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Butterfly Plants for the Bees’ Needs!

air date: January 11, 2020

The National Butterfly Center in Mission is a 100-acre wildlife center and native species botanical garden dedicated to the conservation and study of butterflies. Since many butterfly plants support bees, too, Executive Director Marianna T. Wright and nursery manager Stephanie Lopez hone in on a few to add to your habitat garden. In Leander, Betty Saenz converted lawn into water conserving wildlife habitat and romantic outdoor living.  Daphne highlights ice sculptures on native frostweed and how to grow this pollinator plant. Plus, see whether to divide a young citrus tree with two stems. John pumps up plant foliage with variegated choices indoors and out.

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Episode Segments

On Tour

Lawn to Habitat and Outdoor Living: Betty Saenz

In 2011, Leander gardener Betty Saenz responded to drought’s impact on wildlife. She dug up lawn in favor of water-conserving plants for wildlife and built romantic outdoor living to watch them.

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Interview

Butterfly Plants for the Bees’ Needs: National Butterfly Center

The National Butterfly Center in Mission is a 100-acre wildlife center and native species botanical garden dedicated to the conservation and study of butterflies. Since many butterfly plants support bees, too, Executive Director Marianna T. Wright and nursery manager Stephanie Lopez hone in on a few to add to your habitat garden. Host: John Hart Asher.

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Question of the Week

Cool ice sculptures on plant

The early freeze in November 2019 turned native frostweed (Verbesina virginica) into landscape sculptures! 

In Southwest Austin (which got colder than downtown), Yleana Martinez marveled at the horizontal ice sculptures on her plants that grow naturally under a tree canopy. 

And from Dripping Springs, Leah and Steve Baker, both Travis County Master Gardeners, wrote about their remarkable frostweed display this year. Steve tells us that the November freeze gave them a “frost” extravaganza like no other they’ve ever seen. 

Normally, the frostweeds in their yard create six to eight-inch frost stalks, emerging like mini-volcanoes from the base of each plant. 

But this year, most of the “frost sculptures” reached two feet in height, and several even to three feet! Instead of the expected “mini-volcanoes” they normally see, the icy extrusions this year looked like large white turkey feathers fastened to the stalks. 

There were several hundred showing their colors and it was quite a sight to see. Steve notes that the temperatures were actually lower the day before, but that earlier freeze event had very little effect. It must be some special combination of soil moisture, humidity and temperature that allowed this sunflower-cousin to shine so brightly on this occasion. 

Central Texas native frostweed is a woodland perennial or biennial, growing three to six feet tall. In the wild, you may not even notice it, despite its stature and broad leaves, until it flowers in late summer. Its flowery white clusters feed butterflies—including migrating Monarchs—along with bees and many tiny pollinators. If you have it in your yard, cut it back after top growth browns. In the right conditions, it propagates and spreads by rhizomes. 

 

A question about dividing young citrus trees: 

Todd Dwyer planted a young citrus tree last April. It was about an inch tall when he first got it, and the two stems appear to be from the same root ball. Now that the plant is established, should he try to divide the stems, or cull one out? 

Most citrus trees are grafted, but since this plant was so small, it may be a seedling. And if that’s the case, I suspect he has two separate plants. But the only way to know for sure is to dig the plant up and gently try to tease apart the root ball. 

If you can separate the stems, you have two seedlings, which can be separated and replanted. But if not, I suspect that what you have is actually a couple of root suckers that someone dug up and placed in a container. If the two stems are emerging from the same root, you could go ahead and cut one of them at the base of the soil, picking the stronger of the two, if there’s any difference between them, to keep as your plant. 

Be sure to protect your citrus in winter—plants as small as these are especially susceptible to damage from the cold weather. 

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Backyard Basics

Variegated Plants for Foliar Drama: John Dromgoole & Neil Schmidt

John Dromgoole and Neil Schmidt from The Natural Gardener pump up plant foliage with variegated choices indoors and out and explain how variegation occurs.

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