Spring into summer with gusto

Can you believe this? We’ve had spring (and winter!) longer than 15 minutes. Poppies keep popping up with spuria iris.
corn poppy, seedhead, spuria iris

I can’t have too many native winecups.

winecup central texas gardener
In the cat cove, they team up with Gulf penstemon and Calylophus berlandieri ssp. Pinifolius.

Gulf penstemon, winecup, calylophus
And this time of year is just about my favorite on the patio, when Marie Pavie and star jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides) double up on perfume whammy.

rose marie pavie and star jasimine flower fragrance
In a Temple garden we taped recently, I love this combination of Hesperaloe parviflora ‘Yellow’, bluebonnets and sotol.

yellow hesperaloe, bluebonnets, sotol in Temple Texas
But it’s about time to shed spring and get those hot weather beauties in the ground.


Jeff Yarbrough from Emerald Garden Nursery and Watergardens joins Tom this week to dazzle us with annuals, perennials and shrubs that put the love back into summer!

Tom Spencer and Jeff Yarbrough Emerald Garden

Get his list for hot weather sizzle, including an intriguing dwarf pomegranate ‘Purple Sunset’ and a new esperanza on the scene.

Oh yes, don’t forget that Jeff’s an expert, locally-oriented plantsman who can help you with anything, including ponds. Emerald Garden also hosts free workshops on every topic under the sun!

Now, about local nurseries: Howard Nursery populated many gardens from 1912 until 2006.

Howard Nursery austin texas
Perhaps you met granddaughter Robin Howard Moore behind the counter where she and brothers Hank and Jim gave hands-on advice. I’ll never forget them as some of my first garden mentors. In fact, Robin always knew when we’d wrapped up another Pledge drive, Auction, or other intense production. I’d drag in on Sunday as my reviving treat. She would say, “So, Linda, guess you just finished a big project. What are you looking for today?”

So, it’s a special honor to present her as our featured gardener on tour. At home with Robin, now working as a landscape designer, she gives us her essential starting points with plants and design. I love our conversation about the changing trends that we’ve witnessed together.

Something I never knew about Robin is her artistic whimsy, like these bird baths she crafted from plates and vases.

bird bath with old plates and vases Robin Howard Moore

This one inspires a trip to the thrift store: a marble-embedded bowling ball, a gift from Anne of the Shady Hollow Garden Club, to brighten up a shady spot.

garden art bowling ball with marbles

Robin’s growing Rangoon Creeper in semi-shade, but in San Antonio, Ragna Hersey has this adaptable plant in a few hours of sun. Others have it in full sun.

Daphne gives us the scoop on this drought and freeze-tough tropical that attracts hummingbirds and butterflies.

Rangoon Creeper flower

Our viewer question comes from Pete Vera: how to mulch with our scatter spots of rain?

soil compost mulch

Wow, is this a great question or what? You know what happens: we get that 1/10” that just sloughs right off. As always, Daphne has the answer.

And, Trisha’s got the perfect answer for all those weeds that love that little bit of rain: put them to work as natural teas to fertilize your plants!

Until next week, visit your local nursery and thank these hard-working folks for helping us grow locally and beautifully. Linda

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

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

copper canyon daisy austin

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

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

New Dawn and Buff Beauty roses arbor

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

Iceberg rose Austin

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

Peggy Martin rose Austin

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

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

Saliva Henry Duelberg and Texas betony

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

Tom Spencer and Amanda Moon, It's About Thyme

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

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

Allspice in Lucinda Hutson's garden

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

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

Mexican tithonia

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

mulch over oak leaves

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

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

mulch options Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

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

Thanks for stopping by and be sure to have some risky fun until next week! Linda

Banish Bermuda grass for gardens

Over the years, I’ve whittled away grass, because there are so many fun plants out there! I’m keen on bulbs, especially for endearing combinations, like my long-term Narcissus ‘Erlicheer’ and 3-year-old Yucca pallida.

