News Categories: Mercer Botanic Gardens

24 Jul
By: Communications 0

Top Volunteers Go Down in History

Top Mercer volunteers were honored in May at a celebration recognizing 45 years of service, commitment, and community at Mercer Botanic Gardens. Fifteen volunteers who have contributed more than 2,000 hours received engraved walkway pavers, which were installed between the staff building and greenhouses. Collectively, these recipients have volunteered more than 38,000 hours at Mercer — the equivalent of more than 18 years of full-time work.

Congratulations to the paver recipients: Mary Helen Pritchett, Vickie Snyder, Barbara Ashburn, Helen Dowling, Carol Hellwig, Jere Noreager, Sherry Cruse, Don DuBois, Cynthia Douglas, Matt Strommer, Merle Reynolds, Dennis Samoska, Janet Winkler, Glenda Balione, and Carol Kobb.


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24 Jul
By: Communications 0

Mercer Now Taking Scarecrow Contest Entries

Show off your creative skills and join Mercer Botanic Gardens for a fun-filled scarecrow decorating contest this fall. Entries will go on display in October, and voting begins during the Oct. 5 Pollinator Festival through Oct. 31. Entry forms must be submitted by Sept. 7.

“Sixteen scarecrows greeted park guests last October,” said Jamie Hartwell, Mercer’s volunteer coordinator. “This year, we’re hoping to double that amount. Anyone can enter – individuals, schools, churches, scouts, businesses, clubs.”

There’s no charge to display a scarecrow, and prizes will be awarded after voting.

Each entry should incorporate some type of pollinator, including butterflies, bees, hummingbirds, or bats. Plants, insects, and pollinator-related props, like a jar of honey, may also be part of your display To view the contest rules or sign up online, visit

Contest rules and entry forms will also be available in the Mercer Botanic Gardens Visitor Center, 22306 Aldine Westfield Road in Humble. For more information, contact Mercer Volunteer Coordinator Jamie Hartwell at 713-274-4160 or


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24 Jul
By: Communications 0

Plant Seeds in the Fall for Springtime Blooms

Bluebonnets, larkspur, or a wildflower mix — what will you choose?

Several types of native and non-native seeds are now packaged and ready to give away during the September 7 Tropicals, Cacti, and Succulent Plant Sale and the October 5 Pollinator Festival.

Attend these events to pick up a complimentary packet of seeds to plant in the fall and enjoy in the spring.

Check out a listing of available seed varieties below.

Native – Texas Bluebonnets

Bluebonnets typically thrive in the rocky, alkaline soils of the Hill Country, but they can also grow in rocky and sandy areas around Harris County. Bluebonnets also require a little “tough love” to germinate, said Mercer Greenhouse Manager Jacob Martin. “Put a handful of seeds in a small container with sand and small rocks, and then shake,” he said. “You can also rub the seeds between pieces of sandpaper. Before you plant them in early October, soak your seeds in warm water until they double in size. Be sure to change the water daily. One of the best tricks we have learned is to throw seeds out just before a rain.”

Bluebonnet seeds will grow throughout the winter. You can expect to see blooms around the end of March through mid-May. After blooming, green seedpods will form and change to yellow. When they are brown with a fuzzy surface, start collecting the seeds. “We collect seeds at Mercer to share, but leave enough to reseed the area for blooms next year,” said Martin.

Native – Honey Bee and Wildflower Blends

The assortment of annual and perennial seeds in the honey bee blend help keep honey bees healthy throughout the season. Gardeners can expect to find Siberian wallflower, California poppy, and a few other pleasant surprises in their garden after planting this seed mix.

The wildflower blend has a mixture of annual and perennial seeds that will blanket a field or flowerbed in gaillardia, purple coneflower, dwarf evening primrose, lemon mint, and blue sage.

Both blends should be planted one-quarter to one-half inch deep prior to mid-November. Water well and keep the soil moist for the first few weeks until they germinate. These seeds were donated by Bamert Seed Company.

Non-Native – Larkspur

Grandma always said you could see a bunny face in a larkspur bloom. This beautiful reseeding winter annual is easy to grow. Full sun is best, but larkspur can grow in some partial shade. Plant seeds in the fall after temperatures cool to about 60 degrees. Sow at one-quarter inch deep and space seeds or seedlings 12 inches apart in each direction. Although beautiful, the seeds and leaves of the larkspur are toxic if ingested.

