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Welcome to my zone 9a habitat garden near Houston, Texas.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Munchers, suckers, and crunchers

The plants in my garden are under severe stress. In fact, I'm beginning to lose some despite my best efforts to keep them going. I noticed this morning that one of the dwarf Walter's viburnums in my front bed is almost entirely brown. I don't think I can save it. And this is supposed to be a tough plant.

There are other plants around the garden that are looking bad as well. Another viburnum, the "snowball" that finally bloomed for the first time this spring, has lost some branches already. Sigh.

When plants are under stress, they attract insect pests, so one might expect that the insects would be having a field day in my garden just now, but this really hasn't been the case. My theory is that a couple of consecutive cold winters have knocked them back a bit, and perhaps the drought has affected them as well. For whatever reason, I really haven't noticed that many insect problems in the garden so far. Knock wood.

I haven't even noticed as many butterfly caterpillar "pests" this spring. Of course those pests really don't deserve the name of pest because they turn into butterflies, repaying us with their beauty for any leaves their children may munch.


One exception to the fewer caterpillars observation is the larvae of the Giant Swallowtail butterfly. I have plenty of these "bird dropping" caterpillars, of all sizes, on my little citrus trees.


Here's a somewhat bigger larva on the Meyer lemon. The lemon is about the size of a plum at this point.


In addition to the caterpillars already hatched, there are still plenty of these eggs scattered around on the leaves as well.


With luck, at least some of those eggs and caterpillars will one day morph into one of these magnificent Giant Swallowtails.

I haven't had many Monarch caterpillars or butterflies this year and I haven't seen any of the butterflies in a few weeks now, but the butterfly weed that would be the food for their larvae is under attack from a real pest which, if left undisturbed, will suck the life from the plants.


Yuck! As you can see, this plant has a massive infestation of aphids. It will be a goner if it doesn't get help. But help is on the way! I had noticed several ladybugs in the area recently. Ladybugs dine on aphids, but I tell you what really loves aphids are ladybug larvae and the ladybugs that I saw here have left some of their babies behind. You can even see one of them in profile already on the job at about the center of this picture.


You may find this hard to believe - I find it hard to believe myself - but this is the same plant photographed just 24 hours after the picture above. See any aphids? There may be one or two still left but most of them have been crunched by those ravenous eating machines, the ladybug larvae. You can see two very well fed ones in the picture.


Here is a close-up of another one. These offspring of ladybugs have been described as looking like alligators and it's a pretty apt description, I think. If you find any of these little "alligators" on your plants, don't panic. They are not after you. They are just hunting aphids and unless you are particularly fond of aphids, you should greet them with a smile.

The gardener has many allies in the fight against garden pests. Ladybugs, praying mantises, frogs and toads, anoles and snakes, as well as the birds, all play their roles and are most welcome in my garden. I've seen all of them in a walk through my garden this morning and I'm very glad to know that they are there and are on the job.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Lesson learned

Last year I added a bleeding heart clerodendrum, also known as the glory bower vine, to my garden. I enjoyed that vine quite a lot. It bloomed for me all summer and into the fall.


My bleeding heart clerodendrum late last September.

Then the frosts came and the plant died.

This spring, after the last frost, I cut the vine back but didn't rip it out, in hopes that it might still come back.

Weeks went by and nothing happened. The brown stubs of my former vine were all that was left of its former glory. When I thought of it as I walked past the bed where it had lived, I would tug on those stubs. I knew from long experience that if the roots were truly dead, the plant would come up with a firm tug. But there was still resistance to my tugs and so I let the former plant be.

More weeks passed.

A few days ago, as I was thinking about what I needed to do in my garden, it occurred to me that I had given that dead plant enough leeway. It was the middle of May already and, obviously, it wasn't coming back. So today, I grabbed my shovel and headed around to the bed to dig the vine out and prepare to plant something else there. As I approached the bed, this is what I saw:


After sleeping for five long months, the clerodendrum has awakened and is sending up new shoots.

