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

Why plants freeze|Greg Grant vegetables

My crinums don’t look so hot right now.

Frozen crinum leaves
No problem: I simply cut off their mushy leaves and they’ll rebound pronto. Although things have been rather tame this winter, we’ve had our little cold spells. The top question goes to Daphne this week: Why do plants freeze and what will return?

This annual Salvia coccinea is gone for good, unless it re-seeds in self-appointed locations!

frozen salvia coccinea

Microclimates, plant DNA, maturity, and temperature all make a difference. As we approach the last freeze date, I’ll cut back my Pride of Barbados in readiness for new growth.

Freeze damage Pride of Barbados

Here’s how Daphne explains what happens, per Dr. Jerry Parsons, retired Extension agent: “Fill a glass half-full with water and put it in your freezer. Take it out the next day, once it’s thoroughly frozen, and immediately place it under a warm stream of tap water and watch what happens.”

As Daphne says, I bet you’ve already got it: the glass will shatter. That’s what happens to plant cells as they thaw out when temperatures warm up. Some plants just lose their leaves, like this lantana.

Lantana freeze damage purple leaf

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

Salvia 'Anthony Parker' freeze

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

Salvia 'Anthony Parker'

Since vegetables contain lots of water, a simple cover on freezing nights usually does the trick. Check out my neighbor’s hoops to elevate her row cover. They’re just plain old PVC pipes, easy to bend, but she doctored them up with a bit of spray paint!

cute PVC hoops vegetable row cover

If you’re growing ‘Gold Star’ esperanza—a root-hardy perennial —you can thank horticulturist Greg Grant. His many contributions to our gardens and our libraries, like Heirloom Gardening in the South (with Dr. William C. Welch), have yet another.

Texas Fruit & Vegetable Gardening Greg Grant

This go-to guide, written in Greg’s “here ya go” style, deciphers essentials from soil to planting times, cultivation, and starting and saving seeds. Arugula to winter squash, nuts, berries, and fruit trees: it’s all here, including mouth-watering Grant family recipes.

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

Tom Spencer and Greg Grant

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

And mark your calendars right now for April 20, to nab exclusive SFA and Greg Grant introductions, Texas natives, perennials and more at the renowned SFA Gardens annual Garden Gala at Stephen F. Austin. It’s only from 9 a.m. – 2 p.m, so grab your wagons and get there early! It’s also a wonderful time to see the beautiful gardens.

Weeping cypress Greg Grant Stephen F. Austin University

Visit www.sfagardens.sfasu.edu and click on “garden events” for a list of available plants!

Another new Grant release from Texas Gardener magazine pulls together 10 years of his philosophical, humorous, and botanical insights from the magazine. Now in hardcover, it’s also available as an e-book.

In Greg's Garden

On tour, first-time gardener Ellie Hanlon teaches us a few things, too!

On her blog, Mostly Weeds, follow her step-by-step process from Day 1 to irrigation how-to, including her dual valve system and fertilizer. When she first set up her garden, Austin’s water restrictions required a variance (that she posted on her fence) for vegetables. With a flick of a valve, she could turn off the drip system to her flowers.

irrigation valves fertilizer central texas gardener

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

Thanks for stopping by! See you next week, Linda

Pruning prep + Fruit trees + Rooftop gardens

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

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

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

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

Saliva greggi cut back

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tom Spencer and Jim Kamas Central Texas Gardener

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

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

Texas persimmon bark

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

Texas persimmon fruits Lamar Hankins

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

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

planting bare root fruit trees John Dromgoole

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

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

Thanks for checking in! See you next week, Linda

Superstar plants

Fall aster and larkspur in spring Austin garden
I love it when cloudy days in spring fool the fall asters (and many autumn perennials) to bloom along with the larkspurs.

Even though we got a break this winter with rain and mild temperatures, the insects got a break too.  They’re just as thrilled as we are!  Really, every year in Texas is tough. If drought doesn’t get us, it’s too much rain, too much cold, or too many pests. That’s why I rely on my personal superstars to hang with me no matter what.

In the cat cove: Winecups on rainwater steroids climbed up to join the native Pavonia/rock rose (Pavonia lasiopetala) and larkspur.

