𓅛 Pumilo

Birds, Wildlife and Gardening

Hello, flowering cacti and vines; goodbye, pipe-planted sotol

May 07, 2021

After a good rain last week and now temps in the upper 80s, my cacti have started blooming. And oh, those flowers! I love their jewel-bright colors and satiny petals, which strikingly contrast with the spiny, austere plants themselves. Here’s a new one in my collection: peanut cactus (Echinopsis chamaecereus), a passalong from a San Antonio gardener — thank you, Ragna!

Ragna shared with me that “a friend picked it up at a garage sale and passed it on to me. I subscribe to a lot of blogs, but oddly enough — since it is such a prolific bloomer — I have never seen it mentioned. It says zone 10, but it’s been perfectly hardy for me with just a sheet thrown over it when a hard freeze is predicted. It has a long blooming period starting in early summer. It gets morning sun, and I fertilize occasionally.”

The light options in my garden are pretty much dappled shade everywhere except for Death Star-set-to-full-power on the deck, where most of my cactus collection lives. I don’t have any morning sun with afternoon shade for a small potted plant, so it’s living on the upper patio in bright shade with a burst of late afternoon sun. So far, so good!

Here’s another beauty, a mystery cactus with vivid orange flowers.

They perch atop the fuzzy stem like a jeweled brooch on a hat.

Mammillaria cactus is getting ready to put on a show with a crown of pink flowers.

Not to be outdone, a little hedgehog cactus (Thelocactus setispinus) crowned itself with a moonshine-yellow blossom with a rusty-orange center. The metal chameleon with marble eyes was a gift from my friend Linda Peterson, another San Antonio gardener (click the link to see her gorgeous garden).

No flowers on the brand-new horse crippler cactus (Echinocactus texensis), which replaces a freeze-rotted Coahuila lace cactus. I’m eager to see what the horse crippler can do!

More flowers

It isn’t only cacti that are blooming. Fuchsia-flowered ice plant (Delosperma cooperi) puts on a vivid show in spring too.


Clematis vines shrugged off the February deep freeze and look better than ever. I think cold agrees with them. This is Clematis viticella ‘Etoile Violette’.

And here’s the sweet, bell-shaped flower of Clematis ‘Rooguchi’.

It climbs a thin wire wrapped around a fluted pot planted with a squid agave. This vine never gets any bigger than one circuit around the pot.

After the rain, native white rain lilies popped up in the island bed, but this pink one surprised me. I’d forgotten that I’d stuck a few Zephryanthes ‘Labuffarosea’ in there too.

I lost my Mexican orchid tree in the freeze, but the native one, Anacacho orchid (Bauhinia lunarioides), made a quick recovery and recently opened starry, white flowers.

A ‘Bright Edge’ yucca in the back garden has sent up a flower spike, and the buds are beginning to open.

Along the driveway, Texas sotol (Dasylirion texana), bursting with spring fever, has sent up 3 towering bloom spikes that are probably about 12 feet tall now.

Not everything is full of life. My beautiful toothless sotol (Dasylirion longissimum) finally rotted away after teasing me that it might have survived the snowpocalypse. I found it slumped over one day. Its central leaves were rotten and easy to pull out, rather like a bloomin’ onion! What a sickly-sweet stench they made too.

The leaves are spoon-shaped at the base, where they formed the core of the plant. I guess that’s why another sotol species, Dasylirion wheeleri, is known as desert spoon.

The lower portion isn’t proving as easy to pull out. The dead, breakable leaves are still attached to the root ball, and it’ll be tricky to get that out of the tall steel pipe. I’ve called for reinforcements, but everyone is so busy right now I may have to figure out a way to muscle it out myself. The funniest part is, I found a replacement but only in a 1-gallon size. It’s puny! Austin plant shoppers, if you spot a 3- or 5-gallon toothless sotol in the next few days, please let me know where. Otherwise I’m going to have a very long wait for this starburst effect again.

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Digging Deeper: News and Upcoming Events

Need garden coaching? If you want a garden-coaching session to help you bounce back from Austin’s February snowpocalypse, I’m offering coaching services again for a limited time. We’ve all lost plants, and it can be hard to know what to prune back, what to give more time for recovery, and what the best replacement plants for your yard might be. I’m here to help! Contact me to let me know what’s going on and what you need help with. Austin to Cedar Park locations preferred, but I’m flexible so let me know where you are. Weekday mornings only.

It’s pond tour time! Grab your sun hat and attend Austin’s 26th annual Pond and Garden Tour on June 5 and 6. Sponsored by the Austin Pond Society, the tour includes 13 ponds over two days, with admission of $20 in advance (until 5/31) and $25 on the day of (online payments only; no cash).

Join the mailing list for Garden Spark! Hungry to learn about garden design from the experts? I’m hosting a series of talks by inspiring garden designers, landscape architects, and authors a few times a year in Austin. (While in-person talks are currently on hiatus due to the pandemic, I plan to resume again as soon as possible.) Talks are limited-attendance events that sell out quickly, so join the Garden Spark email list to be notified in advance. Simply click this link and ask to be added.

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