Spring into summer with gusto

Can you believe this? We’ve had spring (and winter!) longer than 15 minutes. Poppies keep popping up with spuria iris.
corn poppy, seedhead, spuria iris

I can’t have too many native winecups.

winecup central texas gardener
In the cat cove, they team up with Gulf penstemon and Calylophus berlandieri ssp. Pinifolius.

Gulf penstemon, winecup, calylophus
And this time of year is just about my favorite on the patio, when Marie Pavie and star jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides) double up on perfume whammy.

rose marie pavie and star jasimine flower fragrance
In a Temple garden we taped recently, I love this combination of Hesperaloe parviflora ‘Yellow’, bluebonnets and sotol.

yellow hesperaloe, bluebonnets, sotol in Temple Texas
But it’s about time to shed spring and get those hot weather beauties in the ground.


Jeff Yarbrough from Emerald Garden Nursery and Watergardens joins Tom this week to dazzle us with annuals, perennials and shrubs that put the love back into summer!

Tom Spencer and Jeff Yarbrough Emerald Garden

Get his list for hot weather sizzle, including an intriguing dwarf pomegranate ‘Purple Sunset’ and a new esperanza on the scene.

Oh yes, don’t forget that Jeff’s an expert, locally-oriented plantsman who can help you with anything, including ponds. Emerald Garden also hosts free workshops on every topic under the sun!

Now, about local nurseries: Howard Nursery populated many gardens from 1912 until 2006.

Howard Nursery austin texas
Perhaps you met granddaughter Robin Howard Moore behind the counter where she and brothers Hank and Jim gave hands-on advice. I’ll never forget them as some of my first garden mentors. In fact, Robin always knew when we’d wrapped up another Pledge drive, Auction, or other intense production. I’d drag in on Sunday as my reviving treat. She would say, “So, Linda, guess you just finished a big project. What are you looking for today?”

So, it’s a special honor to present her as our featured gardener on tour. At home with Robin, now working as a landscape designer, she gives us her essential starting points with plants and design. I love our conversation about the changing trends that we’ve witnessed together.

Something I never knew about Robin is her artistic whimsy, like these bird baths she crafted from plates and vases.

bird bath with old plates and vases Robin Howard Moore

This one inspires a trip to the thrift store: a marble-embedded bowling ball, a gift from Anne of the Shady Hollow Garden Club, to brighten up a shady spot.

garden art bowling ball with marbles

Robin’s growing Rangoon Creeper in semi-shade, but in San Antonio, Ragna Hersey has this adaptable plant in a few hours of sun. Others have it in full sun.

Daphne gives us the scoop on this drought and freeze-tough tropical that attracts hummingbirds and butterflies.

Rangoon Creeper flower

Our viewer question comes from Pete Vera: how to mulch with our scatter spots of rain?

soil compost mulch

Wow, is this a great question or what? You know what happens: we get that 1/10” that just sloughs right off. As always, Daphne has the answer.

And, Trisha’s got the perfect answer for all those weeds that love that little bit of rain: put them to work as natural teas to fertilize your plants!

Until next week, visit your local nursery and thank these hard-working folks for helping us grow locally and beautifully. Linda

Banish Bermuda grass for gardens

Over the years, I’ve whittled away grass, because there are so many fun plants out there! I’m keen on bulbs, especially for endearing combinations, like my long-term Narcissus ‘Erlicheer’ and 3-year-old Yucca pallida.

Narcissus Erlicheer with Yucca pallida

This leucojum (Leucojum aestivum) surprised me by popping up in my Texas sedge (Carex texensis). How cute!

Leucojum with Texas sedge
Overhead in back, the Mexican plum carries on the white theme.

Mexican plum flowers Austin
Little spring starflowers (Ipheion uniflorum) touch it up with lavender in a spot that was once plain old grass.

Ipheon uniflorum

Last spring, we tackled one area where grass never had a chance as our path to the front door from the driveway.

Remove grass for path

pathway instead of grass

Recently, we completed the next step of the picture. Last year, I simply layered newspaper, compost, and mulch around the tree and thought about things. Thanks to very talented help, my little vision became real last week. In January, I’d already moved some Salvia greggiis that needed a sunnier position and added some asters to match the window bed (currently cut back, so not visible). In the next few weeks, I’ll do some “shopping” in my garden to fill it out, along with a few new nursery plants to widen the botanical adventure.

new flower bed instead of grass
The bottom slope: still thinking about that one. Already, Mexican feather grasses have seeded themselves. It may be a combo of them and more sedges.

Many times, I’ve banished St. Augustine with the newspaper (or cardboard) technique. In evil spots where Bermuda grass showed up, that’s been a task, though I will say that my newspaper technique worked well for me in a few places. An old-fashioned dandelion puller assists when a stray shows back up.

