• jjvanm

Anita’s Blog – Mild Weather Tease

Updated: Jan 5

This mild weather teases me to want to do unseasonal things, like propagate plants.


I was hard pruning a Confederate rose (a near tree-size hibiscus), nonnative, but my first love has always been hibiscus. The Confederate rose has outgrown its allotted space at the courtyard wall and may not transplant successfully. I’ve been trying to propagate one by cuttings.


Large bloom of a Confederate Rose; an excellent pollinator. (Photo by Anita Westervelt)

But back to the pruning. I found one of the branches had a cluster of odd little bumps on it. My first happy thought was they were nodes from which roots could sprout. Another thought was they were an aberration, or in the plant world, a better term would be fasciation. More about fasciation is in a previous blog post at https://rgvctmn.org/fascination-fun/


Anyway, I cut the branch with the bumps, leaving two to three inches below them, even though at one-half inch in diameter it’s not exactly the size generally recommended for rooting cuttings, but I couldn’t pass up what looked to be an opportunity. I stuck the cutting in a pot of wet potting soil and packed it in tight then put it in what I use as a temporary nursery – a space behind a shrub at the courtyard wall under a water spigot for easy access to keep plants moist and light and airy shade protected from the wind.


If you try your hand at propagating by cuttings at this time of year, be prepared to care for them and put them in some sort of shelter if the weather turns harsh.


Let me say that I’m encouraged by the weather predictions on my phone app, and although nighttime temps for Sunday and Monday look to be in the low 40s and Monday’s daytime high may only reach 66 degrees F., the rest of the ten-day forecast will see highs in the 70s, 80s and 90s – now, if that doesn’t make us want to get out in the garden and pretend its spring, I don’t know what is.


The mild weather also has encouraged me to pot up volunteer plants destined for destruction from the weed eater or mower. I’ve rescued a couple of coreopsis (Coreopsis basalis) that didn’t need to be where they’d popped up, Indian mallows (Abutilon hulseanum) where too many were coming up from seed in a butterfly garden, scorpion’s tail (Heliotropium angiospermum) and other bird- and wind-planted native specimens begging to be rescued.


Coreopsis rallies quite well when potted up this time of year. (Photo by Anita Westervelt)

New growth of Indian mallow growing too close to retaining wall. (Photo by Anita Westervelt)

Young Scorpion's Tail to be potted up. (Photo by Anita Westervelt)

Next will be a Berlandier’s fiddlewood (Citharexylum berlandieri), rosettes of fiddle leaf tobacco (Nicotiana repanda), a couple of frostweed (Verbesina microptera), Mexican hat (Ratibida columnifera), passion vine (Passiflora foetida) and clusters of young pink mint (Stachys drummondii) -- in case anyone may want them in the future.


Fiddle Leaf Tobacco rosette. (Photo by Anita Westervelt)


Mexican Hat upstart to be potted up and replanted or shared. (Photo by Anita Westervelt)
Monarch Butterfly on Pink Mint. (Photo by Anita Westervelt)

Another thing to consider while the weather holds is to dig up favorite plants you might want to save on the off chance we get a dastardly replay of the freeze of February 2021.


Although most of the Valley’s native plants finally rallied after last winter’s freeze, the habitat was delayed in providing nectar and pollen for the insect world. Potting up favorites now might help get a jump start on blooms come spring if we do have a repeat of last winter’s weather.


As tempting as it’s been, I’ve drawn the line at opening seed packets and starting seedlings in little trays – certainly a project that needs to wait for early spring. That said, now is the time to scatter or plant native plant seeds in the ground, either ones purchased or those collected from your own plants.


A couple of local authorities have mentioned lately that winter is the time to sow native plant seeds, prior to the annual rains – which should be in February; there’s still time, but don’t procrastinate too long. Seeds to plant in the ground now might include Indian blanket (Gaillardia pulchella), basket flower (Plectocephalus americanus), Turk’s cap (Malvaviscus drummondii), sacred datura (Datura Wrightii), Jann Miller mauve Indian mallow (Abutilon hulseanum), Mexican hat (Ratibida columnifera), Mexican Caesalpinia (Caesalpinia Mexicana), cowpen daisy (Verbesina encelioides), Texas thistle (Cirsium texanum), zizotes milkweed (Asclepias oenotheroides) and frostweed (Verbesina microptera).


Basket flower seeds collected at the end of summer. (Photo by Anita Westervelt)

If you want to push your luck and order seeds before winter is over, a source out of Junction, Texas, is Native American Seed at www.seedsource.com. Some plant enthusiasts use this source while others comment that the seeds are not from Rio Grande Valley plants. I’m not marketing this source, only listing its availability; make your own decisions. Several of you may want to get together to order seeds; I found the shipping fees were higher than the cost of the three small seed packets I’d ordered earlier this year.


Once you have a number of rescued native plants in pots, you might find it a bit overwhelming to oversee a small nursery through the winter; take this opportunity to share your rescued plants and let someone else take on that chore. Other chapter members may need plants or seeds for some of their projects or want or will trade plants for their own gardens.


If you’re relocating volunteer plants in your own gardens, be sure to water them in well and water a couple of times a week for a while to help them establish. Some plants may die off right away; I would continue watering them anyway as the root system may survive and shoot up plants next year – I suspect tropical sage does this, although it readily self-propagates.


Keep abreast of the local weather reports. If a freeze is predicted, start watering the plants you want to ensure survival. Several local experts recommend to water, water, water should the forecast predict freezing weather in the Valley. Harlingen native plant grower Mike Heep, in discussions and lectures about the effects of the freeze and what to do if it happens again, can’t stress enough about deep watering plants before a freeze.


This is an especially useful technique for trees. Again, many of our shrubs and trees suffered from the freeze and recovered, others had to have the deadwood removed or be cut back to soil level and just don’t seem to be the same. Now we know there’s help to stave off total destruction by watering plants before a freeze.


Last year’s freezing temps were compounded by the unrelenting north wind. If you cover your plants, maybe use something heavier than a thin sheet and anchor them well so the wind doesn’t creep under and allow the cover to billow out.


Whatever the future holds for our gardens, gathering a sort of emergency kit of covers, rope, stakes, bricks, or other anchors may be in order to quickly be able to protect inground plants at the threat of dangerous weather. Considering a makeshift shelter area for potted plants might be necessary, too.




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