Friday, June 28, 2013

Summertime . . . .

If you can't read this, it says 105F.
Well, summer has arrived in Central Texas. It's even worse in other areas, but I'm not there, I'm here. And it's hot.

Hot enough to fry an egg on the sidewalk, if we had one. Which we don't.

Hotter 'n hell. Well, probably not.

From my husband, master of colorful metaphors and similes:  Hotter than frog legs in a frying pan.

And appropriate for our house:  so hot the chickens are laying hard-boiled eggs.

Anyway, you get the idea. If you have any fun things to add, feel free. Keep it clean, though. This is a family enterprise.

This is what my east bed and my beautiful phlox look like after the sun has its way with them - taken at about 1 p.m.

We have to shade our veggies here in Texas. We learned this trick last year, and it does prolong the life of our garden a little while.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

A pond story

Last year we put together a small water feature outside our living room window (you can read about that here). I thought it would be pretty, and that we would enjoy the soothing sounds of trickling water, both outside and, when we could open windows, inside.

But it has been so much more.

Last week my daughter called me to come look at something. I was halfway up the stairs toting the vacuum cleaner (why is that invariably when someone calls for you?). Somewhat grumpily, I set the vacuum cleaner down on the landing and trudged back down to my daughter, who was pointing out the window at the new pond.

“Look, it’s the snake,” she said.

Sure enough, a checkered garter snake was swimming in the pond.  We have seen this non-venomous snake in this area many times (see Just a member of the family).

Grumpiness be gone.

We watched him as he swam around. Soon he began writhing under the water splashing into the pond from the water spigot. He did this several times – at first we thought he was trapped under it, but soon we concluded he was doing this because it felt good.

The goldfish were also swimming about, no doubt watching him warily. We decided this was a different, smaller snake than we’ve seen here before, and that the goldfish are big enough to be safe. My daughter was concerned, however, about the small leopard frog who also lives in the pond.

Bees drink from this pond all day long, gathering on the edge in a cluster, and then flying off to their work. One day my daughter told me she had touched a bee on its back – how cool is that.  I wondered if this snake might eat bees.

My nature lover daughter could only watch from afar for so long, and then she headed outside. Mr. Snake watched her draw near, and then beat a hasty retreat to the rock pile in the corner.

When I swung by the window 15 minutes later, he was back, swimming around, resting his head on the rock or edge of the pond, writhing under the waterfall.

Meanwhile, a female painted bunting came fluttering by for the drink. I stood still, thinking, “Watch out for the snake, little bird!” Instead of perching on the rock to get a drink, where she would be within the snake’s reach, she lit on the water spigot about a foot above the pond. I watched her lean over to snatch drops of water from the spigot’s spout. Smart bunting.

I decided two things about the little snake:  it was hungry and it was hot. The pond took care of both of his problems, apparently.

We’ve not seen him since. Nor have we seen the little frog.

Favorite spot in the garden:

Several years ago my friend Lona gave me some  phlox after I admired her very healthy stand. I planted them in the wrong place, with too much shade. They did not thrive. After three years or so, I figured out the problem. I moved them over about three feet to a sunnier location. This spring, they are putting on quite a show for me, and I “ooh” and “ah” every time I walk by. Garden success!

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Dodder must go.

A scourge is upon my land.  A plague.  A ­­­pestilence.

Perhaps I’m overstating.  Let me backtrack.

Several years ago one of my gardening gurus, while perusing my garden, commented, “Oh, you have dodder.”

I had noticed this plant (Cuscuta sp.), twining over two native black daleas (Dalea frutescens), but was unsure of its identification. After ascertaining that it was also a native, I just let it be. Periodically, I would pull off the vines and clean up the daleas.

This year, I decided to be more proactive, and began pulling off the yellow, stringy vines earlier in the process. But the strangest thing happened. The more I pulled, the more the plant grew. Days after I spent 20 minutes pulling, the daleas were covered over again.

I looked around, and noticed small clumps of dodder in my yard, draped over prairie fleabane (Erigeron modestus).

It was time for research. After said research, it’s become crystal clear that I’ve made a terrible mistake letting dodder become established.

Dodder is a parasite.  It grows from seed, shooting up a small tendril. When the tendril encounters something to wrap around, it does so. From the website for the University of California’s Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program:

“Seedlings are dependent on carbohydrates stored in the seed (cotyledons) until they attach to a suitable host. When it contacts a host, the stem coils around the host plant and produces little structures called haustoria that penetrate the host’s vascular tissue. The dodder plant begins to extract nutrients and water from the host, and its connection to the soil withers and dries.”

Sounds kind of like a horror movie, doesn’t it?

According to Mr. Smarty Plants at the Wildflower Research Center, about 24 species of dodder live in Texas. They produce seed prolifically, and the seeds can lay dormant in the soil for 20 years.  Also, if you remove a tendril that has a haustoria, it remains viable for several days. It has lots of fun names: love vine, strangleweed, devil's-guts, goldthread, pull-down, devil's-ringlet, hellbine, hairweed, devil's-hair, and hailweed. Some of these names are very apt.

Dodder can only live on certain host plants, and apparently dalea and prairie fleabane are two of those. I don’t have many daleas. I have a whole lot of prairie fleabane.

Yesterday, I yanked up every fleabane (also some Dahlburg daisies) with dodder and tossed them in the trash. According to UC, I missed a step. I should have sealed them in plastic bags, so they won’t root elsewhere. (You know it's bad when you are supposed to seal it in plastic before discarding!)

Unfortunately, the daleas must go, also. Removing the host plants is the only way to get rid of this stuff, when it is so well established. Then I will need to replant the area with something dodder can’t use. If the dodder seedlings can’t attach to a suitable host in 5 to 10 days, they will die.

Then all I have to do is spend the next 20 years or so diligently removing new plants and their hosts.

Good grief.

Favorite spot in the garden:

The zexmenia (Wedelia texana) have taken up with the narrow-leaf dayflower (Commelina erecta var. angustifolia - I think) outside my kitchen window, and it's a very serendipitous pairing. These are volunteer natives. Aren't they lovely?