Saturday, April 21, 2012

Genus: Zanthoxylum

I have three small, spiny trees of the genus Zanthoxylum in my garden. Two of the trees were sold to me under the common name Toothache Tree (Zanthoxylum hirsutum) and one was sold as Hercules Club (Zanthoxylum calva-herculis). The common names of these trees are often used interchangeably and my trees look very similar, so it is possible that I assigned the wrong scientific name to one or more of these trees based on the provided common name. Regardless of which trees I may have, they are highly recommended for wildlife habitats.

In the spring, the trees are covered with clusters of greenish yellow flowers. The tallest of my trees reaches almost 6 feet and had more flowers this year than in previous years. I was surprised to find that the flowers have a rather strong scent that reminds me of honeysuckle. Here are a few photos of the many insects that were swarming around the flowers recently.

Common Buckeye Butterfly

Several Red Admiral Butterflies fed on the flowers of the trees

A Hairstreak Butterfly rested on a shiny and thorny leaf

A native bee that I will not attempt to identify

Another native bee that will go unidentified and a ladybug beetle

Honeybee and a fly

And a wasp fed on the nectar of the flowers.

But that's not all...

The trees are host plants for the caterpillars of the Giant Swallowtail Butterfly. The caterpillars are not always easy to see because they are camouflaged to look like bird droppings, as seen in this photo from a couple of years ago. I have not seen any caterpillars yet this year, but I did see a Giant Swallowtail flying around the garden a few days ago.

And there's more...
The flowers produce small fruits that are a favored by birds. I have not had any fruits on my trees yet. Maybe this year will be the first since there were so many flowers.

But that's still not all...
Humans can benefit from trees of the genus Zanthoxylum. If you get a toothache, you can chew on the leaves or bark of the trees and your mouth will become numb. Just watch out for the thorns.

Look for these trees at native plant sales this spring. The North Central Texas Chapter of the Native Plant Society of Texas has had Toothache Trees at their plant sales for the last couple of years. This was the source of my trees. Their spring plant sale is April 21 at the Fort Worth Botanic Garden. Toothache Tree is not on their list of available plants this year, but maybe they will have some anyway.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Native Plant Sales, a Plant Swap and Other Events

It is time again for spring native plant sales. This is your opportunity to get plants that are Texas tough and usually not found anywhere else. As usually happens, most of them are on the same day and at opposite ends of the Metroplex. Click here to jump to the Native Plant Society of Texas (NPSOT) website and a list of sales occurring across the state. Below, is my list of sales in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Click the links for more information.

Spring Plant Sale at Fort Worth Botanic Garden, April 21, 9-2. In my opinion, this is the biggest and best local plant sale. Several vendors, including the North Central Texas Chapter of NPSOT will have a number of plants for sale. Here are some of the plants expected at the NPSOT area: Black Sampson, Blackfoot daisy, Chile pequin, Columbine, Eastern Bluemistflower, Eastern Redbud, Elderberry, Fall aster, Fall Obedient Plant, False Dragonhead, Fragrant phlox, Frostweed, Heartleaf Skullcap, Heath Aster, Lanceleaf coreopsis, Low Wild Petunia, Lyreleaf Sage, Mealy blue sage, Mexican feathergrass, Pigeon berry, Pink evening primrose, Purple aster, Rockrose, Salvia greggii ‘Ferman’s red’, Texas aster, Turks cap (red), Western bluemist flower, White yarrow, Winecup, White avens, White winecup (possible), Wild petunia. The other vendors may or may not have native plants.

Denton Redbud Festival, April 21, 10-4. The Trinity Forks Chapter of NPSOT will have native plants for sale. The couple of times I have been to this sale, they had some plants that I had not seen at other sales.

Collin County Master Gardeners Plant Sale, April 21, 9-3. This sale has a good mix of native plants and well adapted plants recommended by Texas A&M.

Texas Discovery Gardens Butterfly Plant Sale, May 12, 10-2. This sale features native and introduced plants that are favorite nectar or caterpillar host plants. Last year they had several varieties of milkweed. Members can shop a day early and beat the mob.

The Dallas Arboretum has an annual plant sale. I have never been. I could not find any information on their website. I imagine their sale has more introduced than native plants. Maybe I will go someday.

The Heard Museum usually has a spring native plant sale, but I do not see one on their schedule this year. Their Celebrate Nature Spring Festival is April 14 and could be a fun family event.

