November 24th, 2010
Week 47: 11/19 – 11/25

2010-11-24. Ground acorns.

Dateline: 2007
When I lived in Japan, the weather was pretty consistent. When summer started cooling off, it just colder and colder each day through winter and then it started warming up until it was spring. Once winter arrived, there was no relief from the cold. I much prefer Austin’s weather pattern. For example, Wednesday (11/21) temperatures hit a record high of 89F ahead of a cold front that dropped temperatures overnight to near freezing. The entire Thanksgiving holiday was gray and cold and windy–perfect for baking and feasting but not much fun for the boys who wanted to spend their time off hiking and biking. Saturday we got our first good rain since October 22nd. You northerners will laugh, but after four days of cold, I’m tired of winter. Luckily next week the sun and temperatures in the 70s return.

Even Austin’s idyllic approach to winter has some drawbacks. I spend a lot of time covering plants up if a freeze threatens only to uncover them the next day when temperatures soar. The potted plants get trotted into the house and then trotted back out again. I watch the roses anxiously wondering if this latest flush of new growth will freeze before it can flower. (‘Ducher’ and ‘Blush Noisette’ are blooming this week; ‘Heritage’ and ‘Prosperity’ have buds.) Our plants don’t go dormant, so they are very vulnerable to the half-dozen or so hard freezes we get each winter. But this is a small price to pay to enjoy a string of warm, sunny days between winter storms.

Looking over the notes from previous years I’m happy to see that I finally DID get my mulching mower–it took almost a year but I finally followed through.

First flower: Helianthus annuus ‘Moulin Rouge’ (11/20).

Dateline: 2006
photo: fall color Austin Texas
2006-11-24. My serendipitous tree. Even my ginkgo doesn’t turn this yellow. An answer to Susan Harris’s accusation of ignorance and laziness.
I feel like a pregnant woman about to go into labor–my nesting instinct hit hard this weekend and I’ve been acting pretty squirrely in the garden, racing around from one spot to another digging, mulching, transplanting, pulling things up and putting things in the ground. The sunny weather continues and the temperatures are topping out near 80 but come next Thursday/Friday a hard freeze (28F) is forecast. All my reading about winter storms past got me spooked. There’s too much to do before the seasons turn.

Annie and Pam both reported signs of a light frost. My basil thermometer (pun intended) is confused. No sign of frost. The cosmos and the Ascelpias, both frost tender, seem okay. But the chili pequin, pink four o’clocks (red four o’clocks fine), and some banana leaves all turned yellow (not black) during the week. The crape myrtle went a stunning orange red overnight. Even the oak leaves are tinged with red.

photo: Fall Color Austin Texas
The crape myrtles add some reddish orange to our meagre autumn palette.

Fall arrived overnight. The Mexican plum trees turned color and began dropping leaves–I can see my neighbor’s house now. And the cedar elms are having their second leaf drop. (They dropped half their leaves in September). The downtown skyline is now visible. And the messy pecans are being messy. I better get my new mulching mower soon or…oh, wait. I live in South Austin. No one cares if I mow my lawn or rake my leaves.

My one remaining crocus bloomed (11/22). It’s either ‘Conqueror’ or ‘Cassiope’ Three years ago, I said I’d buy more but I still haven’t.

First flower: Rose ‘Penelope‘ (11/20); Crocus (11/22); Lavender (11/22); Fatsia japonica (11/24)

Something else has been digging in the yard like crazy. I don’t think it’s the squirrels because it looks more as if it was rooting in the mulched paths. Could it be the armadillo?

Dateline: 2003
In my old garden book, this week begins the winter section. Forget the fact that it was 80 last week; forecast is for lows in the 20s this week.

The vegetable garden was just beginning to produce after a long dry summer. So I had to pick the basil, tomatoes, and eggplant. The pink eggplant is ‘Neon’ and has a sweet, creamy white flesh–nothing like those bitter purple eggplant you buy at the grocer’s. I also grow a Japanese type (long and thin) called ‘Ichiban’–which is Japanese for number 1.

photo: vegetables
2003-11-23. Picking the summer veggies before the first big freeze.

The larger tomatoes are ‘Carmello’ (one of my favorites). The taste described elsewhere as acidic or citrus–that’s the flavor I like since I use them in salsa. The cherry tomatoes are a mix of ‘Red Currant’ and ‘Sweet Million’. This is the first year I’ve tried either of them, but next year I’ll be back to growing ‘Sungold’–my hands down favorite, so far. I also tried the heirloom tomato ‘Constoluto Genovese‘. Jefferson is said to have grown it at Monticello, but I have had very little luck with it in Austin, Texas. Maybe it prefers cooler climes.

