all the overgrown plants, removed the river rock, and tore out this weed fabric.  It looks like the fabric actually helped the Bermuda take over. 

Not many weeds were able to penetrate, but the Bermuda punched through the tiny pores, then stretched out over the top of the fabric.  So weeding became impossible; you could pull all day, but you’d also pull up the fabric and expose an ugly mess.  AND, the fabric and the mat of Bermuda on top protected the roots from disturbance, ensuring the Bermuda’s survival. 

Cardboard, newspaper, jute, and other less processed materials that break down over several months can help manage weeds during establishment, don’t leach unknown chemicals into soils, and are easy to work with.  Consider their use for pathways, and in beds that utilize shrubs and perennials that require wide spacing.

September Notes 2009

Hello acclimated lovers of less than 100-degree weather! 

What a horrible summer, let’s hope it’s behind us.  September is the time to come out of hibernation and get back to the landscape and garden.   Some things to think about:


Jeremy’s newest article for Edible Austin (fall issue) is on the streets now, and includes two interviews with some inspiring peeps about living soils.  So inspiring, that it deepened BioGardener’s commitment to treating landscapes as a living system, especially the dirt.  In addition to the usual compost topdressing and organic fertilizer applications, we are now also emphasizing the importance of regular applications of compost tea.

Compost tea has a concentrated number of beneficial microbes.  If your soil has enough organic material to support them (through the application of compost topdressing), these microbes can accelerate the restoration of historically abused soils.  We’ve found a great source for the tea, and recommend applying every month during the growing season, usually 8-9 times per year. 

Cost to apply is about the same as organic fertilizer, $50-75 for most average-sized yards.  If you’d rather save the money and do it yourself, let me know, and I’ll hook you up with the best quality stuff in all the land. 

Microbes are an most important part of any maintenance program, but so is organic matter and nutrients.  As soon as the weather cools, most plants and lawns would appreciate an application of compost and/or organic fertilizer.  Compost has some beneficial microbes and some nutrients but most importantly, it amends soils by breaking up clays and balancing water retention.  Organic fertilizers don’t have the microbes or the organics, but are rich in nutrients and minerals that compost and compost tea don’t have.  Let me know if you need help figuring it all out.


This is always a very delicate topic in Austin, but even more so during this record-breaking summer.  It’s all about perspective.  Everyone’s priorities are different, so it’s not fair to shun folks for wanting a lawn that is alive despite the weather.  As long as we all stay in the spectrum of thoughtful water use, there are no rights and wrongs.

For those in the more tropical corners of the spectrum, remember that Austin is in Stage 2 watering restrictions, which means we can only use sprinklers one time per week.  On your watering day, try to water each zone in several short bursts to avoid runoff.  The goal is to keep it barely alive, not a Seattle jungle.

For those in the opposite corners, you haven’t watered at all and your St. Augustine is not coming back.  It’s dead.  When considering what to do with the dirt patch, you’ve got some options.  Consider expanding or creating new beds with not only native plants, but natives that can take the extreme summers with no supplemental water.  Texas kidneywoods, evergreen sumacs, native lantanas, some native groundcovers, succulents, agaves, some native grasses…they’re all doing fine despite two years of drought.  Maybe consider converting your lawn into a wild prairie, which can be seeded NOW with a mix of native wildflower and grasses.  No matter how you take advantage of the only opportunity this summer has allowed us, it’s important to consider the mature trees, even the native ones, on your property. 

We are gradually seeing weaker, mature, native trees die all over town as a consequence of this 50-year (soon to be 100-year) drought.  If you don’t want that 40-year old pecan or live oak to come crashing down on your house, and you haven’t watered at all, you might want to turn on the hose.  Water slow and deep to give those roots some water.  Maybe take off the P-trap under your kitchen sink and stick a 5-gallon bucket in its place.  Or run the washing machine drain hose to the lawn.  Consider skipping a fall veggie garden this year.  But still throw eggs at those 200k-gallon-per month users on the west side of town.  Stay true to your conservationist roots, but try to protect the natural resources on your land that actually improve the value of your home by using a little water on them. 


