I love our big old oak tree in the backyard.  I’ts got the perfect placement, so a large majority of our yard is grass for the kiddo and pups to play on, but when the grown ups want to hang out on the deck and just chill in the late afternoon when the Texas sun hits the backyard , we are made in the shade. (more…)

Planting Spring Bulbs in Austin

Six months ago we bought our house in North Austin, and since then we’ve been working hard on the inside. Then the Austin summer hit, and temps stayed above 100° for 2 months.  Just about everything in the unkept backyard died.  Including my lawn.  This was not the time to start a new project for me in the backyard.  I’m not the kind of guy to plant things fast just to have them look nice.  Instead I like to follow the seasonal planting cycle.

But then things changed.

We all know Central Texas has some strange weather, because as soon as Fall arrived  the rains came – 5 inches in a day.  It’s a real yo-yo weather pattern.  But since fall is now here, it’s time to plant those spring bulbs.  I’m not really sure if Tulips will grow in Austin, so I didn’t invest much effort or money just in case.

While at Costco the other day, I saw these bags of 50 tulip bulbs for like 15 bucks.  So I picked up a couple of bags.  I knew just the right spot, against the back fence where there is a lot of morning light.

Each bag had 2 tulip varieties – the first contained Red Riding Hood and Mary Ann.  These are early spring bloomers – that are a great red and pink color.  The other bag contained Syaeda Amor and Hauran varities – purple bulbs that bloom in mid spring.  I planted them  arranged in a big row with the taller ones in the back (I think). I’m sure I could have done more to prepare the beds like add some amendments or fertilizer or something, but I’ll add some top-dressing mulch which should do the job.

But first I started by planting some Blue Lobelia to use as a border between the turf grass and the planting bed.  I’m not a fan of pre-made borders – you know the metal lawn edging, or bender board.  I’ve spent hours looking for a modern lawn edging, with no success.  I thought about pouring a concrete border, but that was too permanent for me (and expensive), so I decided to go natural, and let the plants define their spaces.  Later in the year, we’re planning on putting in some decomposed granite and flagstone, to define the spaces a little more, but until then this flat of low growing blue flowering groundcover will work just fine.

All in all it took a couple of hours – I needed to prep the bed a bit and pull out some weeds, then lay out the Lobelia at regular intervals. Once the small holes were dug, it didn’t take long to finish the border ground cover. Then I carefully laid out the bulbs, and put each in it’s own spot, covering them over with the recommended 6-8 inches of soil.

Now I have to grab a couple of bags of mulch to cover over the beds.

Of course the hardest part, besides the waiting until spring, will be to keep Riley out.

A prepared bed along a fence

A prepared bed along a fence
I got a flat of Blue Lobelia to use as a lawn border - I hope its not too late in the season to plant them successfully
I got a flat of Blue Lobelia to use as a lawn border – I hope its not too late in the season to plant them successfully
While picking up AA batteries the other day from Costco, for my wedding photo biz I saw these bags of bulbs - I decided to pick up a couple an plant them - if they bloom this spring, I'll be amazed.
While picking up AA batteries the other day from Costco, for my wedding photo biz I saw these bags of bulbs – I decided to pick up a couple an plant them – if they bloom this spring, I’ll be amazed.
Tulip bulbs from Costco are arranged for height, color, and blooming cycle.
Tulip bulbs from Costco are arranged for height, color, and blooming cycle.  Notice the Rain lilies going to seed in the foreground.

A broken trowel

Stage 3 Water Restrictions In Austin

Last night, while watching the local news, I heard that even though we have gotten a bunch of rain in the last 2-weeks, Central Texas lake levels are still at an all time low, and the LCRA (LCRA means Lower Colorado River Authority) is considering tightening restrictions on water use yet again.

So the very first thing I did was head over to my laptop, and Googled Austin Stage 3 water restrictions. Nothing. Nada. Zip, Zero, Zilch. This is probably the same response you got, and the reason you are visiting my page. But don’t fear, I’m on a mission to find out what Stage 3 restrictions means.

So I called 311, the city non-emergency and question hotline, and asked the operator. Who had no idea of course.

Then I surfed over to the website of the local paper, and I was able to find this article: Tougher water rules on way? LCRA reviewing drought plan.

Let me summarize what the new restrictions will be:

Watering your lawn less

Is this for real?  There are so many other ways to conserve water.  Now is the time to enact rules for our future that ensure water conservation, and make sure future generations have enough H2O to drink, cook, and bathe with.  I’m thinking of things like mandating tankless water heaters for all new construction, requiring drip irrigation for all new commercial landscape projects, and adding a tax to all sales of water bottles (did you know it takes approximately 6 times the amount of water inside the bottle to manufacture and transport the bottle? Here’s the source to how much water it takes to produce a bottle of water).

According to the LCRA, 2009 is the most severe draught on record since the 1950’s. Stage 2 water restrictions call for a 35% cut of use, and stage 3 will add an additional 10% – resulting in a 45% reduction in water use over regular levels.

Of course I’ll add more things to this list as I learn more.

The dog days of summer

Let me start by saying “My poor lawn is dying a slow death”.

I have a living will and a power of attorney, and every legal document one can think of just in case the unforeseeable should happen.  I’m not the kind to dwell on sickness – but if I were to get in a head-on car crash, or stroke out, or develop some debilitating disease, My wife, my parents, the US legal system, and now you know that nobody should take drastic measures on me.  Yep, DNR me baby.  Most of my family is the same way – don’t keep us alive just because you can.  It’s about quality of life, not quantity.

But when it comes to the grass in my backyard, this is another story.  I’m doing everything possible to keep the green from turning brown.  Earlier, when we bought our house, some nice men came over in a Chevy pickup, tore up the back and put down fresh Bermuda Grass Sod.  But that was 9 weeks ago and now the Austin summer is taking it’s toll.

According to the newspaper we have had 59 straight days of 100°+ weather.  The levels in the lake are currently the 3rd lowest on record.  Even with the giant Oak and Ash (they are brother and sister trees) providing afternoon shade in the backyard I struggle to keep the disappearing green patches from vanishing altogether.

I keep the lawn mowed short, as is recommended.  I water deeply as everyone tells me to, and I even syringe the turf every night (syringing your grass is lightly spraying it down by hand to cool it  – this is not considered a watering by anyone who knows anything about lawns).

As if the heat weren’t enough, the City of Austin is imposing level 2 water restrictions because we might be  in some kind of draught.  This means that restaurants can’t serve water unless you ask for it.  You can’t hose down your driveway unless it’s to clean some biohazard off the cement, and homeowners can only water once a week.

C’mon now guys, you are tying my hands here!  How am I supposed to pursue drastic life support measures when you only give me one defibrillator paddle?  I spent hours leveling, adding amendments, and selecting the perfect turf for  my zone.   I dreamed of a putting green outside my deck.  Now what I’ve got is a decaying, brown carpet with mange.   I’d do a rain dance, but am afraid that my footsteps will do irreparable damage.

Cicadas – a big green bug!

Yesterday morning, I was pulling a few weeds in my garden, and looked over to see a cicada sitting on my basil. I guess they like pesto, too.

These are medium sized bugs that make a lot of noise at night – a sort of buzzing. They are not crickets, nor are they locust. And they are not harmful at all to humans.

Molting Cicadas leave behind a brown shell (exoskeleton) that is ripped in half right down the back. This is how they bust out of their old shell and grow larger. I’ve found them all over the side of my house, and when I do, I just brush them off – no big deal.

If you look carefully at the side of these noisy bugs, you can see the timbals – they are the silvery, grey, things under the wings. This is what makes all the noise.