Vincas for All Areas

Vinca Minor in Basket of Begonias

Vinca Minor in Basket of Begonias

You may be surprised to learn that Vincas, or Periwinkles, come in a variety of types and tolerances.  Whether you are looking for something to complement your containers or beds, in sun or shade, as an annual or perennial, there is a Vinca for you!

Vinca Minor, or Common Periwinkle, can be a wonderful addition to your shady urns, baskets and beds.  While most often used as groundcover in shady to partly shaded areas, it does very well confined to containers as well.  (Adding greenery to your ornamental pots and baskets gives them a full, healthy look. Many types of vines, ferns and trailing florals can provide substance to your container plantings, especially when they are first created.)

IMG_4848

Vinca Minor

Vinca Minor

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The deep green leaves of Vinca Minor not only gracefully cascade over urns and baskets but also provide for additional blooms now and then.  The sporadic, dainty blue color of the blooms especially complement other cool, shade-loving flowers.

Vinca Minor vs Vinca Major

Vinca Minor vs Vinca Major

As you know, usually when there is a minor, there is also a major and this is the case with Vinca.  Vinca Major is essentially a somewhat larger version of Vinca Minor.  While still dainty, the blue flowers of Vinca Major are a tad bigger than the Minor variety, as are its leaves. Vinca Major is able to tolerate a bit more sun, so if you have an urn, basket or flower bed that receives such, you may opt to plant Vinca Major instead of Minor as long as the larger qualities work within your overall design. Vinca Minor and Vinca Major are evergreen perennials but if planted in containers where they cascade over, additional protection during freezes will be necessary.

Annual Vinca

Annual Vinca

And lastly, there is also Annual Vinca. While just as beautiful, it is quite different in growth habit and appearance from both the Minor and Major forms.   Annual Vinca tolerates full sun, blooms non-stop during the summer and can reach heights up to 18 inches.   Annual Vinca can easily be found in white and pink colors, but these days the color varieties have expanded to include salmon, magenta and other vibrant colors. Annual Vinca looks nice in containers but does not have the vining effect of the other Vincas mentioned above.  As its name states, Annual Vinca dies at the first freeze.

In conclusion, contrast and comparison, I would consider Annual Vinca more suited as a primary addition to a container or bed whereas Vinca Minor and/or Major would be best used as complementary filler plants.  All Vincas are quite drought tolerant and do not like soggy feet.  The greatest issue with Vincas is fungal.  Annual Vinca can contract a lethal stem rot typically introduced to the soil unknowingly through purchased infected plants.  Once this fungus takes hold it is very hard to control and in fact, may persist in the soil for a few years.  It is best to avoid planting Vincas in the same location once a fungal outbreak has occurred. Otherwise, Vincas are quite pest free and can serve as excellent additions to just about any area of your landscape this season (in sun/shade, container/bed, or for one year/years to come).

Until next time,

Cindy

 

 

 

 

 

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It’s OK to Allow Plants to Bolt Sometimes

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail on Ornamental Cabbage gone to Bolt

It’s OK to allow plants to go to bolt sometimes, such as when annuals are just past their prime season but not quite spent enough to pull.  If you are unfamiliar with bolting, it is the phase in a plant (usually edibles) when it produces a rapid growth of flowers and subsequently, seeds.

At this point in time in north Texas (early spring) our winter vegetables and ornamentals are gearing up to bolt if they haven’t already.  Bolting occurs when temperatures rise in relationship to a plant’s optimal atmosphere.  The picture immediately below is an example of an ornamental cabbage, typically grown in flower beds during the winter time, that received an early sample of Texas summer temps recently (85+) and quickly sprouted beautiful yellow blooms.  While most businesses and residents would normally remove ornamental cabbages around this time, the new growth on them en masse is quite striking. Besides, we haven’t entered April yet and although winter annuals are bolting, it remains a little too soon to sow summer plants, so why not leave them?

Ornamental Cabbage in Bloom

Ornamental Cabbage in Bloom

I would say the only downside to allowing plants to bolt is this:  If you are growing edibles, they become quite distasteful after flowering or having gone to seed.  This is because the plant has used all of its energy to produce flowers and seed while its roots and leaves (usually the edible parts) become neglected.

And, conversely, I believe the best thing about leaving bolted plants in the soil for a little while is that they provide a rare food source for those insects that have also emerged due to an early warm spell.  This post’s feature pic is one I took of a beautiful Eastern Tiger Swallowtail last week partaking of bolted ornamental cabbage.  (Taken in Denison, Texas near the Oklahoma border.)

