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

Get the story on understory trees and plants

Lavender and silver, what a great duo!  But this hoverfly wasn’t zooming in to admire ‘Helen von Stein’ lamb’s ears; it was going for lunch on the asters (Aster oblongifolius). Thanks, Meredith O’Reilly, for reminding me!

Fall purple aster and 'Helen von Stein' lamb's ears
The fall-blooming asters join almost ever-blooming Blackfoot daisy that joins every seasonal companion.

Aster and Blackfoot daisy Central Texas
When we dug out grass last spring along our new den path bed and laid down newspaper and mulch, I planned to fill the gaps this fall.

removing grass project
Well, the resident asters and ‘Country Girl’ mums jumped in to do the job for now!  I’ll divide them when they go dormant this winter to push out their performance. At the far back is my latest acquisition, Manfreda x ‘Silver Leopard’ or Manfreda maculosa ‘Silver Leopard.’ In any case, its purple spots and silvery foliage will accent this bed nicely.

Asters and 'Country Girl' mums stone path
More on this project next week and what we’ve done about the weeds/grass on the right side!

Bees (and hummingbirds) also head for Pink fairy duster (Calliandra eriophylla).

Pink fairy duster (Calliandra eriophylla) bee

This one’s not in my garden since it needs lots of sun and super drainage. But for those of you with that combo, Daphne makes this 3’ tall perennial her Pick of the Week.

Pink Fairy Duster drought garden Austin Texas

Pink Fairy Duster

You’ll also see Red Fairy Duster or Baja Fairy Duster (Calliandra californica), equally busy attracting pollinators all over town.

Red Fairy Duster with agave Austin Texas
Mockingbirds and other berry-eaters are seeing red, too, as our native hollies fill their bellies.

Yaupon holly berries and mockingbird nest
My yaupon holly still bears evidence of a happy family raised near my front door this spring. I suspect the mail carrier got dive-bombed as often as we did by vigilant parents.

Since understory trees should not be overlooked in our gardens, this week Tom meets with Meredith O’Reilly, Texas Master Naturalist, NWF Habitat Steward, and Travis Audubon committee member.

Meredith O'Reilly Great Stems

Along with visual appeal under large shade trees, Meredith explains how the understory is important for nesting, food, and cover for small birds and song birds. One of her favorites is evergreen Goldenball leadtree.

Goldenball leadtree Kyle Texas

Another on her list is Carolina buckthorn. This one’s growing under an ashe juniper in Liberty Hill.

Carolina buckthorn Liberty Hill Texas

Here’s her list that includes diverse situations, including Fragrant mimosa, Spicebush (larval food for the Spicebush Swallowtail butterfly), scarlet/red buckeye, and many more!

On Meredith’s blog, Great Stems, tour her progress as a native plant gardener in her urban habitat.

Great Stems Meredith O'Reilly

Her stunning photography also takes us along on her voyages to natural settings to meet both plants and wildlife and how they interact. Meredith’s also available for talks for all ages, though she certainly knows how to engage children in wildlife activities through her work with schools and Scout troops!

Since NOW is the best time to plant new trees, Daphne explains why you want to establish them this fall and early winter.

Mexican redbud flower

It’s also time to bring in house plants that you’ve summered outside. You’ll want to gently spray them down with water and even drench their soil with a weak solution of neem or orange oil and water (1 tablespoon to a gallon of water) so you don’t bring in some new friends, too! John Dromgoole cautions to use just VERY LITTLE to avoid harming root hairs. Another tip from John: when you repot, place some old window screen in the bottom to keep insects from coming in through the drainage hole.

This week on CTG, John shows how to fend off scale, red spider mites, and mealybugs on your houseplants. You can also use these tips on garden plants.

Houseplant insect control John Dromgoole

On tour, resident understory trees and other native plants influenced Christine and Pete Hausmann’s design in their garden, Lazy Acres. See their story of how they united three (now four!) generations with respect for the land.

Until next week, happy planting! 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

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

Make a Fall Resolution to Get Growing!

It’s a sure sign that fall is really coming when Oxblood lilies bloom! Mine started showing up two weeks early near the  patio Turk’s cap, thanks to the bit of rain I got. We’re finally turning the corner, folks.

