Fruits of our labors even if some took “almost” a century

I’m always so glad when the Byzantine gladiolus flowers this time every year. But doesn’t that face look a tad grumpy?

Byzantine gladiolus funny face

Starting from just three or so pass-alongs corms, it multiplies every year, so it’s actually very happy!

Maggie rose is looking mighty nice, too.

Maggie rose

Still, she’s a little out of sorts since she came down with a case of powdery mildew thanks to cool nights and moisture in the air.

Powdery mildew on rose

She’ll work it out herself without medication, but if you’re worried about it on your plants, check out neem oil or Serenade. Just don’t apply in the heat of day and don’t use Serenade when the bees are active.

Up the street, an Agave americana is about out of time, though it won’t relinquish its claim to that corner for a century or more, thanks to its pups. And their pups. . .

century plant bloom stalk

Coincidentally, it sent up its final comment just as a Central Texas Gardener Facebook question came in about century plants. So, this week, Daphne answers: does it actually take a century to bloom? Nope.

Hella Wagner shared some pictures of her plant’s glorious ascension as the mother plant died. Daphne explains the process, and how the bloom stalk itself can even be dangerous.

Agave americana bloom stalk

Agave americana flower stalk on ground

My yuccas up front (Y. pallida and Y. reverchonii,) are reaching for the sky, too, but they won’t end their life with this springtime bloom.

Yucca pallida bloom stalks Central Texas

Back to agaves, Daphne makes this deer-resistant, drought-tough genus her Pick of the Week. There are many species and cultivars in various forms, colors, sizes and habitats.

Agave shawii 'Blue Flame'

Mostly, they want good drainage, though my A. celsii does fine in my island bed that I’ve gradually amended with compost and mulch.

Agave celsii

Do look at their cold hardiness. I fell in love with an A. celsii ‘Tricolor’, as it was called then, which is rated for a zone or two just warmer than us. First crazy freeze and they were mush. My regular celsii didn’t fare well in 17 degrees but did return, just slightly modified.

Do take a serious look at their mature size, too. This cute little A. americana will grow up fast, and it won’t take even 10 years!

Agave americana baby

Mature agave americana with jerusalem sage

Event note: The Cactus & Succulent Society of America convenes in Austin June 15 -20, with tours, incredible talks and more. For details and to register, visit

Certainly, it doesn’t take a century to enjoy homegrown citrus! This week, Tom joins Michelle Pfluger from Green ‘n Growing for her list of easy, productive, and fairly cold tolerant ones to grow.

Tom Spencer and Michelle Pfluger Green 'n Growing Nursery

Recently, I added a calamondin to a patio container. We love the fragrant flowers and can’t wait for its slightly sour fruits a few months down the road.

calamondin green fruits

In the ground, my Satsuma ‘Mr. Mac’ is going gangbusters, thanks to the temperate winter and a little high nitrogen fertilizer in March.

satsuma orange new fruits

On tour in Liberty Hill, April and Cliff Hendricks harvest Improved Meyer lemons, along with dreams, in close-up gardens bordering their wide open land. With scavenges, imagination, and artistry, they created a paradise without spending a ton of money.

By now, you’ve probably seen or heard about ollas to water plants in conservative times. John Dromgoole gives us the scoop.


Find out more at Dripping Springs Ollas.

Thanks for stopping by! See you next week, Linda

Why plants freeze|Greg Grant vegetables

My crinums don’t look so hot right now.

Frozen crinum leaves
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!

frozen salvia coccinea

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.

Freeze damage Pride of Barbados

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.

Lantana freeze damage purple leaf

Others lose their lives, like this perennial salvia ‘Anthony Parker’.

Salvia 'Anthony Parker' freeze

But get this: just 8’ away in the same bed, this one was fine!

Salvia 'Anthony Parker'

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!

cute PVC hoops vegetable row cover

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.

Texas Fruit & Vegetable Gardening Greg Grant

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.

Greg joins Tom this week for some tried and true tips to get you growing.

