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

Friday, July 26, 2013

This week in the garden - #73

They're baaack! The bloodsuckers, that is.

One of the chief, maybe only, benefits of having a dry, dry summer has been the absence of mosquitoes. There have barely been any in the garden all summer, which has made for pleasant late afternoons on the patio. But with last week's rains, they are back with a vengeance. I went to fill my watering can from one of the rain barrels late this afternoon and my hand reaching for the spigot was swarmed by the nasty little biters.
                                                                
Well, we have to take the bad along with the good, I suppose. If dealing with mosquitoes is the price for getting rain, I'll still take the rain.

*~*~*~*

I'm resorting to the rain barrels this week because we are now under watering restrictions. My days to water are Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday after 8:00 P.M. until 8:00 A.M. So, if my plants get thirsty on other days, it's time to haul out the old watering can.

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Another bad result of last week's rains is that my garden has been overrun by weeds and grass. Well, it wasn't just the rains, it was the rains combined with the fact that the gardener was out of commission for several days with an illness. It's amazing what a difference just a few days can make in summer in this climate. Now, I need to call out my troops to help me bring order back to the garden. I can call but that doesn't mean they'll respond...

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Our temperatures are back near 100 degrees F. again this week and, digging in the beds, you'd never suspect that we had 3.5 inches of rain only a few days ago. It's dry again and likely to remain that way for the foreseeable future.

Some plants, though, are built to take the heat and the dryness.

In the wild hedgerow along the back fence is an eight foot tall and eight foot wide pokeweed plant. It has flourished and bloomed and now it is loaded down with these berries. Once they turn that shiny purple-black, they don't last long. The birds, especially the mockingbirds, love them!


 The 'Senorita Rosalita' cleome continues to be a dependable bloomer.


 Nearby, the angelonia matches it bloom for bloom.


And on the other side of the cleome lives a stand of summer phlox. The scent of these blossoms is wonderful.


 Nothing much discourages gerberas.


The bed of mixed zinnias that I planted from seeds in the spring is flourishing in spite of the fact that I have given it practically no care.


 'Katie' ruellia is another undaunted bloomer.


 The 'Dallas Red' lantana can take the heat just like the city to the north that gave it its name.


The hamelias, of course, are incorrigible. Nothing it seems can discourage their bloom. Except shade. They really must have that hot sun to thrive.


 Some of the roses, like this 'Ducher,' are beginning another round of flowering. Notice the little visitor, a small spider, at the top of the blossom.


Wax begonias are among our most dependable annuals for summer bloom.


This wedelia, planted as a groundcover, has done its job of covering the ground - and more. I love its pretty little daisy-like flowers.


All summer I've been impatiently waiting for the brugmansias to begin to bloom. Well, they are not there yet, but today most of the plants have these well-developed buds. It won't be much longer!

I hope you and your garden are flourishing in the summer heat. Remember, every day brings us closer to October!

Monday, July 22, 2013

Threatened wildlife

I found two disturbing reports in my inbox this morning. The first is from Journey North, the latest status report on this year's Monarch butterflies. The second was an announcement of the release of a new report from the American Bird Conservancy regarding the threat to wildlife from the world's most widely used pesticides, nicotine-like chemicals called neonicotininoids. Both are bad news for backyard wildlife.

First, the Monarchs. We've known for a while that the numbers are disastrously down this year. This is primarily a result of weather conditions in the past year that were unfriendly to the production of new butterflies. The drought and excessive heat last summer meant fewer butterflies produced, meaning there were fewer of them to overwinter in Mexico. The area of forest covered with Monarchs last winter was only 3 acres, compared to an average in the past of 17 acres. Obviously, that meant fewer of the colorful fliers heading north this spring.

But then the spring turned out to be unusually cool, even cold in the Midwest, which delayed the butterflies' migration northward. Some areas in the northern part of the butterflies' range are only now seeing their first migrants.

All of this, of course, has a domino effect. Fewer butterflies will be produced this summer. It is likely that the overwintering numbers again will be quite low. And next summer...?

The main enemy of the Monarch in all of this seems to have been unfavorable weather, but the role of pesticides cannot be overlooked.

The ABC's new report makes clear that the neonicotinoids have the potential to affect entire food chains. One of the co-authors of the report, Cynthia Palmer, emphasized that "the environmental persistence of the neonicotinoids, their propensity for runoff and for groundwater infiltration, and their cumulative and largely irreversible (my emphasis) mode of action in invertebrates raise significant environmental concerns."

These pesticides' toxicity to bees and other insects, including butterflies, has been well-documented and has received the most concern and attention from regulatory institutions worldwide. But the new report makes clear that this toxicity extends to birds and terrestrial and aquatic invertebrates as well as other wildlife. For example, a single kernel of corn coated with a neonicotinoid can kill a songbird. Even a tiny grain of wheat or canola treated with a neonicotinoid can fatally poison a bird.

Moreover, the report concludes that neonicotinoid contamination levels in both surface- and groundwater in the United States and around the world are already beyond the threshold found to kill many aquatic invertebrates. The report goes on to assert that part of the problem is that EPA assessments have greatly underestimated this risk, using scientifically unsound, outdated methodology that has more to do with "a game of chance than with rigorous scientific process."   (You can read the entire report here.)

The ABC is urging its members and other interested parties to contact their congressional representatives and ask them to support the Save America's Pollinators Act of 2013 as a first step in beginning to address this problem. Even if the act is passed and becomes law and neonicotinoids are better regulated, the persistence of these chemicals already in the environment does not bode well for the future of threatened wildlife like the Monarch butterfly. But we have to start somewhere.


Friday, July 19, 2013

This week in the garden - #72

 Rain!!! 

