February 12th, 2009
Week 06: 2/5 – 2/11

Zanthan Gardens Week 6 Narcissus Grand Primo
2000-02-11. Narcissus tazetta ‘Grand Primo’.

Dateline: 2009

I associate the first redbud blossom (my private official marker of spring) with Valentine’s Day but this year I saw my first redbud on Monday (2/9), almost a week early. Spring’s in Austin and there’s no holding it back.

As my son retorted, “Does this mean we’re going to have a month of 70-degree days and then a hard freeze during Spring Break?” Probably. Austin’s average last freeze is now February 26th (it used to be in March) so the period between Valentine’s Day and St. Patrick’s Day is always a bit chancy for tender new plants. He’s probably remembering when he was a boy and I took him camping at Enchanted Rock for his birthday. The temperature surprised us by dropping to 14 degrees that night. That was the same year as the latest freeze on record, April 3, 1987. As the Austin Climate Summary shows, Austin can be in the 90s or higher ANY month of the year; it can also freeze anytime between October and April.

Flowers were opening all over the garden. This is the most excitement we’ve had at Zanthan Gardens in about eight months.

First flowers: Prunus mexican (2/5); paperwhite Narcissus ‘Grandiflora’ (2/6); rose ‘Ducher’ (2/6); Mahonia bealei (2/6); Narcissus tazetta ‘Grand Primo’ (2/8); Leucojum asestivum (2/9); Cercis canadensis (2/9); Lantana montevidensis (2/9).

We had a bit of relief from the drought this week, too: about half an inch of rain in a slow, soaking drizzle on Monday (2/9) and then a bit less late in a 10-minute downpour (accompanied by high winds and hail) late Tuesday evening (2/10). The rain penetrated the first 4 to 6 inches of soil (depending on where it is in my yard–heavy clay or well-composted). Below that, the dirt is dust dry. It’s frightening to dig into it. I expect the spring weeds to kick into high gear now. Our weather has been so dry that even the chickweed was languishing. Some henbit has been blooming. I never weed it all out because the butterflies like it when nothing else is blooming.

I have been digging out nandina to make a bed for three raspberry plants I bought at The Great Outdoors. I didn’t think that raspberries would grow in Austin but they assure me that this variety, ‘Dorman’, will produce in a couple of years. We harvested an actual serving for two of the English peas and have been eating lots of salad trying to get the most out of the arugula before it bolts.

Dateline: 2008

Zanthan Gardens Week 6
2008-02-10. The winter garden. So named because it is on the south side of the house, basking in winter sunlight and protected from cold, north wins. Last year, a tomato survived the entire winter here. The rose ‘Madame Alfred Carriere’ is supposed to climb the wires and hide the electrical box. However, from the shadow of the trunk you can see she is terribly shaded when the red oak leafs out.

Austin has already had five days of highs in the 80s (27+C) this February. Winter feels like it’s banished for this year but casting away worries of another freeze can be dangerous. However, no one is telling the roses not to bud out or the cannas not to shoot up. Apparently there is no shortage of hope, spiced with a bit of brazenness, in the garden.

The warm temperatures bring their own dangers. Central Texas weather continues on its fourth month of being very dry. High winds dessicate the plants and the combination of dry fuel and winds has put large areas of Texas under burn bans. The violas and other cool-weather plants look limp. The cilantro and even the larkspur are already bolting. I spent equal amounts of time watering as weeding this week. (I used the timer on my new iPhone to monitor my watering while I worked elsewhere in the garden. I love it.)

I’m stripping, pruning, and tying back roses, feeding perennials with Dillo Dirt and then mulching them with Texas native hardwood mulch, cutting back Turk’s cap, pulling out nandina, and still cleaning up leaves from the red oak tree. I finally planted (2/8) the Lonicera frangrantissima that I bought in December 2007. And I repotted (2/10) the Meyer’s lemon tree and cut it back about 1/3. It has looked quite ratty since it almost died over my three week absence last summer. The leaves have what I think is sooty mold. I decide to strip them all off. I’ve never tried this on the lemon tree before so I guess I’m just as likely to have killed it as saved it.

