Sunday, March 13, 2011

Spring Gardening

This weekend really kicked off the 2011 spring gardening season.  I have planted a little bit of seed already, but this is the first full weekend dedicated to yardwork of the year.  I had a few goals.  First and foremost, I needed to get the front yard planted.
2011 Spring Gardens
This is what I had to work with. Not a lot, really. A pretty bare slate. I had placed an order for rootstock of big bluestem, indiangrass, artemesia, and gayfeather and they had arrived Thursday evening.  They NEEDED to get in the ground ASAP, so that was #1. First, I had to edge the area, so I spent some time installing the necessary edging.
2011 Spring Gardens
After edging, I had to get rid of everything growing in the bed so I was starting from as fresh a palette as possible.
2011 Spring Gardens
At this point, I was ready to plant. I spent the next few hours planting rootstock from the aftorementioned plants.
2011 Spring Gardens
2011 Spring Gardens
2011 Spring Gardens
2011 Spring Gardens
They may not look like much, but these plants should all get to be at least 5ft tall. The big bluestem has the potential to get 12ft seedheads on it. My inspiration for this area can be summed up by the back of the Native American Seeds catalog.
2011 Spring Gardens
I'm going to have more bunchgrasses in mine, but I'll have some variety in mine, too. I've got a few flower seeds to plant in the area, also.
2011 Spring Gardens

While I was busy with all this on Saturday, my wife was working in the back of the house. We're working on finishing a bed along the back side of the house this year, and my wife was working on a portion of it. Roses seem to do well here with little attention, so she decided to plant some more.
2011 Spring Gardens
The small shrub towards the back is an ornamental pomegranate that seems to like the location, also. This area is going to get edged with landscape timbers and leveled some with topsoil in coming weeks. A drip irrigation system will also be installed here. Behind my wife (taking the photo) is a large ceramic pot (about 2' in diameter) that will become a water garden once the area is leveled. A cardinal was already drinking from the scant amount of accumulated rainwater today at lunch. More pictures and descriptions of this as it nears completion. The weeds will vanish in coming weeks, also.

My wife was also working on planting vines on our pergola that we built last year over the patio we built a few years ago. We chose to plant two carolina jessamine vines and two crossvines on the pergola. The jessamines have been blooming for a bit already, and the crossvines are just starting. That should give us nice spring color. The jessamines are evergreen, and the crossvines are semi-evergreen, so they should provide good year-round shade, hopefully with better coverage in the summertime when it's really hot.
2011 Spring Gardens
2011 Spring Gardens

Sunday was mostly finish work for me. I spent most of the day putting mulch down over the rootstocks I planted the day before. They need protection from the sun and they need that extra moisture retention the organic matter will provide. I harvested pine straw from the woods in the backyard for this. It's a little too "dirty" to put next to the house (full of sticks, pine cones, and shreds of various other plants from raking it up), but it's perfect for this landscape. Also, it probably saved me a couple hundred bucks from purchasing mulch of some sort. I marked off some paths through the area so we can walk through and view it. I will cover the paths with wood mulch - I have a big woodpile in back I've been needing to mulch and this will be the perfect spot for all of that.
2011 Spring Gardens
2011 Spring Gardens
I also planted some trees. In the front I planted two Texas redbuds, which are in bloom right now.
2011 Spring Gardens
I also planted a fan-tex ash in the back. I made a tree mistake last year and planted a bur oak in the backyard to shade a particularly hot part of the yard. The yard was just too dry and hot for that bur oak. It didn't completely die last year, but enough of it did die that it would look terrible as it came back this year. I decided to cut my losses and replace it with something more suited for the location. The ash is labeled as a tree that likes hot and sunny areas, is very drought tolerant, and will do well in very poor soils. Perfect! That's exactly the type of situation we have to work with. I didn't take any pictures of it, but it's a good 10ft tall already, which means it was quite rootbound. It'll take some TLC to help it put down a solid root system. I'll be running the drip irrigation system to this tree, so it should help.

We also got some nice hanging baskets to spruce up the pergola.
2011 Spring Gardens
2011 Spring Gardens
My wife also worked on the front beds where we've had problems with azaleas.  One of the Encore azaleas we planted a couple springs ago is still alive to our amazement, but all the others kicked the bucket awhile ago.  She moved the hostas around to shadier spots since they don't leaf out for very long in the sunnier spots.  They still had nice root systems, though, especially the patriot hostas.  The rest of the garden she seeded with a few varieties of annuals.  Some poppies, bachelor's buttons, and some other hardy flowers.  We have had no trouble with annuals in these beds, so why mess with something that works?  We just change them up every year for something new.