Tom Spencer and Greg Grant

He made the trip from Nacogdoches, where he’s a horticulturist at the Pineywoods Native Plant Center at Stephen F. Austin University. Stephen F. Austin University garden greenhouse

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.

Weeping cypress Greg Grant Stephen F. Austin University

Visit 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.

In Greg's Garden

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.

irrigation valves fertilizer central texas gardener

To fertilize both vegetables and ornamentals, Trisha demonstrates how to make compost tea, along with a trick using recycled nursery containers to slowly distribute it and organic granulars.

Thanks for stopping by! See you next week, Linda

Pruning prep + Fruit trees + Rooftop gardens

Christmas lights are down, but my shrimp plants glow like holiday lights all day!
Red shrimp plant in winter with evergreen sumac

That brings up the top question right now: when do we clean up and cut back? Well, I’m not cutting back that beauty just yet. I’ll take the Felcos to it in March to restore its luscious figure. With our swings from hot to freeze, we don’t want to encourage new growth on potentially tender plants like this one. I’ve never lost one to super freeze, but new growth would be fried. Our lives can get stressed, but no reason to freak out our plants!

I did cut back my hardy pink skullcaps (Scutellaria suffrutescens) that were just too woody. They won’t mind as they hurry up to cover themselves anew.

cutting back pink skullcap
Same thing goes for Salvia greggii, even though some are trying to bloom. Do it anyway! Cutting them back several inches now will promote new growth and lots of flowers soon (since they bloom on new wood). If you let this go, you’ll end up with lots of woody branches and a disappointing view come May.

Saliva greggi cut back

My Copper Canyon daisy (Tagetes lemmonii) just hasn’t got this figured out yet!

Copper canyon daisy (Tagetes lemmonii)
It’s supposed to bloom in fall, but it wimped around since my garden missed all those rains. Although it’s drought tolerant, this one was only in its second season. I gave it some deep soakings and it popped back from death row. Now, I’ll let it bloom its little head off and cut it back several inches in a few weeks. I didn’t prune last winter and that was a mistake. Pruning = powerful pretty!

Another plant we can prune sooner than later is rock rose (Pavonia lasiopetala) that is a total mess if you don’t take a firm hand.

rock rose pavonia lasiopetala stamens
Now, most of us know this as a pretty-in-pink perennial subshrub. But viewer Laura has one that seeded out pure white!

White rock rose pavonia lasiopetala
Daphne explains how Laura ended up with this beauty, and how she can get more of them. In a nutshell, Daphne reports that white flowers are recessive in rock rose. But sometimes through pollination, genes cross in such a way that both parents contribute the recessive white-flowering gene, instead of the pink-flowering one. Cool, huh?!

If you’ve been hankering for your own fruit trees, grapes, or blackberries, energetic Jim Kamas, Texas AgriLife Extension fruit specialist, joins Tom this week.

Tom Spencer and Jim Kamas Central Texas Gardener

Find out which trees are self-pollinating or need another variety to fruit, how to promote plant health, and when to prune. Check out Texas A&M’s comprehensive Fruit & Nuts fact sheets for details on every mouth-watering one on your list!

A native fruit tree that works even as an understory is Texas persimmon (Diospyros texana), Daphne’s Pick of the Week.

Texas persimmon bark

Lamar Hankins and his wife are lucky to have them naturalizing on their San Marcos land.

Texas persimmon fruits Lamar Hankins

Last year, Lamar experimented to make the perfect jelly/jam from their black fruits, which he reports tastes like blackberry jam. Here’s his yummy recipe.

Since now is when nurseries will have bare root fruit trees, grapes, and berries in stock, John Dromgoole shows you how to plant them.

planting bare root fruit trees John Dromgoole

Like bare root roses, which are showing up, it’s essential to put them in a bucket of water for a few hours before planting. Absolutely, do not let their roots dry out!