Non-Native – Delphinium “Belladonna”

The brilliant blue “Belladonna” is one of many types of delphiniums, a type of larkspur, that stunned Mercer visitors this spring. The flowers are long-lived, sturdy, bushy perennials that grow to be about four feet tall and bloom spring and summer. They prefer moderate heat in areas of full sun, well-drained soil, and a pH that ranges from neutral to slightly acidic. These easily grown seeds should be planted in pots or flats in July or August. Transplant them in October for late spring or early summer blooms. Harvest seeds in the spring when stalks become dark brown and the bunny faces resemble skeletons. Delphiniums are a toxic plant, so avoid planting where pets or children can access them.

Non-Native – Carnation Poppy

Mercer’s carnation poppies achieve heights of up to four feet with full, frilly blooms in a pinkish or coral color. They are self-seeding, so if blossoms go to pod they will sprout next spring. They do best in full sun with good drainage and fertile soil. They require regular watering and deadheading to ensure continued blooms. Sow seeds in late fall, eight inches apart in clusters or rows and cover with one-quarter inch of soil. Water until evenly moist. Seeds should start to germinate in about one week. When seedlings emerge, keep the soil moist with frequent light watering. Gradually reduce watering to once a week with approximately one to two inches of water at a time. When plants are six inches tall, apply a one-inch layer of organic mulch to preserve soil moisture and keep the roots cool.   Source:

How to Store Your Seeds

Remember, seeds do not last indefinitely. To maintain your seeds, follow the tips below:

  • Dry seeds for about two weeks.
  • Store in an envelope or paper bag, do not use plastic bags.
  • Make sure to label your seeds.
  • Store out of direct sunlight in a cool, dry, and dark location away from pests.
  • Plant annuals in spring and perennials in fall.

As a reminder, Mercer asks visitors to not harvest seeds from the gardens. Mercer staff collects these seeds to plant for the next year and to swap with other botanic gardens. Some seeds are also left in place to sprout the next year. For more information on native and non-native seeds, visit Mercer’s Pollinator Festival on Oct. 5. Visitors will receive one seed packet of each variety while supplies last.


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24 Jul
By: Communications 0

Johnny Appleseed Day

If Americans were to rank their favorite holidays, Johnny Appleseed Day probably wouldn’t score much higher than International Talk Like A Pirate Day or National Butterscotch Pudding Day.

That’s a shame. Although the holiday doesn’t come with the typical perks – days off from work, themed merchandise, or festivals – it can be a fun opportunity for plant lovers to celebrate the man who helped make the modern American apple possible.

In honor of this famous apple lover, Mercer Botanic Gardens invites the public to celebrate Johnny Appleseed Day with apple-themed books, crafts, and games on Thursday, Sept. 26, from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.

Learn more about why this famous apple planter is worth celebrating, below.

Selling Saplings

Legend has it that this larger-than-life frontiersman trekked barefoot across the country planting apple trees. Even today, he remains a popular American folk hero immortalized in poems, children’s stories, and the 1948 Disney classic, The Legend of Johnny Appleseed.

Unfortunately, these stories often leave out one of Appleseed’s most lasting accomplishments. Horticulturists now believe his use of apple seeds contributed to the variety of apples available in grocery stores today.

Before adopting his famous moniker, Appleseed was known as John Chapman, a professional orchardist who established apple nurseries from seeds from Pennsylvania to Illinois in the early 1800s.

Unlike the character portrayed in the Disney film, Appleseed was an innovative businessman, although his willingness to forgive debts prevented him from accruing any wealth. After establishing his nurseries, he erected fences around the seedlings to protect them from wildlife and left the trees to mature on their own or under the care of neighbors, wrote William D’Arcy Haley in an 1871 Harper’s New Monthly Magazine article. Haley noted that Appleseed chose the locations of his nurseries carefully, almost always selecting fertile areas destined to become pioneer settlements.

Years later, he would return to sell the young saplings to settlers. It was a brilliant business plan, but historical accounts show Appleseed was as willing to trade his trees for rags as he was to sell them for cash. By the end of his life, Appleseed had planted orchards over more than 100,000 square miles and sealed his fate as an American legend.

Appleseed also chose to peddle apples greatly in demand by settlers. Apples could be eaten fresh, made into pies, dried, or pressed into apple butter and juice. But more importantly, apples could be used to make cider, a drink often more popular than water. Because of poor sanitation, the beverage was safer to drink than water, which could contain dangerous bacteria.

Cider apple seeds were also easy to collect in bulk, although the apples they produced were often bitter and sour. Because of the high demand for cider, Pennsylvania was full of cider presses. Not one to be wasteful, Appleseed regularly traveled to Pennsylvania to collect discarded apple seeds. As a result, the apple trees that he planted didn’t produce palatable apples, although they were ideal for making cider and applejack.

