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Category Archives: Winter

Ice Creations in the Garden

February 20, 2021

Just before the extreme winter temperatures fell upon us last week, my husband called me quickly to our backyard. He was concerned about the unusual ice formations surrounding the stems of our Frostweed plant. Had he forgotten to turn off the sprinkler system or was our plant in distress?

Most years, after those beautiful fall blooms have faded and the plant turns brown, we would already have cut it down to ground level. Seems this year, it was overlooked. As we carefully touched the somewhat intriguing white substance, it was evident that the plant stems were covered in frost.

After doing a little online research, I discovered the reason for the plants name.  Frostweed, Verbesina virginica is a Texas native biennial that ranges in height from 3 to 6 feet. Our plant has easily reached the six-foot mark. It blooms in late summer and continues blooming until frost. The plant was named Frostweed because of this unique characteristic of producing intricate ice formations from its stems. Only a few species of plants are capable of producing these ice creations, more generically referred to as “frost flowers.”

Frost flowers at Raincatcher’s Garden

As early as 1833 John Herschel, son of the famed astronomer William Herschel, who discovered the planet Uranus in the 18th century, made an interesting observation. In a letter printed in Philosophical Magazine he describes going for an early morning walk several winters before noticing “a remarkable deposition of ice around the decaying stems of vegetables.” A few days later, he found a similar strange ice formation, this one seeming to emanate in a kind of riband-or frill-shaped wavy excrescence.”

Herschel’s letter is one of the earliest recorded observations of the phenomenon of “frost flowers” (sometimes called ice flowers or ice ribbons). However, he could only hypothesize about the cause of these formations. Not able to explain, he concluded that “It is for botanists to decide.”

Scientists are unsure why only a few plants in nature produce crystal ice patterns into ribbons or clusters that resemble flowers, and why only certain types of plants are affected. One theory is that frost flowers develop when air temperatures are freezing but the ground temperature is warm enough for the plant’s root system to be active and the air temperature is cold enough to freeze the upward flowing plant juices. Perhaps, as the moisture in the plant freezes, the ice crystals push out through the stem. They may emerge from a small slit to form thin ribbonlike strands. Or they may split open a whole section of the stem and push out in a thin, curling sheet.

Another theory is that the stems rupture and crack in just the right way so sap oozing out forms into wide ribbons that freeze into the ice patterns.

As you can see from the photographs, our frostweed plant seems to have formed frost crystals resembling spun cotton candy. Notice, also, that the formations are mainly around the base of the plant descending upwards for about two feet.

Frost Crystals

Whatever the true scientific reason for this phenomenon of nature, we now know that next fall when blooms are spent, frostweed will remain in our garden throughout the winter months. Even our 5-year-old granddaughter, Sadie, was so intrigued with the crystals that she couldn’t resist gathering up a handful. Oh, the joy of experiencing childlike wonders found only in nature.

Linda Alexander

Pictures by Linda Alexander and Beverly Allen

Related Posts for more learning about Frostweed:


Baby, It’s Getting Cold Outside.

February 10, 2021

Better get out more of those covers for your plants. This arctic blast is lasting through mid-week next week and temperatures are forecast to drop way down into the single digits. I have checked the weather app on my phone much more than I ever checked instagram or any other media platform and my level of anxiety was rising until I talked to Jeff Raska.

Jeff Raska, our county horticultural agent, gave some advice.

Cover all bedding plants even pansies and kale, cover all soft tissue plants and perennials that have broken bud. Shrubs that are marginally cold tolerant may also need a cover. That would include Pittosporum, Indian Hawthorn, and Loropetalum. Boxwood may get frost damage so consider covering them.

Just like us, our plants are not used to this cold weather snap so protection is in order. Fortunately, we may get rain first and Jeff says that will help a ton!

As far as frost cloth versus using bed sheets, Jeff says he has saved many plants with bedsheets. Frost cloth or frost blankets are better and will give better protection, but if you run out of those, empty out your linen closet and put those bed linens over your plants.

