Tricky Plants + Tricky Pruning

February 13th, 2014 Posted in Nurseries, aquaponics, garden projects, garden structure, lawn replace, native plants, perennials, pruning, wildlife

Ready, set, prune! At least some plants, that is, like my mushy crinums, sprouting already.

Crinum frozen Austin Texas

This week, Daphne tidies up with tips on what we can prune and when. I’ve already cut back zexmenia and other natives that look crunchy. Here’s the before. Now I can really see those perennializing bulbs coming up!

bulbs coming up through frozen zexmenia austin texas

Big fat note: microclimates, even in your own yard, make a difference. I’ve cut back plumbago and lantana to the ground for a better view of underplanted bulbs, too.  But my garden may be toastier than yours.

leucojum bulbs under cut back plumbago central texas

Annie at The Transplantable Rose says: “My plumbago (in a very sheltered spot next to the back door) died down to ground level this year so I cut it to about 6-9 inches. That way, the way it looked didn’t drive me crazy, but the stems were tall enough to hold mulch/leaves in place until the weather is warmer.” Her trailing lantana didn’t freeze like mine did this time. That’s microclimates for you! She cuts back or shapes if still green in late February.

We CAN prune roses and rock rose (Pavonia lasiopetela). It’s the best time to shape rosemary. Cut brown stick perennials and shrubs to the ground. Some include flame acanthus, turk’s cap and mistflowers. Cut Salvia leucantha, herbaceous salvias like ‘Black and Blue’ and ‘Indigo Spires’, evergreen Salvia roemeriana, asters and mums to their rosettes.

I could have cut back some things sooner, but I like to keep seeds for the little birds until they’ve plucked them clean.

goldenrod seed heads austin texas

Same for grasses, too. They’re so pretty in winter and I dislike the early haircuts so often seen around town. When you do it, cut 3-6” above the ground. If your bamboo muhly froze, cut it to the ground. I put grass clippings where birds can snag them for comfy nests they’re designing!

I’ll wait a few more weekends to prune Barbados cherry. Mine are so tall that I cut back a few feet to wrangle them, whether they froze or not.

barbados cherry frozen austin texas

My thryallis needs taming, too, but I’ll slot that in closer to the last frost date.

thryallis frozen austin texas

As Daphne notes, warm days combined with pruning prompt leaf growth. Is a zap coming or not? Toss a coin with more cold-tender plants. Me, I won’t even think about touching abutilon until March.

abutilon freeze damage austin texas

I’ll wait on shrimp plant, too, though it probably wouldn’t mind a chop to the ground right now.

shrimp plant frost damage austin texas

March is when I’ll cut my Pride of Barbados (Caesalpinia pulcherrima) right to the ground. Its neighbor: Mexican Bird of Paradise (Caesalpinia mexicana), I’ll see what happens. Mine got its first 12°, so I’ll watch its branches and decide later.

mexican bird of paradise frost damage austin texas

Here’s Daphne’s list. And here’s a general guide to pruning from Doug Welsh at Texas A&M.

Now, what about growing tricky plants? This week, Amanda Moon from It’s About Thyme joins Tom with tips for growing outside the box, along with sensibility about some common plants at box stores that mislead us.

Tom Spencer and Amanda Moon, It's About Thyme

Since I get bombarded with questions about Japanese maples, as she sure does, here’s her trick once and for all. Shade, good drainage, not overwater, shade!

growing Japanese maple Central Texas Gardener

Best for us in shade (did I mention that?): Bloodgood, Tamukeyama, Emperor 1 and Sangu Kaku.

Indeed, I understand why people want hydrangeas, but unless you’re in a unique soil pocket and like to water, what about Oakleaf hydrangea instead? This taller plant isn’t quite the same, but it’s more drought tolerant in those shady spots.

oakleaf hydrangea photo by daphne richards

We love lavender, but it doesn’t love us unless we give it full sun, sharp drainage with decomposed granite or gravel, and rare irrigation. Amanda suggests ‘Goodwin Creek Grey’, a lovely and fragrant addition to your succulent and cactus gardens.

goodwin creek lavender central texas gardener

Bougainvillea: this summertime fave brings in lots of questions.

Gulf Fritillary butterfly on bougainvillea austin texas

Amanda recommends blistering sun and neglect. Over-watering is its nemesis, so let it wilt a little before you water.  Grown in the ground, it can withstand 25°; the new dwarf varieties are out of here at 40°.

