Frost Fest

Everyone is talking about it!  It’s the plant of the week, the one everyone wants to know and hang out with!  My own blog statistics show a dramatic spike in views of past posts written about it!  What is this trending plant, the plant with the cool vibe?  Well, it’s more than cool, it’s cold–it’s FrostweedVerbesina virginica.  Of course!

Frostweed is an excellent wildlife perennial plant, native from all the way up in Pennsylvania to here in sunny–usually mild–Texas.  Its striking summer-to-autumn white blooms, which feed many, are quite enough for me to adore Frostweed, but it’s the transitory ice show, as seen during the first hard freeze of winter, that gives this summer and autumn blooming, pollinator-loving perennial its name.

Frostweed.

Luscious ice sculpture!

In the first winter hard freeze, this week, my Frostweed strutted its icy, frosty stuff for almost three full days, due to the temperatures dropping late Sunday and not reaching above freezing until mid-day Wednesday.  The first thing I thought about on Monday morning, January 1, 2018, (okay, second–the first was about coffee…), was Oooh, I need to check out the frostweed, I’ll bet they’ve all burst open!  

Indeed, burst open they had–and how!

The moisture from the stem blasts open the epidermis of the stalk.

Breaks through the stalk, with additional curling (upper left) of the ice, occurs as moisture, forming additional ice, moves outward.

The ice formations are delicate and transient–melting at touch or temperatures over freezing.  Ice forms as the plant draws moisture up from the ground.  The supercooled moisture breaks open the epidermis, freezing from the base of the plant and upwards along the stalk.

The resulting ice sculptures can furl (unfurl?), scroll-like, along the stalk, which is how my Frostweed usually behaves.

Monday morning.

Sometimes, the ice creates wavy, ice-taffy inspired forms.

Same plant, Wednesday morning as more moisture froze along the stalk when temperatures continued to drop.

A closer look.

Curly.  Groovy.  Icy.  Beauty.

This winter’s show was special because in Austin, and certainly in more northern parts of the state, temperatures stayed below freezing for longer than the typical fleeting hard freeze, thus allowing the ice sculptures to expand, and remain frozen for admirers to appreciate for longer than just one morning.

Other perennials demonstrate similar freeze-n-bust action, but none do it with the verve and style of Frostweed.

As the sun warmed Wednesday afternoon, so melted away the exquisite, frosty art.  The frost show ended, probably until next winter, but it was fun to see.  Frostweed will be back in spring, after winter’s pruning, for another year of blooms and bust.

Frostweed–a frosty delight.

 

Native Season

This week, Texas gardeners recognize the value of native plants in our gardens during Native Texas Plant Week.  Native Texas plants belong here, where they’ve evolved alongside endemic wildlife, enduring capricious weather patterns, varied soils, and wide-ranging topography.  While not indestructible, native plants (once established) tend to withstand drought and periodic flooding better than most introduced plants.  There are exceptions of course, but when a garden is primarily natives, it reflects a strength of purpose which translates to less fuss and work for the gardener, as well as unique, regional loveliness in both flower and foliage  all year round.   

Spring flower cluster, with Black Swallowtail butterfly attached, of the Texas mountain laurel (Sophora secundiflora). The foliage is evergreen and attractive year-round.

The native plants thriving in my modest, urban garden array from those which bloom nearly year-round, to those that show-off seasonal glory.  When I evaluate my garden, I reflect that most of my native plants (and some of my non-natives) were gifted to me, either as seedlings or seeds.   Yes, I’ve purchased plants, mostly trees and a few shrubs, but gardening with natives doesn’t have to be an expensive endeavor if you connect with local native plant enthusiasts, native/wildlife gardening organizations, or the wacky gardening neighbor down the street.  Increasingly, local urban nurseries offer an assortment of native plants for affordable prices.

Golden groundsel (Packera obovata), spring flowers feeding Texan Crescent butterfly.

It takes time and requires more knowledge and creative energy to plant with natives, rather than simply sodding your “yard” with mono-culture turf.  But the rewards in enjoying seasonal interest, in providing a respite for wildlife, and lessening regular maintenance (especially in the heat of summer) makes the effort worthwhile for home and commercial landscapes.

Gulf Coast Penstemon (Penstemon tenuis), blooming in spring.

Gulf Coast Penstemon with seed heads in late summer.

In this post you’ll see a few of the plants that grow happily in my garden, most of which I’ve profiled previously.  Some are spring-only actors, while some blaze the garden stage primarily in autumn.  Many bloom repeatedly throughout the long growing season, or morph from beautiful spring-summer blooms to spectacular fall-winter seedheads–alluring for the gardener, sustaining for wildlife.

This spring bloomer is a hybrid between my Yellow columbine (Aquilegia chrysantha) and my Eastern red columbine (Aquilegia canadensis).  Check out my ‘Seasonal Look’ for Columbine.

In all cases, these plants are easy to grow–with the right light and soil requirements– and are appealing throughout the year.

Purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) flowers in late spring and summer; rests during the heat of mid-to-late summer, then enjoys a second flowering again in autumn.

Red tropical sage (Salvia coccinea) is a small perennial, dormant in winter if there is a hard freeze. It emerges in spring and blooms through autumn, until winter, in earnest,  arrives.

White tropical sage is a natural hybrid of the red tropical sage. Some of my tropical sage are red, most are white–all are gorgeous!

For information about North American native plants, visit the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.   Even better, if you live in or near Austin, go for a visit–it’s a stunning native garden dedicated to the education and preservation of native plants in North America.  Additionally for those in or near Austin, the LBJWC will hold its fall plant sale this Friday and Saturday, October 20-21–check out the website for more information.

Rock rose (Pavonia lasiopetala) is a long-blooming perennial shrub and a huge favorite of the pollinator crowd.

When someone visits my garden, a common comment is: You have such a green thumb.  My reply is always the same:  I don’t really have a green thumb, other than that I pick great plants that don’t need much care.  

Sunny Engelmann’s daisy (Engelmannia peristenia),  paired with Henry Duelberg sage (Salvia farinacea ‘Henry Duelberg’).  Buzzily nectaring native Carpenter bee–bonus treat!

And it’s absolutely true, since native plants are hardy enough to thrive, even for the most black-thumbed amongst us.

Shrubby blue sage (Salvia ballotiflora) hosting a Long-Tailed Skipper.  This West Texas native blooms repeatedly throughout the growing season.

The same sage photobombing a containerized American century plant (Agave americana)

 

Native plants are necessary for the health of wildlife and are vital sources of food for migrating insects and birds.  With native plants in the ground, your garden will be alive with wildlife, and after all, isn’t that what plants are for?

Male Monarch butterfly nectaring on Turkscap (Malvaviscus arboreus var. drummondii), another long-flowering perennial native.

 

Some native plants are endemic to a specific area, like this Big red sageSalvia penstemonoides.  The Big red sage was believed extinct, but in the 1980’s several groups were found in the Austin area, its only native habitat (as I recall, under one of the MoPac overpasses).  Since then, the seeds collected have been nurtured and plants are grown for nursery trade.  This stunning summer bloomer (and great hummingbird flower) is found in some locally owned nurseries.  I purchased mine at Barton Springs Nursery.

I’ve planted four of these perennials in my back garden; this one overlooks the pond and receives the most sunlight. Recently, with the downing of part of a non-native tree in my front garden, I’ve transplanted the three remaining to that garden, with hopes that they will get more sun and the pollinators (and the gardener!) will enjoy more of these deep, crimson flowers.

Other native plants are found in a larger geographical area, some spanning the whole of North America.

American beautyberry (Callicarpa americana) has a native range from Virginia to Arkansas, Texas and Florida.

 

Natives are lovely planted together.

Plateau goldeneye (Viguiera dentata), Turkscap, and in the bottom, right corner, the subdued, pink-blossomed Barbados Cherry (Malpighia glabra)

 

While blooms are boss (at least, I think so!), don’t forget about our native grasses, appropriate for shade and sun situations, lending softness and grace to the garden.

Big muhly (Lindheimer’s muhly) in autumn plume

 

Plant natives.

Pipevine Swallowtail, feeding on Frostweed (Verbesina virginica)

Painted Lady butterfly on Frostweed

Migrating Monarch on White mistflower (Ageratina havanensis)

Big muhly, Shrubby blue sage, Turkscap, non-native, containerized bougainvillea

Texas craglily (Echeandia texensis)–blooming in fall

Wild blue aster, Fall aster (Symphyotrichum oblongifolium), turning happy, autumn-aster faces. imploring you to plant natives!

You’ll be amazed at the transformation of your once-boring swath of grass as it becomes enlivened with blooms-n-berries, foliage-n-flowers, and critters galore–all with less effort from you.

Go native plants!

Happy Texas Native Plant Week!

Blue Mistflower (Conoclinium coelestinum): A Seasonal Look

The first mistflower plant I ever grew was the Blue Mistflower, Conoclinium coelestinum.

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Like Gregg’s Mistflower which I profiled in the most recent A Seasonal Look, this stunning native ground cover is a good autumn perennial to showcase for Texas Native Plant Week. I always think of this mistflower as the blue-headed step-child, especially in comparison to the more commonly grown Gregg’s Mistflower.  Blue Mistflower is not as well-known or popular–not one of the cool kid plants, or at least that’s true here in the Austin area.  I’m amazed at how few gardeners know about this lovely Texas ground cover.

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Just as tough and hardy as its more admired cousin, it’s also a real looker. Pollinator gardening notwithstanding, the Blue Mistflower is my personal favorite.  The deep purple-blue flowers,

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…in all their puffy pulchritude,

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…make me swoon!

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I don’t think  photos capture the depth of its color.  You’ll just have to plant this beauty and see for yourself.