Looking out at my yard, I am deciding which plants are my favorites and prioritizing them. My relatively new bed of pittosporum, my giant kale, and the fall planted ShiShi Gashira camellias in front are getting the frost cloth and I may even double it. The huge Indian Hawthorns that flank my front yard beds will also get special treatment. I wish there was a way to help by Chinese Snowball Viburnums that are already blooming. For them, I will have to say a prayer.

In closing, Jeff reminded me that nature happens, Things will grow back, as long as they don’t get root damage. The sun will shine again.

Ann Lamb

Cold Weather Headed to Dallas!

February 9, 2021

I am going to make this brief because freezing weather is about to descend on us and maybe you are like the gardeners at Raincatcher’s Garden, scurrying to prepare.

Our olive tree has been wrapped around the trunk and covered with frost cloth and mulched. Our potted Meyer lemon tree in the courtyard has been protected also with frost cloth. Frost cloth gives about 8° extra warmth.

We are not worried about our two new Satsuma citrus trees. We puts tents over them but did not wrap them as thoroughly as the olive tree and lemon tree because they are hardy down to temperatures as low as 15-20°.

Read about these two Texas Superstar® plants in the links below.

For more information from Texas AgriLife about how to protect your garden during cold weather, click here.

Stay warm!

Ann Lamb

 

‘Orange Frost’ Satsuma

‘Arctic Frost’ Satsuma

 

Happy New Year From Raincatcher’s!

December 31, 2020

Dear readers, weary of 2020, please watch this video even if you saw it the first time we released it.

We are hoping you have lots of hope for 2021 and will have your best garden ever. We plan to send  information and ideas via this blog straight to your inbox for implementation into your garden plot.

We preach composting, mulch, proper plant selection, water-wise design, efficient irrigation, soil improvement when necessary, and appropriate maintenance. As one garden retailer says, we believe in improving the earth one garden at a time. Join us in 2021 for more education on these subjects.

Thank you, Starla, for this video.

Ann Lamb

Hellebores, Helleborus x hybridus

Above: 10 Hellebores were planted here 20 years ago

Twenty years ago a California couple bought a house in a heavily wooded area of Dallas because of the beautiful Cedar Elm trees.

As they set about landscaping the shady lot, Hellebores were chosen being easy-care perennials that brighten winter landscapes and prefer partial shade. We will read later about the other good qualities of Hellebores also known as Lenten Roses.

From a few Hellebores came many. Over the years they have self-seeded and now carpet the south side of the property. Linda Alexander and I had the pleasure of walking through this garden recently with the homeowners.

Above: Hellebores under Cedar Elms

Above: A view of the Hellebore garden from the street

Above: A shady bed of Hellebores, Cast Iron Plant and Ophiopogon

These are the seedlings beneath the large leaves, it takes 3 years for these to become blooming plants.

Hellebore seedlings

Husband and wife say they mulch and leave the rest up to nature. In the last few years, husband has sprayed Miracle-Gro on the Hellebores in the spring. Every year they add mulch. Wife adds this has been their most successful gardening project.

Hellebore blooms dazzle in a variety of colors including green, white, yellow, red, black, and many variations of pink and purple. They bloom in this garden from January-March.

Pink Hellebore

More about Hellebores

  • Timing-it’s  nice to have  winter flowers and blooms that last so long
  • Beauty-nodding, cup shaped flowers, with enchanting colors
  •  Reproduction-Hellebores are self-sowing and will naturalize to make large clumps. The offspring are not always like the parent; surprises welcome!
  •  Location-Dappled shade is preferred but they can survive in full shade or with some sun. They grow in almost any kind of soil except except the extremes of overly dry soil or poorly drained wet soil.
  • Evergreen-glossy dark green multi-lobed leaves with a serrated edge and leathery texture. You may want to remove the tattered leaves during fall clean-up.

Ann Lamb

Fine Gardening gives excellent advice on growing Hellebores. Good advice: to get what you want, buy them in bloom.

If you would like to use Hellebores as a cut flower, read this article from Gardenista.

 

 

 

 

Merry Christmas From The Raincatcher’s Family!

