Superstars, outside and for your Indoor Plant Decor

There’s a lot to be said for summer annuals.

'Fireworks' globe amaranth
I’ve always adored globe amaranths, but this ‘Fireworks’ in Lucinda Hutson’s garden sparked a new love affair. Beyond, Duranta pops in some wowza color, too.

'Fireworks' globe amaranth and Duranta

Here’s why Daphne makes globe amaranth (Gomphrena globosa) her Pick of the Week: It’s a Texas Superstar, which means it’s been tested around the state for worthiness in our gardens. You can find them in many colors and sizes, even for containers.

Orange globe amaranth
They bloom all summer, standing up to searing heat and drought, as in Daphne’s own trials with new varieties in the infamous 2011 torture. But did you know they attract butterflies, too?  They’re so prolific that you can spare a few as long-lasting cut flowers that dry like a dream. Wonderful in a wreath!

Recently, on a mini vacation, I fulfilled a dream to visit Texas Superstar’s Brent Pemberton at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center at Overton.

Brent Pemberton Texas Superstar plants A&M

I’ll have more about Superstar in a later post. For now, it was a thrill to stroll the greenhouses where trial seeds and plugs start out.

Texas Superstar plants greenhouse Texas A&M Extension
Isn’t this Calliope geranium a gem? I can’t wait to see if it makes Superstar status!

geranium calliope red

Once they’re ready, they head to the fields for the ultimate test of endurance and performance.

Texas Superstar plant test field Texas A&M Extension, Overton

My garden is a perpetual test ground. One superstar for me is bamboo muhly (Muhlenbergia dumosa), a grass that surprised me this spring with its first delicate seed heads.

bamboo muhly Muhlenbergia dumosa seed heads

Gulf penstemon found its own test grounds in a bed of Texas sedge (Carex texensis). Both rate **** for me.

Texas sedge seed heads with Gulf penstemon

Salvia microphylla ‘La Trinidad Pink’ survives the test of just not quite enough sun. A little floppy sometimes, it’s doing fine in morning sun.  It could stand to have a gardener that prunes it more often, you know?

salvia microphylla 'La Trinidad Pink'

But, I’ll admit: I’m so not adventurous indoors. That’s about to change, thanks to Indoor Plant Décor, authored by friends Jenny Peterson and Kylee Baumle.

Indoor Plant Decor Jenny Peterson and Kylee Baumlee St. Lynn's Press

Kylee was holding down Ohio, so Jenny joins Tom to pep up your house and office to take the humdrum out of houseplants with THE design style book that connects to your muse, budget and imagination.

Tom Spencer & Jenny Peterson, Indoor Plant Decor

In their book, Kylee and Jenny include plant lists and DIY tips in friendly style that prompts “oh, I didn’t know this/I’ve got to try THAT” on every page. Every stunning chapter plugs a new spin into your imagination and creativity, inside.

succuelent chair Indoor Plant Decor photo by Laura Eubanks Design for Serenity

Indoor Plant Decor photo by Articulture Designs

Back outside, are you seeing this on your trees or other plants?

frost damage oak tree photo by Daphne Richar

Before you freak out about horrendous disease or insects, Daphne has the answer: our bizarre late frost. In full disclosure, Daphne puts herself on the line. To pump up her young Monterrey oak, she admits that she fertilized a little too early.  Hey, raise your hands if you’ve done that too!

Normally, it would have been okay that her tree responded by putting out new leaves. EXCEPT. In her microclimate, it got cold enough to damage the new growth. Get her complete answer on how to tell the difference in temporary freeze damage or something evil. By the way, her tree recovered just fine, and so will yours.

So, have you just about had it with flies, fleas, fire ants, and plum curculios? John Dromgoole explains how to tackle them naturally underground with beneficial nematodes.

beneficial nematodes

On tour, visit the diverse gardens at Mueller, the ultimate “testing ground” in its restoration of wildlife habitat over former runways and parking lots.

Thanks for stopping by! Until next week, reach for the stars, indoors and out. Linda

Patience pays off; bizarre mountain laurel!

Gardening can be like recording TV shows:  “Hurry up and wait.” I hate the waiting part.  But since the thryallis woke up for sure, I won’t wait any longer to trim it up this weekend. I’m glad that I didn’t hurry up a few weeks ago and chop it to the ground.

Thryallis returns after hard freeze
I do like the waiting part that leads to novelty, like spring’s spiderworts.

