Friday, April 17, 2009

Weeds, Weeds, and More Weeds!

My garden is overrun with weeds. Argh! I hate to think of the massive amount of work to be done by only one little person... Hire out the work? Never! I'm too proud to admit to failure...failure to pull out weeds? What kind of a moron would fail at weed-pulling? Hmmm! I'll try not to look into the mirror!
Seriously though, my garden is overrun by a type of weed called Nutgrass. I have heard that one particular type of weedkiller, IMAGE, will do the trick... We'll see. In the mean time, I step gingerly through my garden, holding a rake...yes, that's how many weeds I have! I've tried all the homemade remedies like laying down newspaper, wetting it and then covering it with mulch. That's all fine and dandy as long as the mulch contains no weed seeds. Imagine where I might have gotten all my nutgrass weeds from?
I've also done a lot of trimming to different plants, like azaleas and boxwood. I've pulled up a few plants, too, like asparagus fern. One variety of this fern is calm and stately and stays put within its allotted territory; the other variety of this fern is erratic, growing wildly everywhere and arming itself with some nasty thorns. Of course, I have this latter variety. Argh! Get this monster out of my garden NOW!
I discovered that my Bauhinia Tree (Orchid Tree) is a lot more fragile than I had originally thought. The wind had tossed it around a little and a branch cracked and fell as a result. The tree is beautiful and I was miffed at the thought of cutting away this cracked branch. But, order is a necessary evil for my garden and so whack went the knife and the Bauhinia's amputated branch was left out for the trashman.
Everything else is blooming. My pentas are crazy with flowers; the Mexican petunia has tipped its purple blooms to me in greeting, smugly daring me to try to ever completely eradicate its menace from my paradise. The butterfly bush is blooming lightning purple flowers. The vincas, verbenas, lantanas, cigar plants, shrimp plants, bat-faced cupheas, and myriads of other perennials are all gracing my garden with their magnificent color.
I guess I'm blessed after all!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Whooping Cranes

Whooping Cranes are magnificent birds: tall, stately, magical. Yet for all their glory, they are not invincible. The environment has taken its toll on the Whooping Crane population in Texas this year. In October of 2008, 270 birds had arrived from Canada, a record number for the flock. Whooping Cranes are already severly endangered. 270 birds is all that exists in the wild population. 270, that's it! Period! As of March 16, 2009, only 249 were left. Six adults and 16 chicks had died this season. Why? A severe drought has dropped water levels, resulting in a loss of blue crab, the crab that makes up 85% of a Whooping Crane's diet.

Officials of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are afraid that the flock may not be able to successfully migrate back north to Canada's Wood Buffalo National Park for the Spring breeding season because they are so weak and malnourished.

Tom Stehn, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service whooping crane coordinator, wrote in his March 15 report that the conditions at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge are the worst he has ever observed, with some of the birds looking thin with disheveled plumage, signs of poor diet and progressive starvation. These birds are part of the only naturally occurring population of whooping cranes in the world. Most of the birds will begin the 2,500-mile trip in early April.

So I'm really worried. I've seen these birds before and they are gorgeous! Tall, Serene, elegant, stately. Those are the words that I would use to describe them. I had gone on a birding trip with a friend and we stayed at a cottage close to the Aransas refuge. As we hiked looking for birds, two huge white cranes flew right over our heads and landed not ten yards in front of us on the trail. We pulled up, flabberghasted! Wow! How many people get to see Whooping Cranes in their lifetime? They were as tall as myself, only a short few feet away, and our eyes were locked. It was a moment I'll never forget.

The world would be a sad place without the Whooping Crane to grace it.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

A Screech Owl is calling outside my window...


The evening is calm and quiet and so I can easily hear the haunting call of the Screech Owl just outside my window. I am hypothicizing that he is calling for his mate and marking territory. I am guessing it is the same owl that has been in our yard for years. He used to roost inside a cavity in our old red oak in the backyard and built his nest there with his mate. His little face would appear in the tree cavity, waiting, listening... No, there was no Great Horned Owl nearby to eat him. There were no mice nearby to eat whole. A quick turn of the head, then suddenly he was out, flying silently away into the dusk. A meal was close at hand.

That old red oak tree is gone now. We had tried to save it over the years but decay and age won out and we had to take it down. Upon seeing the black and gooey chunks of the tree after its demise, I was amazed that the tree had lived as long as it did. How could it live with all that rot on the inside? For that matter, how could it stand without being blown over in the wind? All I can surmise is that we were really lucky... the oak sprites were watching over that tree and keeping it from falling over onto my next door neighbor's house.

So the owl has found another home in another tree nearby. I hear him calling, hauntingly, from outside my window.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Spring After IKE...

Spring has definitely appeared in Houston, Texas... The azaleas are blooming in lavish abundance in all the yards on my street. The penta and fountain plants are lush and colorful and the butterflies flit happily around them. It's as though the plants feel another hurricane is on the way this summer and they need to spread their seeds before it's too late. One last call - one last S.O.S.

After Hurricane Ike, we lived two weeks without electricity. I was too cheap to buy a generator because I did not want to spend $4/gallon on the twelve gallons of gas/day to keep my refrigerator cool and one TV or radio working. Why bother? We were content to read by candlelight. It was cool enough to keep the windows open (we had screens...) and we had batteries to keep the radio working, so we could get some news as to what was going on in the world. Debris was everywhere and I had an old oak tree crash into my house. Fortunately, the "crash" sounded more serious than it actually was. It only leaned on our house and caused no major damage. We eventually got a new roof out of the whole episode which was a nice perk.

But two weeks of having a 100 foot tall oak leaning on your home was a little unnerving. Would it move with the wind and actually fall into the house? Fortunately, it was wedged pretty tightly on the eaves of floors one and two, so we were lucky. Our tree man came two weeks later to cut the tree down and that was a huge relief.

Six months later, the tree trunk is now gone thanks to a stump grinder and our plants are now happy with the oak mulch. We planted a Meyer Lemon in the area and it has gone beserk, blooming vigorously. All of our plants seem to be blooming vigorously, afraid, it seems, that another storm may be on the way. And with it, their doom....

Scientifically, plants do become stressed out after a major storm such as Hurricane Ike and so some will bloom excessively or not at all. Or even bloom at the wrong time of the year. I've had Lily of the Nile blooming in February when it should bloom closer to the May/June timeframe.

Tips for the month:

1. Put water out for the birds. Southeast Texas is under a severe drought. Birds are in desperate need of water. The water bird colonies along Bolivar Peninsula and Anahuac have not begun to nest yet because of lack of fresh water and food. Frightening!

2. Avoid over-fertilization of your yard. Excess fertilizer will run off whenever we do get rain and end up in our estuaries... Instead, add mulch to your lawn. The natural nutrients will help loosen and aerate the soil. Your lawn will become healthier and more resistant to bugs...

3. You can plant your flower beds now...We are now past our freeze dates.

4. Plant native. You'll use less water once the plants have become established.

By the way, that Meyer Lemon? It should have at least a hundred lemons ready for plucking in August. Just in time to make fresh Lemonade!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Rain!

Finally, it is raining outside. The trees are leafing out and seem so much greener now that the rain has come. I guess it could be just my imagination, but those buds really seem greener, like they are wearing a wide grin at the feeling of the raindrops on their stems and branches...

All is quiet except for the hum of the rain. No birds chirping, no frogs singing; no butterflies either. It's like they are all sitting somewhere, listening, enraptured, to the symphony of rain.

It seems like I should be adding fertilizer to the garden...now that's food for thought.
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