Propagating Xeric New Mexican seeds in Texas Question.

wantonamara Z8 CenTex

I collected many seeds of aster like and heterotheca like and other plants while traveling the roads out there.. I Planted them not long ago in 4" pots and in the ground( decomposed grant mixed with limestone soil.. I planted last week and I am already getting blast off on many of the seeds in the pots but not in the ground. Those xeric plants are real opportunist. It is surprising how fast they will germinate. I did this 5 years ago and and let them grow larger and then planted them but the heat hit and killed many things. TRUE it was during the Spring of the big drought of 2011. Maybe this year we won't have 111 in May.

My thinking is that some of these might be annuals and I should put them in the ground NOW while we are still a bit cool and see if they will survive transplanting while tiny by getting their roots down quickly before the heat. The seeds that I planted in the ground have not germinated. I hate watering around cactus at this time of year.

What are your ideas on this subject. I know many are from hot and dry lands. God knows how nature does it because I have such a hard time second guessing things.

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wisconsitom(Zone 4/5)

Wanto, just in general, the more you can mimic nature, the closer to success you will be, IMO.

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texasranger2

Nature does it by producing 10,000+ seeds that never germinate for each seed that does so to try to emulate that is not realistic. You'll have to rake them in for good soil contact and then hope for rain or stay on top of it making sure they stay moist for a month or more, tapering off the water as they establish, otherwise they will stay dormant. Erosion blankets like the ones recommended by those guys at Native American Seed for land restoration are good for holding seed in place and catching top soil over barren slopes if you are sowing seed in a large area. If you can get just a few plants to take hold, maybe in time you will get adequate seed production to naturalize them. Even plants native to hot dry land need moisture to get started because, as I know you already know, seed will lay in the ground for years waiting for the right conditions in desert areas.

I'd try to get the potted plants established and hope to use them as a source for your future seeding and naturalizing, survival of the fittest etc.

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wisconsitom(Zone 4/5)

I was merely suggesting to yes....stratify the seeds, as you are doing. The cold/moist treatment-which is stratification-is the key to germination, whether in pots or in the ground. That detail makes no difference, although some other factor is in your (wanto's) case. Are the ones in the ground at the same moisture level as the potted ones? something is different between the two.....or I'm not sure what is being asked.

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WoodsTea 6a MO(6a)

My understanding is that some asters don't need cold stratification. I'm not sure why that is -- maybe it's that they are such late bloomers that by the time the seeds reach the ground, autumn has passed and there's no need to preserve dormancy like there is with a summer bloomer.

http://tomclothier.hort.net/page02.html

Can't answer the question about when to plant them out, though. I tend to favor earlier for things I have germinated outdoors (and especially taprooted things like Asclepias), but your situation is quite a bit different.

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WoodsTea 6a MO(6a)

Just did a little more reading on this. The Deno book on germination says that most Asteraceae are what it terms "D-70" germinators. The seeds need a period of dryness (a month seems to be sufficient) to break down inhibitors. There is no specific requirement for cold stratification -- it's the dryness that's important.

After that, sufficient moisture and warm temperatures in the 70 degree range are most favorable to germination. I can imagine that the soil in the pots is warmer than that in the ground, at least during sunny days, so that could be a possible explanation (as well as moisture) for the difference in germination.

Here's a (large) PDF version of the book:

Seed Germination Theory and Practice

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texasranger2

Plants of the SW has complete sowing instructions for SW natives on their site. Select 'Thoughts' in the bar on top. It doesn't look much different than sowing Texas natives which means its a baby sit job if its dry. They recommend prepping the area with shallow watering 2 times a day, then once a day for 3 weeks if its dry. Not how nature does it exactly but unless the plants are seeding abundantly and have naturalized. I wouldn't be optimistic or expect things to work out according to how nature does it and in your soil type, even less so. Thats my opinion anyway.

You said you planted these in that cactus garden you built? That might be a problem. We are supposed to get rain a couple times this week, maybe you guys will too. Once they get big, thats when they are drought tolerant, not so much when they are babies..........

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wisconsitom(Zone 4/5)

Woods, that is mildly surprising...that dryness thing. I mean sure, Tex's 10,000 seeds-which is true- notwithstanding, there would it seems be precious few spots that stay dry for a month in the late fall of the year. Not discounting that, just expressing surprise. Our typical situation up here in the fall can be summed up by two words and a conjunction-cold and wet. And asters are utterly numerous in oldfields and the like.

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WoodsTea 6a MO(6a)

Late fall isn't when they need that dryness. Since it's dryness that breaks down the inhibitors and makes the seed ready to germinate, you don't want that to happen until winter. Then it's just a wait until temperatures rise (and hopefully moisture is available) in the spring.


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wisconsitom(Zone 4/5)

I'm not doubting this. It just still seems a bit surprising-but then, when is nature not surprising-given the typical winter will follow that fall wet/cold period with a nice layer of snow, constantly, if slightly, melting through the winter. I'm just looking at it from the standpoint of window of opportunity in the systems I'm familiar with. There would seem to be precious few such windows. Yet asters abound. So it obviously does occur.

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wantonamara Z8 CenTex

Yea, I did plant the tiny sports in a couple of large beds that I built. Many of my cacti died last year and I have been out there throwing some away. I am better at cactus in the pots than in the ground. Also the weeding is getting to me. Every seed of the 10,000 monarda citron that was blowing in the wind sprouted this winter. I can't keep up.I am leaning more to the wildflower garden there. It seems to be the direction it is going regardless of my actions.. There is dirt in the beds and the hose reaches them where as elsewhere is not a garden situation. No soil and no water. I have to hand carry water. I could

My plans were to bring in several trailer loads of dirt this spring but first my trailer was loaned out and stayed away longer than stated and then my husbands van is now down for the count. My other problem is that I have way too many seedling types. I went a little crazy collecting and never documented them well. Hell, I don't know their names. I will have more than I can keep up watering. I got a few in yesterday and I will now wait till the next cool down. Or I will just go for it and move these tiny buggers.

