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

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

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.

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

Fall in love with autumn bulbs and grasses

Big day in my garden! The autumn daffodils (Sternbergia lutea) popped up reliably a year after planting.

Sternbergia lutea autumn daffodil
These small crocus-like plants, native to the Mediterranean, are cute companions for red oxblood lilies and spider lilies (Lycoris radiata).

Lycoris radiata spider lily and Sternberia lutea autumn daffodil
Last fall on CTG, Chris Wiesinger, author of Heirloom Bulbs for Today, introduced me to these beauties that will naturalize in my Blackland soil, even in part shade! I wasted no time ordering these hard-to-find bulbs online.

Mostly though, I get plants from local nurseries supplied by local/regional growers (or grown themselves), along with passalongs from friends.  My native Plumbago scandens has been in non-stop mode for months against evergreen Texas sedge (Carex texensis). The plumbago will die to the ground this winter but return even stronger next spring.

Plumbago scandens with Texas sedge
Mine came from the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center sales—coming up again Oct. 13 & 14 (member’s preview Oct. 12). You can even join that day to beat the rush for superb natives, including ones that don’t often show up in nurseries.

These days, many nurseries do have native grasses like Lindheimer muhly (on the left) and deer muhly (on the right):  this spectacular duo in Anne Bellomy’s garden.

Lindheimer and deer muhly seed heads

Native grasses, in the fields and in our gardens, are both lovely and beneficial. Many send down deep roots, benefiting aeration, stabilizing the soil, and improving fertility—along with providing shelter and food for wildlife. And in fall, they are the ultimate drama queens! My Lindheimer was our favorite autumn standout until it got too much shade and withered away. Until I find a sunny spot, I’ll just enjoy Anne’s.

Lindheimer and deer muhly
This week, Tom meets with Shirley and Brian Loflin, who note that grasses once predominated the Hill Country and the Blackland prairie.

Tom Spencer Shirley Loflin Brian Loflin
Their book, Grasses of the Texas Hill Country, is a friendly hands-on guide to identify and learn about both cool and warm weather grasses in our fields and for our gardens. This popular book is currently in reprint, available for pre-order from Texas A&M University Press.

Grasses of the Texas Hill Country Brian and Shirley Loflin

Currently, it is available as a Google ebook, too.

Brian’s photography helps make it easier to identify the grasses that soon will be in show-off mode, like curly mesquite. This one’s part of  the Habiturf mix that includes buffalo grass and blue grama for a native lawn in sun.  By the way, the Habiturf trio is available at the Wildflower Center and online.

Common curly mesquite Brian and Shirley Loflin

Little bluestem is another native beauty that you’ll be seeing soon.

Little Bluestem Brian and Shirley Loflin

Artist Shirley also creates beautiful framed botanicals with grasses, perfect for that wall you’ve wanted to adorn!

Grasses framed botanical Loflin

You can order online from their site, The Nature Connection, and also find out about their workshops, field trips, and see Brian’s extensive photography of insects, animals, plants, and wonders of the natural world.

Want to know more about cactus, too?!

Texas Cacti Brian and Shirley Loflin

Since we’re heading into prime time planting season for grasses, shrubs, perennials and wildflowers, get inspired with a visit to Betty & Gerald Ronga’s garden where food, wildflowers and wildlife unite on this rocky hilltop in Leander.

Betty and Gerald Ronga garden Central Texas Gardener

Many of us face watering restrictions, like Sheila C., who asks if fungal disease is a problem if we must water at night.

fungal disease watering at night
Daphne explains how it depends on the season and the situation.

It’s hard to imagine that we’re just weeks away from losing our summer annual herbs. Get ready now with Trisha’s tips and tricks for freezing herbs in oil and butter, along with recipes and making herbal vinegars.

Freezing herbs Trisha Shirey
Note: to watch an individual segment online, click on the vertical chapter marks above the play bar!

