2013 – A Gardening Year in Review

In previous posts, I have emphasized the importance of planning before digging but equally important is taking time to assess what succeeded and failed during the past growing season.
With a well below average cold winter in progress in central Texas, which is testing our garden’s endurance, it’s a good time to evaluate the past year’s gardening experience and lessons learned.

I started the year with a goal of transitioning to more native and cold hardy adaptive selections. This proved to be a prophetic and wise decision. Although several plants such as Barbados Cherry and Calamondin Orange have shown damage this winter from several hard freezes down to 20 degrees, they should recover in spring. Any non-hardy plants too large to fit into my small greenhouse are being eliminated. In some cases like Agaves, where pups are produced, a pup will be retained in the greenhouse for downsized growing next season. The jury is still out on other plants as freeze damage is often delayed. I have shifted from trying to cover-protect marginal in-ground plants during occasional freezes to a survival of the fittest garden by using plants adaptive to expected extremes, Having a small greenhouse becomes a real asset and money saver as marginal plants can be safely over-wintered for use in the coming year such as Bulbine, Pentas, and newly propagated plants needing more maturity before planting in spring.

Specifically, I decided to replace Heart leaf Skullcap with Mountain pea. The former proved to be only a cool season perennial which is highly invasive and hard to eliminate, The latter is a beautifully textured slow spreading, all season ground cover which is unaffected by hard freezing. Put that one in the plus column! Also a good move was to eliminate Zexmenia, a die back perennial, with Purple Skullcap, an evergreen perennial similar to pink Skullcap in size and texture

I also collected Bluebonnet seed and learned how and when to transplant seedlings for integration into the spring garden in a planned, not random manner. Once germinated, bluebonnet plants are freeze proof.

As our trees continue to grow, micro environments change. Lawn areas that were mostly sunny when we planted buffalo grass have become shaded causing decline. Those areas will be replaced with shade tolerant dwarf Mondo Grass adding another texture to the landscape. Another alternative is more shade tolerant Habiturf developed by the LBJ Wildflower Center. Word is it will be available as sod in 2014,

Another lesson learned was that our xeriscape designing did not predict erosion areas well, so corrective actions will include some replacement of hardwood mulched pathways with small river rock, and creation of mini-berms to slow water flow from heavy rain on sloped areas. Two years ago, we spread 3 inches of native hardwood mulch and will need to refresh it this winter. This is good news as the decomposition has enriched and improved topsoil texture.

Our decision and action to transform our entire yard to a xeriscape has reduced maintenance and water usage significantly and continues to reward us – best garden decision ever made.

So, what’s your assessment of your gardening experiences during the past year? Taking time to think about it will help you succeed and improve your gardening enjoyment In the coming year. Although this article addresses central Texas, the same philosophy works well wherever you garden. Winter is a great time to assess and develop your garden plan and strategy for spring and beyond. Preparatory work, mental and physical, to make those adjustments during winter will keep your gardening enthusiasm going strong while we are waiting for spring to come.