Thursday, December 30, 2010

Garden Update

The time between Thanksgiving and Christmas is a whirlwind every year. The garden is often left to fend for itself. Too much shopping, decorating and partying to be done to leave much time to play in the dirt. Today, I took a tour of the yard, surveying the gardens after the 5” of rain we got yesterday. One thing to mention is that I was wearing a t-shirt and I got a couple of mosquito bites while on my tour.
The cool-season weeds are starting their march forward into the yard and gardens. This is their time of year, they love the cool, wet weather (although today was warm, the high was 76 degrees F with 94% humidity).
Looks like the tomato plants finally succumbed to the cold weather we had earlier this week. I’m grateful for how long they lasted, they were my first successful crop of fall tomatoes.
I harvested more uju kitsus today. I’m up to 32 so far with about as many still on the tree. This was the first fruit tree I planted, it’s so exciting to be able to harvest citrus from your backyard.
The most striking thing I noticed while wandering around was how green the grass is. It is rather startling to see it this green, I mean, it’s December!
The garlic and onions I planted last month are doing well. Although, only about half of the onions survived, it was too dry and I didn’t keep them well-watered. Next up are plantings of lettuce, spinach, radishes, more onions if I can find them, & carrots.
And, we had another hawk sighting. Our second in the last few months and our second in the 7 years we have lived in this house. I think this one is a Cooper’s Hawk.
It is exciting to see these large birds from our living room window, but a little sad that nature is playing out in my backyard, as the hawks (so I hear) are often looking for lunch at backyard birdfeeders.Click here to see our other Cooper's Hawk sighting.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Yard of the Month

I don’t garden in my front yard. I mean there are the required foundation plantings, but I really don’t do much in the front. You won’t find one picture of a plant from the front of my house in this blog. The front yard is in the shade of three live oaks, the sprinklers take care of the watering and the plants just handle the rest. Another drawback is that I can’t let the dogs hang out and garden with me in the front yard without constantly keeping an eye out for cats or people walking by. I do have intentions of spiffing up the front, but I just haven’t gotten around to it yet.

So, why am I talking about yard of the month? Well, this time of year people in my neighborhood win yard of the month with their Christmas decorations. When I was a kid we slowly grew our yard decorations until it was just plain crazy. We didn’t have any neighbors, so no one really saw all our hard work, but us. We had a great time creating a bigger and better display every year. So, this is how the madness began.

My husband and I bought our first house when we lived in Colorado, but we never spent the holidays there so I never put up many decorations. After we moved back home to Houston, is when the madness resurfaced. The light show has been growing at our new house for the past 7 years.

And this year, for the first time ever, we won yard of the month!


Merry Christmas Everyone!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

December Garden Bloggers Bloom Day

It is starting to look like Fall here, citrus are turning orange, leaves are covering the ground and it’s kinda cool outside.

The pentas are still growing strong. I really like this variety, it’s tall and lanky instead of short and bushy and it has done very well in my garden this year.

This grouping has been blooming almost all year. It is a cuphea ‘David verity’ in the very back, in the middle is a shrimp plant, and in the foreground is chenille plant (Acalypha hispida).


The pink trumpet vine (Podranea ricasoliana) looks great against the clear blue sky.


This salvia pops up all over the garden, but it’s a long bloomer and the bees and butterflies like it.

IMG_2022This cuphea been blooming most of the year. It is probably either
cuphea ‘Starfire Pink’ or cuphea ‘Twinkle Pink’.

IMG_2023I love the delicate blooms of the Diamond Frost euphorbia. It almost didn’t make it through the hot and dry summer, but it’s happy now.

IMG_2024A few roses still blooming. The knockouts have a few blooms too.


Iochroma cyaneum is showing some signs of frost damage, but the blooms are lookin’ good.

Fruit from the uju kitsu aka a sweet lemon is ready to be picked.

