Wednesday, December 29, 2010

First Winter Freeze: 2010

Though several other Austin gardens reported freezing temperatures as far back as a month ago, my garden had only received the slightest of touches from winter's cold hands - none of the plants even showing damage (though the leaves were certainly falling from the trees).  But in the last few days, my garden finally received a good freeze setting a few of the plants back to their protected roots where they'll await next spring's warmth.

The Red Christmas Pride (Ruellia amoena) always get zapped back to the ground.  The three found in my garden have been slow to return each year and are slowly disappearing - am thinking this may very well be their last hurrah.

I am hoping that the Salvia van houttei can return from its roots (most of my Salvias do).  It was bravely trying to bloom right up to the end.

The potted Root Beer Plant (Piper auritum) leaves turned into the soggy handkerchiefs as always documented by Philip at East Side Patch (from whom I received the plant as a pass-along).

The three Dwarf Mexican Firebush (Hamelia patens 'Compacta') had shown some promising growth during the year so it will be interesting to see if they can return to form next spring.  Though I'd like to see even stronger growth if I am to retain them.

I deliberately left the Hedychium 'Tahitian Flame' out so that the foliage would get nipped back - wanted to see how low it could go and how (if?) it recovers next spring.

Others that received at least a little leaf damage:
  • Southern Wood Fern (Dryopteris normalis): lost about half their fronds
  • Philippine Violets (Barleria cristata): now have mostly crunchy leaves
  • Mountain Sage (Salvia regla): ditto for this plant
  • Toad Lily (Tricyrtis lasiocarpa): both potted and in ground showing some die-back
  • Ground Orchid (Spathoglottis plicata): show some damage (though that may have begun even earlier; one of them is potted and safe in the house - and even blooming)
  • Blue Anise Sage (Salvia guaranitica 'Black and Blue'): still mostly green, but some minor damage
  • Red Dragon Knotweed (Persicaria microcephala 'Red Dragon'): typically dies back in winter, then comes back strong next spring
  • Crinums: all have minor leaf damage, but still mostly green (the ones I've had for years always die back to ground; not sure what new ones will do)
  • Banana Tree: in a pot; wanted some die back this year (got my wish).

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Foliage Follow-up: December 2010

On the sixteenth of each month, Digging sponsors the Foliage Follow-up to allow gardeners to show off the leafy aspects of their garden.  Freezing temperatures have only given my garden the briefest of kisses, thus much of my "fall" foliage is just now starting to show some color.

The high canopy of my trees tends to require one to tilt one's head back far to appreciate any fall color.  But when the sunlight catches the yellow leaves of the Black Cherry Tree, it is certainly worth the effort.

And the leaves of the Red Oak against a clear blue sky make a captivating sight.

In the understory, the lower shrubs try to add some small patches of fall color.  The leaves of the Chinese Indigo (Indigofera kirilowii) are fading to yellow.

As are those of the Goldmound Spirea (Spiraea japonica 'Goldmound') showing a very nice mixture of green and gold.

Philippine Violets (Barleria cristata) lower leaves are beginning to add a burgundy  touch to the garden.

And the newly acquired Mexican Buckeye (Ungnadia speciosa) will hopefully grow taller and fill in as an understory tree, and provide an even larger swath of fall color.

Be sure to visit other Foliage Follow-up postings at Digging to see more of other garden's leafy sites.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Flower Power: GBBD December 2010

On the fifteenth of every month, May Dream Gardens sponsors Garden Blogger's Bloom Day where flowering plants are the rule.  Though my temperatures have only flirted with the freezing point, blossoms are still pretty limited this time of the year in my garden.

Established Plants

The Joe Pye Shrub has a few clusters of white blooms still adorning the ends of several branches.

New Plants in the Garden

As I did not trim my Marilyn's Choice Abutilon this year, it is over six foot tall and thin, but once again putting out a small number of it's pendulous blossoms.


The intensely bright colors of the Cyclamen (Cyclamen persicum) continue to capture the eye.

Flower Wannabes 

As the flowers have faded, the berries have taken the stage.  The leaves of the Chile Petin (Capsicum annuum var. aviculare) have begun to fade and drop, so it's small bright red berries have begun to really stand out.