As we move from winter into early spring, I hope you allow a few of your remaining plants to go to bolt so that you can enjoy a little extra glimpse of nature during this transitional period.

Until next time,
Cindy

March 25, 2016

 

 

 

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Oxalis – One of Many Shamrocks

Oxalis or Shamrock

Oxalis or Shamrock

As I was browsing the floral department of my local grocery store for fresh tulips, I saw the cutest display of potted “shamrocks” all dressed up for St. Patrick’s Day.  I had to purchase one for my office of course – which, by the way, is already filled with other plants so why not another for the sake of the holiday? I immediately recognized the plant because I have a species of it growing in my back yard, although mine is purple versus green.  It is oxalis.  I suppose I never thought about oxalis having a pure green variety because I’ve mostly been exposed to deep purple oxalis triangularis.  However, the green variety indeed serves as an excellent shamrock, I must say, although I doubt you’ll find a four-leaf clover among its stems.  The word triangularis should give you a clue that the leaves of oxalis are tri-lobed.  I suppose a four-lobed one would indeed be a lucky find in this case . . . Oxalis triangularis purple

Oxalis triangularis

Oxalis triangularis growing in my back yard. March 2016

I’d like to briefly write about the care and attributes of oxalis, but before I do, did you know there is no consensus on which plant is actually considered “the” shamrock? A shamrock is a descriptive term for any one of several clovers, otherwise known as three-leaved plants.   In fact, the word shamrock derives from the Gaelic word seamróg which means “little clover”.    As you can surmise, Irish history and lore are steeped in stories about the shamrock.  Saint Patrick is said to have used the shamrock to describe The Holy Trinity during his mission to Christianize the country.  Centuries-old paintings and stained-glass-adorned churches showing depictions of the shamrock are abundant throughout beautiful Ireland.  In the 18th century, the shamrock moved from being predominately associated with Saint Patrick to becoming the official symbol of Ireland (as is the rose for England).  As such, the Irish have a vested interest in defining exactly what plant is the true shamrock.  Even though, the Irish have not been able to unanimously decide!  Two botanical surveys have been held, one in 1893 and the other in 1988, to attempt to determine the true shamrock of Ireland.  Although Trifolium dubium (lesser clover) was the shamrock with the greatest number of entries in both surveys, there remained four other clovers in the running (including oxalis) as well as were several other tri-leaved species mentioned. All in all, it really doesn’t matter if one clover is designated over another.  When I think of clover I think of spring time Easter bunnies eating away in my childhood backyard.   And as for me now, the vagueness of the shamrock only serves to justify my potted oxalis as a good representative plant for the season!

Oxalis regnellii white

Oxalis regnellii white

Oxalis, sometimes called wood sorrel, is a perennial that does well planted in ground in Zones 6 – 11.  It prefers part shade, with more shade in the southern zones.  Oxalis will die back in the cold of winter but re-sprouts come spring with a flurry of white, pink to light purple flowers depending on the variety you choose to plant.  As mentioned above, the most common oxalis I have seen in ground is the deep purple, oxalis triangularis variety but I understand the green varieties are just as hardy. The plants are relatively low growing, perhaps 9 – 12 inches tall, and look best in the front of beds or mixed with other low growing plants. Flowers are plentiful in the spring and early summer, tapering off during the hottest parts of the year. To plant oxalis, the most reliable method is to obtain divisions from a fellow gardener or purchase rhizomes.  You can attempt seed, but again rhizomes (similar to bulbs) are more reliable if they can be found.  Be sure the plants receive adequate moisture but that the soil drains well.  Soggy areas may promote fungal issues. In my experience, our oxalis hasn’t had to receive a lot of care.  In dry, hot times it tends to wilt or die back a bit, but with added moisture, it perks up rather quickly. Speaking of wilting, an interesting trait of oxalis is it folds, or closes, its leaves at night – so don’t be alarmed if you step out late one evening and find your plant shriveled.  Oxalis is simply one of those plants that is very sensitive to light levels and “sleeps” at night. In addition to planting oxalis in ground, it can be kept as a lovely house plant. Observing the same care as above (bright window with mostly shade – moist, but well-drained soil) you should be able to enjoy Irish shamrocks year ’round.  I plan to do so! Until next time, Cindy

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Opa Oregano!

oregano cascade

Oregano Cascading Over Edge
of Plant Box – Fall 2015

Oregano, Origanum vulgare, is one of the easiest of herbs to grow.  A relative of the somewhat more sensitive and milder herb, marjoram, oregano is contrastingly adaptable to a wide range of soil types and temperature zones and is virtually disease and pest free.  You may easily grow oregano from seed, but it can also quickly sprout from cuttings of existing plants.  Oregano also reseeds generously.  After all, it is within the mint family and anyone who has grown mint of any form knows just how healthy and prolific it can be!

