Events that Changed My Life

March 19th, 2014 Posted in Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, bees, early spring flowers, garden projects, lawn replace, native plants, parks, philosophy | 20 Comments »

Let me tell you, I was pretty proud of this long ago!

Linda's first garden Austin Texas

And rightfully so. My first garden life-changing event was when we bought a house with a dusty yard owned by fire ants.  With more energy than knowledge or money, I embarked on a journey that hasn’t yet reached its destination. Who knows how I’d be spending my time now if not for those fire ants?

The more I learned, the more the garden changed.

taking out grass for path Austin Texas

As the garden changed, the more I learned/am learning.

spring garden austin texas

When I started, there weren’t tons of garden events/talks every weekend at local nurseries.  It was to Zilker Botanical Garden that I headed to learn about drought-tough adaptable and native plants like Mexican feather grass.

mexican feather grass austin texas

At the Austin Area Garden Council clubs’ meetings, shows and sales, I picked up one-on-one lessons in botany, plant cultivation and wildlife sustainability.

honeybee on passionvine

At Zilker Garden Festival (then Florarama) I got my first Salvia greggi—a native plant! What a prize! I raced home to dump a resident ligustrum and chop out grass for a new front yard garden.

Salvia greggi with silver germander austin texas

Always, I hauled home a trunk load of local garden art and surprises, like this crinum lily.

crinum lily austin texas

On March 29 & 30, join the fun for plants, garden talks, Kids Corner and live music at the 57th Zilker Garden Festival!

Another big event for me: Mayfield Park’s annual Trowel & Error Symposium.

mayfield park trowel & error with Renee Studebaker

I’ve always loved the historic Gutsch garden and house at Mayfield (we even thought about getting married there).

mayfield park pond austin texas

Over the years, I’ve attended every Trowel & Error to learn from passionate gardeners (speakers and guests) and pick up heirloom plants at the plant sale.

mayfield park trowel & error Meredith O'Reilly

On April 5 from 9:30 – 1 p.m., Mayfield’s got another super lineup! Landscape designer and horticulturist Amanda Moon goes for “Heat & Drought Tolerant Plants You May Not Have Heard Of.”

amanda moon It's About Thyme

Writers for Texas Gardener magazine include passionate and informative blogger Jay White:  “Fence Me In: Selecting Proper Support for Tomatoes.”

Jay White Masters of Horticulture

And equally passionate Master Gardener Patty Leander: “Go Vertical in the Garden with Climbing, Vining, and Twining Vegetables.”

Master Gardener Patty Leander photo by Bruce Leander

I’ll be there, too, as the Raffle Queen, with fabulous gifts from many generous donors!

The event that really turned my vision to native plants is when I attended the first Bluebonnet Blast at the original location of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

bluebonnets and nolina central texas

At the semi-annual plant sales, I’m always adding to my collection, like rock rose (Pavonia lasiopetala) and Calylophus berlandieri.

pavonia lasiopetala and calylophus berlandieri native plants

I’m so glad I took a chance two years ago on Texas bluegrass (Poa arachnifera), here with blackfoot daisy. I’ve started to divide the Poa for other shady spots in the garden. . .that includes non-natives, too, but all suited for drought and wildlife.

Texas bluegrass with blackfoot daisy austin texas

Some part-shade plants like golden groundsel (Packera obovata) aren’t yet available in nurseries. This one’s so popular that you really need to get there on Members Day!

native bee on golden groundsel austin texas

One big lesson I’ve learned is that “native” is not a catchall. Plants native to rock are never going to be satisfied in my Blackland Prairie soil. Others want conditions that I just don’t have. So, I’ll admire lovely Texas bluebells at the Wildflower Center!

Texas bluebell at Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

On April 12 & 13; members day on April 11, admire away and grab your goodies, walks and talks, kid’s events, and more. Click that link to also get the plant list. I like to have it as a resource for my ground-breaking endeavors!

All these events support the organizations’ year-long endeavors to inspire and guide us.

Next week, we launch our spring season with all new shows, starting with Eric Pedley’s deer-proof succulents and a couple’s garden journey that started with a flood of ideas to control flooding.

Thanks for stopping by! Linda

Patience is Worth Waiting For

February 26th, 2014 Posted in bees, early spring flowers, fruit trees, habitat, native plants, trees, wildlife | 10 Comments »

I swooned the first time I saw a native Mexican plum (Prunus mexicana) tree in bloom one February.

mexican plum flowers austin texas

A grower friend gave me a very small one, just as this native was making it into nurseries.

mexican plum flowers central texas gardener

February #6 came and went, no flower in sight. Year seven (maybe 8)  was the magic number! Again, I started with a tiny sapling.

mexican plum flowers central texas gardener

Once mature enough to propagate, it doesn’t mickey mouse around. In a span of two weeks or so, visible buds swing into action.

mexican plum leaf first buds central texas native plants

mexican plum February buds central texas gardener

mexican plum flowers buds central texas gardener

Even with my allergy-stricken nose, I don’t miss out on its perfume bottle.

mexican plum native texas plant

Honeybees and native bees get the message pronto!

