Hello, winter — you’ve zapped my garden


Hello, winter! We’re not used to seeing you here in Central Texas. Despite predictions of a mild winter, with the warming influence of a La Niña, we’ve already had two multi-day stretches of hard freezes, with a couple of nights dropping into the upper teens.


The result? Brown, brown, brown plants. Semi-melted agaves and aloes. Tender succulents reduced to mush. (Notice the potted ‘Monterrey Frost’ squid agave looks great though!)


Considering that my garden didn’t have a single hard freeze last winter, this has come as a shock, not only to my marginally hardy plants but to my eyes. I’m not used to seeing so much brown. And I have to admit that I don’t like it.


Oh, the natives are fine, of course. They can take temperature extremes in stride. The Texas dwarf palmetto (Sabal minor) on the left still looks green and happy. So do certain exotics, like pale pavonia (Pavonia hastata) and ‘Sparkler’ sedge. But bamboo muhly (Muhlenbergia dumosa) and foxtail fern (Asparagus meyeri), both of which I rely on heavily because they thrive in dry, dappled shade and deer don’t touch them, have become as dry and bleached as straw. I can only hope they’ll come back from the roots.


It’s the same story with Mexican honeysuckle (Justicia spicigera) and variegated flax lily (Dianella tasmanica ‘Variegata’). Mushy and brown.

If you’re wondering, yes, I cut back the dianella in the front garden because I couldn’t stand its straw-like ugliness near the front door. But generally I recommend waiting on cutting back until mid-February to give roots a little protection, to avoid stimulating early growth that could get zapped by another freeze, and to give shelter to wildlife.


In the back garden, the stand of Mexican honeysuckle, usually green all winter, is blackened and sad.


Even my normally winter-hardy ‘Jaws’ agave shows some bleached-out freeze damage.


This is when yuccas really shine, like these ‘Color Guard’ yuccas. Winter weather doesn’t faze them. Let’s sing the praises of ‘Winter Gem’ boxwood too, impervious to polar vortexes. Gah, the poor bamboo muhly behind the yuccas, though.

I’m sure those of you in colder climates are finding it hard to sympathize. What can I say? Mild winters are surely our reward, here in Texas, for putting up with blistering summers, right? RIGHT??


Ah well. Spring is already stirring here in Austin, as the Carolina jessamine (Gelsemium sempervirens) shows. By mid-February new growth will be glowing green throughout the garden, and winter clean-up will begin in earnest.

This is my January post for Foliage Follow-Up. Fellow bloggers, what leafy loveliness — or ugliness — is happening in your garden this month? Please join me in giving foliage its due on the day after Bloom Day. Leave a link to your post in a comment below. I’d appreciate it if you’ll also link to my post in your own — sharing link love! If you can’t post so soon after Bloom Day, no worries. Just leave your link when you get to it. I look forward to seeing your foliage faves.

I welcome your comments; please scroll to the end of this post to leave one. If you’re reading this in a subscription email, click here to visit Digging and find the comment box at the end of each post.
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Digging Deeper: News and Upcoming Events

2/25/17: Come to my talk at the Wildflower Center. I’ll be speaking at the day-long Native Plant Society of Texas Spring Symposium at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin. My talk is called “Local Heroes: Designing with Native Plants for Water-Saving Gardens,” and it’s about creating water-wise home gardens that don’t sacrifice beauty. The symposium is open to the public. Click here for registration. I’ll be offering signed copies of my books, The Water-Saving Garden and Lawn Gone!, after my talk ($20 each; tax is included). I hope to see you there!

Get on the mailing list for Garden Spark Talks. Inspired by the idea of house concerts — performances in private homes, which support musicians and give a small audience an up-close and personal musical experience — I’m hosting a series of garden talks by design speakers out of my home. The first talk with Scott Ogden has sold out, but join the Garden Spark email list for speaker announcements delivered to your inbox; simply click this link and ask to be added.