Spiderwort gigantea in Austin Texas
We can’t go out and get new stuff every day, but in a perpetual garden, there’s always something old that’s new.  It’s like finding a favorite sock stuck to the sweatshirt you put away last season.  Oxalis may be a weed for some, but for me, it’s like finding the sock in spring, especially when paired (sorry, couldn’t resist) with spring star flower (Ipheion uniflorum). And it feeds early bees.

Oxalis with spring star flower Ipheion uniflorum
Since my ‘Mr. Mac’ Satsuma orange is budding, I may go ahead and trim it a bit this weekend. But, since we’re still guaranteed one more little weather surprise, be ready to cover those new buds. If yours aren’t budding yet and you’re in a colder spot, wait to prune.

'Mr. Mac' Satsuma orange after freeze damage
We’re wary of the first fall frost, but tend to forget the last one, especially when it’s so warm.

On April 9, CTG brings you expert tips on citrus, what to expect this year from freeze-nipped plants, which ones are the hardiest, and when to fertilize.  Again, this is a hurry up and wait situation. Limes may not have made it, but don’t dig them out yet.

Also, wait to take the shovel to abutilons or anything else that looks “pretty brown.”  Hey, it’s still early days!  I’ll clean up mine next weekend. As soon as I see signs of life again, I’ll give them some slow-release organic fertilizer.  Gardeners have a reputation for being patient, except in spring!

This Freesia laxa was impatient to be the first to show that freeze doesn’t get in their way.

Freesia laxa in Austin Texas
In the cat cove, some of them are standing by, along with lots of other plants. For now, they’re bowing to Lady Banks.

Lady Banks rose in cat cove
I rather like that it that it doesn’t happen all at once; I revel in new things every day.  I’d hate it if it all happened at once and was gone. Okay, I’m the one who takes an hour to open one Christmas present.

Last year, Ava Hayes sent us this crazy growth on her mountain laurel.

fasciated growth on mountain laurel

Daphne identified it as fasciation, which develops when the round growing point, the apical meristem, becomes distorted and crescent shaped. Most of these occur in nature and we have no known cause; it may simply be a genetic anomaly. Here’s what it’s doing this year!  Is that cool or what?

Fasciated mountain laurel flowers

Fasciation on mountain laurel flowers

And hurry up and put this on your calendar: the San Marcos Green Living Showcase on March 26.
Save time for Zilker GardenFest March 26 & 27. And this weekend, March 19, check out the East Austin Garden Fair which will focus on edible landscaping (and lots more).

Until next week, Linda

Edible gardens, Eastside Cafe, frozen plants return!

Look what’s coming up!

Frozen bamboo muhly returns

My bamboo muhly (Muhlenbergia dumosa) is already coming back from the roots. I’m not cutting the rest back yet. For now, the browned foliage is protecting everyone underneath, including a purple heart (Setcreasea pallida) that’s warm and comfy. His cousins are still underground, playing cards.

Although gardeners celebrate every spring when plants return, I suspect that this year we’ll have more champagne moments than usual: “Look who’s back after all!”

Thus it was last fall after the drought. “Look who’s back!” With the rains and cooler weather, my first heartleaf skullcap (Scutellaria ovata ssp. bracteata) recently showed up again, and it looks like it’s spreading. I wasn’t about to dig into its spot, since I suspected it was there, just hiding from me. Whew.

Heartleaf skullcap (Scutellaria ovata ssp. bracteata)

So, give your plants some time. It’s so early, and the warm weather guys aren’t going to peek out until it’s safe. And remember, some of our hardest hits can be in February.

This week, Daphne answers questions about when to prune. Since she can’t cover it all in one minute (though she crams in a lot!) get more tips at A&M’s Doug Welsh’s info for in-depth pruning tips.

Last weekend, I pruned the rosemary plants and dealt with Salvia greggiis and woody pink skullcaps (Scutellaria suffrutescens). This weekend, I’ll clean up my evergreen sumac and maybe prune the cenizo.  I’m not touching shrimp plant, gingers, thryallis or their kin. Also, please avoid pruning cycad fronds until March. If we prune, they’ll want to send out new growth and a late freeze could be very harmful.

On February 27, we’ll be dealing with freeze-damaged aloes and agaves. The word from future guest Jeff Pavlat is to wait on them and the cycads!

