Superstars, outside and for your Indoor Plant Decor

There’s a lot to be said for summer annuals.

'Fireworks' globe amaranth
I’ve always adored globe amaranths, but this ‘Fireworks’ in Lucinda Hutson’s garden sparked a new love affair. Beyond, Duranta pops in some wowza color, too.

'Fireworks' globe amaranth and Duranta

Here’s why Daphne makes globe amaranth (Gomphrena globosa) her Pick of the Week: It’s a Texas Superstar, which means it’s been tested around the state for worthiness in our gardens. You can find them in many colors and sizes, even for containers.

Orange globe amaranth
They bloom all summer, standing up to searing heat and drought, as in Daphne’s own trials with new varieties in the infamous 2011 torture. But did you know they attract butterflies, too?  They’re so prolific that you can spare a few as long-lasting cut flowers that dry like a dream. Wonderful in a wreath!

Recently, on a mini vacation, I fulfilled a dream to visit Texas Superstar’s Brent Pemberton at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center at Overton.

Brent Pemberton Texas Superstar plants A&M

I’ll have more about Superstar in a later post. For now, it was a thrill to stroll the greenhouses where trial seeds and plugs start out.

Texas Superstar plants greenhouse Texas A&M Extension
Isn’t this Calliope geranium a gem? I can’t wait to see if it makes Superstar status!

geranium calliope red

Once they’re ready, they head to the fields for the ultimate test of endurance and performance.

Texas Superstar plant test field Texas A&M Extension, Overton

My garden is a perpetual test ground. One superstar for me is bamboo muhly (Muhlenbergia dumosa), a grass that surprised me this spring with its first delicate seed heads.

bamboo muhly Muhlenbergia dumosa seed heads

Gulf penstemon found its own test grounds in a bed of Texas sedge (Carex texensis). Both rate **** for me.

Texas sedge seed heads with Gulf penstemon

Salvia microphylla ‘La Trinidad Pink’ survives the test of just not quite enough sun. A little floppy sometimes, it’s doing fine in morning sun.  It could stand to have a gardener that prunes it more often, you know?

salvia microphylla 'La Trinidad Pink'

But, I’ll admit: I’m so not adventurous indoors. That’s about to change, thanks to Indoor Plant Décor, authored by friends Jenny Peterson and Kylee Baumle.

Indoor Plant Decor Jenny Peterson and Kylee Baumlee St. Lynn's Press

Kylee was holding down Ohio, so Jenny joins Tom to pep up your house and office to take the humdrum out of houseplants with THE design style book that connects to your muse, budget and imagination.

Tom Spencer & Jenny Peterson, Indoor Plant Decor

In their book, Kylee and Jenny include plant lists and DIY tips in friendly style that prompts “oh, I didn’t know this/I’ve got to try THAT” on every page. Every stunning chapter plugs a new spin into your imagination and creativity, inside.

succuelent chair Indoor Plant Decor photo by Laura Eubanks Design for Serenity

Indoor Plant Decor photo by Articulture Designs

Back outside, are you seeing this on your trees or other plants?

frost damage oak tree photo by Daphne Richar

Before you freak out about horrendous disease or insects, Daphne has the answer: our bizarre late frost. In full disclosure, Daphne puts herself on the line. To pump up her young Monterrey oak, she admits that she fertilized a little too early.  Hey, raise your hands if you’ve done that too!

Normally, it would have been okay that her tree responded by putting out new leaves. EXCEPT. In her microclimate, it got cold enough to damage the new growth. Get her complete answer on how to tell the difference in temporary freeze damage or something evil. By the way, her tree recovered just fine, and so will yours.

So, have you just about had it with flies, fleas, fire ants, and plum curculios? John Dromgoole explains how to tackle them naturally underground with beneficial nematodes.

beneficial nematodes

On tour, visit the diverse gardens at Mueller, the ultimate “testing ground” in its restoration of wildlife habitat over former runways and parking lots.

Thanks for stopping by! Until next week, reach for the stars, indoors and out. Linda

Native companions

Things are buzzing around here!

Bee on gulf penstemon flower

Native Gulf penstemons absolutely suck in the bees. I have them everywhere, including the cat cove; not by my design, but by theirs. Like all parents, plants point their progeny in the right direction.

Cat cove spring beauty
I don’t mind if they crowd the path for now. I’ll cut them back after the parents launch their seeds to the big wide world. It does take a while for the seeds to brown up, so hang on to your patience.

Sometimes I lose my beloved ground-hugging native Calylophus berlandieri that so well favors the hues of penstemons and winecups in spring, and rock roses (Pavonia lasiopetala) through summer. Recently, I added these: Calylophus drummondii var. berlandieri.

Calylophus drummondii var. berlandieri.

