What’s in a Name? Actually, a LOT!

July 30th, 2014 Posted in botany, hummingbirds, native plants, perennials, wildlife | 4 Comments »

Hummingbird bush. Can we even count how many plants have that name? Well, here’s one: Dicliptera suberecta. Indeed, its summer flowers do attract hummingbirds.

dicliptera suberecta with dianella central texas gardener

Dicliptera is also called Mexican honeysuckle. Ah, and SO is Justicia spicigera.

mexican honeysuckle Justicia spicigera flower

Neither are honeysuckle vines; perhaps the name comes from the sweet flower nectar that attracts hummingbirds.

Flame acanthus (in the Acanthus family) is yet another called “hummingbird bush.” Its botanical name, Anisacanthus quadrifidus var. wrightii, is such a mouthful that it’s no wonder that someone gave it a nickname. And yes, my hummingbirds are all over it.

flame acanthus central texas gardener

flame acanthus flower central texas gardener

My head is starting to hurt, but here’s another “hummingbird bush.” This one is Hamelia patens. And it’s also called “firebush.” I don’t even want to think about how many plants have “fire” in their name.

Hamelia patens hummingbird bush

Honestly, hummingbirds could give a flying fig about what a plant is called. What DOES matter to us is that we can really mess up if we go by common name alone.

In common, though, these “hummingbird bushes” all have orange tubular flowers shaped for you know who. Beyond that, they are quite different.

dicliptera suberecta hummingbird fave central texas gardener

Dicliptera suberecta is an herbaceous plant to about 2’ tall. Wonderful silvery leaves. Sometimes it dies back in super cold winters but always returns. Accepts part sun to part shade. Perfect low-water companion for succulents like my Agave celsii.

Dicliptera suberecta with Agave celsii

Joining it here: Dianella and Salvia coccinea, a friend to butterflies and bees, too.

dicliptera suberecta, dianella, salvia coccinea garden design drought

Mexican honeysuckle (Justicia spicigera) is another herbaceous plant to about 2-3’ tall. In warm winters or protected microclimates, it can remain evergreen. Usually, it freezes back, but returns. It’s a good one for part shade, though I’ve also seen it in lots of sun. More confusion!

mexican honeysuckle Justicia spicigera Central Texas Gardener

Flame acanthus (Anisacanthus wrightii) is a deciduous shrub about 2-3’ tall and almost as wide. It wants as much sun as you can give it, though in my garden it gets shade part of the day. It freezes back in winter. Cut it all the way to the ground.

flame acanthus, lantana wildlife plants

Hamelia patens is a sun-loving shrub, too, though it can take a little shade. It really performs best in sun. I’ve seen them almost 4’ tall but it’s in the 3’ range. It too, dies back in winter, so cut it straight to the ground. Joining it in Lucinda Hutson’s enchanting garden is Salvia leucantha, commonly called Mexican bush sage, a dynamic duo for wildlife in late summer and fall!

hamelia patens salvia leucantha in Lucinda Hutson's garden

All are drought tough and grow in diverse soils, including my Blackland Prairie heavy soil. Plant a few and you’ll have lots of drop-by customers!

Need a quick CTG capsule? Find me on Pinterist! Follow CTG’s adventures on Pinterist

Until next time, Linda

Bromeliads, No-Lawn Design, Plant Secrets

July 24th, 2014 Posted in books, botany, bottle trees, bromeliads, garden art, garden rooms, garden structure, house plants, lawn replace, plant propagation, vegetables, wildlife | 2 Comments »

Ever noticed how some plants turn their flower heads to the sun?

sunflower bee phototropism heliotropism

Daphne explains this phenomenon: heliotropism or phototropism. “Basically, certain cells in the plant, like in sunflowers, at the base of the flower, respond to the blue wavelength of sunlight by changing the water pressure in those basal cells, allowing the cells to stretch and turn,” she says.

This maximizes photosynthesis. Conversely, when plants want LESS sun, they turn away (like we do!) to avoid the harshest rays.

sunflower phototropism heliotropism

Another “plant trick” is how firecracker fern (Russelia equisetiformis) transforms as it matures. Our Plant of the Week, Daphne tells us that when young, these drought-tough perennials have small, almost round leaves tucked in tightly along thin green stems.

young firecracker fern photo by Daphne Richards

In maturity, most of these leaves drop off. The stems aren’t strong enough to support their length, creating their signature cascading effect. In sun or shade, hummingbirds will be all over those flowers!

firecracker fern central texas gardener

Plants for wildlife return our small investment with vast rewards. Viewer Picture goes to James Hearn and Sheryl Smith-Rodgers in Blanco, who went to bat for the wildlife by purchasing the lot next door for wildflowers.

