Saturday, February 22, 2020

Installng a New Solar Garden - Part 1

When we first bought our house, we somewhat naively and ignorantly had the builders remove all of the "brush"in the front yard.  Much of it was cedars, and we wanted the cedars gone... but along with it went a lot of natural fauna.  I was not much of a gardener back then and didn't recognize or appreciate native plants.  In our back, undeveloped portion of the yard (the part we didn't tear up), I have found lots of fragrant mist flower, yaupon holly, twist leaf yucca, agaritas and even a red bud.   

I am guessing those same plants were also thriving in our front year.  And we had the builders tear them all out.  Sigh.  I can only guess how many of these plants that I am now purchasing, were once living here freely.  So now I am slowly, very slowly, trying to replace the St Augustine back with native plants.  

So this year's endeavor is to replace the hottest, driest portion of the front yard. I am calling it my "solar garden", since it get sun from morning until evening. I am filling the garden with those plants that I *know* are incredibly tough and drought tolerant.  Fortunately, many of these plants I have pulled from other parts of the yard, and some from the back.  That's how I know they are tough ;o)

So far, I have transplanted, from other parts of the yard:

Whale Tongue Agave. I had received a whale tongue agave pup around two years, and I have long thought about placing him in that front dry portion.  So he was the first to arrive.  One of the hard parts of garden planning, is that the plants start off so small, and some take awhile to grow.  I originally planned this guy as the center of the garden, but he is so small right now, it felt sort of silly.  So I put him on the side, figuring in a few years, when he gets bigger, I can build around him.

Agarita.  I then tried transplanting an agarita (see previous blog post).  I am not optimistic about its success, but if it doesn't make, I will buy one to replace it with.  I just love this native bush.

Obedient plant.  Yes, I sometimes cringe because every place I transplant this plant, I regret it.  It quickly takes up so much space.  But I think given the right location, it could look really great.  and it is seriously tough (I can't seem to kill it in my back garden bed - and I've tried).  So, I planted a bunch of them, and they have a lot of space to fill in.  Much of the time, I haven't given this plant enough space, and it crowds out other plants around it.  

White Knock Out rose.  This guy has been hanging in my side garden for many years.  I planted it when the trees were small, but the Burr oak and Chinaberry behind it (trash tree, I know, but it grew on its own and does provide appreciated shade) both have grown to shade the entire area the rose grew in.  Since then, the rose has never done well.  Last year, I thought it had finally died, but this spring, I found a tiny little stem growing at the bottom. Knowing that roses love lots of sun, and they tend to be pretty drought tolerant, I moved this guy into my solar garden.

Fragrant Mist Flower. Behind it I planted a fragrant mist flower that I had purchased a few years back, and but into my front garden.  I didn't realize how big these bushes got (okay, I never really believe the size written on the pot).  I planted it right in front of my Lion's tail, and it grew so large, that I couldn't see the Lion's tail.  So I dug it up and put it in the center of this garden, again giving it lots of space to grow.  For most of the year, this shrub is a straggly non-descript bush, but then in the fall, it bursts into these white flowers that the monarchs *love*.  I frequently will finds dozens of the butterflies around the bush.  

Flame Acanthus.  Another tough as nails plant.  I planted this also in my front garden, and again did not realize how big it got.  It really needs to be a back bush, and I had planted it smack front and center. This plant has quickly spread, and I have moved many of its seedlings to more central places in the front garden. I dug the original up and moved it to the wild flower bed, but then I ignored it, and I think it has since died.  But this is one of the seedlings that I have dug up and put in the back porch garden. I didn't love it there, so I moved it to this bed.  Again, I am giving it lots of room to spread and grow.

Pink Muhly Grass.  I found three of these last fall in the clearance section for $1 at Lowe's.  I quickly grabbed them, knowing them for a score.  One of these I am going to plant beside the flame acanthus, bringing a light feathery touch to the agarita and acanthus. I am going to use the other two to fill in... not sure where just yet.

Lantana.  I found this little guy growing in my vegetable garden, reseeded from the back porch garden, I am guessing.  He was right where I wanted to plant my potatoes, so I dug him up and replanted him here.

Peter's Purple Bee Balm.  I love this plant, and so do the bees and butterflies.  Two or three years ago, I put one small pot in my front garden.  Immediately, I realized I really should have purchased more of them, since this is a plant that needs lots of friends to look good. I went back to purchase some more, and they were all gone. I figured I would catch them again next year.  But the next year, the plant had already spread so much, that I didn't need to purchase any more!  Love when that happens :)  Since then, this plant has really spread - maybe a little further than necessary.  So I dug a shovel full up to put here.  Again, in this garden, I am giving this plant lots of room to spread.

I then added a small path through the garden.  It was actually Kyle's suggestion to do so, and I love when anyone actually takes the time to look at my garden. So when he did, and mentioned his idea of the path, I thought, sure, why not?  :)  I actually really love the path now.

