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). 

Scabiosa

Scabiosa

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 and nandina are two fairly well known examples. Sterile varieties of some invasive species are available and can be used safely in the landscape. Some of the invasives might be a surprise to you – vitex and Brazilian vervain in Cross

Purple Loosestrife. Photo by Greencolander.

Purple Loosestrife. Photo by Greencolander.

Timbers and Prairies region (which includes Fort Worth) and scabiosa in Blackland Prairies region (which includes Dallas and Waco) are among a few that I was not aware of until recently.

Growers and sellers should be aware that they can be fined $500 per banned plant, so it is crucial to educate and raise awareness. It is also important to note that the plants on the banned list are defined broadly as species, and sterile varieties are not excluded as of yet. Read more about Texas cracking down on invasives.

A container garden is exactly what the name implies, a garden that exists inside of a container. It can be a bunch of plants or just one, herbs, annuals, veggies, or perennials in a bucket, clay pot, or even an old wheelbarrow, depending on your style…

Container gardening is an easy way to venture into gardening world without making a commitment to a full-fledged garden. It is a fun activity for kids, who can adopt a planter the same way they adopt and take responsibility for a pet.

Containers can play a prominent role in urban landscapes. They provide flexibility and allow us to grow plants while being less dependent on sun exposure and available space. And if you have a shady garden, but love sun-loving plants, consider moving your planter as the sun moves throughout the year.

Utilize containers to create accents throughout the garden and add interest and structure to a landscape. Add a splash of color to otherwise monotonous landscaping or a bit of fun and whimsy to a formal garden. Creating a container garden for your space is simple but there are a few things you should consider

There is plenty to choose from when it comes to material and size. Common terra-cotta pot is beautiful and versatile but has a tendency to dry out quickly. Plastic pots retain water slightly better  but  don’t have the classic look of terra-cotta or concrete and they are not sustainable. Concrete pots retain water well and can range in style from simple to complex, with variety of sizes to choose from, but they are relatively expensive and definitely heavy.   Consider using a plant caddy to make it easier to move it around. And of course there are many less conventional pots – an old watering can, a used wheelbarrow or a barrel, all sorts of baskets and boxes. You are only limited by your imagination.

After you have collected your container or containers, your next thought should be soil. Potted plants need soil that can drain easily and hold moisture at the same time because plant roots need both water and air. Try good quality organic potting soil or create your own potting soil recipe. Use organic compost and add coconut coir, touch of humate, greensand, dry molasses, and earthworm castings for an excellent potting soil. Coconut coir is a natural fiber obtained from the husk of coconut. It is most commonly seen in floor mats, or as flower basket lining  but can be effectively used in as soil additive as well. Its course fibers hold moisture for longer amounts of time allowing your plant to absorb more water, instead of it only washing through. 

Naturally certain plants are more suitable for container gardening than others. Generally plants with shallow root system do well in pots. Annuals, herbs and some vegetables are great candidates for containers. Lavender does very well in containers when allowed good drainage. Patchouli is another favorite that is great for making soaps and candles. Curry plant, another winner, is very fragrant and a grayish color that adds contrast when combined with other plants. Basil is not only attractive, but provides wonderful scent and is a versatile cooking herb. Oregano can be planted on the edges of a planter to drape over it as it cascades down. Peppers do great in containers, while tomatoes tend to do better in the ground. Annuals add variety and allow for frequent changes in colors and textures. Many perennials, shrubs or even small trees do well in large containers.

Remember, container gardening is fun and can take any landscape to the next level, making it more colorful and diverse. For all of us that like to putter in the garden and make small changes to the landscape, container gardening allows us to explore different options, be playful and adventurous.

Drought despair?

July 23, 2011

Suffering from drought despair? You’re not the only one! As August creeps down on us, so do the plants of North Texas, desperate for rain.  Despite the suffocating temperatures and lack of rainfall there are many ways to protect and prevent harsh weather from destroying your landscape.

Initially, it is best to choose plants that are native or well adapted to Texas, made for the heat and drought tolerant, which saves you money as you water less. Numerous plants thrive in our area; a few are Texas lantana, blackfoot daisy, black dalea, many sages, the infamous bluebonnet, and so many more. However, even the hardiest natives could use some assistance during the blazing months of summer.

