Wednesday, October 23, 2013


Another host plant - this one for the Gulf Fritillary.  Passionvine.  This one isn't the native variety (though it is native to South America, so it could easily have found its way here eventually); I believe this one is Blue Passionvine.  The Fritillaries don't care.  To them, it's just food.  Beware - as with most passionvines, it can be a bit invasive and spreads most by roots - surprisingly I've found that this one spreads by roots, but will pop up like 3' away from the mother plant.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Post Haircut

 Finally found some time earlier in the month to trim up the garden beds.  Above is the front bed after removing all the dead and dying things (I don't think you realize how big this is for me - removing the dying things.  I usually just can't do it).

Below is one side of the hell strip after I pulled out a crap-ton of plants.  Eleanor's Gomphrena (I'm not sure of the type - fireworks maybe?) has grown and is now blooming.  In fact, my husband just asked the other day if I just planted it since he hadn't noticed it before. (no I didn't just plant it, but I did spread seed for it a while ago)

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Plant This: Milkweed (aka SAVE THE MONARCHS!)

Dude.  I don't know if you've heard yet, but the Monarchs need our help.*  They have been taking some devastating hits to their population over the last few years. And by devastating, I mean like over 60% of the population just gone.  We're talking worse than the Black Death here, people.

Providing adult food sources is a good start - they tend to LOVE Gregg's Mistflower.  Other good plants seem to be Shrubby Boneset (also called White Mistflower), a whole host of daisy-like plants (disc shaped that are wide and flat), and even Lantana and Turk's Cap (though it tends to be frequented more by the Fritillaries).

BUT!  If you REALLY want to help the monarchs, you'll also plant host plants.  Or, in other terms, the plant that the caterpillars will eat (it never ceases to amaze me how many people will plant host plants only to get upset when they're munched down to nubbins by the insect they are hosting).  The Monarchs only lay eggs on milkweed plants.  And yes, your milkweed plants will be chewed down to twigs.  BUT! you'll be helping the monarchs, which is really more important anyway.  Gardening for nature is why you garden, isn't it?

Grouping your plants together to create large masses of the same color will help attract butterflies since they are near sighted (that's probably why they like the mistflowers - the plants create a large grouping all by themselves).  Plant some milkweeds close by, add some dishes of water with some rocks in them (for the butterfly to perch on)and Voila!  Instant Butterfly garden.  If you want to get really ambitious, you can add throw out some fruit trimmings, leave one spot of dirt that isn't covered by mulch (for puddling), and a large clumping grass (for protection at night), and you'll have a garden that the Monarchs will flock to.

* okay, right now probably isn't really the time to plant things like milkweed, but it IS time to plant most perennial plants like the shrubby boneset and lantana.  Plus some future planning is always a good thing.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Watering Trees During a Drought

Huzzah!  I have finally gotten around to writing a post about watering trees during a drought.

Step 1:  Realize that during a drought you will lose some plants.  If you're going to water to save plants, make sure you're watering to save the correct plants.  Note:  Your lawn should never be the plant you opt to save during a drought.  Your shade trees, on the other hand, should be.

Step 2:  Obtain yourself some "tree waterin' bukkits."  I am partial to using old cat litter containers.  Since I've switched to the type that comes in a giant jug, I can use them for everything!  Tree watering buckets, compost tea mixing buckets, seaweed and fish emulsion dilution, etc.  Wonderful things, they are.  Tip:  You get extra credit for making these as 'white trash' as you want.  I highly recommend writing "tree waterin' bukkit" on them.  But you can do what you want.

Step 3:  Figure out how much water your tree watering buckets hold.  I used an old milk carton to measure water.  Each of my green jugs holds 2.5 gallons.

Step 4:  Drill some small holes in the bottom of your bucket.  I didn't even bother getting out the drill - I just grabbed a drill bit (probably the 1/16th bit) and pressed it into the bottom while twisting until a hole formed.  Each bucket has 3 holes.  It took all of 5 minutes to do both buckets.