Happy planting and 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

Bee happy|Succulent strategies|Natural Bridge Caverns

One thing I love about wildlife is that they don’t mind if my garden gets a tad messy. As long as the place is clean (no pesticides), they’re going for the atmosphere—free food in a diner that’s open all year. This combo platter of shrimp plant and oxalis attracts a wide selection of customers, including hummingbirds, bees, and butterflies.

Shrimp plant and oxalis
Thanks to the rain, the sunflowers tower over us!  Perhaps they’ll entice some Bordered Patch or Painted Lady butterflies to lay their eggs. Certainly, they’ll be attracting birds, who planted these in the first place. These natural designers picked an inspiring spot!

really tall sunflower
In the front bed, there’s something for everybody, too: pink skullcap, shrimp plant, heartleaf skullcap, white mistflower, zexmenia, copper canyon daisy, eupatorium, pine muhly, setcresea (Purple Heart), Mexican bush sage and evergreen sumac. With Yucca recurvifolia ‘Margaritaville’.

Linda's front garden bed for wildlife
Greg nabbed a picture of Coreopsis tinctoria on the creek bank behind our fence. I hope some of the seeds end up in our back “prairie!”

Coreopsis tinctoria east Austin
My baby skeleton-leaf goldeneye daisy appears to be MIA, but I’m getting more! In the meantime, here’s a beneficial wasp (I think) on one at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Skeleton-leaf goldeneye daisy with beneficial wasp
Another I’d like to have again is ‘David Verity’ Cuphea, beneficial to insects and hummingbirds.  My former one froze in the “big chill” two years ago. I didn’t replace it since it wasn’t getting enough sun, but I’ll find a spot to have one like this!

David Verity cuphea
Gaura (Gaura lindheimeri) is another that I didn’t give enough sun. So, I’m glad a neighbor is growing it in a new hot strip curb bed, converted from lawn.

Gaura lindheimeri

It really does take a village to feed the wildlife. If everyone in the neighborhood plants even a few plants, the “strip mall” cluster attracts a bigger crowd.

Gaura lindheimeri
Along with masses to attract the masses, the secret to diversified wildlife is diversified food, even in winter. While we’re sipping hot chocolate, honeybees head for narcissus.

Narcissus with bee
In early spring, they make a beeline to Mexican plum, viburnums, and roses like this Mutabilis.

Rose mutabilis with bee

And native annual baby blue-eyes.

Baby blue-eyes with bee
I laughed like crazy to see this bee gleefully rolling around in the Pink evening primrose.

Pink Evening primrose with bee
More ecstasy in poppies. Sights like this are my favorite part of gardening.

Bee in poppy

This mild winter, everyone headed for a Salvia coccinea that didn’t freeze. It was protected by other plants in a warm niche, where spuria irises served dessert on April flowers.

Salvia coccinea with spuria iris
In summer, when this heat-loving annual salvia usually performs, it attracts bees and butterflies.

Salvia coccinea with bee

My “patrons” all rave about my fall goldenrods, though it wasn’t my recipe. These perennial natives just wandered in on their own.

Goldenrod with bee
Since bees are so important for pollination, this week Tom meets with Kellan Vincent, landscape architect, and Beekeeper and Pollination Strategist.
Tom Spencer and Kellan Vincent

What a fascinating quick primer on the lifestyles of honeybees, bumble bees and solitary bees, like Mason bees!  Here’s a native honeybee on my rosemary in January.

Rosemary flowers with bees

Mason bees quickly found my house, a gift from Travis Audubon stewards Georgean and Paul Kyle, who handcrafted this. You may know them best for their delightful handmade toys at Rootin’ Ridge Toymakers, but they also make the bee houses, bird nesting boxes and food perches.

Mason bee house from Rootin' Ridge

For more about bees, check in with The San Marcos Area Bee Wranglers, where you can meet Kellan in person! Follow him on Twitter at @BeeKellan.

This week, Daphne answers: why did our fall-blooming plants show up this spring?

Fall aster with bee
Daphne’s Pick of the Week is Texas Star Hibiscus, a native hibiscus that feeds wildlife all summer.

