Welcome to austinagrodolce … My family and I garden with more intention and enthusiasm than allocated budget or overall design plan. It shows. Wildlife populations don't seem to notice our lack of cohesive design, they just like the native plants here. It seems by growing local we've thrown out a welcome mat. Occasionally, we're surprised at who (and what) shows up.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Forget Bambi - what does Faline do?

What do our local White-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus texanus) do when night falls, the temperatures drop, and it begins to rain?  Though I rarely see bucks once the rut is over, the female members of the herd are routinely seen hunkered down in a favored spot to wait out daylight and hopefully, warmer temperatures.  (I call this herd "local" because the vast majority of their browsing grounds are contained within though not confined by the geopolitical boundaries of our subdivision.)

One doe in particular seems to have developed a fondness for a patch of ground cover in the unfenced area out front.  I've spotted her there repeatedly, and over the years she has occasionally left fawns there to hide while she was out foraging.
So it was no surprise very early this morning when I noted the motion activated driveway light flipping on periodically, it was because of her.
Is THIS why we call them garden "beds"?
The doe (probably pregnant) stayed quietly in place while the skies lightened, street traffic picked up, and eventually left only after my daughter took her car (parked very close nearby) to leave for morning classes.
Ambient temperatures aside, this bed is sheltered by mature live oak trees overhead and cushioned by a collection of spring-fueled freshly regrown groundcovers underneath.  As outdoor accommodations go, it is not only downright comfy, but the decor is very tasteful.  In every sense of that word.
Is it any wonder the plants out front are nibbled on with regularity?  As far as this doe and her herd are concerned, our front yard is the white-tail equivalent of a three star hotel offering an ongoing "all you can eat" banquet.  

I splash a lot of virtual ink here angrily gritching and moaning about white-tail deer eating, stomping on, and antlering my plants. This time of year, I have a much harder time getting similarly worked up.  At the moment I feel we can all focus on surviving winter first, and once the weather warms for good then we'll see where that finds us.

As you were, little mamas-to-be, as you were.  Carry on and keep warm.

Thursday, February 19, 2015


I am an unapologetic word nerd.  As such I am happiest when we can all agree upon terms.  My current quandary centers around how we will precisely define "Winter" after this year.  Meteorologically speaking, February is a winter month. Spring, linked in our hemisphere to March/April/May, is all about triggered plant growth that benefits from the warmer temperatures beginning with and typical for those three months.

"Typical for".  That's the rub.  There are temperature spikes occurring earlier and earlier, but rather than signaling a general easing into freeze-free territory, these warming spells continue to be stand alone events, inserted into the ordinary "Will it freeze?" crap shoot that is a Central Texas winter.  At least, what we used to call "winter"...

If expected temperature cues in our region are regularly misfiring, what will happen to our mutually agreed upon and widely accepted seasonal definitions? With a range of Spring temperatures starting to pop up regularly in what we've designated as the "Winter" months, what are we going to call this new, in-between season?

"Spring adjacent" is quite a mouthful.  Once the warm spells have begun shall we call that "Wring"?  Then once we hit the last two weeks of February we could call it "Sprinter".

Terms aside for the moment, most plants are stuck outside, rooted in place and mandatorily exposed to the full quilt of crazy that is our current weather. I worry for the flora, people. They are getting a lot of mixed signals.

Out I went to check.  This year so far, the winter plants are all reliably getting their winter business done.

A leatherleaf mahonia I was contemplating transplanting bloomed this year, on two different stalks.  I get the message, Mahonia.  No transplanting for you. Times were tough, but you are tougher.  It is good to see this plant blooming and I look forward to it berrying again.

Yarrow is kicking into higher gear right on schedule.  Established yarrow plants begin blooming in April most years, so I'm taking these new stalks as timely.  Will I get blooms on these relative newcomers?  You know I'll show you if I do. Stay tuned.

Speaking of blooms, the branches on our mature redbud trees are all decked out with eponymous finery.  Here's yet another opportunity to right a terminology wrong.  These are called redbud trees, right? For the buds. The buds that you would have every reason to expect to be red.  But they aren't really red at all.  Isn't it time we acknowledged that?
And even if we aren't in consensus about the need to harness a new color name for the buds, can't we all agree the flowers that follow are anything but red? Redbud blossoms are pink.  Actually, a very particular shade of pink that is absolutely stunning when set off against a high pressure blue sky. I'm not sensing a lot of early traction for a switch to calling them Pinkbud Trees, but it certainly would be more accurate.

The redbud shown in these photos demonstrates no set seasonal bloom time.  Every year just as soon as we get three consecutive really warm days, that tree throws everything it has into budding out at top speed.  You can almost hear it blooming.

It makes for some interesting photo opportunities. This same tree initiated flowering over the MLK weekend in January of 2007 when a winter storm, following close on the heels of a several day long warm spell, coated every branch and emerging bloom with ice.
Serendipitous photograph or cautionary tale?
So far that redbud has gotten away with ignoring the calendar.  And, after a run of consecutive afternoons with highs near 80 recently, a host of other plants here seem to have begun similarly tallying up sun hours and responding to soil warmth.  The question of what season it is has been answered, as far as these plants are concerned.

