Turk’s Cap Redux

My nice, big brother, Chad, sent me a photo of a hummingbird at his Turk’s Cap in Corpus Christi.

See, I told you that hummers love Turk’s Cap!

I mentioned how tough Turk’s Cap is in my first post about this plant.  When my children were little and they wanted to play ball sports in our driveway, I cringed.  The ‘fill-in-the-blank’ balls wreaked havoc on my shrubs and flowers.  (Note: basketball/soccer ball plus Columbine does not have a positive outcome–at least not for the Columbine!) When we placed a basketball hoop beside the driveway, I needed  to plant something that wouldn’t break very time the kids played outside.  Years before, I had planted Barbados Cherry, (Malpighia glabra), along the side of the driveway as a hedge and it had proved sturdy against the ravages of playtime.  We placed the hoop stand about 4-5 feet to the right of the Barbados Cherry and on the other side was St. Augustine grass.  I wanted to plant something in addition to the Barbados Cherry and chose Turk’s Cap  because I knew that the Turk’s Cap would withstand the bounces of balls and so it did.

The balls (and children) that careened into the Turk’s Cap never damaged the plants,  other than a few blooms that were knocked off of their stems.  The children and Barbados Cherry weren’t damaged either.   Additionally, Turk’s Cap and Barbados Cherry work nicely  together, especially when both plants bloom simultaneously, the pink of the Barbados Cherry and the red of the Turk’s Cap and also when they bear their respective red fruits, which birds love.

There are a few negative qualities to Turk’s Cap:

If you plant Turk’s Cap,  be certain that where you plant it, is where you want it.   While it’s  easy to transplant as a seedling, transplanting an established stand is VERY hard on the back, arms, legs and sweat glands.  Also, be sure to give Turk’s Cap plenty of room to spread. It grows.

This year I’ve noticed that the Turk’s Cap leaves are getting munched more than I’ve noticed in the past.

Maybe this happens every year and I’ve not noticed before. I think I’m more aware of the hole-y leaves because so many other plants suffered sun burn this year.  If this is a quality that you find objectionable, then it’s something you should consider before you plant Turk’s Cap.  I don’t particularly mind a few dings in leaves and given the long bloom cycle and fabulous performance of this plant, I still think Turk’s Cap is a beautiful addition to any  garden.

Because Turk’s Cap is deciduous, it’s wise to plant it with evergreen plants so that there is something interesting happening during Turk’s Cap’s off-season.  Rock Rose (Pavonia lasiopetala), is lovely with Turk’s Cap,

and these plants share the same bloom time (late spring, summer, early fall).

Turk’s Cap and Cast Iron Plant are good companions,

and the non-berrying ‘Nana’ Nandina works well too.

I’m NOT a proponent of planting most forms of Nandina.  Never, ever, ever plant the Nandina shrubs which produce berries.  Those Nandina are invasive plants to most areas of Texas and are on all the “NO-NO” lists.  Don’t  plant them!  However, the small Nandina shrub, usually known as a ‘Nana’, is an acceptable plant because it doesn’t produce berries and therefore won’t spread.  It’s also a tough, xeric plant.  This plant sports a nice burgundy to red color in the winter and that’s why I like it paired with Turk’s Cap.  The photo above was taken recently, and the ‘Nana’ (on the right in the photo) is not particularly interesting.  But when the Turk’s Cap is dormant during winter, the little ‘Nana’ will be appealing because of the vibrant color of its leaves.

The other plant is this photo (on the left) is the non-native, evergreen Burford Holly, (Ilex cornuta ‘Burfordii’).  It showcases beautiful red berries in the winter, until the cedar waxwings arrive to dispense with the berries–usually in one afternoon.

I could talk about Turk’s Cap further, but I  have a life.  If you grow this plant, you know what I’m talking about.  If you don’t, go buy one today (from your locally owned, independent nursery), and try it.  You’ll love Turk’s Cap.

Birds Love ‘Em, Bees Love ‘Em

Bees love ’em.

Butterflies love ’em.

Hummingbirds really love ’em. Unfortunately, I’m not a good enough photographer to catch a hummingbird feeding.  You’ll just have to take my word for it!

I love ’em too.  Turk’s Cap, (Malvaviscus arboreus var. drummondii), is one of the first native plants that I fell in love with many years ago.  Turk’s Cap is a deciduous  perennial that  thrives in just about any situation.  It’s a staple in the shady garden, but also does  well in full sun.  It can handle severe drought, but doesn’t rot when we endure occasional floods.  An excellent nectar source (for the above mentioned critters) it also produces a fruit that birds and little mammals love.  (Some might take an exception to my inclusion of squirrels as desirable wildlife, but they are wild, and they are life and they do live amongst us.)  Turk’s Cap also does well in a variety of soil types.  Aside from the difficult soils that we have in Central Texas, I have also seen these plants growing in sandy Texas coastal areas and they do well there too, with the exception that they will dry out more rapidly.  But in Central Texas, one can’t have a more reliable plant in the garden.