Yes, we finally got some measurable rain this week. The picture of the rain gauge was taken on Wednesday and shows 0.75 inch of rain, but earlier in the week, on two occasions, we got 0.50 and 0.125 inch of rain. So, if my math is correct, that means more than one inch of rain, actually 1.375 for the week. So far. There is still considerable moisture in the air and a possibility of more rain over the next few days, and while we certainly appreciate what we have gotten, more would be welcome.

*~*~*~*

Speaking of the weather, I've been a bit under it this week with a respiratory infection and accompanying fever, so I've spent the week mostly indoors.

But yesterday, I was feeling better and I did manage to get outside and I even had a camera in my hand when I saw this.


 A Spicebush Swallowtail butterfly! The first one of its kind that I had seen in the garden since...I can't remember when. In fact, it was the first swallowtail of any kind that I had seen in the garden in many weeks. I was so excited that I followed him around as he was sipping from the flame acanthus blossoms, snapping pictures as I went.


As always, there were lots of bees in the acanthus hedge and some of them took exception to sharing their bounty with an interloper.


But there were actually plenty of blossoms for everyone.


This butterfly seemed to be in pristine condition which leads me to believe that it had not been out of the chrysalis for long. They usually begin to show wear and tear on the wings within a few days of emerging.

As I've noted in other recent posts here, the butterfly traffic in the garden does seem to increasing slowly. I don't know if we'll ever get back to our usual summer numbers this year, but it is heartening to be seeing more of them and more varieties of them around my yard.

*~*~*~*


Although butterfly numbers have been down, there have been plenty of dragonflies around the garden recently. This one that I photographed by my goldfish pond last week is (I think) a Blue Dasher, but I'm no expert on dragonfly identification and I could be wrong. Whatever its true identity, I enjoy these critters almost as much as the butterflies and I love having them in my garden.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day - July 2013

After missing June's Bloom Day because I was on the road at that time, I have quite a bit to show you for July. It's the height of summer here. The weather is hot and dry and the garden is being tested, but most of my plants are tough old things that know how to withstand adversity and flourish in spite of it. Here are some of them.

One of my most dependable bloomers throughout the long summer is the 'Caldwell Pink' rose.


 'Dallas Red' lantana seems to positively delight in the heat of summer.


 Several of the hybrid daturas that I started from a mixed packet of seeds this spring have bloomed beautifully this summer, including this purple double bloomer. 


 The wild elderberry along the back fence has been full of blooms as usual. Many of those blooms have already turned to shiny black berries which don't last long around all the hungry birds that call my garden home.



 The old cannas continue to put out some blooms right up until first frost in December.


 'Mystic Spires' salvia blooms with the cannas in the background.


 The old-fashioned yellowbells Tecoma stans never misses a beat in all the summer heat.


 I added a new Tecoma called 'Orange Mahogany' this year. It hasn't hit its stride yet, but it's coming along.


 The wine-colored evergreen wisteria blooms hang heavy on the fence where they live.


'Pride of Barbados' is reaching its peak of bloom. 


 I've been very pleased with the performance of Justicia 'Orange Flame' that I added to the garden in spring.


 The 'Ellen Bosanquet' crinums bloom heavily throughout July.


The old sunshine yellow hibiscus is flowering beautifully again this summer. 


 I'm quite fascinated by the odd blooms of the shrimp plant. Strangely enough, hummingbirds absolutely love this plant.


 This delicate little tickseed flowers repeatedly throughout summer.


 As does the 'Montrose Purple' vitex.


 Red 'Texas Star,' a swamp hibiscus that does well here.


 And here's the white version of that hibiscus.


 The blooms of the Texas sage are triggered by rainfall. We had just about one-eighth of an inch of rain a few days ago and now the plant is full of blooms! 


 Yellow cestrum, a favorite of hummingbirds, bees, and butterflies blooms profusely throughout summer.


 Jatropha sends out its tropical blossoms next to my little pond.


 Several gerbera daisies, represented by this delicately colored specimen, are flowering around the garden.


 The native datura that lives next to my patio was full of its scented white blossoms early this morning.


Finally, to cool things off a bit, here's one of my water lilies enjoying its summer among the goldfish in my pond.

There's even more, like the Hamelia patens and Anisacanthus wrightii that I seem to feature in almost every post, but this seems a good place to stop. Thank you for visiting this month, and thank you to Carol of May Dreams Gardens for again hosting Bloom Day. 

Happy gardening!

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Point of view - July edition

Regular readers will remember that I started this project back in January. I was going to do pictures from a certain spot in the garden - I chose an area just in front of my garden shed - each month and post them here to show how the garden changes through the year.

I managed to take my pictures and post them every month up until June. In June, I was out of town in the middle of the month when I normally do this post and so just never got to do it. But now it's July and here I am again!

To remind yourself of what this area looked like in previous months, here are the links.

January

February

March

April

May

And now, here's July:

Standing in front of the garden shed and shooting down the path toward the house. These pictures were taken at mid-day today and so there are strong shadows and bright sunshine.


Same general area - just a slightly different angle.


Turning the camera to the right and shooting toward the house, you can see the lush growth of the plants around the pond on the left and the RAMPANT growth of the Anisacanthus wrightii (flame acanthus) hedge on the right. What you can't see is that the flame acanthus is full of various kinds of bees and butterflies and a couple of hummingbirds, all of which love those tiny orange flowers.


In the distance, you see crape myrtles in bloom.


Walking a bit closer to the house, you get a view of the patio and the plants around it.

Even though we are in a drought and I'm having to employ the sprinklers and the hose and watering can to keep plants from completely drying out, all of the plants that are well-established, the ones that have been in place for years, are growing like crazy and blooming like crazy. They are mostly very tough plants that can take the heat and drought, not to mention the humidity. I only wish the gardener were as well adapted!