Blanco wildflower meadow Texas Wildscape

Now a certified Texas Wildscape and demonstration garden, they’ve dubbed it The Meadow. Check out Sheryl’s fabulous blog, Windows on a Texas Wildscape, to join their year-round discoveries.

Texas Wildscapes Blanco wildflower meadow

What about some fun indoors? Many tropical bromeliads make delightful, easy care house plants, even in offices with bright light.

tropical bromeliad house plant

On the patio, their central tank of water attracts hummingbirds, butterflies, and ladybugs. Oh, mosquitoes, too, but easy to deal with.

Divide them for house warming gifts or for friends and colleagues who’d just love a free plant! See how to do it with Merrideth Jiles’ step-by-step tips.

divide bromeliads Central Texas Gardener

Here’s his potting soil recipe. 1 part each: coir, expanded shale, perlite, compost

bromeliad potting soil recipe central texas gardener

Cold-hardy bromeliads in warmer microclimates pep up garden textures. My matchstick bromeliad (Aechmea gamosepala) adds that rich leafy perspective to my part-shade spot all year, even after a 12° hit. In January, I got bonus blooms!

Matchstick bromeliad Aechmea gamosepala flower

Dyckia, another bromeliad, adds punch to the well-drained garden with colorful spiny texture.

dyckias central texas gardener

When they bloom, like this deep burgundy in a succulent arrangement, hummingbirds will head on over.

dyckia bloom central texas gardener

My Billbergia hasn’t flowered yet, but I adore its intense coloration. It wasn’t thrilled about 12°, but returned like a champ.

red billbergia central texas gardener

How can we design with cold-hardy bromeliads? Horticulturist, designer, and author Scott Ogden joins Tom to explain how he and wife Lauren Springer Ogden catch the light with bromeliads that prompt attention even in our miserably hot months.

Scott Ogden Central Texas Gardener

He reminds us that ball moss (Tillandsia recurvata) is a bromeliad epiphyte to respect for its beauty and moisture contribution for thirsty wildlife (and it doesn’t hurt trees at all). Giant ball moss (Tillandsia baileyi) is a South Texas native that proves that everything is bigger in Texas!

giant ball moss Tillandsia baileyi central texas gardener

See how Scott combines Aechmea, Puya, Dyckia and Brazilian bromeliads with diverse evergreens and seasonal rain lily blooms for a natural, connected and pleasing design. And indeed, how they attract wildlife to those water tanks and succulent leaves!

On tour, Ann & Robin Matthews banished grass for succulent texture, wildlife plants, and organic food.

no lawn hellstrip curb central texas gardener

no lawn front yard central texas gardener

Along with rainwater collection front and back, they designed a dry stream bed to direct rainfall runoff.

no lawn front garden with dry creek bed central texas gardener

Their neighbor joined in to unite their no-lawn gardens, much to the delight of their enchanted neighbors.

no lawn front yard central texas gardener

In back, they dug up more grass for food. Artists always, they gave it destination credence.

Blue arbor entrance to vegetable garden central texas gardener

bottle tree vegetable garden centerpiece

Along with screening plants, Ann & Robin built a screen with hardy plank  and decorated it with the historic rock art designs they’ve discovered across Texas.

Hardy plank artistic garden screen central texas gardener

See their story now!

Thanks for stopping by! Linda

Triple P: Popsicles, Pesticides, Pond Care

July 17th, 2014 Posted in Insects, Nurseries, garden designers, groundcovers, native plants, ponds, recipes | 2 Comments »

Forecast: hot & icky, with more to come. Along with jumping into the nearest pool, cool down with home-made popsicles! Hey, much cheaper than moving to Alaska.

Homemade popsicles BPA free molds

Trisha Shirey shows how to make yummy, healthy versions. And they’re so easy that you won’t even break a sweat.

Homemade popsicles in Dixie cups

Get her recipes for watermelon berry, avocado mint, yogurt berry, pina colada, lime coconut, and green tea and peppermint; you could even add an “adult beverage” to the mix. All were super hits with the CTG crew taste-testers!

