Zizotes Milkweed, Asciepias oenotheroides, is blooming right now, see photo. A native fall blooming milkweed has me wondering if the non-native Tropical Milkweed, Asciepias curassavica is as bad as is being reported in the last few years. My tropical milkweed is not blooming now. There are monarchs fluttering by me right now. Across the street from my butterfly garden, my neighbors have 3 Golden Rain Trees, Koelreuteria paniculata, that are blooming now. I have observed monarchs on them every year. This is a non native tree from China. I see more monarchs on those trees than on any of my plants in my garden except gregg mistflower, which is not blooming much now due to drought. Good thing these non native trees are supplying a food source to power the migration during drought(?!) Complicated issue. Perhaps I am misunderstanding the issue around the tropical milkweed in Central Texas but I feel like it isn’t as serious as round-up ready crops as far as impact on the migration goes in this part of the world.
In August I visited my mom at my childhood home in Rocky River, Ohio, an old suburb on the west side of Cleveland. She has a spot in her yard that used to be a square foot vegetable garden that is too shady for veggies now. Much to my delight, she decided to turn it into a butterfly garden, since the monarchs migrating across Lake Erie from Canada will likely stumble into her yard, exhausted and hungry after their long journey across the lake on their way to Mexico via my yard in Austin. She asked me to help her choose some plants and we took a trip to Petittis nursery which was very fun. They have good plants for good prices. Here’s the list of plants I made for my mom. Since her garden is part shade, I found butterfly plants that I thought would do well in those conditions. All of these plants provide either food for adult butterflies or food for caterpillars. It’s important to surround the garden with some trees, rocks or logs where the caterpillars can pupate safely.
Butterfly garden plants for part shade in Ohio (probably would work in PA and the rest of the Midwest too)
Cherry, sassafras and mallow(rose of sharon) are caterpillar host plants for many species- mom already has these in her yard!
Joe pye weed
Violets (mom already has these too)
Parsley, dill, fennel
Woodland stonecrop sedum ternatum
Inland sea oats (mom loves these And wanted them anyway)
Zanthoxylum americanum prickly ash
Conoclinium coelestinum wild blue shade mistflower
Ratibida pinnata grayhead coneflower
Native milkweeds for shade:
Poke Milkweed (Asclepias exaltata)
Purple Milkweed (Asclepias purpurascens)
Four-leaved Milkweed (Asclepias quadrifolia)
White milkweed (A. variegata) (Southern Ohio only)
After I visited mom I went to see my pal Ruth in Minneapolis. She had some white mistflowers in her Yard growing wild in shade. I collected some seeds to send to mom. I’m not sure which species it is but I bet they will work.
These are the notes from a recent class I taught about container gardening.
Places to get containers:
Design Within Reach dwr.com
Miguel’s 5209 Burnet Rd
Resale shops and junk stores
Don’t skip these steps:
Use potting soil only
Drainage holes are crucial
-use a drill with a ceramic bit for small pots or masonry bit for large pots
-pot in pot method - you can add a bit of gravel to a ceramic pot with no drainage holes. Then put your plant in a smaller plastic pot with drainage holes. Then put that plastic pot inside the ceramic pot ise spanish moss or raindeer moss on top of the soil to hide the plastic pot.
Use window screen to cover hole to prevent soil leaking and ants from coming in
Put rocks, Spanish moss or reindeer moss around the top of the soil for a finished look.
Don’t limit yourself in plant selection. Trees, shrubs, grasses and perennials are great to use in addition to annuals and succulents.
Fertilizer needs vary for different plants but fertilizer in pots is important because the plants depend on you for feeding. Hasta gro, compost, espoma are some of my favorites depending on the plant.
Repot plants when they outgrow or pot doesnt hold water anymore, varies depending on plant.
I decided to make some posts about plants that confuse me so that way I can look back at the posts when I get confused again. Today it’s the plants known locally as bird of paradise or pride of barbados. There are three types that I have seen in Austin nurseries and landscapes. Caesalpinia pulcherrima Is the orange red one that most people call pride of barbados. It freezes to the ground every winter. I cut them down to about 6” to leave some stems sticking up out of the ground in the winter. They grow back in late April or May and bloom all summer. You can grow them from seed if you can’t find them at the nursery. The nurseries often don’t sell them until May when they start blooming.
