Sunday, December 25, 2011

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Fall Colors - It's a Wrap

I suppose I should wrap up my posts on fall colors before winter begins on December 22. There is still some lingering color on the prairie, but these photos were taken before hard freezes turned most of the prairie brown.

Redbud, Cercis canadensis

Hercules Club, Zanthoxylum clava-herculis

False Indigo, Amorpha fruticosa

Smooth Sumac, Rhus glabra

 (Not Quite) Spineless Prickly Pear Cactus, Opuntia ellisiana (?)

Aromatic Aster, Symphyotrichum oblongifolium 

Square bud Primrose, Calylophus berlandieri

Frostweed, Verbesina virginica

Columbine

Black-eyed Susan, Rudbeckia fulgida


Gregg's Mistflower, Conoclinium greggii 

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The End

The growing season for 2011 has officially come to an end. Last week's freezing temperatures nipped the flowers in the bud, so to speak. There was even some light snow early Tuesday morning.


Black Sampson Coneflower, Echinacea angustifolia, does not usually bloom this late in the year, but this one shot up a single flower a couple of weeks ago. On Wednesday morning the flower was touched with frost and frozen solid as temperatures dipped into the low 20s.

As frost covered the leaves of the Echinacea and browned the summer flowers, frost flowers began to "bloom" across the prairie.

When freezing moisture exudes from the stems of Scarlet Sage, Salvia coccinea, it forms thin ribbons of ice known as frost flowers.

The Scarlet Sage was still covered in red flowers a few days ago. Now those red flowers are being replaced with white frost flowers on this icy plant.

Frostweed, Verbesina virginica, is named for its ability to produce frost flowers. Frostweed does not produce frost flowers as easily as the Scarlet Sage. I think it is because the Frostweed stems are much thicker. It seems to require a longer period of freezing temperatures before the frost flowers break through the stems. On this cold morning, only this thin Frostweed stem could be found with frost flowers.

After this icy interlude, I will return to posting additional pictures of the fall colors on my prairie.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Fall Colors - Grasses

Fall or autumn colors are not always easy to find in Texas. Often, leaves quickly turn from green to brown with no shades of red, yellow, or orange in between. 

Over the next couple of posts, I will share some of the colors of the fall season found in my prairie. This post will focus on the grasses. Subsequent posts will cover shrubs and trees and then flowers.

Internet references state that the 'Dallas Blues' variety of Switchgrass, Panicum virgatum, was discovered growing along a railroad track in Dallas, Texas. The leaves are a power blue color (hence, the name) in the spring and summer and wider than most other Switchgrasses. By late summer, the five foot tall grass is topped with reddish purple panicles (flowers). When fall comes around, the leaves are ablaze with shades of yellow and red.

It is hard to believe that I am considering removing this colorful grass from my prairie. I really like it, but Switchgrasses are fairly aggressive growers. They quickly form large dense clumps with deep roots. I removed five clumps this summer and that was no easy task. I am debating whether to remove the grass entirely. Although drought tolerant, 'Dallas Blues' Switchgrass requires a little extra water in the summer to look its best. This year's drought and my lack of watering caused the lower leaves to turn yellow and brown by midsummer. 

The Pine Muhly, Muhlenbergia dubia, was a standout in the prairie this year, especially after it sent out many buff colored flower spikes. The thin leaves of the Pine Muhly are beginning to change to the same buff color as the flower spikes. 

The drought severely affected the appearance of the Indian Grass, Sorghastrum nutans, this year. Normally the grass produces numerous flower heads that rise up to seven feet above the leaves, but this year there were just a couple of flower heads and they were only a few inches higher than the grass. Click here to see how this same grass looked last year.


Bushy Bluestem, Andropogon glomeratus, prefers moist soils and grows in the front yard rain garden. Of course, even a rain garden gets dry when it does not rain. The drought stunted the growth of this grass and some of the lower leaves turned brown early because the plants did not get enough moisture during the summer. There is a hint of the fall copper color common to Bluestem grasses that is beginning to show on the leaves.

This Big Bluestem, Andropogon gerardii, is showing its fall color. I planted this grass earlier this year. This is my first time to grow Big Bluestem. Despite the drought, it took hold fairly quickly. I am looking forward to seeing more of this rich, coppery color next season. 


Finally, another of my foggy Thanksgiving morning pictures showing Little Bluestem, Schizachyrium scoparium, among the prairie flowers, yuccas and cactus. The copper color of the Little Bluestem was darker and more intense this morning due to the moisture in the air.

My prairie saw its first freeze of the season this past Monday morning when temperatures dropped to 31 degrees. We are expecting additional freezes in the upcoming week that will surely turn most of the plants brown. However, all of these grasses will maintain their autumn color and stature through the winter. In February, I will cut them to the ground to make way for a new season's growth. 

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving

When I started the Plano Prairie Garden blog almost three years ago, it was intended to be an anonymous journal of the transformation of my front yard from a manicured lawn to a semi-controlled prairie garden filled with prairie grasses and flowers. My plan was to produce this blog as evidence that my prairie was an intentional endeavor and not just the result of laziness in the event I was ever reported to city code enforcement officers for violating the 12 inch height limit for grass and weeds. Thankfully, I have yet to receive a citation for any kind of violation.

I never thought anyone else would see this blog. I should have known better since it is on the World Wide Web. It did not take long before other garden bloggers discovered this blog and linked to it from their blogs. People began commenting and leaving words of encouragement. Last year, my anonymity was shattered when Curtis Ippolito published a story about my prairie garden in the Dallas Morning News. Last month, acclaimed garden blogger, Pam Pennick, posted photos and a write up about my prairie on her blog, Digging.

