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

Plants that survived the Texas Two-Step: Freeze and Drought

Spuria iris (c) Linda Lehmusvirta

Although my spuria iris flowers astound me just once a year, they do it every year—drought, flood, or freeze—since Scott Ogden shared a few divisions with me years ago.

My garden is resilient, too, thanks to the words he’s shared with me through all his books. Lauren Springer Ogden is another mentor, through her The Undaunted Garden (recently revised with Fulcrum Publishing) for garden design, plant resumes, and the poetry of words that express our love of the garden.

The Undaunted Garden Lauren Springer Ogden

Lauren and Scott collaborated on Plant-Driven Design, which ought be be in your grubby hands, if not already. Their latest (and very timely) partnership is Waterwise Plants for Sustainable Gardens, a quick-read, hands-on guide to peruse as you head to the nursery.

Ogdens' Waterwise Plants for Sustainable Gardens
Icons quickly indicate each plant’s favored conditions (including deer resistance and wildlife attraction). With each featured plant, the Ogdens include other options and companions.

Wow on CTG this week when they join Tom in a passionate conversation about the plants that took the “double spanking,”—Lauren’s on-target description about last year’s extreme freeze and drought.

Tom Spencer, Lauren Ogden, Scott Ogden
One they mention as a durable replacement for sago palms (cycads) is Dioon angustifolium (formerly Dioon edule var. angustifolium). That’s one on my list for this year. In the meantime, I nabbed a Dioon edule.

Dioon edule (c) Linda Lehmusvirta
Another is Lady Banks rose (Rosa banksiae ‘Lutea’).  Here’s mine in full bloom in the cat cove. I don’t think I’ve watered it since it was a youngster.

Lady Banks rose (c) Linda Lehmusvirta
The Ogdens love seasonal bulbs and rhizomes as much as I do. I’ve divided the original spurias again and again to include their strappy foliage in several sections of my garden.

Lady Banks rose, spuria irises

Spuria iris

When they brown up in a few months, I’ll cut them back. In some areas, neighboring perennials fill out to cover the spot or I’ll seed annuals.

Here’s a great example to illustrate the tenacity of Lady Banks. Years ago, I planted the fragrant white one ‘Alba Plena’ (included in Waterwise) at the back fence. Primrose jasmine grew up to smother it. No irrigation, fertilizer, or even attention until it sent its light-deprived stems into the trees to bloom.

In our recent project, when I dug out the primrose jasmines, I discovered that she was still there and had even rooted a second one.

Lady Banks rose under renovation

A few weeks after I began its renovation, it had already filled out and bloomed.  White Lady Banks is sweetly fragrant.

White Lady Banks flower
I’ll keep working to promote her renewed form, but I suspect she’ll cover that fence by summer’s end! I’m training some long stems to cover that back fence, too.

White Lady Banks growing in during renovation
In Waterwise, the Ogdens include various Jerusalem sages (Phlomis). This P. fruticosa is blooming like crazy in a hot median strip at Mueller.

Jerusalem sage, Phlomis fruticosa
I spotted this lush display, accompanied by pink skullcap, in an east Austin garden.

Jerusalem sage Phlomis fruticosa with pink skullcap
I’m treasuring my P. lanata, a dwarf form, that fits so well into one of my front beds.

Jerusalem sage Phlomis lanata
That bed includes another Ogden inspiration, a Yucca recurvifolia ‘Margaritaville’. I saw it in one of their books and nabbed one for myself.

Yucca 'Margaritaville' with Phlomis lanata

Although some things in this bed are new from last fall, many others have made it through the Texas Two-Step for several years.

Jerusalem sage is one that Merrideth Jiles includes in his Backyard Basics list of “double spanking” plants that made it in his east Austin garden. Get his list here.

Merrideth Jiles, The Great Outdoors

Among his success stories: Olive tree (Olea europea). Since 2006, this one’s been growing in the garden of my friends, Molly and David.

Olive tree in Austin Texas
They also have a fine-looking sotol (Dasylirion wheeleri), another that Merrideth and the Ogdens include on their lists.