Oxblood lily with Turk's cap
So, that means it’s time to get a jump on holiday ornaments—at least for those who don’t wait until the last minute (I’m raising my hand). One that even a non-craft person like me can handle is the dried seed pods from butterfly vine (Mascagnia macroptera), Daphne’s Pick of the Week.

Butterfly vine seed pods as Christmas ornaments
She explains how to grow this drought-tough perennial for brilliant yellow flowers that bloom all summer to feed beneficial insects. When the green pods dry to brown, you’re ready to go.

Butterfly vine flowers and green seed pods
Now, here’s something truly fantastic with them and poppy seed pods. The artisans behind these creations just hit a landmark age: 10 years old!

butterfly vine crafts for kids
Thanks to Nina Matts and her friend Tylar for sharing, and to mom Maria Matts for sending along to inspire your little artists!

I bet many of you have seen this, due to the healthy population of black-margined pecan aphids, crape myrtle aphids and whiteflies.  Even other trees in my garden got hit this year. Thanks to Felicia Kongable for this picture of her blotchy pecan tree leaves affected by aphids. Daphne explains what is going on, why sooty mold then develops, and what to do about it.

Sooty mold on pecan leaves
My lamb’s ears and other plants suffered from sooty mold, the “byproduct” of insect honeydew secretions “raining” on them from the overhead crape myrtle. They’ve all recovered just fine.

Lamb's ears with sooty mold
My list of fall projects is longer than my arm, but here’s the site of one back-to-business coming soon.

linda project

I’m digging out the primrose jasmine and wayward passion vine (there’s tons more, so the butterflies are good) to build a new fall vegetable garden with 2 levels of 6×6 dry stack stone. It’ll be around 3 x 10; I’ll leave room between it and the turk’s cap.

That’s because it’s time to gear up for fall vegetable planting! This week, Tom joins Randy Jewart from Resolution Gardens for tips for your table.

Randy Jewart Resolution Gardens
Resolution Gardens started in 2009 as a project of Austin Green Art. Their motto is “Grow Food. We’ll Help.” to implement their mission to bring local organic food into everyone’s kitchen.

Resolution Gardens Austin Texas

They’ll build and plant it for you or just come give you a weekly hand.

Resolution Gardens Austin Texas

Resolution Gardens Austin Texas

Resolution Gardens Austin Texas

They also do landscape design, water features, outdoor sculpture and even tree trimming! Isn’t this just lovely? Food for the family & the wildlife!

Resolution Gardens Austin Texas

Visit them at 5 Miles Farms, 5213 Jim Hogg Avenue, to see what and how they’re growing. If you just want to pick up some fresh food, current farm stand hours are Friday & Saturday noon –6 p.m. and Sunday noon – 3. You can also sign up for their CSA. Membership includes free admission to their delightful dinners and hands-on workshops.

5 miles Farms Austin Texas

On September 22, Resolution Gardens is conducting two workshops: Fall Planting Demo and Build Your Own Salad Garden Workshop.  Find out more.
October 20, you’ve got to bring the whole family to make a 21st Century SCARECROW that actually works to repel garden pests! Randy shows off a super cool one on CTG to inspire the artist in you and your kids. Randy invites everyone to #SCARECROW to join the collective goal to promote local, healthy and sustainable food.

Resolution Gardens Austin Texas

And find out how they’re engaging local gardeners in 5 Miles Farms (add your name!), an innovative concept that contributes to their CSA produce. Follow the growing seasons with them via their blog.

On tour, we head to Brenham, where Sally and Jay White built a charming potager on a former Coastal bermudagrass ranch.

Brenham potager Central Texas Gardener
See how they managed to keep the tenacious grass out of their year-round garden of food and flowers. Plus, get Jay’s tips for such a bountiful organic garden!

Brenham potager

Also, check out his freelance stories for Texas Gardener magazine, and his blog, The Masters of Horticulture, for edibles and lots more.

Hey, the next time you’re in Brenham, be sure to stop in at JW’s Steakhouse in nearby Carmine!