One thing I did not realize about oregano prior to growing it myself is that it spreads similar to a groundcover or vine, and can be quite beautiful as it gracefully drapes over the sides of containers.   The herb typically blooms with purple, sometimes white, clusters of tiny flowers in mid-summer, which if left to do so, makes an even more stunning cascading plant when sown in baskets or urns.

Oregano originates from the temperate areas of the Mediterranean and thus, does well as an evergreen to semi-evergreen in Zones 7 and southward.  Areas to the north of Zone 7 should protect the perennial herb with heavy mulch or cover, or bring indoors, during the harshest of winter weather.  The herb should be planted in a sunny location, however it will benefit from brief afternoon shade in Zone 8 and southward.  As mentioned above, oregano tolerates acidic or alkaline soil as long as it is well drained. It is a bit more drought tolerant than most herbs and thus, root rot can afflict the plant if it receives too much moisture. And, as with many drought-tolerant plants, spider mites can take hold in the heat of summer.  A light spray of organic horticultural oil applied when pests are first noticed can safely eliminate mites and other potential pests – but remember to spray in early evening when plants are in the shade or you’ll literally cook your oregano!

Clipped Oregano Surviving & Thriving Growing through Crevices of Planter February 2016

Clipped Oregano Surviving & Thriving
Growing through Crevices of Planter
February 2016

You may clip oregano at any time during the growing process but it is thought the herb is most pungent just prior to blooming in mid-summer. An essential in Italian and Greek cuisine, oregano can lose its robust flavor when cooking if used fresh. Therefore it is best to add fresh leaves to your dish toward the end of the cooking process or simply use dried oregano instead.  Drying the herb enhances its aroma and flavor.  This can be done several ways:  tie clipped oregano in a small bouquet and hang upside down in a dark, dry room; single layer stems in a food dehydrator; or, place stems on a cookie sheet and bake in the oven on the lowest temperature until the leaves are dried.  Remove leaves and discard stems.  Store the dried, crumbled oregano leaves in an airtight glass or plastic container for use within six months.

In closing, I hope you consider growing an herb garden this season and  include oregano in the mix to add flavor to your tomato, egg, cheese and garlic dishes.  Once you begin growing oregano, you may have an abundance of this lovely “pizza herb” (as called by the WWII soldiers returning from Italy) for life!

Until next time,

Cindy

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Cat Grass

Biscuit and Cat Grass

Biscuit and Cat Grass

Since most of us are in the midst of winter and our lawns are yellow, brown or bare, our outdoor and indoor/outdoor cats may not have much greenery to partake of.  While the jury is out regarding the benefits of supplying our cats with “cat grass”, there is a general consensus that doing so will not harm them.  Actually, if your cat tends to routinely munch on houseplants, providing him with a pot of organic cat grass is a much safer alternative.  Same goes in the summertime if you subscribe to a lawn service – providing your greenery-seeking cat a container of cat grass that hasn’t been sprayed with pesticides or doused with fertilizer is definitely a better choice for your pet.

If you go online and look for “cat grass” you will find many different types of seed (mostly grains) are offered under this title, including catnip.  While none of the grains are thought to be harmful in their seedling state, you should take caution to ensure you do not allow any of them to mature to the point your cat is eating awns or seed pods.  Some seed pods can be sharp and may cause injury to your pet’s internal organs.

The common oat, or Avena satira, is the primary grain considered “cat grass” in the pet world.  Interestingly enough, this grain is also touted as a medicinal herb for humans; aiding in digestion and other minor ailments.

cat grass oats

I personally grow cat grass in the wintertime for my cat, Biscuit.  She doesn’t typically eat a lot of greenery around the house, but during the winter months I find her chewing on the fern-like house plants now and then so I bring out my cat grass seed and prepare a small planting for her.  Cat grass  (or common oats) is extremely easy to grow and among the fastest germinating seeds I have encountered.

Simply prepare a small container with potting soil almost to the rim; spread the large, oblong seeds in a single, non-overlapping layer; cover them lightly with additional soil; and water thoroughly.  Place the container in a sunny window and keep moderately moist – adding water every other day.   I have a southeasterly window in my bathroom that I use which provides ample morning sunshine.  In this case, I find the oats begin to sprout within three days.

