A New Look at Grass

February 6th, 2014 Posted in Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, Texas A&M, birds, deer, destinations, groundcovers, habitat, lawn replace, native plants, pests, prairie, wildlife | 6 Comments »

My journey as a lawn whittler started long ago when I wanted visual sensation through plants that bring wildlife right to my garden doorstep.

texas betony and packera obovata austin texas

Texas betony and Golden groundsel

I still have some lawn, but it’s whittled to a whisper. It gets no more water than my native plants. When we mow—which is rare—it takes about 15 minutes. Merely, it’s a cool, low-maintenance frame against tidy or raucous ever-changing drama to support wildlife.

Golden groundsel (Packera obovata) is one of my finds at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center’s semi-annual plant sales. In part shade, it remains evergreen, blooming like mad starting in February or March to attract bees and butterflies.

bordered patch butterfly on golden groundsel austin texas

White avens (Geum canadense), another LBJWC shady ground-hugger, blooms a bit later in spring.

geum canadense flower austin texas

Another: Texas bluegrass (Poa arachnifera), a perennial cool season small grass that accents the base of my mountain laurel. Its April flowers attract butterflies; seeds feed some birds and small mammals.

poa arachnifera Texas bluegrass flower

Sedges and various low-water native plants hug my foundation now, instead of nandina.

Texas sedge against porch foundation austin

In spring and fall, salvias like S. guaranitica are busy bees.

bee going to salvia guaranitica

Bees dance on Mexican plum’s February flowers. Birds fill their bellies with its ripened fruits in fall.

spring's mexican plum flowers austin texas

Before we started our habitat garden, we counted June bugs and fire ant mounds. Now, we’ve got a pest control team, above ground and even below.

anole on hanging pot austin texas

ladybug after aphids on lettuce austin

Ladybug going after aphids on lettuce

Since its inception, The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center has connected us to the value of native plants in the wild and in our gardens. Now that research is part of their mission, they’re taking even broader steps into a sustainable future.

This week, Tom joins Mark Simmons, Director of Research and Consulting Director at the LBJWC, to explain why he led the development of native HABITURF®.

Tom Spencer and Mark Simmons Central Texas Gardener

Native to England where lawns are naturally lush, Mark saw the problem when he arrived in Texas: drought. Plus, although turf grass covers the soil, what about a lawn with wildlife benefits, too?

HABITURF®’s  current blend of buffalograss, blue grama and curly-mesquite (experimenting with others) tenders a dense camaraderie in sun to a few hours of shade.

HABITURF lawn photo by Guy Thompson for Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Foot traffic? Yes indeed! Mark admits that in his backyard, first base is a little trampled by his kids’ softball games, but what wouldn’t be?! It’s doggoned hardy otherwise.

Dog in HABITURF lawn photo by Guy Thompson

Learn how to install it.

You can get HABITURF® seed and lots of native plants at the Wildflower Center’s Spring Plant Sale & Gardening Festival on April 12-13 (members day April 11). It’s also available from the Douglass King Company in San Antonio.

Bladerunner Farms in Poteet will have sod later this spring, available from them or local nurseries.

Mark beautifully expresses his philosophy for the future in his TedxTalks, Eco-Metropolis: Deploying the Power of Nature.

Another game-changing mentor for me is the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. Daphne celebrates the centennial anniversary of Extension’s service to us all!

Photo Texas A&M AgriLife Extension

In person, online, via Master Gardeners, and workshops, your local Extension office helps grow your garden with tips on techniques, planting guides and solutions to problems.

Daphne Richards and Travis County Master Gardeners

Find your Extension Office.

In Travis County, here’s your go-to link.

Hardy aloes aren’t native to Texas, but their rosettes intrigue sunny well-drained soil. As Daphne’s Plant of the Week, she cautions to note cold hardiness if growing in beds.

Hardy aloes with cactus austin texas

Like yuccas and agaves, their flowers head to the sky, where hummingbirds hone in.

Hardy aloe flower austin texas

There are some critters we want to repel!

I Must Garden deer and squirrel repellents Trisha Shirey Central Texas Gardener

Trisha’s found natural blends that don’t repel us either.

I Must Garden mosquito, tick and flea repellent Trisha Shirey Central Texas Gardener

On tour, thanks to music attorney Ed Fair’s vision to launch the Commons Ford Prairie Restoration Organization, there’s a new crowd flocking to Commons Ford Park.

