Oxblood lilies pop up after first fall rain

Maybe last week’s inch of rain — the first in two months — wasn’t technically the first fall rain. After all, it still sweltered into the 90s that day and the day after. But by the reckoning of the oxblood lilies (Rhodophiala bifida), the soil is refreshed and summer’s back is broken. Who am I to argue?

One good rain after the long, hot summer of dormancy, and these tough Argentine natives thrust themselves out of the soil and unfurl their bright red petals. We Austinites cheer for their arrival, which signals an end to the insufferable summer heat and the beginning of the fall bloom season.

American beautyberry (Callicarpa americana) has been proclaiming the same for a couple of weeks, but I admit I wait for the oxbloods to be convinced. Now that the berries are fully purple, it won’t be long until the mockingbirds enjoy a fall feast and strip the branches bare. I’ll enjoy them while I can.

Last year I added a Mexican beautyberry (Callicarpa acuminata) to my garden, and I’m loving the darker purple berry clusters — almost black in a certain light.

A fleeting double blossom opened on the pond crinum (Crinum procerum ‘Splendens’) today.

The pale-pink, ribbon-like petals with raspberry stamens stand out so prettily against the strappy, burgundy-black leaves.

Candy pink rain lilies (Zephryanthes ‘Labuffarosea’) were enticed back into bloom by the rain too.

Stalwart native Turk’s cap (Malvaviscus arboreus var. drummondii) hasn’t stopped blooming since early summer. But just because it’s dependable doesn’t mean I take it for granted. Turk’s cap draws hummingbirds to my garden every day, and now that they’re fueling up for their fall migration, a feeding stop is more important than ever.

Any definitive signs of fall in your garden? And does that make you happy or melancholy? Just please tell me you’re not turning your attention to Christmas decor already.

All material © 2006-2015 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

Plant This: Inland sea oats

Are you hunting for a shade plant that looks good from April to January but especially shines during the challenging late summer? Try inland sea oats, also known as northern sea oats (Chasmanthium latifolium), a grass that’s native to eastern and central North America, including central Texas. A riparian species — you’ll see it growing wild along creeks in Austin’s greenbelts — it’s marketed as a good choice for rain gardens. But with plenty of shade it grows just as well in the dry soil under live oaks.

This is the time of year I love inland sea oats the best — and there aren’t a lot of plants I can say that about. The oat-like seedheads, which to me resemble fish dangling from a line, begin changing from early summer’s apple green to fall’s bleached tan in late August and early September. The mix of soft colors is pleasing and adds interest to the late-summer garden, plus it’s a welcome promise that fall is on the way!

Inland sea oats grows in clumps, with erect but nodding stems that stand between 2 and 4 feet tall, depending on how much water it gets. Mine stays at about 2 feet under the live oaks, with once-a-week watering. It seeds out aggressively in moist conditions and can quickly form a spreading colony. This can be good or bad, depending on your goals; just be aware and be prepared. Seeds that fall into gravel (dry creeks or paving) will likely sprout in the spring, so plan on weeding to keep it in bounds. That said, seedlings pull easily after a rain, and once you have the spring volunteers weeded out, you’re good to go all year, as this plant does not spread by runners.

By January or February, inland sea oats will be done. Whack it to the ground around Valentine’s Day to clear out the freeze-dried stems and make way for the first green leaves of spring. Or, if you cut it back earlier, in the fall, you can use the stems and seedheads in dried arrangements — but then you’ll lose the quiet winter beauty of rustling, dried grasses. Plan to leave some of them standing for cover for wildlife and winter interest.

With its graceful habit and vaguely bamboo-looking stems, it’s especially nice in an Asian garden. But I love it as a dry-shade filler that deer won’t touch. Try pairing it with our native Turk’s cap (Malvaviscus arboreus var. drummondii) and American beautyberry (Callicarpa americana) for a shade-loving, wildlife-friendly power trio that provides plenty of fall color.

Note: My Plant This posts are written primarily for gardeners in central Texas. The plants I recommend are ones I’ve grown myself and have direct experience with. I wish I could provide more information about how these plants might perform in other parts of the country, but gardening knowledge is local. Consider checking your local online gardening forums to see if a particular plant might work in your region.

All material © 2006-2015 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

Good morning, sleepyhead!

Every morning lately I’ve checked out the datura (Datura wrightii) in the front garden to see how many of its night-blooming flowers are still open. Because it’s growing in bright shade, it’s never smothered in flowers, but even two or three of these hand-sized blossoms make a statement. I counted half a dozen today, their white trumpets glowing, as if lit from within, in the warm rays of sunrise.

This creamy beauty is from a couple of days ago.

I’m enjoying datura season!

All material © 2006-2015 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.