On tour, see how these gardeners are really on top of things with rooftop vegetables, fruits, and succulents! Contemporary architecture, architectural plants, and organic gardening come together with designer Patrick Kirwin and project architect Thomas Tornbjerg of Bercy Chen Studio.

Thanks for checking in! See you next week, Linda

Winter drought care trees & wildflowers|Edibles meet perennials

Happy New Year! Good wishes to you all that 2013 sprinkles us with abundant joy.

'Patrick' abutilon

Unless we get a few serious sprinkles from above, we need to water our wildflower rosettes, like bluebonnets. Thanks to Jean Warner for Daphne’s question this week! Like Jean, my bluebonnets are up, along with larkspur and weeds—so be careful out there when pulling.

bluebonnet rosette

If you make a mistake like I have “now and then,” quickly plug the keeper back in and water. Here are baby poppies, not native, but still so pretty and beloved by bees.

poppy seedlings

So, Jean wants to know if freeze will harm her healthy crop of bluebonnets. As Daphne reports, cold weather isn’t a concern for our native wildflowers that emerge in fall to hunker down as rosettes until the magic moment.

But lack of water certainly is. Annuals, like bluebonnets and many others, will wither away and never flower and seed for next year without moisture. And we certainly don’t want to miss pictures like this Flickr sequence, thanks to KLRU’s Sara Robertson and her baby’s first Texas 2012 spring!

Sebastian in the bluebonnets

Lack of water is the reason we’re losing valuable trees, too.

Cedar elm winter

Tom joins consulting arborist Don Gardner to explain why it happens and what we can do.

Tom Spencer Don Gardner drought tree care

Find out how far out to water your trees for their age and size. KLRU graphic designer Mark Pedini crafted this to illustrate one of Don’s important points.

Tree roots Mark Pedini Central Texas Gardener

In drought, the absorbing roots get smaller and smaller until eventually the tree only has woody, anchoring roots. Those fine feeder roots are what we must water to keep the tree alive.

Check out Daphne’s explanation of woody roots and whether we can plant over them.

Meet Don in person for more tree care tips on January 26 at 2 p.m. at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center’s Tree Talk Winter Walk. This free event is from 9 a.m. -5 p.m.

Watch this great video from the Texas A&M Forest Service for more on watering your trees.

Not only do we need to water our fruit trees, now is the time to apply horticultural oil to fend off hibernating insects and their eggs. John Dromgoole explains how to help prevent pests like plum curculio and bacterial and fungal disease with proactive care. Oh, the first thing is to sanitize the garden—all year long—by removing old leaves and fruit from the ground.

Fruit tree insect and fungal prevention John Dromgoole

If you don’t have space for fruit trees, I just bet you have a spot to grow pretty edibles, like this ‘Joi Choi’ bok choy!

‘Joi Choi’ bok choy Daphne Richards

Daphne’s Pick of the Week is something you can pick and eat: winter edibles!  And no need to restrict them to an official vegetable bed. Tuck them in among your perennials, like these at the Travis County Texas AgriLife Extension demonstration beds in October.

Edibles and perennials Travis Texas AgriLife Extension

Whether you eat it or not, nutritious Swiss chard is a beauty among winter annuals. Many of mine didn’t weather summer’s heat, but this one never faltered.

Bright Lights Swiss chard

You can still plant winter edibles among your dormant perennials for a pop of delicious color. In fact, check out the Master Gardener’s free workshop  January 17 on how to plant and save seeds.

Daphne also suggests letting some plants bolt or go to seed for their structural addition and flowers. With fall’s warm weather, many of our crops bolted early this year, so go ahead and replant, like lettuce.

lettuce bolting

Molly O’Halloran shares this lettuce soup recipe (which she thickened with diced potatoes) to use lettuce that’s past its salad prime.

Here’s another reason to “try it at home.” Look at the size of this carrot grown by Nancy and Richard Simpson in their year-round organic vegetable garden!

huge carrot Nancy and Richard Simpson

I bet you all, like me, have the fix-it-up bug.  Here’s some great inspiration and tips from designer Annie Gillespie of Botanical Concerns at her hillside garden.