Narcissus Erlicheer with Yucca pallida

This leucojum (Leucojum aestivum) surprised me by popping up in my Texas sedge (Carex texensis). How cute!

Leucojum with Texas sedge
Overhead in back, the Mexican plum carries on the white theme.

Mexican plum flowers Austin
Little spring starflowers (Ipheion uniflorum) touch it up with lavender in a spot that was once plain old grass.

Ipheon uniflorum

Last spring, we tackled one area where grass never had a chance as our path to the front door from the driveway.

Remove grass for path

pathway instead of grass

Recently, we completed the next step of the picture. Last year, I simply layered newspaper, compost, and mulch around the tree and thought about things. Thanks to very talented help, my little vision became real last week. In January, I’d already moved some Salvia greggiis that needed a sunnier position and added some asters to match the window bed (currently cut back, so not visible). In the next few weeks, I’ll do some “shopping” in my garden to fill it out, along with a few new nursery plants to widen the botanical adventure.

new flower bed instead of grass
The bottom slope: still thinking about that one. Already, Mexican feather grasses have seeded themselves. It may be a combo of them and more sedges.

Many times, I’ve banished St. Augustine with the newspaper (or cardboard) technique. In evil spots where Bermuda grass showed up, that’s been a task, though I will say that my newspaper technique worked well for me in a few places. An old-fashioned dandelion puller assists when a stray shows back up.

But I’m sure you all have seen something like this! Not in my garden, thank heavens; I’m very cautious about planting spiky ones if there’s even a sniff of Bermuda around.

Agave smothered in Bermuda grass
This week, Design My Yard garden designer Liz Klein joins Tom to explain how to avoid disaster when replacing Bermuda lawns with gardens.

Tom Spencer and Liz Klein
Find out how she did it in this garden makeover!

Liz Klein Design My Yard makeover

Liz Klein Design My Yard makeover

Liz Klein Design My Yard ridding Bermuda grass

Liz Klein Design My Yard makeover

On tour, Dani & Gary Moss turned an oak wilt disaster into total enchantment with wildlife gardens, a Chicksville chicken coop, and English style conservatory. When they want to add a touch of art, they make it themselves. Gary welds to suit the purpose and Dani catches the light with her stained glass. Here’s a sneak peek, but I know you’ll want to meet them in person on this year’s Austin Funky Chicken Coop tour on March 30!

Now, with this crazy warm weather, it’s tempting to add some things that really need to wait a bit. This is an excellent time to plant almost  everything–except warm soil lovers. Daphne explains why soil temperature makes a difference.

soil temperature for planting
Firespike (Odontonema strictum) is one perennial that we want to plant after the last freeze date. But it’s Daphne’s pick of the week, since gardeners like to plan ahead!

firespike Odontonema strictum
Like the ones at Dani and Gary’s, and the one I have, firespike is a dramatic addition for shade gardens. Mine didn’t even freeze back this year. In harsh winters, I thought I’d lost it. I kept my patience, and as soon as the soil warmed again, back it came!

On comebacks, Trisha shows how to extend your broccoli and fennel past the first big harvest. Plus, she explains how to deal with the pesky insects that arrived early this year to eat our food.

how to cut broccoli plants Trisha Shirey
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

How does a garden grow?

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

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

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

Linda's first garden

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

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

Linda's new garden no lawn

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

Linda's path project

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

outlining new path area

den path with new stones

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

frogfruit groundcover between path stones

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

frogfruit in stone pathway

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

stone path in progress

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

Diana Kirby Central Texas Gardener

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

Linda Lehmusvirta Diana Kirby Central Texas Gardener

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

Diana Kirby drought tough no lawn design

Diana Kirby pathway design

She explains how to use color and texture.

