Like taking risks? Hey, you’re a gardener!

It’s natural to be a little wary when treading on new ground, especially when it means keeping something alive. My young Copper Canyon daisy (Tagetes lemmonii) gave me a scare last summer. Oh yes, we ARE taking risks if we don’t water even drought-tough plants their first year. This one forgave my negligence by blooming this spring. I was lucky.

copper canyon daisy austin

I finally cut it back several inches, since I want it to lush back out: not just for my visual preference, but to cover itself in flowers for migrating and resident butterflies this summer and fall.

Weird years (and that’s most of them), keep us coming back for more. Many weird years ago, I took a risk when I dug up a huge stretch of lawn. At one end, I decided to have a rose arbor. I couldn’t decide between New Dawn or Buff Beauty, so I took a design risk and put one on each side. Well.

New Dawn and Buff Beauty roses arbor

I wasn’t so lucky when I planted an Iceberg rose in the den bed, where I figured it would get “just about enough” sun. Nope. I moved it to a really hot spot that I rarely water and never fertilize. Now, it’s almost always in bloom. It reminds me: the odds are better by following SOME of the rules.

Iceberg rose Austin

Peggy Martin loves her hot spot trellised on my chain link fence as a little privacy and to share with our beloved neighbor.

Peggy Martin rose Austin

Known as the “Katrina rose,” here’s the story of how Dr. William C. Welch brought us this intrepid rose, since he’s a man who thrives on a good plant risk.

Recently, Saliva farinacea ‘Henry Duelberg’ joined Texas betony in the island bed. I found it in a nursery, thanks to horticulturist Greg Grant, who collected seeds in a La Grange cemetery and named it for the headstone nearby. I also thank the Texas growers who took a risk to take it public.

Saliva Henry Duelberg and Texas betony

And what about avocados, allspice, cinnamon, hibiscus for tea, and other tropical edibles? Amanda Moon from It’s About Thyme joins Tom this week to entice us to follow this delicious trek.

Tom Spencer and Amanda Moon, It's About Thyme

Amanda gives us the few simple rules to take this risk for yummy rewards. Here’s her list for your future adventures.

I snagged this picture of allspice in Lucinda Hutson’s garden last fall. She does overwinter its container in a garage with a Grow Light when she remembers to turn it on! Like all plants protected in a garage, gradually bring them back out into the light to avoid sunburn.

Allspice in Lucinda Hutson's garden

On tour in San Antonio, Ragna and Bob Hersey are all about risks in a glorious garden that Ragna rescued from total boredom with scavenges,  invention, and many passalong plants. Thanks to Shirley Fox, gardener and blogger at Rock-Oak-Deer, for this connection! Take a look to be dancing all day.

Ragna went totally organic since butterflies and other beneficial wildlife matter more than a few pests. Oh, and since then, she doesn’t have many pests! One way to attract butterflies is with summertime annual, Mexican tithonia, Daphne’s pick of the week.

Mexican tithonia

Our viewer question this week comes from garden blogger Robin Mayfield who wants to know if she can mulch over live oak leaves.

mulch over oak leaves

Yes, says Daphne, unless there’s been a past problem with oak leaf rollers. She also explains why oak leaf drop happened earlier this year for some of us. Have we mentioned watering trees in drought?! Don’t risk your trees: do water.

Not every plant wants the same kind of mulch. Andrea DeLong-Amaya from the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center explores the pros and cons of several options to keep everybody happy.

mulch options Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

From Central Texas Gardener’s Face Book page, heads up to Tamara Dextre on the best advice ever: “I am getting fearless…after all, it is about gaining experience and having fun.” Well said!

Thanks for stopping by and be sure to have some risky fun until 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

How does a garden grow?

Often I’m asked, “How do people have such great gardens? I can NEVER do that.” Well, yes you can!

Silke's Dream salvia, purple lantana, skeleton-leaf goldeneye

All it takes is patience, a plan, personality, and passion. Oh, and lots of blisters. Now, this is not to say that I had a plan! When I started, the only thing I knew for sure was that I wanted a crape myrtle that we could see from the den window.

Linda's first garden

I’m kneeling here, since I set my camera on a tripod for a self-picture, and I’m much taller than the little tree. I snagged some free rocks to encircle my first little garden. Clueless about plants, I bought a bag of dahlia corms. I was mighty proud of this, let me tell you!

