Sneaking into summer

Now here’s a plant for your list. My native snake herb (Dyschoriste linearis) sneaks in to attract butterflies in its carefree perennial spread in part-time sun.

Snake herb (Dyschoriste linearis)

When Michelle Pfluger from Green ‘n Growing introduced it to us last year, I raced to get a few. They’ve done so well that I got more, and still want more! Graceful foliage all the time with “come find me” flowers in spring through fall.

snake herb flower

Despite “snake” in its name, sadly, it’s not deer resistant.

An old-time summer favorite is Althea (Rose of Sharon), a shrub/small tree. This new color for me is a passalong from friend Bob Beyer.

pink althea flower

From Central Texas Gardener’s Facebook page, some of our friends fondly refer to Althea as the “granny plant.” We all agree that we need a good granny now and then!  I still have some of the lavender ones that came with my 1950s house. It’s a great adaptable accent or deciduous companion in an evergreen natural screen.

Another passalong is from Daphne herself, when she was trialing Peter’s Purple monarda. Hummingbirds and butterflies, here they come! Find out more about this great beebalm.

peter's purple monarda

Daphne’s pick this week is Tecoma x ‘Orange Jubilee’.

orange jubilee tecoma

It’s a cultivar, like the ‘Gold Star’ you may know, derived from our native Tecoma stans, also called yellow bells or esperanza.

orange jubilee tecoma

Here’s a “new” idea that actually is historic: grafted vegetables. John Dromgoole explains why grafted tomatoes, eggplants, and peppers are making a sensation, thanks to insect resistance and faster and bigger production.  Actually, by mail, I received three ‘Mighty Matos’ to test.

Mighty Mato in Central Texas

Like the ones that John, Trisha and Travis Extension are growing, mine took off like gangbusters, even though I got a late start. Certainly, I’m going to be looking more into them, and CTG plans a follow-up this summer.

Weeds are always sneaking in—you know how that is! Daphne answers: can they be put in the compost pile? She explains cold and hot composting. Since mine is a cold one, I’ll put in weeds before seeds are mature, since they add nitrogen. Once they look like this, I send them to the city’s hot piles in my leaf bags.

ripe weed seeds not for cold compost piles

Now that the heat is on, let’s all dive into some water—like ponds, streams and fountains! Not only do they cool us off visually and relax us spiritually, the thirsty wildlife will thank you.

This week, Tom meets with Kathy Ragan and Karl Tinsley from the Austin Pond Society to show off a few of the designs on this year’s tour, June 8 & June 9.

Austin Pond Society tour

Featuring 21 ponds in all styles and sizes, you can meet the ponders in person to learn anything you want to know, from technical details to tips on fish and plants.

Austin Pond Society tour

Austin Pond Society tour

Austin Pond Society tour

The evening of June 8, experience some night-time pond magic, too! Get the details and buy tickets in advance.

In Georgetown, Claudia and Ronnie Hubenthal’s ponds and streams started with a serendipitous find.  Here’s a sneak preview.

This Saturday, June 1, check out the fabulous gardens on the NXNA tour: the North Austin Coalition of Neighborhoods. 13 private gardens will be on tour, along with 5 school gardens and a community garden.  On June 2, check out their garden talks and photography exhibit. All proceeds benefit AustinVoices to beautify north Austin. Find out more.

And here’s a huge shout-out to our friends, Rick and Kelle Stults, at Wild Birds Unlimited in the Westwoods Shopping Center, who’ve signed on as local underwriters for CTG. Please tell them thanks the next time you’re in!

Thanks for stopping by! See you next week, Linda

Young voices for our future

This week, CTG’s blog is presented by our intern, Colleen Nelson.

Colleen Nelson

Not only she is over-the-top organized, energetic, creative, and fun, she knows how to find a good story and present it. I was beyond thrilled that Urban Roots resonated with her. Colleen’s the voice of tomorrow, as is Urban Roots. Linda

Agriculture Shapes Young Lives
By Colleen Nelson

An East Austin farm uses sustainable agriculture to help transform the lives of young people in the community.

Urban Roots takes on a group of 14 to 17 year old interns every spring to help urge growth during each stage of the farming process. The Core Youth Program’s goal is to  give teens real world work experience through the agriculture business.

