Shade, insects, drought: what’s buggin’ you?

June 5th, 2014 Posted in Insects, bees, bulbs, caterpillars, drought, garden designers, groundcovers, habitat, lawn replace, perennials, pests, shade plants | 2 Comments »

Like us, rain lilies jumped for joy with the recent deluge. When my Habranthus robustus seeds dry, I’ll spread them around. In the meantime, I’ll swat eager beaver mosquitoes.

rain lily Habranthus robustus

I’m thrilled that Michelle Pfluger from Green ‘n Growing in Pflugerville introduced us to native snake herb (Dyschoriste linearis) on CTG with her list of great groundcovers for shade.

snake herb central texas gardener

I moved faster than a garden snake (or deer) to get some. Now in their second spring, they’ve taken off, after a brief underground winter excursion. They contribute to my textural dimension in shade with sun at different times of the day.

snake herb (Dyschoriste linearis) with lamb's ears central texas gardener

The almost secretive flowers attract butterflies, not snakes.

snake herb flower (Dyschoriste linearis) central texas gardener

Though honestly, if you don’t have garden snakes, earthworms, insects and birds, then something is really wrong! Into our cycle of healthy garden life, a few chompers or suckers must fall. It kills me that people wipe out everything and then wonder what happened to the bees, ladybugs, fireflies, birds, and butterflies. Or the squash and other crops that fail from lack of pollination.

Wizzie Brown, Travis County IPM Program Specialist, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, joins Tom to sort out what’s bugging us and how to adopt the Integrated Pest Management approach.

Wizzie Brown Travis County Extension-IPM on Central Texas Gardener

IPM means accepting that circle of life with pests and their natural predators, like ladybug and green lacewing larvae that scarf up aphids, among others.

green lacewing and ladybug larvae eating aphids photo by Wizzie Brown

If we must control intense populations, select the least toxic/invasive approach. It depends on the insect: whether it chews or sucks/pierces.

Wizzie’s safest control is a blast of water on jet spray. For some, like various true bugs—including those dratted tomato stink bugs—scoop them up in early morning or suck up those suckers in a vacuum device.

Her top advice: nab them while they are little, like in their nymph stage. Once they’re big and flying, good luck!

bug nymph

She tells us when and how to use direct kills, like insecticidal soap for piercing insects. Use products like spinosad or Bt for chewing pests.

BIG CAUTION: natural product spinosad is fatal to bees. If you spray it on your plants to kill chomping insects, do it at night so that it dries before the bees come to pollinate the next morning. Granular Spinosad, used for fire ants, won’t harm bees since it’s on the ground.

If you can’t figure out what’s going on, head out after dark with a flashlight to find your culprit. That’s what KLRU producer Eve Tarlo did to catch this one in the act on her fig tree: a June bug!

June bug on fig tree photo by Eve Tarlo

Normally, it’s the larvae of June bugs (actually a beetle) that cause our woes if we’re out of balance with too many grubs. The adults just fly around, mate, and lay their eggs, which they’ll be doing soon. Count on innovative Eve to have creative insects, too!

Follow Wizzie on her blog to keep up with the latest pestilential news, webinars and workshops

If you spot this around the garden, jump for joy! Gardener extraordinaire Vicki Blachman’s husband Steven captured the delicate eggs of green lacewings.

Green lacewing eggs photo by vicki and steven blachman

When they hatch, the larvae will clean up aphids or other small insects that dare to pester Vicki. The lacy adults hover near night lights after dining on pollen and nectar.

Peggy Moore doesn’t have insects on her loropetalum, but she sure wants to know how to prune it.

loropetalum pruning photo by peggy moore

We’ve all been there: something that goes nuts before we have time to deal with it. Daphne explains why Peggy should only cut back 2’ for now on her 6’ plants: the 1/3 rule. She also advises against hedging, but simply shaping as Peggy reduces the height. Rejuvenating an overgrown shrub can take a few seasons.