Desert Willow bloom

Desert Willow bloom

The health and productivity of your plants depend on the quality of the soil they are living in. Soil is food for plants; they survive on its nutrients.  So, if your soil is deprived of nutrients, so are your plants. Oxygen is a vital component as well. Soil is a combination of minerals and other organic matter. Just as humans need food, water, and air to survive so do plants. They gather their nutrients from the work of tiny organisms, like nematodes, in the soil that transform organic matter into vitamins and hormones. Adding compost back into your beds such as leaves, grasses, manures and mulch allows for more matter that can be broken down into nutrients.  Earthworms also work wonders as they aureate the soil that provides oxygen to the vegetation, which is necessary for survival. Another way to boost your plants is by fertilizing with liquid seaweed, predominantly made up of kelp. Kelp contains zinc, potassium, iron, and nitrogen that are vital during photosynthesis.

Organic mulching is beneficial in multiple ways – it not only allows the soil to retain more moisture and supports less watering but also adds organic matter back into the soil as it decomposes. Mulching lowers the temperature in your beds in the summer, and keeps the temperatures up in the winter, which gives relief to your plants during hot months and protects them in the cold months. It multiplies the amount of worms in your beds that contribute to aerating the soil and provide nutrients to plants. It even prevents soil crusting which restricts water and air permeability and makes it hard for seeds to germinate. Mulching reduces the outlandish growth of weeds –  the only thing that never seems to die.  Last but certainly not least important is the visual appeal of mulch, as it add a neat and finished appearance to a garden bed or landscaped area. Mulch is also an excellent material to use for paths, especially between raised beds.

Texas Rock Rose

Texas Rock Rose

Watering is a significant factor in the survival of your garden and can be effectively executed in several ways. Drip irrigation systems apply water directly to the root system of the plant as it soaks the earth from underneath at a steady pace for a longer amount of time. This allows plants to absorb more water because it is no longer evaporating on the surface and once again you save money as you save water. Since water is applied directly to the root zones, watering can be done at any time of the day because plant foliage will not be at risk for sun damage. Drip irrigation systems are designed to target certain areas depending on each plants specific need. Soaker hoses work in a similar manner, but there tend to be dry and wet zones when using soaker hoses, so it is important to set it up correctly and monitor the water output.

Blackfoot Daisy

Blackfoot Daisy

Don’t forget your trees this summer  – despite their size and general durability they are not “drought proof.” A common and efficient way to water trees is by using gator bags for young trees. Gator bags deliver water to the roots of the tree only, at a steady space, which is necessary for a proficient job.  Aside from purchasing a standard gator bag of some sort creating your own is also an option. Use a five-gallon bucket; drill a quarter of an inch thick hole and face towards the base of the tree. Simply fill with water once and week and rest assured that your tree is getting five gallons a week, the suggested amount. For mature trees it is important to water around and beyond the dripline – the outer edges of the tree’s canopy – to direct the water towards the roots. Slow, deep watering works best. Soaker hoses work well for that purpose.

Remain hopeful as you strive to help your garden survive. These and other tricks will give your plants the much needed relief they are dying for, literally.

Wheel Bug

July 17, 2011

I have never seen a wheel bug until this morning. This majestic looking bug reminded me of a cross between a stink bug and a praying mantis. I saw it sitting on my Meyer Lemon tree and was fascinated. I took some photos and run inside curious to find out what it was. It did not take long to identify it.

Wheel Bug

Wheel Bug

A wheel bug (Arilus cristatus)  is a predator both in its mature and immature stage. It feeds on caterpillars (including webworms), beetle larvae, aphids and other soft-bodied insects. Unfortunately, they also prey on lady bugs and honey bees. Wheel bugs got their name because of the ridge (or wheel) located on their back.

Wheel Bug

Wheel Bug

They are typically solitary and their population is fairly low. They do bite, but are not agressive, and will only bite when threatened, so do not try to handle them. Their bite is painful and will last for several minutes.

I will be looking out for a wheel bug next time I am in the garden. It is not an insect that you would forget.

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