The duranta is still going strong. It has flowers for the bees and berries for the birds.
These black-eyed susans made a comeback (along with the nut sedge).
To all the northern gardeners, I hope you enjoy my pictures without snow covered plants.  Look at it this way, you get to have a gardening off season, a time to rest, a time to contemplate the spring or for you workaholics a time to work on the inside of your house.
Visit May Dreams Gardens to see more Garden Blogger’s Bloom Days.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

2010 Vegetable Garden Winners

The winners are:
  1. Sweet Millions (tomato)
  2. Lemon Boy (tomato)
  3. Big Bomb (pepper)
  4. Orlando (eggplant)
I planted all of these plants in February and March of this year. They were given one application of cottonseed meal in the middle of summer, but that’s it as far as fertilizer (and no pesticides were used!). They all put on a great show in the spring, survived a Houston summer, and produced into the fall and winter.
IMG_1874Tomato plants in Houston will often get as tall as the cage you have around them. Both the Lemon Boy and Sweet Millions grew up and over the 5 foot cages they are in. In mid-summer after the other tomato plants died, these still had some green leaves and were producing new stalks from the base, so I cut them back to about one foot tall and let them keep growing.
My favorite is Sweet Millions, pictured on the left after I cut it back and it again grew up and over its cage. I’ve picked about 200 Sweet Millions in the past week. Yes, folks that’s right in December!IMG_1884

The first Lemon Boy of the fall crop was picked a couple of days ago. There are a few more starting to blush, but tonight's low is expected to be 35, so they probably won’t hang in there much longer.Why can’t we get one of those weird Houston December warm fronts? I really could use some fresh tomatoes…
IMG_1881I bought the Big Bomb peppers in hopes of recreating an awesome tapas dish I had in Auckland, NZ last year. It was basically peppers stuffed with cheese, but it was really good.
While this one was the right size and shape it was way hotter than the ones in New Zealand. Too hot for me, but my husband loved them. He dried them in the food dehydrator and pulverized them in the coffee grinder. Now he has hot pepper powder for the year.
The Orlando eggplant is amazing. It has been producing heavily all year long. It is about 4 foot tall and almost as wide. Many online sources say you can pick the fruit when it is a small as 2”, but I picked mine anywhere from 5”-8”. IMG_1869
On a side note, I also planted an eggplant variety called Turkish Orange. I have to say, that I was not very impressed. It was growing next to the one in the picture above, but was eventually overshadowed, so I pulled it up. It may be because I didn’t know what to do with the little orange tomato looking eggplants, but I probably won’t try them again.
In the foreground of the above picture is broccoli. My Saturday harvest included broccoli, tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant…all at the same time!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

‘Tis the season for Citrus

Tonight I went to the Urban Harvest Growing Citrus in Houston class taught by Bob Randall himself. For those of you not in the know, Bob Randall is the author of Year Round Vegetables, Fruits, and Flowers for Metro Houston, he is also the recently retired director of Urban Harvest, and as far as I am concerned the foremost expert on fruit and vegetable growing in this fine city.

I signed up for the entire Backyard Orchard Series, I wasn’t particularly interested in growing more citrus, but this class was part of the deal so I thought I would go and listen.

I currently have 8 fruit trees in my backyard, 3 of which are citrus (uju kitsu, meyer lemon & satsuma ‘dobashi beni’). I was really thinking that I couldn’t fit many more fruit trees into my landscape, but I got a few good ideas tonight. (Not to mention Dr. Bob doesn’t live that far from me and he says he has over 100 varieties of fruit in his backyard.)

What changed my mind…
  • Kumquats. These are relatively small trees that don’t take up as much space as most citrus. I don’t care for many seeds in fruit and I noticed Urban Harvest is selling a couple of seedless varieties at the fruit tree sale in January.
  • Citrus don’t have to have full sun! They are actually understory trees. Wow, this opens up all kinds of possibilities. I have several available places that get part-sun.
  • He also mentioned a good idea about planting them against the south or southwest side of your house. Most of my fruit trees are planted on the south side of my house in full sun. But, the southwest side, now that’s a thought. I just happen to be putting in a new flowerbed there, a citrus tree would make a nice ornamental planting.
On a related note, did you know that citrus comes true from seed almost 100% of the time. That means that if you find a fruit you like, just plant the seed and the fruit from that tree will likely be exactly what you expect. But, if you do this, don’t let the seed dry out. Just eat your fruit then immediately plant your seed.

Speaking of citrus, one of my uju kitsus fell to the ground a few weeks ago. I’ve been saving it on the countertop while it continues to ripen. Tonight, I had the first uju kitsu of the season. You’re probably saying to yourself, what is an uju kitsu!? Well, they are difficult to describe, they are like a really mild orange with a hint of lemon.

The Urban Harvest Fruit Tree sale is January 15th at Univ. of Houston. Check out the list of what they will have for sale. If you’re busy that day, don’t worry there are other fruit tree sales around town in the spring. Keep an eye on my event calendar for more fruit tree sale information.