Thanks for stopping by! See you 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.

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

Projects! Reduce lawn makeover! Container vegetables!

Revival! As the rock roses (Pavonia lasiopetala) and Turk’s cap swing back into gear, my ideas hit revival mode, too.

Rock rose and turk's cap
Projects are finally in the works.  Last spring, we laid a sandstone path over a section of dead grass, but wanted time to think about what to do next.

Path project lawn reduce

We’ve decided to get more sandstone, but to reduce the heat factor, I’m leaving wide spaces to plant frogfruit (Phyla nodiflora). You can see how the first ones are already creeping over.

Last March, I set out a few 4” pots to soften our new work. They’ve taken off like crazy, unmindful of the unamended soil, heat, drought or the brief spurts of drenching rain.

frogfruit on path

I’ve been digging up grass since the day we moved in, since I want a garden full of wildlife. When 2010-2011 took a hard toll on lawns, I lost a lot of the rest, as did many gardeners.

This week on tour, see how Lana & Bob Beyer retrieved their garden with stunning new ideas!

Lawn replace design Lana and Bob Beyer
Here’s how it looked this spring, new plants soon to fill in. Already, they’re seeing more wildlife.

Lawn replace design Lana and Bob Beyer
Director Ed Fuentes had a lot of fun taping this renovation, even though the sun was brutal.

Central Texas Gardener on location with Ed Fuentes
In front, here’s Bob’s shot after they stripped the dead grass.

stripping front yard grass Lana and Bob Beyer
Since their HOA requires some lawn, Lana designed a wineglass shape with buffalograss to draw street-side views into the garden.

front yard makeover Lana and Bob Beyer
On Bob’s Central Texas Gardening website, see his remarkable slide show that documents the process step by step. Really, this is fabulous!

In the awkward curb strip, the Beyers made life easier and more beautiful with gray and green santolina, pink skullcap, and Rock penstemon.

santolina, pink skullcap, rock penstemon
Santolina is a drought-tough evergreen (or ever gray) deer-resistant groundcover. Find out how to grow it as Daphne’s Pick of the Week.

Gray santolina and flowers
Thanks to the rains last winter and a little this summer, our Mexican plum is hanging onto some of its fruit instead of dropping it all prematurely.
The ones at Mueller are totally abundant!

Mexican plum fruit Mueller Austin Texas
Since fall is the best time to plant trees, Tom joins Amanda Moon from It’s About Thyme for some tasty additions.

Tom Spencer and Amanda Moon, It's About Thyme
Her list includes fruiting and ornamental olive trees, including specimen tree ‘Little Ollie.’  Lana and Bob are growing theirs in a pot for now.

'Little Ollie' olive in a pot
Whether olive trees produce fruit or not, I love the silvery leaves. This one’s a tall shade tree in the garden of dear friends Molly and David.

Olive tree

Get Amanda’s list of olives, compact and ‘Wonderful’ pomegranate, Texas persimmon, loquat and figs.

And be sure to check out It’s About Thyme, where Diane and Chris Winslow and a very knowledgeable team guide you to tried-and-true plants, fabulous herbs, and ideas that will astound you and your garden. Sign up for their informative weekly enewsletter, too, for valuable tips from Chris and culinary expert Mick Vann.

Animals dine on the bark of our trees, especially in drought. Viewer Connie Lawson asked what to do about porcupines chomping her new trees. KLRU colleague Robert found squirrels stripping his trees. Will this kill your tree?  Get Daphne’s answer about whether trees will recover, and the best way to protect them.

Since many of us have limited space or limited sunlight, John Dromgoole demonstrates how to plant in containers, for organic food even on a patio, balcony, or driveway.

John Dromgoole vegetables in containers

Get his list of a few tiny plants, including ‘Tom Thumb’ corn for next summer.

