Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Now Blooming

One of the biggest show stoppers of the fall is Copper Canyon Daisy, Tagetes lemmonii. A little orangier than lemon, but radiant like the fruit none-the-less. Copper canyon daisy takes its common name from its home range in Mexico, around the Copper Canyon. This profusion of daisies is an herbaceous perennial. This means most of its above ground parts are non-woody and therefore usually freeze in Austin area winters. Being a trustworthy perennial from a dry mountainous area, it dutifully returns from the roots year after year. This plant also layers well. Layering is the term for reproduction by roots sprouted from branches. The long thin weak stems will stretch out then fall to the ground. Were the branch touches the soil it will root, thus creating a whole new plant.

Copper canyon daisy has been a new mainstay of the drought resistant garden in Texas. This plant should be found in nearly every nursery center west of Columbus, Texas. It certainly has had no problem adapting to the central Texas climate or soil. This perennial likes to live in well drained soil and can survive on very little water. The best time to plant this perennial is early spring if you can find it. Plant up until April so it can get a good start in the ground to grow through summer. It will bloom best with nearly full day sun. With anything less than 6 hours of sun, it will be thin leaved, and sparsely flowered. Copper canyon daisy grows rapidly after the last frost and then flowers are borne on the ends of the branches in early fall until the first freeze. The bush can be trimmed as needed up until about August. It is not wise to trim later due to the flowers being on the outer edge of the plant. Cut the plant back to the ground after it freezes in winter.

Copper canyon daisy is an important color perennial for deer resistant gardens. What deters the deer from eating this plant is its extreme pungent aroma. Most people either like the smell or can’t stand it. It is not subtle at all! While deer have lowered their standards of browsing choice due to the drought and over population, there are no reports of them eating copper canyon daisy as yet. Remember the deer avoidance rule of thumb: either stinky or stickery, they stay away from. Use copper canyon daisy as a shield to protect plants that may be marginally attractive to deer. The harsh aroma of the foliage will overpower any other plants around and hopefully the deer will not find your special items.

Pictured here, copper canyon daisy is with Mexican Bush Sage, Salvia leucantha. A partner in hardiness, this sage is also an herbaceous perennial. It can be a little more sensitive to cold, if the temperatures are too cold, the roots can be damaged. Mexican Bush sage also grows completely after the last frost to produce flowers in the summer. Sometimes it starts blooming mid summer, sometimes later. It is usually blooming before the copper canyon daisy. Cut this one back to the ground too in winter after it freezes.

Both Mexican bush sage and copper canyon daisy have quite long lasting blooms. This makes them dependable fall bloomers in the landscape. It also means they are good long lived nectar sources for insects. The foliage of copper canyon daisy can be used as a seasoning in cooking or in teas. Mix the foliage with that of Mexican Mint Marigold, Tagetes lucida, and your other favorite herbs for regionally flavored meat or dip seasoning.

©2009 Ginger Hudson

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Tribute to Fall Color

Who says there is no fall in Central Texas? I hope everyone, plant lovers, art lovers, season lovers, are seeing what this wonderful early cool spell has cast on our hillsides. The Hill Country is being blessed with a brilliant splash of color typically relegated to the northeast. Yellow, orange, and bright red leaves are glowing in the grey overcast days, and radiating on the blue sunny days. While meteorologists still speculate on what makes the perfect fall for leaf lookers, it seems the early and sustained cool spell has certainly made an impact in the local plant pallet.

All the usual suspects have made a miraculous appearance on short notice with rain only just hitting them in September after a year of rain missing in action. These native perennials and annuals made a grand appearance: Rough leaf sunflower (or daisy as some may know it), liatris, maxamillian sunflower, goldenrod, and native grasses. Adapted plants that have provided a good show include: roses, butterfly weed, plumbago, and pride of Barbados. And how about these spring bloomers that have a sudden sense of urgency to reproduce: pomegranate, Bradford pear, and even an errant Carolina Jessamine. Crazy Love! Just a fabulous example of how nature will find a way to survive.

As for the trees that are radiant on the hillsides, their show is practically a jaw dropper. The deciduous ones, those that lose their leaves in winter, are the trees giving us the wonderful color. On wild or native hillsides look for: redbud, cedar elm, shumard oak (close relations: Spanish oak, Texas red oak) rough leaf dogwood, Mexican plum, Texas buckeye, a little bit of sycamore and cottonwood. Along the water ways look for bald and Montezuma cypress, Mexican buckeye, and sycamore.

If you are looking for a specimen tree to make a show in your landscape, investigate these small trees: Texas redbud-not only is it the star of the show in early spring with intense pink blossoms, it also provides a bright yellow nearly heart shaped leaf in the fall. Mexican plum is another spring show stopper-covered in somewhat fragrant white flowers on bare branches it provides loads of nectar for bees, then in the fall the leaves gradate in colors from yellow to peach to reddish. And, for the bonus, a few thumb size pinkish plums. Texas buckeye is a small tree with spring and fall interest. In spring, it shows clusters of tubular flowers yellow or red or crossbreeds in between at the same time as the leaves appear. In the fall it shows great yellow color leaves. Here is one for nearly year round enjoyment, Mexican buckeye. This small vase shaped tree sprouts pink flowers on bare branches at about the same time as the redbud, although redbud holds its flowers longer. The Mexican buckeye displays yellow to copper leaves in the fall, then after the leaves drop, the tree is left with large triangular and bulbous seed cluster. The seeds inside looks like a buck’s eye, hence the name.

For a large specimen tree, the favorite is the Texas red oak. Species include Shumard and Spanish red oak. These trees do not provide showy flowers, but make up for it in the fall with deep rich wine red to orange red leaves. The red oak can grow up to forty feet tall. A large tree for wet areas, near a creek, river or body of water is native cypress: Montezuma or Bald. These trees grow in a stately conical shape-christmas tree like-with very straight horizontal branches. In the fall, the small needle like leaves are some of the first to turn orange, gold, and coppery. Stunning! The cypresses can be upwards of sixty feet tall at maturity. Rusty blackhaw viburnum (pictured here) is sometimes considered a smaller tree but can get large given the ideal circumstances. This tree is even more brilliant that the red oak in its redness due to the glossy nature of the leaves.

Standard shade and common trees found already growing on many city lots are cedar elm, red oaks, burr oaks, and redbud. These are yellow to copper to brown. Easy to grow, good shade, and accent additions to the fall landscape.

Tree Folks produces a Tree Growing Guide for Austin and the Hill Country that illustrates trees appropriate to this area and their relative size to one another. This guide is available at most local nurseries for around three dollars, and from them directly, www.treefolks.org. The booklet produced by the city of Austin Grow Green program, Native and Adapted Landscape Plants, includes color photos of plants and growing information on each species. This publication is free at most garden retailers in Austin. Or, look at their web site: www.growgreen.org

For up close and personal tree viewing, visit the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center where plants are labeled individually. Also, Zilker Botanical Gardens is a great display garden to see plants in groups of who likes to cohabitate with whom.

Winter is the time to plant trees in the Austin area. Getting them in the ground while the weather is cool enables the trees to get their roots established before the brutal onslaught of summer heat. Trees put their energy into developing a strong foundation while the upper parts are dormant in winter. Admire the trees, pick one out and get home and plant it!