This was before nurseries promoted native and hardy adapteds. Quickly I figured out that dahlias are not Texas plants. And believe me, I’m still learning what actually works for me. But with more patience then pennies, my den view is a lot more dramatic these days.

Linda's new garden no lawn

But I’m not finished!  As I’ve mentioned before, last spring we decided to put in a path to replace dead grass.

Linda's path project

Over the summer, I thought about what I wanted to do about the section near the island bed.  Eventually, I ordered more stones and roughly painted in the plan to complete the lawn-free picture.

outlining new path area

den path with new stones

In our original work, I planted a few frogfruit plants (Phyla nodiflora) in one section to soften and cool the stones. Butterflies, bees and other beneficials flock to them constantly.

frogfruit groundcover between path stones

They’ve done so well that I’ve added some to the new stones (and more, as soon as I can lay my hands on this tough native groundcover). The first ones have been so prolific that I’m also dividing some to fill in the gaps. Their long stems root easily, so I just cut a section from the mother plant and dig up the rooted plant.

frogfruit in stone pathway

By next spring, this picture will have changed again when it fills in! During Christmas, I’ll work on the edging.  I haven’t decided whether to build up the original edging with roadbase or to use leftovers of the 6′ x 6′ dry stack stones for the vegetable bed (more on that in a few weeks). Sometimes, patience pays off to give you the answer!

stone path in progress

To spare you my early mistakes, this week on CTG, designer and garden coach, Diana Kirby, presents Design 101.

Diana Kirby Central Texas Gardener

Tom was booked as director of iACT (Interfaith Action of Central Texas), so I stepped in. Yowsers!

Linda Lehmusvirta Diana Kirby Central Texas Gardener

Diana points out the essentials for planting: size, sun, soil, and compatible conditions. Then she recommends looking at the long-term picture: how do you want to use the space? What’s your style?

Diana Kirby drought tough no lawn design

Diana Kirby pathway design

She explains how to use color and texture.

Purple fountain grass and prickly pear

Lindheimer muhly and Salvia leucantha

Diana stresses the importance of including destinations for your eye and to reinforce your own sense of style.
Diana Kirby design focal point

purple bench duranta Lucinda Hutson design

Ragna shells focal point

Find out more about Diana’s designs, her garden coaching and to follow her beautiful, instructive blog!

Another question CTG often gets: what is the difference between soil, compost, and mulch? I remember when I was confused about mulch and compost, too (and thought I could just stick a plant into my heavy clay soil and be done with it. Oh brother!). So, this week, Daphne explains the difference and how they work together for a healthy garden.

soil compost mulch

Now, to show you that I wasn’t totally clueless in my first garden: I gathered what few leaves I had and scavenged more to scrunch into my beds, back in the days when buying even a bag of mulch at the grocery store was a financial luxury. Eventually, I made my own compost in a bin from wooden pallets left over from KLRU deliveries.  These days, I just have piles behind the shed, but I also buy bags and sometimes yards. And I often add decomposed granite or expanded shale to up the drainage even more.

Cover crops for vegetable beds fascinated me from the first. This week, John Dromgoole explains how Austrian winter peas, hairy vetch, crimson clover and elbon rye return nitrogen and compost to fallow winter beds destined for summer crops. While they’re growing, they’re a  natural “mulch” too!

John Dromgoole cover crops

On tour, visit Molly O’Halloran and David Brearley’s first garden, where they renovated their 1915 house and garden on Austin’s east side from devastation to drought-tough style, vegetables, and safe harbor for chickens that supply organic eggs for Molly’s yummy recipes!

I’m still figuring out gardening, but CTG is here to help us!

Until next week, Linda

Px3: Perennial, Pollinators, Powerful

I absolutely fall for fall, when everything explodes at once! A few white-blooming ‘Silverado’ cenizo (Texas sage) flowers hooked up with re-blooming Iceberg roses and hot weather thryallis.

White blooming cenizo, Iceberg rose, thryallis

White mistflower (Ageratina havanensis) will pop us a few flowers in spring, but it goes for the gusto as the days get shorter and cooler, attracting migrating and residential butterflies, moths, and hummingbirds.