In six to seven days, you should have a nice, thick patch of bright green grass about 4 inches in height.  Place the container where your cat can easily find it, either near water and food bowls, or, as in my case – the bathtub!  Allow your cat time to partake of the greens and then return the container to the window for more sunshine and added water.

After your cat chews down the first patch of grass, you should start completely over.  Again, you do not want any of the leftover grass to mature and produce awns, so beginning anew is best.  After all, it takes only a week to grow a new batch of greens.

If you have a cat that tends to munch on greenery that you aren’t sure is healthy for him, you may wish to invest in planting organic cat grass seed.  While it may not correct his potential nutrient deficiencies, chances are it is quite a bit healthier than the other options around the house!

Until next time,

Cindy

 

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Cast Iron Plant Lives Up to Its Name

Cast Iron Plant 2

A few weeks ago, I had occasion to take a peek at my neighbor’s gorgeous backyard. We were doing a one-day dog-sitting stint for their beautiful and very well-mannered golden retriever. I could go on and on about how wonderful this particular dog is, but I’ll save my comments about Molly for another time!

What was quite astonishing about this backyard was that in the midst of winter it exuded a lush, tropical feel. As I glanced around I noticed several outcroppings of deep-green, long-leafed plants throughout the area. Having had a few in my own yard at one time, I recognized the plants as Aspidistra elatior, or Cast Iron Plants. The strategic placement of these 2 ft X 2 ft, evergreen, perennial plants in my neighbor’s yard had definitely added vibrancy to their winter poolside decor and will most certainly enhance their summer landscaping as well.

If you happen to have a skillet, pot, fence or garden decor item made of cast iron, you can surely attest to its durability. And this is exactly the attribute by which the Aspidistra elatior obtained its common name – incredible durability; its ability to endure.

The Cast Iron Plant, a member of the lily family, is indeed one of the easiest plants to grow both indoors and outdoors. For those of you who claim to have brown thumbs – this is the plant for you! It can withstand weeks of neglect and amazingly doesn’t need much in the way of nutrients or sunlight to survive.

In Zones 6 – 11, you may sow the Cast Iron Plant outdoors in areas of deep shade to part sun, in dry to moderately moist soil, with acidic or alkaline ph, and/or any combination thereof. Full sun will burn its leaves and consistently wet soil will eventually rot its roots -but other than these two extreme scenarios, the Cast Iron Plant should thrive. But while it doesn’t do well in full sun, the plant can endure very hot ambient temperatures. So – if you have an isolated corner, strip along your patio, or a vacant spot in your landscape that simply could use a little greenery, the Cast Iron Plant will bring a refreshing tropical feel to these otherwise barren areas – spring, summer, fall and winter.

Cast Iron Plant

http://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/ornamentals/coastalplants/aspidistra.html

Speaking of a tropical feel, it is important to clarify that I am speaking of the wide, green, strap-like leaves (sometimes spotted or variegated depending on the variety) of the Cast Iron Plant. Although a “cousin” to the beautiful Daylily and Tulip, the Cast Iron Plant produces flowers that are a very inconspicuous brown and which develop at the soil level. Needless to say, the plant isn’t grown or displayed for its flowering capabilities. Nonetheless, it is a wonderful backdrop to other plants that do flower and it is sometimes used in beds as a tall, year ’round ground cover.

As I mentioned earlier, the Cast Iron Plant can also be grown indoors with ease. Like other houseplants such as Sansevieria (snake plant), Dracaena (corn plant) and Aglaonema (Chinese evergreen), the Cast Iron Plant can survive in very low light. In fact, it may be able to withstand the darkest corner of a room or hallway more so than those previously mentioned. A variegated or spotted Cast Iron Plant variety would further serve to brighten these indoor areas. Best of all, it is a very forgiving plant should you simply forget to water or otherwise attend to it from time to time.

Cast Iron Plant 3

Well, as promised in one of my earlier blog posts, I wanted to bring you a planting option for those areas in your landscape in which you haven’t had much success in growing anything in the past – whether it is due to poor soil, poor lighting, poor location or for reasons unknown. And, if I may reiterate, this particular planting option, the Cast Iron Plant, is an extremely tough, perennial evergreen and thus, a one-time planting will decorate your landscape throughout the seasons for many years to come. And don’t forget the Cast Iron Plant can be utilized as a houseplant in the most difficult of indoor areas as well, benefiting you with natural air filtration year ’round.