But we can get ready for warm-weather crops, like tomatoes and peppers. This week on CTG, Tom meets with Amy Crowell from Edible Yards to get you started.

kids love Edible Yards

I met Amy when she was at Sunshine Gardens (by the way, Sunshine’s spring vegetable sale is on March 6).  Later, she moved on to Green Corn. With the birth of her son, now she’s a freelance designer helping gardeners design, install, or maintain vegetable gardens. What a great idea! She also gives how-to workshops, and has lots of ideas for gardeners with small spaces, too. By the way, meet Amy in person and learn more about vegetable gardening on April 3 at the Mayfield Park Garden Symposium, “Trowel & Error.” Details on our events calendar soon.

Trisha shows us how to plant potatoes, even in a container. You won’t feed the neighborhood with a container planting, but if you’ve got kids, it’s easy and would be a real blast for them!

On tour, Dorsey Barger at Eastside Café shows us to how grow vegetables in small beds or containers, without a bunch of tools or a bunch of money! We also get a fun look behind the kitchen scenes with co-owner and chef Elaine Martin. I was fascinated to watch Elaine chop Dorsey’s garden harvests, her fingers curled appropriately. I cannot master that technique!

And, the Travis County Master Gardeners are hosting free workshops on March 12 & 13 for hands-on vegetable gardening.  Check their site for details, planting guides, and more!

If you have cold-hardy Queen Victoria agaves, here’s something to anticipate, thanks to viewer Sharon Nettle and her mom, who brought this plant to Sharon from her garden!

Queen Victoria agave flower stalk, Sharon Nettle

Queen Victoria agave flower stalk, Sharon Nettle

You just never know what surprises your plants have in mind for you!

Until next week, Linda

Invasive options, butterfly birth, freeze clean up

Happy Birthday!

Gulf fritillary birth indoors

I hadn’t kept an eye on the chrysalis in the window after all. I thought it was too early. But with Friday’s warmth, I came home that evening to see a butterfly between the windows!

Gulf fritillary birth indoors

It took a little coordination to get him out of his tight spot, but he wasn’t too upset about all the attention.

Butterfly on Greg's finger

Then he joyously flew off into the wind. I wasn’t as joyous. If I’d kept a better eye on it, I could have had some food ready. I sure hope he found something to eat out there.

For more new birth, I ordered five Hymenocallis ‘Sulphur Queen,’ an heirloom from 1830. Last summer they were so beautiful that I’d planned to go to Garden’s this spring for more.

Hymenocallis Sulphur Queen

Alas, that won’t happen. So I ordered from Brent and Becky’s. Most people think of the white “spider lilies” of summer. I like those, too, but this soft yellow won me good, a perfect touch in semi-shady spots. The foliage was lovely, too, until it hit 10º in my garden. I don’t know if they survived, but I’m optimistic my three will return. Now, they’ll have some new friends.

I’m also optimistic about the abutilons.

Patrick abutilon freeze damage

They look a bit ragged, but the stems are green. When I scratched the bark, it showed green, too. I’ll wait at least a month to prune them, though. Who knows what’s still coming?

The bamboo muhly (Muhlenbergia dumosa) wasn’t thrilled about the freeze, either. But it’s a grass, so in a few weeks, I’ll cut it down, along with the other ornamental grasses, and see what happens.

Frozen bamboo muhly

Since questions about freeze damage top CTG’s emails right now, this week Daphne analyzes how to tell if a plant is dead or dormant. And since drought is still on our minds, get her tips for Water Efficient Gardening on February 9, when you can meet her in person at the Lost Pines Garden Club in Bastrop. She’ll be there from 7 to 8 p.m. at the Bastrop Public Library.

This weekend in Austin, she’s also presenting “Gardening 101,” a free workshop on Sat., Jan. 30, from 10 a.m.- noon.

Introducing new plants to a garden is always tricky. It’s easy to spot troubles in a few months. But when things go well for a few years, it can take one like this to find out our plants’ true grit.

It can also take years to recognize that recommended, hardy plants sometimes turn into invasive monsters. This week on CTG, Kelly Bender, Urban Biologist with Texas Parks and Wildlife, joins Tom to put the finger on a few that are demolishing native diversity. Then, she offers some beautiful alternatives to please us and the wildlife that depend on them.

Also, check out Kelly’s latest book edition: Texas Wildscapes: Gardening for Wildlife. It even includes a DVD!

Texas Wildscapes, Kelly Bender

The first edition helped set me on the path to gardening for wildlife. I refer to it constantly for wildlife ID and tips, so I’m thrilled for this recent publication to guide new gardeners.