So on this Thanksgiving Day, I want to give thanks to all that support my prairie garden/wildlife habitat adventure. Thanks to the anonymous viewers of this blog. Like you, there are many blogs that I enjoy reading on a regular basis, but never leave a comment. Thanks to all the people that do leave a comment. Your words of encouragement mean so much. Thanks to my fellow garden bloggers that link to this blog from their own. That means as much to me as words of encouragement. I do plan to reciprocate by setting up a page on my blog with links to your blogs. Thanks to all the gardening friends I have made along the way.

Happy Thanksgiving Day!

P.S. More photos of seasonal color coming soon...

P.S.S. For anyone that tried to view the original post this morning. The original post was scheduled for publishing at 7AM. When I got up and realized I had a nice foggy morning for taking pictures, I retracted the original post and added new photos. Then I started changing the text, then I had problems with Blogger, then blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. So here it is...finally.

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Stragglers

I still have a number of straggler monarchs hanging out at my suburban prairie. 


Since my prairie has escaped hard frosts, so far, the monarchs are enjoying the abundant nectar sources. Their favorites right now are the Gregg's Mistflower and the Mealycup Sage.


These three were kind enough to pose in front of my Monarch Waystation sign.


It is hard to know if new arrivals are coming in or if the same monarchs just refuse to leave. I imagine the migration was difficult this year due to the drought. There were fewer flowers along the way and it will not get any better between here and their winter grounds in Mexico. Maybe these guys think they are in paradise and have decided to end their journey here with a full belly.


I suppose this could pass as a butterfly's paradise. I must say that I am pretty happy with it myself.

Friday, November 11, 2011

What's Good About Mistletoe?

What's good about mistletoe? If this parasitic plant infests your tree, like is happening to my neighbor's hackberry, it is probably hard to see any good.

But there is one good thing about mistletoe. It is the host plant (food source) for the caterpillars of the Great Purple Hairstreak butterfly.


These beautiful butterflies appear in my garden when the Frostweed and Fragrant Mistflower are in bloom. They are close to three times the size of a Gray Hairstreak butterfly and have an orange abdomen, red, white, and iridescent blue/purple markings. The insides of their wings are iridescent blue/purple. They keep their wings closed when they feed, but when they fly around my prairie, you can see the iridescent colors flash in the sunlight. Beauty sometimes comes from things you would least expect, like mistletoe and caterpillars.


Thanks to my neighbors for unknowingly providing a wildlife habitat for Great Purple Hairstreak caterpillars, but I hope the dying hackberry tree does not fall on your house.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

To Every Thing There is a Season

When I snapped these photos on Saturday morning, the temperature was in the upper 30s and there was a touch of frost on the roof.

The cooler weather seems to intensify the colors of the prairie flowers that are still blooming. Other flowers, like the Liatris, bloomed over the last month and now their colors are fading. 

The cool, morning moisture deepens the now coppery colors of the Little Bluestem grass.

Autumn Sage, Mealycup Sage, and Four Nerve Daisy bloomed throughout most of the summer and they continue to bloom through the autumn months. But there are some plants that waited all season for their time to bloom. These are the last plants to bloom on my prairie before frost changes all the vibrant colors to brown. 

The purple flowers of Aromatic Aster, Symphyotrichum oblongifolium, (foreground) and the white flowers of Fragrant Mistflower, Eupatorium havanense, (background) started to appear a couple of weeks ago and now the plants are in full bloom. The flowers of both plants are popular with the bees once the sun warms the air. 

Here is a closer look at the Fragrant Mistflower bush. The plant does not get much attention most of the year, but when fall comes around, it catches the eye with its profusion of white flowers and the nose with its strong scent that reminds me of dryer sheets. 

Fragrant Mistflower intermingled with Scarlet Sage, Salvia coccinea.

A close up of the Aromatic Aster with Autumn Sage in the background.

Willowleaf Aster, Symphyotrichum praealtum, is covered in pink flowers. It grew from a single sprig to a four foot patch in just a couple of seasons. Its days may be numbered if it continues aggressively expand its footprint. 

Here is a close up of the Willowleaf Aster flowers.

The large red flowers of Mountain Sage, Salvia regla, would be popular with hummingbirds if they were still in the area. Mountain Sage probably blooms at just the right time to feed migrating hummingbirds in its native range from the Chisos Mountains of west Texas and into Mexico. This is one salvia that prefers some afternoon shade. Mine gets full afternoon sun which causes the leaves to turn a little yellowish. 

Mountain Sage, Beebrush and Mealycup Sage make a patriotic red, white and blue display. A rain and hail shower a week ago triggered another fragrant flush of flowers on the Beebrush.

The spiny Eringo flowers are still interesting as they fade from purple to brown. Since this is an annual, I take the seeds from the dried flowers and scatter them across the prairie for another season of flowers.

The chile pequins, Capsicum annuum, are covered in pea-sized peppers. The peppers are a treat for mockingbirds and are gobbled up whole once they turn red. 

Winecup, Callirhoe involucrata, blooms in early summer and then most of the trailing stems die back in the heat of the summer. In the fall, a rosette forms and stays green throughout the winter. This plant produced a rare late season bloom. 

The cooler temperatures and shorter daylight hours tricked the Redbud tree into blooming out of season. 

As the seasons change, frost and freezing temperatures will eventually change the reds, yellows, blues, purples, and whites in my prairie to various shades of brown. All the while, new life is sprouting in the prairie. The fuzzy leaves of Bluebonnet seedlings bring hope of flowers in the spring. The heart-shaped leaves of Dichondra bring promise of many more seasons on my hands and knees plucking them from my prairies.