Excuse me, what season is this?

Okay, we’ve seen crazy winters before, but this really takes the cake: on the way to work, I spotted this Mexican tithonia blooming against stems blackened by freeze.
mexican tithonia flower with frozen stems

This annual is usually toast long before now. But thanks to this weirdo weather, it’s fueling overwintering butterflies who probably wonder, as we are, “What season is this?”

It’s typical to spy the first heirloom “Grandma’s flag” iris about now, also flowering in that drive-by garden that never takes a break.

White Grandma's flag iris

Nearby is the lavender version. Which is your favorite?

Lavender Grandma's flag iris

Some of my bulbs are still pushing themselves out of bed, but this narcissus ‘Gigantic Star’ was ready to get up!

Narcisuss Gigantic Star

My friend Holly’s Paperwhite pass-alongs spiral into an upcoming bouquet.

Paperwhite narcissus spiral

This is not the first time that my eager beaver Mutabilis arrives in time for Valentine’s Day. It’s painful to cut back roses when they’re blooming, but she’s overdue for a spa day this weekend.

Mutabilis rose Valentine's bud

So, what about those pruners, hmm? Really, we don’t want to “carve” our plants with dull pruners. A sharp, clean tool makes the job so much easier. Guess what? Trisha shows us how to do it without getting a degree in tool sharpening! Spoiler: you can even use your kitchen oil spray and a toothbrush to clean off last year’s grunge.

Trisha Shirey sharpens garden tools

As I venture lightly into spring cleaning, the creative plant spin is upon me. I’ve earmarked a perfect spot to add lots of Black Pearl peppers (Capsicum annuum ‘Black Pearl’) against silvery yuccas. My solitary experiment last year was successful, but UT’s hardy-all-summer group put these annuals on my list for sure.

 Black pearl pepper

Daphne makes ‘Black Pearl’ her Pick of the Week for its gorgeous purple leaves that look great with any ensemble! On-going flowers and fruit are a bonus all summer.

Black Pearl pepper flowers and fruit

As Daphne tells us, the fruit is edible, but watch out: as they ripen to red, they rate over 30,000 Scoville units!

Black Pearl pepper red fruit

Bookmark this one for later planting, since Daphne notes that they can’t go in until night-time temperatures are reliably in the 60s.

Judy Barrett, publisher of Homegrown magazine, gardener, former nursery owner, and book author, can tell you how weather, gardening philosophy, and plants have changed in the past few years. To tell some of her eye-opening stories from organic gardening to herbs, she joins Tom this week. Get ready to learn and to laugh with Judy’s true homegrown wisdom!

Tom Spencer and Judy Barrett Central Texas Gardener

Not only has she been a game changer in the garden, she’s taken it online with Homegrown, my salvation in its print days and now in its new rendition.

Judy Barrett's Homegrown magazine

In her conversation with Tom, she culls a few secrets from her many books that have also marked my garden path of knowledge. Good grief, Judy’s got it tapped for gardening right here, right now!

Heirloom Plants Judy Barrett

Obviously, I love Judy and her husband Bob! They represent all things good as they’ve forged a path of wisdom and wit to guide our footsteps.

Herb book Judy Barrett

You also don’t want to miss Judy’s recipe book and her very first, wonderful book on tomatillos that got me growing them. Find out more!

A HUGE change since Judy first started Homegrown is our sensitivity to the watershed, thanks to her help in changing our garden practices.  If you think you know it all, these Earth Camp fifth-graders at the Becker Elementary Green Classroom have a few lessons to teach us! With kids like these, our future is in safe hands.

Thank you to Mundi for providing the music, “Clippers,” from their wonderful DVD Apple Howling!

I know that many of you already capture shower water while waiting for it to heat up. Daphne’s got a super duper tip on how to collect water WHILE you shower!

Shower water catchment Daphne Richards

Get her explanation and whether we can use gray water from the kitchen sink.

Here’s a big SHOUT OUT and THANK YOU to Barton Springs Nursery, who’s signed on as a local underwriter!

Another ORGANIC SHOVELFUL OF THANKS to Geo Growers, our continuing production underwiter!

Thanks to them, we can grow a few more CTG blooms. Please be sure to thank them too!

And thank you for stopping by! 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

New look at lawns, watering tips, plant performance flamboozle

Last week, we taped a lawn-free garden that will air in 2012.

Native garden design Austin Texas Central Texas Gardener
I love the way that Anne uses grasses, yuccas, and agaves for vertical distinction against free-flow natives that nectar hosts of winged visitors. Here’s a nice duo: Lindheimer muhly and and Deer muhly.

Lindheimer muhly and deer muhly Central Texas Gardener

Lindheimer seed heads.