I can’t think of anything more versatile, yet resilient – that is . . . other than items actually made of cast iron!

Until next time,
Cindy

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Sometimes it’s a Nut, but Most Times it’s Not!

Nuts-CLose-Up

This post, although timely as we enter the holiday cooking season, was prompted by a colossal fever blister outbreak I experienced last week.  Statistics state 50 – 80% of US citizens have had outbreaks of these blisters caused by one of the eight forms of the herpes virus.  I promise this isn’t going to be a medical article, but bear with me another paragraph or so!  Chicken pox, shingles, roseola, as well as what we know as “herpes” are conditions caused by this type of virus.  For some of us, this virus is always looming in our nervous system waiting for us to become ill or run down, or, as in my case last week, to eat too many nuts in one sitting.

You may already know that nuts are good for us nutritionally as they provide omega-3 fatty acids, fiber and protein to our diets.  However, one component of the protein found in nuts is the amino acid l-arginine.  Without getting into medical jargon, I’ll just state that the majority of professionals tend to think l-arginine promotes the herpes virus.  After I ate two “heavily-pecaned” pecan pie slices last week and awoke the day after with a major outbreak on my lower lip, I have to say I believe in this theory.  Another proponent to this theory is most physicians recommend a daily dose of l-lysine for those of us that are prone to fever blisters, shingles, etc.   L-lysine is an amino acid that appears to counter l-arginine in our diet.  Thus, eating more l-lysine-rich foods or supplementing with l-lysine tablets may help keep the body from becoming out of balance.

Whew!  Now on to my relevant “gardening” post!

When researching pecans, learning about the high levels of l-arginine within them, and attempting to figure out what other nuts I need to avoid this season, I came across some very interesting information about how we popularly categorize fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds versus how scientists actually categorize them.   An acceptable label for those hard seed items we use in cooking and snacking is “culinary nuts”.  However, for botanists, the scientific categories they use, and reasons for them, are extremely diverse, detailed and technical so I will simply list a few surprise classifications I discovered, beginning with one you may already know –

Peanut – is not a true nut, but a legume.  Most gardeners may already know this as peanuts develop underground versus on trees.   Legumes in general produce pods that house more than one seed.  Beans are legumes as well as are peas.  Since the peanut has the flavor of a nut but is a legume, I can only guess these two facts were combined to form the peanut’s name.

Peanuts are Legumes

Peanuts are Legumes

Pecans, Walnuts, Almonds – are not true nuts, either!  They are botanically considered drupes.  A drupe is a type of fruit that has ample flesh surrounding a flexible shell (pit) with a seed inside.  We typically think of peaches and plums in this category for they are obviously fleshy fruits with pits/seeds inside.  However, if you take a look at how pecans, walnuts and almonds form and mature on the tree, you’ll see that they, too, begin with a fleshy outer part just as do peaches and plums.  The difference is we discard the flesh, remove the outer shell (pit) and eat the inner seeds of pecans, walnuts and almonds.  To differentiate between the fleshy and non-fleshy drupes, some call those in which we eat the seed, “dry drupes”.

Pecans

Pecans

Pecans on the Tree w/Fleshy Green Exterior

Pecans on the Tree
w/Fleshy Green Exterior

Almonds w/Fleshy Exterior

Almonds w/Fleshy Exterior

Cashew & Pistachios – are drupes as well.  An interesting aside about these culinary nuts is they are actually related to the poison ivy plant.  While peanuts are the most allergenic of culinary nuts, those who are particularly affected by poison ivy may experience an issue with these two.

Coconuts – are also drupes.  I placed the coconut in a different paragraph because what we typically consider the flesh of the coconut is actually the seed.  Take a look at the green flesh of the immature coconuts below.  Once mature, we crack the shell and indulge on the white seed.  Thus, a coconut is categorized as a dry drupe.

Immature Coconuts w/Fleshy Green Exterior

Immature Coconuts
w/Fleshy Green Exterior

Cocos_nucifera_-_Köhler–s_Medizinal-Pflanzen-187

Hazelnut – is a true nut, finally!  As are chestnuts and acorns.  A true nut has both the (thin) “flesh” and seed enclosed in a hard pod and the seed is not automatically expelled from the pod as are the seeds of legumes and drupes.  Legume pods split at maturity to release their seed and drupe pods split or rot to release their pit/seed.  Thus, to get to the seed of a true nut you’ll need a nutcracker or other device to do so – no paper shells in this category!