White mistflower Ageratina havanensis
Daphne makes this native perennial her pick of the week. This wildlife favorite can grow as tall as 6’ but usually I’ve seen it in the 2-3’ foot range. Late winter shearing will encourage shrubbier growth and more flowers, since it blooms on new wood. The ones I planted last fall are now among my favorites! This one’s in the front bed with Yucca ‘Margaritaville,’ pink skullcap, purple heart, daylilies, bamboo muhly and soon to bloom Copper Canyon daisy.

white mistflower yucca 'Margaritaville' pink skullcap, dayliles
I include plants for pollinators in every season, since one of the top secrets to a healthy garden is abundant wildlife. Plus, you’ll be “on tour” every day to a thankful crowd!

To show off a few, Crystal Murray from Far South Nursery joins Tom this week.

Crystal Murray Far South Nursery Central Texas Gardener
Far South is a wholesale nursery, so don’t show up at their doorstep! Instead, ask for these plants at your nursery, since they supply many in Texas. But, do check out their great plant list for details about some of the tried and true plants they grow.

A new one to me is Indian mallow (Abutilon palmeri), with silvery velvety leaves on a plant that can get 5’ tall. It wants full sun and good drainage. Since it’s only hardy to 25°, it may be a re-seeding annual in cold winters.

Indian Mallow Abutilon palmeri Central Texas Gardener
Another for sunny dry spots is native Gray golden-aster (Heterotheca canescens) that gets about 1’ tall to attract small butterflies from July to September.

Gray golden-aster (Heterotheca canescens)

Whoa, check this out: a pink-blooming Anisacanthus (Anisacanthus puberulus).

Anisacanthus puberulus Central Texas Gardener

Unlike the orange flame acanthus beloved by hummingbirds in late summer/fall, this one blooms in spring, with a more arching habit, attracting hummingbirds, butterflies and moths.

A little one I relish in spring is native blue-eyed grass (many species). This member of the iris family actually showed up in my desert-like yard long ago. As soon as I amended the soil, off if went. Now, I’ve got a return every year with transplants in the sunny cat cove, where I’ve dug in a few bags of decomposed granite, assuring good drainage.

Blue-eyed grass flowers Central Texas
A perennial evergreen groundcover that doesn’t like much water and well-drained soil is groundcover creeping germander (Teucrium cossonii). I planted my first ones this year to cover the ground under The Fairy roses (set back by drought, but quickly returning).

Creeping germander with The Fairy rose
This well-drained curbside bed gets the west afternoon sun, reflected street heat, and minimal water.

Creeping germander Teucrium cossonii

Someday, mine are going to look like these at Shoal Creek Nursery.

Creeping germander Teucrium cossonii Shoal Creek Nursery
When I stopped by Shoal Creek last week, they were starting to bloom. I bet the bees are all over them by now!

Creeping germander Teucrium cossonii flower
Crystal also promotes Barbados cherry (Malpighia glabra). Blooming and fruiting from spring to frost, these drought-tough shrubs/small trees are evergreen except in extremely cold winters.

Barbados cherry Malpighia glabra flowers and green fruit
That’s just the quick version! Watch online for all of Crystal’s plants and explanations and get her list.

On tour in Kyle, see how Ida Bujan reduced her lawn thumbprint and turned her small garden into a native habitat.

Native plant garden Kyle Texas

She’s got the most glorious Barbados cherry ever!

Barbados cherry Malpighia glabra ripe fruits
Crystal recommends native frogfruit (Phyla nodiflora). I love how Ida replaced lawn with this white-flowering, evergreen groundcover on this side slope.

Frogfruit lawn replacement Kyle Texas
See how Ida did it!

Herbs also attract many beneficial insects. Right now is prime time to plant cool weather yummies for us, like cilantro, parsley, dill and fennel. This week, Trisha shows what she’s planting and how to divide crowded nursery transplants for even more to flavor your recipes.

Winter herbs Trisha Shirey

Certainly, you’ll want extras of parsley, fennel, and dill to attract swallowtail butterflies to lay their eggs. A few caterpillars eating your plants late next spring mean lots of butterflies all over the place!

It’s also the best time to plant trees, shrubs and perennials. But what’s the best way to water them? Daphne answers Mary Riley’s great question: Do I water my shrubs to the drip line, like for trees? Find out how.

