Blog posts categorized as: Pollinators

Plant Rant: Which Texas Sage is it Really?

Oct 11, 2017

I have to have a bit of a horticultural temper tantrum this morning, which has to do with plant labeling...or rather incorrect plant labeling. Plant imposters, if you will. When you're planting blooming shrubs, it can take a years for plants to establish and begin to fill in to a more mature growth habit and size. So it's pretty frustrating after all that time only to end up with the wrong plant species. Such is the saga of my Texas sage.

While there are many beautiful varieties of Texas sage, my particular favorite happens to be Leucophyllum langmaniae 'Rio Bravo'. Varieties of this species differ in growth and blooming habits from the more common Leucophyllum frutescens varieties. The former having a wider base, sprawling growth habit and heavier blooming, versus the later having a wider growth habit at the top of the plant - often developing naked knees syndrome.

About 4-5 years ago I purchased and planted 3 more specimens of what was supposed to be 'Rio Bravo' Texas sage. I have plantings of a few types of Texas sage in my front yard and the 'Rio Bravo' is always the most stunning bloomer and the pollinators adore it. Adding a few more to my hellstrip would help fill out the space and provide more color and food for insects.

Early on, I suspected something wasn't right, as the small plants began to differentiate and the foliage didn't look similar on all three. As the three plants continued to grow and become larger, it became apparent that one plants was definitely 'Rio Bravo'...but the other two? Not sure...because they never bloomed. And I mean, never bloomed. It was bizarre. After doing some research, the best I could figure was that perhaps these two non-conformers were some sort of parent species of 'Rio Bravo'...or maybe 'Lynn's Legacy'...but again, without any flowers, I couldn't be sure. I thought, ok, whatever this variety is, maybe it has a juvenility period and it needs to mature longer before it will bloom? .

It really peeves me when nurseries and garden centers get their plant labeling wrong...it has long-term and expensive consequences for the home gardener.

By now of course, the three large shrubs have grown in somewhat different forms and don't "match"...which is highly irritating. The one real 'Rio Bravo' in the bed blooms it's head off like it's supposed to...while the other two grow in a different shape and don't bloom. Which throws the entire planting off whack. And again, I was really confused as to why these two Texas sage just refused to bloom. I've spent the last three years grappling with the idea of ripping them out and starting over. Finally last year, I got the first few blooms showing up on the two non-conformers - just a hand full in late fall. While the adjacent 'Rio Bravo' was buzzing with pollinators, not a single insect would touch the flowers on the mystery plants. So..gee...is this variety photoperiodic...a short-day plant maybe...which is why it's only putting on a few flowers in fall? I've been grasping at straws here. About a week ago I committed to just ripping the now large established shrubs out this winter and starting over.

And then THIS happened two days ago, just ahead of some rainstorms that passed through (Texas sage develop flowers in response to increased humidity, changes in barometric pressure, and rainfall):

What the??!! It's like it heard me tell it I was going to rip it out...so it got to blooming in fast order! Only took 5 years. So both of these mystery plants are now in full bloom and pollinators were visiting the flowers - for the first time in my observation. Again, best I can figure these are 'Lynn's Legacy'.

The flower are a bit too pink for my taste (I prefer the deeper violet on the 'Rio Bravo')...but now that plants are actually blooming, I have to decide if they'll stay or go. Grrr.

I've noticed a few sites online that are listing this plant as 'Rio Bravo'...so beware. Alright...plant rant over, I need to go have more coffee!

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MOON CARROT: I’m freaking out over this plant!

Aug 17, 2017

Every time I visit new gardens, I always end up obsessed with at least one plant. On my most recent trip to Denver for the Perennial Plant Association Symposium, I came across just such a plant at several gardens through out my stops around the area.

MOON CARROT!!

This plant is killing me. I must have it. My precious.

I mean...look at it:

No...look at it!

The space orb blooms atop the beautiful blue/silver foliage is just too much. Not to mention, Seseli gummiferum was covered in pollinators. They were just as crazy about this plant as I was. I love the feathery silver foliage of artemesia, but inevitably 'Powis Castle' overgrows its welcome and I end up ripping it out. Perhaps this is my solution plant...

So, what is it? Well, Moon Carrot is a biennial, or short-lived perennial, that grows about 30" tall. It prefers rocky alkaline soils at high elevations...but I'm pretty sure as long as soils are well-drained, we can enjoy this beauty here. I'm gonna make it happen. I'm on a quest for seeds at the moment, but I'll report back once I have Moon Carrot in my garden.

Mason Bees are Powerful Pollinators

Mar 6, 2017

If you grow vegetables, berry bushes or fruit trees (or all of the above) then you already understand the importance of successful pollination. Flowers need to be pollinated in order to successfully produce a fruit. Even if you don’t grow your own produce in your backyard, your trips to the grocery store would be pretty bleak without pollinators. While there are many pollinators in the insect world, honey bees have traditionally been the workhorse pollinators of agricultural crops. But it’s not just our food crops that need pollinators.  According to published research, cross-pollination by bees supports at least 30% of the world’s food crops and 90% of wild plants. Bottom line: We need bees.


A baby blue orchard bee emerges from its cocoon in my garden. Hello!