Purple fountain grass and prickly pear

Lindheimer muhly and Salvia leucantha

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

purple bench duranta Lucinda Hutson design

Ragna shells focal point

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

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

soil compost mulch

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

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

John Dromgoole cover crops

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

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

Until next week, Linda

Catching the rain, tree problems, organic fertilizers

In the wilt of weeks past, our desert willow (Chilopsis linearis) keeps pumping out a few flowers to please the hummingbirds that have finally shown up!

Desert willow Austin Texas
Even though this native tree requires very little water and isn’t keen on soggy soils, this week’s rain may encourage extended flowering.

Desert willow flower Austin Texas
My sedges (Carex texensis) are pretty drought tough, but the ones tucked near the AC condensation pipe are especially robust, whereas their thirstier neighbors look a tad annoyed.

sedge, carex texensis at AC condensation pipe
Keeping our container plants going in heat is a question I often get.

Old-fashioned pink petunias
This week, Trisha Shirey explains how to fortify them with organic fertilizers and which nutrients they provide. Her arsenal includes seaweed, apple cider vinegar, molasses, coffee grounds, earthworm castings (great for indoor plants)  and more!

Trisha Shirey organic fertilizers for container plants
She also recommends topping your containers with compost to gently feed them with each watering. Then, add mulch on top to conserve moisture. Here’s her list for details. I’m definitely getting blackstrap molasses and apple cider vinegar this weekend!

Another top question: Why don’t my new trees grow, even though I’m watering them deeply? This week, Daphne explains that if the tree looks healthy, water may not be the issue at all.

Daphne Richards why trees don't grow

If your tree won’t budge after a few seasons, and you’ve provided the right conditions, your problem may be underground with girdled roots (very common) or stone basins in rockier sites that are actually drowning your tree. Find out more.

A perennial that will grow just about anywhere is Pam’s Pink turk’s cap (Malvaviscus x ‘Pam Puryear’), Daphne’s Pick this week.

Pam's Pink turk's cap (c) Daphne Richards
Horticulturist Greg Grant at Stephen F. Austin University’s gardens hybridized this plant, named for friend and veteran gardener, Pam Puryear.

Its claim to fame, along with our native turk’s cap (one of its parents) is that it can withstand drought or too much water at one time.  In fact, it’s perfect for rain gardens.  Wherever you put it, beneficial insects and hummingbirds will thank you! My returned hummingbirds are all over my natives!

Since catching the rain is on our minds, this week Tom joins Environmental Consultant Dick Peterson for tips on barrels, cisterns, and simple berms to catch runoff.

Tom Spencer and environmental consultant Dick Peterson
There are many options, including smaller barrels to get you started.

RainXchange rain barrel (c) Dick Peterson
Move up to something larger to cover more ground, like this 350-gallon tank.

350 gallon rain barrel from Great Outdoors (c) Dick Peterson
This 350-gallon fiberglass tank is even in the front yard, pretty much invisible from the street with its color and foreground trellis of evergreen star jasmine.


Plastic, metal, fiberglass, and ferrocement are all options these days. Cisterns complete with pumps are showing up in more gardens these days.

Texas Metal Cisterns (c) Dick Peterson

Ferrocement rain barrel (c) Dick Peterson

Spec-All Products rain barrel (c) Dick Peterson
If you’re into making your own with recycled products, some gardeners are adapting IBC totes.

IBC Tote adapted for rain collection (c) Dick Peterson
These gardeners (to be on the Master Gardener tour this fall) adapted 50-gallon Hatch chile pepper barrels!

Hatch chile pepper barrel adapted as rain barrel

Hatch chile pepper barrel adapted as rain barrel

Dick’s site includes more resources, including a supplier’s list. There are many others, including Austin Green Water. LCRA has resources for you, too!

And here’s how to get a Austin Water Utility rebate.

On tour, cool off your spirit and feed your soul at the Umlauf Sculpture Garden & Museum. We taped this in high definition a few years ago, but until CTG went HD, that copy stayed safely in my office. Now you can experience Ed Fuentes’ beautiful videography in HD!