Happy planting and I’ll see you next week!  Linda

Transition time for flowers and food

Valentine’s Day started early with my potted carnation!

'Silver Pink' carnation

I love everything about it: color, fragrance, blue-green foliage, long-lasting cut flowers. Drought tough. If anything, they hate too much water, and demand perfect drainage.  Two years ago when I got this ‘Silver Pink’, I added decomposed granite to loose potting soil and “mulched” it with a  light layer of the granite.  This would be lovely in a large container with agaves. Hmm, may have to try that!

Purple oxalis sent valentines, too!
purple oxalis flowers

I love purple, but especially I love plants that don’t need much of my time. Between Sunday’s sleet flurries, I got a shot of this trouble-free team, which includes splotchy Arum italicum, columbine and a few Gomphrena ‘Grapes’ to the left.

purple oxalis, Arum italicum,  columbine
The oxalis and arum quietly retreat underground in summer, returning in late fall. ‘Grapes’ usually goes dormant in winter. I’ll cut it back in a few weeks to encourage its lush little leaves until it pops its “grapes” next fall.

Thanks to rain and cooler weather, the lettuces I seeded a few weeks ago are coming in just fine. Upfront is heirloom ‘Speckles’, one of my favorites, not just because of its coloring!

Speckles lettuce Central Texas Gardener
Some cilantro and parsley thought about bolting, but I’ve headed them off for now.

Flat-leaf Italian parsley
After I took this picture, I cut that parsley at the base to bring in for dinner, and to encourage new stems before it bolts for good. Once upon a time,  I could keep this biennial around for two years, but recently, early hot weather does them in the first year for me, though a few did show back up this winter.

Snapdragons are finally in strut-mode. Leafy Swiss chard makes a nice backdrop, when it’s not coming in to dine, like in our Valentine’s night vegetarian stir fry.

Snapdragons with Swiss chard

In this transitional garden time, how do vegetable growers extend their cool weather crops and make way for summer’s plants?  This week, Tom meets with Paula and Glenn Foore from Springdale Farm for some insider tips, including their favorite tomatoes.

Tom Spencer with Paula and Glenn Foore, Springdale Farm
For years, the Foores have been in the landscaping business as Texas Trees & Landscaping (and still are!).  Eventually, Glenn decided to fulfill a dream for a small urban farm on their land in east Austin.

Springdale Farm Austin Texas

Just down the street from Boggy Creek Farm (Carole Ann and Larry as mentors), Springdale opens its farm stand on Wednesdays and Saturdays from 9 a.m. – 1 p.m. and for many community events.

Springdale Farm Austin Texas

On CTG, get some of their “high tech” techniques to keep seedling tomatoes warm.

Springdale Farm vanity lights to warm seedlings

In their greenhouse, they also use buckets of water to warm the plants, a trick for early ground planting (along with rowcover).

Water buckets to warm seedlings Springdale Farm
Once again, they’ll be on the East Austin Urban Farm Tour April 15 from 1-5.  Meet your local growers, along with chefs and local drink artisans who will also flavor your day to benefit small farmers and local ranchers who support the Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance.

Some of our fruit trees are still showing signs of damage from last year’s freeze. Daphne answers Rachel Jackson’s question about her troubled loquats.

Loquat freeze damage Rachel Jackson
We consulted Texas AgriLife Extension fruit specialist Jim Kamas. Here’s what he says:

It’s almost undoubtedly cold injury.  Loquat is a relatively cold hardy sub-tropical, but last year the warm temperatures during the end of January caused a loss of hardiness in all plants.  The cold front that came through on the first of February caused a sudden drop in temperatures.  We went from 74° to 11° in about 22 hours.

Loquat damaged by freeze Rachel Jackson

Since this could certainly happen again this year, here’s Jim’s advice for our fruit trees:

Keep the plants well watered, but not saturated, over the winter.  The drought last winter greatly exacerbated the problem with cold injury.  Trees can indeed repair themselves, but don’t be surprised if limbs continue to collapse and bark sloughs off of the trunk.  Just keep the plants in as good of health as possible, remove dead wood, and hope for the best.