On a fence bed, winecups soothe Macho Mocha mangave in its recent snail attack.

winecup with macho mocha mangave

Pink evening primrose is an opportunist who moved right into the path we laid last year. They’re overwhelming the frogfruit underneath, but it’s holding its own.

pink evening primrose on path

To the right in the bed, Texas blue grass (Poa arachnifera) leans over from its shady spot underneath the mountain laurel to chat with hotspot edge plant blackfoot daisy.

Poa arachnifera Texas blue grass and blackfoot daisy
Hunkering in the shadier spots on the other side, columbine and widow’s tears (Commelina erecta) unite.

Columbine with widow's tears Commelina erecta
Another tough native to add to your list is Engelmann’s daisy, Daphne’s Pick of the Week.

engelmann's daisy

Engelmann's daisy
Although it wants sun, it can handle a shade break. Its spring-to-frost flowers feed many beneficial insects. Cutting it back now and then encourages more blooms, but do allow some flowers to go to seed for small birds that will swoop in.

Natives join the not-so-native for me. Jenny Stocker’s garden is my dream of the compatible blend. Oh, recently we taped it again, this time in HD, coming your way in early 2014.

Jenny Stocker Rock Rose blogger garden

The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center’s annual Gardens on Tour is the super duper way to pick up design and native plant combinations to try at home. This week, Tom joins Andrea DeLong-Amaya from the Wildflower Center for a sneak preview.

Tom Spencer and Andrea DeLong-Amaya

Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center Gardens on Tour

From gardens big and small and plants for sun, shade, rocks or clay, you’ll get lots of ideas on May 11. Find out how to go on tour.

Here’s a closer look at one of the gardens on tour, where Laura and Andrew Stewart restored native plants and wildlife within biking distance of downtown.  Native plant designer David Mahler united with Miró Rivera Architects to tie together house and land.

Although native plants are very tough, this week Daphne answers, “Why are highway wildflowers sparse in some areas this spring?” Drought. At home, we can water the seeds that germinate in fall and winter.

bluebonnets central texas front yard

Earlier this year, we answered Jean Warner’s question about caring for her bluebonnet rosettes. She took our advice to give them a little water now and then. Look what happened!

jean warner's bluebonnets front yard Central Texas

Thanks for stopping by! See you next week, Linda

Drought disasters to avoid

Drought doesn’t scare me to pieces. My plants have been through it all and always come back for more. Yes, I do water some, but not outrageously. I avoid thirsty ones and go for those that can take our brutal swings.
Rock rose and turk's cap wildlife plants

What scares the living daylights out of me is overreaction to drought. I keep seeing people make a clean sweep of it all and dumping yards of rocks over former living ground. Aside from being hot, hot, hot, and a mess when “weeds” inevitably find a niche, what about the wildlife we banish?

Bordered Patch butterfly on zexmenia

New Mexico landscape architect David Cristiani is very familiar with this frightening response. He made the trip to Austin to join Tom for his insightful perspective to steer us away from ecological disaster. Follow his insightful blog, The Desert Edge, for more of his perceptions.

Tom Spencer and David Cristiani Central Texas Gardener

Some plants thrive in rock, for sure. But a lot do not, like many of our trees and native plants! If we force them into unnatural habitat, what happens? Okay, bet you got that one: death.

Dead tree rockscape photo by David Cristiani

Hot, ugly, and not much life in sight, other than the person who comes to blow debris off the rocks: is that how we want to deal with drought?

Hot rockscape photo by David Cristiani

Nope, says landscape architect Christy Ten Eyck, who lived in Phoenix for many years. Now, she’s in Austin, keeping busy designing across state lines around the country with her important message to keep our wildlife intact. On tour in her Austin garden, see how she connects the drought dots without sacrificing essential content, like our lives!

Christy’s garden includes many clumping grasses. These drought tough plants, like Lindheimer muhly, are superb standouts for texture, structure, and striking seed heads.

Lindheimer muhly and agave

Most of them go dormant in winter. So, when should we prune them and how far down do we cut? Daphne gives us the cutting edge scoop. We want to keep them up as long as possible, since their seed heads, like those of Gulf muhly, are still gorgeous in this mild winter.

Gulf muhly seed heads

I think they look great in their winter rendition! Butterflies agree, since overwintering ones hide in the leaves to stay warm. Some birds go for the seed heads, too.

Silver bluestem

Daphne explains that we do want to cut them back by the end of February to clean up before new growth emerges. With inland sea oats, cut all the way to the ground. I cut some of mine already to show you how their new leaves are already popping up.

inland sea oats new growth

Strappy ones, like Mexican feather grass, get a straight haircut to about 6” above ground.

mexican feather grass seed heads

Mexican feather grass cut back

Get Daphne’s techniques to make the job easier on large plants like Lindheimer muhly. Cut this neighboring Mexican bush sage (Salvia leucantha) down to the rosette.