Sotol Dasylirion wheeleri
Certain species of sedges (Carex) make the list for Merrideth, the Ogdens, and me. I’ve bought it as Texas sedge (Carex texensis)/Carex retroflexa var. texensis/Scott’s Turf.

Sedge, Carex texensis
Merrideth explains how to add Globe mallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua), another double trouble star.  A few months ago, I finally got one when I dug out dead grass and had a good sunny spot for it. Obviously, I got this picture on one of our luscious cloudy days!

Salmon pink globe mallon
Texas mountain laurel, Daphne’s Pick of the Week, favored us this year with outstanding performance, a keeper for double troubled Texas gardens.
But every year, viewers ask us why theirs didn’t bloom. There are many factors, but one is by pruning off the flower buds that form almost immediately after bloom.

Mountain Laurel flower young flower bud
You also need to watch out for the Genista caterpillar, which can defoliate a tree while you’re at the grocery store. Hand-pick or spray Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) to spare the ravage.

Genista caterpillar (c) Wizzie Brown Texas AgriLife Extension

On tour, see how Anne Bellomy replaced lawn and invasive plants with waterwise specimens that have turned her formerly wildlife-bereft lot into a garden for resident and migratory wildlife.

Now, what about those exposed oak tree roots?

exposed oak tree roots

A viewer asked if she can plant groundcover (like sedges!) in between, and how much soil can she add. Get Daphne’s answer.

See you next week! Linda

Go wild, photo tips for gardeners

Our lives transform when we become gardeners. One day, we simply go out to buy a little plant to decorate the porch, or a tree to shade the backyard. Then, faster than you can say “8 cubic yards of mulch,” we’ve joined a new social network (the garden) where the password is MORE4me!

Buff Beauty rose

Next, we glue a camera to our hand, only releasing it when wielding a traditional garden implement.

Turks cap

It’s a sure sign that we’ve crossed the line when we discover creatures we’d never really noticed before: tiny insects, secretive lizards, and darting anoles. When we spot a butterfly or hummingbird on one of OUR flowers, or a bird munching a berry on a shrub we planted, we race to get a birdbath, install a pond, and hit the nurseries for more plants to add to our friend’s list.

That’s what happened to Howard Cheek, CTG’s gardener of the week. A few years ago, he didn’t even own a camera. He wasn’t a big gardener. But this year, he was The Nature Conservancy’s photo winner for Waterhole Landing.

Howard Cheek

On our visit to Kempner with Howard and his wife Mary, you’ll see how creating a certified wildlife backyard habitat changed their lives, and brought the “talent” up close.

Howard Cheek

Howard shares a few of his photo tips for gardeners, including the secret behind this one.

Howard Cheek

This week, Tom and Alice Nance show how easy (and rewarding) it is to become a certified wildlife backyard habitat.

keepaustinwild.com

In my garden, I planted these Dianella (variegated flax lily) to contrast the Salvia guaranitica that attracts wildlife with late spring and fall flowers. Prune herbaceous salvias like this one after their first bloom cycle, and again in late August to renew flowers for hungry fall insects. In a few weeks (maybe?), they’ll freeze to the ground. Cut them back, and they’ll soon quickly be back on the job. I like the way this one passalong plant from my Dad’s friend Andy has made a nice thicket.

Salvia guaranitica with Dianella, variegated flax lily

Salvia microphylla ‘Hot Lips’ is evergreen, but in my garden, it’s just now gearing up again to fill a few mouths.  Like Howard’s, it attracts hummingbirds, too.

Salvia microphylla 'Hot Lips'

My groundcover in semi-shade, Wedelia trilobata, will rest this winter, but the oxalis beyond (along with other winter bloomers, seeds, and berries) will keep the wildlife gravy train on track.

Wedelia trilobata, oxalis
A progressive garden dinner makes for the best design, since we never lack for something interesting to watch.  So keep those camera batteries charged up!

Remember, you can now watch CTG anytime, anywhere on klru.tv.

Until next week, Linda