Update: 2003-11-25.
The same conditions (parking lots and high-rises) that keep my neighborhood several degrees warmer than the official highs in the summer provide the same benefit in the winter. I don’t think it froze in my yard at all. At least the basil came through unscathed. It’s usually the first to go. There was a thin sheet of ice in the bird bath, but the south side of the yard where the tropicals are planted came through with no damage.

Six roses have very tender new growth this week: ‘Ducher’, ‘New Dawn’, ‘Buff Beauty’, ‘Souvenir del Malmaison’, ‘Madame Alfred Carriere’, Madame Joseph Schwartz’. This is a tricky time for the roses. They love it when the highs are in the 70s as they will be again starting tomorrow. But then you get one or two nights of subfreezing weather which threaten to do them in just as they are budding.

photo: rose Souvenir de St Anne
2003-11-29. This cooler weather seems to favor Souvenir de St Anne. This is probably the most perfect flower she’s produced so far.

First flower: paperwhite narcissus (11/20).

Dateline: 2002
Continued perfect weather with highs in the 70s and lows in the 40s. The pecans and cedar elms have dropped all their leaves. The red oaks are just beginning to change color.

The Dolichos lablab are in full flower, although the leaves are somewhat bug-eaten and ratty. The cooler weather brings out the purplish cast to the leaves. The Pandorea ricasoliana are covered in pink trumpet-shaped flowers. You can see why some local nurseries call the “desert willow vines”, although they are not related.

The luffa vines also are getting a second wind and flowering. It’s probably too late for any of these flowers to bear fruit though.

The Crocus speciosus ‘Cassiope’ are blooming well. The Brugmansia now has four flowers, each more beautiful than the last.

I’m holding my breath concerning the roses. Our first frost date is officially today, November 20th. But this has been a somewhat warm and very wet fall. All the roses are forming buds. ‘Souvenir de la Malmaison’ looks very promising. Will they bloom before a frost?

All the paperwhite narcissus are up and one is forming a flower spathe already. Yikes! I have bulbs that still need to be planted. Maybe tomorrow.

Dateline: 2001
Friday November 23, 2001
The cold front evaporates and it is dry, sunny, and reaches 80. A lone larkspur, 12 inches tall, is blooming in the meadow. The early paperwhites continue to bloom here and there.

Dateline: 2000
Sunday November 19, 2000
Yesterday it rained all day and was colder and drearier than in Manchester, UK (according to Today is clear with our second threat of our first freeze. It’s a beautiful day. AJM chops wood. We go to get hay but the hay place is closed on Sundays. I don’t really feel like getting ready for the freeze. I cover what I can with floating row covers but I leave much undone.

Dateline: 1999
Saturday November 20, 1999
Continue our record-breaking heat wave: I think it is now 17 days in a row of temperatures in the 80s.

Dateline: 1998
First flower: crocus (11/24).

Dateline: 1996
Sunday November 24, 1996
The cold front they promised yesterday blew in the early hours of morning with lightning and thunder. We had a good steady rain all morning, perhaps an inch or more. By 11:00 it was still drizzling and becoming colder. The wind has an unpleasant bite. The rain beat down the crocuses and they look withered and pathetic.

by M Sinclair Stevens

10 Responses to post “Week 47: 11/19 – 11/25”

  1. From Ken Loo:

    Do you buy any vegetables normally? Or self-sufficiency?

    Unfortunately, I grow very few vegetables. I have a very large yard, but grow very little food. Most of my plants are decorative. It’s wasteful, isn’t it? Well, winter is a good time to plan for next year’s garden. My vegetable plot is a very small part of my entire yard. I have just four tomato plants, two eggplants and some basil and other herbs growing now. I started some lettuce and salad greens about a month ago, they came up and then something (slugs, snails, I don’t know what) ate them. I need to replant them. Maybe after exams are over next week.

    It’s too hot for lots of vegetables I’d like to grow: potatoes (I’ve grown a few for Easter), leeks, onions, carrots, and garlic. — mss

  2. From Kati (Ontario):

    I laughed with relief to find that other gardeners do that too…”I better buy my new mulching mower soon…no wait…who cares”.

    I enjoy reading you garden blog very much.

