Drought disasters to avoid

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

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

Bordered Patch butterfly on zexmenia

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

Tom Spencer and David Cristiani Central Texas Gardener

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

Dead tree rockscape photo by David Cristiani

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

Hot rockscape photo by David Cristiani

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

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

Lindheimer muhly and agave

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

Gulf muhly seed heads

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

Silver bluestem

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

inland sea oats new growth

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

mexican feather grass seed heads

Mexican feather grass cut back

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

Lindheimer muhly and salvia leucantha

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

Merrideth Jiles The Great Outdoors

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

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

Mexican orchid tree flower hummingbird plant

Thanks for stopping by! See you next week, Linda

Mushrooms: Your Garden's Best Friend

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

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

Ashley McKenzie and Tom Spencer

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

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

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

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

Chicken of the Woods Texas Wild Mushrooming Group

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

Orange mushroom Central Texas Gardener

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Evergreen sumac berries

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

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

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

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

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

Nature Watch Austin

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

Mountain pea (Orbexilum sp.)

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

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

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


Thanks for stopping in! See you next week, Linda

Winter drought care trees & wildflowers|Edibles meet perennials

Happy New Year! Good wishes to you all that 2013 sprinkles us with abundant joy.

'Patrick' abutilon

Unless we get a few serious sprinkles from above, we need to water our wildflower rosettes, like bluebonnets. Thanks to Jean Warner for Daphne’s question this week! Like Jean, my bluebonnets are up, along with larkspur and weeds—so be careful out there when pulling.

bluebonnet rosette

If you make a mistake like I have “now and then,” quickly plug the keeper back in and water. Here are baby poppies, not native, but still so pretty and beloved by bees.

poppy seedlings

So, Jean wants to know if freeze will harm her healthy crop of bluebonnets. As Daphne reports, cold weather isn’t a concern for our native wildflowers that emerge in fall to hunker down as rosettes until the magic moment.

But lack of water certainly is. Annuals, like bluebonnets and many others, will wither away and never flower and seed for next year without moisture. And we certainly don’t want to miss pictures like this Flickr sequence, thanks to KLRU’s Sara Robertson and her baby’s first Texas 2012 spring!

Sebastian in the bluebonnets

Lack of water is the reason we’re losing valuable trees, too.

Cedar elm winter

Tom joins consulting arborist Don Gardner to explain why it happens and what we can do.

Tom Spencer Don Gardner drought tree care

Find out how far out to water your trees for their age and size. KLRU graphic designer Mark Pedini crafted this to illustrate one of Don’s important points.

Tree roots Mark Pedini Central Texas Gardener

In drought, the absorbing roots get smaller and smaller until eventually the tree only has woody, anchoring roots. Those fine feeder roots are what we must water to keep the tree alive.

Check out Daphne’s explanation of woody roots and whether we can plant over them.

Meet Don in person for more tree care tips on January 26 at 2 p.m. at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center’s Tree Talk Winter Walk. This free event is from 9 a.m. -5 p.m.

Watch this great video from the Texas A&M Forest Service for more on watering your trees.

Not only do we need to water our fruit trees, now is the time to apply horticultural oil to fend off hibernating insects and their eggs. John Dromgoole explains how to help prevent pests like plum curculio and bacterial and fungal disease with proactive care. Oh, the first thing is to sanitize the garden—all year long—by removing old leaves and fruit from the ground.

Fruit tree insect and fungal prevention John Dromgoole

If you don’t have space for fruit trees, I just bet you have a spot to grow pretty edibles, like this ‘Joi Choi’ bok choy!

‘Joi Choi’ bok choy Daphne Richards

Daphne’s Pick of the Week is something you can pick and eat: winter edibles!  And no need to restrict them to an official vegetable bed. Tuck them in among your perennials, like these at the Travis County Texas AgriLife Extension demonstration beds in October.

Edibles and perennials Travis Texas AgriLife Extension

Whether you eat it or not, nutritious Swiss chard is a beauty among winter annuals. Many of mine didn’t weather summer’s heat, but this one never faltered.

Bright Lights Swiss chard

You can still plant winter edibles among your dormant perennials for a pop of delicious color. In fact, check out the Master Gardener’s free workshop  January 17 on how to plant and save seeds.

Daphne also suggests letting some plants bolt or go to seed for their structural addition and flowers. With fall’s warm weather, many of our crops bolted early this year, so go ahead and replant, like lettuce.

lettuce bolting

Molly O’Halloran shares this lettuce soup recipe (which she thickened with diced potatoes) to use lettuce that’s past its salad prime.