We had our first rain of the year and bunches of tahoka daisy made an appearance.That rain this coming week will miss us but I think we have one the the next week. As usual, I am so disorganized. I am full in the spring wandering in circles. It feels like I am scratching at scabs. I planted out 10 Texas Mountain laurels Far from the buildings with minor amendments and 2 gallons of water. Most all the things that I got sprouted last year died in the dastardly summer.

Thanks every one. I will check out the planting instructions on PoSW. Wood tea, I am having problems downloading the PDF. It could be that I am blind and don't see it on my cluttered desktop.I will try again.

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WoodsTea 6a MO(6a)

Tom -- I'm just reasoning this out in my head of course, but some portion of the seeds are going to remain on the plant into winter, above the snow level, and would be subject to dry winter winds. Even under the snow level, I'm not sure the seeds are really being wetted to the degree that they are when they are in contact with moist soil.

One month of dryness isn't apparently the required amount for a given species -- it could be more or less -- but that's what was used experimentally for Deno's studies. Lower humidity would conceivably shorten the time. There's also a range where, as conditions move away from the ideal, germination percentages are less but still greater than zero. With the large number of seeds as you and TR have mentioned, it wouldn't take a very high percentage to still allow the plant to spread.

Wanto, you could try doing a search for: deno seed germination. In Google that brought up the text and its two supplements in the first page of results. Perhaps those links will work better than the one I pasted.


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wisconsitom(Zone 4/5)

Heh,, Id had that very thought shortly after I posted that-that many seeds will still be up on the flowerheads suspended in mid air....and available for some very dry air indeed!

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wantonamara Z8 CenTex

I collected them from the seed heads and they have been in my box outside (NOT very cold this year). Snow in NM is mostly ephemeral, an occasional and evaporating dusting. But there is some moisture with it but not a consistent snow coverage type of moisture.

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WoodsTea 6a MO(6a)

That Texas Mountain Laurel is a pretty one, first I'd heard of it.

Interesting how laurel, mountain laurel, and Texas mountain laurel are all in different families (Lauraceae, Ericaceae, and Fabaceae).

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texasranger2

It seems to me thats its impossible to discern what those seeds need except by experimentation. Aster-like is very broad. The Machaeranthera types are usually annual or biennial and those are a "plant anytime, fall is best" easy to germinate plant which has been my experience. One plant yields a ton of dandelion type seeds. Currently I have them coming up thick as grass in spots.

If the Hairy Golden Aster-like one you have is anything like that Texas one you sent me, its also quite easy. I get volunteers in high numbers, they come up in winter through late spring.

I'd definitely direct sow the annuals, preferably in fall and do what you did with trying them in the pots too, just in case. Oddly, last fall I direct sowed a lot of those annual early spring blooming astralagus seeds last year and got zero plants. This year they were some of the seed I tested in damp coffee filters, I only got a few to germinate out of about 50 seeds and those three plants are still indoors along with Prince's Plume which is another SW native and intend to take all these sown indoors plants outside this week, we don't have any freezing temperatures in the forecast.

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WoodsTea 6a MO(6a)

Heterotheca is a genus I avoid completely because there is a demonstration prairie at a nearby school that by midsummer is overrun by what I think is H. camporum. It's four or five feet tall. I'm guessing that it was included in whatever native wildflower seed mix they started with and it was way more aggressive than anything else.

I've heard that seeds of at least some Astragalus species have an impervious coat and need scarification -- or perhaps having them pass through a bird's digestive tract...

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texasranger2

Woodstea, the yellow blooming plant is Heterotheca aka Hairy Golden Aster that I got from Wantanamara. I think it grows wild on her property (?) Anyway, its one of my favorites because its deep rooted, low growing, tight, neat plant and blooms non stop from spring until it finally freezes. The leaves have a blueish cast due to the bristles.

I cut it back in mid winter and it starts forming a tight dense mound of pretty green right away for good winter interest then its ready to go again in spring. Its a great low filler plant and it will take a lot of shade too -- it blooms good & keeps compact in any situation it seems.

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wantonamara Z8 CenTex

These heterothecas are very different from the tall wet land species. TR, the ones that I sent you, I collected at the Wichita mountain preserve. They are Okies.. I think they grow in the Enchanted rock batholith area . Both are granitic soils. They are not wild here where I live. I brought in some decomposed granite for them. It has bloomed through 75 days of no rain and above 100 degrees during the 2011 drought. The one I collected from west of Artesia, east of Hope New Mexico is larger, a knee high mound shaped densely branched and just covered in blossoms.

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texasranger2

Really? I didn't know that. Whatever or wherever, its one of my favorites. Drought, heat, cold and even flood-wet hardy + it blooms its 'widdle' heart out no matter what comes. That one summer we got over 2 months straight of over 100 degrees and up to 112 with no rain, thats a real test, the plant was unflapped. It grows & blooms well out of any tiny crack in the sidewalk too. I always allow a couple to do that because on top of everything else, it doesn't mind being walked on. I read you can drive over them and they don't mind.

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dbarron(z7_Arkansas)

And being the recipient of one from TR, I can attest that even as a seedling, it gave a pretty good show of flowers in it's first year.

I'm looking forward to seeing what it does THIS year.

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wantonamara Z8 CenTex

I love to see plants travel from gardener to gardener. I know of gardens that it is in from Del Rio to Uvalde, San Antonio, Killeen and now Arkansas. I have never seen it sold anywhere., in any mail order or native nursery. It is a much better plant than the normally available texas native Heterotheca canescencens which is sold around here at the LBJ wildflower center. It has a better form and longer bloom period.

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WoodsTea 6a MO(6a)

I wonder whether it would grow taller and floppier here. The blue grama I had in the hell strip, for instance, had 30" stems. Part of the problem there was that I mixed several yards of compost into the bed before planting -- something that I definitely would not repeat if I had to do it all over.

I think sometimes about redoing the bed on the south side of the house, digging out some of the heavy soil underneath and working in grit/gravel/Turface/etc. That bed is so hot and sunny between the driveway and the house -- it would be nice to grow some more xeric things there without having them flop -- Hesperaloe, for instance. Salvia, agastache -- I want to make a hummingbird smorgasbord there (can you tell that I just received the High Country Gardens catalog).

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dbarron(z7_Arkansas)

How does hesperaloe do in your area? it seemed it was almost marginal in NE Oklahoma for me, some years getting bit pretty badly.