Lindheimer muhly and salvia leucantha

A chore we can’t delay is wrangling those weeds! With the low rainfall, they’re not as crazy as in wet winters, but even a few mean a lifetime supply if we let them go to seed. See how Merrideth Jiles from The Great Outdoors snags them.

Merrideth Jiles The Great Outdoors

Now is also an excellent time to plant trees before it gets hot in earnest. Take a look at Daphne’s Pick of the Week, Mexican orchid tree, (Bauhinia mexicana), if you’re looking for a small shrub-like tree in dappled light.

Mexican orchid tree Bauhinia mexicana
Like Christy, plant it where you can see the butterflies and hummingbirds that flock to its flowers from summer to early fall. And you’re good to go in deer country, since (usually) they won’t bother it.

Mexican orchid tree flower hummingbird plant

Thanks for stopping by! See you next week, Linda

Mushrooms: Your Garden's Best Friend

Remember last spring and fall when mushrooms appeared like magic? I always get a few, but last year, many mornings were absolute wonderland!
cute garden mushrooms
Some gardeners fear that mushrooms mean something really evil.

Cute spring garden mushrooms
Actually, it’s just the opposite! Tom meets with Ashley McKenzie from the Texas Wild Mushrooming Group to explain what mushrooms are doing and how lucky you are to have them.

Ashley McKenzie and Tom Spencer

What is a mushroom? Ashley tells us that it’s the fruiting body of an underground network called a mycelial mat. This mat is interspersed among all habitats. If you see a cobweb sort of structure under the soil, that is the mat.

Mushrooms in plant container
The mycorrhizal relationship between plants and fungi, like mushrooms, is very beneficial for plant health, soil fertility and drought tolerance, to name just a few. You can buy mycorrhizae, but if you’ve got mushrooms, it’s free!

Wild brown mushrooms
Ashley describes the habitats where they’ll pop up in our gardens, why they emerge after rain when soil temperatures are cool, and how to collect their spores and encourage more.

Mushroom in salvia greggii
Check out the Texas Wild Mushrooming Meetup group to join them for their educational and fun “flash forays” after a rain to learn what is edible.

Chicken of the Woods Texas Wild Mushrooming Group

Until then, certainly don’t eat anything from your garden—just let them feed your plants!

Orange mushroom Central Texas Gardener

Find out more about mycorrhizae benefits from Texas A&M.

In Austin, South Austin Mushrooms is supplying Oyster and soon, Shitake mushrooms, if you want to grow your own edible ones! For now, they’re only on Facebook, but will have their website up soon.

Pruning’s on our minds, so let’s not forget those trees on our to-do list!

winter tree pruning
Daphne explains why to prune in winter while they’re dormant. “Their plant sap, which contains water, nutrients and hormones, isn’t actively flowing at this time of year. This means that the cut surface won’t have lots of sap rushing to it, as it would in the spring, which would attract insects and disease spores—which are also more active in warmer weather—to the source of a direct route into their body.”

Still, we want some sap flow to naturally heal the cuts. SO, you don’t need to paint cuts on most trees, since that will impede natural healing. But, you MUST paint cuts on red oaks and live oaks immediately to protect them from the beetles that vector oak wilt. You’ll want to get those trees pruned in the next few weeks.

Oak tree prune branch collar
Ah, now about pruning everything else! Relax: there’s no reason to scurry around to tidy up. Top growth can protect roots, grasses hide overwintering butterflies, and seeds feed hungry animals and birds.

Instead, take a winter walk in your garden to simply revel in its beauty.

Evergreen sumac berries

Turn off your editing mode and absorb its graceful shapes and textures and how the light plays upon them.

Agave celsii
Instead of clamping those pruners, ponder the mystery locked into each seed head.

Gulf muhly seed heads
Then, just gush over the intense colors that only come with frost.

Plumbago scandens winter leaf color
We’ll get into pruning next week! For now, take a winter wander through Lynne and Jim Weber’s garden, where wonder never takes a break.

Follow the seasons (including mushrooms and slime mold!) in their very hands-on guide to natural life in Austin.

Nature Watch Austin

We can plant many things, like Daphne’s Pick of the Week, Mountain pea (Orbexilum sp.).

Mountain pea (Orbexilum sp.)

If you want the perfectly behaved plant for sun or even shady spots (like under your oak trees), this one is for you! As a 2’ tall “groundcover,” its tidy leaves and rounded form make a great foil against other textures. In fall, tiny flowers are simply a bonus against its evergreen simplicity.

Mountain pea flower
I first met it years ago when Pat McNeal introduced it on CTG as a lawn replacement. Then, it was harder to find, but thanks to growers who recognize a good thing, look for it at your local nursery. I nabbed one (and more to come) from Michelle Pfluger at Green ‘n Growing. Here’s her CTG list for other great groundcovers.

Plus, while it’s still cool, we can get after those projects on our lists—like structures to wrangle vining plants and upcoming tomatoes. Trisha shows you how.


Thanks for stopping in! See you next week, Linda