Quick, tell me, pick a word to describe the personality of a plant in your garden. My word for newly opened Narcissus ‘Erlicheer’: “Dreamy.”
My silver germander? Hmm. . . “Convivial.”
I bring up this word game thanks to Antique Rose Emporium founder, Michael Shoup, who matches rose personalities with our gardens in his ground-breaking new book.
He and Tom have a blast comparing notes on drought-tough roses with monikers like “Whimsical,” “Greedy” and “Romantic.”
Can’t you just imagine Michael’s fun with categories like “Reliable Showgirls,” “Tenacious Tomboys,” or “Big-Hearted Homebodies?”
In Empress of the Garden, Michael makes it easy to select the right rose for you, how to grow it, and how to do it organically. I see that my tough-as-nails fragrant Buff Beauty falls into “Balloon-Skirted Ladies.” I agree with Michael’s tag words for her: “Versatile, languid, warm-hearted.”
This shrub rose is fragrant, blooms without missing a beat in Texas heat, and isn’t easily troubled, as it certainly isn’t at the Travis Extension office.
It does have thorns. Essentially, it’s like a grandma who showers the love and pinpoints all your troubles with gentle advice or a well-timed verbal swat ala Downton’s Dowager Duchess. What word would YOU pick?
‘Grandma’, like our other “Tenacious” shrub roses, doesn’t need fancy pruning. But since all roses gain a lot more personality with a yearly haircut, Daphne explains why we prune them in February.
Since roses and many of our plants want good drainage, especially in heavy soils, Merredith Jiles from The Great Outdoors shows what to do. If starting from scratch, definitely check out his explanation of expanded shale, something I rely on now for new succulents and any new plant in my clay.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
Strappy ones, like Mexican feather grass, get a straight haircut to about 6” above ground.
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.
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 JilesfromThe Great Outdoors snags them.
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.
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.
No problem: I simply cut off their mushy leaves and they’ll rebound pronto. Although things have been rather tame this winter, we’ve had our little cold spells. The top question goes to Daphne this week:Why do plants freeze and what will return?
This annual Salvia coccinea is gone for good, unless it re-seeds in self-appointed locations!
Microclimates, plant DNA, maturity, and temperature all make a difference. As we approach the last freeze date, I’ll cut back my Pride of Barbados in readiness for new growth.
Here’s how Daphne explains what happens, per Dr. Jerry Parsons, retired Extension agent: “Fill a glass half-full with water and put it in your freezer. Take it out the next day, once it’s thoroughly frozen, and immediately place it under a warm stream of tap water and watch what happens.”
As Daphne says, I bet you’ve already got it: the glass will shatter. That’s what happens to plant cells as they thaw out when temperatures warm up. Some plants just lose their leaves, like this lantana.
Others lose their lives, like this perennial salvia ‘Anthony Parker’.
But get this: just 8’ away in the same bed, this one was fine!
Since vegetables contain lots of water, a simple cover on freezing nights usually does the trick. Check out my neighbor’s hoops to elevate her row cover. They’re just plain old PVC pipes, easy to bend, but she doctored them up with a bit of spray paint!
If you’re growing ‘Gold Star’ esperanza—a root-hardy perennial —you can thank horticulturist Greg Grant. His many contributions to our gardens and our libraries, like Heirloom Gardening in the South (with Dr. William C. Welch), have yet another.
This go-to guide, written in Greg’s “here ya go” style, deciphers essentials from soil to planting times, cultivation, and starting and saving seeds. Arugula to winter squash, nuts, berries, and fruit trees: it’s all here, including mouth-watering Grant family recipes.
He made the trip from Nacogdoches, where he’s a horticulturist at the Pineywoods Native Plant Center at Stephen F. Austin University.
And mark your calendars right now for April 20, to nab exclusive SFA and Greg Grant introductions, Texas natives, perennials and more at the renowned SFA Gardens annual Garden Gala at Stephen F. Austin. It’s only from 9 a.m. – 2 p.m, so grab your wagons and get there early! It’s also a wonderful time to see the beautiful gardens.
Visit www.sfagardens.sfasu.edu and click on “garden events” for a list of available plants!
Another new Grant release from Texas Gardener magazine pulls together 10 years of his philosophical, humorous, and botanical insights from the magazine. Now in hardcover, it’s also available as an e-book.
On tour, first-time gardener Ellie Hanlon teaches us a few things, too!
On her blog, Mostly Weeds, follow her step-by-step process from Day 1 to irrigation how-to, including her dual valve system and fertilizer. When she first set up her garden, Austin’s water restrictions required a variance (that she posted on her fence) for vegetables. With a flick of a valve, she could turn off the drip system to her flowers.
Remember last spring and fall when mushrooms appeared like magic? I always get a few, but last year, many mornings were absolute wonderland!
Some gardeners fear that mushrooms mean something really evil.
What is a mushroom? Ashley tells us that it’s the fruiting body of an underground network called a mycelial mat. This mat is interspersed among all habitats. If you see a cobweb sort of structure under the soil, that is the mat.
The mycorrhizal relationship between plants and fungi, like mushrooms, is very beneficial for plant health, soil fertility and drought tolerance, to name just a few. You can buy mycorrhizae, but if you’ve got mushrooms, it’s free!
Ashley describes the habitats where they’ll pop up in our gardens, why they emerge after rain when soil temperatures are cool, and how to collect their spores and encourage more.
In Austin, South Austin Mushrooms is supplying Oyster and soon, Shitake mushrooms, if you want to grow your own edible ones! For now, they’re only on Facebook, but will have their website up soon.
Pruning’s on our minds, so let’s not forget those trees on our to-do list!
Daphne explains why to prune in winter while they’re dormant. “Their plant sap, which contains water, nutrients and hormones, isn’t actively flowing at this time of year. This means that the cut surface won’t have lots of sap rushing to it, as it would in the spring, which would attract insects and disease spores—which are also more active in warmer weather—to the source of a direct route into their body.”
Still, we want some sap flow to naturally heal the cuts. SO, you don’t need to paint cuts on most trees, since that will impede natural healing. But, you MUST paint cuts on red oaks and live oaks immediately to protect them from the beetles that vector oak wilt. You’ll want to get those trees pruned in the next few weeks.
Ah, now about pruning everything else! Relax: there’s no reason to scurry around to tidy up. Top growth can protect roots, grasses hide overwintering butterflies, and seeds feed hungry animals and birds.
Instead, take a winter walk in your garden to simply revel in its beauty.
Turn off your editing mode and absorb its graceful shapes and textures and how the light plays upon them.
Instead of clamping those pruners, ponder the mystery locked into each seed head.
Then, just gush over the intense colors that only come with frost.
If you want the perfectly behaved plant for sun or even shady spots (like under your oak trees), this one is for you! As a 2’ tall “groundcover,” its tidy leaves and rounded form make a great foil against other textures. In fall, tiny flowers are simply a bonus against its evergreen simplicity.
I first met it years ago when Pat McNeal introduced it on CTG as a lawn replacement. Then, it was harder to find, but thanks to growers who recognize a good thing, look for it at your local nursery. I nabbed one (and more to come) from Michelle Pfluger at Green ‘n Growing. Here’s her CTG list for other great groundcovers.
Plus, while it’s still cool, we can get after those projects on our lists—like structures to wrangle vining plants and upcoming tomatoes. Trisha shows you how.