Thanks for stopping in!  See you next week! Linda

Going a little wild

Here’s a good reason to plant native plants! This Monarch showed up for dinner on the coneflower. If it finds a date, maybe we’ll get eggs on our new milkweeds.

Monarch butterfly on coneflower
In the back “prairie” of my garden, I’m so thrilled that my Indian blanket (Gaillardia pulchella) seeds made it.  I think I’ve finally found the sunny, well-drained spot to sow more next fall to up the ante from what they sow themselves.

Indian blanket Gaillardia pulchella

In the “prairie,” butterflies are all over Gregg’s mist flower (Conoclinium greggii)–formerly Eupatorium–though eluding me at the moment.

Gregg's mist flower Conoclinium greggii

When I dug up a long stretch of grass along the back fence years ago, my plant budget was smaller than my dreams. I planted just a few blue mist flowers to fill in fast.

Gregg's mist flower Conoclinium greggii

Since then, I’ve been diversifying that space a few plants at a time. I’ve had to wrangle the exuberant mist flowers, since they do take over! But they’re easily divided to move around or share. I let them run a bit, though, since the butterflies love them so much.

In front, the butterflies thank my friend Holly for sharing a division of her Coreopsis lanceolata. In my mulched soil, it’s only seeded a bit, but I welcome each one.

Coreopsis lanceolata

In our latest lawn reduction project, I planted a few (on a budget) Texas frogfruit (Phyla nodiflora). They’re already going mad. Winecups are heading for the granite, too!

Frogfruit Phyla nodiflora with winecup

By fall, they’ll cover our granite with flowers to attract butterflies and other nectaring insects. Their leaves are larval food for the Phaon Crescentspot, Buckeye, and White Peacock butterflies.

frogfruit flowers
Here’s a shot from Austin City Hall’s raised beds on the plaza; a testament to their endurance in hot spots. At my neighborhood’s former swimming pool, they covered the “grassy” spots, oblivious to full sun, heat, no water, and people camped out on their sun-bathing towels.

frogfruit at Austin City Hall gardens
I love this Star thistle/American basket-flower (Centaurea Americana) from an Austin garden.

Star thistle/American basket-flower (Centaurea Americana)
Not so long ago, the idea of actually using native plants in our gardens was sadly rare. For one thing, it was hard to find them in nurseries. Thanks to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, we started asking for native plants and the growers responded. These days you can find groundcovers like Silver ponyfoot (Dichondra argentea) and Texas betony (Stachys coccinea), one that’s on hummingbird radars.

Silver ponyfoot (Dichondra argentea) with Texas betony

The Wildflower Center’s annual Gardens on Tour puts us one-on-one with native plants in garden settings. To spark your own designs, this week on CTG, Tom meets with Andrea DeLong-Amaya, Director of Horticulture at the Wildflower Center to preview this year’s May 12 tour.

Tom Spencer and Andrea DeLong-Amaya, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center
Here’s just a sampling of what you’ll see.

Ridgecrest Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Gardens on Tour 2012

Zadook Woods Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center Gardens on Tour

Zadook Woods Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center Gardens on Tour

Tour admission includes The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, too, for fabulous new designs like this.

Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

The Wildflower Center is also hosting book signings and great activities for the kids! So, mark your calendars for May 12. Admission is $25 for all or $6 per garden. Find out more.

On CTG’s tour this week, here’s a sneak preview of one you can visit in person. We taped in December to illustrate the beauty of a native garden even in winter. On May 12, see it in spring glory and meet the gardeners, Lynne and Jim Weber, authors of Nature Watch Austin.

Although native plants don’t suffer from many ailments, now and then something gets them. This week, Daphne explains what happened to Joy Vera’s native winecups (and later, at the Austin TexasAgriLife office!) and what to do about it.

