Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Blue and White Mistflower are Hardy

There is no reason to reiterate that it is hotter'n heck in Central Texas. Two years behind in rainfall, trees are dropping like flies. Look at it this way, less mosquitos than normal, people learning to conserve water, and the hardiest of the hardy plants are getting loving affection! Here is a flower to plan on adding to your garden next year. Blue and White mist flower. Two different plants, do not be confused. Blue mist, Conoclinium coelestinum, has been blooming off and on over the summer, its kind of in a lull now in most areas but should bloom again. White mist, Ageratina havanensis, is hanging in there and should blow out for us any day now. End of summer, fall is normal bloom time for white mist. White mist is found growing wild along the Texas Colorado, in shady areas under small trees, in the creek banks and woodland edges. It is stunning when paired with purple lorapetalum. White mist is a shrubbier flower as opposed to wildflower.

Blue mist is more of a wildflower, herbaceous plant. It grows about 12-18 inches tall and spreads readily. Both are very low water users. And, as you can see, both are great butterfly attractors!

Other hardy babies blooming and growing now: flame acanthus, pink scull cap, and rough leaf daisy is soon to come!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Tale of the Tough Tecoma
Tecoma stans, Yellow Bells, Esperanza

Trumpets of yellow in tortuous heat

Here is a question I receive every year. “What is the plant with all the yellow flowers on it?” I teach classes on garden design and maintenance through out the year. Therefore, this question can arise summer, fall, and even into winter if Central Texas is late to freeze. This is good for landscape choices, a long-lived bloomer. However, it can be a challenge for the plant person, as there are numerous hardy yellow bloomers in Central Texas. Additionally, the description of the plant in question can be as varied as the number of people asking the question. In defense of the queryier, the plant itself can vary greatly in size.

Searching for clues to help define the plant begins with first asking if there is one nearby we can see. If not, what condition was the plant growing in? What other plants was it near? How long has it been blooming? Usually, the description of the cluster of bright yellow, trumpet shaped flowers defines the suspect as yellow bells, Tecoma stans, AKA Esperanza.

How did this bright yellow gem become such a reliable landscape item? Its all in the genes, yellow bells is a Texas native. The Austin area is at the center of the range for Tecoma stans. It grows to the west as far as Arizona, the east as far as Florida, and to the south into Mexico. Our yellow trumpeted flowering small tree sometimes is a large shrub. Yellow bells, as with most plants, will respond to environmental conditions by growing larger, more water, or staying small, less water. The fabulous attribute of yellow bells is its flowers. It will flower profusely regardless of size and in a wide range of rainfall amounts.

As it was moved around and adored in landscapes at its fringe, Tecoma stans became accustomed to its new homes. Sometimes, when the winters are really cold, the little tree will freeze to the ground. Sometimes, just parts of the tree freeze. As we have populated the continent, and temperatures have risen, the Tecoma has found winters to be more and more comfortable. In years of mild winters, yellow bells rewards aficionados with mid to late spring flowers. It will go through a regeneration period, then bloom profusely summer through to frost. No matter how mild the winter, the little tree will lose its leaves.

In its wild habitat, Tecoma is found in ground drains well. These areas are usually semi- to desert-like, gravelly and sandy. And since areas of low rainfall tend to be alkaline, the soil composition of Central Texas suits the little tree just fine. Rarely does it need any soil amendment, but giving it a good helping of compost during planting will only benefit growth. Though it has lived for generations in the desert climes, moving into areas with more rainfall has not hurt it a bit. Having the genes of the hot, dry origins gives us the confidence to welcome it into our landscapes without the need of regimented watering.

Having grown up with neighbors such as mesquite and Texas persimmon, Tecoma was passed over as fodder for deer. These friends are not the shadiest of trees, so Tecoma was not overly protected from the sun. In fact, the more sun it can enjoy, the more it will bloom, and the fluffier it will grow. During the summers (and years) of 2008-2009, Yellow bells has been one of the hardiest bloomers around. Its brilliant yellow clusters of trumpets stand tall in the heat of the relentless 100 plus degree days of Central Texas. Low water consumer, profuse bloomer, tough sun bather, deer resistant–this plant is definitely on the Hardier than Heck for Texas list. Plant it, love yellow, enjoy hummingbirds, and relax!

