Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Divide and Repot

Last week, I got a tour of some friends new home - and their very large new backyard.  We talked about some of south Texas plants they aren't familiar with and helped identify the fruit trees, herbs and vegetables left behind by the previous owner.   They have a number of big glazed pots with lush plantings - some that were not looking too hot after the move.   After a discussion of where they were growing before - shade or sun, Matt pointed to one pot containing a plant that he felt just needed to be pulled out and tossed.   When he grabbed it and yanked, the entire rootball came out.  It looked like there was very little soil left in the pot. 

Can you say root bound?   

This has such an easy fix.   Divide and repot.    

I like to spread a tarp, plastic tablecloth or old sheet where I'm going to work preferably on a waist high table.   With a serrated knife, either divide into smaller plants or cut away the old and/or dead parts.  Also, cut away the bottom 1/3 (or more) of the rootball.  Now, you're ready to repot your plant with fresh potting soil and possibly plant a few more pots with the extra material.    Empty everything left on your tarp into your compost bin and enjoy your not-so-new planting.  

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Blog Reading

I find it hard to keep up with all my favorite blogs - some are in my Blogger reading list; some are in my WordPress reading list; and some are just linked to Cultivating Paradise.   I have found that I don't like email notifications of new posts.   Too many emails in my inbox makes me hyperventilate.  All of this means that I pretty much have to be on a computer to read blogs posts.   Recently, I came across a phone ap called Bloglovin and I have hope that I can easily access all my favorite blogs on my phone or iPad!   Keep your fingers crossed.   If you have Bloglovin, you can follow me here.   And here's a little eye candy for all my gardening and nature loving friends!
 Queen Caterpillars feeding on dill plants.   In a few weeks, they will (hopefully) become beautiful butterflies!
 Zinnias, bachelors buttons, basil, and sage cut from my daughters garden.   Here's a great reason to garden!

Monday, June 20, 2016

Benefits of Being a Lazy Gardener

I've be feeling a bit guilty about letting our edible garden go to seed and weed.   About 10 days ago, I noticed that anywhere from 25 - 50 Great Southern White butterflies have taken up residence in the garden.   The only flowers out there are artichoke (yep, I never bothered to harvest the chokes) and rosemary, so I don't have any idea what they are feeding (nectaring) on . . . .      Every night, most of them, including the one pictured on the right,  bed down in a large planting of canna lilies.  

I did  read that cruciferous vegetables are host plants for this butterfly.   But most cruciferous vegetables are a winter crop in my Southern garden.   The pretty little butterflies seem pretty indiscriminate about which plants they hang out near and light on -  the artichoke, asparagus, bolting kale, fennel, along with grass weeds that have gone to seed  . . .   My fear of removing what has attracted them led me to not pull or trim one single horrible looking plant.   This afternoon, when I went out to cut a kale leaf for a smoothie, the kale was covered in caterpillars!  

A quick google search verified that these are indeed Southern Great White butterfly larvae!    If you want to see the entire life cycle, visit this post by the Dauphins, a couple of butterfly experts in south Texas.   They captured every detail in some fabulous photos!   The chrysalis isn't as pretty as some, but I will be on the search for them in a day or two.  

If your schedule - or the Texas heat - keeps you from keeping your garden as tidy as you'd like, don't despair.   You may get to play host to some lovely little creatures, too!  

Friday, June 10, 2016

Identifying Texas Sabal and Washingtonia Palms

Living in the Rio Grande Valley, it's easy to take for granted the beauty of our native and naturalized palms.  There are many thousand varieties of palms and 15-20 of them are a common sight in this area.   I think we should all be able to identify the plants and trees growing in our landscapes - along with the birds and butterflies that frequent them.   One of the advantages to learning to identify different palm trees is that it makes you take a closer look at the plant, which leads to a greater appreciation of each palms unique characteristics.

Let's just talk about two of the most common palms down here - our native Texas sabal and the
Mexican Fan Palm
Mexican fan or washingtonia palm.   The untrained (or unobservant) eye would say they look the same.  They are both tall with large fan leaves.

The Mexican fan palm grows 36 inches a year, maturing at 80-100 feet.   Although it's not native, it has naturalized here.  Birds have spread the seeds through our brushlines and native habitat.   A few people even consider it invasive.  But it is a wonderful food source for many birds.  We have been lucky enough to observe a flock of small parrots feeding on the ripe fruit.  We kept hearing something hit the ground - it was the seed they spit out after consuming the fruit!   Mexican fan palms line the highways and many boulevards throughout south Texas.   It does well in parking lots, grouped in large open areas, and in the landscape of a tall building.   In a typical residential landscape, it may look more like a telephone pole than a palm.

Texas Sabal
Texas sabal palms are the only palm native to south Texas.   They grow from deep south Texas south to Central America.   Sabals are slower growers, adding 1 or 2 sets of fronds each growing season, which amounts to about a foot a year.   Mature height is 40 or 50 feet but I rarely see any taller than 20 - 25 feet.   It used to be rare to see one growing in the wild, but birds have done a great job of spreading seed.   Texans use sabal fronds when building palapas.    Sabals retain their 'boots' (leaf ends) for a very long time, giving the trunk a heavy cross-hatched look like the palm below.    It is both drought tolerant and salt-tolerant, making it a great choice for coastal plantings.