Winecup with rust disease (c) Joy Vera

We thank Joy for sharing this with us, and we thank Dr. Ong, Extension Plant Pathologist from the Texas Plant Disease Diagnostic Lab for his analysis that confirms it is rust.

Shredded wood mulch isn’t the best thing for some plants, like winecups. So, this week, John Dromgoole compares a few mulch options for you.

This summer, go a little wild with whopper stopper Celosia! Thanks to Philip Leveridge from East Side Patch for Daphne’s Pick of the Week with his pictures and tips on his magic patch of Celosia spictata ‘Flamingo Feather’ .

Celosia spictata 'Flamingo Feather' (c) eastsidepatch.com

Here’s another show stopper event! The Austin Area Garden Railroaders are hosting “Spring Bloom 2012 Garden Railroads Tour” on Saturday, May 5th, from 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. This free event features five railroad gardens. This is a total kick!  Find out more.

See you next week! Linda

My big reduce lawn renovation: before and after!

For years, we’ve planned to install large stone paths where our feet pound the soil every day. Intent turns into action when grass-killing drought prods inertia. Although I’ve hauled a ton of stones in my car, this time I turned to designer Mark Biechler and his team from Pearson Landscape Design to take stone work to a level beyond my expertise, my car, and my back!

digging out grass with Pearson Landscape Design

In January, here’s the spot that bugged us every time we headed to the driveway. Really bugged us when the grass was dead.


What a transformation! The established plants transformed themselves from project day Feb. 12 to a few weeks later.


From the other side:

On the next free weekend, I’ll dig up more weeds around the tree and simply mulch it. Eventually, I’ll divide plants from the bed to unify the path. Oh: the blank spot in the left bed has a healthy stand of asters coming back from their pruning when I took this picture.

Moving around back, here’s another well-traveled path (rowcover at half-mast at that time to protect cilantro in case of crazy freeze).

lawn replace

Here’s the view from the garden side.

stone path (c) Linda Lehmusvirta

So, okay, I did pick up a few billbergias from Tillery Street Plant Company to try them out. For now, I’ve mainly pulled out the rock edging and either dug weeds or covered them with newspaper and mulch until I divide plants or add new ones. The resident winecups will cover a lot of ground pretty fast.

Rounding the corner, I quickly divided some of the no-mow monkey grass that thrives next to the garbage cans, and pulled some Bouncing Bets (Saponaira officinalis) from the crape bed. I dug into the newspaper weed barrier, and set them in. In one week, the Bets were bouncing!

garden renovation with divided plants (c) Linda Lehmusvirta
Really, it all didn’t look so awful before. And the stretch alongside the den window wasn’t always so miserable. But drought, ball throw with dog, and our feet took their toll.

lawn replace (c) Linda Lehmusvirta

For two years, we’ve talked about what we’d do. Mark helped us decide!

lawn replace with stone pathway (c) Linda Lehmusvirta

Once the stones were in, I widened the beds and did the newspaper/mulch routine. When I pulled out the edging stones, I put a layer of decomposed granite underneath so maybe they won’t sink so much. I’ll be dividing crowded plants to fill in the new spaces, though I think some (like the lamb’s ears and skullcaps) will take care of it themselves. Obviously, a lot of plants are out of control, but I’ve been dealing with that!

den path after stonework (c) Linda Lehmusvirta

About the dead grass strip: we’re exploring options. For me, it’s easier to visualize once I’ve cleared the space.


The view from the other side shows off Greg’s oyster shell sculpture, moved out from its former residence closer in. Greg gave it a new look with a “river” of Mexican black river rocks.  They’re a luxury, but his idea was priceless.

stone path with oyster shell sculpture (c) Linda Lehmusvirta
So, then, I suggested we continue the “river” theme on the other side. For this, he scavenged some of my holey rocks that were hidden in the garden. We really did this for the cats, don’t you know. Oops, our newspaper is showing!

