Week 30 Tips for the Zone 9 Garden


Unfortunately this barred owl was hit by a car on our road. Sally took it to the Wildlife Center of Texas in Houston. GREAT non-profit that always appreciates your donations.

This has been an interesting week.  Of course it has been hot and dry, but in addition to that I have killed another big snake in the chicken coop, my wife has rescued a large barred owl, and I picked up a pretty good case of poison ivy while weeding.  I worked outside from 8 am until 8 pm on Saturday.  Pulled a lot of weeds and even moved a few plants.  However, I got over heated and wound up giving myself a fever.  While July is a good time to accomplish several garden chores you really do have to be mindful of the heat (and the poison ivy).


  • Start transplants of cole crops– We are about to run out of time to start our broccoli, cauliflower, collard greens, cabbage and Brussel sprouts from seed. Start seeds in a high quality media and keep moist.  You can plant your brassicas anytime between August 15 and September 15.
  • Prune tomatoes-I do not replant tomatoes in the fall. I prune my vines by half, mulch with compost and continue to water.  This allows me to start harvesting fall tomatoes in October and right up through December in a mild winter
  • It’s a bad time to transplant, but … This week a friend let me dig up some blackberry runners. This is the ABSOLUTE WORST TIME to transplant.  However, he was going to mow them down and I wanted some blackberries that will grow in my area.  If you find yourself needing to move something in the summer do this:
    • Water the plant well for several days before digging
    • Deeply water the new location for several days
    • When digging the plant create the largest root ball you can handle
    • Dig the hole that will receive the plant 1 ½ times as big as the root ball
    • Remove as much as half of the plant’s vegetation. Green parts transpire and cause large amounts of water loss
    • Water often enough to keep the soil moist but not soggy. DO NOT fertilize.  Fertilizer grows green stuff.  When transplanting you want the plant to put all of it resources toward growing new roots, not foliage
In this heat, containers need water almost every day and feedings at least once a week.

In this heat, containers need water almost every day and feedings at least once a week.


  • Prune native sunflowers and fall asters – I grow a lot of native Maxamillion sunflowers and fall asters. They get leggy this time of year so I cut them back a third to a half.  This makes the plants have thicker foliage in the fall and encourages additional flower bloom
  • Plant fall blooming bulbs like oxbloods, spider lilies and other lycoris
  • Water containers daily. Once a week water with a soluble fertilizer mixed to 50% of its recommended rate



Prune fall asters and native sunflowers now

Trees and Lawns

  • Water a little more frequently – People sweat, plants transpire. Transpiration is the process that moves water from the roots through the plant and out their stomata in the form of water vapor.  Right now they are transpiring almost 24 hours a day.  Water deeply and more frequently until night time temperatures drop out of the 80s.
  • Water trees at the drip line – Small, tender roots take up vastly more water than older, thicker roots. In trees these tender roots grow where water drip off of the tree’s canopy.
  • Water new trees deeply – Those crepe myrtles that you planted in March are still trying to establish themselves in your yard. In addition to your regular watering schedule add a slow, deep watering once a week.  Set the hose to a trickle and place it beside the trunk.  Let it run for an hour.

I share these posts on Our SimpleHomestead Blog Hop.  Be sure to stop by.  The “hop” has tons of great information from gardeners and homesteaders all over the world!

Celebrate the Bulbs of Fall!

All across Central Texas, Oxblood lilies (Rhodophialia bifida) are at the peak of their season.  For those of us that live in areas that were once part of Mr. Austin’s original colony, these red trumpet shaped flowers have announced the arrival of fall for generations.

Oxbloods in my front bed

Here in Central Texas, no other bulb is as loved or celebrated in the fall as these Argentinian imports.  Sometime in the 1870’s the German immigrant/botanist/horticulturist Peter Oberwetter introduced these bulbs to the German speaking areas of the Texas Hill Country.  These bulbs were so pretty and so reliable that they quickly spread throughout Texas.  Now, thanks to the work of people like Chris Wiesinger and Dr. Bill Welch, oxbloods (and other heirloom bulbs) are becoming hugely popular throughout the entire Southern part of the U.S.