Then there’s Caesalpinia gilliesii which is known as Yellow Bird of Paradise or Argentine Bird of Paradise. This one has yellow flowers with pink stamens. It grows more like a tiny tree with just one or two trunks. Usually they loose their leaves in the winter but the stems stay alive. I’ve never grown this one myself but my friend Ruth has one and she never cuts it down. Also can be grown from seed.
Caesalpinia mexicana has pure yellow flowers. It’s kind of like a mix between the other two where it has the shape and size of the pulcherrima but yellow flowers. Looks like it is also called Mexican Holdback. Around here I’ve heard it called Mexican Bird of Paradise. I have very limited experience with this one .
It looks like these plants’ botanical names might have been changed recently but now I have lost interest.
Today I was part of a class with TreeFolks to collect walnut seeds. I learned there are three species of walnuts that grow in Central Texas and all three are relatively rare trees. Juglans microcarpa, aka the little walnut, Juglans nigra, aka Black walnut and Juglans major, aka Arizona Walnut. All three prefer deep soils and access to water, usually growing near pecans along creeks. We found Arizona Walnuts at Zilker park here in Austin and I also collected some in Kerr County, TX. I found the little walnuts along the Frio river in Concan, TX. My mom sent her black walnuts from Cleveland, OH and the class coordinator brought some black walnuts from Smithville Tx. All of the nuts we collected are going to Texas Forest Service and a wholesale grower to be germinated this winter. TreeFolks will use the saplings in reforestation projects in East Travis County next year. The walnuts have become rare in Tx due to over harvesting for lumber because walnut wood is so beautiful, and because they can only grow near water so their habitat is limited. I think they will be a good replacement for ash trees that might get wiped out by emerald ash borers as they make their way thru Texas. I hope in the future thru our efforts that walnuts will be easier to find in nurseries and landscapes. They are beautiful trees.
Heirloom Fruit and Vegetables: The Backyard Gardener’s Mission
By Colleen Dieter
Whether you are an avid gardener or a newbie, you may have heard fellow gardeners chatting about heirloom varieties of vegetables with zealous passion. Heirloom plants have turned reserved, calm gardener folks into crazed, radical revolutionaries. Ok, maybe that is hyperbole, but I have overheard these conversations several times, and wondered what motivated ordinary backyard gardeners to become emotional when talking about certain heirloom varieties of tomatoes, apples and radishes. So, I decided to research for this article by talking to friends and surfing the web for info about these seemingly intoxicating plants.
There is a lot of controversy out there about what the term “heirloom” means when it comes to vegetables and fruit. Some sources say that heirloom plants must be varieties that were introduced to gardeners before WWII, when larger seed companies started breeding plants so the plants have characteristics that made them more suitable for large-scale commercial food production. For example, after WWII seed companies wanted to breed new types of tomatoes that are harder and less squishy as heirloom tomatoes, making them easier to ship to grocery stores. Other gardeners say heirloom varieties have to be 100 years old or even older.
Other sources say that heirloom varieties of edible plants must be “open pollinated.” The National Gardening Association Dictionary of Horticulture defines open pollinated as “Pollinated by wind or insects, not by human intervention.” Open pollination is important with heirloom plants because the offspring of plants that are open pollinated are similar to their parent plants. The best way to explain the importance of “open pollination” is through an example: Let’s say you plant an open pollinated tomato plant. You get a good crop of tomatoes from it and they taste really yummy. Then you decide that instead of buying those same tomato seeds next season you would rather save some of the seeds from your current crop. The new tomatoes planted from the seeds you saved will have the same traits as the first tomatoes you planted. Plants that are not open pollinated are called hybrids. Hybrids are plants that humans purposely created using breeding techniques. If you saved the seeds from a hybrid plant and planted them the next year, then the new plants will probably be different from their parents. Sometimes the seeds from hybrids are sterile and will not come up at all. For more info, visit this great site that I found that is dedicated entirely to information about heirloom vegetables: http://www.halcyon.com/tmend/define.htm .