Sam on holey rock sculpture (c) Linda Lehmusvirta

Mark’s stones really make the central bed stand out. At their edges, I dug out weeds and spread more decomposed granite.  In the front, I planted native frogfruit (Phyla nodiflora) to soften the stones and attract butterflies and bees with its eventual flowers.

stone path with crape and mountain laurel bed (c) Linda Lehmusvirta

Since this picture, I dug out that weedy patch on the right and went shopping again in my garden. I took cuttings of Artemisia ‘Powis Castle’ and stuck them in. I figure that silver will show up at night from every path.

Here’s the strip to the back, always an awkward place to mow and trim since the summer kiddie pool lives within the rock border on the right.

path to patio before (c) Linda Lehmusvirta

new stone path to patio (c) Linda Lehmusvirta

At the back, for years I’ve wanted to do a patio (or something) for the grass that gave up in the shade.

lawn replace (c) Linda Lehmusvirta

Mark came up with the “something.”

new back patio (c) Linda Lehmusvirta

On the left, I’ve planned (for years) raised vegetable beds. That’s the next project.

At the back corner that overlooks the creek, I’d let primrose jasmine take over. In an energetic fit the day after Christmas, I cleared as much as I could.

clearing primrose jasmine for new patio (c) Linda Lehmusvirta
Mark’s team cleared the rest and fulfilled a long-term dream.

New back patio over creek (c) Linda Lehmusvirta

What’s totally amazing is that the white Lady Banks rose I’d planted years ago was still alive. No water from me, no fertilizer, shaded. It’s rebounding so fast from my renovation that in one year (and possibly sooner) it will hide the chain link fence and return our privacy. More about this fragrant champ later.

No question, there’s lots more to do, one Sunday at a time!  That’s the value of a garden: it’s an endless open door to dreams and imagination. And yes, back-breaking work.  The aches heal quickly.  The rewards last forever. Until you change them!

Next week, CTG is back in high definition (so cool!) with a fabulous lineup to fuel your dreams, too!

See you then, Linda

Soil drought recovery|tree decay|how low can it go?

Troublesome Central Texas weather does have its upside! Most winters, seasons converge with greenery and flowers, even as dormant perennials take a break.

copper canyon daisy, bamboo muhly bulbs Central Texas winter
Early bird Paperwhite narcissus starts the bulb parade.

Paperwhite narcissus
Bees raced from one flower to another.

Bee on narcissus
Then they checked out The Fairy rose, but veered off when they spied me as an evil stalker. Normally pink in color, this early scout quickly turned white in the brief heat wave.

The Fairy rose white winter bloom
Even though we’re in remission from last year’s torture, we’re in recovery mode. Our soil is still damaged, and until we restore its vitality, our plants will struggle when we head into the next tough round coming soon.

This week, Tom and George Altgelt from Geo Growers explain what we need to do right now to restore our drought-damaged soil and how to do it.

Tom Spencer and George Altgelt, Geo Grower
For years, George has mentored me (and us all!) on soil biology. It’s the key to success, whatever soil you have. As he explains this week, it’s essential to nourish our soil horizons with compost, aeration and “fuel” like granular molasses or other microbial activators.

To keep soil horizons intact, George doesn’t recommend tilling. He notes, “The top 4-inch layer includes things that provide food and sustenance for feeder roots. The further you go down, the more it changes into things that are holding moisture and providing a backup of minerals.”

Really, I’ve seen the difference that a little time with a spading fork can do in making holes and topping with compost. Push your spade gently around beds and plants to loosen things up, then top with some compost.  In compacted areas, you’ll notice the difference really fast. In beds, you’ll also see plants perk up when air and nutrients get to their roots.

After two winters of exceptionally hard freeze, we’ve all paid more attention to “how low can it go?”