And we all know agastache and most of the interesting salvias wouldn't be hardy there.

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texasranger2

Except for the Purple Hyssop type, Agastache does badly here. I've only grown it successfully in a pot, a week of heavy rain will almost always do it in and we get those sooner or later or its doing fine, it gets hot and dry, I water and it starts slowly croaking in mid summer when its hot and dry.

Hesperaloe is easy, stands up to a rainy spring and is not picky about soil. As long as it has good drainage, its fine, you see it commonly here all around the city in yards, municipal plantings, around the capital, colleges and street medians.

Bush Salvia's also do fine and seem immune to periods of rain and meadow types do well too. We've had some harsh winters with below zero temps, ice snow etc and the bush salvia comes through fine, I've always assumed they are hardier than advertised. My sister in Wellington Ks zone 6 has them and they hold up well for her too, her soil is rich, dark good Kansas farm soil. They do better than the commercial types artemisia such as Silver King or Powis Castle which can get rather ratty looking or lanky in a wet year. Cactus are more successful than some of the native sages like Big Sage, Sand Sage and Silver Sage and a few other xeric plants, its a matter of trial and error on these. A rainy spring will get the sages while the cactus always seem to manage fine even with two weeks straight and floods as long as they are not in low spots that pool water.

Woodstea, I'd be very surprised if the Hairy Golden Aster died on you unless it was planted in a low spot where water can stand for days in a puddle. Its got a rough, scratchy texture of a common 'roadside weed' and it looks like thats where you'd find it naturally growing. I have one in the lowest corner of the front down there in the strip where all the water drains down to, many things would die (and have) there but the aster does fine. They tend to get overgrown & overly wide in too much rain but you can cut them back by 1/2 or 1/3, they recover fast and bloom. What I mean by that is they outgrow the space I've allotted & cover a neighbor plant but it doesn't flop at all or look bad because its habit is more vertical than upright, its a mounding plant that gets wider not tall. The stems at the base are woody and the root long and deep. I like them in late summer and fall planted with Indian Blanket because both of these get covered in fuzzy seed balls with sparser flowers which really compliments the grasses coming into bloom---looks great in late afternoon sun.

What kind of blue grama did you plant? Blonde Ambition is quite tall and bushy compared to the regular ones,I didn't expect that big & call it a medium size grass comparatively speaking. With the regular smaller kind, I get different sizes depending on how much water they get and the soil but they are all neat and well behaved and one of the best looking winter grasses for light colored contrast and fine texture. I just dumped a whole grocery bag of Blonde Ambition seeds thickly along a 10ft x 4ft strip to hide a cut off fence out back and roughed up the surface to get soil contact. I bought 8 plants in fall 2014 and I had a lot of seed.

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dbarron(z7_Arkansas)

But TR, he's probably about a zone further north than I am/was...so I'd have some hesitation to pronounce things hardy in his area without some experimentation (though you're probably right, drainage would be more critical).

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WoodsTea 6a MO(6a)

I suspect Hesperaloe parviflora might make it here -- that south bed is I think more of a zone 7 microclimate, but I wouldn't try it without deep soil amendment to improve the drainage -- that probably won't happen this year. I think Salvia greggii could do okay as well in the same situation. I wouldn't bother with Agastache, but I like the thought of it.

I'm not too worried about Heterotheca villosa dying on me -- more that it would get leggy and floppy like so many dryland plants have done here. The blue grama was from seed I got somewhere -- not 'Blonde Ambition' but who knows where it came from, perhaps some much drier climate.

In any case I'll keep it in mind for the future. The hell strip would be a good place for it, perhaps -- but I want to see how things progress this year. Hoping for more fame flower!


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texasranger2

Hesperaloe is very cold hardy, zone 5 to 10, good down to -20 below zero. They are easy from seed and you get lots of seeds. I've collected different varieties from various places here in OKC., you can really see some variations of color, size form etc. The yellow is sterile (I believe) because I've never seen seed pods on them but they are just as hardy. I got some seeds from really bigger type from Will Rogers Park, its bloom period is shorter and the blooms kind of pale but the plants themselves are taller and dramatic with lots of 'curls' on the leaves.

I personally believe Salvia greggii is hardier than many sources indicate. I've had both of these for 25 years at least, probably longer, and they've been through some really cold winters, wet winters and icy ones. They made it when other plants failed like the winter we got so cold in mid December which killed the crepe myrtles down to the ground and people lost all kinds of southern plants like Magnolias etc. You might see some top die-off or even killed to the base but I definitely think its worth trying in a spot thats well draining. You always get seedlings too so even if a worse case scenerio happens, you have new ones coming up. I've gotten a few white flowering seedlings which is kind of fun.

'Lips' is fairly cold hardy but I don't think its as cold hardy as greggii. I lost one one year and they have more die-back on top. Its a larger plant too, needs a lot of space.

I am talking about the common old medium light red flowered or hot pink flowered native Salvia greggii, neither are improved or named cultivars but I've had these since before I started seeing fancy named and colored cultivars, actually, I can't remember where they came from its been so long ago. Anything from seed is up for grabs on color, the cultivars don't come true but they all root very easily from stem cuttings which would hedge your bets or cover your initial costs easily. I think the plain jane lighter red old stand-by plants are really the brightest in the garden compared to all those named ones.

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wisconsitom(Zone 4/5)

Sure wish that Hesperaloe would work up here! Gawd I like that plant. Nobody...and I do mean nobody, sells or grows it up here though, and i think despite the Z5 hardiness rating, it is yet another case of cold, wet autumn conditions, which we get plenty of, doing it in.

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WoodsTea 6a MO(6a)

I'm curious what you all think about how I might go about preparing a bed where I could grow plants like this. Say I start with a fairly small section, maybe 30 square feet. I imagine it like this:

1. Remove the top 4" of soil and set aside.

2. Remove the remaining soil down to 12" or so.

3. Use a garden fork to make holes another 10" or so down. Pretty heavy soil down there. I have an awesome fork though.

4. Pour in Turface and/or grit and rake it into the holes.

5. Fill the bed with a mixture of the soil from step 1, lime, and something gritty: decomposed granite, chicken grit, Turface, pumice.