If you want a border plant that doesn’t require much pruning, check out Daphne’s Pick, Green germander (Teucrium chamaedrys), a member of the mint family.

green germander sidewalk edging groundcover Travis County Extension

To keep it dense, Daphne recommends shearing lightly in early spring and again after its lavender flowers fade in early summer. Mainly, enjoy this cold-hardy and drought tough evergreen for its deep glossy leaves in full sun to some shade.

green germander sidewalk edging groundcover Travis County Extension

Since 1989, Tim Miller from Millberg Farm in Kyle has farmed organically with intense water conservation methods. He jumps into his first Backyard Basics to give you some of his tricks.

Tim Miller Millberg Farm Central Texas Gardener

On tour, landscape architect Christy Ten Eyck is passionate about conserving water without sacrificing wildlife and soulful beauty.

agave blackfoot daisy four-nerve daisy Christy Ten Eyck

ten eyck garden agaves in rock

ten eyck patio fireplace

After years in Tucson, she expanded her office to Austin, working with clients across several states. When she and husband Gary Deaver bought a house in Austin, she renovated the elderly yard’s footprint. She dumped the sloping lawn and built terraces and drains to harness and retain water.

ten eyck granite path bamboo muhly

Ten Eyck millstone secret garden walls of bamboo muhly

Sustainable, non-clumping pecan mulch is her favorite topping to hold in moisture.

pecan mulch ten eyck

Since her return, the wildlife have returned to this once sterile yard.

ten eyck big mama turks cap bamboo muhly

Watch her wise and beautiful story right now!

Thanks for stopping by! Next week, meet Amy Stewart, The Drunken Botanist, and take a tour of Lucinda Hutson’s vivacious garden and Tequila Cantina. Linda

Let’s Go Wild with Plants & Ponds

May 29th, 2014 Posted in Tours, children, container gardens, fairy gardens, garden clubs, garden structure, habitat, lawn replace, organic fertilizers, patio plants, ponds, shade plants, water features, young gardeners | 3 Comments »

Rudbeckia and beebalm (bee balm): What a pleasing combination for us and the wildlife. Even better, this cheery team was planted by the children at Oak Hill Elementary!

rudbekia and beebalm bee balm elementary school austin

At home, my Peter’s Purple beebalm finally settled in after Daphne shared a division a few years ago while trialing it.

peter's purple monarda central texas gardener

Back in 2007, Jimmy Turner, then at the Dallas Arboretum, told CTG about his success with this mildew-resistant Monarda, a cross between American and Mexican varieties. Eventually, it made it into the market as a confirmed hit.

Mine’s already spreading, which is fine by me in this spot that gets morning sun and gentle afternoon light. And when it goes nuts, I’ll pass it along! Until then, bees and hummingbirds will go nuts. I already spotted my first hummingbird on it!

peter's purple monarda central texas gardener

For semi-shady spots, Daphne makes evergreen dwarf pittosporum Plant of the Week. She’s growing ‘Mojo’ against her patio, where Augie’s sniffing in case a cookie fell in.  Oregano’s in front.

'Mojo' pittosporum and oregano photo by Daphne Richards

Another you’ll find is Cream De Mint™ Dwarf Mock Orange (Pittosporum tobira ‘Shima’).

cream de mint pittosporum austin garden

There are others, too, that offer a tidy roundness to strengthen a multi-textured bed. Since it’s cold hardy to Zone 7, it’ll hang with you if its companions go underground in winter. Daphne reports that it’s actually very drought tolerant in shade, especially if you top dress with compost.

dwarf pittosporum shade plant bed central texas gardener

Daphne’s Question goes to Jean Warner, whose ashe junipers (cedar trees) are in decline. What’s up?

spider mites on ashe juniper cedar tree

Spider mites. Daphne explains why spider mites can move in on drought-stressed plants like cedar trees, even when it’s not hot, dusty weather. Perhaps our heavy rains rinsed them off Jean’s plants, though we can fend off this pest with frequent blasts of water underneath the leaves.

Ants in our plants (containers) is one of our top questions. John Dromgoole takes on this one with a simple tip: a screen mesh at the bottom of your pot.

