Saturday, December 22, 2012

December 2012 in our Wildscape

Not a very pretty time of year, but winter deserves some monthly photos, too....

Friday, December 21, 2012

What's number one on my Wish List?

A Blanco crabapple tree, of course!

Photo by Sally and Andy Wasowski
How cool would THAT be? Years ago, I wrote a feature on the species for Texas Parks and Wildlife magazine and got to visit with the late horticulturist and Texas native plant specialist Benny Simpson on the phone for his input. Now I'm dreaming of growing one in our Wildscape. 

But first, I've got to learn what I can about crabapples and how to go about planting and caring for one....

So here's what Mr. Smarty Plants on advises on the subject. This is an answer to a June 2012 question, "I purchased a Blanco crabapple tree. Should I plant it now or wait until Fall? It is currently rootbound."

Mr. Smarty Plants: "This tree is a member of the Rosaceae family, which doesn't tend to make huge roots nor to object to planting at the wrong time of the year. We think you should go ahead and get it out of that pot and into the ground, but get the ground ready before you take it out of the pot. Until then, keep it in part shade, and give it water when the top of the soil is dry.

"Next, get the hole ready. Select a partly shady area in your garden (2 to 6 hours of sun a day). Dig a good big hole, bigger around than the diameter of the pot, because you already know there is too much root in that pot. Mix into the native dirt a nice amount of good quality compost, to help with drainage and making it possible for small new rootlets to get out into the dirt and access nutrients. For the actual planting we recommend you wait until late in the day, maybe even after sunset, and/or work in the shade. Lift the plant out of the pot. With some good sharp garden nippers, clip through some of the wrapped-around roots. You need to be ruthless about this, because if the roots are not forced out into the soil, they will just keep wrapping around until they strangle the plant.

"Set the clipped plant into the prepared hole, just slightly lower than the surface of the ground around the soil. Now fill in the mixed soil around the plant, letting it be a little higher than the top of the soil in the pot, because as you water, the soil will sink. Stick a hose deep down into the new soft dirt and let the water dribble very slowly until it comes to the surface. Do this about twice a week until the leaves start to perk up. Do not overhead water it, as from a sprinkler. Members of the Rose Family are very susceptible to fungus and rusts.

"Don't fertilize. the Blanco Crabapple is native to a very small portion of Central Texas, and native plants rarely need fertilizer because they are already accustomed to the climate, soil and rain. When the plant has kind of settled in, you might want to trim away some of the foliage, especially any that is thin or bare, to take some of the load off the roots which are trying to re-establish themselves after the root pruning. Spread about 4 inches of a good quality shredded bark compost on the root area, without letting it get up against the trunk. This will help to keep weeds down, protect the roots from heat and cold, hold moisture in and, as it decomposes, improve the texture of the soil."

Botanical illustration by Collene Sweeney

 Merry CHRISTmas, everyone!

Friday, December 14, 2012

O Happy Day - a winter hummer!

I'm so so so EXCITED! We'd decided to leave up one feeder this season in hopes of attracting a Rufous hummingbird. This morning, we've spotted this little female TWICE!     HIP HIP HIP hooray!!

Monday, December 10, 2012

One beetle I can't stand

Last April, I reported on finding huge populations of a small metallic brown beetle, feeding on our greenthreads and coreopsis. (See "Beetle infestation!" and "More on beetle infestation.") I am very tolerant of nearly every species in our Wildscape. EXCEPT this one: Phaedon desotonis. It is one beetle that I will smush on sight, often with relish.

Beetles be gone.
Yesterday, when I was in the back yard, checking on plants, I glanced over at the coreopsis and spotted oodles of my arch enemy, feasting on the leaves. ARGH! So I went back in the house and fetched a bowl of water with one drop of liquid dish soap added. Then I proceeded to knock down and pinch off the offenders. I also dug around in the debris and found more attached to the underside of leaves and twigs. Grrrr.

I suppose we're in for another infestation of these things come spring. Rats rats rats!!!! 
I drowned quite a few of the nasty insects, which are kind of pretty, actually.
Coreopsis leaves and stems damaged by these dratted beetles.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Help with IDs? Solved!

Does anyone recognize either or both of these woody/shrubby plants that have showed up in the Meadow?

Thorns! Perhaps bluewood condalia? Definitely gum bumelia (see below).
No thorns. A yaupon? Very likely! Yay!
Sample leaves from both plants....
From Joe Marcus, living collections manager at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center: "I’m going to have to agree with Anonymous and say it’s gum bumelia (Sideroxylon lanuginosum). The spurs visible in your picture are not always present, but some trees will be studded with them.  Growing conditions and growth rate could be factors in their formation. The other plant does appear to be Ilex vomitoria."

This is going to get interesting.

Jason Singhurt, a plant ecologist/botanist with Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, says, "The first plant is gum bumelia, and the second one is deciduous holly." 

I'm good either way! 
Yaupon holly (Ilex vomitoria) or possumhaw (Ilex decidua)

December 1 and still lots going on

Yes, Gulf fritillary moms are still laying eggs, even on passionflower stems with hardly any leaves left. So Sheryl checks certain vines knowing this about fritillary moms and transports their cat kids to vines with plenty of leaves (like the two below).

Gulf fritillary larva
A younger Gulf fritillary larva
Black swallowtail larva on rue

Copper canyon daisy still hosting variegated fritillaries (above left), white-checkered skippers (right) and phaon crescents.
A monarch spotted TODAY on the fragrant mistflower!

LOADS of queens along with American ladies and other nectaring insects on the fragrant mistflower.