Sneaking into summer

Now here’s a plant for your list. My native snake herb (Dyschoriste linearis) sneaks in to attract butterflies in its carefree perennial spread in part-time sun.

Snake herb (Dyschoriste linearis)

When Michelle Pfluger from Green ‘n Growing introduced it to us last year, I raced to get a few. They’ve done so well that I got more, and still want more! Graceful foliage all the time with “come find me” flowers in spring through fall.

snake herb flower

Despite “snake” in its name, sadly, it’s not deer resistant.

An old-time summer favorite is Althea (Rose of Sharon), a shrub/small tree. This new color for me is a passalong from friend Bob Beyer.

pink althea flower

From Central Texas Gardener’s Facebook page, some of our friends fondly refer to Althea as the “granny plant.” We all agree that we need a good granny now and then!  I still have some of the lavender ones that came with my 1950s house. It’s a great adaptable accent or deciduous companion in an evergreen natural screen.

Another passalong is from Daphne herself, when she was trialing Peter’s Purple monarda. Hummingbirds and butterflies, here they come! Find out more about this great beebalm.

peter's purple monarda

Daphne’s pick this week is Tecoma x ‘Orange Jubilee’.

orange jubilee tecoma

It’s a cultivar, like the ‘Gold Star’ you may know, derived from our native Tecoma stans, also called yellow bells or esperanza.

orange jubilee tecoma

Here’s a “new” idea that actually is historic: grafted vegetables. John Dromgoole explains why grafted tomatoes, eggplants, and peppers are making a sensation, thanks to insect resistance and faster and bigger production.  Actually, by mail, I received three ‘Mighty Matos’ to test.

Mighty Mato in Central Texas

Like the ones that John, Trisha and Travis Extension are growing, mine took off like gangbusters, even though I got a late start. Certainly, I’m going to be looking more into them, and CTG plans a follow-up this summer.

Weeds are always sneaking in—you know how that is! Daphne answers: can they be put in the compost pile? She explains cold and hot composting. Since mine is a cold one, I’ll put in weeds before seeds are mature, since they add nitrogen. Once they look like this, I send them to the city’s hot piles in my leaf bags.

ripe weed seeds not for cold compost piles

Now that the heat is on, let’s all dive into some water—like ponds, streams and fountains! Not only do they cool us off visually and relax us spiritually, the thirsty wildlife will thank you.

This week, Tom meets with Kathy Ragan and Karl Tinsley from the Austin Pond Society to show off a few of the designs on this year’s tour, June 8 & June 9.

Austin Pond Society tour

Featuring 21 ponds in all styles and sizes, you can meet the ponders in person to learn anything you want to know, from technical details to tips on fish and plants.

Austin Pond Society tour

Austin Pond Society tour

Austin Pond Society tour

The evening of June 8, experience some night-time pond magic, too! Get the details and buy tickets in advance.

In Georgetown, Claudia and Ronnie Hubenthal’s ponds and streams started with a serendipitous find.  Here’s a sneak preview.

This Saturday, June 1, check out the fabulous gardens on the NXNA tour: the North Austin Coalition of Neighborhoods. 13 private gardens will be on tour, along with 5 school gardens and a community garden.  On June 2, check out their garden talks and photography exhibit. All proceeds benefit AustinVoices to beautify north Austin. Find out more.

And here’s a huge shout-out to our friends, Rick and Kelle Stults, at Wild Birds Unlimited in the Westwoods Shopping Center, who’ve signed on as local underwriters for CTG. Please tell them thanks the next time you’re in!

Thanks for stopping by! See you next week, Linda

No-freeze native plants + Mr. Smarty Plants unmasked!

If you can decide what to wear (shorts or parka, depending on what day it is), it’s a good time to cut back those dormant native plants. Tropicals, semi-tenders, and some evergreen shrubs should wait a few more weeks, especially since we got this good scare. But last weekend, I cut the asters to their rosettes and gave the Salvia greggiis a good topping. They won’t mind at all. The salvias will bloom soon on renewed growth (some already are) but it’ll be fall to get another scene like this.

Asters and Salvia greggii

I did leave the flowers on some salvias for the butterflies that were running around last weekend. But eventually, I must take the pruners to these plants before they get too leggy and lanky. Not only will they look better, they’ll get even more flowers!

Cut back your Tecoma stans (esperanza, yellow bells) to the ground. Do keep them mulched, especially if they’re young. If they’re not in enough sun (as mine are not any longer), move them after the last freeze date to get luscious summer flowers.

