Countdown to freeze; alternatives to nandina & ligustrum

November 11th, 2010 Posted in Uncategorized

For a fall that’s been “resplendent” with fire ants like I haven’t seen in years, it’s been a slow show for butterflies. Early on, bordered patch butterflies blanketed anything with flowers. That was a first in my garden.

Bordered patch butterfly on zexmenia

And although I’ve certainly seen butterflies in past weeks, it’s been nothing like the usual swarm. The blue mistflowers (Conoclinium coelestinum) have felt a tad lonesome.

Blue mistflower (Conoclinium coelestinum)
In October, when I started seeding lettuce (some of which the ants ate), I borrowed Master Gardener Patty Leander’s tip about shading during those hot days. (This is also a good idea when you transplant something when it’s scalding by afternoon.)

Beach umbrella to shade lettuce seedlings
In the shed, I found the beach umbrella that Greg and I got when he was recording in La Jolla and I went for a weekend to try out life as a beach bum. Sad to say, in my world, it’s more likely to be used as a lettuce umbrella. And when the kiddie pool was up, it added a nice design connection. Hey!

Now, I’ve hunted down where I tossed the rowcover bag in the shed. I stuff them into a bedspread bag. I used to keep them in bags by name for location, but last spring I threw out my orderly ways and hastily crammed them into one big bag “to deal with later.” Uh oh, “later” is here.

Since we’re on the countdown to the first freeze, this week on CTG Daphne has a few tips on how to properly cover tender plants. Hint: keep your plastic trash bags for the trash. Do not put them on your plants.

Jeff Pavlat freeze protection ideas for agaves

Thanks to Jeff Pavlat from the Austin Cactus & Succulent Society for sharing his picture from last year’s unusual cold. You can use Christmas lights or other waterproof lighting to make your own version of winter garden luminarias.

In most cases, just a blanket, sheet, or even a box works. I keep a stash of old bedspreads and sheets from the days before rowcover was commonly available, and I still rely on them for a few plants on the patio. These days, you can buy packaged N-Sulate at nurseries, but I bought mine by the yard from The Natural Gardener a few years back. When it hit below 20° in my garden last year, though, I spread an old blanket on top of the lettuce rowcover for extra protection.

The advantage to rowcover is that it lets in light and doesn’t sog down with rain. It’s the best idea for plants you want to cover all winter, like vegetables and citrus. If you cover plants with a sheet or blanket, be sure to remove it on “normal” mornings when the sun comes out. For the lettuce bed and my Satsuma orange, I also pull up the rowcover on warm days. When I covered my slightly tender agaves, I also removed the rowcover on warm days.

It’s all about temperatures where you live, since it varies so much. After last winter’s scare, I’m sure you’ve checked the cold hardiness temps for some of the marginal plants we’ve been tempted to try. This weekend, I clumped up lots of mulch on my new pink turks cap and dianellas. I won’t cover them, as I don’t most of my plants.  I’ve never had a problem with the native red turks cap coming back, but new additions like these get a little special attention since their roots aren’t established.

William Glenn from The Natural Gardener carries on Daphne’s theme with some tips of his own, especially covering those square foot gardens or containers you have.

Natural Gardener square foot gardens covered with rowcover
As both Daphne and William advise: Anchor your protection with stones, bricks,  jute pins or clamps.

Since my Satsuma orange is still small, I make a teepee with bamboo canes and blanket it with rowcover. With larger citrus, you just have to take your chances. At least, mulch the roots.

Well, the good news is that my evergreen sumac is loaded with luscious berries for the birds.

Evergreen sumac berries
The bad news is that it’s fallen over.

Evergreen sumac falling over
Since Jared Pyka from Native Texas Nursery was in-studio for this week’s CTG, I asked him about it. It’s happening all over town. They have shallow roots, and with the heavy limbs, the rains we got (remember when we had rain!) tumped them over. I’m not sure I can correct mine with pruning. We’ll see.

Jared’s true mission at CTG was to meet with Tom for native plant alternatives to those invasive ligustrums and nandinas. Get his great ideas for plants like elbow bush, dwarf Barbados cherry, silk tassel and more. They are just as tough, add a lot more interest, and don’t destroy essential diversity for our wildlife.