Texas Star hibiscus at Natural Bridge Caverns

That’s a screen grab from our tour this week to Natural Bridge Caverns (hence why it looks a little odd!). We didn’t go on the cavern tour, though you should! Our focus is what’s on top: design concepts for home gardens, plants for wildlife (no pesticides!), and mainly, a vivid illustration to remind us that what we pour on top of our gardens or to kill insects ends up in our water.

Jeff Pavlat from the Austin Cactus & Succulent Society premieres his first Backyard Basics with something we’ve wanted to do for years: show off Jeff’s toolkit for working with spiky plants!

Jeff Pavlat Central Texas Gardener
Sources: Jeff gets his knives and covers, ice scoops, brushes and gravel bins cheap at a restaurant supply store. On Amazon, I found several sources for these tools. But Jeff gets the big tweezers (forceps), hemostats and the sharp pointed tweezers at Miles’  To Go cacti and succulent nursery.
And also from Rainbow Gardens Bookshop that specializes in cacti and succulent plant books. The toolkit is a fishing tackle box from Academy.

Until next week, garden safe! 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)

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

See you next week! Linda

My big reduce lawn renovation: before and after!

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

digging out grass with Pearson Landscape Design

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

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

From the other side:

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

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

lawn replace

Here’s the view from the garden side.

stone path (c) Linda Lehmusvirta

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

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

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

lawn replace (c) Linda Lehmusvirta

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

lawn replace with stone pathway (c) Linda Lehmusvirta

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

den path after stonework (c) Linda Lehmusvirta

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

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

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

Sam on holey rock sculpture (c) Linda Lehmusvirta

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

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

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

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

path to patio before (c) Linda Lehmusvirta

new stone path to patio (c) Linda Lehmusvirta

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

lawn replace (c) Linda Lehmusvirta

Mark came up with the “something.”

new back patio (c) Linda Lehmusvirta

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

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

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

New back patio over creek (c) Linda Lehmusvirta

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

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

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

See you then, Linda

Cheery (and tasty) winter companions

Mush, schmush. Some plants went down in the early freeze, but the mums barely shivered. ‘Country Girl’ chrysanthemums expect a vase on the Christmas table, though the faltering asters will be gone by then.

Country Girl chrysanthemums and fall asters
To tidy up a bit, I clipped off rain-drenched departures. A few minutes of work means new flowers to ring in the New Year.

Country Girl chrysanthemum
‘Butterpat’ mums are gearing up for champagne.

Butterpat chrysanthemum
This beneficial hover fly (syrphid fly) warmed up enough to get lunch. (Sadly, one froze in the middle of dinner).

Hover fly on Butterpat chrysanthemum
Just a few frosty nights rendered a color change. Since I adore burgundy, I thank my Rusty blackhaw viburnum to satisfy me, even briefly, before its leaves hit the ground to enrich its soil.

Rusty blackhaw viburnum winter leaves
This new Salvia regla wanted to tell me that it’s happy in its “forever home,” even when it goes into hiding soon.  “Don’t forget me while I’m gone!”

Mountain sage, salvia regla

Its young buddy already got frost-burned, but the spiderworts are guarding the reglas from the shovel until late spring. They’re joined by baby blue-eyes that re-seed every year since 2009 when Melissa at Zanthan Gardens dug up transplants from her garden for me.

Spiderwort and baby blue-eyes seedlings
Salvia coccineas have gone to their forever home in the compost pile. They left a legacy through the seeds they frantically spewed the last few weeks.

A month or so ago, I planted cherviI near the summer performer, A&M Texas Superstar angelonia, since I knew it would hit the ground in freeze.

Chervil and cut back angelonia companion planting

Over winter, chervil’s a cheery little herb to pinpoint where I want more angelonia next summer. By the time angelonias return to the nursery, the chervil will have checked out of its winter resort. Until then, it’s great in salads, sauces, or other recipes for a touch of anise flavor.

Recently, when I found feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium) grown by local Gabriel Valley Farms, I nabbed a few to fill a spot in front.