JW's Steakhouse

Ed Fuentes, Steve Maedl and I thank Sally & Jay for this yummy recommendation.

fried chicken at JW's Steakhouse

Since it’s still too hot to direct sow some vegetables, John Dromgoole shows how to start seeds in containers.  His tips are great, too, to jump-start summer crops this winter.

How to start seeds with John Dromgoole
Finally, take a look at these Black Spanish grapes that viewer Jason Lantz and his girlfriend are growing. They have a very delicious garden!

Black Spanish grapes
Happy planting and see you next week, Linda

Fuzzy Wuzzy Plants

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

Milkweed seed floss

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cobweb spiderwort

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

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

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

Hardy white gloxinia

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

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

Woolly stemodia

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

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

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

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

Mexican honeysuckle

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

Blue mist flower fuzzy wuzzy

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

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

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

Mexican olive flowers

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

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

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

Garden Psychology: What Does Your Garden Say About You?

Show me your garden and I shall tell you what you are.” Alfred Austin

Turk's cap
Like our home’s interior, our gardens reflect our essential selves at truly ground level. What do our gardens say about us?

Yucca recurvifolia 'Margaritaville'

  • Risk or safety (the gambler in us: new plants/planting early or late/marginally adapted plants)
  • Trends or personal aesthetic (choosing best of each/adaptation?)
  • Do own thing or go for approval  (from parents/neighbors/garden friends)
  • Casual/natural or pruning warrior  (do your Felcos wear out in a week?)
  • Garden art: subdued, dramatic, quirky, sentimental, bunny sculptures (?!)
  • Colors (attraction or rejection)
  • Straight lines or curves
  • Sparse design or cottage garden spill (or a bit of both)
  • Babying or tough love (all living things need tending; where do you draw the line?)
  • Research to pieces or fall in love with a plant and get it?
  • What do you ask Santa? Does it involve a truck?

All living things will throw us a curve. How do we manage our troubles and respect our success?

Tithonia (Mexican sunflower) with Gulf Fritillary butterfly

  • Anger management (Why did it rain EVERYWHERE EXCEPT AT MY HOUSE?)
  • When to fix a problem plant and when to compost  it
  • Depression (drought/heat/extreme freeze/too many bugs/too much rain/rampant disease)
  • Appreciation of accomplishments/obsessive self-critic/trying for magazine cover
  • Learning from your mistakes or repeating them

Some gardeners are very precise in their jobs, but relaxed in the garden. Oh yes, that’s me!  I’ve run into obsessive plant movers, pruning maniacs, weather freaks (moi), and can you believe it, snobs?!

bougainvillea
I just want to whack their turned up noses with some horticultural taxonomy that I probably can’t pronounce. Oops, I need some anger management!  Guess I’ll go pummel a stink bug. An Hempitera of some sort. . .!

But every gardener I’ve met has these qualities: curiosity, tenacity, creativity, and passion. Plants connect us to hope, anticipation, learning and nurturing.

Plumeria buds

In spring at a box store, I saw a woman carefully cradle her single little choice with such love and tenderness. I resisted my control freak urge to tell her that she was planting it way too early and it would probably rot. Because that’s where we all started: with dreams. And joy. And one little plant.

Shrimp plant
And I just bet that plant made it!

This week on CTG, we explore WHY we garden. Tom joins Billy Lee Myers, Jr. LMFT to analyze how our earthly connections enrich our souls and our relationships.

Tom Spencer and Billy Lee Myers Jr. LMFT
One concept Billy notes is our comfort zone. His friend, Jenn Miori, a musician with The Carper Family, contributed her insightful drawing. It certainly connects for me!

Jenn Miori comfort zone

On Billy’s website, I’ve already read many of his articles that help me greatly with challenges in my life. Sometimes we need someone to help us turn around our perspectives.

As I developed this program, Rick Bickling, blogger at The How Do Gardener, sent me this humorous take on our troubles: The Five Stages of Garden Grief. Bet you’ve been there!

Continuing our garden psychology theme, Daphne explains how annuals contribute to our mood (and what an annual really means). Really, one sweet little plant can turn a buster day into a heavenly one, even in a patio pot.  And zinnias like this will improve your day with all the butterflies that nectar on them!

