the show

Ponds Big and Tiny

air date: June 2, 2012

Treat the wildlife and yourself to fountains, ponds big and tiny, and lots of refreshing ideas with CTG’s preview of the Austin Pond Society‘s tour. On location in Cedar Park, get a close-up look at Lynne and Gary Wernli’s wildlife gardens and ponds. Daphne explains why an established Afghan pine is dying. Pick of the week is drought tough Red Yucca. On location at Lake Austin Spa Resort, Trisha Shirey demonstrates how to support vegetable plants.

Episode Segments

On Tour

Pond Design Big and Tiny

To attract wildlife, Lynne and Gary Wernli tuck in tiny container ponds and fountains all over their Cedar Park garden filled with plants to feed birds, butterflies, and bees. Then they took the big leap to a full-sized pond that brings in creatures of all kinds for a drink, a bath, and to pose for Lynne’s camera.


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Question of the Week

What happened to this Afghan pine?

Thanks to Frank Simon for sending us this question and picture! In 1996, his family planted it as a living Christmas tree. It did well for years, but started to fail recently.

This is a great question, and, unfortunately, a common occurrence with Afghan pines, which were introduced into the nursery trade about 50 years ago. Since we, as consumers, are always on the lookout for new and different plants, we tend to covet what we don’t have. And you don’t need to drive far to witness, and covet, the majestic pines of east Texas, and you might wonder, why don’t we have more of those in Central Texas, only a few miles away?

Well, one reason is our soil. Pine trees prefer acidic soil, and our soil is alkaline. Then, some enterprising person noticed the native pines in Afghanistan and thought, “Hey, this might be just the pine for us.”

And in some respects, they were right. Afghan pines do very well in arid, alkaline areas of the Southwestern U.S. Unfortunately, Central Texas is just on the cusp, between east and west, and so our climate is not quite western-ly enough for Afghan pines, but not quite eastern-ly enough for other pines.

So, back to Frank’s question: why is his Afghan pine struggling now, after having done so well for over 15 years? And the answer relates back to our climate. Although our soils are alkaline, which the Afghan pines prefer, our climate is not as arid as Afghanistan. Even in a low-rainfall year, we still get about twice as much rain as the native area of this pine tree. And our air is more humid as well. So these trees will do great until all the “small” issues that they have with our climate begin to pile up and exacerbate the problem, leading to a steady decline in health and an inability to recover.

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Plant of the Week

Red Yucca

Red Yucca

Hesperaloe parvifolia

Unlike its common name, Red Yucca is not really a yucca, it's in the lily family. And most of them really aren't even red. It gets 2-3 feet tall and about as wide, with a flowering spike that can add an additional 2 to 3 feet in height. It flowers from spring through summer, producing one set of blooms that last for quite a long time. Each flower bud will produce a seed pod containing many flat, black seeds. If you want to harvest the seed, wait until the pods dry completely on the plant, then cut off the entire stalk and break the pods open to collect the seeds. Red yucca prefers full sun, but can take part shade. It's very drought-tough, surviving on rainfall alone, even in the harshest of times. Since it survives so well on so little water, you might think it would struggle with heavy soils and over-watering, like other desert species, but it really doesn't. I've seen it be just as happy in clay soils as in sandy ones. Red yucca is used to good effect as an accent plant, among areas of decomposed granite and rock mulch. It is evergreen, with long, narrow leaf blades and an arching habit. When you bring them home, they are likely to be quite small, but don't be fooled. Give them at least 2 feet on each side to spread out. And be careful if planting near Bermuda grass. If grass or other weeds get up under the plant and amongst those narrow leaves, it will be impossible to pull out without completely digging the plant up or working from the root area, which would not be good for the plant. Hummingbirds love the towering flower stalks, which range from salmon, the most common, to yellow, to red. New cultivars show up now and then, like the recent Brakelights yucca. Deer also love the flowers, but they usually tend to avoid the plant itself.