Screen in pot to fend off ants John Dromgoole Central Texas Gardener

If ants are already in, he shows how to tackle them safely. Also good to battle fire ants in the beds.

natural fire ant control John Dromgoole

Picture of the Week goes to Lee Franzel, our very helpful friend and Comal County Master Gardener. In deer and rabbit country, he constructed a safe home for his vegetables. Cattle panel on T-posts supports cucumbers, but could be used for tomatoes.

Cattle panel vegetable support Lee Franzel Comal County Master Gardeners

Tie up bamboo stakes for climbing vegetables like beans, squash, and cucumbers.

Teepee bean Lee Franzel Comal County Master Gardeners

Our spotlight is on the Austin Pond Society tour, coming your way June 7 & 8. Tom joins Linda and Karl Tinsley to show off just a couple on their 20th anniversary tour. We actually taped one of the first, back when personal ponds were “What?!” I remember that I was in awe.

pond tour Tom Spencer with Linda and Karl Tinsley Central Texas Gardener

APS has helped SO MANY people get started ponding–big, small, fountains, streams. As always, their proceeds benefit local organizations. This year, it’s the Dell Children’s Medical Center where you can visit on Sunday, June 8 from 9 a.m. – noon.

Dell Children's Medical Center ponds central texas

Visit south ponds on Saturday—including night gardens—and north ones on Sunday.  If you’re thinking about a pond or want to improve yours, helpful owners are glad to share everything they know. You’ll also see designs of all kinds to make your own match.  Here’s how to get the map and tickets.

One we preview sprinkles magical home-made fairy gardens throughout, including a tiny fairy garden pond.

Fairy garden pond central texas gardener

Wow, wouldn’t it be great to have this pond in your front yard? They carry it on in back, too, with a stream that connects with the neighbor’s pond.

front yard pond central texas gardener

On our video tour, get a closer look at Laura and Travis McGarraugh’s backyard, where they built two ponds to replace grass when their children Daniel and Naomi outgrew the playscape.

pond replaces grass central texas gardener

Laura’s always wanted ponds and fish. As an emergency room nurse, their “Tranquility” and “Pilfered Rock” ponds help her unwind after 12 hours on the job.

pond replaces grass central texas gardener

backyard pond design central texas gardener

And hey, they’re honest enough to share their mistakes, too!

You’ll often spot daughter Naomi out there with a book or feeding the fish they’ve named.

backyard pond design central texas gardener

backyard pond design replace playscape central texas gardener

Travis built the ponds and laid the Oklahoma Hickory flagstones for their outdoor living room. He chose crushed granite as infill to filter rainfall to their trees. Here’s director Ed Fuentes moving in for a shot.

flag stone patio living room with fountains and containers central texas gardener

Laura and Naomi often spend after-school time designing containers together. Naomi’s got a great eye for succulents!

child's succulent container design gorgeous

I don’t know if African Gray parrot Taz will come outside for the tour, but she’s so cute I had to introduce you. She really directed this taping.

African Gray parrot outside for a visit with central texas gardener

She’s not giving us a bird’s version of “the bird” here. On cue, she turns around for a bath and I used the magic words!

African Gray parrot outside for a visit with central texas gardener

Watch the whole story!

Thanks for stopping by. See you next week when entomologist Wizzie Brown explains what’s buggin’ us. Linda

Wild Wonders + Meet the Beetles!

May 22nd, 2014 Posted in Insects, Late spring flowers, butterflies, destinations, shade plants, wildflowers | 8 Comments »

I’d love to quilt my garden in winecups!

native wildflower winecup Austin Texas

I also adore this soft combination: heartleaf skullcap and artemisia dotted by wayward larkspurs.

heartleaf skullcap artemesia larkspur austin texas

Soon the heartleaf goes underground until late fall and the larkspurs to seed. The voracious artemisia will cover the spot this summer. When heartleaf returns, it’ll be time to manicure artemisia again.