First Flower: Leucojum aestivum (2/10).

Dateline: 2007

Austin’s weather this week has been nothing to speak of. All the national news has focused (rightly so!) on the icebox that is the north and northeast US–the mind-numbing cold, the incredible snowfalls, and the nasty windchill factors. I feel a bit uneasy to admitting to y’all that for most of this week we’ve had beautiful weather. Last week’s gray drizzle disappeared on Sunday (2/4) and each day got warmer until it reached a sunny 76F degrees on Wednesday (2/6). I opened the windows and hung out all my laundry. Then it turned gray and cooler again. (Austin’s “cooler” is 40s and 50s–practically toasty compared with your -5s and -10s up north.)

Despite our lovely weather, I was barely in the garden all week. I did go to Zilker Park on Monday and get two more bags of Christmas tree mulch. I was surprised to find some still left; I think it’s because the ice storm hit the weekend the Park Department made it available and people forgot about it.

Usually, this time of year, I’m watching anxiously for the first Mexican plum blossom. This year I’ve been dreading it for it will remind me that I haven’t yet transplanted my roses and other perennials or had the trees trimmed. When I emptied the compost pale this morning I stopped and looked for signs of new life. Sure enough, one flower was open on the largest Mexican plum and the branches were covered with buds. The other two trees don’t look like they’ll start flowering for a couple of weeks, though.

I eyed the flower with less than joy. If spring is here, can summer be far behind? However, I’ve been making mental notes for next year’s winter garden which is what I’m really looking forward to. I just wish the catalog people would send their catalogs to the south 5 months earlier. I got a slew of them this week and it is too late to plant all those “early spring” flowers and veggies. But next year I’m going to convert all my former rose beds to cabbages and cauliflower and colorful chard and lettuce for the winter. The few small rows I tried this year are the nicest part of the garden right now.

The Narcissus tazetta italicus under the pecan tree look like white pom-poms this week. None of the other bunches bloom as prolifically as this group.

First flower: Consolida ambigua (2/5), Prunus mexicana (2/11).

Dateline: 2006

Friday (2/10) the air was heavy with the promise of rain. A light rain did fall most of the afternoon ahead of an an arctic front. Earlier in the week I did manage to clear a spot here and there to transplant self-sown bluebonnets and larkspur. They’re so tiny this year! (due to the lack of December rains).

‘Ducher’ is in full bloom. Narcissus tazetta are still in flower. Tulipa clusiana, the ‘Ice Follies’ and the bluebells have sent up leaves which are already five inches tall. The summer snowflakes have also pushed up. The rosemary is full of tiny blue flowers and one odd lavender bloomed.

First flower: Prunus mexicana (2/7).

Around town I spotted more Texas mountain laurel blooming, some redbuds along Town Lake, and many white irises and paperwhites in the old neighborhoods.

Dateline: 2004

February 7, 2004
When I looked out the kitchen window this morning, I was surprised by a fluff of white by the birdbath that turned out to be Iris albicans blooming. I hadn’t even noticed it sending up its flower stalk. Last year, it didn’t bloom until the end of March. But there are a lot of irises, some purple, some white, which bloom this time of year in the older yards of South Austin. So maybe these just needed to settle in.

The generous rains we’ve had lately combined with the milder than normal temperatures have also caused one rangy, wild-looking larkspur to bloom yesterday. But the Mexican plums don’t have a single blossom and they usually bloom the last week of January.

The late rains have also caused a second burst of Grand Primo from the bulbs that did not get a headstart from my hand watering. The only rose that is blooming is ‘Ducher’. The nights are clear and cold, sometimes freezing. The days are in the 50s and pleasant if one works in the sun out of the wind.

First flower: Consolida ambigua (2/6), Iris albicans (2/7)

February 11, 2004
I haven’t been outside since last Wednesday. It has been cold, rainy, and dreary for an entire week–which is a long time for us. When we have rain at all, we usually have a big storm and the next day it is clear and lovely. Then the wind will switch to the south and it will become more and more humid until another cold front blows through and we get rain again.