© 2009 Virginia Lee Hudson

Sunday, August 16, 2009

LCRA elevates water conservation

For those in the City of Austin, TX, the LCRA (wholesale water supplier to Austin) has increased water conservation restrictions. Where we previously were able to water twice per week, Austin residents and commercial properties may only water once per week as of August 24. No adding to pools, no use of ornamental fountains. See the Austin Water website for more information: www.cityofaustin.org/watercon/stage2.htm

This makes it even more critical to consider plant and landscape materials selections.

To learn how you can effectively plan an adaptive garden in the Austin area, look into the classes I teach in the area:
Art of Gardening at The Art School at Laguna Gloria
Select the Home and Garden title

Go Native U at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center
This is a native plant gardening series through The University of Texas Informal Classes program. Six classes taught by experts in each field.

Visit the Native Plant Society website for monthly meetings on native plants, this month is Denise Delaney from the City of Austin's Grow Green Program

The Story of the Sick Spirea

© Ginger Hudson

Spirea, Bridal wreath, Spirea cantoniensis, S. japonica, S. nipponica, S. prunifolia, S. thunbergii

Spirea in full sun, thin alkaline soil

Once upon a time, before air conditioners, before water conservation, there were fabulous homestead gardens that boasted plants brought from home (the east or Midwest) or attempted to replicate English gardens. The replication effect came from garden books of the time, written by the English or by successful gardeners along the east coast of the U. S. As gardening expanded to become a show of aesthetics not just food production, the homes wanted a rich display of vegetative color and life. Homeowners in the central United States and Texas in particular wanted to have ‘fluffy’ lush gardens just like homes in the longer established states and towns of the time. My once-upon-a-time is ambiguous because this could be the late nineteenth century, the early turn of the century, or classic mid-century landscaping practices.

One of the mainstays of the old fashioned garden was Spirea, also known as bridal wreath with its arching, cascading white flowers. This member of the rose family is usually implemented as a shrub. Most varieties originate from Europe, China and Japan–regions with much more even keeled weather than that of Central to North Texas (note the latin names above for obvious clues). Although many gardening books produced in the U.S. claim Spirea are not particular about soil, I am going to disagree with that claim.

As evidence, I present the story of the sick Spirea which inhabit Central Texas. These subjects do grace the garden with wreaths of white flowers in the early to mid spring. Paired with a purple lorapetalum the combination is spectacular. However, as the year wears on temperatures climb, water supply weakens, and the alkaline affects of the soil eat into the plants causing their health to decline. The leaves of the Spirea yellow through their life with the classic sign of chlorosis, lack of access to iron in the soil. Yellow leaves with green veins. This can be corrected and symptoms treated in the short term with addition of ironite to the soil. Acidic compost blends or sulfur can be added to the beds and results will be seen in weeks to months after application. But the symptoms re-appear year after year.

Additionally, the heat stress exacerbates the yellowing effect as days on end of 90 to 100 plus degree temperatures stress the shrubs. With low rainfall totals in the Texas areas of question, the Spirea struggle to maintain their whole. They will let entire branches die off in the effort to save the heart of the plant. The summer gardener will rotate between watering and trimming of dead plant parts for three to four months of the year. This becomes a difficult chore in communities where water conservation efforts restrict landscape water usage to twice a week and eventually to once per week. Some communities on well-based water supplies may out-law landscape water usage altogether. In the end, the sickly Spirea are leaf-bare, and dried out. A wet winter may bring about new suckers and shoots for a season of spring blooms. But the headache of routine fertilization and watering is not worth the effort in a region where tougher plants should be selected for their adaptability.

In closing the case, gardeners have two choices in a soil and water challenged environment. First is to build up garden beds with rich, well-rounded composts. This can be accomplished with the addition of locally produced and blended garden soils, or with creation of the gardener’s own compost. Also, try to place the specimen in a zone of the landscape that naturally collects water you will face less of a heat stress issue. After a few seasons or couple years of build-up of a balanced soil, the Spirea will enjoy a healthy life in the garden. The second choice is to opt out of the Spirea selection altogether. If, however, you live in an area with higher rainfall, such as generally east of I-35 in Central Texas–Elgin, Bastrop, Columbus, and on into the Houston area, your soil may naturally be a little more acidic. Also, these areas tend to contain pine trees or the like that have produced a slightly lower ph soil base. In these regions the gardener will have more success with the Spirea family.