I took my shovel back to the shed and went to get my camera to record the blessed event of the plant's rebirth. I don't know whether the plant will actually grow big enough to give me any of its pretty blooms this year, but it's alive and I'll give it time and space to grow.

I guess the moral to the story is that we should never, ever, ever, EVER give up. As long as the roots are firm, a miracle is always possible.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day: May 2011

Come and walk with me through my garden and let me show you some of my blooms.


You may have heard that we are suffering an exceptional drought in Texas, but it takes more than a little dry weather to daunt the heirloom "ditch lilies."


In the wildflower bed, a purple liatris blooms among the Mexican hat flowers.


Nearby, blanket flowers lift their colorful faces to the sun.


As do the flowers of tickseed.


In the wild hedge along the back fence, the elderberries are blooming and are frequently visited by butterflies like this Tiger Swallowtail.


When she finishes with the elderberry, she moves on to a pink buddleia.


Flowers in the herb garden are often overlooked because they tend to be rather inconspicuous, but I quite like the dainty little blossoms of the Mexican oregano, blooming here in front of the parsnips.


And what could be prettier than these little blooms of the citronella-scented geranium.


The African blue basil is not a culinary basil, but its blooms are very attractive to bees and other pollinators and I love its distinctive basil scent.


Surprisingly - to me at least - the Hinckley columbines are still sending out these lovely yellow blossoms to wave in the wind.


All over my garden, the many varieties of Salvia greggii plants have been blooming their hearts out for weeks.


The species cannas in the bed along the fence are sending up their flames of bloom.


And the yellow cestrum has bloomed continuously for weeks now.


I've shown you several of my daylilies recently. Here's a new one that is sending out its first blooms just in time for Bloom Day.


Yellow poppies and purple verbena make a nice combination.


Nearby, the Texas primrose adds another accent of yellow.


The 'Montrose Purple' vitex is covered with these not quite yet completely open lilac-like flowers.


One of the knocks on Knockout roses is that they lack scent, but when I walk past this bed of 'Radazz' I receive a wave of heavy sweet rose scent.


I find the same to be true of the pink variety, but I haven't noticed it with the yellow.


More sweet scent wafts up from the 'Laura Bush' petunia.


The gerberas turn their happy faces to the sun.


The Turk's cap 'Big Momma' is a great attractor of hummingbirds and butterflies.


These blossoms of the almond verbena shrub are not very showy but the scent is heavenly.


Also sweetly scented are the 'Meyer' lemon blooms. The tree already has several small lemons from an earlier flush of blooms but now it is full of flowers again.


The yellow bells of Esperanza are "ringing." The plant died back to its roots during the winter but lost no time in getting up and growing this spring.


Let's end our tour this month with the queen of the May garden, the Southern magnolia. My two large trees are covered with hundreds of these creamy white blossoms.

I'm so glad you stopped by for a visit. Please come back soon. And don't forget to visit our Bloom Day hostess Carol of May Dreams Gardens for links to other participating blogs.

Happy Bloom Day and happy gardening!

Friday, May 13, 2011

Rain

It finally happened. We did get some rain on my yard yesterday afternoon.

After teasing us with a few drops here and there all morning, it finally started raining for real in the early afternoon. It came down pretty steadily for more than an hour, sometimes hard, sometimes gently but all of it welcome.

About thirty minutes after the rain tapered off, I went out to look around and to check my rain gauge. I noticed that the surface of the ground already looked pretty dry again, even though it had obviously rained a good amount. The thirsty soil had sucked up every drop. The plants, though, all looked refreshed by their shower.

The rain gauge told me that we had received 1.2 inches of rain. If we could get about ten times that amount - not all at once, please! - over the next two to three weeks, it would go a long way toward breaking our drought.

Meantime, my plants and I are thankful for what we got, especially since we are now in stage one of mandatory water rationing, which means I can only water on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. The ten-day weather forecast shows a possibility of rain for us at the end of next week. I'll be keeping my fingers crossed.