Fall is for fun.

November 8, 2017

Fall is such a fun season in North Texas. The temperatures are mostly mild; it actually feels nice to be outside. It is the best season for planting. The need for watering is much less than in the summer. And to make it even better, it is a great time to be outside observing wildlife. Pollinator activity is high, and who needs TV when you have wildlife.

While watching all the activity going on in your garden, you may want to delve into the world of plant and animal identification. There are many tools available to make identification easy these days. Internet searches bring a treasure trove of information, and I find a few sites to be particularly helpful when trying to find plant and wildlife-related information.

Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center’s website provides a wealth of information and is very useful in research of native plants and the role they play in our ecosystem.  www.wildflower.org

Butterflies and Moths of North America (BAMONA)  is an effort to collect, store, and share species information and occurrence data. It is also a great butterfly and moth identification tool. You can find information on the website as well as post your sighting for identification.  www.butterfliesandmoths.org

iNaturalist is “a place where you can record what you see in nature, meet other nature lovers, and learn about the natural world”.  It is a powerful identification tool for both fauna and flora.  www.inaturalist.org 

Have fun discovering all that is around you.

 

 

 

Butterfly gardening

October 17, 2017

Butterfly gardening is easy and rewarding. All it takes is providing a few simple things that butterflies (and generally speaking all pollinators) need: nectar and host plants,  shelter and water.

Here are a few simple steps to help all the pollinators in your garden:

  1. Do not use pesticides. Organic is the way to go when if you want to create a wildlife habitat of any sort. Organic pesticides still kill, so use judiciously, locally and only if you have a real problem. Nature has a way of sorting itself out and after a year or two of doing things organically, you will notice a balance in your garden that will rarely require your intervention.
  2. Plant nectar and host plants. Choose plants native to the area whenever possible. Here are some sources of information on native and well-adapted plants for North Texas : Happy Gardens Plant Library ,  Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center , Butterfly Gardening , Texas Native Society , Texas Parks and Wildlife
  3. Choose a sunny spot for your butterfly garden. Butterflies love warm and sunny areas as they are cold blooded and need to be able to warm up.
  4. Provide a source of water. A shallow dish with just barely any water in the bottom and some flat rocks throughout would serve both as a water source and a spot where the butterflies can soak in the sun.  You can add over-ripe fruit for their benefit as well.
  5. Choose a somewhat sheltered spot for your butterfly garden to protect them from the wind.
  6. Butterflies prefer plant groupings to singular plants.

And… enjoy! Watching life in the garden is a source of constant joy.

 

Plan for the spring.

January 19, 2013

Spring is such an enjoyable part of the year. Nature is exploding with new growth, buds, flowers… Gardens come to life again. Birds are in love and ready to start a family. Landscapes become abuzz with life and related activity. It’s also the time of year when things get out of hand pretty quickly. Weeds seek their opportunity to take over the world. Plants hurry to grow and multiply – often ending up in the wrong places, overgrown, reseeding everywhere, out of place. It also means our gardens are hungry –  they Winter garden (6)need the energy to grow, bloom and produce. Winter takes its toll on our landscapes, and spring is the time to make it right again.
The best way to maintain a landscape is to do it regularly, and not wait until things are out of control. Proper trimming and pruning, weed control, amending, feeding, mulching, insect and disease control go a long way when done right and on time. It is easier to prevent problems or nip them in the bud when they arise, then to put out fires.

When thinking about your garden, think about its foundations– soil and balance. If you nurture the soil, it will repay you with happy plants. And happy, strong plants are more resilient, more beautiful, more drought tolerant and better adapted to the Texas heat. Healthy soil means healthy plants. And healthy plants mean less disease and insect problems. Creating a balanced ecosystem in your garden is the key to success. Nature has a way of taking care of its own problems. Plus, a garden alive with plants and wildlife is such a beautiful place to be and enjoy. It is also a great way for the children to reconnect with the outdoors. Provide butterfly food and host source and let them observe a butterfly emerge from its chrysalis. Add plants that attract hummingbirds and watch them come back year after year. Start an herb garden and let the kids be hands on. They can pick their own favorite herbs or veggies to grow. Hummingbird (12)Provide shelter for lizards, geckos, and other garden creatures and teach your kids that variety and balance is very important in nature. And in return, they will help you keep your insect (including mosquito!) population in check.

There are so many ways to you enjoy your garden. The same outdoor space can provide the perfect entertaining area for the adults and a secret garden, full of wonder and life lessons for the kids. No matter how small or big your piece of land is, you can make it work for everyone.

There is no need to preach about organic gardening. It is evidence enough to observe the abundance of life and how a healthy bio-diversity creates balance.  Images below illustrate the intertwined nature of life.