The Nandina (Nandina domestica) berries continue to transition to a more intense shade of red, really jumping out when the setting sun highlights them.

The red berries of the Possumhaw (Ilex decidua) peak out from the remaining leaves, but soon those leaves will drop and the berries will adorn the bare branches alone.

It has been a good year for berries on the Dwarf Chinese Holly (Ilex cornuta 'Rotunda') which has received additional sun due to a fallen tree.

Be sure to check out May Dream Gardens to see what is blooming around everyone's gardens.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Pop Goes The Greenhouse

As winter finally approaches here in central Texas, I typically move a few select potted plants into the house and the majority into the garage.  But this means my vehicle no longer fits in there and must sit outside - which makes me grumpy on the morning drive.  So this year I decided to build some type of structure to house the larger potted plants that need protection from freezes and thus free up my garage for the vehicle.

Ideas were pondered, plans were made, and a trip to the lumber store ensued.  And...holy moley!...wood is expensive.  This was to be a temporarily-used structure primarily to trap heat, but my plans were gonna cost at least $80.

I had given up on getting a pop-up plastic greenhouse cuz I thought it was too expensive.  But, after lumber sticker-shock sent me researching the price again, I discovered I could get one slighter larger than my construction plans on sale for about $25 more - and I'd be able to collapse it down and store it when it was not needed.

Thus I recently became the owner of the Flowerhouse Planthouse 5.  The collapsed structure & components fit inside a 3-foot circular tote for storage.

The carrying case contains the plastic pop-up greenhouse, poles, stakes and twine - everything needed to put it up (except a hammer for pounding stakes into the ground).

The greenhouse unfolds easily and springs into shape with minimum effort.

At this point, the structure doesn't really stand up by itself, but it at least gives the idea of its future size and shape.  (Sidenote: at this stage, be careful moving around inside, pushing on the walls in an attempt to get it to stand; it is possible to get one's feet tangled with the lower portion and promptly tilt it and oneself  over onto the ground...not that such an me).

The poles which hold the structure's shape are much like camping tent poles.  Each pole is segmented into three parts which contain an elastic cord that binds it together and allows for sections to be pulled apart for storage or snapped together when building.

The shorter, top pole was the most difficult to insert.  The pole must be flexed to get each end to fit onto its respective small pocket.  But, as it is the shortest pole, bending it is a little tricky.  Velcro fasteners are then used to further secure it.

In the same manner, two poles are placed on each side in a crossed form to lend support.  Because of their greater length, bending these to get them to fit is not a problem.

At this point, the structure has its final shape.  Each end has zippered plastic & screen doors so that you can open either or both for ventilation/entry.  There is no floor to the structure.

A shade cloth is also provided and can be attached using Velcro strips.  As I will likely have more warm days than cold days, I decided to use the shade cloth (though this is my sunniest garden area, the greenhouse will not be receiving too much direct sun).

Stakes are provided, but their 12 inch length seem a little extreme.  Ain't gonna happen in my rocky environment; one is lucky to achieve even six inches of soil penetration before encountering limestone.

So I had to cut the stakes down to a more reasonable six inches.  But when used, some of these still had to be hammered in at an angle as they ran into either limestone or large roots.

 The plastic and screen doors each have Velcro straps so that the doors can be rolled open and secured.

Per recommendation, I also purchased a ceramic heater to go inside for those cold nights.  On sunny days, the greenhouse will be plenty warm, but at night, its temperature will drop to match that of the outside air - so additional warmth will be required (just got to make sure nothing is in a position to start a fire).

Last step was to start filling it with plants.  As most of these plants are large, they fill the 5x5-foot floor space rather quickly.  I hope to create some type of support bar so that I can also put a couple of hanging pots inside (need to take advantage of that unused vertical space!).  I also suspect that there will be some leaf burn on the plants that are near or touching the sides.  But in the past, when the plants were stored in the garage, they usually had some damage (likely due to not enough light) - so I figure that will be alright.

Will be interesting to see how this works.  And whether I'm ever able to get it back inside its tote bag next spring (things that spring out from small containers never do seem to fit back inside).