Here’s another reason to “try it at home.” Look at the size of this carrot grown by Nancy and Richard Simpson in their year-round organic vegetable garden!

huge carrot Nancy and Richard Simpson

I bet you all, like me, have the fix-it-up bug.  Here’s some great inspiration and tips from designer Annie Gillespie of Botanical Concerns at her hillside garden.

Thanks for stopping by! See you next week, Linda

Get the story on understory trees and plants

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pink fairy duster (Calliandra eriophylla) bee

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

Pink Fairy Duster drought garden Austin Texas

Pink Fairy Duster

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

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

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

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

Meredith O'Reilly Great Stems

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

Goldenball leadtree Kyle Texas

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

Carolina buckthorn Liberty Hill Texas

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

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

Great Stems Meredith O'Reilly

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

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

Mexican redbud flower

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

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

Houseplant insect control John Dromgoole

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

Until next week, happy planting! Linda

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

Notable natives

Even though rain and sweet cool days perked things up, I know that fall is here when my self-seeded goldenrods start blooming. Soon, they’ll be clustered with butterflies, bees and little wasps.

goldenrod Central Texas
They’re already heading to the shrub/small tree Barbados cherry (Malpighia glabra) that rebounded from a brief summer break to flower yet again. Later, birds will hone in on the fruit to fatten up for winter.

Barbados cherry flowers
This one’s on the side of the house, formerly photinia-ville, joined by a white-blooming Cenizo ‘Silvarado Sage’, a hybrid of the native Texas sage (Leucophyllum frutescens). A non-native thryallis (Galphimia glauca) joins them to screen and shade the air conditioner.

Barbados cherry Cenizo silverado thryallis
Daphne’s Pick of the Week, native damianita (Chrysactinia Mexicana) is going great guns in the right conditions, which I don’t have. This one thrives in the hot curb strips at Mueller. It’s a deer resistant low-grower that blooms for months (attracting pollinators) as long as it has sunny, well-drained spots that don’t get a ton of water.

damianita
My native frostweed (Verbesina virginica) opened its first flowers, too, ready for the butterflies in frenzy feeding.

Frostweed flowers
Oh, I got that one and many of my natives at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center’s plant sales: this year on Oct. 13 & 14 (member preview Oct. 12). You can even click to get a printable list of available plants.

The LBJWC is where you can nab the drought-tough groundcover, golden groundsel (Packera obovata), hard to find in the trade. In summer, it’s a lush little filler in part shade.

Golden groundsel packera obovata foliage

In early winter, it’s among the first to bloom, feeding native bees and other insects even during freezing days, here with oxalis.

golden groundsel flowers with oxalis

The Wildflower sale is just one event during Native Texas Plant Week, Oct. 14 -20. Check out all the fabulous activities to Keep Austin Wild, including tours and workshops.

Someone you’ll meet at the LBJWC sale is E.E. “Mitch” Mitchamore from Hill Country Natives, who grows hard-to-find native plants in his home-based nursery. This week, he joins Tom to pick a few native trees to create a canopy for shade, understory, fruit and wildlife appeal.

Tom Spencer and "Mitch" Mitchamore, Hill Country Natives

One he details for us is Bigtooth maple. At a mature height of 15’ or so, it’s perfect for smaller gardens. At his nursery you can see planted specimens to get a true feel of what they’ll look like in a garden. I like how he’s used salvaged fencing to protect this young Bigtooth from browsing deer.

Bigtooth maple deer fence Hill Country Natives
Here’s his short list for CTG. At the nursery, Mitch has more native and adapted plants to round out your diverse garden. Since availability varies on what’s ready and hours vary, contact him and get more info at Hill Country Natives.

A native fruit tree he and Tom showcase is Blanco crabapple, like this beauty at the Selah Bamberger Ranch Preserve. If you’ve never visited David Bamberger’s habitat restoration, check out their tour and workshop schedule to celebrate Native Plant Week all year long!

Blanco crabapple flowers Bamberger Ranch

Andrea DeLong-Amaya, Director of Horticulture at the LBJWC, shows how to plant your new acquisitions and what mistakes to avoid.

Andrea DeLong-Amaya shows how to plant
Daphne answers, “How can I solarize to kill grass, weeds, and nematodes?” A viewer asked if she could solarize with an old clear plastic shower curtain. Daphne reports: Yes, indeed! She explains why to choose clear or black plastic and how to do it.

Last winter, my neighbor solarized front yard grass with black plastic for months.