Homemade popsicles avocado, yogurt, berries

In summer, I crave cucumbers for snacks. Robin McGary gets this week’s Viewer Picture for her babies (now probably on her dinner table). What a kick to plant a seed and watch it grow into food of your own.

cucumber female flowers and fruit

Need cucumber recipes? Get Trisha’s for refreshing Aguas Frescas and salads.

And her easy icebox pickles.

In July, we dive for cover, as do our plants. One that stands up to brutality is native groundcover snake herb (Dyschoriste linearis), Daphne’s Plant of the Week. And she even pronounces that for us!

snake herb native drought plant

Its wispy foliage sports tiny flowers that butterflies won’t miss.

snake herb flower native perennial groundcover for drought

Although it flowers off and on through summer, mainly I grow this perennial for its spreading texture against other plants, in either sun to part shade. It went underground when my garden hit 12°, but returned before I got worried about it.

snake herb with lamb's ears and 'John Fanick' phlox

Raquelle Godbey inspired Daphne’s question this week: why organic pesticides are just as harmful as “chemical” ones. Daphne reminds us that just because a product is labelled “organic,” it doesn’t mean it will just kill the “bad bugs.” They can also wipe out our bees, butterflies and other beneficials.

ladybug on bolting cilantro natural aphid control

When cilantro bolts in heat, flowers attract beneficial pollinators. If we hang on through the untidy process, we can harvest seeds for cooking (coriander) or collect for next fall’s planting.

cilantro flowers for coriander seeds

Racquelle discovered another benefit. Aphids.

Yikes, you say! But thanks to them, Racquelle’s got generations of ladybugs and green lacewings who showed up to the aphid table. Really, if you need to buy insects, you’re doing something wrong.  They’ll show up on their own if you don’t kill them or their food supply.

ladybug and green lacewing natural pest control

I’ve heard more than one sad story about pesticide drift that killed pond fish. Certainly, we don’t want that, but what about a safe way to deal with floating green algae?

Steve Kainer from Hill Country Water Gardens & Nursery has the answer when he joins Tom with on-target tips for summertime pond care.

Steve Kainer Hill Country Water Gardens & Nursery

One top question: floating green and string algae. First, fend it off with at least 60% plant coverage. Feed goldfish only what they can eat in a few minutes. For koi, provide small feedings 3 times a day. Follow his ratio: an inch of fish per 10 gallons (in other words, not too many fish!).

Keep things tidy and use a skimmer. A few preventive products include barley hay straw.

barley hay straw natural pond algae control

Aerate, since lots of oxygen diffuses algae.

pond aerate Hill Country Water Gardens and Nursery

Steve reminds us to fertilize monthly with aquatic plant tablets, one pellet per gallon pot. And to fend off those herons, he has great luck with Scarecrow!

scarecrow motion-activated animal deterrent

On tour, Hill Country Water Gardens & Nursery installed Claudia and Ronnie Hubenthal’s ponds and streams. Claudia designed it around a bridge that she lucked into.

bridge and pond design Hill Country Water Gardens & Nursery

Here’s where they started. I love the “top” dog getting a better look.

before pond design Central Texas Gardener


pond design Hill Country Water Gardens & Nursery

In progress.

pond design Georgetown Hill Country Water Gardens & Nursery

pond design Georgetown Hill Country Water Gardens & Nursery

Dive in to see it all!

Thanks for stopping by! Next week, Scott Ogden adds new perspectives with hardy bromeliads. See you then, Linda

Pedal for Compost, Exotic Edibles, Summer Projects

July 10th, 2014 Posted in Late spring flowers, compost, garden projects, native plants, urban farms, vegetables | 4 Comments »

Since July is great for tackling the non-sweaty projects on our list, this week see how to make magic out of plain concrete sculptures, pavers, and benches.

stain concrete sculptures Central Texas Gardener

I tapped Merrideth Jiles for this one since years ago he gave my concrete cocker spaniel a new “coat.” Chester the real dog passed away at Christmas, so I really value my sculpture.

stain concrete sculptures Central Texas Gardener

He explains the steps to colorize: spray with iron chelate, brush and wipe stain, protect with beeswax to preserve color. Go crazy! And get a little sweaty since you’ve got to do this one outside, right?

stain concrete sculptures Central Texas Gardener

Merrideth’s on his own now, delivering on-target-drought design and consultation services, yippee!

