Thursday, December 25, 2014

Merry Christmas to All

This year marks the second year for my Christmas Cactus, Opuntia christmaslightii. For an added touch, I pulled out some old clear lights and laid the strings along the ground over a good portion of the front garden. I really like the way the lights make the dried grasses and flowers glow in the dark, although my photography skills would not allow me to suitably capture the effect in a photo. 

I hope everyone has a wonderful Christmas!

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Thanksgiving Day Feast

I noticed two field sparrows feasting on the seeds of bushy bluestem grass. The photos are not the best because they were taken through windows and window screen at full digital zoom.
This was the first time I had noticed birds eating bushy bluestem seeds. Had it been spring, I would have thought they were collecting the fluffy parts to line their nest.

When I first started planting native plants, I generally made my selections based on availability, attractiveness, and odds of surviving. 

Later, I began to notice how the native plants attracted wildlife and I began to consider how my selections served as food and shelter sources for the wildlife. In some ways, my garden became a small oasis in a desert of lawns and concrete.

I hope you enjoy your day of family, friends, and feast. Happy Thanksgiving Day!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Early Cold Snap

It has been cold since the arctic cold front blew in last week. The weekend was cold and damp and Sunday night brought a light dusting of snow. The temperature is expected to drop into the low 20s tonight. Even though a couple of hard freezes turned most of the flowers brown, there is still beauty to be found in the garden. 

The first pictures were taken during a cold drizzle on Sunday morning and the last couple of pictures were taken Monday morning.

The cold and moisture have a way of bringing out the colors in the garden. The blues in the Pale-leaf Yucca and the reds in the Little Bluestem are my favorites. I also like the look of the Variegated Yucca Gloriosa in the center of the picture. 

Agave neomexicana is the toughest of the agaves that I have grown. The others I had froze in a cold winter a few years ago. This one was a little slow to recover when I moved it, but it is now recovered and growing well. This year it had a baby pop up about four feet away.
A closer look at some of the Little Bluestem.

Yucca gloriosa from another angle. This yucca has been in the ground for a year now. It looks a little pale during the summer. I am not sure if it is the sun, heat, dry soil or a little of each. It looks great now. During the winter, the light leaf margins turn pink.

Pine Muhly and old Liatris flower stalks give the garden a spiky look. 

Most of the flowers in the garden succumbed to the freezing temperatures. These Autumn Sage flowers are still holding on to a little pink color. They will all be brown soon.

The Gregg's Mistflower may have a few surviving flowers. It is somewhat protected by the canopy of the neighbor's live oak tree.

I wish I knew how to take better close up shots. The silver leaves and purple flowers of Gregg's Dalea shimmer with droplets of mist.

The Skeletonleaf Goldeneye still looks pretty good. It will need to find a new home next year where it does not block the view of the stock tank.

Soon the leaves will drop from the Possumhaw Hollies, leaving the stems bare, except for the bright red berries.

Next year's Bluebonnet crop is doing well in the decomposed granite I added to the parkway. This is where the Snakeherb used to grow before I dug it out this summer. It is trying to make a comeback. I pull out the occasional sprig that sprouts from the deep roots that are still in the soil.

Ugh! Living one street south of a major thoroughfare and a high school means that trash blows into the garden when the wind comes from the north. Back in my lawn days, most of it kept going. Not now. Trash and leaves get trapped among the plants and need to be physically removed.

So that was Sunday morning. Sunday evening the garden was dusted with an unusually early snow. Next are a few pictures from Monday morning. The Little Bluestem and Liatris look great when backlit by the morning sun.

Here is that Bluebonnet again, now covered in snow. 

Monday, November 10, 2014

Timing is Everything

I discovered these two monarch caterpillars on my aphid infested Mexican milkweed a few days ago. Mamma monarch had bad timing with her egg laying because winter is coming a little early this year. Our first frost is usually around November 17, but an arctic cold front is bringing freezing temperatures this week.
That may not be good news for the caterpillars. I did not see them today, so maybe they found a place to form their respective chrysalises. I have seen swallowtail chrysalises survive through the winter and hatch in the spring. I am not sure if monarchs will do the same.

I planted garlic yesterday and picked the last of the green beans, black-eyed peas, and peppers. I guess I am about as ready for winter as I can be, but it sure would be nice to extend the autumn season a little longer. I usually try to protect some plants through the first couple of early frosts and cold spells because the temperatures usually rebound within a couple of days. I don't think I will bother this time because the forecasters are saying that it could be cold for the rest of the month.

So, goodbye butterflies, goodbye bees, and goodbye flowers. It was a good year. I will see you again in the spring. 

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Glorious Glowing Grasses

In 2009, the Texas Legislature designated the third week in October as Texas Native Plant Week. Native plants benefit wildlife by providing food and shelter. When properly selected, they are an attractive, low impact choice for landscaping. Even the less attractive native plants have their place and purpose. Texas native plants make Texas Texas.

