Saturday, November 21, 2015

2015 Fall Season Finale

Precipitation-wise, 2015 was an unusual year. Even though most of the year was dry, this year will be one of the top precipitation years on record in the Dallas area. Not because it rained throughout the year, but because it rained in bucket loads a couple of times during the year.

The year started out very dry and then we had a few weeks of "drought busting" precipitation in May. After that, there was not much precipitation to speak of and the drought came back. (I question whether it really went away.) Then, in the last week of October, we had more "frog strangler" rains.

Since the fall rains were delayed by a few weeks, much of the fall blooming season in my garden was delayed as well. I thought I should memorialize this season because it is all about to come to an end because we are expecting our first freeze tonight.

If any of my plants suffered from the wet and dry periods this year, it was the horsetail reed in the stock tank. It grew normally during the first part of the spring and then it grew exponentially during the wet spell in May. At one point the reeds reached six feet high, including the height of the stock tank. As soon as the hot dry, weather hit and the soil began to dry, the reeds started to dry out and die. The solution was to cut them back and let them regrow. Now they look much like they do when they start to grow out after their annual late winter trim.

Around the stock tank skeleton leaf goldeneye and autumn sage are in bloom.

This autumn sage color developed on its own in my garden. The camera did not capture its true color. It is more like the color of grape juice.

Here is another color of purple autumn sage that appeared in my garden. Plants with white flowers and pale yellow-green flowers have also popped up in the garden. The pinkish red one in this picture was purchased with that color. There is also a red tropical sage in the lower left corner of the picture.

The autumn sage on the right in this photo is probably my favorite color. It is sold as "Coral".

The monarchs missed the gayfeather in bloom, but a few have trickled in from time to time to enjoy the Gregg's mistflower.

Looking at the garden through pine muhly.

Another pine muhly glamour shot with coral autumn sage and spineless prickly pear in the background.

Here is the spineless prickly pear from the opposite side. This is the view I see from the house. The white autumn sage on the right is actually one of the ones with greenish-yellow flowers. They typically photograph as white.

In this photo, the gayfeather flower spikes are starting to dry and drop seeds. Last year I allowed the spikes to stay around for an extended period because they are quite attractive when backlit by the sun. Click here for pictures of last year's plants. They are not particularly attractive otherwise and it seems that every seed sprouts.

So, this year, I cut back the gayfeather flowers spikes before too many seeds had an opportunity to hit the ground.

It gives the garden a much cleaner look too.

With a freeze expected tonight, most of the flowers will probably turn brown, however I will make an attempt to save a few flowers for any lingering butterflies. This area above is my mistflower mashup. It includes Gregg's mistflower (front center), white fragrant mistflower (left), and blue mistflower (back center).

It does not look as good as I hoped it would, but the idea was to have several late blooming flowers grouped together so I could easily cover one area of the garden during those early freezes. It is not unusual to have freezing temperatures one night and then afternoon temperatures in the 80s or 90s a couple of days later. If I can save a few flowers, I can provide food for the bees and butterflies that will return on the warm fall and winter days.

The wind changed directions overnight. It is now blowing strongly from the north and ushering in the dreaded season of trash and leaf collecting. What blows across my neighbor's lawns gets stuck and collects in my garden.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Snubbed by the Monarchs

 All year long, I readied a buffet of nectar rich flowers for the monarchs to feast upon as they make their journey south to Mexico. 

And what happened? My gayfeather, Liatris, nectar feast was snubbed by the monarchs.

Now the gayfeather flowers are past their peak as the peak monarch migration shifted westward this year.

According to monarch sightings reported to the Journey North website, the majority of the peak sightings were west of the Dallas-Fort Worth area this year. I did notice one report from Plano where someone reported 45 monarchs on their Gregg's mistflower earlier this week. I have yet to see that many monarchs at one time this year, although I have seen a few more this week than in the previous weeks.

I did catch a picture of this monarch on the Mexican milkweed. I knew this was not a good picture as it was snapped, but just as I snapped another...

it was gone. Well, gone from that flower. It was still flying around the garden, but I gave up on trying to get a better picture after a few attempts.

This queen butterfly was a little more cooperative. I have seen more queen butterflies than monarchs this year. Still, I have not seen all that many queens either.

Even though the gayfeather flowers are fading, the grasses, like little bluestem and pine muhly, are hitting their peak. 

It is hard to beat the look of grasses backlit by the sun. This photo was taken in the afternoon.

This is another little bluestem backlit by the morning sun.

The aromatic asters began blooming this week. I have not noticed many pollinators taking advantage of these flowers yet.

A single skeletonleaf goldeneye flower with gayfeather in the background and Gregg's mistflower further in the background.

In the backyard, Gregg's mistflower and autumn sage are blooming around the blue bottle bush. The bottle bush is made from rebar shoved into the clay soil. As predicted, the rebar loosened and shifted once the clay began to dry in the summer. I need to come up with a better way of securing the rebar so the bottles do not clank together.

Just around the corner from the autumn sage in the photo above is a beebrush in full bloom. This fragrant flowers of this plant are a favorite of all kinds of bees. It is another plant that glows when backlit by the sun.

Here is a closer look at some of the flowers. Beebrush blooms about a week after a rain or it can be tricked into blooming with watering from a sprinkler. We had a brief sprinkle of rain last week that set off these flowers. We could still use a good soaker. October is normally our first or second wettest month of the year and that sprinkle last week was all we have had so far. Not to mention the temperature has felt more like summer. It is predicted that we will set a record high at 96 degrees today. 

Thursday, October 1, 2015

The Buffet is Set

The the late summer/fall flowers have started to bloom in the garden.