But this week it has just rained and rained and rained–a cold, drizzly rain that reminds the resident ex-Brit of home in the worst way. On the positive side, it is rain and we always need that here in Austin. And it is coming down slowly and steadily, so it’s soaking in instead of running off. I just wish we hadn’t run out of dry kindling for the fire.

Dateline: 2003

This week’s my garden diary reminds me to look for the first bluebonnet, the first summer snowflake, and the first daffodil.

First flower: Tradescantia (2/6), Leucojum aestivum (2/6), Indian hawthorn (2/11). Lupinus texensis (2/11).

The weeds have not been napping. Chickweed, beggar’s tick, goosegrass, and thistle are running wild through the yard.

Dateline: 2002

Friday February 8, 2002
A warm and sunny day at last. Even though the roofers are still here, I spend some time in the garden transplanting larkspur into the west border. I see three tradescantia blooming, the first this year. One of the bluebonnets has buds.

Sunday February 10, 2002
Thursday, Friday, and Saturday were all gloriously warm and sunny so I did venture out finally. And yes, I saw the first buds on the bluebonnets and the daffodils (‘Quail’ and ‘Ice Follies’). So far the summer snowflakes are growing vigorously, but not yet flowering. And today (2/10), the first Tommie crocuses opened.

None of the Mexican plum trees are flowering yet. Usually the older trees in my neighbors’ yards flower a week before mine. But there is not a sign of a flower on any trees.

The city is collecting brush this week, so we spent the weekend trimming trees. I need to repot the Japanese maple.

And I need to finish defoliating the roses. So far I’ve only gotten to ‘Madame Alfred Carriere’ and ‘Prosperity’. ‘Madame Joseph Schwartz’ is happy without any defoliating. She has made a dense little bush with dozens of buds. ‘Heritage’ is blooming, but needs attention because she has a bad case of black spot. ‘Souvenir del Malmaison’ is has one flower and would be stunning right now if most of the buds hadn’t frozen at Christmas. Ditto with ‘Ducher’ and ‘Blush Noisette’.

Dateline: 2001

Friday February 9, 2001
First flower: Prunus mexicana (on the largest tree, the one from Gardens).

Dateline: 2000

First flower: Leucojum aestivum (2/9)–though just one, in the south border. This year the Grand Primo is still in flower and the Ice Follies are just about to flower. Someday it will be nice if one melds into the other; Narcissus ‘Ice Follies’ (2/11), Prunus mexicana (2/11)–on the largest tree, the one from Gardens.

Dateline: 1999

Friday February 5, 1999
When I return from Chicago it is in the seventies. AJM and I walk around the garden to see what has happened while I’ve been gone. I’ve only been away five days, but what a transformation.
* the Leucojum aestivum has the first two blooms
* one viola that I raised from seed has finally bloomed, but it is dandelion yellow and I don’t really like it
* the Mexican plum tree has more blossom, and the neighbor’s Mexican plum tree is beginning to blossom
* two bluebonnets have flower buds
* many larkspur have short flower stalks; some are blooming
* the Donna Bella tulips have pushed up their leaves.

Saturday February 6, 1999
In the eighties (actually 78: record high of 83 is on 2/7) today. I water the meadow. There is a promise of rain that is unfulfilled. I mow the back lawn very short 1.0. AJM and I clean the garage. I buy a tool box and some peg board hooks and the planters for beneath the garden room windows.

Bought 20 pale apricot-colored tulips to put on the mantle in the test-tube vase. It’s not a color I’d think to grow in the garden, bu t I just knew they’d look good in the vase.

I wander around the garden looking for borrowed landscape. I realize that a vine-covered gazebo, facing downtown and the meadows, would be very nice by the west border.

Lupinus texensis. Sighting of the first bluebonnet on Mopac at Bee Caves Road. A couple of my bluebonnets have buds.

Tuesday February 9, 1999
Continues unseasonbly warm. Although the high of 84 did not break the record of 87, we are still about 20 degrees above average.

Lupinus texensis. First flower on two different plants in the meadow. It seems strange to have the bluebonnets blooming before the Ice Follies. This is by far the earliest I’ve ever had bluebonnets bloom.