You probably know that urbanites have taken to beekeeping with more interest in the last few years. I personally keep several honey bee hives myself. While we need more beekeepers, the reality is that beekeeping is not for everyone. It’s costly, requires hands-on education and a serious commitment to tend your hives and continue learning. If you have small children that regularly use your yard, then you may not be able to accommodate beehives on a small urban property. Here in the city, you also have to take more precautions to safely keep bees, being that we all have neighbors close by. So then what do you do if you want to increase your home garden yields and help the overall bee population, but you’re not prepared to become a beekeeper? Mason bees are the answer.

Did you know? There are thousands of bee species in North America other than the European honey bee. If you’ve ever spent time watching the blooming plants in your garden, you’ve probably seen many different types. If we can boost all of their populations, our food supply will be in much better shape. In fact, by boosting populations of other species, we can help mitigate some of the pressures on honey bees. Mason bees are a group of what I call “gentle super pollinators”. They don’t produce honey, but they don’t sting or require hive maintenance. While the females do have a stinger, they rarely if ever use it. The Blue Orchard Bee, which occurs naturally in our area, is one such mason bee.

Now is the time that baby mason bees will begin hatching out of their winter cocoons. You can pick up dormant cocoons of blue orchard bees and nesting materials right now at local garden centers (call ahead to check availability or have them order for you). Mason bees, unlike honey bees, don’t build honey comb in a hive. They simply nest in narrow holes or tubes they find in wood and hollow twigs. I’ve even seen them nesting in holes in my home’s exterior brick. You can purchase mason bee houses, which you fill with paper or reed tubes. It can take several seasons for your own little mason bee population to build up and that hinges on you providing nesting material. Other than the nesting material, all you have to do is sit back and let these powerful pollinators do their thing!

Passion Flower: Prized Garden Possession

Jun 10, 2016

There are few flowers we grow here in Dallas that are as exotic and intriguing as the passion flower. If you happen to have a passion flower vine in your garden, then you’ve no doubt been enjoying an explosion of blooms. While the heavy rains have caused many homeowners and landscapes some serious grief, vines like passion flower have happily soaked it up. Vines have grown leaps and bounds over the last two months and the honey bees, bumble bees and other pollinators couldn’t be happier about it.


Passion flower quickly attaches to any nearby structure, be it a fence or arbor.

If you’re looking for a perennial vine that can quickly cover a structure, such as an unsightly fence or a featured arbor, passion flower vine is a wonderful choice. There are a number of species and varieties of Passiflora spp. available, with flower colors of white, blue, purple, pink, red and orange. Some passion flower varieties aren’t completely cold hardy here in Dallas; they may die down to the ground in winter, but typically reemerge the following spring.

Passiflora caerulea, or blue passion flower (pictured in the photos), is a cold hardy specimen that typically keeps most of it’s above-ground vines and foliage over winter in Dallas, depending on the weather.  Passiflora incarnata, also known as purple passion flower or may-pop, is one of the more cold hardy and popular species for our area. Both will host butterfly larvae and produce small fruits. If you want deep red flowers, Passiflora vitifolia is widely available, although plants aren’t quite as winter hardy.

If you’re looking to attract butterflies to your landscape, passion flower vine should be at the top of your shopping list. Gulf fritillary will flock to your vines en masse. They will lay their eggs on the vines, as it is a host plant, so be prepared for their caterpillars to munch on your plants a bit. Passion flower vine recovers quickly, so there’s no need to fret about any damage.

For the best results, plant passion flower vine on a southern exposure with plenty of direct sun. Plants can tolerate some dappled or late afternoon shade; too much shade will thin out the vines and limit blooms. Be prepared for vines to grow large and assertively. They’ll attach themselves with spiraling tendrils to any nearby structure. Now is the best time to find a good selection of passion flower at your local garden center.

Get Ready for Hummingbirds in the Garden

Mar 29, 2016

With such a warm winter behind us here in Dallas, we might be seeing hummingbirds in the garden any day now. Do you have the right kinds of plants in your lanscape to attract and feed these the tiny beauties?


Crossvine is typically one of the blooming plants to attract nesting hummingbirds.

The species of hummingbirds that we see here in Dallas, ruby-throated and black-chinned hummingbirds, spend their winters in Mexico and Central America. Hummingbirds typically begin arriving in the Dallas area in late-March; usually just in time to take advantage of blooming plants like crossvine (in full bloom right now) coral honeysuckle and buckeyes. The autumn sage are already blooming, which will definitely capture their attention.


White autumn sage, and salvias of all kinds, attract hummingbirds.

If you want to attract hummingbirds to your garden and you haven’t yet put out feeders, now’s the time. Plants hummingbirds love typically produce tubular flowers that accommodate their long tongues. While hot colored flowers (red, orange, yellow), tend to be preferred, the hummingbirds in my yard are just as happy to feed on white, blue and purple salvias.

In order to see an abundance of hummingbirds in your garden, you need to attract a female to nest in spring. By putting out hummingbird feeders late-March and planting specific spring-blooming plants, you can entice a female to take up residence nearby if other conditions are right. Plants they love in Dallas gardens include esparanza, crossvine, salvia, honeysuckle, columbine and red yucca.

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