Blake Hill, farm coordinator, said that the project is not just about the community supporting agriculture. “Not only do you get a share of our harvest, but you also are supporting a program that helps these young people,” Hill said.

Through agriculture workshops, irrigation, transplanting, and general grounds keeping, members of the youth program gain insight into how a real world business is run.

Interns also learn about public speaking through informing others about their work and the importance of sustainable agriculture. The public speaking experience is valuable to kids like 16-year-old Shamar Brown. “Urban Roots has helped me personally because I want to be a lawyer when I grow up,” Brown said. “The public speaking skills that I have learned here will help me in the court room one day.”

Urban Roots is gearing up for April, when they sell their spring harvest at various farmers markets around the area. Here, farm interns will interact with customers and share what they have learned through the program.

Urban Roots Colleen Nelson photograph

An intern plants a seed to begin the harvesting process.

Urban Roots photograph by Colleen Nelson

Planting fennel seeds.

Urban Roots photograph by Colleen Nelson

Urban Roots intern lays irrigation pipes.

Urban Roots Colleen Nelson
Program members transplant fennel plants.

Urban Roots photograph by Colleen Nelson
Intern prepares to transplant.

Urban Roots photo by Colleen Nelson

Covering the transplanted fennel with fresh soil.

Urban Roots beet photo by Colleen Nelson
A young beet plant soaks up the sun.

Thank you, Colleen!!!

Native companions

Things are buzzing around here!

Bee on gulf penstemon flower

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

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

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

Calylophus drummondii var. berlandieri.

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

winecup with macho mocha mangave

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

pink evening primrose on path

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

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

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

engelmann's daisy

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

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

Jenny Stocker Rock Rose blogger garden

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

Tom Spencer and Andrea DeLong-Amaya

Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center Gardens on Tour

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

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

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

bluebonnets central texas front yard

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

jean warner's bluebonnets front yard Central Texas

Thanks for stopping by! See you next week, Linda

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

Garden Conservancy tour, what's up with redbuds, edible containers

Is this a fun fall or what?! It’s also crazy with springtime redbuds blooming alongside autumn asters. What’s up with that?

Redbud tree blooming in fall
Thanks to D. Kirkland for Daphne’s question this week! Daphne explains that it’s all about weather—trees stressed once again this summer.  As a safety valve to carry on their legacy, they flower to re-seed themselves, just in case. Get Daphne’s complete explanation.

Despite our indecisive weather (jeans or shorts today?), it’s time to plant cool weather crops and flowers. Some of us only have room to grow in containers. Even if we tend garden beds, it’s fun to spice up our patio or front porch with a mini-garden, easy to snip for the kitchen on snippy wet days.

See how Trisha creates tasty containers with edible flowers and food (a perfect gift, too), plus how to “coddle” nursery pot roots for quicker growth.

edible container gardens

Now is also the best time to plant trees. Daphne’s Pick of the Week is Mexican olive (Cordia boissieri), a small tree/large shrub for us, depending on how you prune it. It’s a fabulous screening plant if you’ve got full sun and good drainage. It doesn’t want much water after the first year.  I don’t have one (yet) but my neighbor’s thrives in a hot curbside bed against the street.

Mexican olive Cordia boissieri

Luscious flowers come on for months, starting in late spring to attract all your neighbors, along with butterflies!

Mexican olive Cordia boissieri flowers
Even out of bloom, its velvety leaves are gorgeous.

Mexican olive Cordia boissieri leaves
Its fruits are edible, but not really yummy for us. The birds will thank you for them, though.  Deer like the fruits, but supposedly not the leaves.

Mexican olive Cordia boissieri fruits
Do protect with mulch if you plant this fall, since harsh winters can cause it some trouble. But my neighbor’s made it through 14° and I’ve seen other show-stoppers in established gardens.

Cooler weather always gets us back in gear with ideas!  The Garden Conservancy’s Open Days tour on November 3 is sure to spark your imagination for plants and concepts to try at home. This week, Tom meets with Austin coordinators Charlotte Warren and Laura Bohls for a sneak preview.

Tom Spencer, Charlotte Warren, Laura Bohls The Garden Conservancy
This year’s tour offers diverse perspectives, from plants to spaces.

