Monday, March 28, 2011

Time for Spring Plant Sales

It's spring and that means it is time for spring plant sales. My favorites are the native plant sales because you can get plants that you will not find in nurseries and garden centers.  

If you have never been to a native plant sale, there is something you should know. The plants are not usually grown in artificial conditions with chemical fertilizers and pesticides so they will not be as lush and covered in huge flowers like the plants you are used to seeing at home centers and chain nurseries.

Native plant sales are frequently a means of raising funds for local chapters of Native Plant Societies. The plants are often dug from the member’s personal gardens and potted a few weeks before the sale so the plants can regrow roots and look presentable before the sale date. Some of the plants may be coming out of dormancy since they were probably not grown in a greenhouse. But, since the plants came out of a nearby garden, you are almost guaranteed that the plant will grow in your garden.  

If you have questions about the plants, ask. The volunteers at native plant sales are knowledgeable and are more than willing to share their knowledge with you. Take notes if you need to. At a minimum, make sure you get the names of the plants you buy. When you get home, you can research the plants on the internet before you plant them. A good source of information is the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. Native plants, just like any other plant, will not do well and may not survive it you plant them in the wrong location. The key to success is to know the needs of the plant.

Now for the sale information. The Native Plant Society of Texas compiled a list of native plant sales occurring across the state this spring. Click here for the NPSOT list.

Below is my own list of some of the DFW plant sales where you may find me buying plants. Click on the links for additional details. Most of the organizations will post a list of available plants as the sale date nears. Admission is free for all of the plant sales listed below.

Saturday April 2, 2011, 9:00 AM – 11:00 AM. Calloway’s Perennial Swap. This is a free plant swap at the Calloway’s stores in Plano and Hurst and the Cornelius store in Houston. I have gone to this event twice. Most participants will share their plants with anyone that wants them and they do not have a “I will give you this if you give me that” attitude. The plant swap is an opportunity to meet fellow gardeners and share your excess plants with others instead of throwing them in the compost pile. I wonder what became of the switchgrass and side oats gramma I shared a couple of years ago. Follow the link for the swap list.

Saturday April 2, 2011, 9:00 AM – 2:00 PM. Spring Plant Sale at the Fort Worth Botanic Gardens. Several groups/individuals will have native and introduced plants available. The North Central Chapter of the Native Plant Society of Texas will offer native plants for sale. This is probably one of the biggest and best sales in the area. They have a fall sale as well.

Saturday April 9, 2011, 10:00 AM – 2:00 PM. Denton Redbud Festival. Several events will take place at the Redbud Festival, including a native plant sale by the Trinity Forks Chapter of the Native Plant Society of Texas.

Saturday April 16, 2011 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM and Sunday April 17, 2011 1:00 – 5:00 PM. Heard Natural Science Museum and Wildlife Sanctuary. This is a big sale in Collin County with mostly native plants. You can walk through the native display gardens for free, but there is an admission if you want to go through the museum or sanctuary grounds. Follow the link for a list of available plants.

Saturday April 16, 2011 9:00 AM – 3:00 PM. Collin County Master Gardener’s Association. Includes non-native plants as well as some native and A&M hybrids of native plants.

Saturday April 30, 2011 7:00 AM – 3:00 PM Garland Chapter of the Native Plant Society of Texas Plant Sale. First Christian Church, located at 115 S. Glenbrook Drive in Garland.

Saturday May 21, 2011, 10:00 AM – 2:00 PM. Texas Discovery Gardens Butterfly Plant Sale. This is the place to get plants for your butterfly garden. They frequently have some uncommon butterfly plants, but they go quickly. Sometimes they have wafer ash, but I have never been able to get one. Maybe this year.

No sale date announced. Molly Hollar Wildscape in Arlington may have a sale this spring. They have not posted any information on their website yet so mark their website and follow up later. They usually have some harder to find natives. I bought a Hercules Club tree at their sale a couple of years ago. 

See you at the sales!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Monarch Caterpillar Eggs on the Prairie

While the identity of my mystery plant is still in question, a haggard monarch butterfly, who requested her photo not be published, flew around the prairie depositing eggs on the milkweed plants.

The plant pictured above is another volunteer that I suspected was a milkweed. The monarch must agree with my assessment since she laid a few eggs on the leaves.

I first noticed this plant about four years ago. It was in a location that did not get sun until afternoon. Lack of morning sun is probably the reason it never bloomed. Last week, I decided to move the plant to a sunny location to give it a better chance. Milkweeds have a deep taproot and I got about 10 inches of this plant’s root. I must have got enough of the root because the stems and leaves have grown since the plant was moved. I will just have to wait until it blooms to know what kind of milkweed this is.

The monarch also laid eggs on this green milkweed, Asclepias viridis. I transplanted several of these green milkweed plants from the backyard prairie to the front yard prairie a few weeks ago so all of them would not be concentrated in one area of my property.

The monarch did not lay any eggs on the milkweed or the mystery plants in the backyard prairie. Maybe she or another monarch will lay eggs in the backyard and help to identify the mystery plant. 

I am looking forward to watching these guys grow since I do not usually get monarch caterpillars in my garden. I hope the milkweed's growth stays ahead of the caterpillars'.

Monday, March 21, 2011

What is this? Milkweed or Just a Weed?

Can anyone help me identify this plant in my backyard prairie?