Zinnia Central Texas Gardener

Daphne’s Pick of the Week is sweet potato vine, a perennial that is usually an annual for us. One of mine is in a pot set into—dare I reveal this—a bunny sculpture from It’s About Thyme. I even protected it over winter in my patio greenhouse to return to the bunny ASAP in spring.

Sweet potato vine on bunny sculpture
Its vivid colors (chartreuse here, but it also comes in deep purple and other renditions) chases away the summertime blues.  It takes sun, though I love it to brighten up my psycho shady area as a spreading groundcover in summer to fill the space that perennial oxalis covers in cool weather.

Many of us fell in love with gardening when we harvested our first vegetables. This week, Trisha picks the cucumbers that work best for us and how to grow them. It’s not too late to find some cucumber love!

Trisha Shirey picks cucumbers for Central Texas Gardener
Get her growing tips, including how to assist pollination. And oh yes, you’ll want to try her summertime recipes that will get you past the grumps when it’s hot and sticky out there.

Trisha also explains that if you want to spray neem oil or spinosad to deal with cucumber pests, don’t use it while bees are active. These products will kill your pollinating bees if the leaves/flowers are still wet when they arrive. Apply when the bees aren’t active (like in the evening). Once the products dry, it’s safe for bees.

On tour, see how Kati & David Timmons found a new perspective when they turned an old yard into a garden of spirit. Minus grass, too.

Finally, bunnies Harvey and Gaby wanted me to share this with you. Thanks to “One Big Happy” Rick Detorie!

One Big Happy by Rick Detorie

Okay, off to look for more bunny ornaments. Thanks for checking in and see you next week! Linda

Garden fireworks!

To celebrate red, white and blue this week, my new blue gazing ball glows against firecracker red Turk’s cap!

blue gazing ball with turk's cap

White native Plumbago scandens droops over soft leaf yucca (Yucca recurvifolia).

Plumbago scandens with soft leaf yucca

Non-native blue plumbago (Plumbago auriculata) sparked some attention from this Snowberry Clearwing moth, too speedy for slow me to nab a super shot. From a distance, it resembled a hummingbird. Some people refer to it as the “bumblebee moth.”

Snowberry clearwing moth on blue plumbago

Snowberry clearwing moth on plumbago

The sparks really fly from this native hibiscus (Hibiscus martianus). Since it’s probably not cold hardy, we enjoy its flare from a patio container.

Hibiscus martianus

Okay, purple passion vine/passionflower isn’t exactly blue, but it sure is setting off fireworks for the frenzied butterflies mating and laying eggs on its leaves.

Purple passion vine

Mine is a hybrid with five-lobed leaves, not the native Passiflora incarnata with three-lobed leaves, but it’s definitely related.  It does spread like mad, and I need to pull it off some trees it’s shading. Still, I hate to pull one that has a happy caterpillar chomping away. I examine closely for tiny eggs, too.

Uruguayan Firecracker Plant is orange, but it’s name says it all.  It’s also called hummingbird bush (since it attracts them) and a bunch of other names.  I know it as Dicliptera suberecta, since it’s fun to say!

Dicliptera suberecta hummingbird bush, firecracker plant

Also called hummingbird bush is native Flame acanthus (Anisacanthus quadrifidus var. wrightii), a perennial shrub that attracts butterflies, too.

Flame acanthus

A showy white with lots of different names is Datura (Datura wrightii). Commonly called Jimsonweed or Angel’s trumpet (not to be confused with Brugmansia, a related genus), Daphne makes it her Plant Pick this week.

Datura (c) Daphne Richards

Daphne explains how to grow this native annual (so well-known through Georgia O’Keefe paintings). It attracts night-pollinating moths and is deer resistant, but all plant parts are highly toxic to us.

Fireworks you don’t want to set off in your garden is a fire.  This week, Tom joins Patrick Allen from the Texas Forest Service for a few tips on garden firewise safety.

Tom Spencer, Patrick Allen Texas Forest Service

Texas Forest Service firewise zones

Check out Texas Forest Service for more about how to landscape safely. Click on the icon to download Firewise Landscaping for step-by-step instructions and plant information.