And I wanted to put a large pot in the garden as well.  I have seen these used in other gardens, and I love how a large pot can add height and dimension to a garden, especially during the winter.  When I went to Lowe's and Natural Gardener, I was astounded by the price of large pots.  The cheapest go for between $100 and $150!?!?  I decided to try Craig's List. In an attempt to be more green, this last year, I have started to explore the "Reuse" portion of the three conservation Rs (Reduce, Reuse, Recyle)  And low and behold, someone was selling 4 huge, awesome, beautiful pots in Leander for only $80.  Score!  

Salvia Greggi.  I dug up two Salvia Greggi from my back porch garden bed and planted them around the pot.  I have (fingers crossed) yet to ever kill this plant. And I have them all around the garden. They are very drought tolerant and bloom consistently throughout the year. And every once in a while, it seeds a new plant for me to put elsewhere :) Perfect for this new garden.

Twist leaf Yuccas.  I dug these two up from the back portion of the lot.  I did not get a lot of their roots, but I have had pretty good luck growing these guys from transplants before, so here is hoping these work out as well.

Blue Weeping Yucca.  Another clearance plant.  $5 for a large plant.  I have never grown one before, but this one looked gorgeous.

I still have a large portion of the garden to dig out.  I am hoping to fill it with pride of barbados, maybe an Esperanza and Duranta.  

Monday, February 17, 2020

February is Peach Pruning TIme

We have had our peach trees for over 10 years.  They were the first trees we planted at our new home.  And in the last decade, we have had one, maybe two really awesome peach cobblers. The rest of the years... nothing.   This is largely because we planted the trees and then completely ignored them until spring time, when we lamented the lack of peaches, or that the peaches were full of worms, or whatever...

Part of the neglect is that we have never pruned the peach trees.

When we first planted them, I fell under the typical excitement of getting a new fruit tree.  'I just bought this tree, and now you want me to cut it down for the first three years.  No way, man.  I want *peaches*.'

As I became a slightly more experienced gardener, I have learned that pruning results in bigger, fuller trees that do more of what you want them to.

But by that time, the trees had grown in their own way, and I have had no idea how to prune them.  And the job only kept getting bigger, as the trees grew.

Now, these trees have gotten so tall, that even if they did produce any peaches, we wouldn't be able to reach them!

So this year, I was determined to work on them.  We have had a very warm winter, so we will probably not get many peaches anyway.

I watched a bunch of videos on youtube.  Unfortunately, most of those are of saplings or very young trees.  And even the videos of the "mature" peach trees looked nothing like ours.  I downloaded information from the internet and read through it all.  I took a photo of our tree and brought it to the Natural Gardener to get some advice. (This was the most helpful of all) Turns out, now is the time to cut off some of the branches, but trimming the height will happen in the summer, when it is too hot for the tree to respond to the pruning with renewed growth.

So, with all the of the internet, and the advice of NG, Dave and I tackled the tree yesterday.  We first pulled off one of the main upright branches.  Just taking off that one branch, we were stunned at how much it opened up the tree.  This gave us some courage to take off another.  In doing so, I saw that many of the branches had some moss on their underside, a clear indication that the branches were not getting enough light.

We had started with the front peach tree, since this is the one that we have only ever gotten *one* peach off.  We figured there wasn't much to lose there ;o)

But the feeling of success from the first tree rode us over to the second tree.  We did not take off as much there, but we did take off some.  

While at NG, they told me that the most important thing to do was to fertilize the tree.  Well, years and years ago, Dave had bought some "fruit tree fertilizing spikes."  They have sat in my little gardening bookcase for years.  I guess I never knew when to use them, never bothered to... I don't know.  So today I took the whole box of them, and pounded them into the ground.

We are still not expecting many peaches this year, due to the warm winter.  But I figure with the fertilizing and pruning, maybe, just maybe, next year we can make another peach cobbler.  

Gardening: a meditative practice in hope and anticipation. :)

Friday, February 14, 2020


So, I just searched my blog looking for my post about the Madrone I purchased a year and a half ago. And lo and behold, I found no posts.  Not one.  Apparently I have never mentioned it.  Didn't even note buying it.  Madrones are notoriously difficult to transplant, so I am guessing I was so uncertain I could keep this plant alive, that I didn't even bother logging it.

Dave has long loved Madrone trees, with their cinnamon colored bark and crooked branches. Knowing their reputation for being difficult to transplant, for a couple of years he would go out in the fall and collect their seeds, and attempt to propagate them at home... with no luck.  

I fell in love with Madrones during our week-long horseback camping trip in the Davis mountains. 