Dateline: 1998

First flower: Commelinantia anomala (2/7).

Dateline: 1997

First flower: Tradescantia (2/9)

Dateline: 1996

First flower: Prunus mexicana, the one from Gardens (2/8), Narcissus ‘Ice Follies (2/8), Leucojum aestivum (2/11).

Dateline 1995

Thursday February 9, 1995
Another bluebonnet sighted at Mopac South and Bee Cave Rd.
First flower on the redbud at 1003 Barton Springs Road

by M Sinclair Stevens

18 Responses to post “Week 06: 2/5 – 2/11”

  1. From Kathy (New York):

    “The nights are clear and cold, sometimes freezing. The days are in the 50s and pleasant if one works in the sun out of the wind.” You could be describing a day in May where I live. But I wouldn’t want those Texas summers for nothin’.

    If only I were rich enough to winter in Texas and summer in the north, like the birds do. — mss

  2. From erica (Houston, TX):

    Oh, but it’s the February days like we’re having just now that make it possible for me to bear the Houston summers.

    I don’t mind the heat as much as the plants do. I don’t think I could bear months of snow, though. — mss

  3. From Annie In Austin:

    My Grand Primo narcissus are starting to open buds. I bought & planted them in fall 2004. They didn’t bloom last spring, so this is exciting. The Texas Mountain Laurel is opening, too, just in time for the arrival of out-of-state guests. I’ve also been transplanting larkspur, which came up all over the place, but have not found one single bluebonnet seedling. Darn it!

    Annie/Glinda from Divas of the Dirt

  4. From Annie in Austin:

    One year later I’m returning to report three open flower stalks on the front Grand Primos, no sign of swelling on Texas Mountain Laurel buds, Carolina jessamine buds staying tight, small larkspur plants not doing much, and ONE bluebonnet seedling, descended from a plant you gave me last year. Well that’s one more than I had in 2006!

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

    If you ever need more bluebonnets, let me know. — mss

  5. From r sorrell (Austin):

    I haven’t checked on my Mexican Plum, but now I’m interested to see if its buds have formed yet. I’ve got a nectarine tree in full bloom. I hope it doesn’t freeze this week!

    The trees seem just as foolish about spring as we do. On the first warm week of spring they throw caution to the winds and begin blooming. — mss

  6. From firefly:

    “Oh, but it’s the February days like we’re having just now that make it possible for me to bear the Houston summers.”

    Ah, but it’s a lot easier to warm up than it is to cool off. All you have to do is stretch out on the easy chair/ottoman under a blanket and just like magnetism two or three cats will attach themselves to your lap. Voila! Instant heat.

    What gets me about winter is the dry air, dry skin, and static shocks from just about everything you touch. Nothing worse than getting zapped when you least expect it.

    I think it’s easier to cool off than warm up. The only thing that warms me up is a hot bath and when it’s cold enough for the heater to come on, I can barely breathe the hot dry air. All I want to do when it’s cold is huddle under a blanket but in Austin to much needs doing in the garden to stay huddled inside. — mss

  7. From Pam/Digging (Austin):

    My Mexican plum is swelling but not buddding yet. In fact, my garden looks pretty bare right now, as I’ve cut back about half of the perennials in preparation for spring. I’ll tackle the other half this week, if the weather holds. I also need to pot up some volunteer plants that are coming up, and I’m thinking about spreading compost over the whole garden. Work, work, work.

    This time of year it’s a race to get things done. — mss

  8. From Carol (Indiana):

    Those of us stuck with snow are looking forward to seeing some pictures of these blooms that are about to come out in Texas. It feels as though spring is still a long way off. We won’t see temperatures above freezing, day or night, until at least the weekend if not later.

    I’m surprised that none of my ‘Ice Follies’ daffodils are blooming yet. Nor any redbuds which I usually count on seeing around Valentine’s Day. I did see the early plums (I think that’s what they are) in the 38th street on-ramp to the MoPac; they are always the first trees in flower. The next four weeks should be interesting. — mss

  9. From Annie in Austin:

    The other day I was near my redbud and I could see the little buds sticking up. They didn’t look quite right. A closer inspection showed they were just brown, dried, mummy-like replicas of what should be buds, and a touch made them drop off … think the ice got them.

