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

Drought and freeze survivors|Big Red Sun|No-kill trees

By golly, I have more plants in the ground than in the compost pile. Some look a little winded after this hard run, but if they made it through 2011, they can handle anything. One is my Salvia microphylla ‘La Trinidad Pink’.

Salvia microphylla 'La Trinidad Pink'
It’s only been here since after last Thanksgiving, but with a hard freeze and drought in its first young year, it plans to to stick around for more!

I’ll share other survivors in the next few weeks. For now, my Hymenocallis ‘Sulphur Queen’ spider lilies and bamboo muhly (Muhlenbergia dumosa) wear a weather badge of merit. SQ didn’t bloom this summer as always, but her strappy leaves indicate she’s banking on the future with work underground.

Hymenocallis 'Sulphur Queen' with bamboo muhly

My Chrysanthemum pacificum started as a tiny passalong division. I really feared for its fate, but it sure didn’t. Since I’m always on the lookout for silver, its edges won me over!

Chrysanthemum pacificum
For many years, I hesitated about yuccas since I’m on clay soil. But since I’ve amended it over the years with leaves, compost, and mulch, I took a chance. Plus, I just had to have some more silver!  Yucca pallida and this one, Yucca rupicola x pallida, bounce off whatever freeze or drought comes their way.

Yucca rupicola x pallida Central Texas Gardener
This week on CTG, they’re two of the plants that Tom and Justin Kasulka from Big Red Sun include in their conversation focused on some stalwarts that won’t let you down in trying times.

Justin Kasulka Big Red Sun on Central Texas Gardener
Yes, Big Red Sun is back!  They’ve just moved down the street, ready to share their great ideas with you!

Big Red Sun Austin Texas Central Texas Gardener
Justin shows off some designs and plants that make it through drought AND freeze.

I love this image of one of Justin’s designs: Agave parryi with Knock Out roses and dwarf yaupon.

Agave parryi with Knock Out roses Big Red Sun

Justin has lots of tips for you!  I was thankful to find out that yuccas aren’t thrilled about being moved, so I was really glad that the guys who fixed my sewer pipe carefully worked around it.

Daphne’s pick of the week is Gopher plant (Euphorbia rigida), a drought tolerant succulent that sniffs at cold, too. It does require perfect drainage, so for me, I would put it in a pot where it can cascade its silver. For you folks on well-drained spots, its form, texture and silver are delicious complements to Justin’s design above or softer upright grasses and flowering perennials.

Gopher plant (Euphorbia rigida) Daphne Richards

On tour, we head to Mueller to visit Betsy Hilton and Joe Denton, who didn’t give up much when they traded a large rental garden for a National Wildlife Backyard habitat in their new (smaller) digs.  I love Joe’s creativity for a birdbath stand!

bird bath on limb stand Joe Denton
You’ll also appreciate how he and his son took out the backyard grass, dealt with drainage issues and created a multi-tiered garden and convivial space for this neighborhood of true community gardener neighbors.

Joe Denton garden Central Texas Gardener

Joe Denton garden design Central Texas Gardener

Joe Denton garden design Central Texas Gardener

Joe Denton garden design Central Texas Gardener

Update: here’s an October  vase of their waterwise roses Joe brought from their former house:  Maggie, Perle de Jardin, Excellenz von Schubert, Dome deCouer, and The Fairy.

Heirloom roses, Joe Denton
Drought or no, it’s time to plant trees. With hand-watering, it’s much better to establish them in cool weather. But, so many people kill their trees the first day they bring them home. For sure, it can take a couple of years, but it’s easy to avoid future grief with Trisha Shirey’s tips this week, part 1 of how not kill your trees!

Two things I’ll mention from Trisha: Remove burlap and wires from balled and burlap trees. The roots will just wind around and around and eventually suffocate the tree.

Girdled tree roots Guy LeBlanc
The same applies to container plants with girdled roots. Ideally, leave them at the nursery. Since many do have winding roots, be sure to cut them off and spread them out.