I went to the Wildflower Center, on hearing rumors of a Madrone tree they had there, and sure enough found a beauty tucked in a back corner. A helpful docent told me that they had tried transplanting Madrones at the Center unsuccessfully until they finally plucked one from South Texas and literally used a backhoe to dig out a huge area around it, to preserve its roots and soil.  I believe there is now a second Madrone on the property, this one grown from seed.

So, sometime in the fall of 2018 (if I recall correctly), I went to Natural Gardener for some other mission, and saw them selling small Madrone plants... for $30 a pop.  Pretty hefty price tag for such a small plant.  And with my serial murderer history with many plants, it truly seemed fruitless to even consider.  I'd be better off investing that money in a lottery ticket ;o)

But, ever hopeful, I plucked one up and brought it home. Some research indicated that that tree grew in a "shady location (under an oak or juniper) that faces east or north, preferably on a slightly angled slope for drainage". Link .  There were not a whole lot of places in our yard that met that condition, but we found a small spot in the abandoned wildflower garden at the side of the house.  It is pretty off the beaten path, and my plan is, should this tree actually live, I will eventually build a garden around it

Notes said to give it one gallon of water each week. The goal is to force the tree to put down a long tap root, and too much water would prohibit that.

"Maddy" made it pretty easily through its first winter.  I continued to water it faithfully through the drought of 2019.  Then we had an early freeze, and I ... sort of forgot about it. Forgetting that even though we had an early freeze, when the temp quickly warmed up again and there was still no rain, that I should continue watering it.  It suffered some, but seems to have made it through its second winter.  I am still nervous, but at a year and a half old, I guess I felt like maybe I could add it to my journal.

Texas Madrone  Arbuts xalapanesis
12 - 20 feet
"Small to moderately sized, evergreen with pleasingly crooked branches, dark green leaves, cluster of white flowers in the spring, attractive red fruits in the fall and colorful bark that is a showstopper on any hike." Remarkable Plants of Texas

Its colorful, exfoliating outer bark reveals polished, red, inner bark. Stout, crooked, spreading branches form a distinct crown.

Growing madrones:

Fertilize lightly in the spring when new growth appears; use an organic 3-5-2 formula. Madrones grow slowly but can occasionally grow as much as 12 to 18 inches in a year. Protect small trees from browsing livestock and deer with cages.  Link 

Texas madrone mychorrizal fungi symbiotic relationship

"Madrones are in the family Ericaceae (along with blueberries, cranberries and rhododendron), plants that tend to inhabit acidic, nutrient-poor soils. Most Ericaceae rely on a unique, symbiotic relationship with ericoid mycorrhizal fungi, which aid in nutrient uptake (phosphorous, nitrogen, iron) in exchange for carbohydrates from the tree. To increase madrone-rearing success, soil can be inoculated with fungus."  Lady Bird Johns Wildflower Center

The fruit, when fully ripe, is said by the Kickapoo to be "sweet and savory like strawberries" (Lattore and latorre 1977)  El Madrono is Spanish for Strawberry tree.  Its fruit, reportedly high in zinc can be used to make a tart jelly.

Friday, February 7, 2020

Transplanting agarita

I love agaritas.  I love their red berries. I love their evergreen dark foliage, and I love how incredibly drought tolerant they are.  I know they are drought tolerant because we have a bunch in our woods behind the house, and I have never had to water them.  

But I wanted one in my front garden bed.  And it seemed silly to pay someone $35 when I had so many for free.  So last spring, I decided I would transplant one.  I spent hours digging it up.  Agaritas must like rocky soil, and mine always seem to grow under cedar trees, where their tap root intermingles with the thick deep roots of the tree. There was much use of the Texas toothpick.  Last year, I did not realize how very long the tap root was, and inadvertently cut the tap root off shorter than I would have liked.  I went ahead and planted it anyway, then babied it all summer. It never thrived, and slowly more and more of the plant appeared dead. We went away for one week, and I came back and it was toast.  Sigh.

So, kinda like childbirth, after the pain is gone, you forget how bad it is.  I decided I would try again this winter.  I read up a little more.  Winter is the best
time to transplant, and I was now aware of the tap root.  I spent hours digging a trench around the plant.  No worries, I recently learned how to add a gardening workout to my fitbit, so this counted as my daily exercise ;o)

On the right hand side, I once again inadvertently cut the tap root.  Waaah.  After hours of digging. But there was another tap root that I found to the left,  I dug... and dug... and dug, I got that sucker about a foot and a half long before it tore coming out of the ground.

I then placed it in a pot and carried it to the front, where I had already dug a deep hole.  I trenched a long path for the tap root, placed it in the hole, and then filled it with water. I read online that making a mud helps the dirt stick better to the roots. So I filled that hole with 4 gallons of water.

I have to admit, I am not extremely optimistic about this one's chances. But I will baby it until I know how it is going to go.  And if it doesn't make it,  I will very happily spend $35 to purchase a pre-potted one next year :)  It is all a learning experience, right?

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