Black plastic solarize
This summer, they turned in compost and planted a native habitat. Already, it’s thriving with Salvia leucantha, Lindheimer muhly, Blue mistflower (Conoclinium), zemenia, desert willow and Gulf muhly.

native garden after solarizing
On tour, see how Jackie Davis restored a typical small lot to an abundant wildlife habitat. Instead of exotic, dying trees and dog-trampled earth, her Certified Backyard Habitat is in constant motion with birds and beneficial insects. She’s got cool tips for feeding birds, too! To jumpstart her hands-on education, she became a member of Travis Audubon, the Native Plant Society and the Austin Butterfly Forum.

Many thanks to Meredith O’Reilly, blogger and gardener at Great Stems, for connecting me with Jackie. Meredith joins us on November 3 with more great native plant understory selections!

Until next week, happy planting to one and all! Linda

Keyhole gardens, Oak leaf galls, Gabriel Valley Farms, Drying herbs

First, I have to admit: I’m a bulb freak. I’d buy a thousand more if I could. Instead, I divide my naturalizing wealth and then forget where I planted them. That’s okay, because garden surprises like these oxblood lilies are treasures every year, especially abundant this September, thanks to the rain.

Oxblood lilies and plumbago Austin Texas
I walked out last weekend to find this red spider lily (Lycoris radiata) peeking out in the turk’s caps.

red spider lily (lycoris) and turk's cap
Red is a color that many gardeners are seeing this year from oak leaf galls.

Oak leaf galls (c) Danielle Deuillet
This week, Daphne explains what’s going on: “The small, reddish galls on the undersides of our oak leaves right now are caused by tiny wasps.  They lay their eggs on the leaves and the tree responds by forming a protective structure, the gall, to contain the wasp eggs while the insect larvae grow into adults.”

Oak leaf galls (c) MaryAnn A
You’ll probably never see these non-stinging little wasps. As Daphne tells us, there’s no reason to treat. We have them every year and they don’t harm the trees.  This year was just insect-crazy, so they’ve become especially noticeable.  Thank you, Danielle & MaryAnn, for sending us your pictures!

Soon, I expect to see some yellow in my garden. I have high hopes that my young Skeleton-leaf goldeneye will look like this!

Skeleton-leaf goldeneye austin texas
This native, evergreen drought-tough perennial is Daphne’s pick of the week. Its flowers from late spring to frost attract many beneficial pollinators, like this tiny wasp.

Skeleton-leaf goldeneye daisy with tiny wasp
It requires sun and good drainage, so in my clay soil garden, I amended with compost and decomposed granite.

Our first gentle cold front reminds us that soon we’ll need to snag some of our cold-tender herbs to dry or freeze. So, this week, Trisha shows how to dry herbs in any season (including our evergreens) for homegrown flavor and tastefully beautiful gifts. Get her tips for your files.

Dried herbs cute
Next week, get her tips for freezing herbs, like basil, that don’t stand up well to drying.

Now that I’ve tidied up and revised my plant list, I’ll be hitting the nurseries soon. I respect a tag with Gabriel Valley Farms’ name on it.

Gabriel Valley Farms
On tour, we visit this innovative wholesale grower near Georgetown to see how Cathy and Sam Slaughter grow tried and true Texas plants organically, starting from seed.

The KLRU crew with Ed Carter and Chris Kim had a blast! Here’s director Ed Fuentes documenting the babies that will head to nurseries and your gardens when they’re grown up! If you grow seeds in a few pots or flats, imagine planting thousands!

Gabriel Valley Farms Ed Fuentes camera operator

Cathy and Sam also share their tricks to fool seedlings to germinate when it’s too hot or too cold to plant, and why it’s important to get organically grown plants when possible.

Keyhole gardens are the hot topic this year! Tom meets with Deb Tolman to explain why these sustainable vessels are perfect to grow vegetables, fruit trees or ornamentals.

Tom Spencer and Deb Tolman Central Texas Gardener
Deb explains how to do it for abundant crops, even in small spaces and in thin or dense soils where it’s difficult to grow food. Along with saving water, keyhole gardens are the ultimate design to recycle/reuse cardboard, phone books, newspapers and kitchen vegetable scraps.

Keyhole garden plan (c) Ted Miears

Keyhole garden design (c) Deb Tolman

Keyhole garden cardboard (c) Deb Tolman

Keyhole garden design (c) Ted Miears

Find out more on Deb’s website and get her DVD, shot by videographer Ted Miear, which documents the entire process that you can do in one afternoon!  I thank Ted for his support on this segment. Long ago, he was a KLRU freelancer, who went on to launch his own video production company.