But I’m sure you all have seen something like this! Not in my garden, thank heavens; I’m very cautious about planting spiky ones if there’s even a sniff of Bermuda around.

Agave smothered in Bermuda grass
This week, Design My Yard garden designer Liz Klein joins Tom to explain how to avoid disaster when replacing Bermuda lawns with gardens.

Tom Spencer and Liz Klein
Find out how she did it in this garden makeover!

Liz Klein Design My Yard makeover

Liz Klein Design My Yard makeover

Liz Klein Design My Yard ridding Bermuda grass

Liz Klein Design My Yard makeover

On tour, Dani & Gary Moss turned an oak wilt disaster into total enchantment with wildlife gardens, a Chicksville chicken coop, and English style conservatory. When they want to add a touch of art, they make it themselves. Gary welds to suit the purpose and Dani catches the light with her stained glass. Here’s a sneak peek, but I know you’ll want to meet them in person on this year’s Austin Funky Chicken Coop tour on March 30!

Now, with this crazy warm weather, it’s tempting to add some things that really need to wait a bit. This is an excellent time to plant almost  everything–except warm soil lovers. Daphne explains why soil temperature makes a difference.

soil temperature for planting
Firespike (Odontonema strictum) is one perennial that we want to plant after the last freeze date. But it’s Daphne’s pick of the week, since gardeners like to plan ahead!

firespike Odontonema strictum
Like the ones at Dani and Gary’s, and the one I have, firespike is a dramatic addition for shade gardens. Mine didn’t even freeze back this year. In harsh winters, I thought I’d lost it. I kept my patience, and as soon as the soil warmed again, back it came!

On comebacks, Trisha shows how to extend your broccoli and fennel past the first big harvest. Plus, she explains how to deal with the pesky insects that arrived early this year to eat our food.

how to cut broccoli plants Trisha Shirey
Thanks for stopping by! See you next week, Linda

Groundcovers made for the shade; spiritual healing garden

Is it true? Is fall here at last? In any case, ‘Butterpat’ chrysanthemum is ready!

Butterpat chrysanthemum
Since we’re finally around the heat bend, it’s time to plant. This week Daphne explains why we should firm the soil around our plants. Why is that, when we’re cautioned not to trample beds? Plus, get her answer on what happens when we till.

Daphne Richards, Augie, Grandma's Yellow rose
I did firm the soil around my new snake herb (Dyschoriste linearis), one that accepts my east Austin soil, but is adaptable to many sites.

Snake herb (Dyschoriste linearis)

Find out about this drought-tough groundcover and many more when Tom meets with Michelle Pfluger from Green ‘n Growing in Pflugerville.

Tom Spencer Michelle Pfluger Central Texas Gardener

Yep, she descends from the Pfluger founders. Her parents started this great nursery in 1975, one of the first to carry organic products. I cut some of my early teeth on it. Now she’s at the helm, and carrying on the tradition of propagating some of their diverse, Texas-proven selections.

Green 'n Growing Garden Center Pflugerville Texas
She responds to one of CTG’s top questions:  How can we dress up dry shade to part sun?  One of her drought-tough picks is cobweb plant (Tradescantia sillamontana).

Cobweb spiderwort Tradescantia sillamontana

Now, this one’s really supposed to get some shade, but I planted my passalong from gardener Paul Lofton last spring in a psycho hot area: shade morning and blasted heat in the afternoon. It blooms most in fall, but its creeping texture is what I treasure.

Cobweb spiderwort flower
It goes dormant in winter when tall spring spiderworts (Tradescantia gigantea) will take over.

This picture shows it in perspective. It’s the one cozying up between the two pots.

frogfruit path with cobweb spiderwort

Another dry shade/part sun lover is Mexican spiderwort (Tinantia pringlei), blooming through hot months. This perennial will go dormant in winter but return in spring, maybe even with a new family!

Mexican spiderwort  (Tinantia pringlei)
Here’s mine with Yucca rupicola x pallida and fall-blooming bulb Sternbergia lutea.

Mexican spiderwort with Sternbergia lutea
A compatible companion for its spotted leaves is African hosta (Drimiopsis maculata). In gardens, it goes dormant in winter to return in spring. In protected containers, it is evergreen.

African hosta Drimiopsis maculata
Recently, I found a spot for another spotted one on Michelle’s list: Silver leopard manfreda (Manfreda x ‘Silver Leopard’). You’ll also see it as Manfreda maculosa ‘Silver Leopard.’

Silver leopard manfreda (Manfreda x 'Silver Leopard').

Nearby are two ‘Helen von Stein’ lamb’s ears. Behind are the ‘Butterpat’ mums. Yellow, silver, and burgundy; lovely! One of the new snake herbs is just down the line from them. Pictures later! I plan to take a cue from Amanda and create a “spotted garden” in this area, too.