A mass of oxbloods on an abandoned homesite. Photo from The Southern Bulb Company

Even though oxbloods are the most common fall blooming bulb in Central Texas, they are not the only ones.  Two members of the of the Lycoris genus (Lycoris radiata and Lycoris aurea) also produce prolific blooms during the early days of the fall season.  Spider lilies (Lycoris radiata) are my personal favorite of the fall blooming bulbs.  All Lycoris bloom on top of a single, unadorned stalk after the first fall rains.  Because of this they are often called “Naked Ladies” or the “Surprise Lily”.  How can you not love their big, red, exotic looking heads?  Their curly petals burst open and arch backward to release long, curved stamens that look like the most gorgeous eye lashes imaginable.  I truly love these flowers!

These exotic looking  Japanese beauties have also been popular here for a very long time.  While they do not reproduce as rapidly as the oxbloods, Lycoris are tough and reliable.  These flowers are beautiful in their own right, but a mass of them is truly stunning.  If you want to see some of the best pictures of spider lilies that I have ever seen, be sure and catch this month’s issue of Southern Living.  My friend Dr. Bill Welch has an excellent article about them and the supporting photography is exceptional.

A stunning mass of Spiderlilies. Photo from The Southern Bulb Company

The blooms of the fall blooming bulbs of Central Texas last for only a couple of very short weeks.  Since they make terrible cut flowers and are almost impossible to dry, get outside in this amazing weather and enjoy them now.  These flowers make these fleeting early days of the Texas autumn truly special.

Since these flowers last for such a short time, be sure to give them ample water while they bloom.  This will extend their life by a few more precious hours. If you don’t currently have your own (or enough) fall blooming bulbs, contact my buddy Chris Wiesinger at The Southern Bulb Company.  Chris knows more about these charming antiques than anyone I know.  His bulbs are truly the best available anywhere.

This post has been shared on the Homestead Barn Hop and the HomeAcre Hop.  Be sure to check in on other homesteaders and organic gardeners!

P.S. Bulb blooms aren’t the only way I know fall has finally come to my garden.  Each year around this time I begin to see Green Tree Frogs all around the beds and borders of my property.  I don’t know where these guys hide the rest of the year, but the cool fall weather seems to erase their shyness.

This cute little fellow thought the cushion of one of our rocking chairs was a great place to hide.

How and When to Harvest Bulbs

A couple of weekends ago several of my friends from A&M met me at my “bulb honey hole” for a little “bulb rustling”.  I have written about my bulb “honey hole” before.  It is an abandoned home site that was tended by an incredible gardener for 80 plus years.  For a long time I was reluctant to share.  However, I have now harvested so many bulbs for my own gardens that I felt it would be great to let a few of my buddies in on my secret.

The Bulb Hunters. From left: Mengmeng Gu, Cynthia Mueller, Sally White, Me, Michal Hall, Charlie Hall, Karin Wallace, Russ Wallace

Karin and Russ Wallace, Mengmeng Gu, Charlie and MiChal Hall, and Cynthia Mueller joined Sally and I for a very fun filled morning of digging in the dirt.  Like I mentioned before, this homestead was tended by an incredible gardener for some 80 plus years.  Because of her work, the soil in the yard is the most perfect organic, rich, sandy loam I have ever seen.  This rich, sandy loam has allowed the bulbs that were planted many years ago to thrive and divide with abandon.  Because of this, there are now enough Italicus narcissus (Narcissus tazetta, “Italicus”), Red Oxbloods (Rhodophialia bifida)and Bulbispermum crinums (Crinum bulbispermum) to stock several nurseries.

When harvesting bulbs, it is fairly important to be aware of when they bloom.  Almost all bulbs flower at a certain time and then send up their foliage after the flowers fade.  This foliage is very important as it is what is gathering the sunlight that the bulbs need to make the carbohydrate storage that the flowers will need during bloom season.  Due to this, the foliage needs to stay in place until it browns. 

Me, Mengmeng and Russ harvesting Oxbloods

Each of the bulbs we were harvesting bloom at different times.  If we were completely reliant on the calendar, our weekend of March 31 was really only the “optimal time” to harvest the Oxbloods.  Since they bloomed in early fall, their foliage has been “bulking up” their bulbs for the past six months.  Because of this, the oxbloods can be dug and have their tops removed immediately.  You can then dry them a little in the sun and store them in a cool dark place for later planting.

Charlie Hall and Karin Wallace harvesting Italicus narcissus

Since the narcissus just bloomed in January, they need to have about half of their tops removed and then be replanted as soon as possible.  The remaining “tops” will allow them to continue the photosynthesis required for their January bloom.  If the bulbs do not get enough carbs stored up, they may not bloom the first year after transplanting.  That is ok.  Just keep watering them and wait until the following season.