Thanks for stopping by! See you next week, Linda

On tour with the Travis County Master Gardeners

How can you reduce lawn, combine edibles, flowers for wildlife, living spaces, and art?

no lawn edible ornamental front yard
The best ideas come from fellow gardeners! That’s why you won’t want to miss the Travis County Master Gardeners’ “Inside Austin Gardens” tour on October 20. This year highlights hands-on gardeners who tuck in food with their salvias and succulents, like Ann & Robin Matthews, who even take it all out front.

no lawn edible ornamental front garden
They unite their garden with neighbor Donnis Doyle, also on tour.

hot curb strip garden
In back, find out how they got rid of grass in favor of paths, coves, and a labyrinth-style vegetable garden.

labyrinth vegetable garden
See how they screen a view with Hardiboard imprinted with ancient Native American rock art they’ve seen on excursions throughout Texas.

Hardiboard garden screen

On tour, you can also see how Donnis screened her view of a daycare center for a soothing spot to hang out with her neighbors.

galvanized steel patio screen

Here’s a sneak preview with CTG’s video visit.

I love the natural screen the Matthews chose on one side: bay laurel!

bay laurel hedge

Daphne makes bay laurel her Pick of the Week to explain how to grow this Central Texas evergreen as a screen or accent. Why buy expensive bay leaves when you can pluck some of your own?

bay laurel leaf

When I got my bay laurel in a 4” pot, I potted it up as a patio container.  It barely grew (though it’s fine in a pot if you have just a small space). Then, I ran into large bay hedges in long-term gardens. I saw Trisha’s huge one at her Lake Austin Spa garden. So, I stuck mine in the ground to shield a so-so shed. It shot up like a fiend in blasts of hot sunlight (not all day) and very little water.  In 14°, it suffered a little leaf damage, but spring pruning flushed it right back out. The Barbados cherry in front died to the ground, but returned, too.

Barbados cherry bay laurel screen

I just pluck a leaf when I need it for the pot. When I prune to tidy and shape, I bring in some to dry. If you missed Trisha’s segment on how to dry and anchor herbs, and the ones to choose, watch it now!

To preview the other gardens on tour, Tom meets with Travis County Master Gardeners Carolyn Williams and Holly Plotner.

Tom Spencer, Carolyn Williams, Holly Plotner Master Gardeners

Here’s just a tease of the diversity on tour this year!

Stock tank vegetable beds Travis County Master Gardeners

No lawn backyard habitat
Cute garden shed Travis County Master Gardeners
Garden fountains Travis County Master Gardeners

Renee Studebaker isn’t officially a Master Gardener (though she’s a master at it!). If you’ve ever wanted a closer look at her garden, here’s the chance! She’s even going to be serving homemade treats from her harvests.

Renee Studebaker's front yard garden

And find out where Daphne hangs out with a visit to the Texas AgriLife Extension Office demo gardens! She and Augie will be on hand (paw) all day to answer your questions!

Not only will you have a chance to talk with the gardeners to see how they did it and where they got it, each site includes educational talks and plant and book sales.  All this for just $20 or $5 per garden, to support their many free workshops throughout the year. Find out more about upcoming workshops and details of the tour.

Since we all like to recycle, a viewer asks: “Can I spread used kitty litter on the grass or non-edible gardens?” Get Daphne’s answer about why this isn’t a good idea—it’s not what you might think. Telo and Camille Farber already watched this on their iCatfonz to pass along to their moms, sisters Galia (KLRU’s production coordinator) and Naomi.

Galia's cats in sink
In the next few weeks, it’s time to plant wildflower seeds like Indian blanket (Gaillardia pulchella).

Indian blanket Gaillardia pulchella
Andrea DeLong-Amaya from the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center shows how to sow for the best success. Since bluebonnets are tops on the list, she explains how to improve germination the first year.

plant bluebonnet seeds
Note: the inoculant she mentions has become very hard to find, so go with one of her other techniques to start your bluebonnet patch. Trisha sometimes moves bluebonnet plants to a new area (or you can buy transplants) to inoculate the soil, too. I’ve always had great luck without the inoculant.

Happy planting until next week! Linda

Notable natives

Even though rain and sweet cool days perked things up, I know that fall is here when my self-seeded goldenrods start blooming. Soon, they’ll be clustered with butterflies, bees and little wasps.

goldenrod Central Texas
They’re already heading to the shrub/small tree Barbados cherry (Malpighia glabra) that rebounded from a brief summer break to flower yet again. Later, birds will hone in on the fruit to fatten up for winter.

Barbados cherry flowers
This one’s on the side of the house, formerly photinia-ville, joined by a white-blooming Cenizo ‘Silvarado Sage’, a hybrid of the native Texas sage (Leucophyllum frutescens). A non-native thryallis (Galphimia glauca) joins them to screen and shade the air conditioner.

