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Anita's Blog -- Easy Gardening Part 2

Updated: Nov 2, 2023


This finishes up a look at a dozen native plants that can survive a harsh freeze and that can be planted in the autumn or winter.


Part 2 plants 5 through 12


These eight plants reseed easily.


Berlandier’s fiddlewood, Citharexylum berlandieri, is a stand-alone shrub or a bank of them planted about four feet apart makes a nice dust break fairly quickly. They can grow to about nine feet tall with arching branches in full or partial sun. Tiny white blooms open on the branch tips and turn to clumps of umber colored berries that turn orange and then black when ripe. The shrub blooms and berries nearly all year long.


Berlandier's Fiddlewood fruit. (Photo by Anita Westervelt)

Berlandier's fiddlewood can be heavily pruned, if necessary. The shrub provides great food for birds and other wildlife, nectar for bees, butterflies, and other insects. It provides resting and perching for birds and shelter for insects. During the heat and drought this summer, as resources mention is this plant’s wont when stressed, the leaves of one of my shrubs turned orange and most of the leaves shed. After a few small rain showers, new growth began to appear.


Berlandier's Fiddlewood leaves turning orange from heat and drought stress. (Photo by Anita Westervelt)

Skeleton leaf golden eye, Viguiera stenoloba, lived through the freezing temperatures but certainly wasn’t happy during this summer’s heat and drought. In a non-drought year, yellow daisy-like blooms populate the dense, leafy shrubs. They can grow to four feet or taller and seem to fill out into a large round shape – great for sheltering insects and small critters. I have found bird nests in the shrubs while trimming them up. The shrubs do benefit from shearing, whether a weed-eater buzz cut or laboriously shaped with clippers, and an occasional watering to keep the blooms coming. The blooms attract butterflies, bees and amberwings. Wildlife and perhaps wind help this plant repopulate around the parent shrub. Be on the lookout for upstarts to pot up in early spring for future native plant sales.

Skeleton Leaf Golden Eye shrubs. (Photo by Anita Westervelt)

Skeleton Leaf Golden Eye flowers. (Photo by Anita Westervelt)

Heat- and drought-stressed Skeleton Leaf Golden Eye shrub in August. October rains revived it. (Photo by Anita Westervelt)
Skeleton Leaf Golden Eye leaves of new growth. (Photo by Anita Westervelt)

Berlandier’s trumpet, Acleisanthes obtusa, (vine). I write about these gentle vines frequently because I think the world should be filled with them. The little plants can come up along the edges of sidewalks and driveways or vine up the trunk of large trees, such as mesquite. My plants weren’t even stunned by the great freeze of 2021. They produce small white trumpet like flowers with pink stamen. The trumpet bell is about the size of a quarter; the flowers open at four o’clock in the afternoon and remain open all night, closing before sunrise the next day. The vines are a larval host plant for the white-lined sphinx moth and a nectar source for night-flying insects. The plant reproduces easily in out of the way places, and trust me when I say this, they are not a nuisance.


Berlandier's Trumpets. (Photo by Anita Westervelt)

Snapdragon Vine, Maurandella antirrhiniflora (delicate but active vine). Like the Berlandier’s trumpet vine, snapdragon vine is a tiny, delicate vine. It has small, crisp, heart shaped leaves and small purple and yellow blooms. It’s pretty prolific in sun or shade and can easily be removed, if necessary. It twines through branches of small trees without harming the tree and adds a splash of color wherever it travels. It can travel over ground and bunch up and be used as a ground cover of sorts; it can cover other plants, small shrubs, statuary and other structures, if desired. It is not noted as a rich nectar source although I occasionally catch black swallowtails and other butterflies at the flowers. It attracts hummingbirds and is a host plant for the common buckeye butterfly. It was still flowering in wind-sheltered areas soon after the weather calmed down from the 2021 freeze. Tiny seed pods the size of peas turn brown and easily crush open when the seeds are ripe. (Lower right corner of photo below.)


