By Urban Harvest
We have had some cooler temps in the last few weeks. Such wonderful weather encourages us to be outdoors where we can see and appreciate our landscapes. While doing so, I noticed that the wildflowers that I have planted seem to be growing exceptionally well this year. The wildflowers are lovely to behold and are magnets for pollinators and beneficial insects for the vegetable gardens.
When planting for my yard, one of the many considerations is the bloom period of the plant. Over the years I have planted a diversity of plants. One of several excellent reasons for plant diversity is to cover the longest range of bloom periods. That way, most of the time, with our mild winters we can have some plants flowering 10 to 12 months of the year.
Beginning in February, the violets (Viola sp.) burst forth with their beautiful blue to lavender flowers. Growing 3 to 8 inches tall with bright green leaves, the clumps of violets provide a bright contrast to the generally gray and browns of late winter. Their flowering period usually lasts through April.
Another deep blue to purple flowering plant of February is the spiderwort (Tradescantia ohioensis). This plant normally grows 1 to 2 feet tall and prefers several hours of sun to full sun for maximum bloom. But it also grows quite well in filtered sun, so it is a good candidate for plant-ing under your live oak. Usually by the end of May it has completed its flowering cycle.
The pale blue flowers clustered along the 12- to 18-inch stalk of the lyre leaf sage (Salvia lyrata) is always a welcome sight for my eyes as it begins blooming in February and continues through April or early May. The stem of this salvia grows from a basal rosette of leaves and the plant does not get as large as many other salvias. This, along with its delicate appearance makes it a welcome addition to many smaller gardens.
Another colorful wildflower that usually begins blooming by the end of February is winecup (Callirhoe involucrate). The deep wine red color of its flower is noticed from blocks away. Usually trailing along the ground and growing 6 to 12 inches high makes this plant an excellent choice for part of a ground cover program to add seasonal color. The stems and leaves are rarely visible or noticed but everyone will appreciate the claret red flowers.
In March and April, my cross vine (Bignonia capreolata) that grows into the top of my live oak flowered so abundantly that it made the oak appear to be in bloom. This vine blooms during the spring return migration of the ruby throated humming bird that feeds on the nectar of this flower.
One of my favorite wildflowers that is flowering nicely in March is indian blanket (Gaillardia pulchella). This extremely hardy plant will flower abundantly throughout all 12 months in mild winters. It grows well and blooms nicely in pots preferring filtered or morning sun. In the ground, it is an excellent plant for full sun and reaches up to 2 feet high. The gorgeous combination of red and yellow petals will add interest, beauty, and a splash of color for any garden.
The delicate looking but quite hardy blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium angustifolium) brings a splash of blue to the yard by March. Although the leaves are grass-like and grow 6 to twelve inches long, it is not a grass but a member of the iris family. Full sun is best for this clump forming plant that fits nicely into a seasonal ground cover program.
Another good ground cover plant that begins to flower in March is frog fruit (Phyla incise) and it flowers through November. It grows to a height of six to twelve inches tall with numerous flower heads containing clusters of tiny white flowers. This is the host plant for the Phaon Crescent, one of our native butterfly species.
For the addition of bright yellow to a garden, I heartily recommend green-thread (Thelesperma filifolium). This is another plant that blooms from March throughout the year, off and on. Its compact form and height; eight to eighteen inches make it a very useful plant in the garden.
In April, look for purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) to add its striking beauty to your garden. This species grows to thirty inches tall and does very well in filtered or morning sun. With proper water and soil conditions it grows well in full sun also. The pink-purple flower pet-als are a unique color that is not easily found in flowers. This is an excellent nectar plant for butterflies.
A great plant from south Texas that does very well in the greater Houston area is Barbados cherry (Malpighia glabra). Its bloom cycle is March through November. The shrub, which usually grows to four feet in height, is covered with bright rose pink and white flowers. It likes filtered, morning, or full sun. For those that need a smaller shrub, there is a dwarf version available.
A durable and hardy old stand-by is turk’s cap (Malvaviscus arboreus var. drummondii). This species usually begins flowering in April and will provide bright red color through November. The nectar of this plant is much sought after food source for the ruby throated hummingbird, especially in September when we have greater numbers migrating through our area. This is a versatile and adaptable plant, which can be grown in full shade to full sun and requires no additional watering. It usually reaches a height of from 4 to 6 feet, but can be trimmed back every few years to keep it low growing if desired.
By balancing the landscape with various plants of different bloom periods, textures, form and shape we will enjoy being in our gardens every month.
This article is provided by Urban Harvest, Inc. To learn about gardening classes, farmers markets, community gardens and more go to www.urbanharvest.org or call 713-880-5540 for more information. The article was written by Glenn Olsen who is past state president of the Native Plant Society of Texas and served on the Board of the Houston Audubon Society as VP of Education.