A thick layer of coarsely-ground hardwood mulch in beds does more than help keep weeds down.  It helps buffer soil temps, which protects the good microbes living in your soil, along with plant roots, and helps retain soil moisture.  Mulch also slowly breaks down over time, adding nutrients for plants and a food source for the good bugs.  But because it breaks down, it needs to be replenished anytime it’s reduced to a depth of less than 3 inches.  This a good idea for any time of the year.

For those with plenty of mulch, don’t forget to turn and ‘fluff’ the mulch periodically, especially if you have that finely shredded black stuff from the green and white bags.  Fluffing keeps the mulch aerated, which prevents compaction and allows water and air to continue to get down into the soil. 


We seem to be in a bit of a time warp for fall installation projects, which normally would be all lined up and launching this time of year.  But for Fall 2009, mostly because of the weather but maybe a little because of the economy, we’re crawling into the planting season in a pool of syrup and are having a hard time getting there.  Which means you have more time than usual to get on the schedule!  If you benefited from a BioGardener consultation this summer and are ready to make a move in the next 3-4 months, please get in touch soon to secure your place and avoid getting pushed back to next year. 


We have eliminated the “What’s New” page of our website and created something much more dynamic, reader-friendly, useful, and informative: the BioGardener Blog.  It includes and will include writings relevant to BioGardener, including seasonal tips useful to everyone.  We will continue to send important emails to existing customers with seasonal topics, but the blog serves a broader purpose and includes lots of more information for those who are interested. 

Please let me know if we can help you restore a tortured landscape, create a new one, maintain what you have, or simply answer any questions.  August was the biggest August we’ve ever had, which makes it the fifth month this year of record revenue.  Wow, you people are the greatest. 

Thanks as always for your business, and for the love.

The Cobbler’s Kid Has No Shoes – #1

Part of  a series dedicated to making fun of how crappy the landscape is at our house, check out our sweet patch of backyard heaven:

Cobblers Zoysia

This is was Zoysia ‘Palisades’, left over from Cheline’s project, which we wrapped up in May.   Notice how the grey/tan/ straw coloration contrasts with the sickly pale green hues to create an artistically unique arrangement.  Also note how some grass blades are much longer than others, creating a beautiful illusion of poor maintenance. 

The second photo is of Cheline’s backyard, shot at about the same time.  Same grass, same installer, even the same person maintaining it.  


The difference?  Cheline paid us.  The cobbler, however, skipped out on paying his invoice.  So I’m punishing him by half-assing the maintenance.  Oh, and we also installed a fully automated irrigation system complete with MP Rotators with uniform precipitation rates and precise water delivery at Cheline’s.  The watering system at our house is the cobbler with a hose at 6 in the morning, but only when he feels like it.  And Jake the dog also employs the patch as his experimental natural fertilizer test plot, so that probably doesn’t help.

GreenChoice Subscribers No Longer Suckers

The 84 of us who actually were dumb enough to subscribe to Batch 6 of Austin Energy’s GreenChoice program aren’t as stupid as we look. 

Our family likes to bounce around from house to house, (it’s good for the kid, roots and community are way over-rated) and contribute to about 1.4% of the City budget through our utility connect/disconnect fee payments, so as soon as Batch 6 became available,  the cobbler had to re-subscribe to AE’s world class program that allows the average joe to buy renewable energy to power their otherwise normal home.

The cobbler didn’t really do any research.  He didn’t even pay attention to how much we’d be paying for a wind-generated kW. He had read that costs for the program were way up compared to the one or two other batches we bought in to in years past, but we’re pretty frugal especially after we got rid of all those tanning beds and live in a pretty small house.  So an extra 40-50 bucks on the utility bill didn’t really bother the cobbler.  Until he started reading all these articles in the Statesman and Chronicle about how nobody is subscribing to Batch 6, and how only a few dozen are actually stupid enough to participate compared to the thousands would subscribe within days of previous releases, which sold out with days.  The cobbler literally broke into sweats every time he read about it.  How could he be such a chump?

But not anymore!  We got a letter, which might as well have been hand written and signed by the entire City staff because they only had to send out a handful, letting we the chumps know that AE has reduced the GreenChoice energy rate by about 30%.  In addition to being our biggest maintenance client, AE improved the cobbler’s self-esteem by voluntarily reducing our energy bill, thus eliminating the cobbler’s recurring monthly reminder of his poor financial judgement.  Thanks Austin Energy!