Feverfew with sorrel and pansy winter garden

In the past, I’ve loved its prolific white flowers that companion with spring bulbs and into early summer.

Feverfew with spring bulbs companion plant

In Judy Barrett’s book, What Can I Do With My Herbs?, I learned that bees do not like feverfew.  She plants it around hummingbird feeders or doorways where you might not want bees.  So, don’t include them in your vegetable garden!  But for a few feverfew in your ornamental garden, the bees will still zoom in on nearby feeding flowers this winter!  In my experience, feverfew’s tenacity in summer and its return depends totally on conditions. What’s been your experience?

Nearby, I added red-veined sorrel.  When it’s not in our salad bowls, it’s just so pretty!

Red-veined sorrel
One of my first winter annuals as a gardener was fragrant stock. This year, I just couldn’t resist a repeat!

Pink stock
I paired them with my little leaf Jerusalem sage (Phlomis lanata) and silvery Heartleaf skullcap, FINALLY making a comeback. Oooh, that deep pink and silver to come; what a winter combination.

Pink stock with Phlomis lanata and heartleaf skullcap

Stock up your sunny front door and patio containers for fragrant punch to greet your holiday guests!

Although rain-beaten, my new ‘Sonnet Crimson’ snapdragons are so poetic against the one ‘Diamond Frost’ euphorbia that made it through drought.
After this picture, I snipped the snaps for new flowers to feed nectaring wildlife this winter.

Snapdragon and Proven Winners Diamond Frost euphorbia

Finally, I thank you all so much for sharing my life and CTG this year! It’s a total honor to serve you. Your questions, insight, and pictures award you all an “associate producer” credit to help gardeners sharing your concerns. Your guidance is essential, and I thank you very much!

Lady Banks rose with crossvine

Tom and I also thank the gardeners who supported CTG this year with their pledges of support!  And please give a shout out to our production underwriters, Geo Growers and The Planket.  And to our 2011 local underwriters: Botanical Concerns, The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, the Sustainable Food Center (Sunset Valley Farmers Market), and Breed and Company.

Buff Beauty rose

Thanks to you, we’re on the way to another 40 programs, coming your way starting January 7!  Happy holidays and we’ll see you in the New Year!  Linda

Drought tips for planting wildflowers, native plants, and seeds

Drought can be tough on Lycoris radiata. Obviously, these refused to miss their chance to radiate joy!

lycoris radiata in Texas drought
I thank the raccoons for this. These Lycoris are blooming next to the kiddie pool. The raccoons have been getting drinks from it (along with the bowl of water we give them). They press on the sides for a slurp. In the process, they watered the bulbs.

I know that others are healthy and will radiate in future years when water Prohibition has been revoked. I know this because last Saturday some of their fat little roots on sturdy bulbs, too tired to bloom, got unearthed. I made their acquaintance when we finally dealt with the homeowner’s nightmare: a broken sewage pipe. It had sunk several inches in our shifting clay soil and then disconnected. I entered the magic bubble of denial and refused to come out. But out I had to come.

plumbing nightmare
I’m ashamed of my procrastination, because moving plants in this heat isn’t a brilliant idea. Between me and my new heroes, though, we got them out fast and I raced them to potted, watered safety on the shaded patio. I wrapped the Lycoris bulbs in damp paper towels and planted them Sunday morning. The other plants get a  daily misted vacation on the patio for now.

I’d hoped to spare my Yucca rupicola x pallida from the shovel. Gently, my heroes pulled it out of the way with duct tape.

Yucca ruppicola x pallida spared in plumbing dig

I’d use clothesline or strips of sheeting instead if this happens again, but it didn’t mind a bit. It was only in bondage for a very short time.  (No plants were harmed in the making of this pipe.)

Yucca restrained for plumbing dig

SO, the big question I keep getting: Should we plant this fall or not? Well, I certainly am.  You’ll find me at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center plant sale on Oct. 15-16. Members get in early on Oct. 14, a great reason to join now (or you can do at the door).