What’s my opinion on the controversial definition of heirloom plants? I like to think of heirloom plants in the same way that we talk about family heirlooms: something is rare and irreplaceable that is passed on from one generation to the next. Often, it’s a thing that you can’t buy at a store and it is valued either for some unusual or sentimental characteristic. Heirloom varieties of plants tend to be more than 50 years old and open pollinated, but those rules are very flexible and have many exceptions.
Most backyard gardeners have a stake in growing heirloom edibles for personal reasons. Many gardeners I talked to use the tomato example. If you buy a tomato from a chain grocery store, you typically get something that is kind of pinkish, small, shiny, hard, mealy and mild-tasting. The plants tend to be resistant to diseases and can adapt to bad weather. That type of tomato was bred with the interest of large-scale farmers, chain restaurants, and grocery stores in mind. That tomato looks like what most consumers think of when they visualize a tomato, most people find the taste acceptable and it ships well. The truth is, the interests of backyard gardeners and small farmers are different from the interests of bigger farmers and grocery stores. Backyard gardeners want a colorful, squishy, juicy tomato with lots of sweetness and acidic flavors—something that you can’t regularly buy at the store. Heirloom varieties fit that bill. Heirloom tomatoes come in dozens of shapes, sizes, colors and flavors that are interesting and fun.
But many small farmers and backyard gardeners also have an ecological reason for growing heirloom varieties. When large scale farmers began growing just a few newer hybrid varieties of edibles in the mid-20th century, some of the old types of plants fell by the wayside. Untold numbers of varieties went extinct, and the survival of heirloom varieties available to us now is due to passionate backyard gardeners, small farmers, and small seed companies who saved seeds and quietly kept these old plants in production.
You may ask yourself, “So what if some varieties of edible plants go extinct? The ones we still have are fine.” The truth is that the modern hybrid varieties of edible plants that we have are not entirely fine. One of my horticulture professors at Ohio State told my class about problems that Chiquita was having on their banana plantations in the late 1990s. Modern banana hybrids bred for large-scale production and for long-distance shipping from the tropics are yellow, relatively large, seedless, and harder than other types of bananas. Heirloom banana varieties vary in color. Some are red or maroon. They vary in size and tend to be softer. Left to their own devices, these bananas will produce plants with seeds. When large-scale banana producers finally bred the ‘perfect banana’ for their commercial purposes around the mid-20th century, they stopped breeding new types of plants and began growing only one kind of banana. In order to be sure that they would not accidentally grow bananas with different traits, they started using asexual methods for cloning their banana plants. The result is that every banana plant on a large-scale banana plantation is going to be genetically identical to every other banana plant on that plantation.
This isn’t science fiction; banana plants naturally clone themselves by producing offshoot plants from the base of their trunks, just like tulips, agaves, spider plants, and onions. Cloning is very common in the plant world. Plant producers also use a simple process called tissue culture to clone plants. A tiny piece of plant tissue is placed in a Petri dish in either a lab or greenhouse with some nutritious gel in it, and this tiny piece of plant tissue is fed hormones. From this tiny plant tissue grows a whole new plant. I did some tissue culturing in one of my lower-level college crop science classes, and the tissue culture method is used to reproduce most new seedless grape plants. But in the late 1990s, Chiquita plantations began losing large numbers of banana plants to disease, and because every banana plant was genetically identical there were no plants that had resistance to this disease. The companies began seeking out heirloom varieties of bananas to begin breeding new varieties of bananas to resist this particular disease. Luckily for Chiquita, and all of us who love to eat bananas, there were still some heirloom bananas available for breeding, and those heirloom varieties happened to be resistant to this particular disease. What if all of those heirloom varieties had gone extinct?