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

    When I look at my In Bloom: February chart, it does seem like we usually have a lot more things flowering by now. — mss

  10. From Frances (Tennessee):

    It does sound like spring has sprung there. Even here in TN, today, Valentine’s Day, is the traditional rose pruning and feeding day. After snow yesterday, it looks like that will be doable. Yea!
    Frances at Faire Garden

    I’m glad it’s not snowing here. It did snow in Austin on Valentine’s Day in 2004.

  11. From Diana Kirby - Austin:

    I have many of the same things popping up in my garden. I haven’t checked my plum tree yet, but there is nothing on the little peach tree yet. Several of the perennials are starting to sprout – indigo spires, Mexican oregano, and a few other things. Anything I should do to my brand new roses before I plant them since this is rose-care time?

    Oh, gosh. I don’t know about new roses. The person I’d ask is Dicke Patterson up at It’s a Jungle. He is the expert on roses both heirloom and hybrid teas. — mss

  12. From kate:

    It’s unfathomable to me for temperatures to be +27c, while we are at -27c today. I hope the Meyer Lemon tree survives!

  13. From Pam/Digging (Austin):

    I just planted a new rose last week, so I’ll be checking back to see what Diana finds out about them. I stuck mine in the ground with a generous helping of compost mixed in with the soil and am refraining from any pruning.

    I’ve been pruning my roses and cutting back perennials for several hours, and it got hot out there. I had to come inside for a cold drink to get cooled off. It would be hard to believe that it’s supposed to get cold again tomorrow—except that it always gets warm here just before a cold snap.

  14. From Steve Mudge(Fort Worth):

    For the lemon tree–the sooty mold is caused by aphids and scale usually–which usually have been introduced by the argentine ants which herd them like cattle for their honeydew. Washing the sooty mold off with a soapy solution is better than stripping the leaves–just put a tbls. of dish soap like Palmolive in a gallon of water–kills insects and washes the leaves off. Give the lemon a foliar spray of Miracle Gro often during the growing seaon and control the ants and it should be okay. The lemon would be even happier in the ground–will they grow in Austin if protected during freezes? I thought I saw several citrus there when I was passing through town last fall.

    Annie in Austin put hers in the ground but I don’t really have a good protected spot for it. I’ve had this plant since October 2001 which must be a record for me and a potted plant. I’ll try washing it with soap too. Thanks for the tip. The old leaves looked so bad that I didn’t hesitate to strip them. This is the first time I’ve ever done it but I was just in a mood after stripping roses all day. — mss

  15. From Carol, May Dreams Gardens:

    Record highs and drying winds doesn’t sound too good. No records here, just February cold.

    That’s a great tip to use the timer on your Iphone. I can do the same with my Touch. I knew when I got it that it would be useful “gardening tool”.

    The best part is that I figured out that I could slide the “awake” button with my nose so that I didn’t have to touch the screen with my muddy hands. — mss

  16. From Nancy Bond:

    Those ‘Grand Primos’ are grand, indeed. They speak so clearly of SPRING.

  17. From Diana - Austin:

    Sounds like you have a ton of beautiful things to see in your garden right now. Spring just has a way of waking up your gardening motivation, doesn’t it? Even makes the hard work a little more tolerable.

  18. From Lori, Austin TX:

    I cannot believe how fast everything has sprouted since it rained on Monday and Tuesday. Quite a few of my wildflower seeds are up (though no bluebonnets that I can see) and the back lawn is now faintly tinged with a mist of new green where the clover and rye are finally coming up.

    I hope you have good luck with the raspberries. I wish I had more room in my yard to give them a try. Have you been thinking of trying grapes as well? (I noticed you twittered about grapes a few times.)

    All it takes is a little rain to put the plants on overdrive. I have extra bluebonnet seedlings you can have if none come up at your place. I did plant a muscadine grape last year but I’ve been neglectful. I’m amazed that it’s still alive. This year I’m cleaning up that corner of the garden and vow to pay more attention to it. — mss