Ed Fair Commons Ford Prairie Restoration Organization

When he discovered the park as a first-time birder in 2001, he didn’t find many birds in the prairie. Dominated by non-native grasses, it didn’t offer much food for wildlife. After teaming up with Austin Parks and Recreation, wildlife experts, Native American Seed, and dedicated volunteers, the prairie’s going to the birds, bees, and butterflies.

Commons Ford Ranch Prairie Restoration Organization

On taping day, Billy Driver joined director Ed Fuentes for astounding overhead prairie shots with his GoPro on a Phantom quadcopter.

Billy Driver Phantom quadcopter Center Texas Gardener

Here’s our story!

Thanks for stopping by! See you next week for tricks with tricky plants. Linda

The Bees’ Knees!

January 30th, 2014 Posted in Insects, Nurseries, bees, chickens, drought, garden art, garden structure, lawn replace, native plants, pruning, roses | 2 Comments »

Right now, a lot of us are buzzing about frozen plants.  On Feb. 15, Daphne has cutting edge info on pruning. Until then, if your hands are clamped to the pruners, I’m waiting until late February to cut my bamboo muhly to the ground.

bamboo muhly frozen austin texas

Instead, let’s get moving! Trees, shrubs, perennials like asters, and roses: if they’re in the wrong spot or you want to divide them, now’s the time to put the pedal to metal (shovel). Get Daphne’s tips about moving roses.

daphne richards, augie doggie, and grandma's yellow rose austin texas

We can start our annual rose pruning clean-up as soon as they send out new buds, which is right about now for me. It’s a perfect time to plant them, too, like Janet Riley’s drought tough Cramoisi Superieur.

Cramoisi Superieur Janet A. Riley

I know for a fact that Daphne’s no water hound. Find out why she loves her family sentimental favorite, Sharifa Asma, a David Austin that blooms its fragrant head off. Wish you could sniff it from here!

sharifa asma rose photo by Daphne Richards

Like any rose, not every David Austin works for us. Certainly, Graham Thomas at the Antique Rose Emporium isn’t flustered by drought. I really like this combination with Cuphea micropetala.

cuphea micropetala and graham thomas rose antique rose emporium

Bees sometimes go for rose pollen and nectar on single flowers like Mutabilis.

bee on mutabilis rose austin texas

For sure, they’ll join hummingbirds at Cupheas, like bat face cuphea.

bee on bat face cuphea austin texas

Since bees are energetic pollinators that need a helping hand, this week Tom joins Chris and Bill Reid from Reid’s Nursery to get your garden humming again! Drought-tough Globe mallow is a dreamy plant with silvery leaves and almost perpetual flowers.

globe mallow for bees austin, texas

Reid’s Nursery, east of I-35 between Kyle and San Marcos, hosts free garden talks many weekends, including bee talk with The San Marcos Area Bee Wranglers on Feb. 16.

To really “bee” effective, Chris and Bill remind us to plant for forage all year long. It’s easy in spring with penstemons, poppies, and native wildflowers.

gulf penstemon and poppies austin texas

And fragrant huisache.

huisache flowers by donna sanders

Summer’s busy, too, with salvias and passion vine.

bee on passion vine austin texas

For late summer and fall, include native small tree kidneywood.

bee on kidneywood flower Reid's Nursery

Perennial shrub flame acanthus attracts hummingbirds, too. This is one we can cut to the ground right now.

flame acanthus for bees and hummingbirds austin texas

Native white mistflower.

bee on white mistflower austin texas

Queen’s wreath, also called coral vine.

bee on queen's wreath vine austin texas

For some of us, the buzz is about twigs and even young trees getting chomped to fatality. Could it be twig girdlers?

twig girdler damage Trisha Shirey Central Texas Gardener

Trisha explains what’s going on and how to tell if the culprit is the insect or squirrels and raccoons. Here’s a picture shared with us by Clemson University – USDA Cooperative, since Trisha squashed one culprit before she took a picture!

Photo: Clemson University - USDA Cooperative Extension Slide Series, Bugwood.org

On tour, Dani & Gary Moss brought back the bees, birds, and butterflies after their new property was ravaged by oak wilt and former neglect.

garden for bees Central Texas Gardener

Along with gorgeous gardens peppered with garden art, this energetic duo built charming structures from recycled materials, welded their own structures and accents, and crafted stained glass.

garden conservatory and art Central Texas Gardener

Garden welding and stained glass greenhouse central texas gardener

When Dani wanted chickens, they built Chicksville, as cute as their friendly and very comfy chickens.

