Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Major cutbacks

I originally posted this about a month ago... under the wrong blog. Ha! Pregnant brain strikes again. By the way we had another hard freeze or two since I wrote this, and I lost a couple of tomato plants. Oops! Several pruned perennials had started showing promising green shoots, only to be cut back by cruel frost. The Arizona Ash trees all over the neighborhood had started to green up, and now they have tiny brown leaves to show for it.

Here's the old post:

Our water barrel, sporting an icicle.
We had an unusually hard winter for this area this year. I know, I can't really complain--most states North of us have been buried in snow for 3-4 months now. At least we've had yo-yo weather that dips into freezing temps, then briefly back up into the 60's, then back to freezing.

The yo-yo temps are happily over, for the time being. Supposedly it's getting up to 80 today, though it feels somewhat cooler. The weather is delicious right now. We always run the risk of another freeze this time of year, so I don't want to get too excited.

As a result of all the freezing, many plants in my yard have died back to the ground that have skated through the past few winters unscathed. That marvelous, monstrously thick bed of plumbagos in the front? Dead to the ground. I see this as a positive sign for this plant, as it has gotten thick to the point of being unruly. It took me two afternoon sessions of cutting back long, thick, stiff intertwined branches and stuffing lawn bags, and I had the scrapes on my arms to prove it. 3-4 years of not being pruned to the ground made the wood very hard and scratchy.

What's left of the plumbagos... and a little new growth.
My ginger is gone, and I don't know if it'll come back. The flax lily in front of it has some green foliage on it, so fingers crossed for that one. The Turk's Cap is cut back to the ground now. The other plumbago and Esperanza on the East side of the house still await the chop, but they are dead to the ground.
Brown leaves where ginger and flax lily once made a jungle at the front door. The green tufts in the middle are liriope.  Turk's Cap is reduced to sticks for now. Texas Mountain Laurel is slow-growing, but still green in the back.

I just glanced through my September garden pictures. Hard to believe it was all so lush and green such a short while ago.

The loquat prevails.
Now I look out on mostly brown St. Augustine, lovely smooth crape myrtle trunks, a few evergreens (the two ligustrums in the NW corner of the back yard, the slow-growing but tough-as-nails Mountain Laurel, the Knock-Out and Martha Gonzales roses, dwarf nandina, rosemary, and most notably, the loquat, which is thriving in spite of the weather abuse) and a whole lotta nothin'--bare fence, bare mulch, a blank slate for this year's growth.

The bulbs I planted year before last are already making their Spring comeback, at least in terms of healthy-looking dark green strappy foliage. I must plant more bulbs this year--they are survivors! One was hidden behind the asparagus fern pot with practically no sun whatsoever, and next to no water.
Leucojum bulbs greening up an otherwise dormant pocket garden.
Leucojum in bloom--hit by late freezes, but still standing.

This morning, I finally got around to cutting back the lantana, pavonia, asparagus fern, Blanc Du Bois grape and Knock-Out roses along the Western fenceline in the back. All of this went much faster than cutting back the plumbago jungle in the front. I even had time to weed, and think about remulching that bed.

Of course, with a blank slate, comes the opportunity to dream about what this year might bring.

Sunflower and Cardinal Vine starts... still waiting out the last freeze.
Meyer Lemon, blooming and attracting pollinators.
Recently, Natalie expressed interest in buying and planting some flower seeds. She selected Vincas, which will do nicely in that shady pocket garden by the chimney. We planted them in flats, along with Morning Glory, Cardinal Vine and Sunflowers. Wrong time of year? Perhaps it's a bit early, but seeds are cheap and I couldn't deny her enthusiasm (or mine). Everything but the Vincas has sprouted under the flourescent light in the garage. I transferred one of the more robust-looking Cardinal vines into the ground today, in front of a new 6' trellis. Optimistic, I know. It's next to a wisteria that I bought at HEB at the end of summer last year, which didn't stay green long into fall. I have no idea whether that one is coming back, but I'm not ready to yank it out of the ground just yet.

