Thursday, July 22, 2010

Agave, Yucca, and Related Plants

Agave and Yucca for Austin

First, let’s make sure we are clear about the differences between these plants, cacti, and succulents. Plants in the family agavaceae form from a central rosette with rigid stems and piercing tips on the ends of the stems. Cacti, on the other hand, are spinney and leafless plants that share the same arid conditions. Succulents comprise a large variety of species and may or may not be freeze hardy. They still prefer an arid dry environment. All these plants are succulents.

We will list several species here that have proven to do well in Austin and the surrounding regions. All require good drainage. Adding an aggregate material, such as expanded shale or decomposed granite works well. If you have very heavy clay, a bit of compost will help as well. Full to part sun for most, but there are exceptions. While most would survive if never watered, plants will look best if given a deep soaking occasionally in very hot, dry summers.

Agaves: Possibly one of the most striking families of plants, agaves are a large group with great variety in color and size. Nearly all are stemless (the rosette stays low to the ground, unlike some yucca or others). Also, most are monocarpic, meaning they flower once in their life, then die. The bloom is spectacular and they often leave a way to propagate many more. One downside to the agave, they cannot be pruned for size restriction like most shrubs. While older leaves can be removed, generally they should be allowed to grow and can become quite large. Be sure to check size info to pick a plant that won’t outgrow your spot. Many species are also available in variegated forms, some of which may be more cold sensitive.

A. Americana – Possibly the most common here in Austin. Pups freely. 6’x8’. Z8-11

A. parryi-Parry Agave. 2’x2’ Z5-11. Ssp.’Truncata’-Artichoke Agave. Also 2’x2’, Z8-11. More compact growth than regular parryi.

A. Montana- 4’x5’. Z6-11

A. Victoria Regina-One of the smallest. 1.5’x1.5’ Z8-11.

A. Salmiana-One of the largest. Green leaves. 8’x10’ Z8-11

A. Franzosini-Another very large one. Silver leaves. 8’x10’ Z8-11

A.Geminiflora– Twin Flowered Agave. May prefer some afternoon shade. May bllom without dying. 3’x3’. Z8-11

A.Vilmoriana- Octopus Agave. 4’x4’ Z9-11,

Other small agave that work well here: A. Lopantha, A. Bracteosa, A. Filifera, A. Stricta

Yuccas: A relative of the agave, yuccas are notable for their rosettes of evergreen, tough, sword-shaped leaves and large terminal clusters of white or whitish flowers. They are native to the hot and dry (arid) parts of North America, Central America, South America, and the West Indies. Unlike most agave, once mature, yuccas will bloom every year. Larger specimens may produce numerous bloom spikes. Sizes listed are maturity and may take several years to be achieved. Like most agave, most yuccas prefer full to part sun and good drainage.

Y. aloifolia- Spanish Dagger. 10’ tall on trunk. Z7-11.

Y. baccata- Banana Yucca. 4’ tall, forms colony. Z5-11.

Y. filamentosa- Adam’s Needle. 4’ tall, form colony. Z4-11

Y. pallida- Pale Leaf Yucca. 3’ tall, forms colony. Z7-11

Y. pendula (recurvifolia)- Soft Leaf Yucca. 8’ tall, form small colony. Z7-11. Tolerates medium shade.

Y. rostrata- Beaked Yucca. 15’+, usually solitary. Z5-11

Y. rupicola- Twisted Leaf Yucca. 2’ tall, forms small colony. Z8-11. Tolerates shade well and may burn in too much sun.

Y. thompsoniana- Thompson’s Yucca. 10’ tall, usually solitary. Z7-11

Hesperaloe: These yucca-like plants are also in the agave family. The plants have long, narrow leaves produced in a basal rosette and flowers borne on long panicles or racemes. The species are native to arid parts of Texas and Mexico. Sizes vary, depending on species. Flowers range from red to yellow, pink to white. Some species include: H. parvifola- Red Yucca.(also comes in yellow, and sold as Yellow Yucca), A fairly common plant in Austin and possibly one of the easiest plants to grow. H. funifera- Giant Red Yucca, and H. nocturna- Night Blooming Yucca.

