First I will share how the garden looked once it came into bloom again and then I will share some reasons that it looked so pathetic before the rain and cooler temperatures.
Beebrush, Aloysia gratissima, bursts into bloom with tiny white flowers after a rain (or irrigation). The plant was covered in bees, even after area wide pesticide spraying for mosquitoes. Red and purple Salvia greggii are at the foot of the beebrush. The orange flower is Zexmenia, Wedelia texana.
More Salvia greggii flowers coordinate with the purple berries of American beautyberry, Callicarpa americana.
Here is a close up of the American Beautyberry fruit. The berries don't last long after they turn purple because they are a favorite snack for mockingbirds.
I see at least five kinds of flowers in this photo. Salvia greggi, Scarlet Sage, Salvia cocciniea, Zexmenia, Wedelia texana, Chocolate Daisy, Berlandiera lyrata, and Prairie Verbena, Glandularia bipinnatifida.
The Pine Muhly grass, Muhlenbergia dubia, is in full spiky flower. More Scarlet Sage surround the Pine Muhly. The flower spikes of Liatris are all around and are just beginning to bloom.
Just a slight shift to the left brings a few more flowers into view.
The pathway running across the front yard prairie is lined by Salvia greggi, Zexmenia, and other flowers. Looks like I need to weed flowers out of the pathway.
Yellow Zinnia, Zinnia grandiflora, and Purple Skullcap, Scutellaria wrightii, grow in a couple of inches of decomposed granite in the parkway with minimal supplemental water. Yellow Zinnia is a slow spreading native groundcover.
Three salvias: Scarlet Sage in front, sky-blue Pitcher Sage, Salvia azurea 'grandiflora', in the middle and purple Mealycup Sage, Salvia farinacea, in back.
The white flowers of Blackfoot Daisy, Melampodium leucanthum, glow (glare) in the morning sun.
The purple flowers of the spiny Eryngo, Eryngium leavenworthii, bloom in front of Goldenrod. The Goldenrod appeared on its own in the backyard prairie a couple of years ago. For the first couple of years, it was around two feet tall. This year it is over four feet tall and spreading by runners. Even without flowers, the plants are a nice vertical accent in the garden. The looked nice until the lower leaves started turning brown. Goldenrod is known for its ability to spread. I hope I have not allowed a monster to take root.
Now to explain my Pathetic Prairie Garden. The next two photos were taken in my front yard prairie on 07-18-10 - Just two years ago the prairie looked like this...
This was the second summer for my prairie. Four Nerve Daisy flowers filled the prairie and the Little Bluestem grass was tall and lush in the middle of July.
The Little Bluestem grass was the main reason I decided to call this a prairie garden, rather than a meadow or wildflower garden. But something has happened to the Little Bluestem over the last couple of years...
In this photo from 07-09-12, the cactus and yuccas have clearly grown, but where are the flowers and the Little Bluestem? This is the reason I felt that I had a Pathetic Prairie Garden. Without the flowers and the grass, it looks more like a patch of weeds than a prairie garden.
A couple of sad little clumps of Little Bluestem are visible at the base of the salvias. I have never had long term success with Little Bluestem. They always die out after a few years. Several internet references indicate that Little Bluestem requires periodic burning to thrive. I have tried burning a few plants with a blow torch in one hand and a water hose in the other. It seemed to help, but burning the entire prairie is not practical and probably not legal in a suburban neighborhood. I have been cutting back on water and eliminated fertilizer in an effort to have a more sustainable garden.
Another factor that will ultimately lead to the eradication of Little Bluestem in my prairie is that Little Bluestem is the first grass I have grown that has not spread by seed or rhizomes. There are no new plants to replace the dying plants.
Compare this photo from 03-31-12 to the one from 07-09-12 two photos above. What happened between March and July? Four Nerve Daisies filled the prairie in March after growing and blooming throughout the winter months because the temperatures were so warm. It was not long after this photo was taken that I started noticing that the Four Nerve Daisy plants were turning brown and crispy.
This Four Nerve Daisy is on its way to joining the many others that died this spring. Were the plants worn out from blooming all winter? Did they get too much water during the wet spring? Or was it these guys...
These are milkweed bugs and they are EVERYWHERE this year. I never noticed them in my garden before last year and this year there was a population explosion. I don't have enough milkweed plants to support the number of milkweed bugs that filled the garden this year, so they must be feeding on something else. Although I could not find any references that said milkweed bugs will attack plants besides milkweed, I suspect they may have contributed to the death of my Four Nerve Daisies because I found young milkweed bugs around the base of several dying plants.
So what's next? I am thinking of ways to organize and add structure to the garden as the Little Bluestem declines. Perhaps more pathways and more succulents. The garden's appearance during the summer months definitely needs help. I also think that Pine Muhly and, perhaps, Mexican Feather Grass will be the dominant grasses of the prairie once the Little Bluestem is gone.
The garden is ever changing. I hope I can come up with a plan that will keep the garden attractive most of the year and allow me a little time to relax and enjoy it.