Hazelnuts are Without a Fleshy Exterior

Hazelnuts are Without
a Fleshy Exterior

Lastly, probably the biggest surprise to me . . .

Avocado – is a berry.  Yes, you read this correctly!  It is a berry.  I only bring this into the mix because as I was reading about drupes I thought it described the avocado to a tee. I thought I had this scientific classification stuff figured out.  Wrong!  Basically, as I mentioned far above, you have to know a lot about how a plant’s fruit is formed (from the very beginning through maturity) to be able to accurately categorize it.  For example, the seed of the avocado is actually surrounded by a very thin, hardly detectable, fleshy shell (which is a flexible but harder shell in a peach, plum, pecan, walnut etc.)  The other, thick layer of flesh of the avocado is comparable to the flesh of, say, the peach, but again, we are eating both the outer flesh and the inner “shell” of the avocado.  The seed, we toss.  Thus, having both an edible fleshy interior and edible fleshy (very thin) shell, makes the avocado a berry. 

Avocado

Avocado

Of course, berries are typically multi-seeded and the avocado has but one seed.  Technically, the avocado is a single seed berry.  I could go on about berries, which gets even more complicated as a strawberry is considered an aggregate of drupes (drupelets) and not a berry, but I think I’ll just stop for now as I’m veering far off the topic of nuts –

In closing, and back to nuts, I am providing the link below to an l-arginine/l-lysine ratio chart so that no matter how many pieces of pecan pie or other nut, legume, drupe or berry goodies you eat on Thanksgiving, you’ll have information to balance (or supplement) your diet and hopefully avoid any ill consequences of overindulging!  http://www.traditionaloven.com/tutorials/l-lysine_rich_foods.html

 

Happy Thanksgiving!

Cindy

 

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Pansies and Ornamental Cabbages

Pansies, Ornamental Cabbages, Alyssum and Wandering Traveler

Pansies, Ornamental Cabbages, Alyssum and Wandering Traveler

If you reside in a warm temperate climate, such as the southern US, it is prime time to transition your outdoor landscapes and pots to their winter adornment. Among a very few other ornamentals, pansies and cabbages are the perfect complementary accessories you can add to your yard and planters at this time of year.

Pansies are among the most favored of flowers worldwide and have a history of admiration going back to their ancestral relative, the tiny viola, written about as long ago as 4th century BC in Greece. A classic wintertime flower in most areas of the US, the beautiful hues and varied faces of the pansy adorn many a bare lawn during the festive holiday months and throughout January and February.

Pansy

In addition to pansies, the popularity of planting cabbages for ornamental effect has increased in recent years. Cabbages enjoy the same basic light, soil and temperature requirements as pansies, and their coloration – predominately in variations of green tinged with pinks and purples – looks stunning when complimenting the deep purples and magenta of some pansies and when contrasting with the yellows and orange-golds of others.

So – if you haven’t already taken advantage of the moderate fall temperatures these days and planted a few pansies and ornamental cabbages, it isn’t too late! With the first day of winter not arriving until December 21st, there are indeed a few weeks of fall left to allow these beautiful winter hardy plants to take root.

Speaking of winter hardiness, both pansies and ornamental cabbages can survive low temperatures to 5 degrees Fahrenheit. In fact, I have witnessed a bed of pansies emerge more full and vibrant after enduring a two-day snowfall here in the North Texas area. And, although I don’t intend to eat my ornamental cabbage, I understand heavy frost causes a sugar surge within the plant that results in its leaves tasting sweeter. (Both pansies and ornamental cabbage can be eaten if your palate approves!) Even though these plant varieties do well in the cold, it is highly recommended after planting them that you heavily mulch to improve their chance of survival during bitter and/or unusually lengthy cold snaps.

In addition, pansies and cabbages should be planted where they will receive at least 5 hours of full sun, whether planted as winter ornamentals in the south or during the early springtime in the northern temperate and polar zones. They should be watered moderately, about 1 inch per week, if rainfall is sparse in your area.

With regard to pests, pansies, being low growing flowers, are most susceptible to snails and slugs. Other soft bodied insects can be troublesome, such as aphids, but they aren’t usually as much of a problem during the cooler winter months. Same with spider mites – there is a slight chance they can be bothersome but not usually until it has become so warm the pansies need to be pulled up anyway.

Ornamental cabbages are prone to the identical pests you’d find with other plants of the Brassicaceae family – broccoli, cauliflower, kale and brussels sprouts. These pests are cabbage loopers/worms, harlequin bugs and white flies. Fortunately, like with the pests of pansies, these bugs are not prevalent during winter months.