Nolina and Dasylirion: Other agave relatives of note. These families included the sotols and tree grasses. Like yuccas, they bloom annually, once mature. Many of these plants have finer textures and some are spineless, making for a friendlier arid garden.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Fall tomatoes are here!

Summer Veggies-Round 2
Well, the heat has finally arrived (but thanks for all the summer rain!) and your veggies may be looking a little “long in the tooth” as we say. Many of our favorite summer veggies (tomatoes and peppers for sure) have a hard time producing flowers, and consequently fruit, in the high summer heat. This is not due as much to the daytime highs as to the nighttime “lows”. When our low temp is in the upper 70’s and 80’s, the plants can’t rest overnight to produce new flower buds. Some people will cut back their existing plants and try to reflush them for fall production, but most of us plant a new fall crop to get maximum yield.
This week, we got our first shipment of fall tomatoes in and I expect to see more of those and fall peppers arriving soon. Small plants are put in now and they will grow quickly in the heat. As the plants near maturity, the heat should (hopefully) break and they can begin to flower and produce fruit for a late summer/early fall harvest. There are a few things to keep in mind when planting these fresh for fall veggies however.
First, you are planting young plants in very high temps. They will need to be irrigated regularly, until they can get some roots going. Planning mid August vacation for a week or two, maybe skip the fall plot, unless you have a reliable waterer. Using a product like liquid seaweed is a great way to kick start root growth (naturally) on small plants and don’t forget to pot down tomatoes. If you don’t know what that means, ask one of our passionate plant professionals! Some people will also make a screen to the south and west of new plants to relieve some of the late day heat. Row cover or shade cloth works great for this. ***Merrideth Tip- Harbour Freight Tools sells a small piece of shade cloth pretty cheap in their tarp section. ***
Second, varieties are more limited for fall planting. Generally, we look for quicker maturing varieties or the tried and true stuff. We often get a little flack from people that want more and more unusual varieties to try in the garden. Rest assured, we will get everything that is offered by our growers. It will be limited.
We hope to see these plants producing in late August to mid-to-late September. Still plenty of time to get a bumper crop and leave time for the real fall plantings of leaf crops such as lettuces, cabbage, broccoli, etc…
Our veggies growers usually deliver on Thursday afternoons, so check on Friday to see what arrived. Again, we order just about everything we can, so if we don’t have it, it probably isn’t out there.
Good luck and good gardens!