Garden Conservancy Austin 2012

Garden Conservancy Austin 2012

Garden Conservancy Austin 2012

Garden Conservancy Austin 2012

Christy Ten Eyck Garden Conservancy Austin 2012

Jeff Pavlat garden Garden Conservancy tour

Jeff Pavlat garden Garden Conservancy tourJeff Pavlat garden Garden Conservancy tour

Here’s where to get tour details and advance ticket information.

Our video tour visits one of them: landscape architect Curt Arnette’s hillside renovation that respects the interface of land, family engagements, and wildlife.  Here’s a sneak preview!

Thanks for stopping by and I’ll see you next week! Linda

On tour with the Travis County Master Gardeners

How can you reduce lawn, combine edibles, flowers for wildlife, living spaces, and art?

no lawn edible ornamental front yard
The best ideas come from fellow gardeners! That’s why you won’t want to miss the Travis County Master Gardeners’ “Inside Austin Gardens” tour on October 20. This year highlights hands-on gardeners who tuck in food with their salvias and succulents, like Ann & Robin Matthews, who even take it all out front.

no lawn edible ornamental front garden
They unite their garden with neighbor Donnis Doyle, also on tour.

hot curb strip garden
In back, find out how they got rid of grass in favor of paths, coves, and a labyrinth-style vegetable garden.

labyrinth vegetable garden
See how they screen a view with Hardiboard imprinted with ancient Native American rock art they’ve seen on excursions throughout Texas.

Hardiboard garden screen

On tour, you can also see how Donnis screened her view of a daycare center for a soothing spot to hang out with her neighbors.

galvanized steel patio screen

Here’s a sneak preview with CTG’s video visit.

I love the natural screen the Matthews chose on one side: bay laurel!

bay laurel hedge

Daphne makes bay laurel her Pick of the Week to explain how to grow this Central Texas evergreen as a screen or accent. Why buy expensive bay leaves when you can pluck some of your own?

bay laurel leaf

When I got my bay laurel in a 4” pot, I potted it up as a patio container.  It barely grew (though it’s fine in a pot if you have just a small space). Then, I ran into large bay hedges in long-term gardens. I saw Trisha’s huge one at her Lake Austin Spa garden. So, I stuck mine in the ground to shield a so-so shed. It shot up like a fiend in blasts of hot sunlight (not all day) and very little water.  In 14°, it suffered a little leaf damage, but spring pruning flushed it right back out. The Barbados cherry in front died to the ground, but returned, too.

Barbados cherry bay laurel screen

I just pluck a leaf when I need it for the pot. When I prune to tidy and shape, I bring in some to dry. If you missed Trisha’s segment on how to dry and anchor herbs, and the ones to choose, watch it now!

To preview the other gardens on tour, Tom meets with Travis County Master Gardeners Carolyn Williams and Holly Plotner.

Tom Spencer, Carolyn Williams, Holly Plotner Master Gardeners

Here’s just a tease of the diversity on tour this year!

Stock tank vegetable beds Travis County Master Gardeners

No lawn backyard habitat
Cute garden shed Travis County Master Gardeners
Garden fountains Travis County Master Gardeners

Renee Studebaker isn’t officially a Master Gardener (though she’s a master at it!). If you’ve ever wanted a closer look at her garden, here’s the chance! She’s even going to be serving homemade treats from her harvests.

Renee Studebaker's front yard garden

And find out where Daphne hangs out with a visit to the Texas AgriLife Extension Office demo gardens! She and Augie will be on hand (paw) all day to answer your questions!

Not only will you have a chance to talk with the gardeners to see how they did it and where they got it, each site includes educational talks and plant and book sales.  All this for just $20 or $5 per garden, to support their many free workshops throughout the year. Find out more about upcoming workshops and details of the tour.

Since we all like to recycle, a viewer asks: “Can I spread used kitty litter on the grass or non-edible gardens?” Get Daphne’s answer about why this isn’t a good idea—it’s not what you might think. Telo and Camille Farber already watched this on their iCatfonz to pass along to their moms, sisters Galia (KLRU’s production coordinator) and Naomi.

Galia's cats in sink
In the next few weeks, it’s time to plant wildflower seeds like Indian blanket (Gaillardia pulchella).