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Interestingly, Blue Mistflower has a much wider range of distribution than the Gregg’s Mistflower.  I follow several Northern garden bloggers who’ve planted this pretty, though I think it’s probably an annual or tender perennial  in some of those places that experience true winter.  Its native range is Texas to Florida, but also northward into Illinois and New Jersey (plenty of winter there!) and is grown in other parts of the U.S. as well.

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I purchased a four-inch pot of Blue Mistflower for about $1.50 (I don’t remember exactly how much I spent, but it was very little) some 20 years ago.  Over time, it filled in a back corner of my garden and put on a reliably gorgeous late summer/fall flower show every year.  Eventually, that spot became…something.  I never quite figured out the problem, but one spring, only about 10 sprigs returned.  So I popped them out of that spot and into a another which receives a tiny bit full sun, but primarily dappled light, throughout the year.

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The Blue Mistflower patch has thrived. With an almost identical growth and seasonal pattern as the Gregg’s, the zenith of its blooming occurs during September, October and into November.  It is at its peak now.

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As the autumn days shorten and cool, the blooms fade from deep blue-purple,

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…to soft beige.

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After the first hard freeze, the seed heads are wheat-colored and fragile.  Like the Gregg’s, I’ve never experienced the Blue Mistflower seeding out, but if you’re so inclined, it’s at this point of the year that the seeds can be sowed.

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I tend to leave the winter dormant plant alone until I can’t stand it anymore, then cut it back to not-much-of-anything, except for a light covering of Shumard Oak leaves.

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You’ll notice the soaker hose which runs  through the middle part of the Blue Mistflower plant.  That one hose is generally enough for summer watering, although by hot August and especially if there’s been no precipitation, I sometimes hand water the Blue Mistflower because one hose doesn’t deliver enough moisture to cover all the roots of the entire group.  I don’t want the Blue Mistflower to sulk, bloom less, and then cause me to miss out on its gorgeous blooms. I’m not the least bit selfish as a gardener, am I?

With the warmth of spring, the plant returns rapidly.   If you look closely at the bottom of the photo, you can see the newly emerged spring growth in March.

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Once spring has sprung, the form of the ground cover is firmly established.

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While not much of a re-seeder in my garden, Blue Mistflower spreads by the roots.  I keep it in bounds by weeding up the edges and passing along sprigs to other gardeners.  As with the Gregg’s, I plant smaller evergreens like Iris and Purple Coneflower at the perimeter edges and I also have some container plants placed to visually enforce a stopping point and to give some winter interest. If this Blue Mistflower were planted in full sun, I would have more options for evergreen and structural plants, but this gardener plays the plant cards she’s dealt.

In summer, the foliage is thick and lush.

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More than the Gregg’s, which has a comparably controlled growth habit, the Blue Mistflower is a straggler, stems growing wonky and wild over the course of its growing season and that’s especially noticeable once its purple, puffy, floral hats appear.

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If you’re a neat-freak gardener you might not like this plant, but I find it casually charming.

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Adding to its rangy behavior, Blue Mistflower also puts out stems taller than any of  the Gregg’s–upwards of two feet or so.

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The leaves of the Blue are triangular-shaped and a darker green shade contrasting with the palmate form and light green foliage of the Gregg’s,

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Over the course of summer the foliage continues to grow  and the perennial maintains itself as an unexciting, but generally handsome green ground cover, tolerant of heat and summer dry, and sporting the occasional bloom here or there.

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In August and in tandem with the Gregg’s Mistflower–the fun begins with fuzzy-wuzzy blooming!!

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While Tina the Gardener finds the flowers more alluring than those of the Gregg’s Mistflower, the same cannot be said about most pollinators.  The Blue is a good pollinator plant, but not an excellent one, like the Gregg’s.

Monarchs like it just fine.

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Honeybees tend to agree.

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This Southern Oak Hairstreak, Satyrium favonius favonius, isn’t complaining about Blue Mistflower, either.

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But I’ve never witnessed quite the variety of  pollinator activity on the Blue Mistflower as on the Gregg’s.  If you only have room for one,  I’d suggest the Gregg’s, because the pollinators need all the  help we can give them and the Gregg’s Mistflower is a Boss Pollinator Plant.

There is a fast flying and hardly landing tiny moth or skipper that I see each fall, flitting around the base of the plant, but it’s been a tough one to capture.  I finally snagged a decent photo of one who perched (briefly!) for the camera.

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I’ve also seen this one on the Gregg’s too, but it seems to prefer the Blue.  I’m glad the Blue Mistflower has a committed pollinating pal.

Even though it’s not quite the power-house pollinator plant that some others are, Blue Mistflower still warms my heart and will always be welcome in my Texas garden!

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As a whole and as an addition to a native plants/wildlife garden, Blue Mistflower is a terrific choice for anyone gardening in its range, who seeks a water-wise, attractive, hardy native ground cover that thrives–in both bloom and foliage–in sun or part-shade.

In Spring.

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Summer.

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Fall.

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Winter.

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