Tecoma stans, esperanza, yellow bells
One chore this weekend is to chop the vacant woody stems of my firebush (Hamelia patens) to the ground. I wish I could have another picture like this with Salvia leucantha.

Hamelia patens and Salvia  leucantha
That area now gets too much shade, and the leucantha gave up. The firebush hasn’t whimpered, but it certainly doesn’t flower like it did in sunnier days.

I’ll also be cutting down turks cap, but it’s only a few months to this.

Turks cap

A couple of years ago, Andrea DeLong-Amaya from the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center gave me a great tip: Underplant turks cap with spiderworts (Tradescantia gigantea).

Spiderwort (Tradescantia gigantea)
Since I have about a gazillion spiderworts that pop up from seed, I move a few each fall as they emerge. This weekend I’ll move some more. Even transplanting this late has never disturbed their blooming for me. Now, I’ve got foliar fun and flowers to fill in those “holes” while the turks cap waits for warmer days to take over.

I still need to “detail prune” this zexmenia (Wedelia texana) where bulbs are coming up under its blankness. I’ve also planted spiderworts under some of them and nearby.

Winter dormant zexmenia with bulbs coming through

Here’s zexmenia in fall with chocolate flower (Berlandiera lyrata). On the evergreen chocolate flower, I simply pruned back its withered foliage.

Zexmenia with Berlandiera lyrata
If you love warm-loving Salvia coccinea, no need to cut it back.

White salvia coccinea
Dig it up, since it’s a goner. But all is not lost, because they pop seeds like crazy to guarantee their return in a few months. After the last freeze, simply move your new free plants if their design decision doesn’t match yours.

I’m no expert on any of this, but I know where to go when I need answers: Mr. Smarty Plants, an online resource of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. So, this week on CTG, Tom pulls the mask off Mr. Smarty Plants, Barbara Medford!  Actually, she’s part of a fabulous team who answers questions from across the country to put you in touch with the native plants for your situation. Barbara’s knowledge, spicy wit, and personal dedication to set gardeners on the right path is a fabulous resource! You will love meeting her.

You can also hear Barbara and other Wildflower Center experts on Tom’s The Wildflower Hour on KLBJ-AM.

I know that Barbara would approve my White Avens (Geum canadense) that covers the ground in my shady beds, with these late spring flowers. I nabbed them a few years ago at one of the Wildflower Center’s plant sales.

Geum canadense (White Avens)

I adore my golden groundsel (Packera obovata), also nabbed from the Wildflower Center sale, that will be blooming soon between flagstones.

Golden groundsel, Packera obovata
Rosettes of pink evening primrose are about to explode. They arrived on their own.

Pink evening primrose

This week, Daphne answers the question: why are there not so many weeds in the lawn/garden this winter? Well, it’s because we had cooler temps last summer and more rain last spring that encouraged our lawns and plants to flush out, shading the seed bank underground. Another factor is that we didn’t get rain last fall. In fact, that’s one reason why you’ll see fewer wildflowers this year than last. Seeds popped out with September’s rains, but then withered and died with drought and heat.

But, Sweetpea Hoover identifies some of the weeds that have cropped up, or will be arriving soon after our brief stint with rain!

Henbit and dandelion

All are beneficial in their own ways, but if you don’t want them, the best remedy is you-know-what: the trowel. If we miss them with that, be sure to nab them before they set seed. And think about this: unwanted weed, valued Salvia coccinea, or what we consider wildflowers? It’s the same principle: they don’t have our vocabulary for “weed” vs. “plant you buy.”

Actually, I keep some “weeds” this time of year, including that flowering henbit to feed insects. Butterflies were dipping into my dandelion flowers last weekend. When something fuels wildlife in these cold days, it gets a place in my garden, like my Oxalis drummondii.

Oxalis drummondi

To learn more about the ecology of wildflowers, along with their legends and lore, tune into KLRU on March 10 at 7 p.m. for Wildflowers|Seeds of History (other PBS stations to air in April, so check your listings). I’m in the final stages of post-production for this high definition documentary jam-packed with insight that promises you a new look at the back roads of history that forecast the seeds of the future.

Back to CTG’s garden tour this week, see how John Wilson and Debra Leff are making history with a front yard renovation that kaboshed the lawn for native plants, a courtyard pond, and a living room design that invites both neighbors and wildlife to drop in for a chat.

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