Mosquito Control on Fox7

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Mosquito Control

Mosquito Control
Here in Texas, mosquitoes are just a way of life. Bites and itches are almost inevitable. Some people react differently to a bite and there is some danger from mosquitoes, however I think most TV reports are a bit exclamatory. I’ve got some tips to help you control mosquitoes in your yard. Notice I say control. You will never get rid of those pint sized pests. Let’s take a look at a few things any homeowner can do to help.
First, there are two battles occurring in our war against mosquitoes. The most obvious is a battle against the adults, the ones delivering the annoying and potentially harmful bites. Controlling adults is really more a matter of repelling them. While there are ways to kill lots of adult mosquitoes, I will assume that you do not want to poison your yard and environment to do so.
***Quick side bar: those “Mosquito Mister” systems that got so popular a couple of years back can be DANGEROUS!!! While it is, generally, true that they use a “natural” compound, the substance they use is Pyrethrum. Pyrethrum is organic, but also a very poisonous neuro-toxin. While we do “prescribe” it for some insect control, it is NOT a good idea to spray it over your entire yard, every hour, all summer long. It will kill all the insect life in your yard and could have negative effects on your pets and family from prolonged, repeated exposure.***
So, back to repelling adult mosquitoes. There are several options available to help. Most all use natural oils that release vapors that the mosquitoes despise (Finally, we get to annoy them!!!). For longest control, granular products are available. Dr. T’s and Cedarcide are both long lasting granules that are spread around areas you want protected. I use Dr. T’s and have had great results. I do find that it works best on soft surfaces, grass, beds, mulch, etc… It also may take a few hours to really start controlling, so don’t drop it out right before party guests arrive. These products contain garlic, lemongrass, or cedar oils that are released slowly from an inert granule. They will usually last 6-10 days, unless there is rain or heavy mist/dew. Cedarcide also makes a liquid version that comes in a hose-end sprayer. This delivers a similar effect, but is easier and quicker. While I don’t think it lasts quite as long, it does go to work much more quickly. There are also the incense products for quick and cheap control. We sell the Amazon Lights brand, a type with less citronella so they don’t smell as strong. They contain Andiroba oil, which is harvested sustainably.
So, these are all ways to repel adult mosquitoes and hopefully keep them from attacking you and your guests when in the outdoors. Of course, there are also the repellents you put on yourself; Off, Cutter, and Avon all make repellents. Natural repellents are available from Burt’s Bees and others, even a local company called One Fine Kid makes a natural, kid safe repellent (we sell this one!). You can also make your own natural repellent. Start with 190 proof grain alcohol from the liquor store, then blend in citronella, rosemary, and/or other oils from your local store to make a custom blend. I prefer the natural route, in theory, but if you are going to spend lots of time outside or in heavily infested areas or if you have severe reactions to bites, go for the one containing DEET, the best mosquito repellent. If you are concerned about using it, try to spray your socks and shoes, shorts or pants, shirt, etc… and not your skin. I find it still works pretty well.
Keeping the biting adults away is always welcome, but how can we eliminate the adults and try to have as close as possible to a mosquito free yard…KILL THE LARVAE!!! If you can reduce the larvae population, you will significantly reduce the number of biting adults. Here’s how.
First, get rid of all standing water that you can. We all know about old tires and bowls sitting around the yard, but really spend some time and look for anything that will hold as little as a few tablespoons of water. While inspecting the nursery, I found an old drink cup, an upside-down chair (which created a “bowl”), and a garden pot who’s drainage hole was blocked and holding water. All great places for mosquitoes to breed. If you have water that you cannot eliminate, a birdbath, pond, etc… , you can use Mosquito Bits to control larvae. These are small bits inoculated with Bacillus thuringiensis, a bacteria that is deadly to mosquito larvae, but safe for people, birds, pets, and such.
So, let’s say you’ve covered all these bases and are still seeing TONS of mosquitoes. What now? Well, I suggest you look for a “dark and dank” area in your yard. You know, those places that always seem a little cooler and moist. Maybe a pile of old leaves under the deck, a thick stand of ivy under a tree, you know the kind of area I’m referring to. Well, mosquitoes can breed in these “damp” areas. So, what can we do in these areas? Well, there has been some promising research into using Spinosad to treat for mosquito larvae. Similar to Bacillus thuringiensis, Spinosad is made from the fermentation of a naturally occurring bacteria. Now, officially, I cannot recommend a product be used for a purpose not listed on it’s label, so you didn’t hear it from me. You could also spray an area like that with pyrethrum, but I think it is much more “dangerous” for most homeowners.
Finally, there are the mosquito traps. Propane powered, often very expensive, traps have been met with mixed reviews. Some people love them, others say they don’t work at all. We are now carrying a much smaller and infinitely cheaper trap that is a plastic jar and lure packet. I opened one the other day and it was FULL of mosquitoes!!! Seems to work pretty well for a $15 investment.
We all want to enjoy the outdoors in summer, but mosquitoes can make the outdoors a bit inhospitable. A few simple steps and a touch of diligence can really help any homeowner make their yard much less attractive to mosquitoes and much more family and friend friendly!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Tree Planting tips

Succulents make local news!!!

My Fox7 segment on Succulents with Keri Bellacosa.