As mentioned above, pansies and ornamental cabbages enjoy full sun, moderately watered soil, rapid winter growth and very few pests. There is one trait of which they are opposite, however. Aroma! I actually did not realize just how wonderful pansies smell until I entered a greenhouse one year that was full of them. The scent was absolutely intoxicating. I hope you can partake of the aroma of pansies on your patio sometime this year. In contrast, ornamental cabbages smell, . . . well . . . like cabbage! I discovered this by accident too. When making a purchase of a six-pack of varied cabbages on the fly one day after work, I inadvertently left them in my car overnight. If you’ve ever cooked boiled cabbage at home, you know the odor. Needless to say, as pretty as cabbages look in pots, it is probably best that they are left to adorn your outdoors!

Well, this past weekend (prior to Thanksgiving) I took advantage of the mild weather and planted a couple of flats of deep purple pansies in my hanging baskets, flower beds and pots. In one of my larger pots, I added a few ornamental cabbages of varied hues to the mix, along with a bit of white alyssum and wandering traveler for a drapery effect.  See far above and below.

Top View - Pot of Winter Flowers

As I sit admiring my “masterpiece” I know it will only get bigger and better with the cold. -And, there simply aren’t many plants you can say that about!

I hope you, too, find time to plant a few of these winter wonders this season.

Until next time,
Cindy

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Blooming Texas Sage – A Sign of Rain?

Texas Sage Abloom Just Prior to a Rain Shower

Texas Sage Abloom
Just Prior to a Rain Shower

As I drove to work a couple of weeks ago, I noticed the Texas Sage shrubs in my neighborhood were ablaze with purple blooms. At first, I thought only a few were blooming along the right-of-way, but as I meandered deeper into my neighborhood toward the highway, I found just about every sage bush I came upon was abloom. When I arrived home that afternoon, I went out to my mailbox as usual and noticed my own 6 ft sage bush was also adorned in purple! This was the first time it had bloomed all year.

Texas Sage is an evergreen shrub with silver to silvery-green leaves and infrequent purple, tubular-shaped blooms. It can grow up to 8 feet tall and 6 feet wide, but you may keep it trimmed to your desired size as a specimen plant or utilize it en masse as a hedge. It is native to Texas and is very drought tolerant and tolerant of poor, alkaline soil. It can endure the full, hot sun but will also survive with part shade. The only negative with the shrub is it can develop root rot if it receives too much water. It is attractive when used as a backdrop or specimen in desert, xeriscape and native planting beds. It thrives in the arid areas of Zone 7 and southward, i.e., the southwestern United States and Mexico.

19 Year Old "Old Variety" Texas Sage

19 Year Old “Old Variety” Texas Sage

There are several varieties of Texas Sage available and newer types may bloom more vibrantly and more often than the older varieties. My sage pictured above is an older variety and its blooms are more sparse and lighter in color than those planted along my neighborhood street shown in the pic below. Regardless, last week they ALL appeared to be blooming in unison. When such finicky bloomers all join in to bloom at the same time, something interesting must be going on, right?

Texas Sage Hedge Along Neighborhood Screening Wall

Texas Sage Hedge Along Neighborhood Screening Wall

Well, I’ve always known you can expect Texas Sage may go into bloom a day or so after a rain shower. However, there hadn’t been rain in our area for months prior to these shrubs bursting open.

This led me to research Texas Sage a bit more in depth. What I discovered is Texas Sage has many names, including Purple Sage, Phoenix Sage, Cenizo, Wild Lilac, Texas Silverleaf and Texas Ranger, however the one name that caught my attention is Barometer Bush. And thus, I learned that while Texas Sage does tend to bloom a day or so after rain, it can also begin blooming when conditions are merely optimal for rain to occur. This apparently has to do with the plant’s extreme sensitivity and ability to detect high humidity in the atmosphere.

Bee Enjoying Texas Sage in Bloom

Bee Enjoying Texas Sage in Bloom

An old wives’ tale states you can count on rain within 7 days of seeing a Texas Sage burst into bloom.  Indeed, shortly after my shrub was ablaze with purple, we were fortunate to have had a couple of days of sweet, steady rain.  Considering our recent very dry summer, here’s to seeing a little more purple in our landscapes this fall.