Indian blanket Gaillardia pulchella
Andrea DeLong-Amaya from the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center shows how to sow for the best success. Since bluebonnets are tops on the list, she explains how to improve germination the first year.

plant bluebonnet seeds
Note: the inoculant she mentions has become very hard to find, so go with one of her other techniques to start your bluebonnet patch. Trisha sometimes moves bluebonnet plants to a new area (or you can buy transplants) to inoculate the soil, too. I’ve always had great luck without the inoculant.

Happy planting 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

Cool plants for heat/pond tour to cool off your garden

Did you know that we have another native Texas hibiscus?

Hibiscus martianus (c) Linda Lehmusvirta
I sure didn’t until I was at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center’s sale last fall and nabbed this Hibiscus martianus. It was tiny and possibly not cold-hardy, so I protected it over winter under our patio “greenhouse.”  I potted it up in April and it’s been blooming ever since. It may be hardy to the high 20s, but I’m keeping it in a pot.

Native Turk’s caps robustly frame Sam Jr.’s late afternoon perch. Butterflies are all over them, and hummingbirds will be, too, when they show up! Usually they’re here by now, but guess they’re hanging out in your gardens!

Turk's cap near Sam's cat perch
In our little back “prairie” which replaced grass long ago, it’s always a wildlife field day with lantana, Rock rose, Turk’s cap, butterfly weed (Asclepias), goldenrod, passion vine and more.

Linda's home prairie
I’ve added some taller shrubs and clumping grasses to give the madness a little structure. They’re still getting their roots in, but I see a beautiful future ahead!  That’s part of gardening: looking ahead. This week we taped a garden where the woman has been planning her native understory trees while her shade trees grew up. Now, the seedlings she started are ready to take their understory place.

In some spots, oxalis is still hanging on, attracting bees.  Alongside, native Rock rose (Pavonia lasiopetala) is beloved by butterflies and hummingbirds.

Rock rose and oxalis
In the den bed, it’s all about orange right now with ‘Patrick’ abutilon and ‘Tawny’ daylilies.

'Patrick' abutilon and 'Tawny daylily'
‘Patrick’ is just gearing up, but the daylilies are about out of steam.

'Tawny' daylily
Cedric and Sam Jr. complete the orange theme on a steamy morning that fogged up the lens.

Orange cats with orange flowers
Back to the prairie: One anchor is our bird bath with solar fountain. After the wildlife dines, they stop in for a drink and a bath.

Variance Vessel bird bath with solar fountain

Since the sound or scent of water heads wildlife straight to your garden, this week Tom meets with Bj Jenkins and Karl Tinsley from the Austin Pond Society to preview this year’s remarkable tour.

Tom Spencer, Bj Jenkins, Karl Tinsley Austin Pond Society
On June 9 & 10, they’ve got something for every budget, space, and design philosophy. CTG’s tour heads to one of them in Cedar Park where Lynne and Gary Wernli got their feet wet with pint-sized ponds and fountains in their gorgeous garden. Now, they have a full-sized pond where Lynne takes fabulous pictures of their diverse wildlife.

Lynne and Gary Wernli pond (c) Lynne Wernli

And you simply must meet their darling pygmy goats and check out their rain chain pond!

Many of us planted Afghan pines a few years ago. And many of us have lost them; two years ago I had to cut down one that we’d raised from a seedling. Daphne explains what happened to them, including Frank Simon’s tree that he and his family planted in 1996 as a living Christmas tree.

Afghan pine dying

Daphne’s pick of the week is Red Yucca (Hesperaloe parviflora). It’s actually not a yucca, but in the lily family. Whatever, it’s a great structural addition to the drought-tough garden. Hummingbirds adore the flowers.  And you’ve got to respect a plant that can survive in a parking lot island!

Red yucca in parking lot island

These days, you can get Hesperaloes in other colors, too. I love Bob Beyer’s picture of his three that include ‘Yellow’ and the latest Brakelights® Red Yucca (Hesperaloe parviflora ‘Perpa’ ).

Red yucca colors by Bob Beyer
But watch out where/how you plant them!  If Bermuda grass is in your zip code, do serious prep and stick with it when stragglers show up.

Red yucca competing with bermuda gras
Otherwise, you’ll end up with a horrifying picture like this, where Bermuda is strangling an innocent agave.

