Friday, September 14, 2012

My Not-As-Pathetic Prairie Garden

I did not have many posts this summer because I was busy with various projects and because my garden looked pretty sad. In fact, about a month ago, I started working on a post about the condition of the garden and I was planning to temporarily change the header of the blog to read Pathetic Prairie Garden. But then, out of nowhere, near the end of August, temperatures dropped from the plus 100s to the 80s and it rained. That change in weather, albeit temporary, was enough to bring the garden back to life and change my mood about the garden. 

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.


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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.

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More Salvia greggii flowers coordinate with the purple berries of American beautyberry, Callicarpa americana

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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.  

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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.

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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.

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Just a slight shift to the left brings a few more flowers into view.

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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.

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Three salvias: Scarlet Sage in front, sky-blue Pitcher Sage, Salvia azurea 'grandiflora', in the middle and purple Mealycup Sage, Salvia farinacea, in back.

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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... 

Little Bluestem 7-18-10
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.

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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...

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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.

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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... 


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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. 

24 comments:

  1. So glad to see you posting again...I was missing my fix! Ouch...seeing the Little Blustem suffer is so sad. It's hard to believe such a tough little grass can have such a hard time :-( I agree about the Pine Muhly...it seems to do very well for you...and is so stunning. What about Big Bluestem (Andropogon gerardii)...I think it's supposed to be even tougher than Little Bluestem due to it's deeper root system. I know you've had trouble with the taller Panicums being thuggish in the past, but what about some of the smaller varieties?

    Either way, you are completely right, prairies and gardens are constantly changing and evolving...I hope you'll keep us up-to-date with what's going on.

    I have a quick question about the Pine Muhly. I got the very-similar Muhlenbergia rigens this year, and it's doing great...but do you cut yours completely back in spring? I've had mixed results doing this with other Muhly grasses (Muhlenbergia capillaris) and wasn't sure.

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    1. Scott, I think the problem I have with grasses is that they do well for a couple of years and then they start to develop something similar to thatch. Every spring I cut back the prior year’s growth, but a couple of inches of stubble remains and I think it slowly chokes out new growth. Dividing helps, but is more work than I want to deal with. I have this problem with all switchgrass, Indian grass and little bluestem. I planted a big bluestem last year and moved it this spring. I think it is still alive somewhere under some Gregg’s mistflower. One good thing about the pine muhly is that it politely reseeds and I will always have fresh plants to replace the older plants that get the thatch buildup.

      I have tried most of the common muhly grasses and I generally cut them to the ground in the spring because the winter will kill most of the leaves here and I want to have fresh green plants in the spring. Muhlenbergia rigens and Muhlenbergia lindheimeri have especially dense leaves and I have noticed that they can form an umbrella and keep water from getting to the ground under the plant. I have tried the wild and wooly look a couple of times and I prefer to get rid of the dead growth. I have noticed that M. capillaris can be a little slow to recover after being cut back. M. dubia can be a little slow too, but I have never had any issues with cutting back the leaves. Of course, what do I know? My little bluestem is dying!

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  2. Oh, how I covet your lovely garden! I'm in Euless, and have been gradually replacing chunks of lawn with natives for about five years.

    I'm glad you mentioned losing four nerve daisies. Two of my well-established ones bit the dust this summer, for no apparent reason. I also lost many of the little volunteers that popped up in the spring. After several years of steady growth and increase, and no real response to minimal watering and blistering heat, it was a surprise to see them turn brown and slip away.

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    1. Hi Lisa, I remember that you added four nerve daisies to your garden after you saw my pictures on the blog. Sorry you lost some of yours too. I was surprised at how many of my fatalities were the younger plants. I hope the survivors are stronger plants and will have lots of strong babies. Good luck with yours.

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  3. I suspect the little bluestem is declining due to lack of moisture - based on what I've seen happening around here over the last 2 years. In my garden, where I very occasionally water, the little blue is fine and healthy, but out in the pasture, it's almost non-existent. I'm curious to see if either of ours comes back if/when we get back to "more normal" rainfall patterns.

