Thursday, February 23, 2012

Spring Is Coming! Are You Ready?

Spring must be around the corner. The redbud tree, Cercis canadensis, is starting to bloom, again. Its timing is a little better than when it started blooming in October.

With spring coming, there is so much to do in the garden to get ready.

I should tidy up these Four Nerve Daisies, Tetraneuris scaposa, by removing all of the spent flowers that bloomed over the winter, but that would require lots of hands and knees time cutting picking out the dead flower heads or more drastic measures with shears or a line trimmer. I think I will just let them continue to bloom for now.

I plan to cut back all of the grasses this weekend to make way for their new growth. In a few weeks, the new growth on the Little Bluestem grass, Schizachyrium scoparium, will be as blue as the neighboring Pale Leaf Yucca, Yucca pallida.

Here is one last look at the Pine Muhly, Muhlenbergia dubia, glowing in the morning sun. It reminds me of those craft projects where you make Christmas trees out of Styrofoam balls and toothpicks. 

Here is a close up of the dried Pine Muhly flower spikes. Behind the Pine Muhly is some Mealycup Sage, Salvia farinacea, that will be cut to the ground since the winter was not cold enough to do the job. Most of the seedlings growing around the larger plants will be thinned out too. Speaking of seedlings…

Indian Blanket, Gaillardia pulchella, seedlings are sprouting in my decomposed granite pathways. Decomposed granite pathways must be the perfect medium for growing seedlings. More seedlings sprout in the pathways than they do in the beds. These guys will have to be removed.

Bluebonnets, Lupinus texensis, take advantage of the good drainage of the pathways and sprout there too. I will try to move some of these into the front yard prairie. This is a good time for transplanting. I have several plants that I want to move around soon so they can reestablish their roots before the heat of the summer. 

The picture above is for Pam and Tamara. This is what Eryngo, Eryngium leavenworthii, seedlings look like when they first start growing. The first year I scattered Eryngo seeds, I thought the seedlings were weeds and pulled out several because the leaves do not look like anything like the spiny leaves of the mature plants.

I have been working on the vegetable garden for the last couple of months. Broccoli, Swiss chard, and three types of onions are in this photo. I also planted garlic, leeks, and asparagus. I have three types of seed potatoes and all my summer vegetables yet to plant. It looks like I will run out of room before I run out of vegetables I want to plant. History may repeat itself and part of my prairie may be lost to agriculture, just as the great American prairies were lost over the last 150 or so years. Since my prairie posts may be getting a little repetitive, I will probably expand my topics and share more of my vegetable gardening adventures this year than I have in the past. I think the only reference to the vegetable garden before was of my squashed squash bug.

This past Sunday, I spent part of the morning doing something I don't do often enough. I just enjoyed the garden. I watched steam rise from the cold, wet fence as it was warmed by the sun. I walked around the garden taking pictures and observing what was sprouting and blooming. I watched and listened to the birds and they flew around the garden. 

Yes, there is a lot to do in the garden this spring and the above is only a partial list. I need to remember to take the time to enjoy the garden I am building and stop thinking of so many projects.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Spring Herald

Forestiera pubescens, is an early blooming, deciduous shrub in the olive family and native to this area. One of its common names, Spring Herald, references its early bloom announcing the coming of spring. The shrub is probably more commonly referred to as Elbow Bush which refers to the near 90 degree branching structure of the limbs.

I read that Elbow Bush is a good nectar source for bees and butterflies in late winter and early spring and birds are supposed to eat the the fruit, so I decided I had to have one for my backyard wildlife habitat. Actually, I needed two plants because the plants are dioecious. There are separate male and female plants and I would need both for fruit.

I picked up one at a nursery a few weeks ago during an end of season clearance sale. It would have been nice to know the sex of the plants I was browsing, but they were all just a bunch of twigs. No leaves or fruit. My main interest at the time was locating a live plant.

Good news! The plant I selected was alive and started blooming a few weeks after planting. After studying the flowers, I decided I had a male plant.

Botany Lesson One: The yellow structures sticking out of the flowers are called the stamens. The long part of the stamen is the filament and the oval part on the end is the anther where pollen is produced.

Since my Elbow Bush was blooming, the remaining plants at the nursery were probably in bloom as well so I went back to see if I could locate a companion for my plant. Magnifying glass in hand and probably looking a bit silly, I examined the flowers on the Elbow Bushes at the nursery. I thought the flowers looked different from the flowers on my plant, so I took a chance and bought another plant.

More good news! My second elbow bush was a female.

Botany Lesson Two: The structures sticking out of these flowers are called carpels. The end is called the stigma and collects pollen from the male flower. The tube leading to the swollen part is called the style and the swollen parts in the middle are the ovaries. If pollinated, the ovaries will eventually turn into dark purple fruit. (I think I identified all of these flower parts correctly.)

It turned out that I must have picked the only male plant in the group when I bought my first Elbow Bush. I think I will go back for one more female plant to finish off my Elbow Bush thicket. Here is a link to photos of Elbow Bush through various seasons.

Meanwhile, this warm winter is heralding other signs of spring at least a month early.

Red Yucca, Hesperaloe parviflora, is forming some flower stalks.

Rock penstemon, Penstemon baccharifolius, is trying to bloom as is the Salvia greggii.

Possumhaw Holly, Ilex decidua, is putting out new leaves.

Four nerve daisies, Tetraneuris scaposa, have bloomed non-stop this winter.

It is hard to believe that a year ago, yesterday, the prairie was covered in snow.