February 28, 2023
Get Along and Grow Along with Clay Soil
Kool-Aid, bubble gum, or grape soda? That’s the quiz around town when Texas mountain laurels scent our lives with plump, lavender-purple blossoms. Who knows how delighted bees, butterflies, and wasps describe that sweet fragrance, but we can all agree that spring is pushing winter out the door.
‘Tis the season where every morning brings a gift. In late February, Leucojum aestivum glows with miniature white droplets. Just a handful of bulbs gradually populated a border in my garden, amenable to whatever Texas weather throws at them.
In sun or shade, strappy foliage fills in for winter-dormant native perennials, quietly fading away as the perennials take over in heat. Easily divided as foliage browns up, I’ve shared many a clump with strolling neighbors looking for an easy-care plant to transition us from winter to spring. They’re not often in local nurseries, so this is one to get online. Horticulturist Greg Grant tells a quick story of these durable heirlooms.
It’s taken me a few years (and more than a few tries) to know what accepts my dense clay Blackland Prairie soil and what will not. Texas baby-blue-eyes, a spring-blooming annual beloved by bees of all kinds, is one of many success stories. A friend shared a few seedlings, and they took it from there. When rosettes emerged in November, I plucked a few to populate another part-shade bed under a yaupon holly. Tucked between two leucojums, this little one hurried up to be the first bloom on the block.
Native spiderwort (Tradescantia gigantea) also flowered this week. With a natural eye for design, it seeded itself into this bed of baby-blue-eyes, set to bloom any day now.
With golden groundsel blanketing another part-shade spot, it’s really feast days for all kinds of pollinators. Stalwart bearded irises to colorize with purple in a few weeks.
I’ve got a few trouble-free roses, too! Iceberg rose is just as fragrant as mountain laurels, but like the famous battery bunny, it keeps on going. It bloomed minutes after the ice storm and the day we hit 91° last week. I’ve never fertilized and the only irrigation it gets is a few minutes a week in summer.
As native winter-dormant perennials leaf out, I’m making headway clipping back old stems/branches. I only had to touch up evergreen narrowleaf globemallow (Sphaeralcea angustifolia). A new addition from last fall’s Wildflower Center sale, it didn’t flinch in December’s freeze and February’s ice storm. Supposedly it grows in clay soil and part shade; spring-to-fall flowers attract butterflies.
For years, I’ve loosened up my dense soil with leaves, compost, mulch and deep plant roots. But we simply can’t change the structure of our soil, garden designer Leah Churner reminds us. This week, she explains how she amended the heavy clay (and rocky) soil in Lori Najvar and Glen Chappell’s shady hillside garden.
“In a clay soil environment, there is not a lot of oxygen. It’s good that the clay soil can hold on to water. But there it is kind of a low oxygen environment because those clay particles are so tiny. So what we wanted to do was bring in organic matter, which would feed all the little microorganisms and all the fungi and all the little earthworms and bacteria and everything, and just create some healthier soil biology,” Leah told us.
Along with sheet mulching from the outset, and on-going compost and mulch, Leah also selects plants that get along with clay soil and shade. Here’s a partial plant list.
See why she used a pick/mattock to make digging in easier.
Lots of events coming up! Here are just a few.
March 4: Sunshine Community Gardens Plant Sale
9 a.m. – 2 p.m. 4814 Sunshine Dr.
20,000 tried & true tomatoes, peppers, all kinds of vegetables
March 25: Budding Out Plant Sale & Festival
9 a.m. – 1 p.m. The John Fairey Garden, Hempstead, TX
Rare and distinctive plants/art/clothing/fabric/ceramics/tours
March 25: Earth-Kind Gardening Field Day
9 a.m. – 1 p.m. Travis County AgriLife Extension office
Workshops on houseplants, vegetables in pots, composting, vermicomposting, irrigation, rainwater harvesting, entomology
March 25: Austin Organic Gardeners Spring Plant Sale
10 a.m. – 2 p.m. Zilker Botanical Garden
All kinds of organic plants from local growers
Thanks for stopping by! Linda