Sunday, January 31, 2010

Now Blooming, Rosemary Even in Winter!

Nature is truly a wonder. Here it is, the middle of winter in central Texas, and there are plants blooming. This month, rosemary is demonstrating it's durability in the cold air. This winter has given our area several blasts of freezing air to remind us winter is still possible. Even though Austin and surrounding areas have sustained temperatures in the 20's and even into the high teens, there are plants that can look good and provide interest year 'round.

Rosmarinus officinalis not only is a dependable plant in the heat here, but sturdy to most of our winters. Its first and foremost use in our landscapes is as a heat tolerant, low water use, evergreen, deer resistant, small shrub. As can be seen in these photos, it provides good green in the winter in addition to the blooms. Rosemary is commonly found in two varieties, upright or Tuscan, and prostrate or creeping. This plant can be left to grow on its own, or shaped. Rosemary does not mind being sheared into somewhat of a hedge, or trimmed for shape and size.

Since our winters consist of see-sawing temperatures, ups and downs, many pollinators live all year in central Texas. These include bees, some butterflies, occasional hummingbirds, an numerous other birds. Since the temperatures are often over 65 degrees, the bees manage to stay active here all the time. With rosemary blooming in winter, this provides a great nectar source for the insects.

Rosemary, of course, provides a delicious benefit for humans. The leaves are one of the basic herbs every kitchen should have in stock. Having a bush or rosemary to pick from for dinner preparations is a nice convenience. Fresh rosemary leaves can be used to flavor soups, stews, salads, salad dressing, and breads.

If you would like to incorporate rosemary into your landscape, it is very easy. Rosemary needs to be in a sunny location, 6 or more hours of sun, and afternoon sun is ok. Its roots prefer good drainage, but decent soil so be sure to add some compost to the location when you plant. Plant one as soon as you can, before it gets hot. Once the weather heats up, it can be hard to keep this (or any plant) watered enough. The leaves will turn pale green when it needing water. In extreme heat, entire branches with turn brown and die off. If this happens, trim the entire branch off, it will not grow new leaves. If you need to trim the plant for size, trim branches at joints. If you want to shape it or shear it, trim in cool seasons. After spring rains and after fall rains are best. If the leaves start to look yellowish, this is usually sign of needing fertilizer, something acidic - acidified liquid seaweed is perfect.

There are two photos here of rosemary in situ. One features prostrate rosemary growing along a street curb. This shows its heat tolerance level! Prostrate rosemary is perfect for planting on retaining walls, terraces, and large pots. It spills over and seems to just love the heat and air circulation. The other photo shows upright rosemary growing in a xeric herb garden in the Lake Travis area. In the foreground is artemesia and near the rosemary the grass looking plant is lemongrass. This is a summer photo as lemongrass is not cold hardy below 30. Rosemary can be used as a "fence" to deter deer from other plants you do not want deer to eat. It is highly aromatic and that is something deer do not like.