Firewise Communities includes fire safe plant lists for around the country. I’ve checked out many of the lists from other states, and many apply to Texas.

Whether for fire safety or to reduce our lawns, how close to our trees can we hardscape? Daphne answers this great question from Emily Keith, who wants to reduce lawn space but protect her trees.

hardscape around trees

Keeping gutters clean is one firewise safety tip. But, they’re also a breeding ground for mosquitoes with even a few drops of rain. John Dromgoole explains how to fend off mosquitoes in your gutters and in your garden, without harming the beneficials heading for your plants.

John Dromgoole mosquito control

On tour, visit designer Glee Ingram’s firewise native plant restoration on a rocky slope above a greenbelt.

Stay cool until next week! Linda

Texas Tall Tales: insects, design, and a story for the whole family!

Texas doesn’t wimp around. We’re in a state of perpetual extremes: weather, flowering cycles, and insects. One giant you’re lucky to find in your compost pile are these guys, like in Daphne’s healthy compost bin.

ox or elephant grubs in compost pile
This week, Daphne introduces us to her friends. They are the larvae of ox or elephant beetles, sometimes called rhinoceros beetles (though that’s a different species). But they are all BIG!

Here’s an adult we spotted on a shoot recently. They don’t move around much so she didn’t mind when I moved her into a good camera position. I should have put my hand there for comparison, but she was almost 2″ long!

ox or elephant beetle adult

Daphne explains that these are not the dreaded June beetle grubworms. These are beneficial larvae to help break down your compost pile! Here’s even more about this beneficial.

Fire ants love compost piles as much as we do. Daphne explains why, and how to chase them out.

Flies in the compost pile: that’s another pesky situation. John Dromgoole demonstrates how to fend them off with layering techniques. Not only does the layering deter flies, it helps speed up decomposition.

John Dromgoole flies in compost pile
You can even tear up cardboard egg cartons, shred your non-glossy newspapers, and empty your vacuum cleaner or pet hair groomings over fresh kitchen waste.  And to speed things up even more, John shows how to quickly add a little water every time you rinse out a jar or can for recycling.

Children may not be tall, but they can tell us the tallest tales of imagination, especially when calling us on a banana!

Child's banana phone (c) Marc Opperman

I absolutely love the story this picture tells, the son of gardener and blogger Marc Opperman. And I bet that banana gets great reception, too!

On stories that incite imagination, this week Tom meets with author Cherie Colburn to spin a few tales from her children’s book, Bloomin’ Tales: Legends of Seven Favorite Texas Wildflowers.  For readers outside of Texas, get Bloomin’ Tales: Seven Favorite Wildflower Legends, essentially the same but with a map for North America.

Bloomin' Tales of Texas Wildflowers
In fact, it was hard to edit because I wanted to curl up with my blankie to hear Cherie tell a few more stories.

Tom Spencer and Cherie Colburn

Gorgeously illustrated by Joy Fisher Hein, these tales from many ethnic perspectives powerfully connect children (and adults) to plants through stories that spark our imaginations.

Bloomin' Tales of Texas

And check out the Fun Facts!

Bloomin' Tales of Texas
Cherie is also a garden designer and speaker (grab her for your group!). On her blog, GardenDishes, she dishes up great garden information and answers your question.

Young parents and grandparents will also love Cherie’s poignant children’s book, Our Shadow Garden, illustrated by children at the Children’s Cancer Hospital at MD Anderson Cancer Center. All royalties benefit that program, too!

On tall tales, have you ever heard the one about the gardener who moved from Minnesota to Texas? Here’s Kathleen Lorsbach’s true story of her transition and how she learned a new plant vocabulary when she fell in love with Texas plants.

Daphne’s Pick is another plant that doesn’t wimp around! They’re stopping traffic all over town: Pride of Barbardos|Red Bird of Paradise (Caesalpinia pulcherrima).

Pride of Barbados (Caesalpinia pulcherrima)
You’ll also see the Yellow Bird of Paradise (Caesalpinia gilliesii) like this one in Connie Lawson’s garden.