An evergreen I’ve wanted for years is Mountain pea (Orbexilum sp.) Recently, this drought-hardy plant for sun to part shade has become more available. It’s showing up in gardens all over, including mine. It’s the perfect, no-care addition under big trees, though I’ve also seen it as a lush companion plant in sun. Gets about a foot high. Here’s one with its sweet little pea-flower in the Travis County AgriLife Extension demo garden.

Mountain pea

Get Michelle’s complete CTG list to spark up your shade.

Since drought and hard freezes will always be on our radar, we repeat Merredith Jiles’ Backyard Basics tips on what takes the trauma in his garden.

Merrideth Jiles The Great Outdoors

On tour, find soulful inspiration as we head into the season of thanks through Elayne Lansford’s healing garden.

Healing garden Elayne Lansford Central Texas Gardener
Her Bottle World is a tribute to triumph over life-threatening illness and the power of healing through gardening and hands-on creativity. Here’s a shot where director Ed Fuentes documents her journey.

Healing garden bottle world

Re-framing her reality by giving new life to old objects helped her when husband John Villanacci faced a random disease and double lung transplant, soon after she recovered from breast cancer. One soothing technique is a waterfall from a recycled table top.

Waterfall with old table top

Healing garden outdoor bath

She even learned how to weld to create her own Bottle World creations from foundlings.

Healing garden bottle tree
Every roadside discard captures her imagination, like this comfy hideaway under a satellite dish.

Satellite dish shade cover
Her story of struggle and yes, celebration, is CTG’s tribute to every gardener who seeks consolation, strength, and joy when life throws us a curve.

Thank you for checking in! See you next week, Linda

Fall in love with autumn bulbs and grasses

Big day in my garden! The autumn daffodils (Sternbergia lutea) popped up reliably a year after planting.

Sternbergia lutea autumn daffodil
These small crocus-like plants, native to the Mediterranean, are cute companions for red oxblood lilies and spider lilies (Lycoris radiata).

Lycoris radiata spider lily and Sternberia lutea autumn daffodil
Last fall on CTG, Chris Wiesinger, author of Heirloom Bulbs for Today, introduced me to these beauties that will naturalize in my Blackland soil, even in part shade! I wasted no time ordering these hard-to-find bulbs online.

Mostly though, I get plants from local nurseries supplied by local/regional growers (or grown themselves), along with passalongs from friends.  My native Plumbago scandens has been in non-stop mode for months against evergreen Texas sedge (Carex texensis). The plumbago will die to the ground this winter but return even stronger next spring.

Plumbago scandens with Texas sedge
Mine came from the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center sales—coming up again Oct. 13 & 14 (member’s preview Oct. 12). You can even join that day to beat the rush for superb natives, including ones that don’t often show up in nurseries.

These days, many nurseries do have native grasses like Lindheimer muhly (on the left) and deer muhly (on the right):  this spectacular duo in Anne Bellomy’s garden.

Lindheimer and deer muhly seed heads

Native grasses, in the fields and in our gardens, are both lovely and beneficial. Many send down deep roots, benefiting aeration, stabilizing the soil, and improving fertility—along with providing shelter and food for wildlife. And in fall, they are the ultimate drama queens! My Lindheimer was our favorite autumn standout until it got too much shade and withered away. Until I find a sunny spot, I’ll just enjoy Anne’s.

Lindheimer and deer muhly
This week, Tom meets with Shirley and Brian Loflin, who note that grasses once predominated the Hill Country and the Blackland prairie.

Tom Spencer Shirley Loflin Brian Loflin
Their book, Grasses of the Texas Hill Country, is a friendly hands-on guide to identify and learn about both cool and warm weather grasses in our fields and for our gardens. This popular book is currently in reprint, available for pre-order from Texas A&M University Press.

Grasses of the Texas Hill Country Brian and Shirley Loflin

Currently, it is available as a Google ebook, too.

Brian’s photography helps make it easier to identify the grasses that soon will be in show-off mode, like curly mesquite. This one’s part of  the Habiturf mix that includes buffalo grass and blue grama for a native lawn in sun.  By the way, the Habiturf trio is available at the Wildflower Center and online.

Common curly mesquite Brian and Shirley Loflin

Little bluestem is another native beauty that you’ll be seeing soon.

Little Bluestem Brian and Shirley Loflin

Artist Shirley also creates beautiful framed botanicals with grasses, perfect for that wall you’ve wanted to adorn!

Grasses framed botanical Loflin

You can order online from their site, The Nature Connection, and also find out about their workshops, field trips, and see Brian’s extensive photography of insects, animals, plants, and wonders of the natural world.

Want to know more about cactus, too?!

