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Comfort Zone

air date: June 21, 2014

Pack some punch in those shade garden spots with Jon Hutson’s picks from Tillery Street Plant Company. On tour, Lynne Dobson transformed unwieldy blank slopes into shady garden retreats and artful surprises. Daphne Richards answers: can we use mulch that’s gotten moldy in the bag?  Plus, she’s got the tips for growing summertime okra. Trisha Shirey shows how to collect and dry your favorite flower seeds.


Episode Segments

On Tour

Shade garden retreat | Lynne Dobson | Central Texas Gardener

What can you do on an unwieldy slope of lawn and tons of shade? Lynne Dobson and husband Greg Wooldridge found the answer when they banished lawn for tranquil terraced garden retreats and joyous artful surprises along the way. As a photographer, Lynne captivates the eye on every level in several garden rooms—from above, below, and close-up intimate details. Greg adds the finishing touches, like colorful bowling balls to dress up utilitarian dry stream drainage.



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Question of the Week

Can I use bagged mulch that’s gotten a little moldy after sitting around?

Thanks to Maritza for this great question and picture! Like all of us (huh!), she has a couple of bags of cedar mulch that have been stored outside since last year, and now there’s mold growing in the bag. Is the mulch safe to use in a garden bed?

Just separate out the moldy portion and toss it in your compost pile, and the rest is safe to use. The moist environment in the bag with all that yummy, dead organic matter is the perfect place for mold and other fungal spores to take root. You don’t want to use the moldy mulch in your garden, simply because it would serve as a source of spores for the colony to spread.

But the mold is feeding on dead tissue, not living, so unless the bed was kept far too wet, the mold wouldn’t damage your plants. In fact, there are dormant mold spores just about everywhere, just waiting for the situation to be right, so they can germinate and grow. But take away the environmental problems, such as too much moisture, and the colony will quickly die out.

Soil is actually teeming with many different species of microbes, most of which pose no threat to normal plant life, and even help improve it by breaking down dead organic matter and converting it to life-giving nutrients. So when you toss the moldy mulch into your compost pile, other microbes get involved in the process and continue the job of breaking those wood chips down into smaller and smaller pieces, until you have rich, humic compost to add back to your soil.

If you find that the mold is wide-spread throughout the bag of mulch, or if you just want to err on the side of caution, you could simply empty the whole bag into your compost pile, and let nature run its course.

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Plant of the Week



Okra thrives in the heat and is actually quite beautiful, so consider using it as a specimen and edible in the landscape. Like most of our warm-season vegetables, okra may be planted as both a spring and fall crop.  But “fall” here doesn’t equate to what most of us think of as fall.   Here in Central Texas, we must plant our “fall” gardens in late July or August, since you’ll need to plant in summer in order to reap a HARVEST in the fall. There are many great cultivars of okra, but one of my favorites is ‘Burgundy’, which, as its name implies, has deep burgundy fruits, and even quite a bit of burgundy color in the leaves and stems. Okra requires full sun and minimal, and will do just fine with very little supplemental irrigation, but if you water at least once a week, you’ll get a lot better harvest.  An area with well-drained soil is best, and if you’re preparing a new area, it’s a good idea to incorporate about an inch of compost to the bed.  As the compost breaks down over time, it improves the structure of the soil, and adds a small amount of nutrients slowly. Okra will also benefit from a little fertilizer, which you can add after the first harvest to ensure that the plant has plenty of nutrients to produce more fruit. Okra plants get very tall, so they need plenty of soil depth to anchor themselves.  In shallow, rocky soils, they may fall over.  Give each plant about a foot on each side to fill in.  This fairly narrow width and taller height make okra a nice addition to a spot where you may have had winter annuals that have now died-back.  For a list of okra and other vegetables, along with planting times, visit our Travis County website.