Lazy Gardener & Friends for November 2019

By: Nature's Way Resources | Published 11/04/2019

"Half the interest of the garden is the constant exercise of the imagination.”
? Mrs. C.W. Earle (1836 – 1925), British author
Sure do love it when reader questions & comments fill this column!
  •  POLLY S. ASKS: WHAT IS XERISCAPING? This style of landscape design focuses on lowering water requirements. Properly designed, it also should result in lower maintenance. Xeriscaping is now widely promoted in arid regions or areas with water shortages (aka the rest of Texas). But xeriscaping does have to be slightly altered for our flood-prone Upper Gulf Coast region.
We along the Upper Texas Gulf Coast may not be as affected as the rest of the state. But even with our increasing monsoons, our extended periods of extreme drought often make of us wish we'd given more thought to xeriscaping.
"Xeriscape" plants can do well here IF planted in extremely well-drained areas. If their roots stay too wet in heavy rains, they might drown or, at least, never perform up to par. This means raised beds, planting on slopes, totally avoiding anywhere rainwater stands after a rain.
Xeriscaping includes totally removing, or at least reducing, water-guzzling lawn grasses. Top focus goes to St. Augustine. Many areas around Houston already have watering bans and/or alternate day watering activated during drought periods. Some Texas towns give discounts on city services to those who DON'T use St. A. and require businesses to obtain city permits, proving they must use St. A. instead of lower-water choices.
Why? St. A. uses more water than all the other plants, including trees, on a typical suburban landscape combined. The catch is: St. A. is the best lawn grass for us. Healthy St. A. will grow over all other plants. It tolerates some shade, tough usage, etc. Our heavy rains help with water usage most of the year. But not, of course, during summer droughts when water demands are already skyrocketing.
Another can of worms: St. A. in unhealthy soil might go dormant during extremely hot, dry summers — a natural self-preservation option, especially in areas adjacent to concrete with its reflected heat. Insects like chinch bugs are attracted to the dormant (dying) blades. These ever-present soil boarders multiply when the food supply increases, actually doing cleaning chores. When cooler temperatures and/or rains return and healthy grass starts growing again, they retreat.
Many folks/HOAs won't tolerate weak-looking lawns. Over-fertilizing often destroys vital soil organisms, making plants more susceptible to insects/disease, which leads to more soil treatments, etc. Vicious cycle.
Two xeriscape recommendations:
  • Reduce St. A.-planted areas with pocket native plantings and/or
  • Totally replace St. A. with lower-water-demanding grasses such as Zoysia, Bermuda & Buffalograss. 
Reducing is an easier way to start. Bermuda is our most commonly-used total replacement substitute but all 3 have downsides here:
  • Some HOA/POA powers-that-be demand homeowners plant St. A. only.
  • St. A. is so strong, it has to be TOTALLY removed from an area. If you don't, watering triggers St. A. growth which overpowers other grasses.
  • All 3 require full sun, so can't plant any of these three under tree canopies. St. A. does tolerate some shade.
  • Zoysia (most $$$) requires more care and a reel (not rotary) mower.
  • Buffalograss is a good tough, slow-growing grass for very dry sunny areas. But here our monsoons make it grow faster, so needs mowing more often.
TMI? Hope not. There are many great features of Xeriscaping that can be incorporated in our area. One of the best explanations I've found was written for RCW Nurseries website readers. Check it out. It'll be well worth your time.
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LAURA SIMPSON (of the popular St. Julian’s Crossing Wildlife Habitat Facebook page) contributed her own favorite native species (left), Seaside Goldenrod (Solidago sempervirens), to last week’s list of good-for-gardens varieties. Laura wrote: “it's not aggressive and hasn't shown itself to be alellopathic, either. I have had it in my gardens for years, and I love it!” 
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  • ELEANOR K. IS FRUSTRATED BY SO MANY DIFFERENT NAMES FOR THE SAME PLANT, as are many gardeners. Ironically, along with her email came these readers' pictures below asking for IDs. Both have the same botanical first name: Thunbergia. Sure don't look related!
?At left is Anna-Victoria's Southwest Houston photo sent in by her friend Marianne Kahlick. It's a Thunbergia grandiflora, best known as a sky vine, blue sky flower, blue trumpet vine and probably a dozen other names.
At right is another Thunbergia, Thunbergia alata, sent in for ID by Jo Ann in Sugar Land. It's best known as black-eyed Susan vine, the only common name I've ever heard. These two Thunbergias are cousins, so to speak.
While botanical names (usually) stay the same, common names grow out of a variety of origins, regional nicknames, visual perceptions and, most frustrating of all, growers arbitrary whims, trying to draw customers to "something new" (whether it truly is or not). I feel for growers, however. They work hard to come up with new cultivars/hybrids, even get them patented. But once into the retail market, these are easily grown from seed by other growers. It's almost impossible to stop baptizing it with yet another name. Must be so frustrating!
Plant ID apps abound now. Someone suggested Plantsnap to me long ago. It’s fairly accurate most of the time. When ordering online, be sure you see a picture and read descriptions carefully -- especially the sizes. Sigh . . .
CHILE PEPPERS! When Gene Speller speaks on chile peppers, experienced Upper Texas Gulf Coast gardeners listen. And they'll have a great chance to hear what's best and new in the Capsicum world at the SAT. NOV 23: THE GREAT PEPPER EXTRAVAGANZA, a seminar sponsored by the Galveston County Master Gardeners.
In our Spotlight Article below, Gene gives a preview of his top choices, based on his 40 years of growing edibles in our unique subtropical pocket. Photos are from his own garden with year photographed (serious chile growers will want to know!). A Galveston County Master Gardener, Gene usually grows 25 varieties at home and maintains GCMGA’s 80 sq.ft. (4w x 20L) raised bed chile pepper research garden. Gene also points out Christopher Columbus was the one who named this American Capsicum fruit "peppers". Gene prefers to say "chile peppers," which is actually redundant, he knows, but it helps novices distinguish Capsicums peppers from green peppers (Piper nigrum).
(GREAT PEPPER EXTRAVAGANZA by GENE SPELLER, 1-4 pm; AgriLife Extension Office, Carbide Park, La Marque.
TRACKING HUMMINGBIRDS - Encourage children to learn while they watch for migrating hummers. Log onto Journey North to check how migrating groups are progressing as they pass over us. Help children file their own reports of which ones they've seen on which plants. ( Win-win!
MEA CULPA, SAN BERNARD OAK!. – Last week I mistakenly put Texas’ Champion live oak in the wrong park! It’s in San Bernard National Wildlife Refuge. This 65-foot tall Texas State Champion Live Oak, crowned in 2003, is estimated by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to be 200-300 years old and can be viewed along the Refuge’s San Bernard Oak Trail. (On the Gulf Coast, south of Houston, off Hwy 288).
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?are free — Just email
is based on her 40+ years as the Houston Chronicle's Lazy Gardener
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