Texas Cacti Brian and Shirley Loflin

Since we’re heading into prime time planting season for grasses, shrubs, perennials and wildflowers, get inspired with a visit to Betty & Gerald Ronga’s garden where food, wildflowers and wildlife unite on this rocky hilltop in Leander.

Betty and Gerald Ronga garden Central Texas Gardener

Many of us face watering restrictions, like Sheila C., who asks if fungal disease is a problem if we must water at night.

fungal disease watering at night
Daphne explains how it depends on the season and the situation.

It’s hard to imagine that we’re just weeks away from losing our summer annual herbs. Get ready now with Trisha’s tips and tricks for freezing herbs in oil and butter, along with recipes and making herbal vinegars.

Freezing herbs Trisha Shirey
Note: to watch an individual segment online, click on the vertical chapter marks above the play bar!

Happy planting and see you next week, Linda

Fuzzy Wuzzy Plants

When it’s hot enough to scald our eyeballs walking across the street, garden fuzzie wuzzies tame our steaming souls.  Doesn’t this downy silk make you feel cooler already?

Milkweed seed floss

As you can imagine, the purpose behind this floss inside milkweeds (Asclepia) is to disperse their seeds via wind. And get this: the floss is actually harvested by some companies for pillows and comforters. It’s an excellent insulator!

Lamb’s ears is beloved in children’s gardens, since it’s as cuddly as a stuffed toy.

Lamb's ears fuzzy wuzzy
Mine have recently been plagued by sooty mold.

Lamb's ears sooty mold
Above them is a crape myrtle, under attack by whiteflies, secreting honeydew that is “raining” on everything.  Fungi thrive on this sugary substance, creating sooty mold on tree leaves and on understory plants where honeydew has collected. I simply pull off the damaged leaves, and new ones are already emerging.

By the way, we’ve given the tree some slow deep watering and jetted the leaves with water to get rid of the whiteflies. In just a few days, the tree is flowering again and actually putting on new leaves!

My latest fuzzy plant has made it to my winner’s circle.

Cobweb spiderwort

When I saw Cobweb spiderwort (Tradescantia sillamontana) at Paul Lofton’s garden, I fell for its downy foliage. He gave me a cutting, now thriving in a shady spot that gets hot afternoon sun. It’s known for being a shade plant, but I saw that Paul had some in sun. Seems to work but I think I’ll move it to a tamer area next year.

I have many spring-blooming spiderworts (Tradescantia gigantea): already emerging, if you can believe it. They make their tall statement in spring. Cobweb is a low rider as a handy summertime companion, since it will go underground in cold winters while its show-off cousin takes over.

Another companion plant that’s made my take-home list is hardy white gloxinia (Sinningia tubiflora).

Hardy white gloxinia

This diminutive groundcover “runs” like fuzzy heartleaf skullcap (Scutellaria ovata) but emerges in warmth, when heartleaf is going underground until cooler weather.

Another soft-touch is native woolly stemodia (Stemodia lanata).

Woolly stemodia

This one’s growing in hot spots at Mueller. But I’ve got a plan to include this sun-loving, good-drainage silver between stones to replace former grass.

Perennial, evergreen Dicliptera suberecta (also called hummingbird plant) attracts me with its velvety soft gray leaves. I’m a fan of its vivid flowers, as are the hummingbirds and many insects.

Dicliptera suberecta hummingbird plant
It’s tolerant of many situations, but like lots of  plants, prefers a shade break, whether it’s morning or afternoon.

Semi-shade lover Mexican honeysuckle (Justicia spicigera) also invites a pat on the head. As with Dicliptera, hummingbirds and others have a more prosaic goal: food.

Mexican honeysuckle

Blue mist flowers (many varieties of Conoclinium/Eupatorium) are truly fuzzy little flowers. They go for the gold in fall when butterflies are all over them. In late summer, they give a sneak preview.

Blue mist flower fuzzy wuzzy

Now, globe mallow doesn’t have the fuzziest leaves in town, but they’re a soft break against smooth green ones.

Globe mallow silver leaves
Mexican olive (Cordia boissieri) is a bold shrub/small tree with huge soft leaves.

Mexican olive leaves
Bonus points: even in blazing heat, it keeps cranking out flowers. Okay, I’ve added it to my cooler weather projects!

Mexican olive flowers

So, yes, caterpillars eat things. But a memory I carry from childhood is stroking woolly bear caterpillars or other bristly ones.  I still do it and don’t kill a one.  This one is the Salt Marsh.

Salt Marsh caterpillar on larkspur
They’ll pupate into pollinating moths. Perhaps the babies are so fuzzy wuzzy because we like to watch them and pat them, rather than squishing them! Unless there’s a serious invasion, plant life will go on.

Wishing you warm fuzzy wuzzies on a hot day, and thanks for checking in! Linda