Zilker Neighborhood Gardens

Commentary by a National Wildlife Steward who helps Zilker neighbors establish native plant gardens

Tag Archives: red bud

Agave Flower – Preservation

Agave plant with shootOur last agave along the street, shot up its flower this summer. Early on, my husband and I were betting on how tall it would get. It seemed to be growing a foot every few days. Luckily, it grew up straight and tall and did not grow that high – only about 8-10 feet high. As it neared the end of its life, the flowers spent, I wanted to do something so I could save the agave flower stalk. I googled around and found very, very few ideas. The Master Gardener in Arizona suggested cutting it off and putting it in your garden surrounded by rocks so it could serve as a home for bees. Mr. Smarty Plants from the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center also entertained some similar questions. Mr. Plants indicated that you wouldn’t want to cut the stalk while it is blooming because the whole plant would die all the sooner, and you’d be removing the longevity of the flowers which are food for all sorts of insects. Well, I waited until my agave stalk had flowered and the whole plant was decaying in on itself. I thought burying the cut stalk in the garden Agave stalk cut(surrounded by rocks) could be a cool idea. But we felt we’d need a pretty deep hole. These agave stalks are HEAVY. Instead I decided to cut it and put it in a vase of sorts with rocks. This proved to be somewhat difficult to find the right container. But ultimately I bought a clear glass, large vase from Michael’s (on sale for $15). We cut the stalk off, put it in the jar on a bed of moss (also purchased at Michael’s) and carefully dropped rocks in all around the stalk. We had the rocks extra from other landscaping projects. I chose to put it on our upper balcony. Here’s what it looks like:

Agave PreservedRock containeragave containerThe gardenerRemoving the agave took some heft, but it wasn’t too bad since it was dead.

I planted a Mexican Red Bud tree in its place.

Mexican Red Bud Tree

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Adding a Pocket Prairie to the Urban Landscape

There’s no doubt we live in an urban area. Lots ‘o concrete – which is so hot in the summer! I love the cooling effect plants have on the ecosystem and the human body (and wildlife bodies). Our house had lots of rock landscaping and grass when we bought it in 2009. A few years ago, we unfortunately had to remove 5 agaves from the hell zone strip near the street. In doing that, I added wildflower seed that love the harsh climate in that area. The wildflowers bloom from February – July and then dry out. I usually cut them back in September, and they soon start growing again and present as small green plants for most of the winter. In any case, let’s move on to my last “rock zone” that I replaced in the last year.

This rock zone had an agave on it near the street (which we removed) and added, in replacement, a Texas Red Bud. We added a vegetable garden, but I found that I was not a great vege gardener or that the creatures got everything first. As the years went by, the area became a bermuda grass rock haven that we had to weed whack since there were so many rocks. I decided to kill the grass with my solarization method (I used black plastic) between December 2012 – March 2013. When we removed the plastic, we had dead bermuda grass and still a lot of rock.

Picture of yard area with dead Bermuda Grass

Side of yard with dead Bermuda grass after solarization for 3-4 months

We put out a call to neighbors who wanted rock. People came and shoveled it into their trucks, and we got rid of it. I hired some guys to dig up the dead Bermuda (you think it’s dead but it seems to come back to live with the least water and a tad of a root). I made them dig deep to pull out all the dead grass. After they left, I went through it AGAIN myself and got more of the dead clippings and roots. At that point, the area looked like this:

PIcture of area with no grass.

Grass removed by hand, ready for seed.

There was still a bit of rock in the soil, but that’s certainly OK for native plants and grasses. I bought a Pocket Prairie seed mix from Native American Seed for this area. This has so many different types of seeds, you’ll have great plants in your garden year-round. I spread these seeds in March 2013 which is not optimal. It would have been better to do it in the Fall but alas, that is not when I was ready. So I did it anyway. And it worked just fine! When you spread the seeds, I just threw the seeds around on the ground, then hoed very, very lightly so about 1/4″ of dirt gets moved on top of seeds. Then I watered it for about 15 days until I saw sprouts. Then I just left it. I’m not sure I even watered it. First, the grasses grew, so I had nice grasses this past fall. Now, the flowers are growing. The best part: I haven’t seen any bermuda grass (I hate to even write that down but it’s true for the moment, anyway). I had a few weeds this spring but dug them out easily. In addition to the Texas Red Bud, there’s a Mexican Plum (provided by the City of Austin) and a non-native Loquat tree that was here when we bought the house. View the slideshow the current show that’s happening.

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Leaf for a Leaf … Reading and Tree Program

Let me begin by saying I saw a Red Bud tree blooming yesterday, February 7th, on Kerr St. I’ll let you do the roaming to find it. Red bud trees will be mentioned later in this post … but now to my topic!

Combining two of my favorite things in the world: reading and gardening – is the Leaf for a Leaf program sponsored by the Austin Public Library, TreeFoks, Austin Parks and Recreation Urban Forestry Program, and Austin Energy.

Attention tree lovers of all ages, the Leaf for a Leaf program promotes borrowing library books to reduce the number of trees that are cut down to make paper. Learn to improve the air we breathe, minimize environmental impact, and enhance your surroundings. The program celebrates trees in the late fall through the early winter because it is the best time to plant them in Central Texas. This year Leaf for a Leaf takes place from October 29 through March 3. Make sure to participate in our Leaf for a Leaf reading contest. Turn in a card at the Twin Oaks Branch, 1800 South Fifth Street, for every five books you read. The more you read, the better chance you have of winning a big prize. So what are you waiting for? Start reading a leaf for a leaf now!

Photo of reading log entry cardI saw a display in the Twin Oaks branch library today. It’s not too late to start keeping track of your reading to be entered into the final drawing for prizes. While I’m not 100% convinced by their premise to decrease the number of books printed and reduce trees cut down (how can I when my husband is a book publisher and author?), I am 100% supportive of checking out books at the library. In fact, I have been in a monthly book club for more than 4 years and I have never bought even one of the books for the monthly book club meetings. I am committed to getting my books from the library. Sometimes I check-out the actual book, sometimes an audio book version, and lately, a Kindle book version read on my iPad. Anyway, that’s enough about reading …

And now let’s turn to gardening. The finale event of Leaf for a Leaf is an event at Ricky Guerrero Park (click for map), which is located just south of the Twin Oaks Library. See the details below. At this event, not only can you help mulch trees at the park, it looks like you can also receive a free book bag, a red bud sapling (one of my favorite trees – I have planted 3 of them in the last year at my own house, though mine are not blooming yet), and mulch.

March 3 at 9 a.m. to 12 noon
Tree Celebration Finale @ Ricky Guerrero Park, 2006 S. Sixth St.
Bring the whole family to show some love for the trees at Ricky Guerrero Park. Join the Library and Parks Departments to mulch the park’s trees. There will be snacks, hands-on book and tree themed crafts for kids and adults. Everyone who attends will walk away with a free book bag, sapling and mulch. Austin Parks and Recreation’s Urban Forestry experts will be on hand to teach you how to care for your new tree-to-be. Additionally, turn in your Leaf for a Leaf frequent reader cards to be entered into a drawing for exciting prizes! You must be present to win.
This is your chance to also reap the benefits of all the reading you are doing. Turn inĀ  your reading logs, and you’ll be entered into the drawing. See you there on March 3rd.
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