The Newcomer’s Guide to Gardening in North Texas will be held Sept. 16 at Collin College. Nearly 300 have signed up for the class, which is full. Photo by Julie Thibodeaux.

Sept. 12, 2017

You just moved to Texas from out of state and want to try growing your own homegrown tomatoes. But DFW’s heat waves, hungry pests and clay soil that bakes into a brick following scant summer rainfall can be downright discouraging – for the even the seasoned gardener.

To keep newbies from giving up altogether, the city of McKinney and several other cities and agencies are partnering to host the Newcomer’s Guide to Gardening in North Texas, a one-day series of presentations from local gardening experts on Sept. 16 at Collin College in McKinney.

Martha Cavazos Fipps, the city of McKinney’s Environmental Education and Community Outreach Coordinator, says up to 70 people move into Collin County every day and there’s a common refrain of questions among those who pick up a hoe and set out to build their own garden patch.

“The list of questions we receive is long but the most common ones are how to deal with our hard clay soil, how to deal with rabbits eating plants and how to deal with ants and other pests,” Fipps says. “Gardening in North Texas is challenging because our soil and climate are so different than other parts of the county.”

Six speakers are scheduled to present their expertise at the event: Dr. Gregg Church, the Texas A&M AgriLife county extension agent for Collin County, will share why the eco-friendly gardening method called Earth-Kind landscaping is important in North Texas. Promoted by Texas A&M AgriLife Extension, Earth-Kind practices combine the best of both conventional and organic gardening practices to conserve water, minimize pesticide and fertilizer use, bolster energy conservation and reduce the volume of waste heading for the landfill.

Two horticulturalists and program coordinators from the Texas A&M AgriLife Water University will speak. Patrick Dickinson will go over the top 100 plants for North Texas, and Daniel Cunningham will give an introduction to vegetable and herb gardening.

Master Gardener Nancy Payne, owner of Habitat Landscapes, will show attendees how to grow a butterfly garden and attract beautiful pollinators to their landscape.

Bryan Moore, a Collin County Master Gardener and compost operations supervisor for Texas Pure Products, will bring newcomers up to speed on the specific advantages and problems with soil in the area and how to improve it for gardening in his presentation, The Dirt on North Texas Soils.

Finally, Gail Donaldson who’s a horticulturalist and the water conservation manager for the city of Allen, will make a case for how to conserve water resources while still keeping a garden thriving in her presentation, How to Water Wisely.

This is the second year for the Newcomers seminar. 

“The Collin County Master Gardeners organization recognized the need to connect with all of the new people moving to the area,” Fipps says. “The original event was hosted by Collin County Master Gardeners in 2016. In 2017, the cities of McKinney, Allen and Frisco stepped in to help host the event in their prospective cities.” 

This year, the cities of Richardson, Plano, Rowlett, Princeton, Melissa and Prosper have joined in to promote and host the event, along with support from the Collin County Master Gardeners, the North Texas Municipal Water District and the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension of Collin County and the Texas A&M AgriLife Water University. 

The concept is a big hit. Registration has passed its 250 participant limit, with nearly 300 newcomers from 31 states and ten countries signed up to learn more. 

“Nineteen percent have lived here less than a year, twenty-nine percent from one to four years and the rest, 52 percent, from five to ten years plus,” Fipps says. 

Although registration for the event is full, anyone wanting to attend may still sign up for the waiting list in case room opens up.

“Our hope is attendees will walk away with the basics on gardening in North Texas,” Fipps says. “We hope to host this event again in 2018 and look forward to announcing dates later on this year.”

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