Because forget checking in with the usual suspects for winter interest this February.  Looking around I was faced with so many examples of plants sporting new growth I eventually just put my camera away.  There are new leaves emerging everywhere.  Plants in every bed, in sun and shade alike, are sporting new shoots and blooms indicating their own internal Spring switch has flipped to the ON position.  

Even the lantana are sending out tiny green leaves. I don't have dated photos to prove it but I distinctly recall lantana as being one of the last plants to join the springtime bash.  If the lantana are leafing out, that tells me as far as the plants are concerned, Spring is game on.
Plants!  What are you going to do?  They all seem to have joined the Pinkbud in staging a calendar coup.  Once those leaves get pushed out, they are out to stay.  And, since we are still in the midst of February, we'll have to wait and see if they are able to stay on. 

Hopefully so.  Now it is finally Wring, can Sprinter be far behind?

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Wait, what month is it again?

February.  It is February.  I had to remind myself of that fact several times over the past few days.

February in Central Texas is not particularly brutal. Often following on the heels of a hard freeze or two in January, February typically provides a fair number of days featuring cold but not freezing weather, in combination with rain.  Cooler days and moist soil make winter work in the garden comparatively pleasant.

Especially for me.  I am an inveterate transplanter.  For my purposes, I need every single typical day February can provide, in order to tackle everything I hope to get done before live oak trees begin their annual pollen assault.
I consider transplanting a locational "do-over", a second (or third) chance to get things right.  Some of my favorite plants achieved that designation based upon little more than their repetitive tolerance of my moving them around. It's funny. Once a plant has demonstrated to my satisfaction it will survive a move, I almost always find a reason to move it.

Like the ox-eye daisy mounds shown at the base of the winter bare althea in the photo to follow. They were very recently shifted.  I'm trying out new companion plantings here to provide more year round interest in this bed. The sunny area vacated by the daisy mounds is slated to host native milkweed.

It is a win/win scenario.  Though the success rate of native milkweed seed germination under my care is still in question, the daisy mound moves ought to be a slam dunk. This is February rather than August, so survival ought to be guaranteed.  Right?

Maybe.  This February just refuses to play by the rules.  The past span of days brought sufficient sun and warmth in combination I felt I had to halt rearranging in favor of hauling watering cans.  Walking to and from our rain barrels, I shed layer after layer of clothing as the day and I both heated up.
Relocated wildflowers.  Hang in there babies!
As the weather plays "Guess What Season It Is!?" I'm not the only confused one. Some plants seem to be struggling with how to respond to non-wintery sun warmed soils and bright hot afternoons.  Several bluebonnet rosettes sent up early bloom stalks this year, and at certain times of day, one of them looks practically purple.  
This bluebonnet is definitely blooming to the beat of a different color palette. I'm smitten!
If this plant persists in sending up purplish bloom stalks, I will hold the seed aside and see if the deeper coloring is expressed consistently.  In the meantime, I am throughly enjoying this early start on wildflower season even as I keep an eye out for the colder weather predicted to be heading our way.

Me! Wanting more cold, more grey!  Unprecedented.
Honestly I am only wanting February to be more, well, February-ish.  Hot and dry can wait.  And it ought to! Please?

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

February - Wildlife Wednesday

Winter temperatures in Central Texas can easily span 40 degrees as we move from warm afternoons to overnight freezes.  I'm not sure how most local critters handle such abrupt swings, but individuals from a resident population of anole lizards have developed some distinctly different coping mechanisms.

Whenever it is sunny this guy takes full advantage of the warmed cement mass of this small saint's statue.  Constantly adjusting his position relative to the position of the sun and his temperature, I don't know where the lizard shelters when it is too cold or dark, probably under some part of our house that provides a tiny (to us) access point.
I'd only ever meant the statue to stand in a planter by the front walk temporarily, but with such a chummy relationship developing, I don't have the heart to change things up.  Check out Mr. Basking Robbins.
Occasionally we let our two indoor cats on the front porch to do a little basking of their own.  The Audubon Society would have you believe every house cat is a predator simply waiting to be released.  According to their information, cats allowed outdoors will instinctually wreak havoc on an unsuspecting population of garden wildlife.

I'm not arguing against their stance.  But should she accidentally get out, the smaller of our two cats poses little threat.  You'll note the anole (on the statue) is aware of and watching the cat, while the cat, well...
Protected from threats of predators or weather either one, two other anoles are full time tenants in the greenhouse, where things are a bit more on the climate-controlled side.

Often perched on support rails near various irrigation spray and drip hardware, these two have plenty of hiding spots should a nosy gardener with a camera get too close for comfort.
Taking into account the full spectrum light, controlled heat and moisture, the greenhouse is an idyllic winter hangout.

Other busyness on sunny days involves a plant I take for granted most of the year.  Banks of rosemary are covered with tiny blue blossoms throughout January and February.
Whenever the sun comes out the bees soon follow.  These are the only flowers to visit around here at the moment. Traffic can be brutal.
Funny.  I used to watch out for bees, now I watch out for them.
Happy happy bees.  

That's my Wildlife Wednesday offering for February 2015.  Warm ongoing thanks to Tina at My Gardener Says for hosting, and for encouraging and supporting good native gardening by her example.  Go read her thoughtful contribution first, and then be sure to check the Wildlife Wednesday comments section for links to other wildlife centric posts.  See you there!