Final fall foliage as winter’s icy breath freezes Austin


Austin plummeted from a high of 80 F (26.6 C) yesterday afternoon to 26 F (-3.3 C) this morning, and today the Japanese maple is clinging shiveringly to far fewer leaves than yesterday, when I took this photo. That’s Texas winter weather for you.


In preparation for the coming Arctic blast, I sweated yesterday for an hour in short sleeves moving tender succulents into the garage and covering with sheets any that are too big to move.


A blue norther (a strong cold front blowing in from the north) swirled into Austin around 8 pm last night, in the midst of holiday party hopping. The wind lasted through the night, and I fear it blew off some of the plant-protecting sheets, but it’s cold enough that the sheets might not have helped anyway. I hope the variegated flax lily (in the foreground) will be OK. I never cover it — I have too much — but it doesn’t like sustained subfreezing weather.


Of course the native and adapted plants, like river fern and Japanese maple (and most of my plants), will be perfectly fine and don’t need any special protection. The native ferns will die back to the ground and the maple will drop its leaves until spring returns in a couple of months.


Other fall-colorful plants, like chile pequin, will shrivel and go dormant too.


Moonlight-yellow flower spikes on the forsythia sage (Salvia madrensis) yesterday — farewell!


Pink abutilon blooming yesterday. It likes cool weather, but a few hard freezes may shrivel it too.


In the pond, dwarf papyrus has surprisingly wonderful fall color. I photographed it yesterday before dropping the pot to the bottom of my raised container pond to give it some protection from the cold.


I’ll pull it back up to the surface on Wednesday, when temps return to normal — i.e., comfortably above freezing at night — but the beautiful flowerheads will be limp and brown. No worries! They’ll be back next year.


Here’s hoping the hard freeze zaps a lot of mosquitoes and other pests. We didn’t get a hard freeze last winter, and our summer gardens were jungly and the bugs were fierce. We needed this.

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Bluebonnets already a-blue-m at the Wildflower Center


Well, this is a surprise! Bluebonnets (Lupinus texensis) ordinarily bloom in April, but a bonny patch was abloom yesterday in the family garden at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.


Don’t go running over for your photo op with the kids. Only about 3 plants are blooming this early. But I hope it’s a preview of a good wildflower season to come.


Carolina jessamine (Gelsemium sempervirens) was in full flower as well — not that unusual for our mild-winter climate. The one in my back garden is blooming too, although not as prolifically.


Mmmm, that sweet scent.


Possumhaw hollies (Ilex decidua) are at their reddest berry-liciousness right now too.


Throughout the gardens, the berries are a-blazing, and the birds are taking notice.


I enjoyed watching cedar waxwings, tufted titmice, mockingbirds, and more feasting on the berries yesterday and will share pictures soon.


I’d been meaning to get down to the Wildflower Center (all the way across town) all day but didn’t arrive until around 4 pm. Happily, the slanting sunlight of late afternoon made for better picture taking. See, Mom, procrastination does pay!


Yuccas and nolina amid limestone boulders — very Austin.


Back in the sunny family garden, big muhly grasses (Muhlenbergia lindheimeri) are looking very fine, with tawny upright seedheads.


The ghostly branches of Texas persimmon (Diospyros texana) seem to shine brightly in late winter, once the semi-evergreen leaves drop.


Texas persimmon and Lindheimer’s muhly, a drought-tolerant, sun-loving combo


The buffalograss (Bouteloua dactyloides) play lawn was getting some use yesterday. Bronze sculptures of native wildlife appear throughout the family garden, making a fun “safari” for children.

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Upcoming Events and News

I’m on Central Texas Gardener on KLRU this Saturday at noon and 4 pm and again on Sunday at 9 am. Consult the schedule below to see if it’s airing in your city, or watch online (my segment starts at the 9-minute mark).

Look for me on Instagram as pamdigging. See you there!

Hold the Hose! Join me for my kick-off garden talk for my new book, The Water-Saving Garden, on February 27, at 10 am, at The Natural Gardener nursery in southwest Austin. My talk is called “Hold the Hose! How to Make Your Garden Water Thrifty and Beautiful,” and it’s free to the public. Afterward I’ll have books available for purchase and will be glad to autograph one for you! Dress for the weather, as the talk will be held in the big tent outside.

Have you watched my zippy new book trailer?

All material © 2006-2016 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

Aloe from the other siiiiiide


With apologies to Adele and her earworm of a song, aloes are still saying hello in my garden this mild winter with spring-like flowering.


I find their leaves equally eye-catching, with white spots reminiscent of disco-ball light effects.


Believe it or not, this is the same aloe (A. maculata), but it appears to have a Coppertone tan. Why? It’s been cold-stressed. Many succulents change color when they experience stress from cold or drought. Because it’s planted in a shallow dish container, this aloe has gotten a good deal colder this winter than the one pictured above, and its leaves reflect that. I think it’s pretty.


Also showing off right now are the abutilons.


This unnamed pink one — my last survivor of three over the years — is blooming well, with more buds ready to pop.


At its feet, native heartleaf skullcap (Scutellaria ovata) carpets the ground with its blue-green leaves — its winter incarnation. Come spring, spires of lavender flowers appear, and then it’ll go dormant for the summer. In the culvert-pipe planters, squid agave (A. bracteosa) offers fountain-like form and dependable, cold-hardy winter interest.


As do the ‘Winter Gem’ boxwoods. A pair of them guards each of the four “doorways” into the circular pond garden.


And one more abutilon to end with: ‘Marilyn’s Choice’, glowing in the fading light of last evening.

_______________________

Upcoming Events and News

Look for me on Instagram as pamdigging. See you there!

Hold the Hose! Join me for my kick-off garden talk for my new book, The Water-Saving Garden, on February 27, at 10 am, at The Natural Gardener nursery in southwest Austin. My talk is called “Hold the Hose! How to Make Your Garden Water Thrifty and Beautiful,” and it’s free to the public. Afterward I’ll have books available for purchase and will be glad to autograph one for you! Dress for the weather, as the talk will be held in the big tent outside.

Have you watched my zippy new book trailer?

All material © 2006-2016 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

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