Carex morrowii 'Aurea-variegata' in snow
This week, Daphne explains what “root hardy” means. Does the plant tag info on cold hardiness refer to the soil or air temperature?  She notes: “if a plant is listed as “hardy” to a certain temperature, it is likely to be killed if temperatures drop below that number.  To protect your perennial and root hardy plants in the winter, be sure to mulch very well before the first freeze, piling the mulch up much higher around the root zone than you normally might.”

Daphne explains the relationship to air temperature. “In December when I had two nights in a row in the mid 20’s at my house, I measured the temperature of the soil, and it was only 40 degrees.  Because the air is colder than the soil, many temperate zone plants have developed the strategy of dropping their tender leaves, or even sacrificing their entire body, to hunker down into the soil, where it’s relatively warmer.  Plants that have this strategy are called perennials if they’re relatively herbaceous, like our native echinaceas and gazanias, and root hardy if they’re woody, like lantana and esperanza.” Microclimates and how long the plant’s been in the ground can also affect “how low can it go.”

Yikes, how many of us have run into this?

Tree root rot Arbor Vitae Tree Care
Or this?

Branch failure due to tree decay
This week, Arbor Vitae Tree Care Certified Arborist Guy LeBlanc analyzes tree decay fungus and what it means.  Hypoxylon is one that we’re seeing more often in drought conditions.

Hypoxylon Central Texas Gardener

Now, here’s a happy story for you about Christmas poinsettias, thanks to Jay Musfeldt in Leander.

Christmas poinsettia in ground
Every year viewers ask, “Can I plant my poinsettia in the ground?” Get Daphne’s answer and how Jay found the magic spot in his garden for a return performance a year later.

On tour, we recap a visit to Sue Ford’s former garden in Fredericksburg. She and designer Patrick Kirwin took a lesson from the past with waterwise plants and no lawn in a cottage garden setting that reflects the home’s historic roots. Antique roses join succulents, naturalizing bulbs and wildlife food in every season.

See you next week! Linda

Planting for the future + Pecan trees + How Not to Kill a Tree, Pt. 2

Gardening is all about planning ahead. When plants are tiny, sometimes it’s hard to imagine if things will really work out like you hope.  I feared that drought would defeat one of my visions: ‘Country Girl’ mums with native asters. Guess they had a talk and agreed not to let me down.

'Country Girl' chrysanthemum and fall aster Central Texas Gardener

Patience is essential, too.  I tend to buy small plants to extend my budget, so it can be a few years before my vision hits reality. I moved some of my young native Plumbago scandens late last spring. With the onset of heat and no rain, they were slow to rally.

Plumbago scandens Central Texas Gardener

But they did! The nip last week turned some leaves to delicious purple, all the better to show off their sweet flowers. By this time next year, they’ll knock my socks off!

Right now is an excellent time to plan ahead with planting. Last weekend, I got in some wildflower seeds (more to do this weekend), along with more lettuce, arugula, and radishes to join the parsley transplants already in. The bunnies anxiously await the parsley along with homegrown cilantro. But since I seed cilantro, they’ve got to wrangle their little imaginations for a few more weeks. The cooler weather has them growing like gangbusters!

Cilantro seedlings Central Texas Gardener

Patience is a useful quality to have in store when awaiting the return of Heartleaf skullcap (Scutellaria ovata). Mine haven’t yet returned, but while digging in that area, I unearthed their rhizomes.

Heartleaf skullcap rhizomes Central Texas Gardener

I took this opportunity to spread out their bounty to a few other areas.  One reason I was digging was to add a new Hardy white gloxinia (Sinningia longituba).

Hardy white gloxinia (Sinningia longituba)

I tried one in the crape bed a few years ago and like the results! This one has a tuber that looks like a potato! It runs around like Heartleaf, but goes dormant in winter. My vision is Heartleaf from late fall to June, and Hardy white gloxinia until freeze.

Here’s another vision I have in mind: Daphne’s pick of the week, native Texas poinsettia (Euphorbia cyathophora).