And although Dianella tasmanica ‘Variegata’ is tougher than drought itself and SO wonderful in part shade, Amanda notes that it’s cutoff temp is  25°, as many of us know. Sigh.

dianella frost damage austin texas

UPDATE: On our plants for bees program with Reid’s Nursery, here’s their detailed list for growing conditions.

To the list, let’s add native perennial coneflower, Daphne’s Plant of the Week. Small birds will be all over its seeds, too.

bee on coneflower austin texas

Plant new ones now if you didn’t last fall. Tidy up current residents by cutting old stalks to the rosettes. Note: sometimes coneflowers go into hiding and we think we’ve lost them. Mine tend to show up just about the time I’ve given up!

On Backyard Basics, we’re excited to introduce Brandi Blaisdell from The Natural Gardener in her TV debut!
Brandi Blaisdell The Natural Gardener
She’s going postal with a cute mailbox that delivers her tools, plant labels, journal, mosquito repellant and even a koozie to keep us organized as we hit frenzy time. Plus, what a fun way to snazzy up that dark area begging for a little attention.

To celebrate Valentine’s weekend, here’s our Valentine to you—a romantic garden makeover from patches of withered lawn.

Thanks for stopping by! See you next week, Linda

  1. 12 Responses to “Tricky Plants + Tricky Pruning”

  2. By Hella on Feb 14, 2014

    Hello Linda,
    I am a member of the mushy-crinum club! I am really getting a little sick of all the brown out there. I like the cold – within reason.
    Hope you are doing well!


    Linda reply on February 14th, 2014 5:31 pm:

    Hi, Hella! I so understand. But just remember August. . .


  3. By Annie in Austin on Feb 14, 2014

    Oh Linda! That trailing lantana still looked pretty good the last time I checked but today? Brown & crispy stems. So I’m following your lead & cutting the trailing lantana way back.
    Sorry about the frozen Dianella, but on the other hand – those of us with crowded gardens will have new spaces this spring.

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose


    Linda reply on February 17th, 2014 3:12 pm:

    Hi, Annie! My lantana didn’t freeze at all for a couple of years. Then, bang, off it went this time. Yes, I’ll find something else for the Dianella but it sure is tempting to try again! Linda


  4. By Tina on Feb 14, 2014

    I must be the only one who has enjoyed this winter. That said, I’m not fond of cold, but I remember August. And July and September. For the first time in 18 or 19 years, my Barbados cherry froze to the ground. Like you, I’ll prune it completely back in another week or two. Best with all your pruning!


    Linda reply on February 17th, 2014 3:11 pm:

    Hi, Tina! I’m with you. I’ll take this cold rather than August! My Barbados froze 3 years ago. I cut it back and off it went. You can try just cutting back, not all the way to the ground. Boy howdy on pruning. It feels like I’ll never get through!


  5. By Linda on Feb 15, 2014

    I’m sure I’ve asked this before, but can’t find where I recorded the answer–is it or is it not a good idea to cut back butterfly iris (Dietes) this time of year? They have a lot of green leaves (more than 50%, I think), but so much brown that I can’t just trim that out as I have in the past. If I cut now, will they re-grow? (The brown doesn’t seem to be cold-related–just what mine seem to do with age, perhaps.) Thanks for any insight. I love Daphne’s chart of what to cut when, by the way!


    Linda reply on February 17th, 2014 3:10 pm:

    Hi, Linda! Yes, you can cut them back, both green and brown foliage and it’s okay to do it now. Fingers crossed! Thanks for writing!


  6. By Carol Medford on May 1, 2014

    I had two beautiful pride of barbados that bloomed heavily the last two years. I am concerned that they may have died with this cold winter – I see no signs of life as of 4/30. Should I be replacing them — or is there a possibility they have just not come back yet? Same thing with my purple fountain grass.


    Linda reply on May 1st, 2014 3:37 pm:

    Hi, Carol! Well, I keep checking mine and I’m pretty sure it’s gone. I haven’t seen much in the nurseries yet, though. Rats!

    I would be utterly astounded if the purple fountain grass returned. It’s usually an annual for us but we got “spoiled” by recent warm winters. You can always wait a few more weeks if you like but pretty soon it’ll be so hot to get things established. This has been a weird tough year for us!


  7. By Carol Medford on May 4, 2014

    One of the Pride of Barbados is putting up shoots – yipee! Hopefully the 2nd one will as well. I guess I did get spoiled with the purple fountain grass because it came up last year.


    Linda reply on May 4th, 2014 3:02 pm:

    Carol, wow and wow! I’m thrilled for you. No sign of life on mine yet. And who knows about that purple fountain grass! Give it wait too.


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