Finally, the garden events are gearing up, but here’s one for the whole family! From Sept. 22 – Nov. 18, head out to Barton Hills Farm in Bastrop for a corn maze, live music and more. Family fall fun, for sure!

Happy planning and planting until I see you next week!  Linda

Projects! Reduce lawn makeover! Container vegetables!

Revival! As the rock roses (Pavonia lasiopetala) and Turk’s cap swing back into gear, my ideas hit revival mode, too.

Rock rose and turk's cap
Projects are finally in the works.  Last spring, we laid a sandstone path over a section of dead grass, but wanted time to think about what to do next.

Path project lawn reduce

We’ve decided to get more sandstone, but to reduce the heat factor, I’m leaving wide spaces to plant frogfruit (Phyla nodiflora). You can see how the first ones are already creeping over.

Last March, I set out a few 4” pots to soften our new work. They’ve taken off like crazy, unmindful of the unamended soil, heat, drought or the brief spurts of drenching rain.

frogfruit on path

I’ve been digging up grass since the day we moved in, since I want a garden full of wildlife. When 2010-2011 took a hard toll on lawns, I lost a lot of the rest, as did many gardeners.

This week on tour, see how Lana & Bob Beyer retrieved their garden with stunning new ideas!

Lawn replace design Lana and Bob Beyer
Here’s how it looked this spring, new plants soon to fill in. Already, they’re seeing more wildlife.

Lawn replace design Lana and Bob Beyer
Director Ed Fuentes had a lot of fun taping this renovation, even though the sun was brutal.

Central Texas Gardener on location with Ed Fuentes
In front, here’s Bob’s shot after they stripped the dead grass.

stripping front yard grass Lana and Bob Beyer
Since their HOA requires some lawn, Lana designed a wineglass shape with buffalograss to draw street-side views into the garden.

front yard makeover Lana and Bob Beyer
On Bob’s Central Texas Gardening website, see his remarkable slide show that documents the process step by step. Really, this is fabulous!

In the awkward curb strip, the Beyers made life easier and more beautiful with gray and green santolina, pink skullcap, and Rock penstemon.

santolina, pink skullcap, rock penstemon
Santolina is a drought-tough evergreen (or ever gray) deer-resistant groundcover. Find out how to grow it as Daphne’s Pick of the Week.

Gray santolina and flowers
Thanks to the rains last winter and a little this summer, our Mexican plum is hanging onto some of its fruit instead of dropping it all prematurely.
The ones at Mueller are totally abundant!

Mexican plum fruit Mueller Austin Texas
Since fall is the best time to plant trees, Tom joins Amanda Moon from It’s About Thyme for some tasty additions.

Tom Spencer and Amanda Moon, It's About Thyme
Her list includes fruiting and ornamental olive trees, including specimen tree ‘Little Ollie.’  Lana and Bob are growing theirs in a pot for now.

'Little Ollie' olive in a pot
Whether olive trees produce fruit or not, I love the silvery leaves. This one’s a tall shade tree in the garden of dear friends Molly and David.

Olive tree

Get Amanda’s list of olives, compact and ‘Wonderful’ pomegranate, Texas persimmon, loquat and figs.

And be sure to check out It’s About Thyme, where Diane and Chris Winslow and a very knowledgeable team guide you to tried-and-true plants, fabulous herbs, and ideas that will astound you and your garden. Sign up for their informative weekly enewsletter, too, for valuable tips from Chris and culinary expert Mick Vann.

Animals dine on the bark of our trees, especially in drought. Viewer Connie Lawson asked what to do about porcupines chomping her new trees. KLRU colleague Robert found squirrels stripping his trees. Will this kill your tree?  Get Daphne’s answer about whether trees will recover, and the best way to protect them.

Since many of us have limited space or limited sunlight, John Dromgoole demonstrates how to plant in containers, for organic food even on a patio, balcony, or driveway.

John Dromgoole vegetables in containers

Get his list of a few tiny plants, including ‘Tom Thumb’ corn for next summer.

Happy planting and I’ll see you next week!  Linda

50 Shades of Pink|Hardy Agaves|Repot Succulents

50 shades of pink dominate my garden this week. Okay, well maybe only 10 or so. The most grandiose is the crinum.