Chicksville chicken coop austin texas

Meet them in person and tour the gardens on April 19 on this year’s Austin Funky Chicken Coop tour!

Watch now!

I’m really buzzing this week about Central Texas Gardener’s new YouTube channel! It would be as sweet as honey if you’d fly on over and subscribe. I’ve already added many of our fabulous videos on KLRU’s channel to the new playlists. If you can’t find a favorite video, it’s still on YouTube!

Thanks for buzzing by! See you next week, Linda

Design for Drought

January 23rd, 2014 Posted in Late spring flowers, bulbs, drought, garden design, garden designers, garden structure, lawn replace, perennials | 4 Comments »

Algerian iris heads my garden’s bulb parade this week!

Algerian iris Austin Texas

Thanks to its Mediterranean roots, dry times don’t bring on a shudder. Drought isn’t new to Texas, either. It’s just easy to forget in a rainy spell.

Algerian iris Austin garden

What’s different, climate changes aside, is that gardeners are connecting to the broader and long-term picture of water conservation. For one thing, we’re growing plants that weren’t on our radar not so long ago.

Agaves and cactus in containers Bob Barth garden

We cherish our natural gifts, instead of trying to conquer them.

agaves in rocks Ten Eyck Austin garden

We’ve swapped grass and dull hedges for the double W: wildlife and water-wise.

Drought garden Temple Texas

drought tough curb strip austin texas CTG

drought tough wildlife garden austin texas CTG

drought wildlife garden kyle texas

We’ve learned how to catch, direct, and control rainfall in rain gardens, berms and swales, barrels, and dry creeks.

dry creek drought plants Jenny Stocker garden CTG

recycled glass dry creek bed Hutto Texas CTG

In food gardens, we’re drip irrigating and adapting lawn sprinkler heads.

sprinkler head adapted for drip irrigation CTG

And exploring techniques like wicking beds, hugelkultur and ollas.

ollas in wicking bed at in.gredients austin texas CTG

We’ve taken a cue from the past with heritage favorites that thrived when watering meant a pump, not a spigot. One of them is iris, Daphne’s Plant of the Week.

iris and poppies Temple garden CTG

Even when not in bloom, their structural foliage is a relief from fluffier plants. Adaptable to heavy soil like mine, or rockier spots like this, they perform with minor adjustments.

Jenny Stocker drought garden CTG

One big question: How and when do we fertilize iris? Daphne recommends using a blend that’s high in phosphorous but LOW in nitrogen. Apply mid-February to March and again after flowering. Find out why.

Yellow and white iris Temple garden CTG

And check out Trisha’s tips for dividing in fall, since that’s essential for more flowers, too.

For Surroundings Landscape Architect Kenneth Francis, water ethics are the starting point in designs from his New Mexico home-base, which now includes Austin (and beyond). He joins Tom to illustrate infrastructure concepts that wrangle water, regardless of style.

Tom Spencer with Surroundings Landscape Architect Kenneth Francis

Kenneth explains his starting point, which you can adapt by analyzing your own house and landscape.

Surroundings landscape architecture water conservation render

In one of his landscapes, this charming rill carries water to its various destinations.

Surroundings rill design photo by Kate Russell

This berm also acts as a privacy and sound barrier against a busy road.

Surroundings landscape architecture berm design photo by Kate Russell

And check out these solar bricks on a driveway!

Solar bricks Surroundings landscape architecture design photo by Kate Russell

In the vegetable garden, wouldn’t you love to pick your own organic asparagus? Since now’s a perfect time to plant your crowns, John Dromgoole shows how to prep and plant.

how to grow asparagus John Dromgoole Central Texas Gardener

On tour, from the mouths of babes, get wise lessons on watershed protection from Earth Camp fifth-graders at the Becker Elementary Green Classroom.

watershed safety Becker Elementary Austin Texas CTG

Thanks for stopping by! See you next week, Linda

Gardening made easy with new iBook + Hutto garden fun

January 16th, 2014 Posted in Late spring flowers, annuals, books, crafts, early spring flowers, garden art, garden structure, lawn replace, perennials, rain water collection, vegetables | No Comments »

I rather like the restful stage in my dormant winter garden. Here’s a view of the den path from the patio.

