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

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Moving on

The blooms of the Carolina jessamine signal the changing of the seasons. Winter is almost over. Spring is breathing down its neck.

As change comes to Nature and the garden, I have made the difficult decision to change some things in my life as well.

For the past few years, I have published on three separate but related blogs - Backyard Birder where I wrote about birds, The Nature of Things where I wrote about whatever happened to be on my mind that day, and, of course, this blog where I have discussed my experiences with gardening in Southeast Texas. I have greatly enjoyed doing the blogs and especially the relationships that I have developed with many readers during that time. But now I find that I need to cut back on the time that I spend sitting in front of a computer. For one thing, I need to have more time and energy to devote to actual gardening!

In tracking my blogs over the last several weeks, it is evident to me that The Nature of Things is the most popular of the three. Indeed, the number of viewers there is almost double the total for the other two blogs combined, and so I have decided to discontinue writing for the two less popular blogs and fold them into the one that gets the most traffic. Consequently, I will be taking my musings on gardening and on birds to The Nature of Things and expanding that blog to include those subjects. I hope that by concentrating on only one blog, I will be able to improve the quality of my writing as well as the diversity of the subjects covered.

This blog is now six-and-a-half years old which is actually quite a long life span in the world of blogging where many don't make it beyond their first month and the first burst of enthusiasm. I prefer to think that this is not actually the end of the blog but that it is simply moving on into its next logical stage of life.

To all of my readers who have faithfully followed my scribblings over the years, thank you so much! You will never know how much your support and especially your comments have meant to me. Can I dare to hope that you will visit me at The Nature of Things and that you will continue to follow me there? My first "new" post regarding my garden will appear there tomorrow.

Spring is coming and with it hope is renewed, and so I do dare to dream that I will meet you again and hear your comments at my new (or other) address.

Happy gardening!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Monday, February 17, 2014

Great Backyard Bird Count 2014

(Cross-posted from Backyard Birder.)

How did you spend your Presidents' Day weekend? I spent mine counting birds.

Yes, this was the weekend for the annual Great Backyard Bird Count, an activity that has now gone global. Beginning last year, the Count started accepting reports not just from North America but from all around the world. When I last checked the website, reports had been received this year from every continent except Antarctica. Participants count birds in their own yards or other designated places.

This year, I counted birds in my yard as I always do, and on Saturday I also did a count at Brazos Bend State Park. We had a family cookout there to celebrate our older daughter's birthday, and, of course, I insisted that we go on a bird walk after lunch.

In fact, the highlight of my weekend counting came on that walk. It was around 3:00 in the afternoon and we were walking around Forty-Acre Lake when we heard two Barred Owls calling to each other in the woods nearby.  Since I do my bird counting during daylight hours, it isn't often that I get to list an owl species, but Barred Owls frequently become active in mid to late afternoon hours and, fortunately for me, these two certainly were!

I ended my day with 31 species counted at the park. With more time and effort, I could have probably doubled that, but, after all, birding was my secondary activity on this particular day.

On the other three days of the four-day holiday weekend, I observed and counted birds in my yard. My goal for the weekend was 40 species, but I ended with only 34. As always when I do an official count of birds in my yard, I was frustrated by the no-shows, the birds that I know are there but that just didn't turn up during my count period.

Where was that Pileated Woodpecker that has been so active in the area in recent weeks? Where are the Eastern Phoebes? I haven't seen one in my yard all winter. Where was the Red-tailed Hawk that flies over my yard every day - except for this weekend? That Killdeer that flies over and calls noisily on occasion - where was it this weekend?

And on most days I can count on flyovers in the late afternoon from a number of waterbirds and waders, but this weekend? Nary a one showed a feather.

Perhaps most frustratingly of all, the tiny Brown-headed Nuthatch did not make an appearance. I didn't even hear it calling during the time that I was counting.

For most of the weekend, I thought I would have to include the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker on my list of no-shows, but just at about 6:00 this afternoon as the light was fading and I was about to call it a count and head indoors, I heard the sapsucker calling in the big pine tree just across the fence in my neighbor's yard. I looked up and finally was able to find it far, far up the 100+ foot tree.

 It was really too dark for this picture, but I had to give it a try after waiting so long for him.

Encouraged, I decided to wait just a few more minutes to see if something wonderful might turn up. Nothing did. My last bird of the day, the last bird of my count was that Yellow-bellied Sapsucker.


Here are the 34 species that did deign to show themselves for my yard count.

Black Vulture
Turkey Vulture
Cooper's Hawk
Sharp-shinned Hawk
Red-shouldered Hawk
Eurasian Collared-Dove
White-winged Dove
Mourning Dove 
Inca Dove
Rufous Hummingbird
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Blue Jay
American Crow
Carolina Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
Carolina Wren
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Eastern Bluebird
American Robin 
Northern Mockingbird
Cedar Waxwing
Orange-crowned Warbler
Pine Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Chipping Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
Red-Winged Blackbird
Common Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird 
House Finch
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow


And here is the species list from Brazos Bend.