Pink crinum lovely

The tiniest is my new Phlox paniculata ‘John Fanick’. It’s been on my list for years! When I ran into some in May, I nabbed them faster than a bunny on a banana. And they won’t be that tiny next year. Every day, I drive by some that are just under 2′ feet tall, in blasting heat, blooming like nuts.

Phlox paniculata 'John Fanick'

Speaking of bunnies, evergreen small shrub Mexican oregano (Poliomintha longiflora) droops over a garden sign my sister-in-law gave me years ago, when I never dreamed of having a bunny.  Now, house bunnies Harvey & Gaby like cuttings for snack time.  Edible for us, too! Hummingbirds hone in on the flowers.

Mexican oregano flowers

Most romantic:  plumeria. I have them in large pots to bring to patio-covered warmth in winter.

Pink plumeria

These are quite xeric plants if you want some “container bold.” They like to go dry between infrequent waterings. I’ve noted that too much sun can cause sun scald. This year I moved them to a spot where they get sun, but relief from hot afternoon blasts, and they’ve been much happier. Of course, summer 2011 was a little brutal.

pink plumeria

Annual angelonias can take the heat and all the sun in the world. My purples in sunny spots deepen the palette.

Angelonia

In semi-shade, annual but re-seeding Salvia coccineas sweetly flower against Agave celsii.

Salvia coccinea with Agave celsii

My celsii took a hit in our two sharp winters, but has rallied. Since hardy agaves are lovely textural additions to the waterwise garden, this week Tom joins Bob Barth, founding member of the Austin Cactus and Succulent Society, to look at a few.

Tom Spencer and Bob Barth

An important point that Bob makes is the big mistake among new agave gardeners: at the nursery, they see three pots like this.

silver agaves, Central Texas Gardener

Two will stay under 30”: Agave parryi var. truncata and Agave parrasana.  One, Whale’s Tongue agave (Agave ovatifolia), will get really big! Here’s Bob’s list with sizes and offset tendency.

We didn’t have time to mention two on his list for shade. The variegated one is Agave lophantha ‘Quadricolor’, now on my list!

Agaves for shade
The other is Squid agave (Agave bracteosa). I have ‘Calamar’ in a pot, a gift from designer Patrick Kirwin.

Squid agave, Agave bracteosa
Another is in grit-amended clay soil with ‘Blackie’ sweet potato vine nearby.

Squid agave with 'Blackie' sweet potato vine

Both of these squids get “psycho lighting,” shade a lot of the day and blasting afternoon sun for a few hours. They handle it just fine, along with freeze, flood, and drought.

Bob Barth was the man who introduced me to agaves way back when. One I got from him is Agave striata, still in a pot. I’ve considered amending the soil enough to let it go free in the ground. At the same time, although this is a smaller agave, its enforced restriction is just about right for me in this spot.

Agave striata, blackfoot daisy, 'Hotlips' salvia
Now I want to add A. striata ‘Live Wires’, one of Bob’s featured plants on CTG. In sun, its leaves can turn lavender. Oh, must have!

Agave striata 'Live Wires'
One of the first I bought from Bob was Agave gemniflora. It’s been my favorite patio plant in part shade since then. It’s not cold hardy but has made it through 14° in our patio winter greenhouse. I almost never water it.

Agave gemniflora
Jeff Pavlat, also a member of the Austin Cactus & Succulent Society, who’s found a great teacher in Bob, too (and now his assistant in Bob’s private nursery, Oracle Gorge),takes on Backyard Basics this week to demonstrate how to repot spiky cacti and succulents. Here’s Jeff’s potting mixture.

Jeff Pavlat repot cacti and succulents
You can meet them both and lots of neat plants at the Austin Cactus & Succulent Society Show and Sale on Sept. 1 and 2 at Zilker Botanical Garden.

So, can even our hardy plants, like succulents, be sun scalded? Indeed, they can! This week Daphne explains what happens.

My Sedum mexicana isn’t thrilled about the grueling spot I gave it.

Sedum mexicana sun scald

The ones I have in a morning sun patio pot (and that self-propagated in a bed nearby) are much richer in color and more prolific.

Back to the pink theme, Daphne’s Pick of the Week is Ruby crystals grass (Melinis nerviglumis) ‘Pink Crystals’. Thanks to Jennifer Stocker for this picture.  She has the most incredible garden and equally outstanding blog, Rock Rose!

Ruby crystals grass (c) Jenny Stocker

On tour in San Antonio, see how Richard Blocker from the San Antonio Cactus & Xerophyte Society swapped lawn for hardy cacti and succulents and how he protects his succulents from sun scald.

Thanks for stopping by! See you 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