Learn 2 Live Green event is April 14 in Plano. No plant sales, but lots of green living info and family fun.

Lastly, a chance to get a piece of my prairie. The Custer Road location of Calloway's Nursery in Plano is sponsoring a Perennial Plant Swap on April 14 from 10-12. Their stores in North Arlington and Houston have swaps scheduled for the same time. Information about those sales can be found on the link.

I am posting information about the plants I am bringing below. Click on the links for even more information. If you want one of my plants, leave a message on the Calloway's website. I will not be able to honor requests for plants made on my blog. If anyone in the area would like to participate, sign up on the Calloway's site. The more the merrier and the better the plant selection!

Gregg's Mistflower, Conoclinium greggii, is a great butterfly plant. Blooms all summer, but heaviest in the fall when the monarchs pass through. It spreads, but not aggressively. Flowers are bluish purple. 3 available.

Willowleaf Aster, Symphyotrichum praealtum, blooms in the fall. Gets about 3 feet tall and spreads by underground roots. This plant will cover a large area quickly. Flowers are pink. 5 available.

Dallas Blues Switchgrass, Panicum virgatum, has bluegreen leaves throughout the summer. The flowerheads have a purple tint. Gets 5-6 feet tall. 5 available.

This is the fall color of Dallas Blues Switch Grass.

Red Yucca, Hesperaloe parviflora, is in the foreground with red flowers. Clumps slowly expand. Leaves are not sharp. Some clumps of Dallas Blues Switchgrass are in the background against the fence. 3 available.

Heartleaf Skullcap, Scutellaria ovata, has heart shaped leaves and purple flowers in the spring and early summer. The plants may die to the ground in the heat of the summer but will return in the fall. Makes a nice groundcover in sun or shade. 5 available.

Mealycup Sage, Salvia farinacea, has purple flowers and gets about 3 feet tall. I cut mine back after each flush of blooms and they will bloom again. Grows in sun to light shade. A favorite of bees and butterflies. 3 available.

Buffalo Currant, Ribes aureum, is a deciduous shrub with fragrant yellow flowers in the spring. I have not dug any of these yet, but I can if anyone is interested. Gets about 4 feet tall and wide. Looks better with some afternoon shade in the heat of the summer.

Plant Natives!

Saturday, April 7, 2012

April 7

What a difference a year and the weather can make in a garden. 

Below are photos from April 7, 2011, each followed by a photo from today, April 7, 2012. It is amazing to see the difference in the growth of the plants. 

For perspective, the Winter of 2010-2011 was one of the coldest on record. The Spring of 2011 was rather warm and dry. It was followed by the Summer of 2011, which was one of the hottest and driest on record. Then we had an extremely mild and relatively wet winter of 2011-2012. The Spring of 2012 has been a little warmer than average with about average rainfall.

The only major change that I made to the garden in 2011 was to remove the snowball viburnum and replace it with a stock tank. All of the other changes were shaped by the weather and the natural spreading of the plants.







Thursday, April 5, 2012

Attention: Citizens of Plano, Texas

Lake Lavon is full and outside watering restrictions have been relaxed, but just because we CAN now water once a week does not mean we HAVE to water once a week. We had a good rain two days ago! The soil is moist. We don’t NEED to water now. If you want to have enough water for your landscape later in the summer, water only when the soil is dry and do not water by the calendar.

Other than hand watering transplants, I have not watered since early September and my garden is colorful and full of life. I am not bragging, just offering you something to think about.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

The End of My Foolish Prairie Garden

I have been thinking about the future of my prairie garden for a while and now on April 1, I have finally made the difficult decision that it is time to abandon this foolishness and declare my four year prairie garden experiment a mistake and a waste of time.

I know this will come as a shock to many, but I have thought long and hard about this and the truth of the matter is that I miss my lawn and I want it back. I wish I could have known how much I would miss my lawn before I went through the effort of digging out the lawn by hand and replanting with Texas native and prairie plants. Now I know how much I appreciate the uniformity and clean look of freshly mown grass. I suppose the stigma of being the only person in the neighborhood without a lawn influences my decision too. My prairie garden is out of place and does not blend in with the rest of the neighborhood. My garden is a cacophony of colors, shapes and textures in a sea of flat green grass, geometrically shaped shrubs and over pruned crepe myrtles. My prairie garden style even makes me more of a neighborhood outcast than the neighbors with traditional style lawns that are not maintained and are overrun with weeds. The planted stock tank in front of my house may not help matters either.

