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!

Monday, September 14, 2015

Desert Willow

For the past decade, gardeners everywhere are looking for water-wise plants and Desert Willow is one that I want to add to my home landscape.    This Texas native is considered a small tree or large shrub.   We have been growing it at the nursery for the past 4 years and really like how it performs.   We are just now selling our first crop.  They are a little lankier than we would like but we've begun a pruning program that has added fullness to the trees.    

Now, more about Desert Willow.   It's not a willow at all - but a catalpa, if that means anything to you.    This small tree has willow-shaped leaves and blooms from June through October.   The blossoms look like miniature orchids and may be pink, purple, or white.  I've read that there is also a yellow variety but have never seen it.    I'm picturing a flower that's more cream-colored than yellow.
Desert Willow 'Bubba'
There are a couple of patented Desert Willows on the market:  Bubba which blooms a vibrant hot pink and Timeless Beauty which has burgundy and lavender bi-colored flowers.  If the color is important to you, purchase from a reputable nursery or buy when the tree is in bloom.  They begin blooming at a fairly young age - even in a 5 gallon container.

Desert Willow is fast growing and it tends to be a bit leggy.  It may be hard to do, but until your tree is 5 or 6 feet tall, prune it severely.   By that, I mean cut it back by a third.   Do it in late winter.   These trees are deciduous and experience a bit of die back each winter so you'll really feel like you're trimming bare sticks.    Your tree will thank you with a much fuller canopy.    As a bonus, it  flowers on new growth so you'll get more flowers too!   Because it flowers on new growth, you can prune it for the shape you want and not sacrifice any blooms.

Desert Willow is fairly new in nurseries but, they should be available throughout Texas.   Speaking of Texas, Desert Willow grows just about everywhere in Texas except east Texas.   They just get too much rain there - poor people.  It grows in a variety of soil types as long as it is well drained.  

Friday, February 27, 2015

McGovern Centennial Gardens

Nestled in houston's  museum district is a wonderful park,  Hermann Park.  To celebrate the park's 100th birthday, they spent the last year constructing the McGovern Centennial Gardens - and we got to visit last week
This overlooks the sculpture promenade which features public art that was donated from countries around the world.

There is a section for edibles. I would love to have raised beds this tall

There are arid plantings full of succulents, Palmes, and water wise plants

The Rosegarden seem to just have knockout roses but it will be quite beautiful as they fill in in bloom on and on and on. 

My favorite part of this garden was the spiral walk. it's a 30 foot garden mount or hill with that slowly inclines for a nice stroll up to the top. I didn't get a good picture of it but a few pictures from different spots on that walk

This is looking back towards the pavilion. What you can't see our waterfall like fountains coming from where we're standing down to the ground level

And the last shot is from the top of the mound

It's a great place to spend a little time outdoors.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Bringing in Blossoms

One of my favorite things about gardening is making arrangements from our flowers and herbs.   For the first time in a LOOONG time, we have a "cutting" bed in our "Garden of Eatin'".    It's main purpose is to grow flowers to bring inside.   (Second main purpose is to attract pollinators - that's why we planted these flowering annuals near the edible plants).   Here's what our cutting bed looks like right now - pretty much just zinnias and marigolds.   I think it's gotten too hot for the foxglove we planted after Easter. 
There are lots of perennials that are great for arrangements, but I don't put them here because we rotate the vegetable crops and that would impede that a bit.  
I have found that when it's hot outside, it is best to pick flowers and herbs in the morning.   They've had overnight to rest and recuperate from the stress of the summer heat. 

This is my harvest bucket.   Fill it with water and as soon as a flower is cut, it gets dropped into the bucket to rest and take up water.   I try to leave them resting for at least 2 hours and sometimes much longer.  

If I buy flowers at HEB or Sam's, this is basically my same procedure.   Trim the ends and let them sit in a bucket of water for a nice drink.  

Today, we just made small arrangements in glass jars.   Dotted along the dining room table, they will add nice touch for a Tex-Mex Dinner

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Stunning Butterfly Host

When I say stunning, I'm not talking about the heliconus butterflies but instead their host plant, Passion Vine or May-pops.    There are many varieties of passion vine and this one is Passiflora incarnata.   It's leaf has three lobes and it's flower is a stunning purple and white beauty.   

Our native passion vine is a host plant to the Gulf Fritillary, Zebra Longwing, Julia, and Variegated Fritillary caterpillars.    I'm trying to increase the varieties of butterfly host plants in our yarden and have been wanting this one.   They begin blooming in June so I have been riding the pasture fence lines in search of one.   I know they're there but no luck yet.   This morning as I sat outside enjoying the early morning, I noticed a "weed" in a lantana.  I have to admit that I'm pretty easy on weeds these days but I don't think this weedy vine was there last weekend.   The leaf was not that of the many weeds common in (or taking over) my flower beds so I walked around for a better look - and it's PASSION VINE!   Must be a gift from God. 

As I said, it is growing up amid a lantana.   If I don't move it or give it something to climb on, it will soon cover everything in this bed.   They are vigorous growers that die back in winter.   I guess I'll enjoy it for a few days and then decide whether to train it up the nearby pillars or transplant it in a better spot.

Happy gardening! 

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Garden of Eatin'

The other day I was visiting with a fellow gardener.   She is new to edible plants and mentioned that she had tried tomatoes the past few years with no success.   I must have been in lala-land because I failed to remember that we struggled with our tomatoes the past few years - I think my tomatoe failure was largely due to my extreme lack of attention BUT word has it that much of the tomato sets on the market the past few years came out of the greenhouses carrying a virus.  
This is what we picked this morning.  You can see that our tomatoes are doing well.     I always try to pick them when they are just beginning to color.   Otherwise, the mockingbirds get more of the crop than we do.   They like to sit on the pasture fence and wait for them to be juicy and tasty.     Tomatoes can finish ripening on the kitchen counter and still taste vine-ripened. 

There  are a few things you can do to increase your success with tomatoes.  

Don't plant in the same place two years in a row.    This lessens the chance of disease. 

Plant a number of different varieties.  If one does poorly, another may pick up the slack.   Different varieties will also ripen at different times so you'll have a steadier supply.   

Support your tomatoes with a cage or by staking them.    This keeps the fruit off the ground and helps the plant dry faster.

Do not sprinkle tomato plants; water the ground (i.e. the root zone). 
This is the first time that I am paying attention to companion planting suggestions.   Tomatoes can be planted with peppers, basil, parsley, and marigolds.   They should NOT be planted near dill.  Dill will pop up around the garden so remove it when it sprouts near the tomatoes.  

Gardening is cheaper than therapy - and you get tomatoes!   Author unknown