Kale is a super healthy, easy-to-grow winter green. Trisha shows off her favorite varieties, including Redbor, to put on your list for seeding next fall.

Redbor kale, Trisha Shirey Lake Austin Spa Resort
In the meantime, if you have kale to harvest or buy at a farmers’ market, get her delicious recipes for kale salad with Caesar salad dressing, kale chips and more!

On tour, get hands-on tips from some of the year-round gardeners at Sunshine Community Gardens. From its inception in the 1970s, Sunshine has put food on many a table while connecting urban folk to the root of its origins.  Its mission is more important now than ever:  a public space where people can come together to grow organic food in a wildlife haven framed by asphalt.

At their annual plant sale on March 3 from 9 a.m. – 2 p.m., pick up their tried and true vegetable and flower transplants.

You also don’t want to miss the Austin Organic Gardeners’ plant sale March 3 from 9 a.m. – 2 p.m. at Zilker Botanical Garden!  There’s plenty of time to hit both to get the best varieties for your summer garden, plus meet up with local expert gardeners!

See you next week, Linda

Anticipation|Peach trees|Italian design|Insect control|Ponds

Somebody thinks it’s spring!

Old fashioned petunia

I treasure fragrant old-fashioned petunias for cascading perfume in my spring and summer patio containers. Warm winter days prompted an energetic splurge at the base of a potted sweet olive (Osmanthus fragrans). Since they’re hard to find, I cover them when temps dip below freezing, though an old tablecloth was fine when we briefly hit 27°.

In January, it’s more usual to see violas. I go back and forth on winter annuals, but can’t resist a few of these edible beauties.


Just a few weeks into winter, already spring’s given us a heads up. When ‘Country Girl’ mums wear out and I snip them to tidy rosettes, naturalizing bulbs will flower power hungry insects.

'Country Girl' chrysantheum country with naturalizing bulb foliage

I don’t mind the wait for poppies and spuria irises, too, since I’m keen on winter foliage that anchors our attention until explosion day.

Poppy seedlings with emerging spuria iris

Thanks to rain, last year’s poppy and larkspur seeds returned from self-appointed spots among bearded iris and winecups.  For me, anticipation is half the fun!

Poppy and larkspur seedlings, winecup, bearded iris

Many gardeners can’t wait to pick their own organic fruit this summer!  To fill your buckets with peaches, this week Tom meets with Jim Kamas, Texas Agrilife Extension Horticulturist from Fredericksburg.

Tom Spencer and Jim Kamas

Get a few of Jim’s techniques from the brand new Texas Peach Handbook, co-authored with Larry Stein, Texas AgriLife Extension Horticulturist, published by Texas A&M Press.

Texas Peach Tree Handbook

In our brief primer, Tom and Jim note variety selection per required chilling hours and pruning tips. Here’s a before pruning picture.

peach tree pruning Texas Peach Handbook

And after.

peach tree pruning Texas Peach Handbook

Jim notes what to do now about plum curculio (the book includes very thorough identification and control of disease and pests).

Plum curculio Texas Peach Handbook

Every paragraph is packed with spot-on information, including horticultural insight in general! You can also meet Jim in person for his free workshop on fruits, nuts, and berries at 10 a.m. January 14 at The Natural Gardener.

Find out more: For tips on growing fruits, nuts and berries, check out Aggie Horticulture’s Home Fruit & Nut Gardening guide.

Daphne explains how to grow cut-and-come again lettuce, like Travis County Master Gardener Sheryl Williams’ late fall harvest from her ever abundant garden.

Yard Fanatic's lettuce and tomatoes

Follow Sheryl’s vegetable gardens, projects, and lawn reduction on Yard Fanatic!

Depending on weather (always), we can keep on seeding through early March. I planted more two weeks ago and they’re coming up like mad. Lettuce is pretty cold hardy, but for safety, cover if we drop below 40°, especially if you have little ones coming up. Like every plant, variety and microclimates make a difference.

