Drought disasters to avoid

January 30th, 2013 Posted in Summer plants, Techniques, butterflies, deer, drought, garden design, garden designers, habitat, lawn replace, native plants, shade plants, trees, wildlife

Drought doesn’t scare me to pieces. My plants have been through it all and always come back for more. Yes, I do water some, but not outrageously. I avoid thirsty ones and go for those that can take our brutal swings.
Rock rose and turk's cap wildlife plants

What scares the living daylights out of me is overreaction to drought. I keep seeing people make a clean sweep of it all and dumping yards of rocks over former living ground. Aside from being hot, hot, hot, and a mess when “weeds” inevitably find a niche, what about the wildlife we banish?

Bordered Patch butterfly on zexmenia

New Mexico landscape architect David Cristiani is very familiar with this frightening response. He made the trip to Austin to join Tom for his insightful perspective to steer us away from ecological disaster. Follow his insightful blog, The Desert Edge, for more of his perceptions.

Tom Spencer and David Cristiani Central Texas Gardener

Some plants thrive in rock, for sure. But a lot do not, like many of our trees and native plants! If we force them into unnatural habitat, what happens? Okay, bet you got that one: death.

Dead tree rockscape photo by David Cristiani

Hot, ugly, and not much life in sight, other than the person who comes to blow debris off the rocks: is that how we want to deal with drought?

Hot rockscape photo by David Cristiani

Nope, says landscape architect Christy Ten Eyck, who lived in Phoenix for many years. Now, she’s in Austin, keeping busy designing across state lines around the country with her important message to keep our wildlife intact. On tour in her Austin garden, see how she connects the drought dots without sacrificing essential content, like our lives!

Christy’s garden includes many clumping grasses. These drought tough plants, like Lindheimer muhly, are superb standouts for texture, structure, and striking seed heads.

Lindheimer muhly and agave

Most of them go dormant in winter. So, when should we prune them and how far down do we cut? Daphne gives us the cutting edge scoop. We want to keep them up as long as possible, since their seed heads, like those of Gulf muhly, are still gorgeous in this mild winter.

Gulf muhly seed heads

I think they look great in their winter rendition! Butterflies agree, since overwintering ones hide in the leaves to stay warm. Some birds go for the seed heads, too.

Silver bluestem

Daphne explains that we do want to cut them back by the end of February to clean up before new growth emerges. With inland sea oats, cut all the way to the ground. I cut some of mine already to show you how their new leaves are already popping up.

inland sea oats new growth

Strappy ones, like Mexican feather grass, get a straight haircut to about 6” above ground.

mexican feather grass seed heads

Mexican feather grass cut back

Get Daphne’s techniques to make the job easier on large plants like Lindheimer muhly. Cut this neighboring Mexican bush sage (Salvia leucantha) down to the rosette.

Lindheimer muhly and salvia leucantha

A chore we can’t delay is wrangling those weeds! With the low rainfall, they’re not as crazy as in wet winters, but even a few mean a lifetime supply if we let them go to seed. See how Merrideth Jiles from The Great Outdoors snags them.

Merrideth Jiles The Great Outdoors

Now is also an excellent time to plant trees before it gets hot in earnest. Take a look at Daphne’s Pick of the Week, Mexican orchid tree, (Bauhinia mexicana), if you’re looking for a small shrub-like tree in dappled light.

Mexican orchid tree Bauhinia mexicana
Like Christy, plant it where you can see the butterflies and hummingbirds that flock to its flowers from summer to early fall. And you’re good to go in deer country, since (usually) they won’t bother it.

Mexican orchid tree flower hummingbird plant

Thanks for stopping by! See you next week, Linda

  1. 15 Responses to “Drought disasters to avoid”

  2. By Daphne on Jan 30, 2013

    Beautiful garden footage! And I love seeing my friend David. Thanks, Linda!


    Linda reply on January 30th, 2013 9:11 pm:

    Well, thanks to you, Daphne, for making this a stellar program, as always!


    Desert Dweller / David C. reply on February 2nd, 2013 5:46 pm:

    Feeling is mutual and thanks, “all y’all”. What an honor to be on!


    Linda reply on February 3rd, 2013 12:11 pm:

    David, the honor was all ours! Thank you so much!

  3. By Robert Mace on Jan 30, 2013

    Is the Mexican Orchid readily available locally? I live in Lockhart. Do you think my soil over here is suitable?
    Thanks, Robert


    Linda reply on January 30th, 2013 9:10 pm:

    Hi, Robert! You should be able to find it in Austin nurseries. And yes, it would do fine for you! Thanks for checking in!


  4. By Diana/SharingNaturesGarden on Jan 31, 2013

    It’s so important to show people that gardening with drought doesn’t limit them to one style. And so glad to see bauhinia as the plant of the week – I’ve been wanting one since I saw it in Christy’s garden and you reminded me to put it on my list.


    Linda reply on January 31st, 2013 10:14 am:

    Yes, it was a reminder to me too!


  5. By Hella on Jan 31, 2013

    Thanks, as always, for a great blog.

    I have a Mexican Orchid. It is about 5 years old now and was purchased at one of the Zilker Garden plant sales. It is doing very well and did not mind the brutal summer of 2010. Neither does it seem to mind the occasional frost. The blossoms are outstanding!

    My question: What species is the grass in the photo below the Gulf muhly?


    Linda reply on January 31st, 2013 10:14 am:

    Hi, Hella, I’d love to have the Mexican bauhinia! The grass is silver bluestem–I should have identified it. I saw that in the restoration prairie at Mueller. So stunning!


  6. By TomE on Jan 31, 2013

    I’m with you Linda. We CTGs are at a unique intersection of sun, rain, and temperature and that’s the gardening challenge and fun of it. Let’s live it up! Yes, in Austin we need a little summer water to “tide us over”, especially in drought years, to garden the good life, but no need to live in the desert, unless of course that’s the look and feel you like best.


    Linda reply on January 31st, 2013 10:12 am:

    What a beautiful way to describe our situation. And your garden is certainly a testament to how do things the right way!


  7. By Cat on Jan 31, 2013

    What a great interview! Christy’s garden is such an inspiration. Twice this week I’ve come across the pecan hull mulch…do you know where it is available? I love its texture and color.


    Linda reply on January 31st, 2013 4:11 pm:

    Hi, Cat! Yes, isn’t she wonderful! On the pecan mulch, Andrea from the Wildflower Center mentions it in an upcoming episode. I’m going to start checking around and will let you know.


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