Until next time,
Cindy

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Pink Muhly Grass

Pink Muhly Grass photo compliments of www.clemson.edu

Pink Muhly Grass
photo compliments of www.clemson.edu

We have a couple of nice-looking medium-sized terra-cotta pots situated on either side of our patio.  The pots are in front of two columns that provide the “entrance” onto our outside dining area.  The pots receive full sun year ‘round and have the unfortunate case of being placed atop cobblestone that truly heats up beyond words in the summertime.  Just ask me about the mistake of walking around the pool barefoot in mid-August!  The only relief this area has is that the pots are placed in iron stands and so they do not receive 100% of the ambient heat from the stones beneath.

The pots are in a high traffic area and thus, we struggled with finding something to grow within them that could take both the heat and the side-swiping of passersby.  One year we planted periwinkle and while we needed to water it almost daily in the summer, it actually did fairly well.  Then, we made a huge mistake one spring and tried orange dahlias.  They were the perfect color for our patio and were indeed gorgeous for a while – until the Texas summer burned them to a crisp!  Last year, we planted purple fountain grass and it was a big hit although it eventually got a bit too tall for the size of our pots.  The purple fountain grass accented the columns very well in the meantime, however, and when folks walked by there were no blooms to be knocked off, which was a bonus.   With the grass being a success for most of the year, we decided ornamental grass was probably the best solution for this tough, potted plant location.  We needed to find a smaller variety and preferably, a perennial.

This is when we started looking around the landscapes of the freeways in the north Texas area.  The various state and local highway organizations are really good sources to look to for tough, but attractive, plantings that will naturally thrive in your area.  This is when we discovered Pink Muhly Grass.

Pink Muhly Grass is a compact ornamental grass that has an attractive clumping growth pattern.    It sends out rays of green spikes of new blade growth while the older blades turn a bit hay colored and cascade downward.   The overall look of Pink Muhly Grass fit our outside décor very nicely (which is 1/3 Texan, 1/3 Mexican and 1/3 tropical.)  I tease my husband from time to time as I’d like to focus on one theme eventually.  He claims since all three of the above have borders with a beach we already have one theme!

At any rate, the Pink Muhly Grass gives us the desired look to our exterior dining area.  It took the heat very well all summer, yet still grew to the suggested 3.5 height and width range. And I can attest it has been quite drought tolerant.  A bonus is that it is a perennial to those of us in Zones 6 and warmer so we can enjoy the grass in subsequent years.

The only issue we had this first year is that one of our plantings received a little more foot traffic surrounding it than the other, so quite a few of its erect spikes became bent or broken.  We even went so far as to switch the pots around to see if the “damaged” one would sprout some new growth and catch up to being as perfect as the other one. It indeed sprouted new growth, but it remained just a tad more unkempt than the other. Don’t get me wrong – it didn’t look bad, its form just didn’t look “as good”.

Well, I had actually forgotten about the pink part of the name of the Pink Muhly Grass until about three weeks ago when the unkempt plant suddenly began to bloom.  I don’t think my pictures below capture its color very well, but the plant is amazingly frilly and vibrantly pink these days – as though there are tufts of pink clouds atop it.

Perfect grass in foreground and pink-clouded one in background.

Perfect grass in foreground and pink-clouded one in background.

Reverse!

Reverse!

The other, “perfect”, plant?  Well it isn’t doing anything yet!  It has a fine form but there are no signs of blooms on it.   What is interesting is the two plants’ environments were identical except for one thing – the unkempt plant received more people brushing up against it, resulting in bent or broken stalks here and there.  And guess where the blooms are originating?  You guessed it – from the damaged blades of grass!

Pink Muhly Grass Bloom on Bent Stem

I must admit I could find nothing in writing that states Pink Muhly Grass will bloom more heavily on injured stems, but that indeed seems to be the case with our particular plant. I still have faith our “perfect” plant will eventually bloom, although perhaps not for as long or as brilliantly as the distressed one.  And next year, I certainly will not be so obsessed about the grasses looking identical or worried about them being located in a high traffic location.

In conclusion, I can’t help but think of several metaphors applicable to this experience.  I think the most relevant of these are:

  • Sometimes the greatest fruits are borne of those who have experienced the deepest injury.
  • Never give up, no matter your circumstances or setbacks, for everyone has the ability to achieve great things.

Until next time,

Cindy

www.natureisnurture.net

(As a side note, it is recommended that you leave intact the resulting pods from the blooms of Pink Muhly Grass to provide a natural seed source for winter birds in your area.  Afterwards, you can cut Pink Muhly Grass close to its base, as rapid new growth forms predominantly in the springtime on this grass.)

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