Agave smothered by bermuda grass
In the vegetable garden, we head to Lake Austin Spa Resort, where Trisha shows how she stakes tomatoes and climbing plants.  Climbers on her cattle panels also help shade some plants that need a little sunscreen!

vegetable supports at Lake Austin Spa
Until 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

Filling up on fragrance|Funky Chicken Coop tour|Square foot garden design

Well, if you had a year or so to read this post, I can show you everything that’s blooming in my garden!  Since I know you’re busy, here’s just a sampling that doesn’t include “D is for Drought” in their vocabulary. One is Narcissus ‘Gigantic Star’, a reliable early bloomer.

Narcissus 'Gigantic Star'
Narcissus ‘Erlicheer’ keeps on coming. ‘Helen von Stein’ lamb’s ears in the background.

Narcisssus Erlicheer with 'Helen von Stein' lamb's ears

I’m totally in love with little spring starflowers (Ipheion uniflorum), perfect to pop in a path, edge a bed, or include among your agaves and yuccas. They’ll bloom for weeks and return next year. Very tidy darlings, too.

spring starflowers (Ipheion uniflorum)
Hyacinths often don’t naturalize for us, but this Hyacinthus orientalis ‘Sky Jacket’ is on its fifth year with me. Guess I could get around to ordering more next fall, huh?

Hyacinthus orientalis 'Sky Jacket'
As you well know, plants are blooming at least a month earlier than usual! Our ‘Spring Bouquet’ viburnums have never ever performed like this.  Joy, maybe? These viburnums are drought-tough bullet-proof shrubs, and perfect if you need a screen in part shade.

Viburnum 'Spring Bouquet'
Red Admiral butterflies and bees are all over them, when we aren’t getting a sniff of their sweet fragrance.

Red Admiral butterfly on 'Spring Bouquet' viburnum
I bet you’re like me and it is SO hard to prune our roses right now. But I did it, though I’m sparing this Knock Out® for another week. I fertilized with a slow-release organic blend, too, which is about all they’ll get from me.

Red Knock Out rose
Are you ready for garden tours? How about one that features chickens, too?!

Austin Funky Chicken Coop tour
This week, Tom meets with Michelle Hernandez and Carla Jean Oldenkamp from the Austin Funky Chicken tour for a 2012 preview and tips for starting a brood of your own.

Tom Spencer with Michelle Hernandez and Carla Jean Oldenkamp, Austin Funky Chicken Coop tour
Mark the date: April 7. It’s only $10 for a map to all the coops (so, a group can go for $10)!

Here’s a sneak preview of one of them: Carla Jean Oldenkamp’s Zen Hen House and beautiful organic square foot garden.

Daphne answers: when and how should we fertilize? The early warm weather has plants in active mode. We can fertilize roses, shrubs and trees now, and perennials in a few weeks.  But if you’re using an organic slow release fertilizer, you can fertilize them now, though usually we’d wait a bit. We want to do it when the plants are actively growing, and a surprise damaging freeze isn’t around the corner.

Mrs. Oakley Fisher bud

After the beating our plants took last year, Daphne does recommend a little help this spring. But note:
“With plant nutrients, a little bit goes a long way and more is definitely not better.  If you give your plants too much fertilizer, they’ll put on a lot of new growth and may look great in the spring, but then when summer arrives, they won’t have enough water to support all that new growth and they’ll be even more stressed.  With perennials and flower beds, consider using a layer of compost as your initial mulch.  Compost will provide a very small amount of nutrients, which is likely all your perennials will need.”

Trisha’s vegetable garden at Lake Austin Spa Resort looks mighty fine.

Lake Austin Spa Resort vegetable gardens

But with the early warm weather’s effect on winter crops, and summer plants awaiting their turn, get her tips this week on how she’s handling both.

And take a look at this amazing turnip from a San Antonio gardener! Just shows what you can grow in a container.

huge turnip grown in a container

Free events: get hands-on vegetable tips at It’s About Thyme!

All You Need to Know about Growing Tomatoes:  Feb 26 at 2 p.m.
How to Have a Lovely Garden…  and Eat It Too: March 4 at 2 p.m. with Renee Studebaker.

See you next week!  Linda