Snapdragon Vine. (Photo by Anita Westervelt)

Mexican Hat, Ratibida columnifera. I can’t say all my Mexican hat plants went unscathed during the freezing weather the last two years. What I can attest to is that Mexican hat is a hearty re-seeder. The small shrubs have the most beautiful leaves, they’re all lacy looking and green. The flowers are unique cone shapes with petals in colorful yellows and oranges, yellow-tipped deep burgundy or yellow and orange. The flowers attract smaller pollinators and beneficial garden insects. The leaves form a dense bushy mass to shelter insects, which is a good thing for a garden.


Mexican Hat. (Photo by Anita Westervelt)

Mexican Hat new growth. (Photo by Anita Westervelt)

Mexican hat also provides nectar for bees, butterflies and other nectar insects; the ripe seeds are eaten by seed-eating birds, songbirds, small mammals and Rio Grande turkeys. On the range, leaves are eaten by white-tailed deer and cattle. And they are a colorful, polite shapely small shrub-looking plant that looks nice when used as an ornamental stand-alone or to edge a patio. They can even be grown in a container on the patio.


Crucita, Chromolaena odorata, is a fall blooming mist flower. The absolute best plant to attract our October burst of butterflies. It is the best nectar source of all the native plants in the Valley, according to several experts.


Crucita blooms attracted a Julia Heliconia butterfly in previous years. (Photo by Anita Westervelt)

The plant blooms in October for about a month or two, but October is its heartiest. And that said, all of my healthy pop-up plants from last year’s wind-blown seeds failed to bloom until the Texas Pollinator BioBlitz was over with after the third week of October.


My yard didn’t sport nearly the species of butterflies this year as it has in the past. Whether that is because the crucita didn’t bloom or because of a chain of events caused by drought conditions through the months, I can’t say. Normally, crucita attracts hundreds of butterflies during the first three weeks of October.


The shrubs can grow to about three feet tall with an ungainly spread. Birds eat the seeds and help spread the seeds for the plants that will come up the following spring. The bush will grow for most of the year but not bloom much until October. Frequent watering will help it bloom in the summer. The plant sprawls and looks messy after it quits blooming. It has a small root base and is easy enough to pull once the blooms are spent – and rest assured, you’ll have more plants -- somewhere -- the following year.


Tropical Sage, Salvia coccinea (prolific re-seeder) booms during all seasons and may very well be the only thing blooming in the winter. The plants tolerate poor soil, grow in full sun or partial shade, they are drought tolerant. They provide good nectar for hummingbirds, and some bees and butterflies. They offer nearly total transplant forgiveness, making them good plants for plant sales or for sharing. Tropical sage is a host plant for the painted lady butterfly. Plant in a group of five or seven plants. They will readily reseed and colonize.


Tropical Sage. (Photo by Anita Westervelt)

A Southern Dogface butterfly on Tropical Sage in a previous year. (Photo by Anita Westervelt)

Pink Mint, Stachys drummondii, is in the mint family, but not one for making tea. Mint family plants have square stems -- just a helpful hint if you want to make sure you're purchasing something in the mint family. Pink mint is a cold weather bloomer -- December, January, February. It was not knocked back by the freeze and continued pushing up new plants. Pink mint is an excellent winter pollen and nectar provider for bees, wasps, flies, butterflies, moths and other bugs – that’s a good thing. Pink mint is a prolific re-seeder; it happily colonizes and spreads via seeds and roots. It offers transplant forgiveness, dies off around summertime and can be cleared from the flower bed -- or mowed, if it has created a savannah in the grass -- to reappear again in December.


A savannah of Pink Mint. (Photo by Anita Westervelt)

All eight of the plants described in this follow-up post self-propagate, making them good candidates to be potted up in late winter and early spring for native plant sales and for sharing or transplanting.


For a list of local native plant growers and nurseries, noted books about native plants, handbooks and planting guides for Rio Grande Valley, visit https://www.stbctmn.org/post/valley-native-plant-growers-nurseries

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