the show

Identify the Busy Bees in Your Garden

air date: May 19, 2012

Identify the busy bees in your garden, their clever tricks, and how to protect them with Beekeeper and Pollination Strategist Kellan Vincent. Find out more about bees at the San Marcos Area Bee Wranglers. On tour at Natural Bridge Caverns, see how what we pour on top of our gardens ends up in the aquifers. Daphne answers: why are fall-blooming plants flowering now? Her pick of the week is native perennial hibiscus, Texas Star hibiscus, a pollinator draw and brilliant stand-out in hot weather. Jeff Pavlat from the Austin Cactus & Succulent Society shows off his handy toolkit to tend spiky plants.

Episode Segments

On Tour

Natural Bridge Caverns Organic Gardens

We tend to see what’s on top of our gardens or a few feet under where we stick a shovel. But what’s going on 25 feet below? At Natural Bridge Caverns, just north of San Antonio, Texas, see how what we pour on top ends up in our aquifers. NBC’s organic garden design works in the small backyard, too: plants for pollinators and birds, larval food, paths that invite discoveries, and spots to sit back and laugh watching birds in their baths.

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Question of the Week

Why did our fall-blooming plants bloom this spring?

Weather is a key factor in their growth responses. Many temperate zone plants mark time with environmental cues. When the number of hours of sunlight begin to get shorter and temperatures begin to cool a bit, that means winter is on its way-a cue to plants that they should begin preparing for dormancy. And when the hours of daylight begin to increase and temperatures get warmer, plants begin preparing to wake up for spring.

But when the weather patterns fall out of this norm, cold in winter and warm in spring, the internal time-keeping mechanisms of plants get confused. This past winter, we were abnormally warm and wet, with a lot of cloudy days. To many of our fall-blooming plants, this weather seemed more like Autumn than spring, and so they thought it was their normal flowering time. I noticed lots of fall asters blooming around town. If your fall-blooming plants bloomed this spring and you’d like to encourage them to bloom again in the fall, be sure to give them a good shearing to remove the spent blooms and encourage new buds to form. They’ll likely stop blooming over the summer, but when our nights start to cool a bit and our days begin to get shorter, they should fall back into their normal autumn-blooming habit.

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Plant of the Week

Texas Star Hibiscus

Texas Star Hibiscus

Hibiscus coccineus

This wonderful naturalized Texas perennial is also known as scarlet rose mallow. Although related to the tropical hibiscus that are found in Hawaii and other warm, wet regions, Texas Star hibiscus is quite happy in temperate Central Texas. It grows 3 to 6 feet tall and about 4 feet wide and dies back to the ground in winter. As with other perennial shrubby plants, wait until temperatures begin to warm up in spring and then prune off all of the top growth down to the ground and you'll begin to see the new growth emerge from the roots. Resist the urge to prune off all the stems in late fall or early winter as soon as all the leaves have dropped off. As the plant is preparing to hunker down for winter, many chemical processes are occurring in those "dead" stems. And, the leafless stems provide a little bit of protection from the cold. Unlike its tropical cousins, Texas Star hibiscus can withstand most of our winters, barring any truly harsh freezes. Be sure to mulch well around the base of the plant to protect the roots from any out of the ordinary cold spells. It can take full sun, but also does fine in part shade, although it may bloom a little less. Texas star Hibiscus can handle wet soils, but works in dry ones, too. Although it will acclimate to our soils and need very little supplemental irrigation in "normal" times, if summer is particularly hot and dry, you will need to water this plant. It spends the spring putting on green growth and then flowers all summer long, attracting a parade of hummingbirds and butterflies to your garden. The flowers are large, off-red, and more open than the showy tropical hibiscus, with 5 very distinct petals. Each flower is only open for a day, but new ones open all summer long. Gardener Randy Case says that Texas Star hibiscus have made it through extreme drought and cold in his water-conserving garden. Gail at Natural Bridge Caverns reports that she does not baby them at all. They're the first plants up in the spring and the first ones to recede in the fall. She doesn't usually have insect problems on them, either, except a little pill bug damage, and grasshoppers, if it's a bad year for them. Gail also reports that she allows the seed pods to dry and then breaks them and scatters the seeds around where she wants more plants next year, and also, easily propagates the plant by cuttings. And lastly, Gail points out that she has had the occasional visit from the sheriff's deputy, as the leaves of Texas Star hibiscus do look strikingly similar to the leaves of a completely different, illegal plant.