Greening Up

As days pass, there’s no slowing down for emerging buds, unfolding ferns, and  greening up of the garden.  In these climate changing times with weird to mild winters, it’s no longer normative for February to be Central Texas’ coldest month of the year, hosting regular hard freezes with mild days in between. Instead, chilly–not freezing–days are interspersed with warm, April/May-like temperatures.  Non-native plants like irises and introduced trees gear up for growing with the surplus of balmy days, but if a hard freeze rears its icy head, those non-native plants struggle with the unexpected cold. So far, my native plants are “weathering” the weird fairly well.

Alongside older leaves which never bothered to drop, emerged new growth is appearing on a young Rough-leaf Dogwood treeCornus drummondii.  A beautiful, small native tree, it grows well in shade and is a known wildlife winner.

My older Rough-leaf dogwood, a gift from a fellow Austin-area garden blogger (Thanks, Deb!) has grown, grown, grown.  No longer is it a stick with some other sticks coming out the sides, it’s now a real tree (paraphrasing Pinocchio).  New foliage has recently become noticeable, dotting limbs up and down the tree.


Last weekend, I transplanted a well-established Leatherleaf mahoniaMahonia bealei, from my full-sun front garden to my mostly shady back garden.  After half of an Arizona ash tree was damaged in 2017 during Hurricane Harvey rains, the front garden now receives significantly more sun than it did in the mahonia’s early days.  The poor thing was suffering foliage burn during the long summer months; sun fried leaves dropped, causing stress for the shrub.  The mahonia should be happier in my back garden where it will live in dappled shade and that’s the environment this mahonia species likes.

I hope it survives the transplant; it’s an early bloomer–great for hungry pollinators– and a tough, attractive shrub.  I’ll need to remember to water regularly during July, August, and probably, in September.


I like this picture of green, with varying textures.

At the right of the photo, are straps of iris, unknown variety; in the center-front, the foliage of native columbine pair nicely with Katie’s dwarf ruellia.  Back-center, you see a crimson pot topped with the foliage of fuzzy, bright green Foxtail fern.   To its left, another tough non-native, Dianella.  The Dianella tasmanica ‘Variegata’ is a great plant for our long, hot growing season, but oh so tender when the cold winds blow.  I have 5 groups of this plant–I love it–but it’s also the only plant that I must cover when the temperatures take a deep-dive, well below freezing.  So far in this non-winter winter, the Dianella have remained green, white, and stripey, with no need for covering.

Last winter, I notice a seedling of Texas Mountain Laurel, Sophora secundiflora,  nestled at the edge of a clump of amaryllis that my mother gave me years ago.  I’m leaving the Mountain Laurel, but where it’s situated, it will eventually grow large enough block the view of the pond from my kitchen and living room window.  Yikes!  That’s not going to work, but I don’t have the heart to pull it, but pull it out I must. Eventually.

The amaryllis straps should be dormant, but they’re not.  Thanks mild winter!  Behind these two plants, grows another group of Dianella.

I’ve grown this Mexican orchid tree, Bauhinia mexicana for about 10 years. Until the past two years, the tree regularly lost its leaves in winter frosts.  This year and last, it’s had practice at becoming reliably evergreen.  I like the foliage and the tiny song birds really like the foliage, but I would prefer more winter, fewer leaves.

The long-views demonstrates the greening of my back garden.  To be fair, it’s not only that winters are warmer that encourages more garden green, but that I’ve planted more shade appropriate plants–many of which are evergreen, no matter the winter–to better adjust this garden’s transformation from a full sun space, to a mostly shade situation.

Looking southeast. My sister-in-law’s garden is just over the fence.

A northwesterly view.

The long view, again, looking southeast.


Greening, along with some other coloring, is also a winter thing in my front garden.

Iris blooms have emerged and will open…soon.

Ugh, if there’s a hard freeze in late February or in March, the blooms will be mush.  That happened last year:  a mild winter, then a hard, hard freeze during the first week of March.  Most of my individual iris plants had produced stalks and along those stalks sat a minimum of 6-8 blooms each.  I clipped as many irises as I was able, so that the blooms would happen, rather than losing all to the freeze.  Exhibit A:

Exhibit B:

Every glass and ceramic container I owned was filled with irises. EVERY ONE.  While it’s nice to have cut flowers in the house, I’d rather leave–and see–flowers outside.  So, stay away, hard freeze(s)!!

In past years, this sitting area would be less lush, more barren.  This winter, green is queen and blooms…are blooming. Firecracker/Coral plant, Russelia equisetiformis, (bottom left in photo), has produced its tubular red-orange flowers all winter.

Back when winters were normal, the Mexican honeysuckleJusticia spicigera (far left in photo) would be frozen and by now, pruned to the ground; ditto the bronze foliaged Ruellia ‘Chi Chi’ (center-right in the photo).

We live in a new climate paradigm and must adjust and adapt; we’ve waited too late to mitigate these early impacts of climate change.  In my own garden, the best I hope for is utilizing native plants as much as possible because of their evolutionary partnership with the capricious Texas weather patterns, without–and with–the onslaught of our changing climate. Going forward, I accept that non-native plants, even those which have been reliable, will be less so.  Milder, greener winters, early springs, searing summers, and delayed autumns are here.  Now.  