Karin and Russ Wallace show off a massive crinum bulb

Crinums (especially bulbispermum) are kind of a different animal.  Bulbispermum can bloom at anytime.  The varieties here usually bloom for me about three times a year.  My good friend Dr. Bill Welch likes to say that as far as he knows, no crinum has ever died.  This is a very appropriate statement when it comes to this very durable bulb.  Because of their durability, they can be harvested about anytime.  Just cut their foliage in half and replant within a week or so and they will be fine.  Crinum bulbispermum is native to southern Africa.  They like wet, marshy areas but they can also withstand drought.  Like all bulbs, they prefer a loose, well drained soil but they grow very well in clay.  Basically, they will grow anywhere.  If you are looking for a bullet proof plant, then this is it.  There are several colorations of this family of crinum.  The ones on this homestead are either almost pure white or red and white stripped.  The stripped variety is often called “milk and wine” crinums.

A "milk and wine" crinum from my "honey hole"

All and all, it was a perfect day.  The weather was great, the soil was loose and the mood was bright.  All of my friends got a whole bunch of wonderful bulbs and Sally and got a great memory of horticultural fun shared with people we love.  Thanks to all of my friends for a wonderful day!

Oxblood Lilies (Rhodophiala bifida)

Each fall in Central Texas, bright red trumpets herald the approach of autumn.  These trumpets are the deep red flowers of the Oxblood lily. 

Oxbloods in my front bed

Oxblood lilies seem to be a bit of a regional secret.  I grew up in Waco and I was not familiar with them until I moved to Brenham.  The house that we bought was on an almost bald hill.  The previous owner was not much of a gardener.  However, he apparently liked bulbs.  The first fall that we were there, we discovered that he had left us red spider lilies (Lycoris radiate), yellow spider lilies (lycoris aurea) and oxbloods.  I instantly fell in love with these extraordinary plants.

This close up of oxbloods is from "The Southern Bulb Company"

Oxbloods are often called Schoolhouse Lilies because the bulbs send up their stalks right around the start of the school year.  Like rain lilies, their bloom is in response to the first fall rains. However, since there have been no fall rains this year, they will apparently also bloom in response to a good fall watering.  Another of their common names is Hurricane Lily.  Since most of the rain that falls in the Gulf South in August is the result of a late season hurricane, this is also a very appropriate name.

Oxbloods are native to South America.  An early German-Texan horticulturist named Peter Oberwetter is believed to be the first to import the oxbloods from Argentina.  Due to his efforts, the oxblood has been very popular in the areas of Texas originally settled by German settlers.  While they are gaining acceptance around the South and Central US, they have flourished in places like Brenham, La Grange, Independence, Round Top and Austin for the last 150 years.

Here the initial foliage of the oxblood is clearly visible.

Oxbloods naturalize and reproduce readily.  In fact, they are so hardy and so prolific that Scott Ogden says “No other bulb can match the fierce vigor, and adaptability of the oxblood lily”.    Because of their “tenacity and adaptability”, oxbloods have become one of the most common “pass along plants” in Texas.  Most of the people that have them got them as a division from someone else.  Finding a friend with a well established bed is still the best way to get them for your own garden as they are somewhat difficult to find in the nursery trade.  However, some specialty bulb growers like The Southern Bulb Company(http://www.southernbulbs.com/OxbloodLily/) now offer them for sale on line.

Black, long necked oxblood bulbs harvested with Grand Primo Narcissus this past spring

Oxbloods are very easy to grow and they are very reliable.  Their growth habit is just like that of other fall blooming bulbs.  The flowers appear on a single “bald” stalk in the fall.  The stalk is often accompanied by two long leaves.  After the flowers die, the rest of the foliage begins to appear.  The foliage grows into a clump of long, thin, deep green leaves that resemble mondo or lariope that lasts until June.  After that, the foliage dies back and the bulbs become dormant.  So, if you are going to divide them, June is the optimal time.  However, unlike many other bulbs, they can be dug and divided just about any time.

Oxblood bulbs have a dark black skin that makes them fairly easy to identify.  The bulbs prefer full sun but can tolerate light shade.  In fact, most of the ones I see are massed around the trunks of old live oaks.  Oxbloods do best in rich, well drained soil but they will grow in just about anything.  Plant your mature bulbs about three inches deep with the neck slightly exposed.   Medium and smaller bulbs can be planted at little more shallow.  Once planted, water regularly for the first year.  Once established, they will survive (and even thrive) on normal rainfall.