Many wildflowers are setting seeds. When the seed heads are brown, collect, dry, and store in the house, not in the shed. Our viewer picture goes to Warren Dixon in College Station, where he’s got a whole field of native Texas vervain about ready to re-populate.

Native Texas vervain field photo by Warren Dixon

Now, here’s a testament to daylilies in part shade. This batch gets shade most of the day, but enough psycho light sun to brighten up that spot.

daylily in psycho light central texas

This Saturday, head out to the Austin Daylily Society’s always remarkable show and sale to pick up some of these drought-tough perennials. Plus, the plants they sell are tried & true varieties for us.

Evergreen Sparkler sedge (Carex phyllocephala) ‘Sparkler’ is really meant for shade, but handles psycho lighting just fine.

sparkler sedge Travis County Extension

I admire the one at the Travis County Extension demonstration gardens planted in bright shade against a wall, but it certainly sparkles things up under live oak trees, too.  Find out why Daphne makes it her Plant of the Week.

sparkler sedge Travis County Extension

I’ve tried Sparkler sedge for years without much success, so I’m taking Daphne’s advice to renew compost around my current ones. Also, I think mine are getting TOO much shade. One is so miserable that I moved it to a container that gets more dappled light, to replace a frozen foxtail fern. Sparkler is quite cold hardy, so if this works, we’ll all be happy!

sparkler sedge divided for container central texas gardener

One reason for some of my shade is the neighbor’s pecan trees. Richard Lopez asked us: “How long can we store pecans indoors? And when should we plant?” Get Daphne’s answer about why to plant in fall.

Here’s the latest find to fend off squash vine borer moths or other pests on your crops!  John Dromgoole shows how to protect with  Micromesh, this one by Haxnick’s.

Micromesh to fend off squash vine borer moth

micromesh cover over squash photo by the Natural Gardener

He also cautions about using Bt unless you target a specific caterpillar, like cutworms in the tomato bed or Genista caterpillar explosions on mountain laurels, where they can wipe out a young tree in no time.

Genista caterpillar photo by Wizzie Brown Texas A&M AgriLife Extension

On many plants, Bt just kills our future butterflies and pollinating moths. Parsley and dill are heading to seed-land, anyway, so leave the Swallowtail butterfly caterpillars alone.

swallowtail caterpillar on parsley central texas gardener

Right now, you might be spotting creatures like this.

ladybug larva on winecup central texas gardener

That’s the larva of one your best friends, ladybug, that cleans up those aphids for you. Lady bugs are actually beetles. This week, entomologist Mike Quinn joins Tom to meet some of the other beetles on tour working hard for us in our gardens.

Mike Quinn Texas Entomology on Central Texas Gardener

I first met Mike through the Austin Butterfly Forum. He also curates Texas Entomology, which includes fabulous pictures of various insects, info about them, and links to insect resources around the country. He’s a top contributor to BugGuide, another go-to source for insect IDs.

There are many lady beetles out there, including Asian pest (Harmonia axyridis), that invades our homes. On the other hand, the Ashy Gray is a beneficial friend.

Olla v-nigrum - Ashy Gray Lady Beetle Texas Entomology

You’ll love Mike’s childhood story about Notch-Tipped Flower Longhorn beetles! In the larval stage, they mostly bore into dead wood to promote decomposition. Then, those tunnels become nesting sites for bees. As adults, they are pollinators.

Typocerus sinuatus - Notch-Tipped Flower Longhorn photo by Mike Quinn

On tour at Natural Bridge Caverns, see one of the best reasons to “go clean” on top of the ground.

Thanks for stopping in! Next week, see how a family replaced lawn with ponds. Linda

Where It All Starts + Texas Quilt Museum Garden

May 15th, 2014 Posted in destinations, drought, garden art, garden designers, garden structure, herbs, lawn replace | 6 Comments »

Wow, what a storm! I got more rain in 2 days than in 5 months. Certainly reminds us to trim limbs out of power lines and remove defunct, troubled trees that even Sunday’s winds felled around town.