Lindheimer muhly seed heads Central Texas Gardener

For years, I had a Lindheimer in the front garden:  a homecoming beacon every fall from far down the street.

Lindheimer muhly Central Texas Gardener

Then it got too shady, and it whimpered away. Last year, with some tree pruning, I had sun again. I was about to get another Lindheimer, when Patrick Kirwin gave me another idea, Pine muhly (Muhlenbergia dubia), a smaller choice for that space. I planted one in front and three more in the back bed, where despite their youth, already they do a great job against the turk’s cap.

Pine muhly with turk's cap Central Texas Gardener
Pine muhly’s just one of the plants on Patrick’s list this week when he and Tom take a new look at lawns.

Tom Spencer and Patrick Kirwin Central Texas Gardener

Garden designer Patrick of Kirwin Horticulture Services has been working on a design that includes buffalo grass, Indian bunch grass, switch grass, bearded iris, rain lilies and more.

Patrick Kirwin garden design

Patrick also shows off  the sedge Carex retroflexa. I have a few here and there, but intend to replace some of my dead lawn with them this year. I’m totally in love with this sedge!

Sedge, Carex retroflexa Central Texas Gardener
On tour, check out East Side Patch, where discovery replaced lawn. Leah and Philip Leveridge have made some changes since our taping (of course!), but their helpful hobbits and the Botox lady approve their proactive and on-going DD (drought design).

At ESP and in every garden, sometimes we’re flamboozled when one plant craters and its mates are healthy, just a few feet apart. What’s up with that?  This week, Daphne explains what can happen. In her case, she planted four Southern wax myrtles (Morella cerifera) along her fence last February. She watered them just the same. Two are fine.

Southern wax myrtle Daphne Richards Central Texas Gardener

Two are compost.

dead wax myrtle too much sun Central Texas Gardener

What happened? Here’s her analysis: “In this situation, the angle of the sun is the issue.  By about 5 p.m. in mid-summer, the first plant in the row was out of direct sunlight.  But the last one in the row was in a direct hit of the full late afternoon and evening sun until almost 9 p.m.  These newly planted, small shrubs just couldn’t take all that intense sun and simply burned to a crisp, almost in front of my eyes.”  Get her complete answer about what can produce different results in the same garden.

Daphne’s pick of the week is native fall aster (Symphyotrichum oblongifolium), a reliable perennial in psycho light, drought, freeze, and floods.  I planted my first ones years ago and divide some every winter to spread around. Regardless of weather events, they’ve never missed an October date with bees, butterflies and other beneficial insects.

Native aster with bee
Their tops will freeze back in winter, but their rosettes quickly cover the ground. Simply cut back those dead stems to the rosette for a pretty groundcover all winter. I fill the blank spaces with naturalizing bulbs.

Aster winter rosette

Watering is certainly on our minds! Merrideth Jiles from The Great Outdoors compares options and how much to water.

Merrideth Jiles The Great Outdoors

Even though the ground is dry, fall IS STILL the best time to plant. Check out Daphne’s fabulous article in the Austin American-Statesman to prep sunbaked soil as we dig in this fall.

And here’s a wonderful video from the Texas Forest Service about how to water your trees and check soil moisture underground.

Until next week, Linda

Caterpillars to love with Meredith O'Reilly from Great Stems!

Last week we taped the Bulverde/Spring Branch library’s glorious butterfly garden.

Central Texas Gardener on location at Bulverde/Spring Branch library
Designed and maintained by the Friends of the Library and the Comal County Master Gardeners, this tribute to all wildlife will air in 2012. They tell me that children head straight for the garden, promptly identifying eggs, caterpillars, chrysalids, moths and butterflies, thanks to Charlotte Trussell’s photographic gallery and the books inside.

Giant swallowtail butterfly by Charlotte Trussell

I wonder:  Do children find such rapture in caterpillars because they recognize a kindred spirit: a pint-sized creature with an appetite the size of the moon? Though this Pipevine swallowtail butterfly caterpillar prefers Dutchman’s Pipe to peanut butter sandwiches!

Pipevine caterpillar on Dutchman's pipe by Charlotte Trussell

Do children somehow know that with each bite, little ones are one step closer to the magical transformation to adulthood? Here’s the Pipevine swallowtail laying her eggs on Dutchman’s pipe.

Pipevine butterfly laying egg on Dutchman's pipe by Charlotte Trussell

(Well, that transformation is easier for butterflies than for most of us. Some parents would note that their teens enter a “chrysalis” until it’s time to leave home!)

But sorry to say, on that road to adulthood, some of us disconnect from that early enchantment and only see something eating our plants.