A Gander at Grasses

The last bastion of prunable perennials in my gardens are the ornamental grasses. I’ve noticed in Austin that many landscape companies prune ornamental grasses earlier in winter, but the little nubs of grass left are unattractive–they remind me of alien pods. (Not that I’ve seen many alien pods.)  Grasses don’t flush with new growth until late February or early March and winter-tinged grasses are lovely specimens.  During winter dormancy, ornamental grasses develop a toasty color and the graceful forms lend elegance and interest to any landscape.

I’m especially fond of the native Big Muhly (Muhlenbergia lindeimeri). These larger grasses move gracefully in winter winds.

Though, I guess I could have raked the leaves from this one in the back garden.

Once I detect discernible green shoots emerging, that’s when I prune.

I prune to a ball/oval shape, but I’ve also seen these grasses pruned flush to the ground.  I’ve even seen them pruned as boxes, though that doesn’t appeal to me and the natural form of the mature plant is round, so pruning as a square is weird and antithetical to the form of the plant.

Ready for new growth!

This non-native (to Texas) Maiden Grass (Miscanthus sinensis),

has been a fine addition to my gardens–I wish I had space for more of them.  It’s been a great performer all year, but who could prune these fabulous seed heads early in the winter?

But, it’s time for spring growth, so off with their heads!

I transplanted my three Gulf Muhly (Muhlenbergia capillaris) in November.  I don’t have a great spot for these grasses because my gardens are full-sun challenged and Gulf Muhly perform best in blasting sun.

I’ve pruned for the new growth,

and have hopes that this spot will provide the correct amount of sun for these native beauties.

Bamboo Muhly (Muhlenbergia dumosa) is  native to New Mexico/Arizona and is an airy, light green grass during the growing season.  During winter dormancy, the foliage is tawny beige, though it holds its feathery plumage. When completely dormant, Bamboo Muhly  benefits from shearing to its clump.

In my gardens, two of the Bamboo Muhly didn’t become completely dormant,  so I decided to selectively prune only the cold damaged foliage.

However, one plant had no green growth, so I sheared it to the ground.

And now it’s ready for new spring growth!

Mexican Feathergrass (Nasella tenuisima) is beautiful year round as a single specimen,

or in groups.

It is NOT however, a plant pruned by shearing foliage like the four discussed above. If you do this in the winter:

You will not get this in the spring.


NO. NO. NO. Never, ever do that!! It will take MONTHS to recover and will look stupid in the interim.  I sacrificed a seedling to demonstrate this abhorrence, but I see this all over Austin.

The method for “pruning” Mexican Feathergrass is to gently pull off the dead foliage which by late winter is a light brown/tan color.

Hold down the center of the plant and gently tug the dead grass or run your fingers through the foliage, in small bits, until it pulls free of the main plant.  It will come out easily and if it doesn’t, don’t force it. I’m not coordinated enough to photograph that action, but you’ll end with a handful of grass pulled out.

As you’re pulling out the dead foliage, hold the mother plant down with the other hand, otherwise, especially in older plants, you’ll pull the up the entire plant.  Which I’ve done.  Numerous times. If that happens, swear a little, (you’ll feel better), then re-plant a new seedling and start over again.

For me, pruning ornamental grasses means the end of winter and is the gateway to spring abundance and a long growing season.

It’s done.  Happy Spring!

Game On, Spring

As February races toward its conclusion, this Austin garden is ready for spring.  I started pruning in late December, after the first of the freezes lay waste to the herbaceous  perennials in my gardens.  I’ve been pruning since.  Seven garbage cans full of garden detritus every week, for almost two months.

Plants like Turk’s Cap (Malavaviscus arboreus var. drummondii) are whacked.

The luscious, sunny-blooming Goldeneye (Viguiera dentata)? Nary but sticks protruding from the ground.

The Martha Gonzales Roses are reduced to a fifth of their full size.

Some Variegated Flax Lily (Dianella tasmanica),

fared better than others in my gardens.

All I pruned from the Flax Lily were the freeze damaged straps.  It’s the one plant (I have four groups of them) that I dutifully covered with each freeze forecast into the 20s.

And the  Autumn Sage (Salvia greggii) and other evergreen native shrubby plants are pruned into tidy balls,

or spindly bits of green perched on woody stems, waiting for the just right  light and breath of warm spring air to burst into new growth.

I still have more to prune, but I’m almost finished for the year.

I didn’t lose any established plants this winter and that gratifies me and validates my garden choices.  I choose natives or hardy non-natives, with the occasional splurge for the newest, cheap thrill plant that everyone (okay, just gardeners) is talking about.

I always think of the winter landscape as barren, but it isn’t, even in this winter which was colder than any of the past 19 years.   With most of the flowering perennials in my front garden temporarily gone, I’m reminded how nice my ignored-most-of-the-year evergreens are during their winter concert on this sunny February day.

And in my back garden, I like the clearly defined garden and pathways.  The iris and yucca straps dominate,

while the Heartleaf Skullcap (Scutellaria ovata ssp. bracteata) insinuates its soft green carpet anywhere allowed.

I have a clean pond, which will make pond maintenance easier for the rest of the year and appeals to my aesthetic sense.  I don’t think the fish care whether I clean the pond or not.

Spring is almost here.  The Mexican Honeysuckle (Justicia spicigera) is pruned to the ground

but life begins anew.

The Columbines (Aquilegia chrysantha var. hinckleyana) are lush,

their first buds emerging.

Bring it on, Spring.