    Thanks. I like your blog, too. It’s fun to read about gardening in completely different climates. — mss

  3. From jenclairj:

    Found my way here via As Time Goes by and enjoyed visiting your garden!

    Glad to have you! — mss

  4. From Annie in Austin:

    Your crepe myrtles are stunning! Mine turned medium orange, but many leaves were already down so the effect is somewhat more sparse. There’s one tree in my neighborhood that I’d like to have – Taxodium distichum, the Bald Cypress… at least I think it’s the regular Bald Cypress, not the Montezuma kind. Gorgeous color and such wonderful foliage.

    I killed my Fatsia japonica, and had no idea they’d flower.

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

    The bald cypresses along Town Lake are beautiful this time of year although it is a bit shocking when they lose their needles since they look like evergreens. My crape myrtles aren’t always so lovely–this has been an unusual year in that everything in my yard changed color at once. Usually leaves start dropping with the cedar elms in September and continue through the pecans, hackberries, chinaberries until late December or early January when the oaks turn red. After I have the yard cleaned up, the live oaks drop their leaves in February. — mss

  5. From Pam/Digging:

    What *is* that serendipitous tree, MSS? The yellow is lovely. My cedar elm, the main source of foliage color in my garden, has just started to turn, but I don’t know if it will amount to much this year.

    It’s a Chinese parasol tree, Firmiana simplex. It has huge leaves. Unfortunately, this year they didn’t turn yellow, just dull brown. The only tree producing any color this year (compared to last year which was so brilliant) is the Japanese persimmon. — mss

  6. From Annie in Austin:

    The Parasol tree looks good in the photo. It’s always fun to read through your entries for a single week, MSS – that 2003 vegetable bowl was impressive! And I also enjoyed having days at Thanksgiving that were cool… in other years putting on the oven made me want to kick up the A/C at the same time.

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

    I look at these old photos and realize, I did use to be able to grow tomatoes. What happened? Too much shade? Too many pecan leaves? Both? I’m going to try again next year in the new north border. — mss

  7. From Angelina:

    I always feel teased by the cold. It never seems to get cold enough for me. Yet I have to admit that I probably wouldn’t enjoy living somewhere where it gets below zero consistently all winter.

    It’s been in the 30’s and 40’s during the day for the last few days and I’ve been loving it. I want snow now.

    I wish it snowed here once in awhile. I don’t mind the cold so much. What I dislike about it being cold is having the hot dry air from the heater blow on me. Our house is so old that it has no insulation–only tar paper. So we don’t set our thermostat above 60. Even so, on very cold nights in runs some. Apparently I was an orchid in another life. I prefer the air moist and temperate. — mss

  8. From Carol:

    Four days of cold and you’re tired of it? Ha! I do laugh at you. But I know you’ll get some more cold weather before the “winter” is over. I kind of like the finality of a hard frost in the fall and the chance to switch gears until spring. But I do get tired of cold and snow by Dec. 26th.

    Carol, May Dreams Gardens

    I agree! I like the finality of a frost. There are lots of plants that I probably should tear out and put on the compost and yet I find that hard to do when they are still alive. I think generally November is one of the messier times in my garden; not quite the end of the old year but not quite the beginning of the new. — mss

  9. From Steve Mudge(Fort Worth):

    Yep, the weather gets schizy around this time! I’ve been doing the same thing–protecting plants, then undoing it all as the weather warms again. We had snow on Thanksgiving! But amazingly, the tomatoes and peppers survived it with the row cover on them. Just a couple more days and we’ll have tomatoes still producing in December!

    You guys got snow! I’m envious. I remember in 1980, Austin got snow on the Thanksgiving Eve. I remember because I was working night shift, then, and I had to drive up to Fort Worth the next day for dinner with the in-laws. The cherry tomato that I bought last year still has a tomato or two on it–very small and very sweet now. And the jalapeno pepper is doing very well. I don’t always manage to have tomatoes for Christmas but I usually have roses blooming then. — mss

  10. From firefly in maine:

    Nobody in Maine is laughing. We’re all tired of cold weather four days after it starts too.

    That’s why, when the temps hit 50 F, people up here start running around in shorts.

    Yeah baby. It’s all relative!

    It did get up to the 80s this weekend. And then Sunday afternoon the temperature dropped 20 degrees in about as many minutes. When temperatures hit a high of 50F here, you’ll find me bundled up in a flannel shirt and wool socks. — mss