Winecups, pavonia rock rose and larkspur
Coneflowers in the crape bed stretched up to snuggle against tough-as-nails Knock Out rose.

Coneflower and Knock Out rose
Red Admiral butterflies fuel up for another busy day.

Red Admiral butterfly on coneflower
I think they wear out going between the coneflowers and the Rusty blackhaw viburnum (Viburnum rufidulum).

Rusty blackhaw viburnum flowers
Note: this native shrub thickets like nuts!

Rusty blackhaw viburnum in bloom
My Angelica pachycarpa hangs out with me every winter until June or so. Now it’s sending up flowers before it crashes in a few weeks.

Angelica flower buds
Underneath, I’ve planted White veined Dutchman’s pipe (Aristolochia fimbriata) to cover the space when it goes dormant. Since pipevine swallowtail butterflies are nectaring all over the garden, I suspect they’ll be laying eggs soon.

Angelica pachycarpa
But did you know that there are official Texas Superstar plants, thanks to research at Texas A&M University? This week on CTG, Tom meets with A&M professor H. Brent Pemberton, Texas AgriLife Research, to commend a few that you can find in nurseries right now.

Tom Spencer and Brent Pemberton

One is the Cora and Nirvana Vinca (periwinkle) series. These summer annuals are resistant to the aerial Phytophthora fungus that devastated our periwinkle chances in the past. They are tolerant of heat and humidity and DEER! In this picture, they’re in the foreground of other Superstar plants, like Esperanza.

Nora and Cora Vinca Texas Superstar plants
Brent explains how Texas AgriLife Research trials plants under grueling Texas conditions to make sure they’re tough enough for your garden! Watch for this Grandma’s Yellow Rose rose, here with Burgundy Sun SuperSun Coleus and Tidal Wave™ petunias.

Grandma's Yellow Rose Texas Superstar plants
One I discovered last year in a garden is Angelonia angustifolia Serena ™series.

Angelonia Serena series Texas Superstar plants

It’s a summer annual, but if you like that snapdragon/larkspur look in summer, it takes the heat, sun and drought! Just nabbed a few myself!

Here’s Brent’s CTG list. Plus, check out all the Texas Superstars. One to watch for is cenizo (Leucophyllum langmaniae ‘Lyaa’s Legacy’) that can bloom more often in summer than other selections.  But since all varieties of cenizo/Texas sage are superstars, it’s Daphne’s Pick of the Week!

Cenizo, Texas sage

But why do they fail for some of us? Daphne explains why. One is poor drainage, too much water, and not enough sun. Even a gutter that gushes into the area can be fatal.  The picture above represents a fatality in my garden when trees grew up and it didn’t get the hot blast of sun it really wanted.

The second reason is pruning it too much. Cenizo really doesn’t want to be hedged to perfection. Just lightly shape it to encourage more growth.

On tour, meet some superstar butterflies and birds at the Bulverde/Spring Branch Library. Thanks to the Comal County Master Gardeners and Friends of the Library, a rocky slope at the end of the parking lot is now an instructional guide to gardening and wildlife, plus an outdoor haven to read a book!

Daphne’s question of the week comes from Nettie Birnbaum: “Do we need to clean or sterilize our pots or black plastic 6-packs before replanting or seeding?”

Pots to be cleaned and sterilized before planting again

Yes! Daphne recommends cleaning with soap and water and then a 10% bleach solution. Rinse well and dry.

Since many of our container plants need to be divided this time of year, Trisha explains how to do that. She also shows how to separate new nursery plants, like basils that are overcrowded.  Get her tips on amending/sterilizing old potting soil, how to keep ants out of your pots, and how she starts summer crops in containers until winter plants finish for the year.

This Sunday, join the CTG team and the Travis Master Gardeners at KLRU’s 50th anniversary birthday party!  We’ll be making “eat a rainbow” bracelets for kids (vegetables!).  Plus there are tons of activities, PBS characters, and the Biscuit Brothers for this family fun day! It’s noon – 4 p.m. on 2nd street in Austin. See you there!

Thank you for your support of CTG as we head into KLRU’s 51st year! See you next week, Linda