Arizona ash split by wind

Also around town, native Datura wrightii is bee busy. And yes, every part is poisonous to us, so don’t stick it in your mouth. Or any plant that’s not confirmed edible!

Bee on Datura wrightii

I spotted this Indigofera kirlowii in a garden we taped last week.

indigofera kirlowii Central Texas Gardener

It’s been on my list, so I’m thrilled with her report: no problems in her dappled shade. It drops leaves after a freeze but comes back on the branches. She’s even planted it in a neighbor’s garden that gets overhead and western sun where it’s successful, though with paler foliage. She notes that it does like looser soil.

On CTG, we meet all kinds of gardeners. One thing they have in common: respect for their soil.

lucinda hutson garden on Central Texas Gardener

Successful gardeners acknowledge “the soil that brung them,” but nourish the liveliness underground for good performance on top.

Oasis garden Central Texas Gardener

Jenny Stocker garden Central Texas Gardener

Sidewalk garden Temple Texas

Hutto patio garden

Vegetable gardens need extra help, of course, especially in raised beds. Life-renewing compost is essential.

Circle vegetable bed with art sculpture

Front garden vegetable gardens stone beds

George Altgelt at Geo Growers has taught me a lot about soil. This week, he joins Tom for the underground secrets to garden health, especially when hot dry days return.

Tom Spencer & George Altgelt Geo Growers Central Texas Gardener

Lavender is very picky about soil. They are all so lovely and very drought tough, yet many end up in the compost pile. Trisha improves our success factor with tips on soil and water.

how to grow lavender Trisha Shirey Central Texas Gardener

It depends on variety, too. She gives us the pros and cons on English, English hybrids, French and Spanish. One French that works for us is Lavandula dentata ‘Goodwin Creek.’ Trisha notes that it’s not as frost hardy for us, but its dark purple blooms are long-lasting and prolific.

lavendar goodwin creek

Spanish lavenders have the showiest blooms, are winter hardy and more tolerant of our heat and humidity. They’re not good for culinary use, but great for bees. And their spicy scent and lush foliage pay their way in the garden and in the house.

Spanish lavender flowers

In Temple, Master Gardener Mary Lew Quesinberry affirms that hers made it through hard freezes just fine, though she also loves ‘Provence’.

For sure, different varieties on any plant can be confusing, along with our downfall if we pick the wrong one. For Betty and David DeVolder, they planted a field of native Indian paintbrush.

Indian paintbrush field photo by Betty and David DeVolder

But then yellows and whites showed up! Daphne explains what happened: a recessive trait showed up, just like bluebonnets that come up in maroon or white.

Varieties certainly made a difference for designer Mitzi VanSant when she created the Grandmother’s Flower Garden at the Texas Quilt Museum in La Grange.

Grandmother's Flower Garden at Texas Quilt Museum

The project started when cousins Karey Brensenhan and Nancy O’Bryant Puentes, founders of the International Quilt Festival in Houston, renovated two historic buildings for an ever-changing gallery of contemporary and historic quilts.

Texas Quilt Museum

Texas Quilt Museum

Since quilting a quilt and a garden are so alike, they wanted a garden in the empty spot next door. Mitzi designed a fragrant four square garden with drought tough perennials and annual color to reflect waterwise plants from the 1880s to 1930.

Mitzi VanSant four square fragrant garden design

Cemetery gate design by Mitzi VanSant at Texas Quilt Museum

Texas Quilt Museum garden by Mitzi VanSant

Austin artist Duana Gill designed the intricate mural.

Duana Gill mural at Texas Quilt Museum

Most exciting: they’ve received their North American Butterfly Association certification and soon expect certification as aMonarch butterfly Waystation. To celebrate, until the end of June, they’re featuring Butterflies and Their Beautiful Kin and A Flutter of Butterfly Quilts!

Be sure to have lunch at Bistro 108 for home-made noms!

bistro 108 la grange restaurant

Take the tour now!

Thanks for stopping by! Next week, meet the Beatles. Oh, wait, I mean, BEETLES. Linda