Honeybee on mexican plum flower native texas plant

Wizzie Brown, Texas A&M Agrilife entomologist, identified this spotted cucumber beetle having a meal. I’m like her: I take the good with the bad, since somebody good needs dinner.

spotted cucumber beetle on mexican plum flower

Fall-ripened fruit goes to the birds, though we could eat them too.

mexican plum fruit central texas gardener

Sadly, in drought, a lot of mine end up aborting fruit when the parent’s survival matters most. And across the area, even this tough native has succumbed to drought like many trees.

Brief fall color isn’t blinding in my garden. Mexican plum does everything in a hurry, except for the fruits that do take months to ripen.

mexican plum fall color

Mine in dense soil stands now about 18’ tall but it can get to 35’. It’s about 13′ wide. It hunkers under the neighbor’s pecan tree, but gets blasts of sun, generally late day in summer. It’s been a wonderful screening tree for us, especially since we’ve kept its lower branches.

mexican plum native texas tree

It’s not too late to plant, but do give it deep soakings this first year after letting it dry out in between.

Thanks for stopping by! Linda

Defiant roses, pruning Texas sage, fertilizer, African violets

February 20th, 2014 Posted in Texas A&M, books, bulbs, fertilizing, house plants, organic fertilizers, pruning, roses | No Comments »

Ouch! Is that how you feel when our dormant muscles get a workout pruning dormant plants? My Narcissus ‘Erlicheer’ cheered me on, though I’m not EVEN close to the finish line.

narcissus erlicheer austin texas

But let’s not go insane about hedging Texas sage (cenizo). Have you ever seen ones like this?

Texas sage cenizo bad hedging central texas

Daphne explains why we give just the briefest tip of the pruners to these native shrubs that won’t develop new growth from the interior. Rosemary is that way, too.

We don’t have to be so nervous about pruning roses except hybrid teas, which I don’t have. Still, I do pay some attention to leaf bud direction, like on my New Dawn climber.

New Dawn rose drought rose

With others, I just cut back for size and to get rid of old-looking leaves. And I clean up dead branches, of course!

pruning old leaves on roses central texas

I got New Dawn from Judy Barrett years ago when she and husband Bob had a nursery. It’s survived drought, hard freeze, and my neglect. I’ve learned so much from Judy from her now online magazine, Homegrown, and ALL her books.

Homegrown Texas magazine Judy Barrett

This week, Judy and Tom dispel myths and tell the truth about growing drought-tough roses, including pruning!

Judy Barrett Yes You Can Grow Roses

She challenges the bad rap on roses with tips from her latest book, Yes, You Can Grow Roses. And yes, you can, because I do it, and I’m the laziest gardener in the world.

Judy Barrett Yes You Can Grow Roses book

Wowsers, some of my pictures are in her book! But let’s see Janet A. Riley’s Souvenir de la Malmaison, one of Judy’s picks that doesn’t need fertilizer or spraying for pests or disease.

Souvenir de la Malmaison rose by Janet A. Riley

She agrees with Judy, “Once they have put down healthy roots and have bonded with the soil, I feel that they perform much as drought tolerant natives.” Indeed!

Obviously, I let things get a little carried away here last fall, but this trio of thryallis, cenizo, and Iceberg rose is companionable in their low-water, scalding sun location. I’ve got it under control again, though just a tip of the pruners on the cenizo!

Iceberg rose, thryallis and Texas sage cenizo
All you need is sun, mulch, and the right choices. With spicy wit, Judy suggests we leave those bagged roses at the box store!

Isn’t this David Austin rose,  Jude the Obscure, such a dreamy color?  Our Viewer Picture of the Week goes to Teresa Holmes. And, look at it upside down, to see the smiling man in the moon!

Jude the Obscure rose by Teresa Holmes Central Texas Gardener

It’s a great time to plant roses and perennials like columbine, Daphne’s Pick of the Week.

Texas Gold columbine

Find out why cultivar Aquilegia chrysantha hinckleyana ‘Texas Gold’ gets Texas Superstar status for those part shade spots.

Now, what about fertilizing in general? Which is the right one for your plants and why pick slow release organics? On Backyard Basics, Brandi Blaisdell from The Natural Gardener explains what, when, and why.

How to fertilize with Brandi Blaisdell, The Natural Gardener

On tour, African violets captivated Penny Smith-Kerker the minute she walked into a First Austin African Violet Society show. She bought a few plants to brighten up her office at IBM under fluorescent lights.

African violet Central Texas Gardener

Now a serious grower (while having tons of fun), Penny shows how to grow and propagate these tidy plants that bloom their heads off.

Pruning African violets Central Texas Gardener

Celebrate FAAVS’s 50th anniversary at their eye-popping show & sale on March 15 & 16 at Zilker Botanical Garden!

Watch now for a new look at African violets!

Thanks for stopping by! Linda

Tricky Plants + Tricky Pruning

February 13th, 2014 Posted in Nurseries, aquaponics, garden projects, garden structure, lawn replace, native plants, perennials, pruning, wildlife | 8 Comments »

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