Barbados cherry Cenizo silverado thryallis
Daphne’s Pick of the Week, native damianita (Chrysactinia Mexicana) is going great guns in the right conditions, which I don’t have. This one thrives in the hot curb strips at Mueller. It’s a deer resistant low-grower that blooms for months (attracting pollinators) as long as it has sunny, well-drained spots that don’t get a ton of water.

damianita
My native frostweed (Verbesina virginica) opened its first flowers, too, ready for the butterflies in frenzy feeding.

Frostweed flowers
Oh, I got that one and many of my natives at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center’s plant sales: this year on Oct. 13 & 14 (member preview Oct. 12). You can even click to get a printable list of available plants.

The LBJWC is where you can nab the drought-tough groundcover, golden groundsel (Packera obovata), hard to find in the trade. In summer, it’s a lush little filler in part shade.

Golden groundsel packera obovata foliage

In early winter, it’s among the first to bloom, feeding native bees and other insects even during freezing days, here with oxalis.

golden groundsel flowers with oxalis

The Wildflower sale is just one event during Native Texas Plant Week, Oct. 14 -20. Check out all the fabulous activities to Keep Austin Wild, including tours and workshops.

Someone you’ll meet at the LBJWC sale is E.E. “Mitch” Mitchamore from Hill Country Natives, who grows hard-to-find native plants in his home-based nursery. This week, he joins Tom to pick a few native trees to create a canopy for shade, understory, fruit and wildlife appeal.

Tom Spencer and "Mitch" Mitchamore, Hill Country Natives

One he details for us is Bigtooth maple. At a mature height of 15’ or so, it’s perfect for smaller gardens. At his nursery you can see planted specimens to get a true feel of what they’ll look like in a garden. I like how he’s used salvaged fencing to protect this young Bigtooth from browsing deer.

Bigtooth maple deer fence Hill Country Natives
Here’s his short list for CTG. At the nursery, Mitch has more native and adapted plants to round out your diverse garden. Since availability varies on what’s ready and hours vary, contact him and get more info at Hill Country Natives.

A native fruit tree he and Tom showcase is Blanco crabapple, like this beauty at the Selah Bamberger Ranch Preserve. If you’ve never visited David Bamberger’s habitat restoration, check out their tour and workshop schedule to celebrate Native Plant Week all year long!

Blanco crabapple flowers Bamberger Ranch

Andrea DeLong-Amaya, Director of Horticulture at the LBJWC, shows how to plant your new acquisitions and what mistakes to avoid.

Andrea DeLong-Amaya shows how to plant
Daphne answers, “How can I solarize to kill grass, weeds, and nematodes?” A viewer asked if she could solarize with an old clear plastic shower curtain. Daphne reports: Yes, indeed! She explains why to choose clear or black plastic and how to do it.

Last winter, my neighbor solarized front yard grass with black plastic for months.

Black plastic solarize
This summer, they turned in compost and planted a native habitat. Already, it’s thriving with Salvia leucantha, Lindheimer muhly, Blue mistflower (Conoclinium), zemenia, desert willow and Gulf muhly.

native garden after solarizing
On tour, see how Jackie Davis restored a typical small lot to an abundant wildlife habitat. Instead of exotic, dying trees and dog-trampled earth, her Certified Backyard Habitat is in constant motion with birds and beneficial insects. She’s got cool tips for feeding birds, too! To jumpstart her hands-on education, she became a member of Travis Audubon, the Native Plant Society and the Austin Butterfly Forum.

Many thanks to Meredith O’Reilly, blogger and gardener at Great Stems, for connecting me with Jackie. Meredith joins us on November 3 with more great native plant understory selections!

Until next week, happy planting to one and all! 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

Keyhole gardens, Oak leaf galls, Gabriel Valley Farms, Drying herbs

First, I have to admit: I’m a bulb freak. I’d buy a thousand more if I could. Instead, I divide my naturalizing wealth and then forget where I planted them. That’s okay, because garden surprises like these oxblood lilies are treasures every year, especially abundant this September, thanks to the rain.

Oxblood lilies and plumbago Austin Texas
I walked out last weekend to find this red spider lily (Lycoris radiata) peeking out in the turk’s caps.

red spider lily (lycoris) and turk's cap
Red is a color that many gardeners are seeing this year from oak leaf galls.