For another example and perspective on biodiversity, check out this article by Michael Pollan about apples: http://www.michaelpollan.com/article.php?id=54
Finally, some backyard gardeners and small farmers around the world plant heirloom varieties of plants for political reasons. In the U.S., if a seed company breeds a new variety of plant, they often put a patent on that new plant so they are the only ones who can produce that plant. People who save seeds to reproduce that plant and don’t pay royalties to the seed company who originally produced it can incur fines. The laws surrounding this type of ownership are enforced by federal and state departments of agriculture. Some gardeners are uncomfortable with the idea that someone can own genetic material, arguing that genes are a part of the natural world. Many heirloom gardeners are uncomfortable with the idea that a large seed company or corporation could possibly have exclusive rights to produce certain types of food, especially staples like corn and wheat. This issue becomes even more complicated because of the introduction of genetically modified crops. You can hear about a court battle that went on in Canada over ownership of genetically engineered canola here: https://beta.prx.org/stories/184510
Like the copyright laws surrounding works of art, heirloom varieties are so old that no one can claim to own them. They are part of the ‘public domain,’ leaving gardeners and farmers free to plant them, save their seeds, and reproduce them without penalties.
I have planted lots of heirloom varieties in my garden just for fun, not knowing the other reasons for growing them. My experience with heirlooms has been mixed. I have grown very attached to certain varieties. My friends know of my fondness for ‘French Breakfast’ radishes. I also adore ‘Romano’ pole beans and ‘Armenian’ cucumbers. Other heirlooms I have tried, especially tomatoes, have not done well and can be very quirky. So, if you are interested in heirlooms, then keep an open mind and get ready for some challenges. It helps to keep a garden journal so you can remember which varieties worked for you, and which ones to avoid. I have found my gardening successes are even more rewarding with heirlooms because I can pass the seeds on to friends and I am helping to preserve genetic diversity. Plus, the unusual plants make for great conversation with gardener pals.
Ask your local librarian if there is a seed library in your community. Often the best way to get heirloom seeds is from other gardeners. Seed libraries lend seeds to gardeners and at the end of the growing season gardeners can bring their saved seeds back to contribute to the library. I am one of the founding members of the seed library on the 6th floor of the Austin Public Library Central Branch in downtown Austin, Texas.
Seed swaps are another great way to get ahold of hard to find heirloom varieties that are suitable for your location. Recently I snagged some rare ‘Chushaw’ squash seeds at a swap.
There are lots of good places to buy heirloom seeds and plants. Check out these favorites of mine:
Seed Savers Exchange- Garden Maven Peg got some cool broom corn seeds here.
Tons of varieties and great information at Botanical Interests, a family-owned business.
Renee’s garden is going to have most of what you want.
Cool fruit and nut trees are available here at Trees Of Antiquity.
There are many very cool local (and loco) websites for region-specific heirloom seeds. This one is for Hudson Valley New York, the Hudson Valley Seed Library
Johnny’s Seeds has an entire heirloom section in their online catalog:
I’m looking forward to teaching a class about citrus tomorrow at TreeFolks: Treefolks.org.
I'm proud to be a founder of the Austin Seed Library. A few years ago I grew Armenian Cucumbers in my veggie garden. They were amazing. Day after day I harvested armloads of these delicious, refreshing treats in the hottest part of summer. I made pickles, I made cocktails, I made salad after salad... The smooth, ribbed skin and crisp texture make this variety a delight. The cucumber beetles ate away at them day and night but the plants couldn't care less. It was my gardening dream come true.
The next year, I wanted to plant them again. But I couldn't find the seeds anywhere! I searched all of my normal local nurseries, seed catalogs and asked friends. But I finally had to break down and do a random google search for them. The only place I could find them was Burpee. Now, I don't have anything against Burpee, but what if they go out of business? Where will I get my seeds? What if they decide to not carry Armenian Cucumbers anymore? This is when I decided to take up seed saving.
On a larger level I started to wonder if it is wise for our food to be in the hands of profit-motivated companies. I started reading and researching more, and found that many of our vegetable varieties have gone extinct or face extinction because commercial farmers do not grow them. It's up to home gardeners and small scale farmers to keep these rare treats alive.
