Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Waiting for a Sign

I've been waiting for a sign.

No, not that sign.  This sign.
Yes, the weather is about to change! Will we get rain? I sure hope so.  Looks like the chances are pretty good, and look at the shift in the temperatures. It's still plenty hot, but I see some 80's.  It's starting to look like fall.  I'm taking this as a sign that it is time to plant the winter vegetable garden.

I've been preparing for the winter garden since August when I started lettuce, chard and rutabaga seeds in the house. Those seedlings are coming along nicely.

Lettuce Seedlings
Chard Seedlings
For those vegetables that I generally don't grow from seed like broccoli and cabbage, I'll need to buy transplants. As soon as vegetable transplants are available in the nurseries, I pot them up in one gallon containers, so they can start building larger root systems. These little guys get only morning sun and a free wagon ride when they need a lift to a shadier spot.

I was getting a little impatient for a change in the weather, so I started my carrots on September 8th. In the warm soil, the seeds germinated in about 5 days.  Keeping the seeds moist is a challenge, but shade cloth helps to keep the soil from drying out too much.

I was excited to find some artichoke transplants back in August, so I snatched them up. They also went into the garden on September 8th with the assistance of shade cloth.

For more information on fall/winter vegetable gardening, please check out my appearance on the Central Texas Gardener where I recently appeared as the in-studio guest.

Another valuable resource for vegetable gardening is the Travis County Vegetable Garden Planting Guide.  Use this guide to help you determine the best time to plant the vegetables you love.
Happy winter gardening and don't forget the BT!  Those hungry caterpillars like those cooler temperatures and your tasty veggies.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Don't Hug Your Cactus

Cactus need love too. Just don't hug them or love them too much. In my garden, love generally means fertilizer and water.  Since cactus don't need much of either, I suggest fluffing their gravel or just saying a friendly "howdy" as you walk by on your way to water some other more needy potted plant.

As we've struggled with the drought here in Central Texas, I've satisfied my desire to collect plants by adding more cactus.  I started thinking about growing cactus in all those tough spots where other plants just couldn't cut the mustard.

One of those tough spots is the western exposure of my house.  The space provides the harshest of environments; full on sun against a brick wall.  I've tried lots of different plants in this area over the years and nothing can quite stand up to the reflected heat of July and August.  Nothing until I planted cactus.  Even in pots these guys don't flinch.  I could have planted them in the ground, but the pots will provide some flexibility to move them out of the way when the AC repairman comes a calling.

Just a few feet from the AC unit temperatures moderate thanks to some nearby trees. These plants have it much easier.  In the pot pictured below, horse crippler, silver dyckia and echeveria are growing happily.  I added plenty of perlite to the potting mix to keep the soil well-drained and topped the pot with decomposed granite to make them feel right at home.

Until I recently met Mr. Bunny Ears, I would have said the dyckia was the most unhuggable of all the cactus-like plants. Dyckia are actually bromeliads with barbed hooks on their leaves that catch you both coming and going.  The spines are so sharp that a little routine maintenance will leave you looking like you just fought off a herd of wild felines.

One of the things I love about cactus and agave is their ability to add interest when combined with soft leaved plants. On the left, two agave parryi pups consort with the very slow growing Queen Victoria agave. The cool blue of the agave striata on the right works well with evolvulus glomeratus 'blue daze' in the tallest pot.

On the edge of a bed where sprinkler coverage is hit or miss, I added this little berm of gopher plant. While not exactly a cactus, euphorbia rigida is very drought tolerant and needs little water. Now if I can only keep the vitex trifolia 'purpurea' growing behind it from swallowing it whole.

My latest exciting acquisition is this manfreda 'silver leopard'. Sometimes called false agave or spice lily, this plant is very drought tolerant.  I purchased two of these little lovelies to replace some ill-fated bottle brush shrubs that never had a chance in this drought. 

Considerably more hugable than most cactus, silver leopard, also has more to love. Spreading by underground rhizomes, this colony forming plant will provide plenty of little friends, so you can spread the love around.

I know this drought is tough, so maybe it's time to embrace cactus in the garden.  Just don't hug them, and a little eye protection would probably not be a bad idea either.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Wordless Wednesday: The Summer Strainer

Has summer strained your gardening enthusiasm?  Fall is right around the corner.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Bunny Ears

Bunny ears are sweet, velvety and adorable.  You can't help but want to touch them.  So, what sort of sadistic person decided that a diminutive form of Opuntia cactus should be named for something so soft and cuddly.

I'm warning you.  Don't try to snuggle up to Opuntia microdasys also known as bunny ears cactus. It doesn't have spines, but it has a thorny part which is more insidious. On each of the pads are clusters of tiny glochids. These glochids seem to jump from the plant onto your skin and clothes.  If you've come in contact with them, you'll know it. Glochids are like a paper cut you can't quite see. The tiny barbs are very irritating to your skin. If you're lucky someone with good vision will help you remove them with a sharp pair of tweezers.

Apparently, Opuntia microdasys cacti are not named for the softer side of bunny ears, but rather for the fact that the pads grow in pairs; just like a bunny's ears.  Thank goodness someone on the web cleared that up for me.  I was really starting to wonder about these cactus growers.

I recently purchased two bunny ears for my cactus berm. Everything on my berm is growing fine without any supplemental irrigation except for my blackfoot daisy.  I don't want to drag a hose out to the berm location, so out with the daisy and in with more cactus.

While searching for my new berm inhabitants, I discovered two related opuntias that I decided to grow in containers.  The first, Opuntia microdasys 'albispina' is also known as polka dot cactus and the second, Opuntia microdasys 'rufida' is sometimes referred to as cinnamon cactus.

These Opuntia are cute, but I would definitely recommend handling with care. I know I won't be confusing these cactus with bunny ears any time soon.