Six on Saturday 2019-03-30: Random Six

Yes, I know this is Sunday, but I took the pictures on Friday, so I’ll consider the average of the two make this a valid Six on Saturday post. It’s been a great week, watching from day-to-day as there is more shade in the world. By the time I get home from work and am available to tend to the garden a bit, while the daily temp is sometimes still at its peak, about half of my backyard is shaded. It is so luxurious. No pics of the trees today, though, and I didn’t stop to take pictures of all the roadwide wildflowers on my weekend trip down to south Texas. Here’s my six….

Blackberries

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After the white petals are gone, the sepals still add a touch of class and stariness for a while. This flower looks like it may give way to a delicious blackberry in a while.

Bluebonnets

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In each of the three autumns that I’ve lived in this house, I’ve tried scattering seed in multiple areas of the yard with hopes that they’d grow into beautiful bluebonnet plants. As a native Texan, I’m quite attached to our state flower. But I may have to try something else this fall. The only reason I have a single bluebonnet plant in my front yard is that I bought one from the nursery last September.

Borage

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I enjoyed a couple of the fuzzy cucumber-flavored leaves earlier on, but looks like something else has gotten to it lately. My hope is that this year the borage will self-sow prolifically as I’ve heard other people complain but which has never been my experience.

Currant

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I wasn’t expecting the Crandall Currant bush to flower within a month of getting it into the ground, but I won’t complain. Others have mentioned that this is also called a clove currant because of its scent. Although this one is small, I rubbed a few flowers with my fingers, and sure enough, a scrumptious clove-y aroma.

Nasturtium

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The last time I tried to grow nasturtiums was an utter failure, so I’m delighted by how healthy these are so far. Since it’s been so dry, I’ve been watering them a couple of times per week. It’s only worth it if I’m able to harvest a few soon for munching on, and if they produce at least as much seed as I’ve planted.

Poison Ivy (?)

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I was weeding mindlessly anything that was green and unexpected in my pear tree bed. My breath escaped me for a moment when I suddenly realized that my hand was heading for a patch with “leaves of three, let it be”. It doesn’t look like the standard pics of poison ivy, but I’ve seen a lot of poison ivy that was just going through a weird growth phase or something and have stuck with the “leaves of three” rule unless otherwise identified. However, looking at this picture now and the slight assymmetry of the leaves, I think it really may be may be something else. And I’m wondering, did I end up pulling it up / chopping the top after all? I’ll have to wait until daylight to find out….

Tree of the Month: Texas Mountain Laurel

The bloom season for Texas Mountain Laurels here in central Texas is starting to wrap up already, but they’ve had a good run this year. Just look at this beauty, taken near the start of the bloom period in mid-February. This is near the max height for Texas Mountain Laurels, so they’re a good fit in many places.

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My favorite things about the Texas Mountain Laurel (TML) is that it’s an evergreen tree, is nitrogen-fixing so needs no fertilizer, and just generally does really well in this area with minimal care.

Other folks are more inclined to prefer the purple blooms or the strange sweet aroma that emanates from them. (It’s likened to purple koolaid.) That’s definitely what the bees have been into, as it’s usually easy to spot a few buzzing around the trees.

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This may not be the best shot, so bonus points if you can spot the bee

Either way, if you’re in the area it’s easy to grow from seed. Once the seedpods mature in the summer, grab a few and crack them open. The barely-mature seedpods are easiest to open, and the really old ones may be as well. A nutcracker can definitely help, though.

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Since they have a thick coat, it helps to give them a little nick with some nail clippers or other sharp object if you want to ensure they sprout quickly. Be careful not to cut past the surface, or you could damage the baby plant inside. In that case, grab another seed. Other online sources state that this type of scarification isn’t needed if you use the barely-mature seeds that are pinkish instead of deep red like this one, but when I remembered to grab some last year they were already quite mature.

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I’ve always soaked the seeds overnight to help with quick sprouting. One thing I don’t do anymore is to pot them up inside. It’s just a hassle that isn’t at all necessary. Sure, it was nice the first time or two for watching how new leaves unfolded and seeing just how long the taproot grows. (If you do start it indoors, make sure it’s transplanted out quickly because that taproot does need to grow.)

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Instead, just stick them in the ground wherever you want. TML isn’t too picky and some are growing happily where I’ve planted them in compacted unamended clay soil or super-limestone-filled places. I recommend starting three or four in any location in case they don’t all make it. I’ve lost a few for whatever reason but still have plenty. Once they get larger, I’ll even likely have to kill off a few myself. It shouldn’t be hard to keep up with because TML is a fairly slow grower.

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This is my eldest plant, started a little over two years ago. No, it’s not quite a “tree” yet. At the start of the month it measured a whopping 18 inches (46 cm), and that’s including some of the new growth that has burst forth this spring.

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Some day this young tree will grow to add more interest to my front lawn and attract pollinators. And in the meantime I don’t have to water it (well, I might if we’re in a deep drought) or feed it. I don’t need to pamper it in any way. I just have to be patient and it will grow.

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So if you live in this area, grab a few seeds from a TML in your neighborhood, stick them in the ground, and sit back. It’s completely free, and someday you too will be rewarded with a beautiful little evergreen tree.

Six on Saturday 2019-03-16: Edibles and Poison

While there is more greenery out, I feel bad watching the occasional butterfly flittering around and not finding any flowers to sip nectar from. I may have to find some early-blooming food for the pollinators for next year.