Another cool project: plan spots for wildflower seeds this fall. I’m so impressed about how many gardeners are restoring prairies. One is Darlene Spencer near Fredericksburg, who gets our Viewer Picture.

Wildflower meadow Fredericksburg Texas

Marie & David Fuller from San Antonio sent in their lovely native giant coneflowers (Rudbeckia maxima).

giant coneflower rudbeckia maxima central texas gardener

Daphne explains how to grow giant coneflower as Plant of the Week. I got my first one last year after admiring it in so many native plant gardens.

giant coneflower rudbeckia maxima central texas gardener

I love the leafy silvery foliage that hunkers down quite low & tidy, until late spring/early summer when it claims its name with over-the-top bloom spikes.  Sort of like succulents in spring.

giant coneflower rudbeckia maxima central texas gardener

Mine gets some morning sun and then afternoon sun late.  12° last winter didn’t faze it.  Daphne advises cutting back this evergreen perennial after it blooms.

Although it likes moist spots, mine has made it through weekly watering, though I gave it a little extra last year as a late-planted newbie. Deer-proof, so they say.

Now, you’ve heard of lemongrass, but what about yacon, gynura, oca and moringa?  Jay Beard from Lone Star Nursery joins Tom to introduce us to some exotic edibles that take the heat.

Jay Beard Lone Star Nursery Central Texas Gardener

Lone Star Nursery is a family operation, celebrating their 10th anniversary!  Jay and wife Flint raise plants organically, starting from seed. They’re also raising four great kids, who (except for the baby) can tell you all about yacon. This summer blooming perennial rewards you with pounds of sweet potato-like tubers come January.

yacon Lone Star Nursery Central Texas Gardener

Oca: looks like oxalis, don’t you think?  Its leaves are edible and its prolific tubers have a crispy apple/pear flavor, akin to jicama.

oca Lone Star Nursery Central Texas Gardener

Moringa turns into a 15 -20’ tree. Leaves, seed pods, and tubers are not only edible but high in vitamins. Since it’s got a 50/50 chance to return after freeze, grow in a pot and protect in winter.

Moringa Lone Star Nursery Central Texas Gardener

You’ll find Lone Star Nursery (and some of the kids, too) at Saturday’s Sustainable Food Center Farmers’ Market downtown.

And at the Mueller and Cedar Park Farmers’ Markets to pick up these plants and learn more about them.

Lone Star Nursery at Mueller Farmers' Market Austin Texas

Online at Lone Star Botanicals, and at the markets, pick up Flint’s organic skin creams, medicinal tinctures, teas, essential oils and even natural mosquito spray concocted from their plant trimmings.

Another local recycling initiative, Compost Coalition, encourages picking up coffee shop grounds to spare the landfill and add nitrogen to our compost piles.

ground to ground Compost Coalition

Daphne explains how Ground to Ground can perk up your compost pile even when we’re feeling too sweaty to turn it.

On tour, freeze, snow, rain or heat doesn’t deter the East Side Compost Pedallers from their mission:  to turn residential and commercial “scrapple” into compost, one cargo bike at a time.

East Side Compost Pedallers Central Texas Gardener h

East Side Compost Pedallers Central Texas Gardener

Since 2012, when Dustin Fedako and business partner Eric Goff put the pedal to the metal in five east Austin neighborhoods, the Pedallers have kept 123,643 pounds out of the landfill and reaped 30,910 pounds of compost from “scrapple.”

Dustin Fedako East Side Compost Pedallers Central Texas Gardener

East Side Compost Pedallers Central Texas Gardener

Commercial customers like East Side Pies turn their vegetable scraps into rich compost at local farms, microgrowers, community gardens, and for their members.  Cost savings to local farmers:  $3284.

east side pies central texas gardener

Monica and Dannea Nelson give us a quick tour of a few things they recycle at home, from vacuum cleaner collection to junk mail (including what mail to compost and what to recycle). Great way to avert identity theft and feed your tomatoes at the same time!

compost scraps East Side Compost Pedallers Central Texas Gardener

compost vacuum cleaner collection East Side Compost Pedallers Central Texas Gardener

See the whole story now!

Thanks for stopping by! Next week, Steve Kainer from Hill Country Water Gardens & Nursery dives in with summertime tips for ponds and fountains.  Linda