Woodland Oaks Homeowners' Association

Miscellaneous Gardening Articles

Fall Colors

Now that our weather is turning cooler, some plants are beginning to show their fall color. For those of you who come from areas that have four real seasons, fall color in Texas may sound like an oxymoron. However, we do have a few plants that will give some pretty fall color to your yard. Remember that fall is the best time to plant shrubs and trees, so you plan ahead by planting a tree or shrub that will give you fall color in your yard next year.
We have a few trees that will usually give good fall color. One of those is the Chinese pistache. Its fall foliage can range from gold to deep red, depending on how much sun and cold temperatures it receives. Baby pistaches are truly ugly ducklings, but trust that they grow up to be beautiful trees. The shumard red oak is another tree with good color—guess what color its leaves turn! We have several here in Woodland Oaks that put on lovely shows of fall color every year. The bald cypress will turn a deep rust in fall. Contrary to popular belief, the bald cypress, which lines the banks of many hill country streams, does not have to live on a stream bank. It will do fine in your yard. A small tree with bright red berries is the female possumhaw. To make sure you have a female, look for one at the nursery with berries on it. Birds love the berries.
Many shrubs also have good color. Our old standby the crepe myrtle often turns gold, red, or orange, depending on the type crepe myrtle and the amount of sun it receives. Nandinas not only have reddish foliage in fall, but they also produce a crop of bright red berries. Nandinas come in several sizes, the standard that can reach 8’, a compact that reaches 3’-4’, and a dwarf that stays 1’-2’ tall. All the nandinas do well except the dwarf “Nana”, which tends to suffer iron chlorosis (yellow leaves caused by lack of iron) in the summer. You may have seen some bushes along the roads with reddish-orange or scarlet foliage. Those are the prairie flameleaf sumac. The sumac can be hard to find in the nurseries. You might want to try Schumacher’s Nursery in New Braunfels—they deal in native plants. The pyracantha, or firethorn, is an evergreen shrub that puts on loads of bright red berries in the fall. Unfortunately the plant has mean thorns that can reach out and get you. One way to control the pyracantha is to espalier it against the side of your house. It can be a show stopper on the west wall where it is not only pretty but can shade your house as well. You can either construct a wire “trellis” attached to your house with nails, or you can tie the branches of the plant to nails.
Perennials can add color to the fall landscape. You may have noticed some showy flowers blooming this fall. You might want to remember them for spring planting. (Rule of thumb for perennials—if they bloom in the fall, plant them in the spring; if they bloom in the spring, plant them in the fall.) If you have seen masses of small bluish-purple flowers on low growing plants, those are the fall asters. Asters are a wonderful xeriscape plant that can take lots of abuse and still produce wonderful color almost the entire month of October. Don’t confuse them with asters of any other color—those other-colored asters will not do as well. The long purple spikes of the Mexican bush sage (salvia leucantha) are also wonderful fall color. Again, this is a xeriscape plant. The firebush blooms all summer and fall, but in the fall, its foliage turns crimson, thus “firebush”! Hummingbirds love the tubular red flowers of the firebush. It is also a xeriscape plant. These perennials will all freeze, but will return in spring—especially if they have been mulched to protect their roots from the cold.
If you haven’t planted your wildflower seeds by now, you had better do it today! The plants need to establish their root systems during the winter so that when warm weather returns, they can shoot up and bloom. Remember that most wildflowers must have full sun—that means 8-10 hours per day. The columbine is one of the exceptions and even it likes some sun.
Happy gardening! Deedy Wright