Speaking of my kids, they also convinced me to buy a $20 Meyer Lemon tree, at Costco of all places. Amazingly, I've remembered to bring it indoors during the many freezes since we acquired it. It's rewarding me with some amazing blooms--possibly coming from a large dose of fertilizer before it got into my hands. I've watered it and tried to let the soil dry well between waterings, but that's about it.

Transplanted Carolina Jessamine, with a few leaves hanging on.
I hope to see some success with vines this year. I planted two last year in too-shady spots--one Crossvine which perished in the chimney pocket garden, and a Carolina Jessamine that is limping along with very few leaves on the Eastern fence, where it clearly doesn't get enough sun. I will get around to transplanting it soon. (Update: It's now transplanted to the butterfly garden area along the back, South-facing fence.)

At some point, I'd like to fill in around the Cedar Elm on the Western fence with some interesting shrubs--Oakleaf Hydrangea, American Beautyberry, perhaps something evergreen if there's room. I also need to get an Arizona Cypress in the ground over there, as one of the main anchors of the bed.

On the same side of the house, in the front yard, I've wanted for years to put something along the Western wall of the house. It's a tough spot to plant--dry, hot shade. Wax Myrtle is appealing to me right now. I've thought of transplanting crape myrtles there, but the amount of sunlight might be insufficient for them.

In the backyard, Rob graciously agreed to move the big garden box over to the sunnier eastern wall of the house, where Natalie's smaller garden box used to stand. Here it is with some transplants from the two former garden boxes, as well as new tomatoes and spinach.
Newly moved garden box with a few transplants.
Our big family news is that baby #3 is due this July 5th--so, though I'd like to be ambitious about the yard, my plans will have to stay somewhat in check. I won't be able to baby along new plantings while I'm babying along a baby.

So I have to hope and trust that the plants that are in hiding right now will flourish again. Come on, Spring!

Here's a smattering of photos--all of which I hope are humble 'Before' photos that will give way to lovely 'After's.

On the deck, cut-back Catmint, dead Lemongrass, and an empty pot... I'll look forward to filling it soon.

A geranium brightens things up in one of two hanging baskets. The other one sports a purple geranium, as lovely as this one.

The purple pocket garden is making a slow comeback. Coral Bells (Huechera) shows some pretty new purple foliage in the middle. Behind that, where only bare dirt shows now, purple Oxalis and Purple Heart had made a decent recovery before dying back again in subsequent freezes.

At least there's foliage from the bulbs.

The transplanted garden box: Cilantro is thriving in the mostly cool temps.

Spinach likes it cool, too.

Transplanted flat-leaf parsley and strawberries are limping along.

Note to self: Never plant tomatoes before March 15th again! Yes, I covered them, and they still froze dead.

Wilted beet leaves, more freeze damage. Not sure this will regrow. 
New lavendar, which surprisingly survived the frost.

Unstoppable fennel bulb. We have never harvested it, but the Swallowtail Butterfly caterpillars have munched it down to sticks, twice.

Could that be a strawberry growing in the middle of that flower?!?

This beet fared slightly better, but is still limping.

Bulletproof multiplying onions. We've harvested multiple times for green onions in recipes, and it just comes back thicker and stronger, true to its name.

Butterfly garden area along the south-facing fence in the backyard. Definitely a 'before' pic!

Former home of the large garden box, future home of a Texas Wildflower patch.

Poor devastated succulent garden! This firepit is just too heavy to move indoors. I hope they'll come back.

Two little transplanted Yellow Columbines, moved to a less-shady spot. Let's hope they turn over a new leaf.

Knockout Rose and Blanc Du Bois Grape along the western fence in the backyard (SE-facing).

The other Knockout... will it live up to its name this year?

Same bed, different view. Pavonia (a.k.a. Rock Rose) and Lantana are invisible in the front, cut back for the winter.

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