December 21, 2019

Christmas Cactus and National Poinsettia Day

Today being National Poinsettia Day reminded me of  other Christmas flowers, like Christmas cactus and a very good writing by our dear Carolyn Bush.

She is no longer with us but her writings live on! Enjoy!

They may go by many names, but whether you call them Weihnachtskaktus (German), Cactus de Noël (French), Cacto de Navidad  (Spanish), Thanksgiving Cactus (American), Holiday Cactus (US) or even Crab Cactus (referring to the clawed ends of the stem), you can’t go to any garden center or grocery store this time of year without being tempted to buy a Christmas Cactus (Europe/US/Canada).   But just how do you keep them healthy—and, as importantly, get them to bloom again next year.  Like poinsettias, another holiday flower, there’s a trick to that.

What do You Know-This is Actually a Thanksgiving Cactus

What do You Know-This is Actually a Thanksgiving Cactus

According to Clemson Cooperative Extension, Thanksgiving cactus (Schlumbergera truncata) and Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera bridgesii) are popular, fall- and winter-flowering houseplants native to Brazil, where they grow as epiphytes on tree branches in shady rain forests.  Their flowers are available in a wide variety of colors including red, rose, purple, lavender, peach, orange, cream, and white.

Strangely enough, what we call “Christmas cactus” and find most often in stores starting around November is most likely the Thanksgiving cactus  (Schlumbergera truncata), as it blooms almost a month before Schlumbergera bridgesii.  If you really want to impress your friends with your horticultural knowledge, the way to tell the two apart, according to the Clemson website, is to “look at the shape of the flattened stem segments, which are botanically called phylloclades.  On the Thanksgiving cactus, these stem segments each have 2 to 4 saw-toothed serrations or projections along the margins. The stem margins on the Christmas cactus are more rounded.

A second method to distinguish between these two Schlumbergera species is based on the color of the pollen bearing anthers. The anthers of the Thanksgiving cactus are yellow, whereas the anthers on the Christmas cactus are purplish-brown.”

Since Holiday cactus originated in shady rain forests, it is best to grow them in light shade.  The secret to good repeat flower production involves temperature regulation (do not let the temperature go over 90 degrees once the flower buds appear) and photoperiod (length of day and night) control.  Fourteen hours or more of continuous darkness each day for at least six weeks is required for complete bud set to occur.  Street lights, car lights or indoor lightening can disrupt the required dark period.  My mother, who once grew a Christmas cactus so large and with so many buds that she donated it to a horticultural center when she moved, would put her Christmas cactus in a dark closet every night for six weeks starting in September.

Watering and fertilizing the Christmas cactus is fairly easy.  Though Holiday cactus can tolerate being somewhat under-watered during the summer, once buds appear the soil should remain slightly moist or the buds may drop.  Clemson recommends fertilizing once monthly with a dilute 20-20-20 fertilizer from the time new growth starts in the early spring.  As Holiday cactus have a higher requirement for magnesium, Epsom salts (one teaspoon per gallon of water) can be used also, but not applied at the same time as the other fertilizer.  The plants do best grown in well-drained soil and like being somewhat pot bound.  The most common problem is over-watering which produces root rot.

Christmas cactus is easily propagated by cuttings, so if you are looking for a present to give to your gardening friends, you might try growing them yourself.  However, whether you want to go to all the trouble of getting them to bloom or whether you just want to consider your Christmas cactus as a “holiday annual plant,” go ahead and purchase that beautiful Christmas cactus at the store.  After all, what says “Holiday” to a gardener more than poinsettias and Christmas cactus.

Carolyn Bush

Picture by Starla

Quince, An Antidote to the Grey Days of Winter

In the dead of winter, shopping for flowering quince seemed like a good idea. Like most gardeners, I was familiar with Texas Scarlet and it’s lipstick pink blooms.

Texas Scarlet, Chaenomeles japonica ‘Texas Scarlet’.

They had been blooming beautifully along the Katy Trail since early February.