And don’t miss the Citrus Tasting event on Saturday, Dec 4, you can sign up for it on the Urban Harvest website.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Epic Fail

I have (actually had is a better word) three squash plants this fall. A yellow squash, a zucchini (Black Beauty), and a white bush scallop aka pattypan. They were all doing great, nice big dark green leaves, deep yellow flowers, and the pattypan produced an abundance of fruit.

Then, around the first of October, it hit.
Powdery MildewIMG_1533

I ignored it for a week or so. Maybe the stuff will just disappear…

Hmm, it is still there.

Time to research this. I am almost exclusively an organic gardener and I have successfully grown squash before (but that was in Colorado, where I didn’t seem to have these kinds of problems). So, I (lightly) researched organic treatments for powdery mildew.

I stumbled upon this blog post about using a milk and water mixture to treat powdery mildew. Note: One of the keys to this method is faithfully applying this mixture on a weekly basis. That should have been a red flag.

Fast forward 6 weeks:
Failure refers to the state or condition of not meeting a desirable or intended objective, and may be viewed as the opposite of success. (wikipedia)

That sounds about right.


Criteria for Failure (wikipedia)
A situation considered to be a failure by one might be considered a success by another. Similarly, the degree of success or failure in a situation may be differently viewed by distinct observers or participants, such that a situation that one considers to be a failure, another might consider to be a success, a qualified success or a neutral situation.

No doubt the powdery mildew considers this a success, not a failure. DH might also consider this a success since we were being overrun with pattypans. I however, consider this a failure.

Types of Failure (wikipedia)
   1. Failure to anticipate-check
   2. Failure to perceive-check
   3. Failure to carry out a task- check

So, that’s my sad tale of powdery mildew this year. Although, that’s not to say that I won’t test this organic approach again. Just because it didn’t work this time doesn’t mean it is ineffective or does it?? Have any of you tried this before? Do you have a recommended organic solution to powdery mildew? I would love to hear about it.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day from Big Bend

I’ve spent the past week in Big Bend Ranch State Park and Big Bend National Park. I wanted to post this on Monday, but Wi-Fi was hard to come by out there.
For those of you who have not heard of Big Bend, it is along the Texas/Mexico border along the big bend in the Rio Grande. It takes awhile for most people to get there, it really isn't close to anything, but it's an interesting place to visit. I'll post a few pictures from my trip in the next few days.
This is what was blooming there on Garden Bloggers Bloom Day.
Desert Marigold Baileya multiradiata
Wooly Paperflower Psilostrophe tagetina
Tree Tobacco Nicotiana glauca
Yellow Stingbush Eucnide bartonioides
possibly Centaury Centaurium calycosum

Thanks to May Dreams Garden for hosting Garden Bloggers Bloom Day!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Wordless Wednesday

Playing around with a new IPad app I downloaded today, it’s called ColorSplash.

Garden Walk Buffalo

Jardin Botanico de Quito

If you like these pictures, let me know, but please don’t steal ‘em. If you would like to redistribute photography from this blog, email Houston Garden Girl.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Hawk Sighting

Yesterday, my husband captured this picture from our living room. I’ve never seen a hawk in our neighborhood, either because I haven’t been looking or they are uncommon in the middle of Houston (not sure which).  I used the Backyard Bird Finder from National Geographic to try to identify it. I think it is a young hawk. Possibly a Red-Shouldered Hawk or Cooper’s Hawk. I’m not a bird expert, so if someone knows what bird this is, please let me know.


Sunday, October 24, 2010

Mercer Plant Swap

I prepared for the swap on Friday night, digging up plants & taking cuttings, part of the time wearing my headlamp since it is getting dark earlier. I loaded the car with plants, extra plastic pots, chips for the potluck, and a chair. Saturday started with an early morning 7-mile run as part of my half-marathon training. After a quick wardrobe change, I was on my way north to Mercer Arboretum. There must have been around 30 swappers there plus friends, children, and spouses.

IMG_1549 There is a lingo to the plant swap and there is definitely etiquette. There are what we call pre-trades, these are trades you set up ahead of time with other people, usually through email or message boards. Pre-trades are always kept under your table so everyone knows they are not available. There’s also the orphan pile. It’s usually started toward the end of the swapping. It’s a pile where you put the plants you don’t want to take home with you and it’s a free for all for anyone who wants a few more plants.

There’s great camaraderie at a plant swap and you can always find a new plant that you’ve never heard of, but will grow in your area. Over the years, I’ve come home with several new plants from the swap. Many of them have shown up on a Garden Bloggers Bloom Day. Some that I can think of are firespike, pinecone ginger, rock rose, angel trumpet, hibiscus, salvia coccinea, daylilies, clerodendrum bungei, variegated duranta, gold edge duranta, crocosmia, & mexican turk’s cap.