Oak leaf galls (c) Danielle Deuillet
This week, Daphne explains what’s going on: “The small, reddish galls on the undersides of our oak leaves right now are caused by tiny wasps.  They lay their eggs on the leaves and the tree responds by forming a protective structure, the gall, to contain the wasp eggs while the insect larvae grow into adults.”

Oak leaf galls (c) MaryAnn A
You’ll probably never see these non-stinging little wasps. As Daphne tells us, there’s no reason to treat. We have them every year and they don’t harm the trees.  This year was just insect-crazy, so they’ve become especially noticeable.  Thank you, Danielle & MaryAnn, for sending us your pictures!

Soon, I expect to see some yellow in my garden. I have high hopes that my young Skeleton-leaf goldeneye will look like this!

Skeleton-leaf goldeneye austin texas
This native, evergreen drought-tough perennial is Daphne’s pick of the week. Its flowers from late spring to frost attract many beneficial pollinators, like this tiny wasp.

Skeleton-leaf goldeneye daisy with tiny wasp
It requires sun and good drainage, so in my clay soil garden, I amended with compost and decomposed granite.

Our first gentle cold front reminds us that soon we’ll need to snag some of our cold-tender herbs to dry or freeze. So, this week, Trisha shows how to dry herbs in any season (including our evergreens) for homegrown flavor and tastefully beautiful gifts. Get her tips for your files.

Dried herbs cute
Next week, get her tips for freezing herbs, like basil, that don’t stand up well to drying.

Now that I’ve tidied up and revised my plant list, I’ll be hitting the nurseries soon. I respect a tag with Gabriel Valley Farms’ name on it.

Gabriel Valley Farms
On tour, we visit this innovative wholesale grower near Georgetown to see how Cathy and Sam Slaughter grow tried and true Texas plants organically, starting from seed.

The KLRU crew with Ed Carter and Chris Kim had a blast! Here’s director Ed Fuentes documenting the babies that will head to nurseries and your gardens when they’re grown up! If you grow seeds in a few pots or flats, imagine planting thousands!

Gabriel Valley Farms Ed Fuentes camera operator

Cathy and Sam also share their tricks to fool seedlings to germinate when it’s too hot or too cold to plant, and why it’s important to get organically grown plants when possible.

Keyhole gardens are the hot topic this year! Tom meets with Deb Tolman to explain why these sustainable vessels are perfect to grow vegetables, fruit trees or ornamentals.

Tom Spencer and Deb Tolman Central Texas Gardener
Deb explains how to do it for abundant crops, even in small spaces and in thin or dense soils where it’s difficult to grow food. Along with saving water, keyhole gardens are the ultimate design to recycle/reuse cardboard, phone books, newspapers and kitchen vegetable scraps.

Keyhole garden plan (c) Ted Miears

Keyhole garden design (c) Deb Tolman

Keyhole garden cardboard (c) Deb Tolman

Keyhole garden design (c) Ted Miears

Find out more on Deb’s website and get her DVD, shot by videographer Ted Miear, which documents the entire process that you can do in one afternoon!  I thank Ted for his support on this segment. Long ago, he was a KLRU freelancer, who went on to launch his own video production company.

Finally, the garden events are gearing up, but here’s one for the whole family! From Sept. 22 – Nov. 18, head out to Barton Hills Farm in Bastrop for a corn maze, live music and more. Family fall fun, for sure!

Happy planning and planting until I see you next week!  Linda

Bee happy|Succulent strategies|Natural Bridge Caverns

One thing I love about wildlife is that they don’t mind if my garden gets a tad messy. As long as the place is clean (no pesticides), they’re going for the atmosphere—free food in a diner that’s open all year. This combo platter of shrimp plant and oxalis attracts a wide selection of customers, including hummingbirds, bees, and butterflies.

Shrimp plant and oxalis
Thanks to the rain, the sunflowers tower over us!  Perhaps they’ll entice some Bordered Patch or Painted Lady butterflies to lay their eggs. Certainly, they’ll be attracting birds, who planted these in the first place. These natural designers picked an inspiring spot!

really tall sunflower
In the front bed, there’s something for everybody, too: pink skullcap, shrimp plant, heartleaf skullcap, white mistflower, zexmenia, copper canyon daisy, eupatorium, pine muhly, setcresea (Purple Heart), Mexican bush sage and evergreen sumac. With Yucca recurvifolia ‘Margaritaville’.

Linda's front garden bed for wildlife
Greg nabbed a picture of Coreopsis tinctoria on the creek bank behind our fence. I hope some of the seeds end up in our back “prairie!”