Similar but not the same.  Here are the differences to look for:

  • Texas sabal has a smooth frond stem with no spines; Mexican fan has short, dark thorns along the base of the leaf stem.
  • Texas sabal has larger fronds (5-8 feet wide) than the Mexican fan (3-5 feet wide)
  • Texas sabal has a larger, fuller canopy.  
  • Texas sabal trunk is thicker than a Mexican fan's - about 30" in diameter - and it is more likely to have its boots. 
Take my challenge to learn to identify different palm trees growing in south Texas!

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Gardening - Just Do It

Clean your house, people!  It costs nothing.  - Nate Berkus

This is exactly how I feel about gardening tasks - but the bonus is you get to do it outside!    Some people act intimidated by gardening, insisting that they have a 'brown thumb'.   In reality, much of gardening is simply tidying up.

Whether your garden is large or small or simply a couple of pots of herbs, its fun to work alone or with a pal.   I regularly put my guests to "work" outside.   They have a definite preference for any plant that is blooming, is edible, or that has butterflies flitting around it.    Well, any of those or anything involving power tools.

 There are some wonderful gadgets to help you in your tasks.   This electric chipper/shredder is easy, safe, and inexpensive.  This one cost about $100 and we've used it for 3 years now.   It chips up much of the trimming that we do around here.    A bonus is the green humus that can either be composted or added to your planting beds as mulch.  

As you consider any spring cleaning you plan to do, don't get stuck inside during beautiful spring days.   Water, trim, tidy things up - and before you know it, you're "gardening"!

Friday, October 16, 2015

Monarch Migration - Feeding Them Along the Way

I saw a few small groups of monarchs flitting around the yard today so I'm thinking that this is the beginning of their migration south.   They were really loving the mistflowers today.   But here are some more nectar plants that butterflies seem to go for in my garden.
One of today's monarch visitors feeding on the blue mistflowers.    This mistflower grows low to the ground, dies back in the winter, and blooms in the spring and the fall.  

 Caelsalpenia or Mexican Royal Poinciana with what this uneducated butterfly watcher thinks is some sort of skipper.    Grow it for the blooms and the butterflies are just a bonus.   It has long legume looking seed pods and reseeds easily.   Expect die-back in all but the mildest winters. 

Lantana in all colors is magnetic to butterflies.   The open shape of the flower gives them easy access to the flowers nectar.  I was told that the orange lantana doesn't make nectar, but I've seen butterflies feeding on them so . . .    well, you decide for yourself.   

Lantana comes in tons of different colors.  This pink and yellow combo is a native that you will find growing in brushlines and that we find growing in our tree fields.   Isn't it a beauty!  


Turk's Cap is loved by butterflies and hummingbirds both.    It blooms on new growth so don't be afraid to trim it to the size  you want.   But be aware that it is a vigorous volunteer - but it's easy to pull out when it pops up where you don't want it.   I love large sweeps of Turk's Cap
This delicate little groundcover is called frogfruit.  There is a second variety which has a seraded leaf.    Butterflies love this stuff!   It's a perennial so expect it to die back in the winter.
This Tropical Milkweed has been the subject of lots of controversy.   With the decline of the monarch population the past few years, some have suggested that tropical milkweed is to blame and that we should only plant the native varieties.  There is a disease that old Tropical Milkweed develops that is toxic to Monarchs.  After a bit more research, it seems that we can keep growing the tropical variety but we are supposed to trim it  back in the fall.  Have no fear;  it will grow back the following spring.  Another thing to consider is that you don't want your migrating butterflies to become confused by available host plants and think they should stay and lay eggs.   Cutting your host plants back in the fall keeps them moving south after a short stop for re-fueling.   
And last, is Porterweed.   It's a vigorous grower with dark purple blooms that must be delicious because mine always has butterflies hanging around. 

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Zoo or Arboretum?

Fall is a wonderful time to visit the Gladys Porter Zoo in Brownsville.  The animals are okay but their plantings are what really interest me.  Today, my four year old grandson and I spent a few hours walking and playing at the zoo.  

They use lots of natives shrubs and trees with some  tropicals tossed into the mix.   The one thing all the plants seem to have in common is they're easy care and fairly drought tolerant. 

I thought this combo was especially striking.   Ti plant behind a line of firecracker bush.  I don't know what the small tree(s) on the right rear is - it looks similar to a Texas mountain laurel.  It was about to bloom and the flower seems to be white.   Here is an up close look at it below.

This planting bed also contains the mystery tree in the back right.  An orchid tree towers over the bed lined with ruellia. 

The canopy of this Kapok tree is a showstopper this time of year.    But most of the year it's the trunk that gets all the attention.
The thorns on this trunk always draw comments
Vasey's Adelia (above) is another showstopper.  I can't think of any native tree that I didn't see today: cedar elm, mesquite, Texas persimmons, chapote, ebony, Western soapberry, Texas sabal, and shrubs like pigeon berry, Turks cap, native poinsettia, and others  that I don't know by name  

This is another little tree I need to identify.  Check out the bloom below.  

Mesquite and bougainvillea - native and tropical - both staples in the Rio  Grande Valley

Texas Persimmons or Chapote tree.  This native is dioecious, meaning female and male flowers appear on different plants.  What it means to us is that we need a male and female tree if we want fruit.   The fruits have tons of seeds making them not to good for people-eating, but good for jellies.    

Persimmons fruits - they look like a miniature pomegranate

Texas sabals behind Huisache trees.  Great contrast in both color and texture.  

If you want to get to know the native trees, a trip to the Gladys Porter Zoo will give you an opportunity to see just about all of them!