Does this seem like a reasonable strategy? Is 12" deep enough? What would you use in step 5?

By and large I do try to stick with plants that can handle the silty clay loam here with minimal amendment, but I like the idea of having some dryland plants in this one really sunny hot section (it's a total of about 100 square feet).

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texasranger2

Woodstea, I'm less scientific and more of a peasant on this sort of thing. That sounds complicated and expensive to me. What I do is purchase some coarse sand and topsoil to build the bed up higher into a mound that drains down the sides rather than digging down deeper to fix or remove whats underneath. Unless its really crappy or sticky clay, its not the soil, its the drainage time. You want quick runoff.

You can buy bags of topsoil for 99 cents each and bags of concrete grade sand for cheap at Home Depot or Lowe's. The concrete sand comes in larger bags so you need less of those. I'd make it about 1/2 sand and 1/2 good topsoil. Thats what I always do when working on a new area. If its a big area, a whole ton or two of sand you pick up at a local concrete company costs about the same as a couple bags of play sand--- I guess its the bags you pay for at Home Depot or maybe the convenience? A ton sounds like a lot, but its really not once you spread it out. Do you have a pickup? Sometimes we have to make more than one trip, depending on the size of the area.

If its a really big area a whole or half of a dump truck load is inexpensive but you have to pay to have them deliver it in a pile. You have to use a wheel barrow to move it where you want it. We had three piles in the street right in front of the house when we did the back, large pile of sand, one of topsoil and one of gravel. We hired a guy for a day with a cat to bring loads down the driveway to the back yard as we used rakes to spread it out and we got it done in a day. I can do a small area by myself in a few hours, seems like a piece of cake after doing the whole back yard. .

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wisconsitom(Zone 4/5)

The only caveat I can conjure up is one of "the bathtub effect", whereby extremely free-draining material is used as backfill around plants otherwise situated in soil of slower-draining quality, the result being that the very bed you wish to have drain out faster can, in some instances, actually become a waterlogged retention area. Hopefully I'm explaining this well enough. And I'm not at all saying don't do it. I'm inspired to try to grow such plants myself. Just be aware-dissimilar soil types, when used directly adjacent to one another, can behave strangely when it comes to drainage of water. I would give strong consideration to a raised bed as opposed to a trench of free-draining material.

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WoodsTea 6a MO(6a)

TR -- the problem in this location is that there is no leeway for building up the bed because the back side is against the house foundation and I'm already closer to the top of that than I'd like. There's a slight grade away from the foundation, but that's about all I can manage. Ideally the driveway would be lowered, but that won't happen any time soon.

Tom -- I suppose one possibility would be to have the soil-to-grit ratio increase as you went farther down, so there wouldn't be an abrupt transition. Past a certain point though the amount of grit might not be enough to make any real difference -- like that marbles in pudding analogy.

Also I thought having the grit-filled holes at the bottom might help somewhat. It's similar to an aerate+Turface strategy that's used sometimes on sports fields.


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wisconsitom(Zone 4/5)

Yes, I see that. It's just that all around the sides of the "trench"-I can't think of a better word-would be less free-draining material, still allowing for the dreaded "bathtub effect". On the other hand, this is an attempt at a garden bed, not the construction of a new nuclear power plant! The downside is just your own disappointment and perhaps some wasted time, although time is never wasted if something has been learned.

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wantonamara Z8 CenTex

I do not think that using surface burred in the ground is a good choice. I think gravel would be better. In my listening to people on the C&S forum discuss gritty mix. The surface does not hold up past a couple of years it breaks down into a clay glob after awhile and sticks to the side of the pot. I am not sure what it will do in your application..

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wantonamara Z8 CenTex

Back on topic. Moving my seedlings out when tiny did not work. even with gentle water twice a day. They damped off. Too early. I have more. I think I did the same thing 5 years ago. I will wait and do it with cardboard box shields in a couple of weeks. I guess I will fertilize the 4" pots with weak 1/4 strength fertilizers in some of the waterings.

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texasranger2

Sorry for getting sidetracked, I deleted my ramble. Honestly, I don't know what else to say at this point except you know your own situation best. I never fertilize wild plants myself but, whatever you think works or want to try, go for it.

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WoodsTea 6a MO(6a)

Hmm, damping off, there's something I always meant to learn about. How can you tell that's what killed your seedlings? Is there a visible fungus, or can you tell by the appearance of the seedlings/roots?

I use Turface for container plants (Al's gritty mix). It's apparently important that it's screened before use in that context, but I haven't been using it long enough to say much more about it. I do know that it's intended to be incorporated into soil for athletic fields, so I would hope that it would stay granular longer than a couple of years. But I'm not sure it would be the right fit for this situation.

Ah well -- the xeric bed thing is not going to happen this year anyway. I've got a fence to build and a more mesic bed on the east side of the house to plant this year.

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wantonamara Z8 CenTex

I do not normally fertilize wild plants but I was thinking I need to get these up quick so I can move them out quick , but I need to wait till they are bigger,

Drat, I missed a TR ramble, According to my world, People are allowed to get Off topic and ramble with me. I am queen of doing the rambling off topic . I think conversations should drift around.

Woods T, the damping off... I am probably misusing it. I use it when my seedling disappear on me. I use it generally. I did not peer down to see any fungus. I am inexact human at best.

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texasranger2

The ramble was about easily and cheaply amending soil and a description of how I handled water runoff, boring stuff not to mention repetitious. Besides, I've yet to run across one single solitary person on GW who's open to trying the same approach in the 8 years or more I've posted. I've also read all the reasons why it won't work or why they wouldn't or can't do it. Frankly, I'd decided its futile to make suggestions about what to do on certain subjects, especially this subject, and I swore the last time the subject came that it was the last time I'd waste the time with input. I'll leave it at that.