Planting the right plants in the right spots, creating food, water and shelter sources enable to create a wildlife habitat even in small urban setting. Our tiny city lot was completely bare when we moved in. We planted a desert willow and Mexican plum among other trees, and added plenty of perennials (Turk’s cap and salvias among many others), we created a veggie garden where there is place for annuals as well. Within a year this completely changed our landscape – from barren and devoid of life to beaming with life. From honey bees to sphinx moths to hummingbirds to lizards and garden snakes and everything in between.

I discovered this year that bees need water, but they drown easily. So I set up a shallow bird bath with stones in it, so that bees have easy access to water and be safe at the same time. They gather around the water source by the dozens every day in the summer.

Desert willow is our hummingbird magnet and never fails. Bumblebees love it too! As well as many other insects. I found several Assassin Bugs on it this year. The veggie garden, with its changing crops and successions of annual flowers, creates an eco-system of its  own. There is always something alive there, busy to gather pollen or lay eggs. We always have abundance of butterflies, which are drawn to the butterfly bush, desert willow, Turk’s cap and salvias, among other things. Damselflies, dragonflies and paper wasps (which are not aggressive and help to control mosquito population) were particularly drawn to the Hyacinth Bean vine I planted on the fence along the chicken run, close to the water source and the never-ending source of pollen – basil.

Lizards particularly like the shade area of the garden, where potted plants are stored on wooden pallets. It also is the favorite hunting ground for Carolina wren.

It is a circle of life – good bugs taking care of the bed bugs, birds, lizards and snakes taking care of the excess of the bugs, spiders weaving spider webs…. Let nature take care of itself… and help only when needed. You will see the difference!

It is time we stopped and listened to Mother Nature is telling us. We don’t have unlimited resources and the weather patterns are changing. And so we need to change our way of thinking and doing things. The drought that has started in 2011 continues, and we need to adjust accordingly. We need to learn how to deal with extreme weather.

 Re-evaluate your landscaping. It is important to take the following things into account when designing or re-evaluating your   landscaping:

Purple coneflower

Purple coneflower

– check if the existing plants are native or well adapted to your area,

– prepare your soil right,

– always mulch,

– go organic and don’t forget to feed your plants to help them survive stress,

– water deeply and infrequently,

– create pockets in the garden that serve different roles, both visually and practically,

– don’t forget about wildlife,

– capture rain water,

Butterfly milkweed

Butterfly milkweed

– and lastly, don’t forget about your trees – they are extremely valuable and they are suffering! We tend to let trees take care of themselves. Because of their size we think that they can survive just about anything and need not our help. This is far from the truth. Trees are our great resource in so many ways – the clean the air, the add value to landscapes, they provide habitats for wildlife, act as sound barriers, produce oxygen, and help us save energy.

 

There are many plants that do well in north Texas. And then there are a few that do fantastic. Texas rock rose (Pavonia lasiopetala) is one of them. I have one in my front yard. It is, to be perfectly honest, neglected and left to its own devices.  It is in full sun and in poor soil. I watered it only once in the last 4 months.  Since we’re experiencing a prolonged drought, and have hardly had any rain this summer, I expected it to decline. Not die – I knew it would survive – but decline. Apparently I have underestimated it. Every morning it is covered in blooms. It satisfies my appetite for color this summer, while most things look like they are about to wither and die. This is a tough little native. Give it room as it tends to spread and make it a showpiece. It deserves it.

Texas rock rose

Texas rock rose

There is not enough awareness when it comes to invasive plants. We tend not to see the harm in planting an invasive plant precisely because it seems so harmless. How can a plant hurt anything?

An “invasive species” is defined as ‘an alien species whose introduction does or is likely to cause economic or environmental hard or harm to human health.’ (Executive Order 13112). 

An invasive species spreads, establishes its presence and takes over an ecosystem. It does not co-exist, it overtakes, chokes out the native species and diminishes biodiversity. It is devastating to the native ecosystems and costly to control.  Did you know? “Invasive species are a significant threat to almost half of the native species currently listed as federally endangered.”  Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Why should we care? Because native plants and habitats are important to our identity, sense of place and survival. To preserve ecosystems and biodiversity which are vital to our planet’s health.

Information about invasive species is spread out and often confusing. It is important to know the invasives for your particular region. Some website list them by state, some go as far as listing them by county. Below are some useful links to invasives in Texas.

Trees of Texas – Aggressive Invaders

Invasive Plants of Texas

Texas Invasive Species

Eco Alerts by Region

Central Texas Invasive Plants

Invasive Plants in Southern Forests

Some of the invasives are sold by nurseries and many buyers are unaware of the plant’s nature. Purple loosestrife, vitex and nandina are some fairly well known examples. Sterile varieties of some invasive species are available and can be used safely in the landscape.

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