currently in Austin

the show

Tropical Edibles

air date: April 13, 2013

Grow avocados, hibiscus tea, cinnamon, curry tree and other tropical edibles with tips from Amanda Moon from It’s About Thyme. On tour, visit a San Antonio wonderland where Ragna and Bob Hersey team up for creativity in a standard yard. Daphne Richards explains how to deal with oak leaf drop in garden beds. Her Pick of the Week is Mexican tithonia, a brilliant summer annual that’s a butterfly favorite. Andrea DeLong-Amaya from the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center analyzes options for mulch.

Episode Segments

On Tour

Wonderland Garden in San Antonio

In San Antonio, Ragna and Bob Hersey had the standard yard until Ragna gave it wonderland flair with dimension, secret coves, vibrant waterwise plants, and art. Bob built structures and laid paths. Ragna dressed up her design with clever ideas using recycled scavenges, including mirrors, washing machine tub pots, and even old paintings. Since Ragna went totally organic, wildlife has returned to complete her joyous picture.


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Question of the Week

Should I rake oak leaves off my beds or mulch over them?

Thanks to Robin Mayfield for this great question! She usually removes them, since she’s heard they don’t break down easily. Well, Robin, I’d say that leaving them is just fine. You’re correct that live oak leaves don’t break down easily, but that’s okay, if they’re serving as mulch.

My only caution is regarding the possibility of overwintering insects. If you noticed any sort of prolific insect infestation last year, such as caterpillars, I would suggest removing the leaf litter, and either composting it or recycling it curbside. But if you didn’t have any problems last year, it’s not likely that any overwintering insects that may be hiding in your leaf litter will pose enough of a problem to worry about. Especially since our winter was so dry.

Live oaks losing leaves early this year: Is this a problem?
I also got quite a few questions this winter about live oaks losing their leaves incredibly early this year, and whether this was due to the very early arrival of spring-like temperatures. Everyone’s live oaks were looking especially healthy at the time, so there was real concern about climate change.

But the unseasonably warm temperatures were not to blame; at least, not as they reflect the seasons. The early defoliation seen in otherwise healthy live oaks is not out of the ordinary. There are many things that could cause senescence and shedding of leaves, but our recent drought seasons have certainly played a leading role.

This may seem counter-intuitive, since the trees appear to be in excellent condition and not at all drought-stressed, but after many weeks without rain, even a healthy tree begins to prepare for a possibly bleak future. Leaves require water to support, and if there’s no water in sight, many trees will drop their leaves and go into dormancy until the stressful situation passes.

Other factors causing early defoliation include insect (mites, aphids, Cynipid wasps, etc.) and disease (rust, tar spot, & other fungal leaf spots) ailments. Healthy trees should tolerate these problems and recover from them.

DO keep your oak trees watered in these times of drought. Water at the dripline to 6″ and again when the soil is dry. A healthy tree is in better shape to combat natural combats on its leaves.

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Plant of the Week

Mexican Tithonia

Mexican Tithonia

Also known as Mexican sunflower, this hot weather annual in the sunflower family is a great addition to any sunny bed. It thrives in our Central Texas heat, but does need a little supplemental irrigation at the hottest, driest summer months. Of course, keep new seeds watered lightly daily until they germinate and do keep the new seedlings moist but not too wet. Be sure not to overwater, especially if you have clay soil. And don't be fooled by its small stature when purchased: Tithonia can get up to 6 feet tall and 4 feet wide, although dwarf varieties are available. There are many varieties that vary slightly by color and size. The leaves are rather coarse-textured and fuzzy. The brilliant flowers keep on coming all summer into the first frost. Sometimes, it takes a break in August, provide a little water, and shear lightly on a regular basis to remove spent blooms, it will flower even more prolifically. Tithonia is an annual, and can be planted in spring from either seeds or transplants. Since it does get so tall, be sure to put this plant in the back of garden bed, to highlight smaller perennials or groundcovers. Tithonia is irresistible to butterflies, so this plant should be a must-have in any wildlife garden.