The silver germander (Teucrium fruiticans) he recommends isn’t native, but adds that silvery interest when layered with green shrubs and perennials. It isn’t invasive and loves drought.

Silver germander with Salvia greggii
It’s one I selected when I dug up the nandinas in front. It gets morning shade and hot afternoon sun for a few hours. The 14° didn’t bother it.

Note: Native Texas Nursery isn’t open to the public, so please ask for Jared’s plant ideas at your local nursery.

It’s almost last call for larkspurs and native wildflower seeds. This week, Daphne features rocket larkspur, thanks to Melissa at Zanthan Gardens.

Zanthan Gardens larkspur

It’s not too late to add them to your garden, but do it soon!

Until next week, Linda

  1. 19 Responses to “Countdown to freeze; alternatives to nandina & ligustrum”

  2. By Iris on Nov 11, 2010

    I, too, really like the silver germander! I appreciate your reminding me to get my row cover and sheets in order–easy to forget when it’s still hitting 82 today. I’m planting my larkspur and poppy seeds this weekend. Happy to hear I’m not too late!


    Linda reply on November 11th, 2010 6:14 pm:

    Yes, it’s hard to think about when it’s so icky. But in two weeks, watch out! I plan to plant more poppy seeds this weekend too. It’s been so hot and dry but we need to get them in before it gets too cold. If ever, yea right?!


  3. By Cat on Nov 11, 2010

    Linda have I told you how much I LOVE your blog? You touched on several questions and musings I’ve had in the last couple of days. I was thinking that the butterflies were a little sparse this year. Usually the neighborhood is filled with them in the fall and not so much this year. Then, I was marveling at the beauty of some red berries that look as though they are coated in sugar in the green space behind my house. Now I know it’s an evergreen sumac! And lastly, I was wondering if it was too late to put my larkspur, bluebonnet and poppy seeds out! You ROCK!! Oh yeah, and great idea for the beach umbrella – thanks for passing that along. I have a White Mistflower that is still mad at me for transplanting it a couple of weeks ago!


    Linda reply on November 12th, 2010 3:59 pm:

    Cat, thanks! That makes me feel great. Your blog is fabulous too!
    Thanks for your comment on sparse butterflies. And l love it when I meet a plant I can’t identify on a blog! It’s not too late to put our your seeds but I’d get on it pretty soon. I’m going to plant poppies this weekend. I transplanted some native plumbagos last weekend and they’re a little miffed. Your white mistflower will be fine. Just give it some water and mulch. Once it cools down (?!) I’m sure it will stop being grumpy. Which reminds me, I need to find a spot for white mistflower. Love it!


  4. By Kathleen Scott on Nov 12, 2010

    I’ve wondered about the butterflies too. We have a wide swath of Tall Aster (Symphyotrichum praealtum) which usually hosts flocks of butterflies in fall but this year, mostly bees. I’m glad for the bees but have wondered what happened to the Queens and buckeyes and painted ladies.

    Great post about winter protection.

    And suggestions for native plants. My dwarf barbados cherry put out a bumper crop of berries this year. Some mornings ten cardinals flutter out of the bushes when I walk out the door. The references I’ve seen say it’s only good to 20F but mine survived 12F last winter…


    Linda reply on November 12th, 2010 3:57 pm:


    Interesting to note that you haven’t gotten the butterflies either.

    I lost one Barbados cherry last year (I thought) but looks like it’s coming back. The dwarf one is growing like mad.


  5. By Jenny on Nov 12, 2010

    I was wondering how Jeff nursed his gorgeous cactus and agaves through that wicked winter. Wish I had been around to save my lemon trees! However, I think the cold weather really did some good for some plants. They liked a bit if that northern weather! I have decided that you can still plant larkspur in the spring to get a later blooming. Ones planted now will bloom early but it isn’t too late in Feb March. Sometimes i can keep them going well into June. I’m hoping for some cool and some rain so I can move things around a bit.


    Linda reply on November 12th, 2010 8:09 pm:

    Thanks, Jenny, for the insight to do successive plantings with larkspur! Yes, hoping for cool and rain to move things around.