At least the leaf-cutter ants haven’t stopped by again. I found one soldier scoping out the place, but I decapitated it and hope the others got the message.

Anyhow, here are six things that are happening around my yard today.

Flax

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I was looking forward to feeding the butterflies this year. I had many milkweed plants growing from seed scattered around the yard. Or I thought I did. Today I found a couple of small blue flowers on the plants. After some online investigation, it looks like this is actually flax. This shouldn’t be surprising. Last year after I got tired of eating flax seed, I scattered what was left around the yard to see what would happen… but then promptly forgot about it.

Peppers

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Last weekend I planted out over a dozen baby pepper plants. This was in addition to the few I had planted out already. Some have already been dug up by squirrels, but others appear to have settled in nicely. Peppers are supposed to be good companion plants for citrus trees, so I have them planted in each of my tree beds. They’re especially good plants for me because they’re drought tolerant. I don’t tend to get many peppers that way, but maybe this year it’ll rain more.

Kumquat

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The leaves on my young kumquat tree have been gradually getting yellower for a while, but I’ve been putting off any kind of fertilization until Spring. Well, now is the time. The liquid fertilizer I bought last year isn’t sold anymore, but this week I picked up some Citrus-tone at the nursery. Kumquat isn’t actually a citrus plant, but close enough.

Blackberries

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I’m pleased to see the blackberries starting to bud, but those have gotten pretty yellow also! Do they not like the homemade compost I added around them not long ago? Well, we’ll find out if they like citrus food.

Crandall Currant

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The foliage on this young shrub just looks cool. I hope the berries are good too.

Poison Ivy

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Winter was so nice, if for no other reason, then that the poison ivy had died back for the season. But now there are fresh sprouts starting to dot my yard. I have to start being careful again, and prepare for some fun Spring sessions of manually attacking the poison ivy. Last year I used a herbicide to kill much of it. I’m hoping that’ll make it manageable enough for me to handle it on my own this year.

Well, those are my six. Check out the Propagator’s blog to find more goings on in gardens around the world.

Six on Saturday 2019-03-09: Garden delights and fears

Some cold weather came through Austin early this week. Temperatures were in the 20s on Monday morning in my yard, and then both Tuesday and Wednesday mornings also dipped into freezing. Sure, there are some pomegranate and mulberry leaves that are totally frost-burnt, but most plants are fine and it seemed to be a signal to the other plants that winter is now concluded and with warm days again more green appears every day.

Here are six things from my garden this week.

Not Comfrey

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When this plant first appeared in an unexpected spot, I thought it was a comfrey plant and wondered how it got there. But it grew larger than my other comfrey plants and the leaves have a slightly rounder shape. Finally when it got large enough, it struck me that it could be borage. I tore off a piece of leaf, and sure enough it had that distinct cucumbery flavor. Note: This is probably not the smartest method for identifying plants but I had a pretty strong hunch.

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For reference, this is an example of what my comfrey plants look like.

Asparagus

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Although this early asparagus spear first poked out of the ground almost a couple of weeks ago, none of its asparagus buddies have joined in. I measured it this morning at a whopping 25 inches (63 cm), which seems like a lot to grow all alone. Does it prefer the nearby grasses at this edge-of-the-bed location?

Warren Pear

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This Warren Pear was planted bare root at the start of January. As always, I was hugely relieved to see the leaves finally break free from their little brown knobs this week. I’m trying not to baby this plant too much because the information I’ve gleaned from the internet is that it’ll do fine only so long as it doesn’t grow too quickly. It needs a bit of tough love, or it’ll be weak and could ultimately succumb to fireblight in this area.

Pollinator

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I may not know how to identify all my pollinators, but I generally know how to make them happy. Leaving some “weeds” for them to enjoy? Easy enough!

Anole

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Anoles are regular guests in my yard, but they rarely agree to stop and pose for pictures.

Texas Leafcutter Ants

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Due to the other wildlife like those mentioned above, I normally avoid insecticides in my yard. However, leafcutter ants really freak me out. They build huge underground colonies with tunnels up to several feet deep. Last year when they showed up, I first noticed them because my dwarf buford holly was red and alive. The last of the green leaves were just being removed, and ants were all along the branches making sure they’d gotten everything. Then I started reading about roads that had collapsed due to the vast excavation done by the ants. Last year, I didn’t bother growing vegetables because I didn’t know if they’d survive. Mounds popped up in my yard, and desperate, I tried a few different types of poison. Finally, in November I saw the last of them. Anytime a mound popped up, I’d dig it up and pour some of the poison down their hole. And then one day I stopped seeing them… until this Thursday. I went out into the garden after work, and there was a huge long parade of ants gather leaves to take back to their own fungus garden. I panicked and poured the remnants of last year’s poison onto the parade. They may have just been gathering weeds, but who wants to feed their colonies that grow to the millions? This picture is one of their mounds from last year, presumed dead, but which some of the ants made as their destination on Thursday. I haven’t seen any more yesterday or today but remain on high alert. I need to calm down and find a way to deal with these buggers that doesn’t involve killing anything else….

Well, that last one was an earful, wasn’t it? But those are my Six on Saturday for this week. Check out the Propagator’s blog for more sixes from gardens around the world.