Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Winter plantings

A couple weeks ago, just before the latest Arctic Express blew through and sent temperatures plummeting, I went out into the backyard and did some of my annual horticulture stuff. I'm not planting as much as in previous years, because I had fewer trees already in the ground back then. Makes sense. I also have less disposable cash this time around, so I'm being a bit more selective in what I spend it on (hint: It's mostly tiki bar stuff). One of my main projects for the coming year is landscaping around the swimming pool. The palm trees are nice, yes, but the grounds beneath them have gotten a bit feral. Last summer I planted an "Aphrodite" Rose of Sharon, which is a type of cold-tolerant hibiscus originally from Asia. The idea is that this will grow up to offer some privacy screening for the pool. It didn't get planted until summer had already begun, so it struggled mightily. In fact, at multiple points I thought it had died, but it proved a durable trooper. Desiring more hibiscus for the tropical flair they offer, last month I ordered a smaller, shrubby type with massive crimson flowers known as "Lord Baltimore." This one only grows 3'-4' tall and will make a nice accent plant in an area where I'd cut back a bedraggled, half-dead growth of rosemary (I like rosemary, but this part was seriously unhealthy and in terrible shape). I just received notice that my Lord Baltimore will be delivered today via USPS, and am looking forward to getting my hands on it.

Another project I have going is the germination of about 20 sabal minor dwarf palmettos. These are shrubby, trunkless palms that I've wanted for a while to add as understory plants beneath our big sabal palms. They lend a very tropical look wherever they're planted, and the "McCurtain" variety I've received originates from Oklahoma, where they survive harsh winters as well as heat and drought. In short, they're very hardy and should do well for me. Saba Minor is a Texas native, and can be seen in Palmetto State Park. I'm germinating the seeds in a plastic baggie filled with moist vermiculite and peat moss, resting atop a seed germination heat map. The other day I found one had started putting out a tap root, so I'm hoping I'll have an over-abundance of seedlings in another week or so.

Below is the only real "new" tree I've planted thus far this year. Three years ago I bought a Galaxy Peach from Fanick's in San Antonio. That's a type of flat, donut peach. Well, it fruited for the first time last year, and guess what? The peach was elongated and not a Galaxy at all. So the folks at Fanick's, being the kind of upstanding people that they are, offered me a replacement. I planted this Galaxy across the yard from my others. I hadn't intended to get more than two peach trees, but hey, I roll with the punches.

Although the tree had been pruned back by the nursery, I thought the root system under-developed for even that smaller tree size, so I pruned it back even more. Being no stranger to losing first-year trees to the Texas summer, I took those pruned branches and made several grafts to my already-established mystery peach across the yard. If this one turns out to be Galaxy, I'm in great shape even if the new tree dies (which I hope it doesn't).

Next up was leftover business from last year. I'd ordered a che, otherwise known as Mandarin melonberry, a small tree that is related to Osage orange. In fact, they're grafted onto hardy Osage root stock. It was fairly small when I got it and I worried it wouldn't survive the summer, so I potted it up instead. It hardly grew at all through the first half of summer, then put on a crazy spurt of growth to end up with a several willow-floppy branches, the longest being nearly 5' long. Needless to say, I was happy to get this one in the ground, although I'm going to prune it back for sanity's sake.

In the front yard I'd originally envisioned a row of small crabapple trees lining the driveway, and planted two Blanco crabapples to start, since they're attractive natives. Floods and deer and eventually cedar apple rust conspired to do one of them in last year, and I picked up a replacement from Madrone Nursery but got to thinking that maybe it wasn't worth the trouble to grow crabapples in the front yard. I could easily see someone accidentally backing into one whilst trying to park, and the potential for flooding and deer wasn't ever going away. So instead, I decided to put the new Blanco crab in the back yard, and did so a short distance from the peach, above. In fact, I'm seriously considering digging up the remaining crab in the front and relocating it, since it is not so very big yet. I've never moved a tree before, so we'll see how that goes. I also planted a Hewe's Virginia Crabapple in the spot where I lost an Arkansas Black apple tree late last summer. The Hewe's was originally one of four bench grafts I received last spring--two Wickson's crabapples and two Hewe's. Sadly, the Wickson's grafts failed, period. The Hewe's grew very well, but my beagles snapped the graft on one and my emergency re-grafting efforts failed. So I'm left with the one. Before bud break this spring, I'm going to take some cuttings and graft it onto other apple trees I have already established, to hedge my bets.

Finally, I'm doing grapes again. You may remember I tried this last year, getting several cuttings of rare T.V. Munson varieties from Grayson College. Of those cuttings last year, only Vahalhah survived to my embarrassment. Elvicand had several cuttings root, but I lost them all when I forgot to water them for several days. Ben Hur leafed out and grew well before abruptly dying. Turns out this one never developed any roots! The final type, Wapanuka, never did anything. It just failed completely. So, I decided to try again. This time, Grayson only sent Ben Hur and Elvicand cuttings, which makes me wonder if there's a problem with Wapanuka in general. Regardless, these two are in my refrigerator to stay dormant until the weather starts to warm, at which point I will attempt rooting once again.

As it stands now, I think I have all the trees I'm going to try and get, outside of a couple of cold-tolerant avocados, and a kumquat or two, perhaps. The rest of the way, I'm going to focus on grafting to what I already have and adding bushes and shrubs--I have space for more pomegranates (Kajackik Anor is one I hope to obtain) as well as at least one mulberry bush (not tree) and additional figs.

Now Playing: Electric Light Orchestra Face the Music
Chicken Ranch Central


  1. We've got a major disturbance happening in our backyard this year. The drainage district is coming in and replacing the creek with box culverts. In the process they will be removing the 20' tall living fence made of ligustrums. I'm considering replacing them with Canyon Mock Oranges or Texas Mock Oranges if I can find them and they're affordable. They won't grow as tall but they won't grow as aggressively either.

    1. Those mock oranges should be nice, but they only get to be about 3' high, right? Natives of Texas in Kerrville carries Canyon Mock Oranges ( I don't know of anyone else.