Coreopsis tinctoria east Austin
My baby skeleton-leaf goldeneye daisy appears to be MIA, but I’m getting more! In the meantime, here’s a beneficial wasp (I think) on one at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Skeleton-leaf goldeneye daisy with beneficial wasp
Another I’d like to have again is ‘David Verity’ Cuphea, beneficial to insects and hummingbirds.  My former one froze in the “big chill” two years ago. I didn’t replace it since it wasn’t getting enough sun, but I’ll find a spot to have one like this!

David Verity cuphea
Gaura (Gaura lindheimeri) is another that I didn’t give enough sun. So, I’m glad a neighbor is growing it in a new hot strip curb bed, converted from lawn.

Gaura lindheimeri

It really does take a village to feed the wildlife. If everyone in the neighborhood plants even a few plants, the “strip mall” cluster attracts a bigger crowd.

Gaura lindheimeri
Along with masses to attract the masses, the secret to diversified wildlife is diversified food, even in winter. While we’re sipping hot chocolate, honeybees head for narcissus.

Narcissus with bee
In early spring, they make a beeline to Mexican plum, viburnums, and roses like this Mutabilis.

Rose mutabilis with bee

And native annual baby blue-eyes.

Baby blue-eyes with bee
I laughed like crazy to see this bee gleefully rolling around in the Pink evening primrose.

Pink Evening primrose with bee
More ecstasy in poppies. Sights like this are my favorite part of gardening.

Bee in poppy

This mild winter, everyone headed for a Salvia coccinea that didn’t freeze. It was protected by other plants in a warm niche, where spuria irises served dessert on April flowers.

Salvia coccinea with spuria iris
In summer, when this heat-loving annual salvia usually performs, it attracts bees and butterflies.

Salvia coccinea with bee

My “patrons” all rave about my fall goldenrods, though it wasn’t my recipe. These perennial natives just wandered in on their own.

Goldenrod with bee
Since bees are so important for pollination, this week Tom meets with Kellan Vincent, landscape architect, and Beekeeper and Pollination Strategist.
Tom Spencer and Kellan Vincent

What a fascinating quick primer on the lifestyles of honeybees, bumble bees and solitary bees, like Mason bees!  Here’s a native honeybee on my rosemary in January.

Rosemary flowers with bees

Mason bees quickly found my house, a gift from Travis Audubon stewards Georgean and Paul Kyle, who handcrafted this. You may know them best for their delightful handmade toys at Rootin’ Ridge Toymakers, but they also make the bee houses, bird nesting boxes and food perches.

Mason bee house from Rootin' Ridge

For more about bees, check in with The San Marcos Area Bee Wranglers, where you can meet Kellan in person! Follow him on Twitter at @BeeKellan.

This week, Daphne answers: why did our fall-blooming plants show up this spring?

Fall aster with bee
Daphne’s Pick of the Week is Texas Star Hibiscus, a native hibiscus that feeds wildlife all summer.

Texas Star hibiscus at Natural Bridge Caverns

That’s a screen grab from our tour this week to Natural Bridge Caverns (hence why it looks a little odd!). We didn’t go on the cavern tour, though you should! Our focus is what’s on top: design concepts for home gardens, plants for wildlife (no pesticides!), and mainly, a vivid illustration to remind us that what we pour on top of our gardens or to kill insects ends up in our water.

Jeff Pavlat from the Austin Cactus & Succulent Society premieres his first Backyard Basics with something we’ve wanted to do for years: show off Jeff’s toolkit for working with spiky plants!

Jeff Pavlat Central Texas Gardener
Sources: Jeff gets his knives and covers, ice scoops, brushes and gravel bins cheap at a restaurant supply store. On Amazon, I found several sources for these tools. But Jeff gets the big tweezers (forceps), hemostats and the sharp pointed tweezers at Miles’  To Go cacti and succulent nursery.
And also from Rainbow Gardens Bookshop that specializes in cacti and succulent plant books. The toolkit is a fishing tackle box from Academy.

Until next week, garden safe! Linda

Superstar plants

Fall aster and larkspur in spring Austin garden
I love it when cloudy days in spring fool the fall asters (and many autumn perennials) to bloom along with the larkspurs.