Step 5:  Calculate how much water each of your trees needs.*  Now this is going to require you to do a bit of math (or maths as our British friends say) (Note:  I'm using Linux so it always tells me that 'math' is incorrect because apparently the Fedora OS is British). Firstly, figure out the diameter of your tree by measuring the circumference of the trunk at about chest height.  Reminder:  circumference means 'around.'  Once you have the circumference (in inches), divide that number by 3.14 (Circumference = pi*diameter).  Voila! you have your diameter.  Use the handy table below to figure out how much water you'll need for your tree.  NOTE:  If the tree is stressed, use an amount at the upper end of the range, if the tree is healthy you can use an amount at the lower end of the range.  NOTE2:  Trees planted within the last year should always get 10 gallons, and they should be watered closer to the trunk in step 7 since all the roots are going to be closer to the trunk due to being still roughly in pot shape)

Step 6:  Figure out how many bucketfuls of water you'll need to use on your tree - you can accomplish this by dividing the number of gallons needed by the number of gallons in your bucket - that's why I have two buckets - two buckets = 5 gallons.  Much easier to divide by 5 than by 2.5.

Step 7:  Line up your bucket with the dripline of the tree - that is roughly the location where the branches end or further out - no need to water right next to the trunk.  Fill your bucket with water and come back 15-20 minutes later as the bucket will take a while before it's drained (that's the point - low and slow...just like barbeque!)

Step 8:  After the bucket is empty, move it to a different spot along the dripline, refill, and let drain.  Continue moving the bucket until you've watered as much as needed for the tree.  Obviously this works better for trees that are smaller than for those that are older - if only because with larger trunked trees, you'll be moving the buckets around for hours.  As it stands right now, I can water all of my trees in the front yard in an afternoon.  I also don't water them every week - I usually only do about once a month, and I'll start watering the Bradford Pear before the others because it gets hit harder by the drought.

Step 9:  Voila!  Your trees are watered and now they won't die.  You're welcome.

* Iffin you don't like my wording or directions, you can see an official City of Austin handout on tree care during droughts here:

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Getting the Good Stuff

So this last weekend was both wonderful and horrible.  Okay, not horrible - just frustrating.

Milkweed with rain drops

On the wonderful side - we got rain!  I got about 4" at my house.  According to all the official gauge data I can find, we didn't get that much.  We are supposed to have gotten 3" or less.  But our rain gauges at the house were showing 4".  Is it possible that our rain gauges will read high?  Absolutely.  It's also possible that they read low.  I really should get a nice rain gauge and put it somewhere a bit more conducive to measuring the amount of rain we got (perhaps having it on the top of the fence would be a bit more accurate).

Non-fragrant plumeria bloom

On the frustrating side - right after I came back from hanging out with a group of Austin area garden bloggers, a stray dog came running up to me.  The poor thing was soaked (we had just had a deluge of rain - based on the fact that the roadways were wet and Lake Creek was a-flowin' full).  He also was not neutered, and when I took him to the vet office down the street, he was not microchipped, nor did he have any tags (though he did have a harness on) (take away lesson for you, dear reader - spay and neuter your pets, get them microchipped, AND have tags on them). 

Poor lost doggie who may end up being put down due to the fact that all the animal shelters in the region are overstuffed with animals.  Make sure to microchip your pets, people!  The last stray I found wandering our street had a microchip, and was reunited with her owners within an hour.  Microchips work. 
We kept him overnight and then took him to the Williamson County Regional Animal Shelter since the Austin Animal Center won't accept strays from the Williamson County portion of the City of Austin because...well, I'm not sure why.**  Their website makes no indication that they do not accept animals from the Williamson County portion of Austin's jurisdiction... It's a conundrum!  I'm glad I know this now - 1) if I find a stray animal again, I know to take him to Georgetown, not Austin and 2) when it comes time for me to make my yearly donations to the animal shelter, I can put the money where it will do the most good.

**disclaimer:  this is what I was told by both a staff person and a volunteer after we took the dog there.  This, naturally, goes against what the 311 operator told me, not to mention that there was no mention during my own AAC volunteer training that they do not service the entire Austin full purpose jurisdiction.  Is it possible that the two people I talked to at the shelter are misinformed and the Austin Animal Center actually does service the Austin full purpose jurisdiction? Yes, it is a distinct possibility.  Is it also possible that the Austin Animal Center only services Travis County? Yes, that's also possible.  I guess what I'm trying to say is that "your mileage may vary" and if you find a stray within the City of Austin Full Purpose Jurisdiction (which does include portions of both Williamson and Hays Counties) that you should call the shelter directly and ask a staff person there instead of calling 311 first (note:  chances are likely if you call the shelter and tell them you need to file a found animal report, they will send you to 311 because that's the quickest way for the information to get into the system.  Just ask them to clarify, if you can't keep the animal, that you are allowed to bring it into the shelter - and make sure to get their name so if you show up and are told that they won't accept the animal, you can at least say "I spoke with so-and-so on the phone 30 minutes ago, s/he told me to bring the animal here").