Watering twice a day is too much. When they damp off, the stem gets weak and thin right by the soil line, then the plant falls over and croaks, I've never actually seen fungus or anything like that. Usually its from too much water or unsterile soil. I start mine indoors in sterile seed starting mix, avoid too much watering and run a ceiling fan to prevent damping off. I germinated mine in mid January using coffee filters this year and then planted the sprouted seeds in clean pots. In the past I directly sowed in pots with baggies on top but this saved space and worked faster because it was easy to keep many seeds warm in a small place. Once germinated, I put the pots by a south window to grow on for a couple months. Yesterday I moved them outdoors in a spot that gets early morning & late afternoon sun. They are fairly decent sizes and I plan to plant them in mid March. I do the same thing every year because it works. Seeds needing cold are sowed outdoors.

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WoodsTea 6a MO(6a)

Wanto, I think I am too much the other way, always wanting to know more about the underlying specifics than is really useful for me to know. I spend way too much time thinking and not enough doing.

TR, I do something very similar to what you described for runoff in the backyard. I've got a gravel-lined swale leading from the driveway to the rain garden, and then another to handle overflow. I didn't put sand down first, though. The gravel is a mix of pea gravel as well as a larger size. There are a few sedges in it now, may add more in the future.

I think it's somewhat hard for me to get enthusiastic about your use of sand because I've read so many things warning about how sand + clay = brick. I realize that with enough sand that problem wouldn't occur, but I am still hesitant. Also I am always reading descriptions of plants I want to use that are native to rocky places in southern Missouri: limestone glades, etc. Not so much sandy as rocky. So then I think gravel would be the way to go. Gravel and maybe ground pine bark.


Solidago drummondi

In any case what you are doing is clearly working!


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texasranger2

Have you ever tried to dig through gravelly soil? Its hard to get a shovel through. I'm sure all those people who say mixing in sand and topsoil and/or compost have actually experimented and done it to prove you end up with concrete. I'm the anomaly.

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wantonamara Z8 CenTex

I am more of a Solidago nemoralis girl. They grow on a slope on caliche , gravel...no real soil to speak of and in full sun. Solidago altissimo rambles under the oaks here fairly manageably.


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WoodsTea 6a MO(6a)

I bought the S. drummondi for the cascade effect -- planted some last year at the top of a stone wall, hoping for this kind of thing:

http://mowildflowers.net/Cliff-Goldenrod-Solidago-drummondii_p_265.html

TR, your point is well taken. It's always perplexed me, to tell the truth. There's that sand-silt-clay soil triangle, seems like if you are at a certain point on that and add a bit of sand, it should move you towards the sand vertex (lower left) and potentially into a better soil category. The triangle model is probably too simplistic, though -- says nothing about sand particle size.

Soil triangle

Again I think the key thing is that you incorporated a lot of sand, yes? Often I see statements like "you'd have to add sand at a 1-1 ratio, which would be impractical".

Speaking of which, not far from here is a house where the owner covered the whole yard with some number of inches of sand. There are beach chairs and flamingos and what not -- no plants. A lot of the sand washed down the gently sloping yard on to the sidewalk in the first big rain.

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texasranger2

Woods, You are reading all the standard stuff about soil that pertains to soil improvement with the idea of planting a conventional garden or landscape. Most people think that way. Nine years ago when I first started a drastic change in gardening my goal was to grow plants that like lean, infertile soil. Seemed every plant I wanted specified this as it turned out. You know how you always complain your grasses get too big, plants flop etc? Think in terms of that.

I wanted to create "The Ungarden" and had no desire to use typical nursery plants or achieve a lush look. In fact I dug all those out and ended up with a pile of plants along the hell strip the entire length of it and about 5ft high of stuff I dug out. I wanted no flower beds. No lawn. Rather I was after a garden that was wild, grassy, scrubby and native with cactus and such plants as opposed to green, leafy and lush and well trimmed. The point is, I had a definite goal in mind.

What I started calling my process from the beginning was "Dumbing Down the Dirt". I still call it that and I still call the landscape The Ungarden-garden. Its mostly roadside 'weeds" for all practical purposes, I make no bones about it. The goal was to grow xeric, prairie, native grasses etc. How does a person do this? It was completely opposite of how I'd thought of soil previously.

You don't don't get this kind of result by looking up ways to create good rich garden soil or keeping on top of improving it yearly with organic mulches, compost, fertilizers etc., approaching it from the well worn path of acceptable, good gardening principles like 99.9% of gardeners talk about religiously. Anyway, from my point of view, none of that fit my goal any longer. I wanted lean soil soil, good drainage and dry specifically so plants would not flop or the xeric ones wouldn't rot and I definitely wanted to avoid having plants get large and lanky which they tend to do in good garden situations.

The best and stiffest vertical bluestem here seems to grow in the harshest places along the roadside for instance along with several other attractive 'weeds'. Some of the most gorgeous wild plants growing in New Mexico seem to be growing in soil that definitely does resemble concrete which sort of makes me want to achieve an area like that for stunted plants where the size of the plant is much smaller than whats going on underground now that I think about it....but anyway..

Your question was about creating an area for the kinds of plants that prefer lean, fast draining soil. You have often posted comments about plants tending to get too large or tall and you were worried they'd flop and I assumed you knew what I had done and why since I've brought it up in several posts and shown pictures.

When I read about creating concrete it was years after the fact of adding sand. It never happened to me. Maybe its true and probably it is but actually I don't really care. All I know is what I've experienced here. Whether I added a little to a small area or a lot to a big area, I have not seen concrete in 9 years or previously back when I had a conventional landscape and used to add bags of amendment + play sand whenever I'd work on a new area or plant something in less than great soil using both as a planting hole amendment.


Sorry about the blatant highjack Mara. ;((

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wantonamara Z8 CenTex

I just bought some expanded shale, washed decomposed granite and compost to add to an area of red death calcarious clay tomorrow. An Agave photo-americana will go there . This agave is partial to clay but they don't call it red death for nothing. I still like to play it safe and keep the crown raised with some drainage in the soil.

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Campanula UK Z8

Have a look at crevasse gardens using shale, slate, any stone which splits in sedimentary layers. The little plants will extend their roots deep, deep into crevasses and it is a way you can add depth without requiring massive digging out and backfill. I used to have a few scree gardens - alpine gardening with saxifrages, androsace, dryas, gentians, which have always had a small group of devotees and seems to be increasing in popularity. No reason not to try this as a xeric landscape.