My friend Mary Wachsmann, who writes at Food Joy, and documents her nummy recipes with her camera, is loving heirloom butterhead ‘Speckles’ in balcony pots.  Lettuce is perfect for small spaces and containers!

Speckles lettuce from Food Joy garden

Find out more. Check out the free  Travis County Master Gardener workshops on planting vegetables and rose care. “Planting Spring Vegetables” is Jan. 14 from 10 a.m. – noon.

Insects, like our dormant perennials, are timing their emergence to chomp on our fruit and shade trees. Daphne explains how to fend them off with horticultural (dormant) oil.

Daphne notes: “This is the time of year that we can spray horticultural oil on fruit trees, as a necessary preventative, or other trees that have had problems, to naturally control overwintering insects, especially in their egg, larvae and nymph stages. . . They can also control many fungal pathogens by blocking their access to tender plant tissues, where they can easily invade.”

But if you don’t get around to it, here’s this week’s success story! In fall 2010, friend Bob Harper sent us his red oak leaves that had been skeletonized by earlier insects.

skeletonized red oak leaf

Daphne noted that the pests were long gone, so the best thing to do was to keep the tree healthy. Recently, Bob’s neighbor Richard Alwine nabbed this shot of a pest-free, happy tree!

healthy red oak leaf

On tour, visit avid gardener Cecilia Neuhaus, who was ready to cut back on maintenance and water. In her new garden, she worked with Landscape Architect Tait Moring to capture the essence of Italy with low-maintenance patios and formal walkways that blend flowers and food, wildlife and soothing introspection, on her Lake Austin miniature “Grand Canal.”

To winterize your ponds, fountains and fish, get tips from Steve Kainer at Hill Country Water Gardens & Nursery.

Winterize fish and ponds, Hill Country Water Gardens & Nursery

Until next week, Linda

What do you know? Flowers!! + Remarkable Trees w/Matt Turner

My, oh, my.

Oxblood lily and plumbago Central Texas

Three days after the rain, I came home to a surprise: flowers! I almost fell over.  Though my oxbloods, tucked into plumbago, have yet to fail me.

A week ago, the Salvia greggiis looked on their death bed. “Not so fast with that shovel, sister.”

Salvia greggii Central Texas Gardener
Each day brings another renewal, like these rain lilies, Zephyranthes candida.

Rain lily Zephyranthes candida Central Texas Gardener
I only planted my Lemon yellow rosemallow (Hibiscus calyphyllus) in late spring. I have given it extra water attention, but not a lot. The flowers are diminutive after its summer labors to stay alive, but if it handles winter, I’ll be getting more!

Lemon yellow rosemallow (Hibiscus calyphyllus) Central Texas Gardener
And yahoo!  Guess who’s coming to dinner. . .for the next several months!  I hope that these are straggler daisy (horseherb) seeds, but I know the others are winter weeds.

Weed seedlings Central Texas Gardener
That strip of lawn between our carport and the neighbor’s house gets NO extra water. Last year, the horseherb made a beautiful lawn to replace the grass that went belly up. But it also gets the hot afternoon blast, and with no irrigation, even they went dormant this year.

Weeds and seeds are coming up everywhere. For gardeners, “weeds” are the ones we don’t want; “seeds” are the ones we do!  It’s all in the eyes of the beholder.

This year, we behold lots of dying trees. On CTG, Tom meets with Matt Turner, author of Remarkable Plants of Texas, for a look at some remarkable trees.

Tom Spencer and Matt Turner, Central Texas Gardener
Matt is the ultimate story-spinner with true tales of historical use, including why huisache made its way into French perfume, and how soapberry tree got its name as gentle laundry soap. One native of note is Texas persimmon (Diospyros texana), treasured for its lovely form and bark in garden design.