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

Come hear my talk at the Wildflower Center on 2/25

On Saturday, February 25, I’ll be speaking at the day-long Native Plant Society of Texas (NPSOT) Spring Symposium at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin, Texas.

My talk is called Local Heroes: Designing with Native Plants for Water-Saving Gardens, and it’s about creating water-wise home gardens that don’t sacrifice beauty. Get inspired by before-and-after photos of native-plant gardens and and creative design ideas for water-conserving gardens!

The symposium is open to the public. Click here for registration. I’ll be offering signed copies of my books, The Water-Saving Garden and Lawn Gone!, after my talk ($20 each; tax is included). I hope to see you there!

Here’s the official info from the NPSOT website:

Registration includes entrance to the gardens and a boxed lunch. Pricing will be $55/person, or $50/members of the Society or Wildflower Center. Check-in on the day of the event begins at 8 am and the first speaker will start at 8:45. There will be five presentations:

Reflections on Water. Tom Spencer, best known as the host of Central Texas Gardener, is also director of Texas Living Waters Project. “A general and philosophical reflection on conserving water resources and cultivating a kind of rootedness where we as humans accept our personal responsibility to heal, steward and protect our environment.”

Integrating Native Plants in a High Use, Urban Area. Beth Carroll, project director of The Trail Foundation, will talk about using native plants on the hike-and-bike trails around Lady Bird Lake. “See how one of the largest and fastest growing cities in the U.S. is utilizing native plants in an urban, high-use, naturalized setting; specifically examining the intersection of human users and the needs of a healthy native plant ecosystem in the context of a riparian environment.”

Local Heroes: Designing with Native Plants for Water-Saving Gardens. Pam Penick, Austin-based blogger at Digging and author of Lawn Gone! and The Water-Saving Garden. Pam will have a book signing following her presentation. “A fresh look at creating water-wise home gardens that don’t sacrifice beauty. Get inspired by before-and-after photos of native-plant gardens and Pam’s creative design ideas for water-conserving gardens.”

Texan by Nature. Erin O’Neil Franz, executive director, will present an overview of the Texan By Nature organization. “A united effort of Texas citizens, property owners, and businesses who share a passion for the conservation of sustainable native landscapes, recognizing the tangible benefits of our natural resources for the health and prosperity of our people and land.”

Native Edible Plants: A Taste of Place. Andrea DeLong-Amaya, director of horticulture at the Wildflower Center. “Research and strong public interest of wild and native edibles are timely today, as it relates to health, history and culture giving humans our sense of place and taste.”

Rock scrambling at Bull Creek on New Year’s Day


For a New Year’s Day hike, we explored Bull Creek again, doing a bit of scrambling among the boulders on the cliff edge. It was a glorious day, about 74 F degrees and sunny. My daughter struck a few poses above the creek. I call this one The Moonrise Kingdom, after the Wes Anderson movie.


Here’s The Instagram. In the distance, the setting sun lit up the cedar trees and live oaks on the bluff, giving this illusion of spring greens or maybe early fall color.


The creek winds along the bluff, and we surmised that the enormous boulders in the creek were once part of the cliff behind us, and fell off after a millennia of being undercut by the water.


My husband exploring the creek boulders


The cliff is mostly vertical, but native plants have managed to find toeholds in the cracks, like this beautiful Texas nolina, which cascades over the rock face like Rapunzel’s hair. Sadly, invasive nonnatives like ligustrum are colonizing the cliffs too, but we saw evidence that a native-plant group is working to eliminate them: many ligustrum trees have been cut down, and others have been girdled, which will kill them.


Farther along the creek, limestone ledges create mossy grottos. Spring water trickled over some of the ledges like mini-waterfalls.


We found the wagon tracks carved into the limestone creek bed in an earlier era. For more info, see my post about the tracks from late November.


Bull Creek is a special part of Austin. An afternoon visit was a beautiful and peaceful way to start the New Year.

I welcome your comments; please scroll to the end of this post to leave one. If you’re reading this in a subscription email, click here to visit Digging and find the comment box at the end of each post.

All material © 2006-2017 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

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