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texasranger2

I wish we could grow alpine plants but thats really stretching things too far down here, in Austin it would be even worse especially on what sounds to me like an infertile bit of land where almost nothing can grow well. I can't even grow chicks and hens in the sun and ice plant looks pretty ragged in summer.

Mara, is that red clay where you are planning to grow the Gulf Muhly you mentioned? I'm pessimistic. I don't think you'd get much in the way of blooms. Mine is punk in the dry years. I'm liking the Sacaton alkali though, I wish I had more room to plant a drift of it. On that note, I wish I had room for Giant Sacaton where it could be more isolated and seen from a distance. Wonder how it would do in that red clay?

The red clay I have here is way down deep in a sublayer, about 2' under the topsoil. We had to put in some underground wiring and there it was. I can't imagine trying to amend it or grow anything in it. It stains everything and sticks like glue to your shoes but its good to build foundations of structures on or install swimming pools.

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wantonamara Z8 CenTex

The red clay is on the top of the ground in the field area of my land. I am planting the agave there. The pick hit with thud like plunk. It is compressed right where I wanted to plant. I was racing the forecasted week of rain because the ground will stick to my shovel and shoes in wads of glop if I wait.,. I did get the gypsum, expanded shale, decomposed granite and compost mixed in and it feels much better and it did form a bit of a mound.. I am watering gypsum in the ground around it.

The mention of the pink muhly was more of a fantasizing then any real plan. More just wishful thinking. I did grow some M. capillaries in the area of Caliche based Marl and it lived but did not bloom convincingly ever. Maybe the clay would work better. It stays wetter longer and is more rich and fertile.

Here is where I am working The agave went in dead center near the cedars by the curve of the grass road. It is a pup from the close agave.

I have used the Sacaton grass as an accent far away. They have not reached any size yet. Mater of fact I have LOST 2 out of three due to not being able to tell where I put them amongst the other grass. Actually there is some on the other side of the agaves on the right. They have disappeared into the muddle of the field. I can make out the Dallas Blue I planted but the Sacaton is invisible or just plain gone.

I have three in another vista and one is thriving but I lost 2 others. Things planted too far away, get forgotten in the summer.

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WoodsTea 6a MO(6a)

TR, I definitely get where you are coming from, and I realize that some of the things I've done with compost, etc. weren't ideal for plantings like the hell strip where I've got prairie plants going.

I am going for a somewhat more lush look than you are, which I think is appropriate given the zone and the greater amount of precipitation here. Except for small areas, I'm not willing to do the serious work of dumbing down the soil.

The other thing though is that parts of the yard get a fair amount of shade, and I'm also dealing with that massive amount of tree debris each year. I've got 30+ lawn bags of it in my garage right now, waiting for the curbside pickup season to begin, and I've got maybe 15-20 more bags to rake up. It makes me think that full sun prairie isn't a terribly realistic model for most of my yard. I would ideally like to start grinding all this debris down and using it as mulch or compost for the plantings where it would be appropriate.

Lately I have been thinking more in terms of a savanna/open forest/glade model.

Mara, I love the look of that agave as an accent in your field. If I had a similar space I would probably do something similar with prairie dock. That grass road is cool too with the warm tones of the taller grass around it.

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wisconsitom(Zone 4/5)

I've been an adjunct educator at the local technical college from time to time. When I was teaching soil textures, my basic guideline was that in order for the addition of sharp builder's sand to do any good in lightening a heavier soil, it had to reach the 70% of total mark, this because the only reason things like sharp sand drain well is that the individual particles that make it up are huge compared to individual particles of clay or silt, and that therefor, they lodge against each other, leaving relatively large macropores that air tends to fill. I don't have any reason to think that just adding sand-at a lesser rate-would do anything like this. Remember, it's the lodging of individual particles against one another that creates these larger pore spaces. Otherwise, to quote from above, it's just marbles in pudding! I like that, and wish I'd had that phrase in mind back when I was teaching!

As to savants like Tex, with her extraordinarily beautiful landscape, what can I say? You can't argue with success, they say, and her un-garden is just great if you ask me.

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texasranger2

Don't mind me woodstea, I'm just battle weary of hearing over and over the well established campaign against adding builders sand and really, that above post was the last time I will suggest doing it (or defending it) to anyone because I now find it utterly tiresome, pointless and frustrating. Adding this amendment vs adding that amendment-- whatever---it all takes time & usually money to do it. Its more a matter of the local soil and topography we are dealing with, goals and even taste in plants more so than measuring annual rainfall within the midwest which is only about a tit for tat 3" of difference on average from here to there. Most urban yards are not indicative of the original soil in the surrounding land since they are graded with concrete sidewalks, foundations, drives and topsoil has typically been added.

Discussions about certain aspects of gardening between people living in different parts of the country (or the UK) with different climates, taste in plants, situations etc often remind me of religious debates such as you would hear between say a Baptist, a Roman Catholic, an Eastern Orthodox, a Methodist, a 'non denominational' (whatever that is) etc. They usually go nowhere and often set up people's defenses.

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wantonamara Z8 CenTex

Well, I planted the third agave and am now picking out 2 other places for Two more Pups.

The grass road is where our 16 wheel delivery trucks drive to get out. That road will fill in with KR bluestem later in the summer and will become not evident later..

YEA! I did find 2 of the Giant Sacatons that I lost. I want more , always more. LOL. None of the ones in clay made it. HMMMMMM. The ones in the raised marl hillock did very nicely. It gets no runoff up there.

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texasranger2

Savant? "A person who does not have normal intelligence but who has very unusual mental abilities that other people do not have." You know, I would be insulted except that this is very true and my husband would get a good laugh on this, so would my twin sister who is savant in the same way. If you got to know me, you'd understand exactly what I am talking about.

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texasranger2

Gee mara, I had a big Sacaton wrightii I dug up last spring that sat haphazard and crooked on top of the pot because it was too big to fit inside with the dried out clay dirt clinging to its ripped out roots like a brick and the plant actually grew in that exposed hard rootball all summer in the heat, no less, although it was in shade behind the shed with the pile of pots. Thats a testament to drought tolerance.

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wantonamara Z8 CenTex

I would be complimented if anyone called me a "savant". Nothing there about below normal intelligence.