Texas persimmon trunk by Matt Turner
Its February flowers are fragrant enough to attract our attention, along with early bees. The Gray Hairstreak butterfly lays her eggs on the leaves to feed her hatching caterpillars. Later, wildlife dines on its fruits, as do we, but generally our palette enjoys them best when fully ripened.

Black walnut (Juglans nigra) is a large tree (50-75’) that does like moister soil.

Black walnut tree photo by Matt Turner
It’s one of our finest carpentry hardwoods, so treasured that historically its native population has been exhausted for furniture and gunstocks.
This native tree is the larval plant favored by the Luna moth, Walnut moth and Walnut sphinx moth. Its nuts, high in omega-3, are considered the best tasting native nut second to pecans. Its leaves and hulls make a beautiful warm brown dye.

Black walnut Juglans nigra fruit
Get Matt’s CTG plant list here. And find out more about the rich history and secret stories of native plants in his book.

Remarkable Plants of Texas

On tour, visit remarkable Peckerwood Garden and its founder, John Fairey.

They’ve weathered the drought well, and invite you to come take a look at their Open Days tours this fall. Wandering through its various microclimates will excite you with all-weather designs tested for everything that weather throws our way!

Some plants didn’t make it through drought, but I bet your Heart-leaf/heartleaf skullcap (Scutellaria ovata) did.  This week, Daphne answers a great question from Chris Busse: hers went underground in the heat. Will they be back?

Heartleaf skullcap (Scutellaria ovata)
Yes, they will!  Daphne notes: “Heartleaf skullcap is one of the relatively few plants that go dormant in summer, instead of winter, thus defying our ingrained view of how plants behave in response to seasonal changes.  We’re quite accustomed to plants going dormant in the winter, but usually around here, if something dies back in the SUMMER, it actually IS dead.”  But this plant likes cold weather!

Heartleaf skullcap in snow Central Texas Gardener
It hunkers down in heat (like most of us) to return when cooler days arrive. Like Chris, I got scared the first year I had them, but they’ve returned reliably every year (and she reports that she’s spotted hers!).

Heatleaf skullcap flower Central Texas Gardener
They spread from underground roots, so when mine pop back up, I plan to divide them to put under perennials that will go dormant in a few months.

Last weekend, I planted a new one and a tiny native Plumbago scandens in the bed that recently got “aerated” for a new sewer pipe.

Heartleaf skullcap and plumbago scandens in new bed Central Texas
The plumbago is the one with the white flower in back. It will freeze back, but by next summer will fill that muted sun spot. This winter, the heartleaf will cover the ground. When it goes dormant next June or so, the plumbago will be in full gear. (The little plant on the left is a Gulf penstemon I dug up for the sewer line fix and just replanted).

Daphne’s pick of the week is Bamboo muhly (Muhlenbergia dumosa). This feathery grass is a drought-tough choice for those areas of muted sun, like under Pam Penick’s trees.

Bamboo muhly photo by Daphne Richards
Mine has done beautifully in the front bed that gets dappled shade and blasts of afternoon sun.

Bamboo muhly Central Texas Gardener
I got a scare when it browned in the extreme freeze of 2009/early 2010, but it was a youngster.

Bamboo muhly frost damage Central Texas Gardener
Come spring, it was back! I cut the canes to the ground and off it went!

Frozen bamboo muhly returns Central Texas Gardener
The 2011 freeze barely daunted it. For me, that’s part of the fascination of gardening:  traveling from year to year to see what works and what happens.

And it’s certainly given me a gift that usually eludes me: patience.  No matter what the tags or books or even CTG says, where do they work in our own soil and light, freeze, drought and flood?  I’ve learned that even a few feet can make a difference on what happens.  We’re scientists, all, in our own gardens.

Scientists and gardeners alike can tell you that our soil took a real beating this summer. On Backyard Basics, Merrideth Jiles fromThe Great Outdoors, explains how to rejuvenate it to pump up those microorganisms and in turn, your plants.

Restore soil with Merrideth Jiles, Central Texas Gardener

Until next week, Linda