Join Kelly & friends on the invasion of the plant snatchers in Texas Parks and Wildlife’s “When Plants Attack.”  Scary, so get your woobie (or your shovel).

To find out more about gardening for wildlife, mark your calendar for February 13 for the Gardening for Wildlife Workshop, presented by Austin Parks and Recreation and Texas Parks and Wildlife. It’s $10 per person/$15 per couple, with light refreshments provided. Space is limited, so sign up before February 5!

Since weeds are big invaders right now, Sweetpea Hoover is back with products, tools, and techniques to fend them off. Personally, I’m interested in the organic crabgrass killer she brought: Garden Weasel Crabgrass Killer, a fragrant concoction of cinnamon, turmeric, and baking soda (it also kills other weeds).  I spent a lot of time last year digging up crabgrass that sprouted in the side yards between the neighbors’ houses and us. Although I promote the “dig” version of weed control, I wouldn’t mind a little help.

And boy, right now, do I need help!  We’ve got some busy weekends ahead of us.

Until next week, Linda

Funky chickens, weeds, freeze clean up

Clean up begins, but cautiously. I did cut back and shape some Salvia greggiis. I only did two, for lack of time. Here’s one pruned; others beyond not pruned.

pruned salvia greggii

I also cleaned out dead or rotting stems. Since they bloom on new growth, if yours are woody and need a good haircut to fluff them up, late January and early February are ideal for radical pruning.

I cut back the asters, mums, and sticks of herbaceous salvias like Indigo Spires. Mainly, I concentrated on mushy plants, like the agapanthus and society garlic. This warm weather and rains make those mushy leaves a receptacle for disease.

frozen agapanthus

After I took this picture, I cleaned up these damaged daylilies.

frost damaged daylily, crinum, spuria iris okay

I cleaned up the foreground crinum after the last weather event. Beyond, the spuria irises carry the mast flag. That was my idea when I divided some for this area a few years ago. I’ll add more on the next division after they bloom. By the time they disappear for summer, the flame acanthus, crinum, daylilies, and lantana will fill the space near the spiraea. The plumeria will be back in its pot.

About frozen cycads (sago palm):  Robert Beyer advises us to cut back the frozen fronds this spring and wait for new ones to emerge. Whew.

I’m leaving the freeze-damaged Agave celsiis alone until someone tells me to cut this leaf off!

Freeze-damaged Agave celsii

On CTG this week, Daphne features the Queen Victoria agave, (Agave victoriae-reginae), one that is hardy to 10º. She took this picture at Diana’s (Sharing Nature’s Garden) last fall.

Agave victoria reginae

By the way, watch for Diana’s garden on CTG February 20!

Daphne explains how kindness kills succulents, even when you’ve been so careful to bring cold-tender ones to warm safety. Got fungus gnats or rotting houseplants? Find out why and what to do.

And on CTG this week, there’s a lot of cheeping going on! Our feathered guests primped up to be especially adorable for Tom. Like their mom, Judith Haller from the Funky Chicken Coop Tour, they want you to add more than new plants to your garden this spring. Judith explains why chickens are a gardener’s best friend, and how to get started with a brood of your own. This year’s free tour is April 3, so mark your calendar!

Here’s a fun look behind the scenes, thanks to Sara Robertson, KLRU’s Director of On-Air Marketing.

Chickens can certainly clean up your weeds, too. Weeds are opportunists, quickly filling blank spaces. That’s their job. Since drought-weakened gardens improved their job security, Sweetpea Hoover from The Natural Gardener identifies a few of them and explains what they’re doing.

In my garden, I’ve got a good crop of false carrot (Torilis arvensis), also called hedge parsley.

False carrot

According to Scooter Cheatham from Useful Wild Plants: “Older, it becomes rough to the tongue and eventually turns into “beggar’s lice,” named for the spiny seeds that imbed themselves into pets’ fur, socks, and any and all soft clothing to hitch a ride. Most Austinites, sooner or later, find themselves picking the seeds from a garment and mumbling curses in some language. The plant is ubiquitous. But you can bite it back. Unfortunately, however, it closely resembles Conium maculatum (poison hemlock), at its current stage of development and the only way you can safely eat it is to harvest it far from wetlands and bottomlands, where Conium thrives.”

So, don’t eat it unless you know for sure! Find out about edible weeds and other plants at Useful Wild Plants’ WeedFeeds. Later this year, CTG will meet with Scooter and Lynn Marshall about Volume 3 of the Useful Wild Plants of Texas, the Southeastern and Southwestern United States, the Southern Plains, and Northern Mexico.