Blue-winged Teal
Northern Pintail
Pied-billed Grebe
Double-crested Cormorant
Great Egret
Snowy Egret
Little Blue Heron
White Ibis
Glossy/White-faced Ibis
Black Vulture
Turkey Vulture
Northern Harrier
Red-tailed Hawk
Common Gallinule
American Coot
Barred Owl
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Crested Caracara
Loggerhead Shrike
American Crow
Tree Swallow 
Carolina Chickadee
Carolina Wren
Tufted Titmouse
Northern Mockingbird
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Northern Cardinal
Red-winged Blackbird
American Goldfinch

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Rose pruning season

Have you pruned your roses yet? This is traditionally the time of year when the winter pruning of roses is accomplished here close to the Gulf Coast. We think of Valentine's Day as our deadline for getting that necessary chore done.

Of course, in the real world of gardening, we are not quite that strict about dates. I pruned my 'Belinda's Dream' roses a few weeks ago, because I was moving them to a new location. And I pruned the 'Monkey Business' rose at the same time. Just because it was there.

I had intended to spend this week getting all the rest of my roses pruned. It would take me all week because there are quite a few of them and I am a slow pruner. But so far I haven't done any of that, simply because it has been cold and wet and dreary and I didn't want to be outside. I'm hoping for more favorable conditions tomorrow.

Pruning a rose, or any plant for that matter, is both a science and an art, and it is, for me, one of the more satisfying activities in the garden. A good job of pruning can grow a better, healthier plant, and, in the case of roses, can produce many more and better blooms.

What do we need to accomplish by pruning? I would maintain that there are at least five goals that we need to achieve.

  1. We need to remove the old dead wood.
  2. We need to remove surplus growth.
  3. If there is diseased or injured wood or parts that failed to develop normally, then they all need to be removed.
  4. We need to give the plant some guidance in the direction, the size and form that we want it to grow.
  5. And we need to encourage bloom.
In doing these five things, we should make sure that our pruners are clean and sharp so that they will cut cleanly and not spread disease and we need to be sure that we cut just above a bud.

Up north, where the roses go dormant, they cut their shrubs back severely in winter, but in our climate, we can be more gentle with our cuts. Most rosarians that I am familiar with recommend cutting back about one-third to one-half of the plant, certainly no more than that.

Since it is cold outside and I am stuck inside, I took a look at some of the rose pruning videos on YouTube. There are not as many as there are cat videos, but there are a lot. Of all the ones I viewed, I liked this fellow's approach and thought it was helpful. 

My loppers and hand pruners are sharpened and my rose gauntlets are all laid out and waiting for me and tomorrow is Wednesday, not Tuesday, so let's hope it will be a good day for rose pruning!

Sunday, February 2, 2014

The diva finally sings!

I've been waiting for more than two months for the 'Grand Diva' amaryllis to bloom. She was very slow to start putting out leaves - didn't really begin to do it until after Christmas. And she didn't start to put up a bloom spike until after her sister amaryllises had already bloomed. But finally - finally! - in mid-January, her bloom spikes began to emerge. And now it is February and she's in full bloom. 

Divas perform in their own sweet time. They can't be rushed. But this one has finally delivered.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Winter in Decker Prairie

No, this isn't my garden today. The picture was actually taken at Rocky Mountain National Park when we were there a couple of years ago, but it sort of feels like this today in my garden.

We have had frozen precipitation this morning. Sleet, snow, freezing rain - you name it - although it hasn't actually been cold enough for it to stick except on high places like roofs. There has been a cold wind blowing much of the time which made it unpleasant to be outside for very long.

I've been keeping an eye on my bird feeders, all of which are overrun with hungry birds, mostly American Goldfinches. I have to refill some of the feeders every day or two now to keep the birds happy.

And that is Decker Prairie here at mid-winter. Tonight the temperatures are predicted to be heading down to the 20s degrees Fahrenheit. By Friday, it should be back near the mid-70s again. Pity the poor plants that have to keep adjusting to these changes.

But spring is coming to be followed by the near intolerable heat of summer, and probably sooner than we think. Then we will remember with nostalgia these cold days of late January and February.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Still blooming

As I told you on January Bloom Day, I still don't really have anything blooming in the garden. I do hope to be adding some blooms soon, but in the meantime, I have to be satisfied with the few blossoms that I have indoors.

And those are the same blooms that I had during the holidays - amaryllis and poinsettia.

This poinsettia on my living room hearth has been a real trooper. It has now lost most of its green leaves, but the blooms are still going strong. It has been in bloom in the house for more than six weeks now. I think I've definitely gotten my money's worth out of this plant!

The 'Flamenco Queen' amaryllis is now in its second cycle of bloom. Its bloom, too, is very long lasting and has given a lot of pleasure.

'Cherry Nymph' also has been a real winner for me and is now on its second bloom spike. Isn't it pretty?

'Grand Diva,' on the other hand, has certainly lived up to her name. She has kept us waiting, waiting, waiting... I began to wonder if she was ever going to bloom, but finally, she is putting up two bloom spikes at once. Leave it to a diva to show off!

Here's the second 'Diva' bloom spike, not as tall yet as the first one, but it promises beauty to come.

Here on a cold, cold day in late January, we'll take color and flowers wherever we can find them and I'm very happy to have these few flowers. Still blooming.