Bordered Patch caterpillars by Charlotte Trussell

But the Bordered Patch caterpillers that dine on our sunflowers and Wedelia texana (Zexmenia) turn into the butterflies that brighten our day as nectaring adults. This one’s on my Wedelia. We simply have to accept the “terrible twos” and teenagers!

Bordered patch butterfly on zexmenia

Most gardeners are familiar with this Gulf Fritillary on my passionvine, and we welcome their birth in our gardens as home-grown butterflies.

Gulf Fritillary caterpillar on passionvine Central Texas Gardener

But do you know the moth that lays her eggs on your Mexican plum?

This week on CTG, find out when Tom meets with National Wildlife Federation Habitat Steward Meredith O’Reilly.  She selects a few plants that adult butterflies and moths target to lay their eggs.

Tom Spencer and Meredith O'Reil
For a sneak peek, the Cecropia moth lays its eggs on your Mexican plum. Thanks to Dan Hardy from the Austin Butterfly Forum for these pictures!

Cecropia moth by Dan Hardy

Here’s the “teenager.”

Cecropia moth caterpillar by Dan Hardy

Adult butterflies and bees nectar on Mexican plum’s early spring flowers, and birds dine on its later fruits.

The Giant swallowtail hones in on native wafer ash (Ptelea trifoliata) to raise its young.

Wafer ash by Great Stems

Giant swallowtail caterpillar by Great Stems

Giant swallowtails nectar on many plants, including native coneflower.

Giant swallowtail butterfly on coneflower by Great Stems

And your native coral honeysuckle feeds the larvae of the beautiful Snowberry Clearwing moth.

Snowberry Clearwing moth by Great Stems

Get Meredith’s CTG list here. And check out her outstanding photo gallery and wildlife secrets at her blog, Great Stems!  Both of us have learned a lot from The Austin Butterfly Forum. You can too, with plant lists for nectar and larval plants, meetings and much more!

Here’s a link to Austin’s Habitat Steward site. It’s booked up for this season, but check in with them to join this outstanding program in the future.

On tour, see how Betty Ronga turned a hilltop in Leander into a butterfly, bee, and bird sanctuary. When she and husband Gerald built their house of two dreams, she wanted her garden to be heavenly for wildlife, too. Along with their food, shelter, and water, she and Gerald dine on organic vegetables and her orchard fruits. Meander with them along the open bluff and intimate a front courtyard of fragrance, color, and Mexican art. Oh, yes, check out Gerald’s swing in his golf putting green, where golf and gardening unite in this house of two dreams!

Since we’re heading into planting prime time for shrubs and trees, Daphne’s pick of the week is an evergreen  drought-tough native:  Goldenball leadtree (Leucaena retusa).

Goldenball leadtree by Daphne Richards
Daphne notes: “I find that its wispy, light-green divided leaves instill a sense of peace in a light breeze.  It is quite a delicate specimen when compared to our more beefy trees, and it looks great in the garden if given a place all its own, to stand out and be a focal point.  It also looks lovely when accompanied by smaller shrubs as accents.”

From late spring to fall, its sweetly fragrant flowers attract many butterflies and bees.

Goldenball leadtree flower by Daphne Richards
Normally it grows to 15’ tall and 5-10’ wide, but can get larger. 

That leads to viewer Aimee Casper’s great question this week: the plant tag on her crape myrtle says one thing, but online resources say another. How do you know how big it really gets? Get Daphne’s answer.

Update: Aimee noted that the plant tag on a new Tecoma Stans (Esperanza/yellow bells) says 3-4’, but she knows the same one can grow to 8’ in her garden.  A few years ago, when we had all that summer rain, my turk’s caps grew up to my nose. So, as Daphne notes:  grower provenance, weather, soil, and water make a huge difference!

As we head back out to our chores, it’s a ton easier with a well-stocked garden bag.  It’s a real pain to be running back to the house or the shed for something you need at hand. This week, Trisha reveals what you’ll find in her garden bag, plus her trick for taming unruly twine!

Trisha Shirey's garden bag tools

CTG would love to see how you tote your tools and what you include! Send you pictures & list to me for future CTGs.  llehmusvirta@klru.org .

Augie’s Pet of the Week: Donkeys Julian and Rose at from Dorsey and Susan at Hausbar Farms!

Rose and Julian donkeys at Hausbar Farms

Dorsey Barger writes, “Our two baby donkeys Julian and Rose are wonderful friends who also help in the gardens. They keep the pastures mowed, eat crop residues, and provide very high quality compost material in return.”  That compost fuels the organic food for your dining experience at Eastside Cafe!

Dorsey Barger Hausbar Farms with donkeys
Until next week!