Promoting Apple Diversity

Like many fruits and vegetables, apples have changed greatly over the centuries. Because apple trees depend on pollination to reproduce, their seeds are not true to the parent plant. Each apple seed will produce a unique sapling with characteristics of the male and female apple tree. Because of these differences, the apples of today have evolved to be much different than the bitter apples settlers brought from Europe in the 17th century.

In The Botany of Desire,  journalist Michael Pollan wrote that Appleseed’s reliance on seeds helped create the hardy American apple and other varieties, like the Delicious and Golden Delicious apples. By planting seeds, Appleseed created hundreds of thousands of unique apple trees that led to apple varieties still produced today.

“It was the seeds, and the cider, that [gave] the apple the opportunity to discover by trial and error the precise combination of traits required to prosper in the New World,” Pollan wrote.

Today, more than 10,000 varieties of apples are grown around the world, and new varieties are still being discovered.

So next time you bite into a delicious apple, thank Johnny Appleseed, and then plant an apple seed. You never know what type of apple you’ll get! Although the fruit may be inedible to humans, animals won’t care how sour your fruit tastes. Who knows, you may even get lucky and produce a tasty new apple variety.

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24 Jul
By: Communications 0

Build Your Own Pollinator Garden

Gardeners face many tough decisions when planning a new garden. Should you plant a formal or cottage garden? Or perhaps you’re torn between tropical and native plants. No matter your style, chances are you can incorporate a few key pollinator favorites into your design.

Not only will these plants add color and vibrancy to your landscape, but they will also provide an important nectar source for insects, including bees and butterflies. Gardens featuring these beneficial insects are likely to experience fewer pests and higher fruit and vegetable yields.

Fortunately, establishing a pollinator garden can be easy and inexpensive. Check out the tips below to learn how to start your own low-maintenance pollinator garden.

Choosing Your Plants

Because nectar plants flower at different times during the year, choose plants with staggered bloom periods for a year-round nectar source. Select flowering plants with red, orange, yellow, pink, and purple blooms to attract butterflies. Add in a few cooler colors in shades of blue and purple to attract bees.

For a healthy garden, be sure to diversify your plant selections to slow the spread of diseases and pests. A mixture of flower shapes and sizes allows for different sized butterflies to visit. Butterfly species with long proboscises need a different shaped flower than those with shorter proboscises.

Host and native plants are also important additions to any pollinator garden. A host plant is a plant that has been incorporated into an insect’s life cycle. Activities such as feeding and egg laying usually involve this plant. For example, milkweed is the preferred nectar source and breeding ground of the monarch butterfly.

Native plants provide a nearly maintenance-free gardening experience. Think of a patch of native plants as an extension of the natural, local environment. Bees, butterflies, and other native wildlife will benefit, and you can take pride in creating your own backyard habitat.

Where to Plant Your Garden

Although pollinator gardens can be nearly carefree in the right environments, poorly placed gardens can fail to thrive. When choosing your site, consider the following conditions:

  • Is it in full sun? Your pollinator garden will need at least six hours of sunlight in the morning and early afternoon for the flowers to bloom. Sunlight also helps to regulate the body temperature of butterflies.
  • Is it windy? Avoid planting your garden in windy areas. Pollinators can struggle when feeding if they are fighting the wind. Consider using large structures or pots as wind breaks.
  • Is the soil soggy? Pollinator plants typically do not like wet, soggy roots, although there are exceptions, like aquatic milkweed (Asclepias perennis). Pollinator plants often require looser soils that allow more air circulation and drainage.
  • Can pollinators roost, nest, feed, and hide? Pollinators will benefit from yards with plenty of trees, understory plants, shrubs, and groundcovers. The more levels of vegetation you have, the more birds and butterflies will visit your garden.
  • Is fresh water available? Make sure your garden includes a water source. A bird bath can provide drinking water and help a bird remove dust, parasites, and debris. Bees use water to cool the hive, raise the hive’s humidity, and dilute honey to feed larva. Butterflies need a puddling place – wet sand or mud – where they can rehydrate and absorb minerals from the mud. Bees and butterflies also need a landing pad near the water source.

Once you’ve chosen the proper location, consider where you want to place your plants. Plants should be close together to provide proper shelter, but not close enough to minimize air circulation among the foliage. If possible, refrain from cutting back all the spent flower stalks and avoid heavy pruning during the winter. Leaving spent plants through the winter can provide shelter during a cold season while seed heads serve as a food source for birds in the winter. Don’t cut grasses back until just before active growth in the spring.

Pollinator Festival

Want to learn more about pollinators? Mercer Botanic Gardens hosts the Pollinator Festival, an annual event at Mercer, on Saturday, Oct. 5, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Learn about monarch conservation, honeybees, and nectar plants. Visitors can also purchase native milkweeds, along with many other host and nectar plants. For more information, visit


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