One you can eat is chickweed, a groundcover “weed” forming a dense mat among stepping-stones to my lettuce patch.


I’ve got cleavers, also called Velcro plant or bed straw.

Cleavers, velcro plant

And thistles, like this milkweed version.

Milk thistle

Along with Scooter’s insight, find out why herbalist Ellen Zimmermann respects their integral purpose for nutritious dining and natural remedies.

Sow thistle or dandelion in your garden?  Both are highly nutritious. This one’s a thistle.

Here’s a dandelion.


Even before I got the bunnies, who love them as appetizers, this is why I don’t dig them up in winter.

Bee on dandelion flower

As a coincidence, recently I re-read Ruth Reichl’s Garlic and Sapphires, her wonderful undercover adventures as the food critic for the NY Times. In one luxurious restaurant, she was captivated by a delicate salad that included lamb’s quarters, dandelion, and chickweed!

I bet it cost more than what I could make for free from my garden right now!

Until next week, Linda

Freeze microclimates, in one garden!

We all know that just a few blocks makes a difference in what we can grow. Even in a single garden, in similar light, what thrives in one bed can shrivel in another. I once met a gardener who has rock on one side of the driveway and deep sandy soil on the other!

It’s the same with the weather. It can be flooding a mile away, while nary a drop falls on your house. All of us got hit in the recent freeze, but the impact varied by location. At my house, it wasn’t even a change of zip code.

In back, the shrimp plant fried.

frozen shrimp plant

In front, the one I’d divided from that stand was still standing.

shrimp plant not frozen

I won’t prune them back until March, since who knows what’s coming yet.

In the crape bed, the Agave celsiis were fine.

Agave celsii

young Agave celsii

The new Agave bracteosa pup was fine.

Agave bracteosa pup

But in the fence bed, the Agave celsii ‘Tricolor’ got it. It’s still alive, but damaged.

Freeze-damaged Agave celsii 'Tricolor'

The lantana varies from fried to nipped to blooming, a great relief to this insect and a moth that visited later.

purple trailing lantana with insect

My itchy fingers won’t mess with the fried until February. Along with not taking chances, since lantana has no sense, I bet there are some critters snuggling underneath.

As always, the Philippine violets turned a new shade of “violet.”

frozen Philippine violet

I did cut them back because they’re crowding plants I want to see again. They do have sense: they’ll stay undercover until warmth is here to stay. Then, I cringed, since new leaves were emerging at the base of one of them. (Okay, this one missed the “sense” memo). Well, sometimes I cut them back this early and sometimes I wait. In either case, they’ve come back for years. In my experience, it’s the very small, newly planted that can die in hard freezes.

My new Manfredas/Mangaves ‘Macho Mocha’ from Pam Penick aren’t cussing.  New winecups, seedling poppies and larkspurs are just as unscathed.

Manfreda/Mangave 'Macho Mocha'

The various abutilons, including ‘Patrick’, are sagging a bit, but unharmed.

'Patrick' abutilon

The Dicliptera suberecta, however, is mushy in back and toasted in front (opposite the shrimp plant’s behavior).

freeze-nipped Dicliptera suberecta

I convinced Cedric that we don’t want to cut it back yet. It will be fine, but I’d rather leave it alone for now, since I doubt its sensibility. Spiderworts to the right will distract us until then.  They look a little wilted, but they’ll rally.

Reliably, the crinums are mush. Reliably, they’ll come back. I’ll feed the compost pile with their leaves in the next few weeks.

Frozen crinum

In front, The Fairy roses are still waving at cars that skim their curb beds.

The Fairy rose after frost

Against the house, the plumbagos are crunchy. I’m glad. They hardly froze back at all last year. I’ve planted lots of bulbs underneath, so last year I was cutting green foliage to give them light. This year, I’ll chop the plumbagos after Christmas to burn off some treat-calories and enjoy a new look with bulbs until late spring.

frozen plumbago

I really have to laugh a little. If we plant tender or tiny ones in fall, we risk their demise in below-average freezes. If we wait until spring, drought and over 90º conks them. It’s the Texas garden lottery! But most of the time you win, if you don’t scratch off your zip code, your garden’s soil and lighting conditions, and a plant’s range of extreme temperatures. And if we consider all that, and lose anyway, we take that experience with us when we return to the nursery.

Until next week, Linda