Roping some plants

This past weekend I looked at the completely dead splotches in my backyard. The one thing that’s consistent about them is that they’re dead. I have St. Augustine under a live oak that is very happy. But the minute it gets out from under the tree’s shade the grass spends its time in one of two states – yellow and struggling or dead.

Looking at those dead splotches and the rain chances I got an itch to do some planting. I have been getting ads for “Plant Cowboy Delivery” for quite a while. I browsed their site a lot this summer knowing I shouldn’t buy anything during a historic drought. But this seemed like the perfect opportunity to give them a try.

I don’t know if you’re anything like me. But I tend to make fairly detailed plans for my yard. Then I go to the nursery and can’t find half the plants and so I substitute with what’s on hand. Half of what I buy dies or doesn’t look right. So having a way to order the exact plants I want is really appealing to me. And I noticed “Plant Cowboy” updates their inventory so I could plan for what I needed.

I ordered on Friday and got the delivery on Monday morning (they don’t work over the weekend which is fair). The plants were stunning. These are 1 gallon Big and Gulf Muhly. Aren’t they beautiful?

Big and Gulf Muhly

They were a bit root-bound, but for the size that is probably pretty obvious. I’m going to definitely order from them in the future.

There’s a $25 delivery fee, but I figure I easily saved that in not buying extra plants I don’t need at the nursery. And the prices are pretty great. Especially for agaves and cactus.

Anyway, check them out – Plant Cowboy. I don’t make any money off or free plants off of this. Just want them to stay in business.

Natural Wasp Control

Last year I had a wasp problem. Weeding I kept stumbling upon nests and getting stung 5 times at once. It was not good. I lost a lot of sleep to allergic reactions.

We’ve also had several parties that wasps crashed.

So, I started buying the black wasp spray and taking out nests. But:

  • I really hate using chemicals
  • The chemicals tend to spray back into my eyes
  • Any wasps that don’t die can recolonize the nest the next day
  • The cans are expensive when you have dozens of nests

We were moving out of the house we were renting, and the landlord had sent out an exterminator. I noticed rather than using any sort of chemicals he was using a long pole with a puff on the end to get rid of wasps.

This year I looked it up and got one for myself. They’re called cobweb dusters – and also work great for dusting cobwebs inside your house.

Cobweb duster

I take mine out around dusk and just press the duster firmly against the wasp nest, scraping it off. I wait a second and then just move enough that the nest and wasps can drop. I stay still for a few seconds and usually the wasps just fly away.

It’s very quick and easy.

Removing your grass?

With this summer looking like a brutal repeat of 2011 you might be thinking about removing or limiting the amount of turf grass in your life. That’s great! Here are a few things I’ve learned. Note, that I’m East of Lamar which tends to be a fairly good dividing line for the Edwards Plateau. I’m on Blackland Prairie not rocky limestone.

The most xeric plant is an established one.

Well established St. Augustine I rarely water

I had parts of my lawn that were always struggling. I also have some parts that are in dappled sun under a nice tree that never require any additional water. Focusing on ripping out the struggling parts first can help keep your workload in control.

Austin is not the desert.

My yard in August with no irrigation is NOT the desert.

I cannot emphasize this enough. If you rip out your existing turf grass and cover the area with rocks you will either be pulling weeds or using pesticides constantly. And rocks are HOT. It’s like making your entire yard a BBQ pit.

Cactus can have a place, but Austin is both too wet and too cold for most species. In Austin xeric does not usually mean cactus. Make sure the plants you plant are cold hardy into the 20s.

Decomposed granite is a wonderful growth medium for most of our wildflowers. I think it’s wonderful and can be a great part of your landscape, but it will require weeding. Having a decomposed granite path with a large flagstone or concrete stepping stone in the middle will help reduce your weeding.

Rent a sod cutter

You can rent a sod cutter from Home Depot for about $100 per day. And you’ll probably be able to rip up all your grass in a single day. If you do it by hand you’re probably looking at a couple months of weekends.

Avoid landscape fabric!

Landscape fabric promises to help you avoid weeds. And it does prevent “weeds” like Native Grasses, Bluebonnets and other wildflowers. It does NOT help prevent Bermuda Grass or Nut Sedge. They LOVE it and it helps protect their roots from weeding.