Texas native poinsettia (Euphorbia cyathophora) by Daphne Richards

I saw it in a garden a few years ago, but figured this gardener had a magic touch that I surely don’t have. By golly, Daphne reports that this one, also known as “fire on the mountain”, did great in the Extension Office demonstration garden all summer with just one irrigation a week. It’s an annual, but re-seeds with abandon. I’m getting this one!

Texas native poinsettia (Euphorbia cyathophora) by Daphne Richards

It really takes some vision when selecting and planting trees. Since our state tree, the pecan, is a gracious shade tree that rewards us with yummy food, this week Tom and Lisa Berdoll from Berdoll Pecan Farm go nuts about pecan trees!

Lisa Berdoll, Berdoll Pecan Farm, Central Texas Gardener

Lisa’s got tips for the best varieties, how to plant, and how to care for them in extreme drought. She ought to know how to do this right, since she and her husband Hal have been cultivating hundreds of acres of pecan trees in Cedar Creek since 1980.

Berdoll Pecan Farm Central Texas Gardener

How many times have you been on the way to Bastrop and wanted to stop in and see Ms. Pearl the Squirrel?

Berdoll Pecan Farm Central Texas Gardener
Not only can you buy a tried-and-true pecan tree of your own, you can pick up some of the Berdoll’s own delicious pecans and treats in the retail store, now owned by daughter Jennifer Berdoll Wammack and her husband Jared, with sister-in-law Brandi Berdoll as manager.

Berdoll Pecan Farm gifts, Central Texas Gardener

What great holiday presents, huh?  I just ordered some and they arrived in two days, so I didn’t have to be too patient about that!

Trees are very patient with us, but our mistakes can push their patience to the limits. Just about the time they capture our vision, they can die, thanks to us.  This week, Trisha continues “How Not To Kill a Tree” with a focus on maintenance mistakes.  One is a common disease called “weedeateritis”.  Wanna kill a tree?  Whack the sensitive bark with a string trimmer or a lawn mower.

weed eater damage by Trisha Shirey

Instead, mulch far around your trees and mulch. For one thing, that holds in soil moisture. For another, the barrier protects the bark from zealous edgers. But, don’t volcano mulch!  Some landscapers like to do this, and Trisha nabbed a perfect example.

Volcano mulch that kills a tree by Trisha Shirey

It kills us (and your trees) that gardeners see this in public areas and decide it’s the right thing to do. Really, whatever started this? NEVER EVER pile mulch against a tree’s trunk.  Leave it open to air and light.

Don’t let English ivy or Asian jasmine climb up your trees, either. Not a good thing to do at all. Clip it and let it die before you pull it off so you don’t further harm the bark. For sure, don’t use herbicides around your trees!

English ivy killing tree by Trisha Shirey

Patience is not a good quality when it comes to weeds. Pluck ‘em now, or scream later. There are some that are downright parasitic, like dodder, that’s latched onto Diane Hanna’s potted firecracker fern. I’ve never seen this before!

Dodder on firecracker fern

But Daphne has! She notes:  “Dodder invades the tissue of the host plant and steals its nutrients to grow.  It has very little chlorophyll, so it usually isn’t green.  It can range in color from pale whitish-brown to bright orange, and when you first see it, you’ll wonder if someone hasn’t covered your plants in silly string.”

This dodder probably came along with Diane’s plant. Since it’s on a mission to reseed all over the place, it’s important to remove it immediately. Diane will also need to cut off any parts of the plant that it’s invaded. Get Daphne’s complete answer, and thanks, Diane!

On tour, feast your eyes on this edible garden!

Vincent Landscape Design Central Texas Gardener

A once forbidding slope, now a garden gracefully directs water to terraces of fruits, vegetables, herbs and ornamentals.  To create an edible garden that also attracts wildlife, Suzanne and John Shore worked with Rosemary Vincent and Kellan Vincent of Vincent Landscapes, Inc.

Until next week, Linda