Cutting girdled tree roots Guy LeBlanc

Years ago, I let someone else plant a tree for me (I usually do it myself). It took 7 years for me to learn that the roots were girdled. To make it even worse, it had been planted too deeply—the root flare below ground. It languished for two years before its demise. Figuring it needed more water, I provided it. Finally, I brought in an arborist to analyze it and he gave me the sad truth. So, that’s a painful lesson we want to spare you!

Next, check to see how big the tree will grow to avoid a future collision with power lines. As we all know, the consequences can be disruptive if not downright disastrous.

Trees growing into power line Guy LeBlanc

So, what about those lawns?

Live and dead grass drought Central Texas Gardener
Indeed, this is a hot topic, but well-managed lawns are not off the chart as soothing spaces and play areas for children and pets.  Every fall, we get questions about “winterizer” fertilizer. This week, Daphne answers Mark Banigan’s great question about what that means, when should we apply fertilizer, and should we do it this year?

Until next week, Linda

Freeze-dried & my one garden craft

Fried.

Frozen Salvia coccinea

I knew the Salvia coccineas were soon to go. And they did, when it hit 19º at Bergstrom and 25º at Mabry. But the crape bed won’t be lonesome. It’s mostly intact, including the Dianellas (Dianella tasmanica ‘Variegata’). They got a tad nipped, but are okay. The Agave celsii just beyond is fine. Bulbs, larkspurs, poppies, and the new violas will soon take their bit player roles on the winter transitory stage.

I really hated to lose the Tithonia (Mexican sunflower), since it finally bloomed with gusto for an appreciative butterfly crowd. Not even rowcover could save it. Behind it, the uncovered Swiss chard is laughing at all the fuss.

Frozen tithonia, Mexican sunflower

Visions of snow danced in my head, mainly one of the Iceberg rose frosted with flakes. We’ll have to leave that one to the imagination for now. Instead of a standout role, its ears just got nipped.

Iceberg rose nipped by frost

This weekend I’ll clean up the super fried, like the perennial and annual herbaceous salvias, the Hamelia patens, the Philippine violets, and woody perennials like flame acanthus. I’ll wait until late January for lantana and others.  In my garden, the lantana was nipped, but is still green with a few flowers. In my experience, a warm day sends them back into production. We don’t want that.

The freeze didn’t bother this Gulf fritillary chrysalis. It wiggles around on warm days, so I’ll keep an eye on it.

Gulf fritillary chrysalis

Just a few weeks ago, one of its cousins was chowing down. Hope it got big enough to pupate to safety in time.

Gulf fritillary caterpillar

Their passionvine host tends to upstage its fellow plants by smothering them. It’s difficult to deny the nursery food leaves, though, and the flowers that were still eye-popping lodes of nectar just a month ago.

Passionvine flower

Another vine that can also take over is the butterfly vine (Mascagnia macroptera).

butterfly vine (Mascagnia macroptera)

My passalong from neighbors Tom & Priscilla is still tiny, but by next year will do its job to cover a section of chain link fence. The freeze didn’t bother it a bit.

A few years ago, friends gave me bags of dried flowers from their butterfly vines. I’m all thumbs with garden crafts, but this I could handle.  Spray paint.  I turned them into a bowlful of holiday decorations, and even threw in some mountain laurel pods.  They last for years.

Butterfly vine holiday ornaments

Who knows?  When mine fills the fence with flowers, I may even make spring-colored ones, like I did for Greg’s mom.  Or pass along to you!

Today we taped CTG for January 9 and 16th.  Get ready for fruit trees, including dwarf varieties for small spaces,  Peckerwood Garden‘s favorite winter flowers, Lady Bird Johnson Adopt-a-Gardens, and a visit to East Side Patch! Trisha has persimmon tips and how to keep cats off plants. Daphne explains how your mushy agave can reward you yet.

Until next week, Linda