  6. By Amy on Nov 14, 2010

    Hi Linda,
    Thanks for all the good info. I do need to start thinking about tucking them all in for a freeze. Blue Mistflower is on my list to add to my garden. Also,I will have to give larkspur ANOTHER go in a different location. They are so pretty!!
    Looking forward to meeting you at the pledge drive…i think it will be a lot of fun. :)


  7. By Robin at Getting Grounded on Nov 16, 2010

    Linda, love your posts, as always. I have the Pink Turk’s Cap, and it was just a few new baby plants last fall. I didn’t do anything for it during the freeze – not even extra mulch. It was slow to return, but it came back in spades with plenty of blooms. It seems to be hardy, if not quite as prolific, as the red. And I love those pink caps!


    Linda reply on November 16th, 2010 4:40 pm:

    That’s great news! Thank you. I already love it.


  8. By Matt in Austin on Jan 11, 2011

    I love the alternatives to nandina, especially the silver germander (I have a couple of them). However, these alternatives all require at least part sun–and nandina can thrive in all-day shade while providing some size and color (when the weather gets cold). So I’m torn between using it in my backyard plans (where the shade of an ash tree causes deep shade for 9+ months out of the year) and filling in the area with something else.


    Linda reply on January 12th, 2011 5:18 pm:

    Hi Matt! I understand. Please email me at and I can help you find something else. One problem with nandina is that they do “thicket.” Believe me, I know from personal experience. Eventually they take over everything. I have lots of shade and can give you some tamer ideas!


  9. By Tammy Leonhardt on Jan 20, 2011

    Hi Linda, I have to agree with Matt. I have some nandina which was already planted around my circa 1912 home. I love it for it’s all season interest, drought, heat and cold tolerence, shade or sun and the deer leave it alone. I have not had trouble yet with it taking over. But, I would love some alternatives, as I have additional shaded area’s I want to plant in,and I would like variety and include natives in my landscape.


    Linda reply on January 20th, 2011 4:04 pm:

    Hi, Tammy! I’ll email you the suggestions I gave Matt. Coincidentally, today we taping an interview with Mr. Smarty Plants from the Wildflower Center. Off camera, we talked about the destruction of the greenbelts due to nandina & ligustrum. Tom and I both planted them years ago when they were recommended for all the reasons you mention. And they are tough to dig out! But, alternatives are better if someone is starting from scratch. Send you the list in just a bit!


  10. By Tammy Leonhardt on Jan 20, 2011

    Thank you so much Linda for your prompt reply and suggestions. I can not wait to see your interview with Mr.Smarty Plants! I have one more question, if I may. I have built a berm at the backside of my property in order to re-direct rain water run off, coming from a large hillside that my home is built at the base of, which was washing the soil out from under my pier & beam foundation. I am proud to say I thought of and designed this berm all myself, and it is working! The alternitive was paying a large amount of money for someone to re-grade my property, the result would have been the loss of many mature trees, plants and hardscapes. My berm is about 130 feet long, 3 feet tall and the sides are slopped so I can go over it with my riding mower. I used a heavy, rocky soil to prevent the soil from washing away, and to make it stable to mow and walk on. All parts of the berm are in full sun. Now, I could just put down some grass seed, and be done with it. But the gardener in me see’s a canvas to create on. I would like a natural look. If I only have to mow it once a year in fall to re-seed-better. Some clumping grasses, wild flowers, maybe work in a few small native trees? I welcome your suggestions of flowers, grasses, shrubs, trees and ground covers that I can try. Texas natives, drought tolerant plants would be a plus.(does not have to be deer resistant)


    Linda reply on January 20th, 2011 8:57 pm:

    Hi. Tammy, back with you soon!


  11. By Tammy Leonhardt on Feb 8, 2011

    HI Linda. I loved the interview with “Mr.Smarty Plants”. I record all the “Central Texas Gardener” episodes. I review them and take notes in my gardening notebook, my son thinks I am studying for an exam.


    Linda reply on February 8th, 2011 5:19 pm:

    Tammy, thank you! With gardening, I always feel like I’m studying for an exam. Thanks for checking in! Linda


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