IMG_1551 When my garden was smaller I always came home with more plants than I brought, but this year the goal was to come home with less. I decided to do all of my trades as pre-trades this year. Anything else that I brought with me was anyone’s for the asking. I brought home a great selection, some plants that I already have, but want more of as I work on my garden expansion project and a few that are new to me. Some are cuttings, while others are already in pots. I’m sure you’ll see a few of these show up in future GBBD posts.

A big thanks to our swap organizer and support crew! They did a great job as usual!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Mystery Hibiscus

On occasion, I have been known to go to the local plant swaps. There’s usually one at Mercer and one in Clear Lake every Spring and Fall. The plant swaps usually have a table of freebies, especially at the end of the swap when everyone wants to get rid of the plants they brought, but didn’t trade. I think it was Spring 2009, when I found this hibiscus cutting sitting on the freebie table. I thought, what the heck, I’ll try to root it and whatever flower color it is, will be a surprise. Well, it rooted, but I didn’t plant it in the ground until this year. Yesterday, I was looking out the window and noticed a bright color where nothing has been blooming lately…it was that hibiscus.


Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Bed Building

I woke up Saturday morning with a flurry of ideas for the yard. I must have been dreaming about expanding the gardens.

IMG_1536 The onslaught of plant sales this past month has caused an explosion of plants on the driveway (my current nursery). These are plants without a home. I recently read Carol’s GBBD post on May Dreams Gardens, she mentioned a nursery bed. Now, that’s what I need. A temporary bed to plant all my impulse buys in until I find a home for them. (note to the reader: another solution would be to stop buying plants on impulse, but what would be the fun in that? :))

Besides a nursery bed, I want to expand a couple of existing beds, mulch around the trees, make a curve around the corner, increase the angle here and there, oh yeah I still need a place for that fig tree and the lemon tree, and I need to water. Uggh, I’m tired just writing about it.

IMG_1512Here’s the start of the plan, repositioning the edging for the expanded garden and mulching around one of the pecans.

I created the circle at a 5’ radius around the tree by using a hand rake. 


Then, I put newspaper on the grass. The newspaper will kill the grass and act as a weed barrier for awhile.


Wet the newspaper thoroughly then put the mulch on top. It’s just that easy. I used eight 2 cu ft bags of mulch for a 10’ diameter circle.

Ta da…
Next will be filling in the area on the left of the tree (in the last picture) with dirt for the expanded flowerbed. I’ll also transplant the shorter plants at the edge of the old border to the new border. And, lest I forget, train the dogs to stay out of this new bed. I’m sure they are wondering why their part of the yard keeps shrinking. Poor puppies.

Gratuitous puppy picture

Saturday, October 16, 2010

October Garden Bloggers Bloom Day

Happy Garden Bloggers Bloom Day to all!

It has finally cooled off in Houston although we haven’t had rain for about a month. Once the first cool front hit I thought to myself, finally I’m done with the watering chores. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Us humans are loving the cool, dry weather, but the plants are suffering without the rain.

Despite the dry weather, and probably because of the cool weather, there are still many plants blooming in the garden. Let’s see which ones…

Desert Rock Rose

Blue Queen Saliva & Gomphrena
I'm actually leaning towards this being Indigo Spires Salvia instead of Blue Queen. Does anyone have an expert opinion?

I almost thinned all of the blue mist flower out earlier this year. It was just taking up space and had only a couple of disappointing blooms. Luckily, I was busy with other things so it remained in the garden. Over the last 3 or 4 weeks it has exploded in blooms. So happy I kept it.

Candlestick Plant (cassia alata)
I love the candlestick plant. I had one last year near the compost pile, but it didn't survive the winter. These two came up in the vegetable garden, they were a gift from the compost that I spread there in the spring.

Pink Trumpet Vine (podranea ricasoliana)

Iochroma cyaneum

Pink Surprise Bush

Salvia vanhouttei

The salvia vanhouttei has unique maroon blooms, I bought this one at one of the local plant sales last year.

Other plants blooming are: torenia, penta, hot lips salvia, mexican bush sage, gaura, chenille plant, batface cuphea, salvia coccinea, white turks cap, duranta erecta, yellow cestrum, knock-out roses, scented jasmine, angelonia, purple porterweed, & hamelia.

Visit May Dreams Gardens for more Garden Bloggers Bloom Days.