Mulch is good… at first

Mulch is great for helping perennials get established. But a few years in you should be able to stop mulching around your perennials. Plant density should be able to keep the soil cool and reduce weed growth.
And anything you plant from seed should not be in a mulched area. You’ll end up wasting money.

What do do this summer

First apply for your Austin Water rebate if you’re planning on doing that. You need to rip out healthy grass to get the rebate. When I did this, they did not need the most formal plans.

Rip out the grass and let it solarize. The sun and heat is probably going to nuke anything so no need to add carboard or plastic. You can’t install plants until the fall, so this will be ugly, but worth it. Also broadcast your wildflower seeds in the fall. Wildflower’s won’t really grow in mulched areas so I would suggest mulching areas where you plan on planting small perennials and ornamental grasses and leaving areas where you want wildflowers un-mulched.


I’m not going to lie. At first there will be quite a lot. In East Austin to reduce maintenance you should try to get as much plant density as possible. Open spaces are spaces where weeds can thrive. One a year usually in late March I do a cutback of most plants with a string and hedge trimmer. March frequently feels hectic with tons of weeding, but the yard fills out in May and by June there’s little weeding left to do and beautiful flowers to admire.

Plants I’ve had success with

These are plants I like and have had success with in East Austin. I specify Bluebonnets separately because not only are they beloved, but they also are really important for out-competing early spring weeds. They also love your crappy dirt that has been solarized all summer.


Indian Grass (Sorghastrum nutans)
Seed Mixes from Native American Seed (pick ones that match your enviroment)


Flame Acanthus
Red Yucca
Big Muhly
Texas Lantana (Lantana urticoides)
Mealy Blue Sage
Texas Sotol



Texas Persimmon


Density Buffalo Grass (not eligible for rebates, but it is a great full sun xeric yard cover)

Chihuahuan Desert Gardens

As COVID continues to rage we took an outdoor hiking vacation to El Paso and the surrounding parks. A flat tire left us stranded in El Paso for an entire day waiting for a replacement. We ended up checking out several local gardens including the Chihuahuan Desert Garden at UT El Paso (UTEP).

The garden meanders around a museum. I was expecting the “introduction to native plants” you find at many state parks, but the number and quality of specimens was amazing.

The most common common name seemed to be “shindagger”. Multiple plants carry it. Seems to be a big issue in the desert.
UTEP has its own architectural vernacular which melds well with the garden.
The campus itself is landscaped with native and adapted plants with the jaw-dropping backdrop of the Davis Mountains. I wish UT Austin would do more of this.
This Algarito specimen is amazing. A plant that in our wet environment I expect to be spindly was bushy and full in their garden.
We all loved the shape and remaining seedheads of the Mexican Tree Sunflower (Tithonia fruticosa).
Assuming this is a bigtooth maple with fall color (I didn’t take a picture of the sign). We saw a lot of these up in the Guadalupe Mountains, but they had all lost their leaves.
Lots of Queen Victoria agaves that were much more open than I’m used to. Is this because of the dry air?
An amazing caterpillar we saw chomping away. The neon greens and blacks reminded me of an energy drink can.
For my friends who think my garden is too spiky, at least I don’t have this plant. The aptly named “allthorn” (Koeberlinia spinosa).
In the middle of the garden was this respite from the sun – a delicate water feature.
And leaving my favorite plant for last – this is a Desert Willow. No really. My daughter is provided for scale, and she’s 5’9″. I have never seen a Desert Willow even remotely approach this. We all had to look at the label like 12 times and compare it to some of the smaller specimens in the garden. Now I have high expectations for the one outside my back window.

The UT El Paso campus had some amazing views and kinetic sculptures.

I-10, the wall, and Juarez.

Our vacation was supposed to be hiking and this wasn’t on our schedule, but it was an unexpected surprise. This has definitely gone one my list as one of my favorite gardens in Texas. I can’t wait to go back and see it in the other seasons.


When we had our pool put in recently the bulldozer shredded a large part of the yard much of it on a hill. I built a flowerbed and was looking for something to be a visual back for the bed.