There are many  varieties of flowering quince with colors ranging from red to light pink, white, orange, and apricot. For instance, ‘Orange Storm’, ‘Scarlet Storm’ and ‘Pink Storm’, marketed as the Double Take™ series grow 3-4 feet in height and  4-5 feet in width and have big, vibrant colored, double flowers. The  flowers were pretty but no longer looked like the quince I knew.  So then  I looked at ‘Crimson and Gold’ Flowering Quince. It was too red for me.

Finally,  I chose this one:

Chaenomeles japonica ‘Chojuraki’

What do you think about my selection?

Ann Lamb

 

Flowering quince is probably suitable for your garden if you have sunshine. Read about it on Texas SmartScape.

If you have heard of Tree Quince, (Cydonia oblonga), you’ll know it produces a yellow pome fruit similar to a pear.  Information about the fruit, quince, can be found here.

Some of the flowering quince shrubs (Chaenomeles japonica)  bear small, hard, aromatic fruits in fall used in making jelly or preserves. If you don’t get around to using them, the birds will!

 

 

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2019 Raincatcher’s Classes

Grapes growing at The Raincatcher’s Garden

 

We have three more events scheduled and more coming:

Saturday,February 16th, 10am-noon Grape Pruning and Growing class with Michael Cook, Viticulture Extension Program Specialist for North Texas, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service

Michael Cook, Viticulture Program Specialist – North Texas, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, has been consulting with Raincatcher’s to maximize production on our two grape varieties in the vineyard. We planted ‘Carlos’ Muscadine (Vitis rotundifolia) and Champanel, (Vitis champini X Worden), an American hybrid, almost four years ago. All that hard work paid off last summer, when we harvested well over 50 lbs of grapes. Michael will demonstrating proper pruning and training techniques for the backyard grower and provide advice on how to care for grapevines throughout the growing season for a successful crop. The class is free and open to all! Raincatcher’s Garden of Midway Hills is a demonstration garden and project of Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service and Dallas County Master Gardeners located on the campus of Midway Hills Christian Church. To find the class, please park in the west or north parking lots and come to the shade pavilion in the north garden.

Tuesday, March 26th,  10:30 am Growing vegetables in the home garden, Jeff Raska.

Thursday, April 25th – Plant sale and DCMGA monthly meeting

Details will follow and we hope to add more classes to the list soon.

All of the above classes qualify for CEU credits for Master Garderners.

All members of the public are invited.

Questions? Send us a comment.

For more education opportunities, check our Master Gardener website.

Ann Lamb

Picture by Starla Willis

 

 

 

 

 

Winter Honeysuckle, A Breath Of Spring

Winter Honeysuckle at Raincather’s

Winter honeysuckle, Lonicera fragrantissima, is a breath of spring when we need it most.

Delicate Bloom of the Winter Honeysuckle

It isn’t native to Texas, but as the bumper stickers say–It got here as soon as it could–brought from China in the 19th century.  Since then it has proven to be a hardy easy care shrub with one claim to fame, but that’s a big claim.  First, shell pink buds swell along the branches followed by many fluffy white flowers that smell lovely. The scent is similar to gardenia but not oppressive, a light springy fragrance.  This display goes on for weeks even when there are freezes providing a treat for the gardener and obviously a treat for the bees at a time when treats are in short supply.
 

Honeybee in January enjoying Winter Honeysuckle blooms.

 
It won’t take long to list care requirements for this plant. Provide good drainage in either full sun or partial shade for Winter Honeysuckle.  Naturally it must be watered to establish, after that it does not require large amounts of irrigation. Remember, of course,  that all plants need water provided when rain is not forthcoming.
 
Winter honeysuckle can grow large, but it can be kept much smaller by pruning done after the winter bloom. Do be aware that in some areas this plant can be overly rambunctious.  This has not been a problem at Raincatcher’s but be watchful especially if your garden is near a wild area. Winter Honeysuckle spreads by seed and suckers.
 
Does it sound like just what your garden needs?  Hopefully there will be starts available at the Raincatcher’s plant sale at the April 2019 meeting!
 
 
 
Susan Thornbury
Pictures by Starla
More about Winter Honeysuckle
 

 

 

 

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