2004. The "before I removed the lawn" look complete with rectangular shrubs
and For Sale sign. Standard Plano landscaping. This is the look I want again.

2007. The beginning of the end for the lawn. I just could not control my urge
to expand that flowerbed and remove my beautiful carpet of St. Augustine grass.

2012. The neighborhood misfit as it is today with no lawn. 

Over the last couple of years, I have grown to miss some things about lawns, particularly their maintenance. For example, I love the smell of fresh cut grass. I even miss cutting grass every week. I miss the roar of a gasoline powered mower that drowns out all other sounds and gives you a few peaceful moments to think. You can also sing at the top of your lungs while mowing and no one can hear how bad it sounds. The same goes for gasoline trimmers and blowers. Oh, and don’t forget the exhaust fumes. Just thinking about the scent brings back so many memories.

Speaking of scents, this is the time of year that the air is filled with the scent of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides. After working my way through college at a garden center, I can usually identify the chemical scents that the wind carries into my garden from several lawns away. Last weekend, while working in my front yard, I picked up a familiar scent of what I thought was the herbicide 2,4-D. A few minutes later, a neighbor a couple of houses down came around to his front yard spraying his lawn from a premixed hose end sprayer. I watched with envy as he, in shorts and bare feet, sprayed the chemical concoction on his lawn as his wife and two small children played nearby and sometimes crossed into the area he just sprayed. That is the picture of the American dream.

I found this news clip on The Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center’s facebook page a few days ago. 
The video talks about how the invasive bastard cabbage from Europe is choking out native wildflowers. The weed has been popping up everywhere around here for the last couple of years. I even found one growing in my prairie. I pulled it out once it bloomed and I realized what it was. In the future, our lovely lawns may be the only zones free of bastard cabbage because we can easily kill the invaders with weed and feed fertilizers and other chemical herbicides. The availability of chemical herbicides is another advantage that lawns have over my prairie garden. You cannot spray herbicides in a prairie garden because they will kill all of the prairie plants. Weeds need to be removed by hand in a prairie garden. What a waste of time that is!

The header of this blog says that my prairie garden is low maintenance. Well, I lied. It is not low maintenance. Sure, I don’t have to do things like mowing every week, but the work never ends. I have been working on this garden since I moved into this house eight years ago and I am still not finished. Every time I think I am close to being finished, I think up a new project. That is the problem with this type of garden, it stimulates creativity. I can’t stop thinking of new things to do in the garden. New plants, flowerbeds, pathways, rain gardens, vegetable gardens, flagstone patios—the ideas keep coming and I am powerless to stop them. I am tired and getting too old for all of this manual labor and I am too picky to pay someone to do the work for me. A lawn would be a better option. After all, how creative can you get with a lawn unless you want to create a putting green or a crisscross mowing pattern like they have on baseball fields?

I realize that some nature lovers will argue that my prairie garden provides much needed wildlife habitat. I suppose it does to a degree, but my little plot of native plants cannot make up for the volume of native habitat that is lost to development every day. If native wildlife cannot adapt to our changing world of foreign, invasive plants, lawn grass, genetically modified food crops and concrete, then their eradication is inevitable. I am not going to devote my precious lawn space to native plants that support dying species.

After last year’s drought, spring rains have raised lake levels and our watering restrictions have been revised to allow watering once a week. This seems like the perfect time to plant a new lawn. Once I begin planting my lawn, I will have to rename this blog. I think the new header should read: Plain Ol’ Plano Garden - Returning to a generic, boring, high maintenance suburban landscape that is nothing special and just like all the others.

Below is one last look at the Plano Prairie Garden before I start ripping out plants and planting my new lawn. Click on the video below for mood music as you scroll through the pictures.

Autumn Sage, Salvia greggii, Husker Red Penstemon, Penstemon digitalis 'Husker Red', Four Nerve Daisy, Tetraneuris scaposa, and Pale Leaf Yucca, Yucca pallida.

Gulf Coast Penstemon, Penstemon tenuis.

Morning dew on blades of Indian Grass, Sorghastrum nutans.

Monarch caterpillar eggs about to hatch.

A skipper on four nerve daisy.

Ladybug beetle on Elbow bush, Forestiera pubescens.