Even though we got a break this winter with rain and mild temperatures, the insects got a break too.  They’re just as thrilled as we are!  Really, every year in Texas is tough. If drought doesn’t get us, it’s too much rain, too much cold, or too many pests. That’s why I rely on my personal superstars to hang with me no matter what.

In the cat cove: Winecups on rainwater steroids climbed up to join the native Pavonia/rock rose (Pavonia lasiopetala) and larkspur.

Winecups, pavonia rock rose and larkspur
Coneflowers in the crape bed stretched up to snuggle against tough-as-nails Knock Out rose.

Coneflower and Knock Out rose
Red Admiral butterflies fuel up for another busy day.

Red Admiral butterfly on coneflower
I think they wear out going between the coneflowers and the Rusty blackhaw viburnum (Viburnum rufidulum).

Rusty blackhaw viburnum flowers
Note: this native shrub thickets like nuts!

Rusty blackhaw viburnum in bloom
My Angelica pachycarpa hangs out with me every winter until June or so. Now it’s sending up flowers before it crashes in a few weeks.

Angelica flower buds
Underneath, I’ve planted White veined Dutchman’s pipe (Aristolochia fimbriata) to cover the space when it goes dormant. Since pipevine swallowtail butterflies are nectaring all over the garden, I suspect they’ll be laying eggs soon.

Angelica pachycarpa
But did you know that there are official Texas Superstar plants, thanks to research at Texas A&M University? This week on CTG, Tom meets with A&M professor H. Brent Pemberton, Texas AgriLife Research, to commend a few that you can find in nurseries right now.

Tom Spencer and Brent Pemberton

One is the Cora and Nirvana Vinca (periwinkle) series. These summer annuals are resistant to the aerial Phytophthora fungus that devastated our periwinkle chances in the past. They are tolerant of heat and humidity and DEER! In this picture, they’re in the foreground of other Superstar plants, like Esperanza.

Nora and Cora Vinca Texas Superstar plants
Brent explains how Texas AgriLife Research trials plants under grueling Texas conditions to make sure they’re tough enough for your garden! Watch for this Grandma’s Yellow Rose rose, here with Burgundy Sun SuperSun Coleus and Tidal Wave™ petunias.

Grandma's Yellow Rose Texas Superstar plants
One I discovered last year in a garden is Angelonia angustifolia Serena ™series.

Angelonia Serena series Texas Superstar plants

It’s a summer annual, but if you like that snapdragon/larkspur look in summer, it takes the heat, sun and drought! Just nabbed a few myself!

Here’s Brent’s CTG list. Plus, check out all the Texas Superstars. One to watch for is cenizo (Leucophyllum langmaniae ‘Lyaa’s Legacy’) that can bloom more often in summer than other selections.  But since all varieties of cenizo/Texas sage are superstars, it’s Daphne’s Pick of the Week!

Cenizo, Texas sage

But why do they fail for some of us? Daphne explains why. One is poor drainage, too much water, and not enough sun. Even a gutter that gushes into the area can be fatal.  The picture above represents a fatality in my garden when trees grew up and it didn’t get the hot blast of sun it really wanted.

The second reason is pruning it too much. Cenizo really doesn’t want to be hedged to perfection. Just lightly shape it to encourage more growth.

On tour, meet some superstar butterflies and birds at the Bulverde/Spring Branch Library. Thanks to the Comal County Master Gardeners and Friends of the Library, a rocky slope at the end of the parking lot is now an instructional guide to gardening and wildlife, plus an outdoor haven to read a book!

Daphne’s question of the week comes from Nettie Birnbaum: “Do we need to clean or sterilize our pots or black plastic 6-packs before replanting or seeding?”

Pots to be cleaned and sterilized before planting again

Yes! Daphne recommends cleaning with soap and water and then a 10% bleach solution. Rinse well and dry.

Since many of our container plants need to be divided this time of year, Trisha explains how to do that. She also shows how to separate new nursery plants, like basils that are overcrowded.  Get her tips on amending/sterilizing old potting soil, how to keep ants out of your pots, and how she starts summer crops in containers until winter plants finish for the year.

This Sunday, join the CTG team and the Travis Master Gardeners at KLRU’s 50th anniversary birthday party!  We’ll be making “eat a rainbow” bracelets for kids (vegetables!).  Plus there are tons of activities, PBS characters, and the Biscuit Brothers for this family fun day! It’s noon – 4 p.m. on 2nd street in Austin. See you there!

Thank you for your support of CTG as we head into KLRU’s 51st year! See you next week, Linda