The flowers are showing a little more restraint in their blooming than they would if we had received a nice soaking rain since June and if the temperature was not so slow to moderate. Summer seems to be slow to let go this year.

Nevertheless, the buffet is set and awaiting local pollinators and migrating monarch butterflies. The green spikes of gayfeather (Liatris) that were something of an eyesore a week ago are now purple with nectar rich flowers. And look at pine muhly in the center.

Love that grass.

I have only seen a few monarchs in the last couple of weeks. According to the Journey North website, the leading edge of the peak migration is just crossing into Texas. They better hurry up and get here because the gayfeather is about to peak.

Bees are busily feeding on the flowers.

Here is a closer look at the flowers.

These gayfeather blooms are joined by little bluestem and zexmenia.

I don't have any monarch pictures yet, but I did get a photo of this yellow butterfly. Over the weekend, I saw several pipevine swallowtail butterflies that were taking their first flights around the garden after their summer metamorphoses. A neighbor that frequently walks his dogs past my house said he has been stopped by several people driving by. They all want to know if the butterflies have arrived yet. Apparently, my garden is a bit of a tourist attraction.

My variegated Yucca gloriosa is blooming for the first time. I think the wet spring helped it to get established because it did not show any signs of drought stress this summer like it has in the past.

Around in the back garden, the spiny eryngo is blooming. The plant is not overly attractive when it gets six feet tall and flops over into the pathways.

But the pineapple shaped flowers are a welcome addition to the garden and a treat for the pollinators. 

A cool front came through today. I have a feeling that the garden will be full of monarchs and other pollinators this weekend.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Oh Boy Oh Olla

I recently "planted" two ollas in my vegetable garden. If you are wondering what an olla is, you may need to know that the pronunciation of the word is oy-ya. It is a Spanish word that means pot.

Ollas are an ancient means of irrigation. An olla is a clay pot that is buried in the soil about halfway up the neck and filled with water. The water slowly leaches from the pot and irrigates the soil around the pot. They hold a couple of gallons of water and need to be refilled a couple of times a week. The ollas have covers to slow evaporation of water from the pot and, most importantly, keep mosquitoes out. 

Here is an olla in my squash bed. Each olla is supposed to water the soil 18 inches out from the center, so I planted four seeds around the perimeter of the olla. It was necessary to water the seeds as they began to grow because the roots of the seedling would not reach deep enough to hit the moist soil. I think the plants are now large enough to see if the water in the olla can sustain them without additional surface watering.

This is a view of the squash bed from the other direction. The plants on this end are not as healthy due to pill bugs munching on the stems. The smaller plants allow you to see how the olla is buried and how the plants are oriented around it.  

Ollas are supposed to last several years. Any freezing and thawing during the cold winter months will probably be the hardest on them. As cold temperatures approach, I will stop refilling them and leave them the ground through the winter. 

For your viewing pleasure, here is a clip from Central Texas Gardener about ollas.

And here is another clip showing how to make your own olla. If you search the internet, you can find several plans for making your own ollas.

Elsewhere in the vegetable garden, I have a patch of black eyed peas growing on my homemade cattle panel arch. The taller plant among the black eyed peas is my only surviving green bean plant. I planted green beans before I planted black eyed peas and the pill bugs mowed down all of the others within a couple of days. Fortunately, they do not seem to care for black eyed peas.  I hope that one bean plant produces a lot of beans. There are a few more squash plants to the right of the beans.

I am growing tatume squash on the other side of the cattle panel arch. I did not grow any squash in the spring because the squash bugs and squash vine borers were so bad last year. Maybe the pests have moved on and will not come looking for squash plants this fall?

This is one of my surviving tomato plants. It is still green on top and starting to produce fruit. That is the ferny foliage of asparagus in the background.

A few horn worms are chowing down on the leaves. They will eventually turn into hawk moths.

Looking away from the vegetable garden, color is beginning to return to the garden. Clammy weed, eryngo, flame acanthus, scarlet sage, autumn sage, zexmenia, pitcher sage and bee brush are all in bloom in this picture. I should have more on the fall flowers in the next posts. 

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Earning Their Keep

One of the many gayfeather (Liatris) plants in my front garden is beginning to show some color. It will not be long before the plants are in full bloom. Their bloom should coincide with the peak monarch butterfly migration. It is about time the gayfeather earned their keep.

When in bloom, the gayfeather plants are an asset to the appearance of the fall garden. They also provide a nectar source for a variety of pollinators, like bees and butterflies.

But I think it is a bit of a liability during the summer months before it blooms. The green spikes sprawl everywhere and in every direction. These are more upright, but others grow more horizontally. This picture makes it all look a little better than it really does. I guess I kind of worry that someone will complain about the looks.

Maybe memories of scenes like this one from the end of April help my neighbors get through the garden's rougher period from late July to early September.

Next spring's flowers are getting started now. A rainy day last week coaxed some bluebonnet seeds to sprout.

No complaints about the looks of this pine muhly.

For several years, I have thought about adding a path through the largest part of the front garden. Besides giving easier access to the middle of the garden, it will break up the garden into segments that should be easier to design around. Of course, it will mean some plants will have to go. This is the view from the sidewalk. My thought is to curve up the slope and then curve around to join the pathway that runs lengthwise across the garden. 

This is the view from the opposite direction. Another thought for my pathway is to turn left and curve it back around to the decomposed granite pathway, instead of going to the sidewalk. I am also thinking of sectioning off an area for growing the gayfeather. Right now, the gayfeather is everywhere and it creates a wild and weedy look when not in bloom. If I do add a pathway, it will not be until after the fall blooming season.