Turk’s Cap has a small, bright red bloom that looks like a tiny hibiscus which never quite got around to opening up.

Like hibiscus, Turk’s Cap is in the Mallow family, so the similarity makes sense.  The petals swirl around the stamen, which protrudes upwards and outwards from the center.  The leaves are palm-shaped and tropical looking (again, that Mallow thing).  In the Austin area, Turk’s Cap bloom from May until November–a wonderfully  long and prolific bloom cycle!  They bloom well in full sun, shade and anything in between.

I believe that Turk’s Cap is classified as a shrub, but I always think of it as a herbaceous perennial.  The plant grows from the base at the soil line in long stems.    As the plant grows taller and the roots colonize outwards, Turk’s Cap take on the appearance of a large shrub, especially In established plants (more than 3 years old).

Several of my Turk’s Cap shrubs are easily 12-15 feet in diameter–they are also 10-15 years old.  In normal years, they reach 5-6 feet in height. In wet years (gosh, do I remember those??), Turk’s Cap require pruning to keep the long stems from flopping over. Because of the drought this year, all of my Turk’s Cap are a little shorter in height than normal.

I mentioned in my post about Goldeneye that the Turk’s Cap  behind a stand of Goldeneye (above photo) in my front garden should be taller, but was dwarfed by the drought.  For that particular plant, I only water when I can remember or when it looks sad. It also receives afternoon sun. Perhaps if I’d watered a bit more, it would be closer to its normal height.

The extreme heat this year didn’t seem to have any negative effect on the blooms or the  appearance of leaves in any Turk’s Cap that I’ve grown–unlike some plants which developed sun burn.

Once our nights begin to cool (whew!!) and the sun is less harsh, Turk’s Cap bloom less and some of the leaves will turn yellow.  Turk’s Cap are definitely summer superstars and are not necessarily the most attractive fall plant. They will continue to bloom minimally and they produce fruits, so they remain an excellent wildlife food source well into the fall and even winter months.

The fruits are about 1/2 inch in diameter and are green, then turn red.  Both are visible in this photo:

When we get a hard freeze, the plant’s leaves will drop and the stems die.   For most of this past decade, my Turk’s Caps have remained at least partially green through most of the winter.  During some winters, the whole plant remained green-stems and leaves.  Because we experienced some very hard freezes in the winters of 2010 and 2011, almost all of mine died to the ground.  Regardless of how the winter temperatures affect Turk’s Cap, I prune the stems to the ground in late January/early February because I get tired of looking at sticks.

Every Texas gardener, especially those in Central Texas, should include Turk’s Cap as a part of the the palette of plants in their garden.

More on Turk’s Cap to follow…

Darn Birds

This is a photo of my American Beautyberrry (Callicarpa americana).

Sans berries.  The birds, mostly mockingbirds and a few bluejays, ate them.  All of them.  Within  two weeks of the berries turning the signature outrageous purple, the birds ate every last berry.  I’m not a happy Beautyberry gardener.  Never mind that I planted the Beautyberry to attract birds to my garden–surely they could let me enjoy the berries for a while?  This native-to-the-southeastern-part-of-the-United States plant (including Texas), is a large, deciduous shrub.  In August/September it showcases gorgeous purple (sometimes white) fruits or berries.

The arching stems bear the beautiful berries in multiple clusters.  Until those darn birds eat them.

These photos are of  an unmolested Beautyberry at Howson Library Garden.

I don’t know how the many birds that love those berries have managed to miss this shrub, but they have, at least so far.  Some years, I have been able to enjoy the berries on my Beautyberry (just looking, not eating!) well into the winter, even after leaf-drop.  In dry years, my berries disappear shortly after they turn color.  I assume with the drought this year, the birds are eating what they can, as soon as they can.

This is a large shrub, so it’s best to give it room to spread. I’ve never pruned any that I’ve gardened, but they can be pruned to the ground if you want them to be more compact.  Beautyberry shrubs work well as single specimens or, if you have the space, in a colony–they’re quite striking when planted two or three together. In my personal garden, I only have the one shrub, in dappled shade with some very late west sun. They do well in full sun too,  with a little extra water.  The tiny, delicate, pink blooms occur in June and the clusters of green, then purple, berries develop over the summer months. Without the berries, Beautyberry is a somewhat nondescript shrub.  But it is graceful, open and airy, with attractive arching branches and sometimes, the leaves turn a nice yellow before they drop.  After the darn birds and the first hard freeze, the shrub is barren until spring.

In Shay’s Green Garden at Zilker Botanical Gardens there are two Beautyberry shrubs with white berries.  I prefer the purple berries, because the purple is so…bodacious, but the white berries are lovely too.  In that particular garden, I added some White Mistflower (Ageratina havanensis), and some white Tropical Sage (Salvia coccinea)  and last fall, the combination was very nice–elegant in fact.  This year, the darn birds and the squirrels, ate the berries immediately, so the garden is not quite so dramatic.  Oh, well.  That’s what happens when you plant native plants that are here for the wildlife.  They chow down.

And that’s the way it’s supposed to be.