I'm very excited for the front bed that replaces a bunch of the lawn area.  Last year, mowing the entire lawn took almost two tanks of gas in the mower and I'm just fed up with that.  Especially since most of the front yard was just weeds, anyway, and all the sod was dead before we even moved in.  Stupid St. Augustine grass.  I seeded a bunch of centipede grass in the back earlier in the spring in some areas in dire need of some grass and it's doing well.  I will seed a much larger area with buffalo grass in the fall.  It's a native shortgrass from west Texas and does well on VERY little rain, so it should really spruce up the lawn areas with low maintenance sod.  The native grasses will really fill in and provide some height structure.  The gayfeather is a good hummingbird plant, so that should be exciting.  Soon, I'll be able to submit my paperwork for the Best of Texas Backyard Habitat certification.  The last thing I'm waiting on is the water feature and it should be done in a week or two.

Next up, the vegetables.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Naturalized Flowers

These pansies started blooming randomly in my yard within the past week.

<a href="" title="Naturalized pansies by mtbikernate, on Flickr"><img src="" width="500" height="375" alt="Naturalized pansies" /></a>
Photo by my wife

To be honest, I'm not strongly motivated to remove them at this point.  If they are hardy enough to seed themselves randomly in my yard (I sure didn't plant them) and they're not listed as invasive, I welcome the color from the flowers and the greenness from the leaves in a portion of my yard that doesn't grow many things well.

Since I'm not apt to spread chemicals or broadcast water all over the place, I am not going to grow a "perfect" manicured lawn.  What lawn space I do have is going to be filled with a wide variety of weeds and such.  I will fight battles worth fighting and I've got a lot of projects on my plate for the year.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Native Prairie Plantings

I am working on getting my yard certified as a Best of Texas Backyard Habitat.  I have most of the requirements in place already.  I have 0.8 acre with a pretty good variety of habitats - more than just lawn.  A good portion of my yard is wooded.  I really only have one requirement left - water.  I had originally been thinking I'd dig a small pond, but I started the planning process of that and decided it would be too difficult to keep viable in my area.  I'd have huge problems with evaporation and even bigger problems keeping it filled.

I decided, instead, that I would do a water garden in a pot.  A local garden center, Dragonfly, has an outstanding selection of suitable pots and the various accessories necessary to turn them into a water garden.  This will be a perfect addition to fulfill the requirements of the certification program's need for water.  The water garden will have aquatic plants growing in it, and I would hope that it would eventually attract breeding amphibians.

Part of the certification program (not a required portion, but a suggested portion) involves reducing or eliminating nonnative turfgrass lawn spaces.  I already had a part of the back yard that was beginning to naturally seed with some natives (mostly little bluestem) and I decided that I would help the area along by planting a mix of native grass seeds.  I found a place that deals with a lot of Texas native plants, Native American Seed, and found that their Eastern Savannah Grass Mix suits my area perfectly.  It has a great variety of grasses:
  Big Bluestem 
  Bushy Bluestem 
  Eastern Gamagrass 
  Broomsedge Bluestem 
  Little Bluestem 
  Prairie Wildrye 
  Virginia Wildrye 
  Sideoats Grama 
  Sand Dropseed 
  Sand Lovegrass

I also purchased some American beautyberry seeds from them.  I'm attempting to germinate some of them indoors because I have a particular place I want them to grow.  The rest I plan to direct-sow in the woods after the last frost.  I got a bunch of wildflowers from both them and Baker Creek that I plan to plant in various locations in my front and backyards.

Garden Prep Jan 2011
Fun prepping the seed bed for the native grasses.

After talking to the wife, I've decided I'm also going to eliminate some lawn in the front yard in favor of some native plantings.  This area I'm going to be a little more specific about what goes where.  Native American Seed sells rootstock of a variety of grasses and flowers and I think I'm going to go this route for some things.  In particular, I have my eye on the big bluestem, indiangrass, and gayfeather rootstocks.  I'll probably also put down their Caddo Mix wildflowers here.

I do plan to maintain some section of lawn grass, but I think I'd like to plant buffalograss, a native turf grass, in the remaining portions of lawn.  It does really well on low rainfall.  Even though the area does get good annual precipitation, it's a VERY droughty climate.  Last summer, we went a full 2-3mo without a single drop of rain, so the more drought-hardy my plantings, the better off they will be.