Linda's den garden in winter no lawn
Let’s distract our finger on the eager pruning trigger with early-birds like Matchstick bromeliad (Aechmea gamosepala) that leads off my winter pop-up color parade. The flower bit the dust in our freeze event, but the plant’s just fine.

Matchstick bromeliad Aechmea gamosepala Central Texas Gardener
To pep up dormant spots, what about Daphne’s Plant of the Week, ornamental kale?

Purple ornamental kale austin texas garden
It’s not too late to plant these annuals. They’re even edible, though I’ve never tried. If you’re going for food, “regular” kale is pretty, too. In sun or light shade, and superb in containers, Daphne reminds us that they’re waterwise and rarely need the hose if we get a little rain.

crinkly ornamental kale austin texas garden
With recent flash-freeze temps, many plants—like JJ Weber’s purple heart (Setcreasea pallida)—look a little fried.

purple heart frozen austin texas photo by JJ Weber
No need to tidy up yet. Those dead leaves (as on other plants) blanket the live roots in case of future polar events. Until mid-February or so, JJ can keep on winning Lone Star Emmy awards for KLRU programs like SXSW Flashback.

Then, simply cut off the dead leaves. Pulling too hard can uproot the whole plant!  In that case, just tuck the root back into the ground.

Designer Ginger Hudson’s iBook, A Guide to Landscape Maintenance for Central Texas Gardens, includes a fabulous interactive chapter on how to prune dormant plants.

Ginger Hudson's A Guide to Landscape Maintenance for Central Texas Gardens

Ginger Hudson's A Guide to Landscape Maintenance for Central Texas Gardens

Ginger joins Tom for a tour of her detailed step-by-step guide that covers the ground in every season from tools to design and maintenance. This is the book of my dreams!

Ginger Hudson and Tom Spencer Central Texas Gardener

A quick click takes you to close-up details, including pruning, moving plants, and symptoms of unhappy plants (and why).

Ginger Hudson's A Guide to Landscape Maintenance for Central Texas Gardens

Ginger Hudson's A Guide to Landscape Maintenance for Central Texas Gardens

Ginger Hudson's A Guide to Landscape Maintenance for Central Texas Gardens

Ginger Hudson's A Guide to Landscape Maintenance for Central Texas Gardens

Now, raise your hands if you’ve ever ripped them up tying up a thorny rose with twine.  I’m certainly nimble-challenged when wearing rose gloves. Daphne spares the Band-Aids with multitasking hair clips!

hair clips to tie up vines Daphne Richards Central Texas Gardener

For heftier plants, she uses zip ties. Get her tips on using them, twine, and re-usable hair clips.

It’s time to start summer seeds indoors . John Dromgoole has your tips for success with light, heat, and watering.

Start seeds indoors John Dromgoole Central Texas Gardener

On tour, head to Hutto where Donna and Mike Fowler join their kids Luke and Emily in a creative family co-op of art, wildlife plants, destination gardens and hippos, of course!

Donna and Mike Fowler Hutto garden Central Texas Gardener

Donna and Mike Fowler Hutto garden Central Texas Gardener

Hutto hippo Donna and Mike Fowler garden Central Texas Gardener

Donna supervises the vegetable garden from her Alice in Wonderland chair that Mike built from junipers he cleared.

Alice in Wonderland garden chair in Hutto

They banished lawn with destination gardens where Donna styles up with waterwise plants for wildlife.

fire pit Donna and Mike Fowler Hutto garden Central Texas Gardener

glass dry creek bed Donna and Mike Fowler Hutto garden Central Texas Gardener

Zen rock sculpture Donna and Mike Fowler Hutto garden Central Texas Gardener

In every spot, they tuck in hand-made art from recycled foundlings, dubbed “yart” by Mike. Here’s his clever hose guard design: rebar topped with recycled dishes. Donna fancied them up as her personal “garden club!”

Cute hose guard design with old glassware

In the vegetable garden, son Luke–fellow producer on an innovative video series in the works, Treehouse Tribe– gave it the ultimate destination with his tipi that reflects their Native American roots.

garden tipi by Luke Fowler Hutto Texas

It’s worth a trip to Hutto to munch down on fabulous home-made recipes at the Texan Cafe!

Texan Cafe Hutto Texas

Take the whole tour right now!

Thanks for stopping by! See you next week, Linda