Veggie gardens and rainbows of blooms

‘Pink Profusion’ zinnia

The Bell is bouncing back from her injury, but the little imp is taking full advantage of our sympathy. She has been getting special food, going for car rides and a lot of being a lap dog. We do love our pup.

I feel guilty when I leave her in the house while I work in the garden. Trouble is – it’s up to me to get the redesign done. Thankfully, the pathways have all been widened to accommodate my wagons and big wheelbarrow. I have the bruises and scrapes to prove it. 

Still have several beds to clean out, but progress is being made. The excess plants are being placed in containers and will be ready for a future botanical sale. I do love enthusiastic plants. My violet blue Duranta erecta is one of those plants. I have spent time potting up several baby durantas. Unfortunately, the duranta with sapphire blue blooms doesn’t seem to reproduce as easily. 

The shrub has many different common names – one of which is golden dewdrop. It’s probably called that because of the golden-colored drupes (seed) which follow the flowers. Other names include sky flower for the blue flowers and pigeon berry. 

Duranta, a member of the Verbenaceae family, is an attractive tropical shrub that comes to us from Mexico, Central and South America. The shrub loves the heat and can reach 10-25 ft. tall and 6-10 ft. wide. It thrives in sun to partial shade. The more sun the shrub receives the more it will bloom. Besides the blue flowering shrubs, there is a white variety, ‘Alba’. Another interesting variety is ‘Golden Edge’ with bright gold leaves with a dark green streak down the center of the leaf. For the gardener with a small garden, pick Golden-leafed, ‘Aurea’, a dwarf that will reach two feet tall. 

All are easy to grow and attractive to butterflies. The shrub puts out multiple sprays of blooms from spring until fall. The drupes are poisonous to humans but harmless to birds. They will experience freeze damage and should be considered a container plant in zones 1-8. In our area be sure to mulch to protect the roots from freeze damage. It’s important to site this shrub in a location that has plenty of sun and space. Soil should be rich with organics and have good drainage. It is a delight to the garden with abundant blooms, bright berries and the added benefit of attracting birds and butterflies to the garden.

American Beautyberry, another member of the Verbenaceae family, is a small shrub with tiny pink blooms followed by violet to purple fruits that are attractive to birds. Thanks to the birds, baby shrubs will appear in surprising places in the garden. Due to the ease of propagation, I have been able to move plants to other areas in the garden, and the remainder has been potted for a future botanical sale.

Beautyberry has a smaller presence in the garden growing 6 ft. tall by 5 ft. wide. The dainty clusters of pink blooms and brilliant purple fruit occur on current season’s growth. Prune old growth by a third or lop the whole plant close to the ground in late winter to encourage abundant new growth.

Since installing the “Bee” in the garden, I have made an effort to keep plantings around it in good condition. Snapdragons and other spring blooming plants past their prime were removed and replaced by a mix of electric orange Echinacea and hot pink gaura ‘Siskiyou Pink’. Gaura is a native to Texas and Louisiana and has been hybridized by growers for its graceful growth habit with delicate blooms that appear on long stems. 

The plants need good drainage. Plants have a long taproot which makes it drought tolerant. Plant prefers lean, unfertilized soil – rich soil will result in sparse blooms on a leggy plants. There are several pink varieties, white ‘Whirling Butterflies’ and the unusual ‘Corrie’s Gold’ has leaves edged in yellow. 

Echinacea is another native that has been highly hybridized producing a rainbow of colors. I fell in love with the orange – a beautiful contrast to the pinks in the garden. They are a sun-loving perennial that will form a large clump. Long stems hold a beehive-like central cone from which slightly drooping rays appear. The orangey brown cones should be deadheaded to encourage blooming. Toward the winter season, leave the seed heads for the birds. Finches love the seed.

Hot pink ‘Profusion’ zinnia was added to the mix along with the yellow blooms of Dahlberg Daisy (Thymophylla tenuiloba). The tiny yellow blooms of the Texas native have thread-like dark leaves with tiny yellow blooms. The small plants will form pockets of color. When the plants become scraggly with age, remove from the garden.

Due to the virus lock-down, there has been a renewed interest in vegetable gardening. It’s important to remember to continue to feed your veggies to keep plants at their peak – vigorous and productive. Spray with a mix of seaweed and molasses every couple of weeks to keep spider mites in check. 

As onion and garlic plant tops dry, dig and brush dirt from bulbs. Don’t do what the husband’s Ad Tech did when we were stationed at Fairfield State Park. Someone had told her to stomp them while in the ground to improve them. Stomping really doesn’t improve the taste! Be sure to store in cool dry area. Separate onions that have bloomed – they don’t store long. 

Okra, squash, beans and cucumbers need to be harvested daily to keep production up. It is a good plan to plant additional bush beans, squash and cucumbers to extend harvest time.

Just a reminder, not all sneaky snakes are on the ground. My little visitor was slithering around tree limbs checking out the hanging baskets looking for insects to eat. Garter snakes aren’t poisonous and do help with bugs. Unfortunately, they don’t distinguish between bad bugs and beneficial insects. Mr. Sneaky Snake needs to be on the lookout for the resident roadrunner!

While a garter snake isn’t poisonous, it can certainly startle you when working your containers and planting beds – be alert to your surroundings! Gardening is always an adventure!

Happy gardening,

Texas Master Gardener Columnist: Down the Garden Path