Garden Prep

The end of January saw the time to begin preparing the gardens for the 2011 season.  It was pretty warm here at the time, so conditions were great to get out and clean up all the fall debris.

While cleaning up, we found a few plants still going that have been hardy all winter (a few freeze/thaw cycles, even).  The carrots we planted in spring of 2010 were still going.  I had all but forgotten about them because they just weren't any good all summer.  Well, apparently they wanted the cool season through fall and winter to really put on some mass.  They were nice looking carrots when I pulled them all up.

Garden Prep Jan 2011

The chives we planted last year were also still going. Not great, but still there. Probably because they had been buried under mountains of unwanted grasses that began to fill the garden at the end of the fall.

Garden Prep Jan 2011

Our blackberries looked pretty good, too. They started out last spring pretty small. Since they only produce berries on 2nd year or older stems, we ought to get some more berries out of them this year. We only got a few last year, and the birds got 'em before they were ripe. Hopefully they produce enough this year to satisfy the birds and leave some for us. We planted 3 plants last year, but I'm considering adding 2 more to the spot since there's room.

Garden Prep Jan 2011

The major task of the day, however, was clearing out all of the dead plants left over from our vegetables and the weeds that came in after they died off. We have a pretty big mountain of stuff!

Garden Prep Jan 2011

It's ready now to add to the brush pile in the back. And the brush pile in the back is currently ready for me to bring a chipper in to shred all that stuff up into mulch. This mulch won't go into the vegetable garden. It'll be too full of unwanted seeds. But it'll be good to add a little bit into the compost bin and use the rest to lay out a mulch path through the woods.

I would really like to burn that stuff so I can incorporate the ash into the garden, but since we live inside the loop, we aren't allowed to do open burning...and that pile of stuff from the garden will create quite a raging inferno that would burn hot enough to sterilize a LOT of soil (and that would NOT be good for the garden). I will eventually be getting a legal firepit with a cover, and that will allow me to burn some material safely and have some ash and coals to add to the garden.

I've selected my list of plants and ordered all my seeds for this spring. I will probably have to do a summer seed order, too, for some fall stuff.

Green Zebra (these taste great)
Jelly Bean
Early Girl (great producers)
Dr. Wyche's Yellow
Chocolate Stripes

Everything else:
Danvers carrot
Black beauty zucchini
Mexican sour gherkin cucumber
Arugula (to put in pots - it's too hot in summertime for this in the garden)
Emerald giant pepper
Pandora striped rose eggplant
Dragon tongue beans
Tomatillo verde
Jalapeno pepper

Later in the season, depending on how everything else is producing, I may add in some pumpkins and watermelons if I have the space.  I got a single 20lb pumpkin last year (early season) and I still have some in the freezer.  I hear that some of the blue pumpkins make amazing baking pumpkins, and I may go with one of those varieties later.  I may also plant some radishes depending on what my space utilization looks like.  If I have a lot of space, I may dedicate a corner of the garden for underground veggies like onions, garlic, and potatoes.  We'll see, but if I plant any of that stuff, it probably won't be until fall.

Last year, I had the herb garden located within the fence of the vegetable garden.  Some things did well there, but others got too cramped and were choked out by the sweet basil.  This year, I'm moving the herb garden to an area right off the back of the patio to make more room for both the vegetables and the herbs.  I've chosen to plant a few of the same herbs, but a few new varieties.

Italian Parsley
Common Thyme
Oregano vulgare
Slo-Bolt Cilantro
Genovese Basil
Lemon Basil
Transplanting the remaining chives into the new location

Wednesday, January 19, 2011


Welcome to my new blog that's mostly about gardening, but generally about stuff I'm working on at home.  I'm spinning this off of my first blog, The GPS Geek because I feel like I'm diluting the content of that site with gardening and food topics.

Here, I'm keeping things organized somewhat, so you don't have to weed through other posts to find those garden topics.

On my plate this year is moving my herb garden outside of the "vegetable" space into its own area, and working on a significant amount of native Texas plantings.  I have a wildflower area I started last year that I'll be working to improve this year, and I'm going to plant a corner of my yard as native prairie.  Grasses go in this spring, and wildflowers will be planted in the fall.

I am also going to be finishing the pergola that was started when I moved into the house in 2008, installing drip irrigation around the yard, and planning to replace some of the dead grass in my front yard with native plantings that are more drought-resistant than San Augustine grass.