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wantonamara Z8 CenTex

The sacaton was watered once or twice last summer but then forgot in the later fall and we did not get rain till LATE October. I think I had lost the smaller ones that were in the clay. they were much smaller in size when planted.

OH and I just now found the Sacaton grass seed that I collected at the Three Rivers archeological site (north of Tularosa) that I thought I had lost. This also makes me happy. I lost that bag for several weeks in my woodshed. Now if I can only find my car keys that I lost.

Here it is in Habitat



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wisconsitom(Zone 4/5)

Tex, I didn't intend that at all. I just grabbed that word as it floated past the inside of my eyelids. Maybe I better look it up in the dictionary!

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texasranger2

Tom, I got a kick out of it. It was new word on me and being a dictionary nerd, I had to look it up. Made me laugh.

The sacaton in the picture looks exactly like the ones I grew from seed I got from PoSW. You will always have trouble getting plants germinated and up to good growing size in those kinds of conditions, no matter how accustomed to harsh soil and drought hardy they are. Take that picture as a prime example. Mine seed abundantly around the plants in a gravel path and if that one in the photo was in fertile soil with adequate moisture, there would be hundreds of them growing wild in that spot. The picture says it all. The way I would approach it is based on what I always say. If you want to end up with one plant, sow 20+ seeds---In a situation like yours sow 1000's. Otherwise, you really will have to commit yourself to regular watering until they establish because obviously not doing that results in no success as you reported from past plantings.

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wisconsitom(Zone 4/5)

What a cool picture! I could like the dry, scrubby lands. My one trip to New Mexico was a real eye-opener. I'd pretty much never been in the desert. We stayed in Albuquerque-I have to look up the spelling for that city every time-and made some side trips into the foothills of the Sandia Peaks, right around the old mining town of Madrid. Awesome scenery.

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wantonamara Z8 CenTex

The movie Rainman ruined the word "savant" by coupling it with "idiot". Separated from this odd partnership, idiot has left an indelible stain on the original meaning of Savant. Tom, you did use the word right. I double checked in the dictionary. Sometimes we get word meanings by their associations and not the dictionary. I am guilty, I have to watch out for that.

The picture is of an area northeast of the White Sands area, due west of the missile range and below Riudosa in the mountains. It is very dry here compared to the mountains..Don't feel bad, my spell checker can't spell Albuguergue either. I have to look Albuguergue up every time.

I have been remiss about planting my seed out in the rocky area. We have had two days of a week of rain and I have been in bed sick with the flue, my body feeling like a sack of unattached bones grinding up against each other. I am better today so I think I will put on my rubber boots and work out in the wet soil. Isn't that a no no? Well beggars can't be choosers. This might be the only moisture we get all spring. I hear a strong La Niña is on the way by summer's end and that means a bad drought for us.

I want these plants to not seed themselves to easily. I have seen pictures of totally inundated riparian valleys in the Desert West Texas. It was so thick that cows could not get into it. If that happens here, I will be yanking like a banshi. Those seeds are really small and there are MILLIONS on a inflorescence. Ranchers do not like this grass. Nor do they like the snake broom at its feet. This might be a mistake. I did plant a bunch of seed out in the clay field a couple of years back but I did not get any that I know of. True, I can't tell one grass from another sometimes, especially when they are young. I won't be certain till it blooms. I need to take a course or two to elevate me from dilettante-hood.



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texasranger2

Here is the word that fits. I'm not a savant, thats for sure. I like that 2nd definition about without regard for system or theory. I like it a lot.



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wantonamara Z8 CenTex

who's to say savants aren't empirical. How else do they get to be savants in the first place.

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wisconsitom(Zone 4/5)

Ya'll seem plenty savvy to me!

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WoodsTea 6a MO(6a)

I'd say I'm more theoretical than empirical. I can totally believe that builder's sand works great for you, TR, but I can't stop my brain wanting to know why it works in your situation, but in others it causes problems (concrete, bathtub effect, etc.). Recently I read a whole text on soils for golf courses trying to come to a better understanding of porosity, drainage, compaction, etc.:

Golf Course Soil and Water Science

USGA-recommended soil mixes for putting greens are more than 90% sand! Which is irrelevant to our discussion, of course, but it's interesting.

TR, you mentioned building up instead of mixing down, and I see that your front yard appears to slope down from the house to the street. That seems like an important factor -- once the water drains down through your sandy mix, it reaches the denser, original soil layer, but the excess water that can't be absorbed fast enough is still able to run downhill under the sandy layer.

Without a slope my idea of digging down into the existing soil is probably a bad one. My front yard and the front half of the sides are pretty much flat. The house is too low, something I wish I had noticed before I bought it. Sometimes I think I should just pave the whole strip between the south side of the house and driveway and put some big containers out there. Then maybe I could grow some of those super cool blue Opuntias like you have.

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texasranger2

I am not talking about the kind of infertile sticky clay wantanamara is dealing with (except not on that scale, I'm talking about an average sized urban yard) or the dense red clay you could fire in a kiln that I see around here when holes are dug for building foundations to pour concrete into or when swimming pools are installed so maybe thats why. If I had that sort of clay, I'd bring in a lot of topsoil because I consider that a sub layer where the soil missing. Wantanamara is doing is working with the situation as she stands. I'd do the same.

Mine was ordinary garden soil going down pretty deep. Now its sandier garden soil. Simple as that. I have no idea what you are talking about with water now running downhill differently, it always ran downhill in a heavy rain except it used to run through a lawn and over the hellstrip onto the street and driveway The lawn grass always looked dried up and awful in summer on the hell strip and we'd waste water with a sprinkler, most of the water ends up on the street and sidewalk not to mention the ridiculous hassle of watering those rectangles or mowing & edging them.

It is easier and fast to water deeply in July and August when I have to because the water soaks right into the soil no matter how dry it is, it stays moist much longer than it did when it used to be dried out top soil that took endless hours with the hose on low to deep soak rather than run downhill (which it always did). If whats underneath or around the area is very dry, you have 'The Sponge Effect' meaning it is an exercise in futility trying to keep things watered and a big waste of water.