I also learned that you can hone the genetics of your little veggie plants by saving the seeds year after year. You can create what gardeners refer to as a "Landrace", which is perfectly adapted to your soil and climate in your specific garden. This will be valuable to us as we are starting to face the consequences of climate change, especially in the already extreme climate of ATX.
The seed library is currently a small group of dedicated volunteers who love, love, love seeds. We are having a seed swap and kickoff meeting on April 7 from 2:30-4:30 at Sustainable Food Center. I hope you can join us.
I was very excited to find this Texas Madrone tree on the side of the road near Lake Travis Middle School. It's not in great shape but still cool to see. I may try to collect some seeds from it this fall. It is unusual to see them east of the Edwards Plateau and they are notoriously hard to grow and not widely available at nurseries. I love them for their strange, smooth, white and red bark, and their red, velvety fruits.
High winds and saturated soil can cause big problems for trees. Certain species of trees are more susceptible than others. Need help assessing the damage and risk? Ask me! I'm an International Society of Arboriculture Certified Arborist. Call or text me at (512) 944-3504. I hope you are all safe and sound! Thanks, Colleen
Woodland Landscape Workshop at Natural Gardener Saturday August 12 at 10:00
Are you struggling to make your shady yard look good? Colleen Dieter with Red Wheelbarrow Landscape Consulting will share her pro tips and tricks for eliminating struggling turfgrass to make a woodland garden that is soothing and lovely. Colleen has been helping black thumb homeowners with their Austin yards for 14 years. Check out her blog for more info at ATXGardens.com.
Do you need help with your landscape? Do you know someone who can benefit from our services? Call Colleen at 512-944-3504to set up a consultation.
I recently got certification for my home butterfly garden! I got a nice sign for the garden and the pride in knowing I did a good job providing the butterflies with resources they need. Here are some photos from my butterfly garden lately. Feel out of touch with nature? A small patch of butterfly plants in your yard can cure you. Call me for a consultation to get advice about how to create a butterfly haven: 512-944-3504. Learn more about getting certified at http://www.naba.org.
Pink Flamingo Muhly Grass gives butterflies a place to sit and feel protected during bad weather. The cactus fruit provides another food source for butterflies if allowed to fall and rot on the ground. The grey shrub in the background is Mountain Butterfly Bush, it's orange flowers provide another source of nectar.
Some customers of mine had a tree growing near the street. They often park their cars in the shade under this tree. During our first walkthrough consultation I noticed the tree was leaning at pretty severe angle over the street, and I identified it as a species that is weak-wooded and prone to decay. I informed the homeowners that parking under that tree on a windy day would be unwise, and they were concerned about the safety of folks walking under the tree.
Last year I achieved one of my long-term goals of becoming an International Society of Arboriculture Certified Arborist. I'm proud to say that my training helped those customers, who had the tree removed shortly after my consultation. Upon removal we could see extensive rot in the center of the trunk. There's no shortage of windy days in Central Texas, so it's smart to have your trees at the front of your mind when thinking about your landscape.
Check out the two photos below. I took them last year when I was visiting Chadwick Arboretum, where I had my first gardening job as a student back in 2000, where I got my horticulture chops. I love the tag that shows how much money a tree is worth and the services that tree provides, especially reduced atmospheric carbon. Call me for tree advice! 512-944-3504. And take a look at the tree benefits calculator here.
Hey home veggie gardeners! Did you ever wonder about GMO seeds, heirloom varieties or hybrids? They are confusing terms and can be intimidating. If you are a home veggie gardener, you might grow a fantastic crop of cucumbers or beans, only to be disappointed because you can't find the same variety for the next growing season. If you saved your own seeds, you would have them for the next season and you would be helping maintain varieties of vegetables that may go extinct otherwise. Seed saving is easy, fun and subversive. It's an empowering act that makes a real difference to humanity. Of all of the things I can teach you, this is the most important.
Feel confused about heirlooms vs hybrids? Ever wonder "what's the deal with GMOs?" Did you ever grow an amazing crop of tomatoes only and then feel disappointed because the following season you can't find that variety again? Are you wanting to make a significant impact on humanity? I'm teaching a class about seed saving at SFC in Austin on May 13 from 2-4 PM. All of these topics will be covered! Learn how small scale gardeners can make a difference.