Yellow bird of paradise Caesalpinia gilliesii

For her and Kathleen Lorsbach, they don’t freeze back in winter. The pulcherrima usually will: just cut it back and it will leaf out again in spring.

Stay cool until next week!  Linda

Wicked (and wonderful) Bugs

We’ve been invaded!

Katydid © Paul Alvarado Lenhart

At least temporarily. This week on CTG, Daphne identifies the culprit: the Central Texas Leaf-Katydid (Red Katydid). She explains that in cyclical outbreak years like this one, the red form predominates. Thank you to Paul Alvarado Lenhart, Ph.D candidate in the Texas A&M Entomology Dept. for pictures and information.

Katydid red form © Paul Alvarado Lenhart

They’re defoliating oak trees and singing their little forewings out. Not to be confused with cicadas, these insects are Paracyrtophyllus robustus. Lee Franzel, Comal County Master Gardener, has seen a lot of them!

Katydid damage live oak (c) Lee Franzel

On Mike Quinn’s Texas Entomology site (fabulous insect resource) he notes some factors for this year’s abundance of many insects: the 2011 drought that killed off natural predators, and our warm winter with above average rain. Many thanks to him for his assistance on this segment!

Here’s one more, taken by Alan Brown, an entomologist himself, though we usually meet the whole family through Texas AgriLife Extension’s Wizzie Brown’s Urban-IPM blog, a great resource for what’s bugging you!  Most of the time, she’s answering gardeners’ questions and conducting free workshops, like this one on July 14 to identify good bugs and bad ones.

Katydid (c) Allan Brown

Hear some spine-tingling tales about Wicked Bugs with author Amy Stewart when she joins Tom this week!

CTG Tom Spencer and Amy Stewart, Wicked Bugs

Amy astounds us with captivating stories from insect strategy to why Tom got nabbed by a black widow spider. And did you know that locusts are actually certain grasshoppers under stress? From Phylloxera that almost wiped out a wine industry to zombies and bed bugs, Wicked Bugs is full of intriguing true tales of the insects that changed history, from Napoleon to families under attack by the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug today.

Wicked Bugs, Amy Stewart

Amy emphasizes that most insects are beneficial and deserve our respect (no pesticides) and our nurture (a diverse habitat to attract them). Most important: if we don’t edit who gets to come in, we have far less work to do. Generally, the creatures will “work it out” themselves and we don’t mess up the valuable predator-to-prey balance or destroy beneficial pollinators.

Skeleton-leaf goldeneye daisy

If you must step in, do it with your foot or your hands. This spring, when insects exploded all over, you may have spotted this one on your mint or lamb’s ears.

White-Margined Burrower Bug (Sehirus cinctus) on lamb's ears

It’s the White-Margined Burrower Bug (Sehirus cinctus). But any damage they did has recovered nicely by now.

In Wicked Bugs, Amy notes that “Lepidopterophobia” is fear of butterflies. But since most of us love them, Daphne’s pick of the week, native Gaura lindheimeri, attracts both butterflies and hummingbirds.

Gaura lindheimeri

Gaura’s pretty much no care, too. Once established in well-drained soil, it needs little water and no fertilizer to bloom from late spring through summer. It loves sun, joined here with native Zexmenia (Wedelia texana) in this Hyde Park garden.

Gaura with Zexmenia

Gaura can take some shade too, but mine didn’t fare well once my trees grew up too much. Gaura lindheimeri ‘Siskiyou Pink’ is another beauty.

Gaura lindheimeri 'Siskiyou Pink'

In winter, you can cut them back to encourage bushier growth in spring. In blooming season, cut off spent flowers to encourage another flush.

Succulent plants don’t attract too many wicked bugs (usually). This week Eric Pedley from East Austin Succulents demonstrates how to divide by leaf cuttings and beheading. Yikes, “beheading” sounds scary, doesn’t it? Note: no blood was shed on this episode!

Eric Pedley divide succulents

On tour, this garden designed by Travis County Master Gardener Link Davidson for neighbor Wendy Brennan restored wildlife habitat in a very small space. See how they used recycled materials to repurpose the former lawn, on a wickedly low budget.

See you next week! Linda