Of course, every week is Texas Native Plant Week at Plano Prairie Garden. I am a little short on time to write a dissertation about native plants right now, so here are some pictures of the glorious glowing grasses that are blooming in my garden now. The beauty of these Texas natives when backlit by the autumn sun speaks volumes.

West Texas native Pine Muhly, Muhlenbergia dubia.

A little closer look.

Statewide native, Little Bluestem, Schizachyrium scoparium.

Little Bluestem

Little Bluestem

 Little Bluestem

Another shot of Pine Muhly. This one grows in a pathway next to my vegetable garden. It is not in the best location, but it is too pretty to move.

Central Texas native, Seep Muhly, Muhlenbergia reverchonii.

Another native to most of the state is Switchgrass, Panicum virgatum. This variety is 'Dallas Blues'.

Big Muhly or Lindheimer Muhly, Muhlenbergia lindheimeri, is another central Texas Native.

This Indian Grass, Sorghastrum nutans, was dug from a patch in a field a couple of miles from my home.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Past the Peak

Two weeks ago, my last post was about the peak bloom of the Gayfeather and the peak migration of the monarch butterflies.

There is still a little color from the Gayfeather, but it is well past its peak now. It is kind of sad that this plant grows (and takes up garden space) for six months out of the year and only blooms for about three weeks. Even so, it is special when the plants are in bloom because the timing seems to be coordinated with the migration of the monarchs. 

There are still a number of monarchs hanging around the garden. Even though there are still a few Gayfeather blooms in the garden, the monarchs have turned their tastes to the Gregg's Mistflower. This monarch has some damage to its wings. It must make the trip to Mexico a little more difficult.

The monarchs are joined by as many queen butterflies this week. The Gregg's Mistflower really brings them into the garden.

Ever wonder how to tell the difference between a monarch and a queen? The photo above is a monarch. The thick black lines on the open wings give them a stained glass appearance.

This queen butterfly does not have the dark lines. This is the easiest way for me to identify the butterfly. This queen happens to be a male. You can tell by the dark spots on the wings near the tail. Male monarchs have similar spots.

It is a little harder to identify the butterflies when their wings are closed.This is a monarch with its wings closed. The wings are a little lighter on this side and the black stained glass lines are still present.

The queen, on the other hand, is dark orange on the outside. It has narrow black lines which are broken up by white dots.

Earlier this year, I bought a different type of mist flower. Blue Mistflower, Conoclinium coelestinum, looks similar to Gregg's Mistflower, however the leaves are rougher and not as deeply cut as Gregg's Mistflower. Blue Mistflower only blooms in the fall and Gregg's usually begins blooming in early summer.

Blue Mistflower is supposed to be a more invasive than Gregg's. My Blue Mistflower is still in a pot because I am not sure how it will behave. I placed the pot next to the Gregg's to see how the flowers compared in attracting butterflies. Blue Mistflower did attract butterflies, but it seemed that Gregg's Mistflower was preferred. 

Here is a skipper on a Zexmenia flower. Aromatic Aster is in the background.

A gulf fritillary is feeding on the flowers of Obedient Plant, Physostegia virginiana. This is another aggressive spreader, although its spread may be limited by lack of moisture. It is growing in the rain garden where it can be contained to a degree. This may be a good location for the Blue Mistflower too.

There were a few other varieties of butterflies in the garden. The only other one that posed for photo was this gray hairstreak.

This grasshopper is one of many in the garden. They are everywhere, but don't seem to be doing any damage to the plants. 

This is probably my last photo of Gayfeather for 2014. There are still a few more flowering plants in the garden that are waiting for their time to shine. The next one on the schedule is Fragrant Mistflower.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Gayfeather and Monarchs

The fall blooming season has officially started in my garden.

As far as I am concerned, it is not fall until the Gayfeather (probably Liatris mucronata) start blooming.

It seems like it took a little longer for the flowers to kick into full bloom this year. That may be because September was exceptionally dry. At the official DFW rain gauge, only .06 inches of rain fell for the month. Through the end of September, rainfall was 10.69 inches below normal for the year. Last week, I even decided to run the sprinklers one more time. That makes two times for the year.

Even with limited water, the garden looks pretty good now that the temperatures are not as high. Having some plants in bloom helps the appearance too.

Here is a view of the garden through the Pine Muhly, Muhlenbergia dubia.

More Pine Muhly with Giant Hesperaloe in the foreground.

News Flash
We interrupt this blog post for a special report. Monarch butterflies have arrived in Plano. Repeating, monarch butterflies have arrived in Plano.

A cold front blew through Thursday evening bringing a little rain and damaging winds for some. The monarchs flew in right behind the cold front.

As they make their amazing migration to Mexico from as far away as Canada, quite a few monarchs stopped off here for food and lodging.

They were primarily interested in the Gayfeather flowers, but they were also feeding on the flowers of Gregg's Mistflower, Frostweed, and Mexican Milkweed.

This was the scene all across the front garden. There were more monarchs that I could count. It was quite a surprise since I only saw two monarchs this spring. Below is a short video of some of the visitors to put their numbers in perspective.