    My 'Dream of Beauty' aromatic aster is doing fantastically, despite the drought. In the native areas, the Liatris punctata is blooming prolifically, the Missouri goldenrod has done well, the Canada goldenrod is looking gorgeous and the rigid goldenrod is just beginning. Spanish gold (aka waxy goldenweed) has done very well, and the sunflowers have been magnificent this year. Like you, I haven't posted many garden photos, because the garden's looked pretty bedraggled this summer. Oh, well, there's always next year! Glad your garden has perked up. We just got our first good rain yesterday, so I'm hoping mine does the same.

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    1. Gaia Gardener, I suspect water is an issue too. I did a lot of hand watering during the first couple of years to get the plants established and then I started cutting back on water and that’s when they started to decline.

      I will check out your blog again later today. It has been a couple of months since my last visit. There are so many good ones out there it is hard to keep up. I can’t even keep up with my own!

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  4. Have you ever been to Strong's Nursery in Carrollton? They have a pretty robust selection of grasses, including some upright blue/grey switch grasses that would have a similar effect as the BlueStem and marry nicely with the weeping effect of the feather grass. They also have an Autumn Glow Muhly that's pretty outstanding (not the same as the Gulf Pink).

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    1. Anonymous, it has been a few years since I was at Strong’s Nursery. I even worked there one summer while going to school when it was called Cotton Nursery. I will have to stop by again. Thanks for the reminder.

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  5. That's too bad about the decline of your little bluestem. I just planted five in my garden. I'll be curious to see how long they hang on. Your prairie garden is looking pretty again, and I look forward to seeing its evolution with more structure. Things are always changing in the garden, aren't they?

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    1. Pam, good luck with your little bluestem. Maybe I have a little brown thumb when it comes to little bluestem.

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  6. Wish I could get our beautyberry to fruit as beautifully as yours. This particular Eryngium leavenworthiiis a new one for me, looks fantastic against the Goldenrod.

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    1. TMCWC, do you have a lot of bees in your garden? The beautyberry has pink flowers in the spring that need to be pollinated. I love the Eryngium leavenworthii flowers. Not so crazy about the look of the plant or the spiny leaves.

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  7. Gardens are always changing and evolving. It's a shame the Bluestem is not working out as you hoped, but your garden still looks absolutely spectacular to me. It's always such a joy to pop by and see how it's developing. Fabulous garden vignettes once again.

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    1. Thanks Bernie. I am not giving up on the little bluestem yet. It is native to this area so it should be able to survive. Maybe it is resting and next year will be another good year?

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  8. Really glad to see your garden back in pictures. I think all here would say that they are interested, full bloom or stressed, they are both part of the gardening experience. I just planted some four nerve, and yes I think water is it`s enemy. Thanks for the post!

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    1. Randy, thanks for the comment. Good luck with your four nerve daisies. I think you will like the plant. It did take a couple of tries before I got some plants that took off.

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  9. I'd get rid of the goldenrod if I were you. I too had it show up as a volunteer, in Plano, two or three plants. I thought it was very pretty. It's now EVERYWHERE and I pull it up all the time.

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  10. Just think .... If you were growing those non-native wuss plants, you would not have revival pictures unless you had watered them each week. And grasses will work very well to help add structure to your garden. You could even plant a river of them.

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    1. Marilyn, if I was growing all of those non-native wuss plants, I would not bother with the blog because my plants would not be any different than all the others that everyone else grows and I would be spending all my time watering, weeding, fertilizing, poisoning, mowing, edging, bagging, trimming, etc.

      I have been thinking about something like a river of grass or more groupings. Several plants of popped up and spread where they wanted and it is time for me to restore some order. Thanks for the comments.

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  11. We've missed you. Thanks for the ID of spiny Eryngo, Eryngium leavenworthii. Saw lots of them at the Heard in McKinney.

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    1. Thanks Collagemama. Love that eryngo and the Heard.

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  12. Have you tried Sideoats Grama grass? I have had good luck with it in North Texas area.

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    1. I have tried Sideoats Grama. It grows a little too well for me.

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