I’ve already printed out this year’s plant list. Fall is still the best time to plant!

This week on CTG, Tom meets with Sean Watson, nursery manager at the Wildflower Center, for special tips on how to plant wildflowers this fall, like bluebonnets, Drummond phlox, and this one, Indian blanket (Gaillardia pulchella).

Indian blanket Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center
Sean includes a few drought-tough trees to establish now, like Retama (Parkinsonia aculeata).

Retama (Parkinsonia aculeata) Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center
And Lace cactus (Echinocereus reichenbachii).

Lace cactus Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Check out the Wildflower Center’s Drought Resource Center for tips on dealing with drought, replacing your lawn, and plant lists.

One plant I’ve gotten at Wildflower Center sales is golden groundsel (Packera obovata). This week, Daphne explains how to grow this native groundcover for shade to part sun.

Golden groundsel (Packera obovata)
Mine starts blooming by February, a great nectar source for insects when many plants are dormant. Combine it with annual natives, like Baby blue eyes (Nemophila menziesii) to fill in shady spots while warm-weather annuals and perennials are on break.

Baby blue eyes with golden groundsel
And since fall is the time to plant spring wildflower seeds and cool-weather vegetables, Daphne answers: How does a seed work? She explains, “Seeds are tiny packets of carbohydrates, plus a tiny future plant.  The first thing that all seeds need in order to germinate is water.  When water and oxygen are taken up, the plant embryo can begin respiration and can digest the carbohydrate food source packaged with it and then can begin to grow.” Then, there are big seeds and small seeds. Get Daphne’s complete answer.

On tour, visit this low-water native plant design where Bobbie Tsukahara and Gil Starkey wanted to attract the three B’s: butterflies, birds, and bees.

native plant garden central texas gardener

Working with Judy Walther and Troy Nixon from Environmental Survey Consulting, their organic, low-maintenance garden contributes to nature’s gifts, rather than depleting them.

Mockinbird Central Texas Gardener native plant design

I thank Pam Penick for recommending this one that belongs to her in-laws! Early on, she guided Bobbie & Gilbert to native plants. Two years ago, their garden was featured on the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center garden tour.

native plant garden design Central Texas Gardener

Another dear friend, Sandy Youman, recommends this tough native, Fall obedient plant (Physostegia virginiana).

Fall obedient plant (Physostegia virginiana)

Deer resist it, but butterflies and hummingbirds can’t get enough of its nectar. This member of the mint family is vigorous and will quickly cover its appointed ground to visit its neighbors. You can’t beat it if you want a low-maintenance plant in shady, sunny or part sun spots where you can let it run. It’s easily dug up to move to other spots or share with a wildlife-loving buddy.

Regardless of drought, we’ve all got work to do out there. John Dromgoole demonstrates some tools that make back-breaking work in dry soil a lot easier!

John Dromgoole ergonomic tools

For more drought-tough garden design inspiration, join Stephen Orr, author of Tomorrow’s Garden: Design & Inspiration for a New Age of Sustainable Gardening, on October 11 at 6 p.m. for wine, book-signing, and a most timely presentation!  He features several Austin gardens, too! This Garden Conservancy event will be held at the Arthouse at the Jones Center. General admission is $35;  and $30 for members of the Garden Conservancy and the Arthouse. Order tickets online from The Garden Conservancy and find out more.

Augie Doggie’s pet of the week is a young Tennessee fainting goat, Taffeta!

Tennessee fainting goat Central Texas Gardener

In Eve William’s garden, Taffeta and her sisters contribute nanny berries to the organic garden.  The manure is a natural slow-release source of nutrients for the soil.  Eve writes, “I get love and affection from my goats as well as good food from my garden.  Who could ask for more?”

SO, why are they called fainting goats? When startled, their legs freeze for ten seconds.  Young goats fall over and look dead.  Mature goats figure it out by spreading their legs or leaning against something when they feel faint.  Taffeta’s so cute that I think I would faint just to see her!

Until next week, Linda