Spending a day at the Dallas Arboretum is a day well spent—surrounded by beautiful blooms while enjoying a picnic on one of our green lawns. But there’s more to the Dallas Arboretum than meets the eye, including amazing adult education classes on everything from flower arranging to photography.
We asked Kaylee Decker, who teaches some of the Lunchtime Learning with Horticulture classes, to provide a glimpse of the type of things you can learn in an Arboretum adult education class.
What are your favorite summer tropical plants? Which tropical plants will you find throughout the Arboretum during the summer?
There are numerous summer tropical plants that will do well here in the Dallas area, and it can be hard to pick a favorite. I find it hard to beat the bright, colorful blooms of Mandevilla and tropical Hibiscus, and both of these tend to be readily available at local garden centers for homeowners to plant and enjoy. We use a wide range of tropical plants here at the Dallas Arboretum, including Alocasia/Colocasia (elephant ears), banana trees, Cordyline, Hibiscus, Mandevilla and several others.
What are some of your secrets to keeping plants alive during hot Dallas summers?
Starting with high-quality plant material is the first step, and planting them early summer (before Memorial Day) will give them the time needed to establish healthy root systems before the brunt of the summer heat hits. It’s also important to keep a close eye on watering; over-watering can cause just as much damage as under-watering. It’s best to water deeply and less frequently than water just the surface of the soil every day. This encourages roots to grow deep into the soil where more moisture is available. Regular fertilization will ensure your plants have the proper nutrients needed to maintain healthy root, foliage and flowers throughout the summer months.
When organizing a plant bed at home, what are some tips for designing the layout of the bed and optimizing the plant life and aesthetics of the display?
When designing a bed, it’s important to start with the basics of the plant material you’re wanting to plant: how tall/wide is it supposed to grow and what are the water and light requirements. Size is important so plants don’t take over a bed or are lost in the background when they should have been planted in a front border. A good rule of thumb is to start with the shortest plants at the front border of the bed and tallest at the back of the bed; everything else can be mixed in the middle. You always want to make sure when choosing your plant palette to pay close attention to the growing needs of each plant. You want plants that have similar water, light and soil needs. This will give you the best chance at success and keep you from having to replace part of your design down the road.
When did you first fall in love with plants and horticulture?
I grew up in an agricultural setting, surrounded by wheat fields and my grandfather’s pecan orchard, so plants are a part of who I am. I remember from an early age being mesmerized at the sheer size of the 100-year-old live oak trees on my grandparents’ property. But it wasn’t until college that I was formally introduced to horticulture. I took Intro to Horticulture as my lab science requirement, fell in love, switched my major from business to horticulture, and haven’t looked back since. Plants amaze me; not only are most of them appealing to the eye or produce food to eat, but everything that goes on “behind the scenes” physiologically really keeps me interested.
What is your favorite season to experience in the Dallas Arboretum garden?
It’s a tossup between spring and fall, and it’s too close to call!
What is one of the hardest plants you have tried to grow in Texas? What is one of the easiest?
The hardest: Tuberous Begonias. Love these plants, but they’re just not meant to survive here. The easiest: Most ornamental grasses—Salvia gregii or good ol’ Lantana.
So pack your lunch (or pre-order a boxed lunch online when you register), and sign up for a Lunchtime Learning with Horticulture class at the Arboretum. The next session is April 29, featuring “Top 10 Trees and Shrubs”. Or choose from the wide variety of adult education classes—there’s something for everyone, and you can enjoy the gardens after class!
Kaylee Decker will also be teaching the “Mini Field Trial Day” program on June 13. Find more information here.