It is a volunteer plant that first appeared in my garden two years ago. Until this year, it was well behaved, but now new plants are sprouting up from the roots 3-4 feet from the original plant. The plant has not produced any flowers. 

I did not remove the plant when it was small because I thought it could be a milkweed. It  has several features that look like milkweed to this amateur botanist. The leaves look very similar to milkweed leaves. It has a milky sap like milkweed. It has never had aphids like most milkweed, although the nearby butterfly weed,  Asclepias tuberosa,  and green milkweed, Asclepias virdis, were covered in aphids last year. Some caterpillars fed on the mystery plant last year, but not monarch or queen. The caterpillars eventually turned into plain little brown moths.

Based on pictures I found online, I am wondering if this could be common milkweed, Asclepias syriaca, or prairie milkweed, Asclepias sullivantii. If this is  a variety of milkweed, it would be nice to have around for the monarchs, but it may turn out to be too aggressive for my garden. If this is not milkweed or another valuable wildlife plant, I need to act fast to remove the plant before it takes over my garden.

Here is a picture of the plant from July 23, 2010. It has some damage from the caterpillars.

Here is a shot of one of the caterpillars.

I will be posting my question on the Dallas Butterflies and Native Plant Society of Texas groups on Yahoo. I will also check with the Texas Butterfly Ranch blog to see if anyone can help. Any suggestions are welcome.

Update: the caterpillar is that of the Dogbane Saucrobotys Moth. This moth does eat milkweed, so maybe, just maybe, it is a milkweed. Fingers crossed and waiting for flowers or monarch caterpillars. Otherwise, I have some plant eradication to do.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Coming Soon: Wildflowers on the Prairie

It won’t be long before my prairie is full of spring wildflowers. The four-nerve daisies bloomed most of the winter and have started blooming again since I cut them back a couple of weeks ago. There were a couple of winecup flowers blooming this week as well as a yellow evening primrose flower.

The Texas Bluebonnet is the most recognized wildflower in Texas and is the state flower. Unfortunately, I do not have very many plants on my prairie this year, probably because the fall was a little dry and fewer seeds sprouted. This one, however, sprouted in my decomposed granite pathway. I think this is the largest single bluebonnet plant that I have ever seen in my garden. It is over two feet across. The plant is very happy where it is and, fortunately, it is mostly out of the way. The other plants that sprouted in the soil where they were supposed to are much smaller and not as healthy. I assume the granite provides better drainage and stays warmer than the surrounding soil.

This one is just starting to bloom. Within a few days, this plant will be covered in flowers. Hopefully, this plant will produce a lot of seeds for next year.

If you want to see more wildflowers now and learn something in the process, there is a great video called Wildflowers – Seeds of History that you can watch online by clicking the link. The 55 minute program was produced by Austin PBS station KLRU and is full of interesting information about wildflowers. The program includes some beautiful video of wildflowers in the Austin area countryside.

While you are at the KLRU website, check out Central Texas Gardener. I watch CTG every week online. It is a 30 minute gardening program with tips, interviews, and information that can even be used here in north Texas. My favorite part of the program is the first ten minutes or so when they interview a local gardener and give a tour of their garden. I almost always get ideas for things I would like to try in my garden. You can watch current and past episodes at the CTG website or on You Tube.

I wish the Dallas PBS station, KERA, would air programs like these. I guess their programming depends on who the major donors are and what programs they want to sponsor.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Cedar Waxwings on the Prairie and Invasive Plants

Cedar waxwings are busy feasting on the berries of trees and shrubs all across north Texas. 

They ate all the berries from my possumhaw hollies, Ilex decidua, a couple of days ago and then moved across the street for a Japanese buffet courtesy of a large Japanese ligustrum, Ligustrum lucidum, pictured above.

Of course, what goes in must come out. So everywhere the cedar waxwings go, they will more than likely be dropping the seeds of their feasts. 

If you look closely, you can see some of the seeds the cedar waxwings dropped on the sidewalk in front of my house while they perched on an overhanging tree limb.  Every year numerous Japanese ligustrum seedlings sprout under trees and shrubs and around the bird baths in my garden because the birds did what comes naturally after eating their fill of berries. But I don't blame the birds. They were hungry and they ate the food that was available to them.

Birds are an effective means of seed disbursal. When birds fly from areas landscaped with non-native plant species into native plant habitats for food and shelter, they often carry inside them the seeds of non-native plants. Once the birds release the seeds, they sprout and grow quickly. Often the non-native plants grow and spread more quickly than the native plants. Eventually, the native plants are choked out. This is one of the reasons many natural areas are over run with invasive, non-native plants such as Japanese ligustrum, Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica), Heavenly bamboo (Nandina domestica), Chinese privet (Ligustrum sinense), and many others. 

When Plants Attack is a short video from Texas Parks and Wildlife that highlights non-native plants in wild areas and the effort it takes to remove these alien invaders.

I don’t think it is a coincidence that the cedar waxwings always eat the berries from my possumhaws before they eat the berries from the Japanese ligustrum across the street. Possumhaw berries are like home cooking. It is the food that generations of cedar waxwings ate. Foreign junk foods, like Japanese ligustrum berries, are the bird’s second choice because native berries are in short supply and the only alternatives are the fruits and berries of non-native plants.

As you take inventory of the plants in your landscape, think about the potential ramifications those plants could have on wild areas in your neighborhood or even miles away. You may decide you need to remove some non-native plants and replace them with native plants. The birds will thank you.