Today we shot the Garden Journeys segment for Spectrum news in the Mueller Orchard. It looks incredible now- my photos do not live up to the real thing. There are six species of bluebonnets that grow in Texas. And it diplomatic move to Texas Legislature designated all six as a Texas state flower and any future cultivars or varieties that are discovered will also be designated as the Texas state flower. Of course Texas would have more than one state flower...better than all those tiny states with only one. You may be lucky enough to spot bluebonnets in shades of pink white or maroon or light blue. In Central Texas we know Lupinus texensis best as a deep, dark blue flower that colonizes large swaths along roadsides and in disturbed waste places. They can grow in these tough places because they are legumes- members of the Fabeacea family along with peas, beans, Redbuds and Texas Mountain Laurels. Legumes have a symbiotic relationship with a special soil microbe. All plants need nitrogen to make leaves and stems. But soils in disturbed areas- like those along roadsides- usually don't have enough nitrogen to support most plants. The little soil microbe that lives with the legumes, including bluebonnets, can grab nitrogen out of the atmosphere and "fix" it so the bluebonnet can use it. In return the bluebonnet gives the microbe some sugar that it makes in it's leaves. The microbes make a tiny home on the roots of the legumes and it looks like a little nodule. The plants attract the microbes by exuding stuff that the microbes like out of their roots. Pretty cool!!! The Mueller Orchard is full of bluebonnets right now and is easy to park near and walk into if it is time for your annual bluebonnet photos. The orchard is at the corner of Manor and Berkman roads.
Many of my customers ask me to help them when their grass dies under large trees. Shaded, woodland yards have become my specialty. In the early spring we have many great choices for blooms in shaded yards. These flowers take advantage of the extra light they get when the trees loose their leaves and they thrive during the cool season then go dormant in the summer heat. White yarrow and purple spiderwort, shown in the photos here, are two of these spring ephemeral flowers that thrive in shade in Austin. Oxalis, Columbine and Baby Blue Eyes are also great choices. I typically pair them with a plant that thrives in summer but dies back in winter like Purple Heart or other types of Tradescantia. That way the plants cover each other when one or the other is going through their ugly dormant time.
I was talking with my friend the other day and we both couldn't remember the spring season that was more springy than this one. Some well-timed rain and unseasonably warm temperatures have catapulted the plants back into action! But at the same time and seeing a lot of plant fatalities after the extreme cold snap that we had early in the winter. I offer plant shopping and delivery services if you need help replacing plants that died over the winter. At this time of year the nurseries can be really crazy and they can be difficult to navigate if you don't know where to go or what to look for. Here's a pro tip: if you're able to shop the nurseries on Thursdays, you should. Most of the nurseries get truckloads of plants in on Wednesdays so that they are well-stocked for the weekend. So on Thursday you get the absolute best plants and the most stock available with smaller crowds compared to shopping on Saturday. Pack some patience because most of the nurseries don't offer enough parking, and much of the parking lot is taken up with new plants or big cargo trucks full of plants. The nursery parking lot traffic jam is an annual headache for me. Don't go to the nursery in the spring if you're in a hurry.
WEEDING SUCKS! I have been a pro gardener for over 15 years and I really always disliked weeding. The best methods for weed prevention are planting many plants so there isn't a lot of open space for the weeds to grow in, applying a thick layer of mulch to cover bare soil where weeds can thrive and watering as little as possible- heavy weed populations can be caused by overwatering. I recently taped a segment for Spectrum news about my favorite tools for weeding. I will post a link to it after it airs. BUT the best weeding tool is some good music/podcast/book on tape/chatty friend. The sheer boredom is what gets me! Anyway I am also doing a class about tools at Natural Gardener Feb 4 and I will cover weeding tools, and also digging and pruning tools as well. Bring your mystery tools that are collecting dust in the shed- I might know what they are for! I will also cover sharpening and tool care. Check out the event listing here for more info.