I no longer get big cracks in the yard when we have serious drought either.

My water bill went way down and thats not because of growing xeric plants. Its because the roots grow 100% better in the looser amended soil and the plants are healthier as a result, they grow faster when the soil is not compacted and so dense. I've seen that by comparing the same plants planted out back on that unamended strip on the west side. Same plant, but always half as big, slower growing and not as healthy.

I used to dig holes by plants or trenches around them just to get water down deeper than a couple inches. You want to talk about extra work? That was a yearly hassle because being on a slope, the slope is slight by the way, the ridges of the trench just washed downhill and besides, it didn't help much because if you don't deeply water the whole area, it just dries out after a day = water waste.

What I meant about instead of digging down was to make a raised bed instead of a same level flat bed for better drainage. I made three big hills in the back, meaning big around but not very high, sort of gentle slopes.

I guess all I can say is if you really fear sand due to what you read and theorize, just don't do it. A simple test area and a few bags of play sand told me what I needed to know about what happens to my soil if I mixed in sand saving me from worrying or wondering or plowing through a lot of technical documents which frankly, I'd find boring to read if I even had the time to do it, only cost me a few bags of play sand from Home Depot to find out.

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WoodsTea 6a MO(6a)

All I'm saying is that if you get tons of rain like you did last year, too much for the subsoil to absorb all at once, the water can still move down slope towards the street, whether it is on top of the soil or through the sandy layer.

That bed I'm talking about has barely any slope from the house to the drive, and that makes me think a fast-draining soil would be more likely to create a bathtub effect during big rains. I don't really want more infiltration/less runoff. As it is I have water in the basement in some years. I'd be all for making a raised bed, but I can't raise it any higher on the house side.

One thought I've had is to have someone install a French drain along the length of the bed, say 18-24" down, sloping down towards the back yard and the rain garden there. Then I could fill in above the gravel with a sandy mix.

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texasranger2

I'm not telling you what to do woodstea, I'm simply describing what I did and made a suggestion based on your comment about growing plants needing drainage. I feel like you are arguing against what I did and it makes no sense to do that.

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WoodsTea 6a MO(6a)

No, that's not it at all. I think what you did is great! I am a big fan of your garden.

I'm trying to work out whether your method would be applicable to my situation. The more I think about it, it just seems like this particular location I'm considering wouldn't be a good one for your method. I can't create a slope and I need to get water away from the house.

I do think that your method could work well for my hell strip, especially if I mounded it somewhat down the center. But of course that one is already planted.

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wantonamara Z8 CenTex

Building basements is an oddity in my area of Texas. They would complicate matters, come to think of it.

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texasranger2

Basements cause big problems here too. People used to build cellars for canned foods and tornados too. I'm real glad we don't have a basement, the neighbor does and it fills with water like so many do when it rains enough. Slab is the way they do it now, I don't think people build basements anymore, not that I know of anyway. Our house was built in the 1920's on a foundation wall and has a crawl space that gets higher on the east end. We have a flat roof, thats our thing to deal with.

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wisconsitom(Zone 4/5)

You guys in that big rain area? Holy the crap, poor N. Louisiana! 2 feet of rain......my Irish blood loves rain, but man, that's just a lot.

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wantonamara Z8 CenTex

It has been so dark here, I feel like it is wintertime in Berlin, Alaska, or some place like Coastal Washington.. The heavy stuff is going to our east. We have only had 3.5" since monday night when it started but the air is totally saturated heavy, still and fecund to the max. I am getting cabin fever.. Every mile to the east is wetter. It rained another 5 inches at my friends house last night and this morning east of austin and it is raining there cats and dogs now. I got my rain boots but can't find my umbrella.

Our huge SXSW music festival is getting started last night and will end on Sunday. 1600 Bands, producers audiences file in from all over the world. Obama is here . Can you imagine the madhouse in town!!! What a dumb idea to have the president here for a big shindig now during a bigger shin dig.. I am not going anywhere today. Good for our rain tanks. they are at 20,000 gallons and shooting the stuff out of it. I think it clears up tomorrow here.I am being visited by a concrete electronic musician from London , later this weekend.Sister's friend's friend's son. One always gets drop ins during this festival.Even the homeless camps are overflowing with hipsters. I could rent out my shed for a thousand dollars but I just give it away.

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texasranger2

No problems here in central Oklahoma. So far this year we have had 2.29". We got a bit day before yesterday, bright and sunny yesterday and still is as I type. We are hopefully getting some more in the next few days but are supposed to be in the 80's & sunny Monday and Tuesday.

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WoodsTea 6a MO(6a)

My basement has limestone walls. It's bowed in quite a bit on the driveway side of the house, which has apparently had a lot of water problems over the years because there is no real grade away from the foundation. It's usually not too bad as long as I keep the gutters (which keep getting clogged by pin oak debris) clean.

Speaking of pin oaks, I've been involved in an argument today on a Missouri native plants forum about big shade trees on small city lots. Wish you were there to chime in, TR. The thread was started by someone considering cutting down a sweet gum. Health issues prevent her from doing much raking, the gum balls cover her neighbor's yard, and she recently slipped on one of the balls and fell into the street. Some of the natives types are saying what an awesome native tree it is, or offering suggestions for creative uses of those gum balls: mulch, Christmas ornaments, etc.

I would have liked to have been at SxSW back in its earliest days. Seems a little too crazy of late.

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wisconsitom(Zone 4/5)

One of my sons has played at SXSW the last three years. He did report on the madhouse status of the town. He's not doing it this year, but last year they had some good time slots.

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wantonamara Z8 CenTex

My best friends son is playing all nights. His mom has some 2 LA producers and one band staying at her house. Another friend and drum builder has a 3 acre field full of musicians. I have 1 British musician here. I like the things that go on outside of town.There are so many cool parties and gatherings happening that don't have the madness.

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wantonamara Z8 CenTex

I am having better luck with the transplanting of some of the still small seedlings by creating some small rock shields on either side of them that protects them somewhat from our Texas sun.

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WoodsTea 6a MO(6a)

I make rock shields to protect seedlings from squirrels. Otherwise I sometimes go out the morning after a planting to find they've dug around and the seedling is lying there with its roots half exposed.

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