References For A South Texas Gardener

References for the South Texas Gardener
Have you paged through one of those gorgeous gardening books written for the northern part of the US? Page after page of lush, green expanses with beds of magnificent flowers. Of course, these areas have rainfalls twice ours, summer heat in the mid-90s, and soil that contains a great deal of organic matter with a pH of either neutral or slightly acid—in other words, ideal growing conditions.
Before buying any gardening book or listening to any gardening advice, make sure the author or lecturer has gardened in our area. If not, let the buyer beware! Yankee gardening books make good door stops down here.
What is a poor South Texas gardener to do? Folks, there is help for us in books, pamphlets, and on the internet. I’ll list a few of the resources I’ve found to be reliable.
Native Texas Plants: Landscaping Region by Region by Sally Wasowski (currently out of print, but will be reprinted soon)
Gardening with Difficult Soils by Scott Ogden
Howard Garrett’s Texas Organic Gardening Book by Howard Garrett
The Southern Heirloom Garden by William C. Welch and Greg Grant
Perennial Garden Color by William C. Welch
Antique Roses for the South by William C. Welch
Texas Bug Book by C. Malcolm Beck and John Howard Garrett
Southern Herb Growing by Madalene Hill and Gwen Barclay
Landscaping with Native Plants of Texas and the Southwest by George O. Miller
Perennial Gardens for Texas by Julie Ryan

Pamphlets, Newsletters, Other Resources
A Green Guide to Yard Care, Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission
Xeriscape: A “How-to” Guide to a Low-Water-Use Landscape Using a Xeriscape Approach, Bexar County Master Gardeners, San Antonio Water System, Texas Agricultural Extension Service
Bexar County Master Gardener Hotline – 467-6575 (You can talk to a person and you will get your question(s) answered)
Guadalupe County (830-303-4188) or Bexar County (467-6575) Cooperative Extension Service,
San Antonio Gardener newsletter—To subscribe, call 467-6575. ($12 per year)
Create a Texas Wildscape, Texas Parks and Wildlife Urban Fish and Wildlife Program, 210-348- 6350

PlantAnswers.com (Texas A & M)
These gardening references can be of great service to both the experienced and inexperienced South Texas gardener.
Don’t forget that from now until February is prime time to plant trees.
Happy gardening in the new year.
Deedy Wright

What's So Great About Mulch?

Why do so many gardeners and horticulturists preach the gospel of mulch? Because it does so many things for growing things—both plant and human. Did you know that mulch —
reduces your weeding (saving your back)
captures and keeps moisture in your soil (thus reducing your water bill)
protects tender plants from freezing
prevents soil erosion protects plants’ roots from the heat of the sun (they will grow better) stimulates the activity of soil microbes adds nutrients to your soil as it decomposes (thus reducing your fertilizer bill)
That’s an impressive list for something as simple as mulch!

Perhaps you are wondering what can be used as mulch. Actually many things make good mulch material. One that comes to mind right now is leaves. Some of us are smothering in the leaves our trees are dropping. It’s a lot of work to rake and bag the little buggers. However, you can make those pesky leaves work for you—mulch your flowerbeds with them. If your tree has large leaves, crunch them with your lawnmower. And speaking of your lawnmower, use your mulching mower or regular mower to “rake” your leaves. The mulching mower will chop up the leaves fine enough to fall into your grass and decompose fairly quickly. Your lawn will thank you for it too. And no, it will not cause thatch. Generally, thatch is not a South Texas problem. Other free mulch materials include grass clippings (don’t spread them thicker than 1”) and dead annual plants or trimmings from shrubs (don’t use anything that is diseased).

Mulches that you can buy include:
various organic mulches available at businesses such as Gardenville and Living Earth Technology wood or bark chips wood shavings compost washed river rocks

A word about using rocks as mulch: Be careful. Light colored rocks can reflect heat into your home thus raising your air conditioning costs. Rocks collect and hold heat better than soil. This can mean your yard will stay warmer than your neighbor’s during the summer. Plants mulched with rocks get an extra strong dose of summer heat that is hard on them—especially if you used black plastic under the rocks. Rainfall can’t penetrate the plastic to water the plants. If you decide to use rocks as mulch, use a heavy grade of weed cloth under the rocks because water can soak through the weed cloth.

One last good word about mulch. If you use grass clippings and fall leaves as mulch, you are also helping to conserve landfill space. Texans annually send five million tons of yard trimmings and other organic waste to the dump. All that organic material needs to go back into our soil to enrich it and keep it healthy. (Yes, soil is alive with organisms that make it fertile.)

As this year quickly draws to a close, I’d like to wish everyone a very merry Christmas. Enjoy your gardening!

Posted by glynwill on 02/02/2002
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