I wanted a grass that could hold its own and mostly keep weeds out, but I’ve pretty much gone through what’s sold in local nurseries. I’ve had decent success with Big Muhly, but it’s slow growing. I’ve had almost no success with Gulf Muhly despite my absolute love of the plant.

I’ve had some luck with growing Little Bluestem and Switchgrass from Native American Seed, so I decided to give another one of their seeds a try.

Indiangrass is supposed to be one of the main components of a tallgrass prairie. Native to prairie from Canada down through Mexico. It’s between 3-6 feet tall (but more on the 3 feet side). I sowed it on the side of our hill in very disturbed ground last year. The first year was… fine. It was not a particularly interesting pant and I was thinking of other solutions.

This year has been different. It really came into its own as a lovely green grass with a gray tinge to it. And then this week it began blooming. It’s amazing. I’m in love. More of us need to plant this.

I sowed them in November so now is a good time to start planning. In a stand they are dense and struggled with weeds the first year, but now seem to be competing very effectively. You can pickup some for yourself from Native American Seed.


After the hard-freeze and watching “Five Seasons: The Gardens of Piet Oudolf” I decided this would be the year I’d try taking everything down to the ground. Normally, I hem and haw, and cut back the bare minimum.

But this year? I used the string trimmer, lawn mower, and hedge trimmer to take most of it to the ground.

And a couple days later it’s all coming back.

Lantana and Mealy Blue Sage mostly here.

Including Rattlesnake Master!

Rattlesnake Master and Texas Sedge

I’m hoping we’ll get another bloom this year.

Post Freeze Cleanup

We are some of the lucky ones. We had power and water throughout the bitter freeze. But we lost a fair number of plants. I’ve been planting xerically, but not as many local plants as I should. This freeze brought that fact home. I’ve lost several magnificent agaves. Possibly some loquats that came with the house, and a Monterray Oak.

Today I took out one of the Agaves that has been a focal point of our backyard.

To be honest it was a little too close to people.
A pup growing that might replace it.

Gardening is nothing if not change. Although, now I’m considering renting a dumpster to get rid of all these dead plants. This one agave filled up 7 trash cans.

Bluebonnets – my favorite weed control

In xeric gardening the learning process is full of ups and downs. In terms of weed control I’ve:

  • Covered a huge swatch of my yard in weed control fabric. This created a bunch of super-weeds that were nearly impossible to pull out thanks to that fabric keeping them in place.
  • Mulching. It’s fine. But the weeds come back, and when you suppress weed germination you also suppress wildflower germination. So your wildflowers tend to stay more singular plants than glorious meadows.

Which brings me to my favorite Texas weed control – Bluebonnets! I don’t know if you can get them at your local nursery. Barton Springs might have them. If not shoot me an email and I can get you a few.

Bluebonnets start growing around Halloween, and create delightful green mats that slow germination of winter weeds. Then they bloom in early Spring. You pull them out once they’ve seeded and your spring wildflowers start popping up.

Even though they still have a bit of work too them, for me it’s totally worth it. What’s your favorite unconventional weed control?

Fall Native Plant Sale

I have not been doing much plant shopping this year. I actually have been doing no plant shopping since March, but the Ladybird Wildflower Center had scheduled shopping times for their fall plant sale and I jumped on it.

Since adding the pool we’ve suddenly gotten much closer to the flowerbeds that are furthest from our house. And they’re… acceptable. Lantana, giant liriope, and trees share the space with some weeds that have the sense to grow low enough that I don’t see and pull them.

I also recently decided that it was time to start removing some of the boxwoods in my backyard. There were three in this bed that were just… there. I also removed a mostly dead Cherry Laurel that had been dying since the drought of 2011. You could literally see through a crack in the trunk. It finally went.

So I decided that was the flowerbed for the plant sale. I even did a diagram.

The sale had a lot smaller selection than I expected so my salvia arizonica became some mealy blue sage transplanted from elsewhere in the yard, and I added some Heartleaf Rosemallow to the left of the Harvard Penstemon, but otherwise I stayed pretty true to the design.

I even took some before:

And after pictures: