Giving a Hoot

Just in time to meet our February goal, we finished making the screech owl house and even hung it up in the tree. It was also completed just in time for me to grab a picture before the sun completely went down, though it was a little too dark for a decent picture. I’m questioning whether it was done just in time for any owls to find it this season, but I’ll just cross my fingers.


My husband is making a second one for our yard (I read somewhere that it’s good to hang two up), and he’s also making one for a silent auction at our school’s big fundraiser next weekend. And friends from our neighborhood put in a request as well when they saw him putting it together this afternoon. Ok, little owls, now it’s your turn!

The Velcro Plant, A Sticky Situation

As I begin to divide and conquer the mowing of my overgrown backyard, I’ve had ample opportunity to look at the variety of unknown plants that have cropped up all over. Are they friends or foe? Will they be banes of my existence or acceptable groundcover? Should I let them duke it out with some of the other plants I know I don’t want there, like Bermuda, just to find a more acceptable alternative to the turf grass I long to have disappear?

Some plants I suspect will soon become officially part of the “Banes of My Existence” list, along with Bermuda and Nutsedge. One is the Velcro Plant. It goes by other names, many equally appropriate for the incredible ability of the plant to stick to everything — Catchweed Bedstraw, Stickywilly, etc.

velcroa02-28-10.jpgI want to admire this plant, I really do. It’s not unattractive, and evolutionally speaking it is a master of distribution, with all those little hooks that allow it to attach to anything and everything that attempts to move past it. It’s even managed to become a plant that can outdo the oak sprouts under the oak trees. But it’s clear that it’s found a new home in my yard that it finds most acceptable. So I’ll enjoy my admiration for a few moments, and then go pluck it out wherever I can.

velcrob02-28-10.jpgAnd what do I do about the wild onion that has also found a home it likes — the edge of the wooded areas in the back? It’s actually quite pretty, and we enjoy the onion smell that spreads through the air when we run through it or mow it.

wildonion02-28-10.jpgBut it’s spreading rapidly, too. Do I let it? I think occasionally it makes my dogs sick, so perhaps that’s reason enough to try to keep it cut down.

henbit02-28-10.jpgHenbit is everywhere. This is a plant I really don’t find that attractive.

And these other little tiny flowers, all very adorable, are still ones I admire with caution. I don’t know what they are. I just think they’re pretty. Probably they are counting on that, and as they get a little bigger and sneak some seeds past me, they know that they’ll have an in on spreading through my yard. If anyone knows the actual names for these plants, please let me know.

***This next one I think is a Ten-Petal Anemone, Anemone berlandieri, native to the Edwards Plateau. I think it’s a keeper, although it’s toxic. Everything else in my yard seems to be, too.

weedflowerc02-28-10.jpgI’m not crazy about mowing. It’s one reason why I hope to someday fill in my yard with enough “stuff” that I won’t have to mow anymore. But obviously I’ll be dealing with transitional stages for awhile. I do have to say that I love my electric mower, even though the cord can be a pain. Maybe someday I’ll get to progress to a simple old-fashioned reel mower, once the area I have to deal with is smaller.

And it’s nice to be back working on the yard and garden. Spring approaches. 🙂

Muddy Snowmen (Central Texas-Style)


snow02-23-10.jpgAnd lots of it! Well, lots for us here in Austin. Finally, after years of waiting, we had enough stick long enough and be the right packing consistency to make decent-sized snowmen. The problem is that, as usual, we didn’t get enough to make white snowmen. And what snowmen were made usually used up all the snow in the yard.

But without further ado, I give you a parade of snowmen, complete with mud, leaves, twigs, and grass. ‘Cause that’s how we do it here in Austin!


snowmanb02-23-10.jpgYou can tell which ones got made earlier in the day, before the snow started melting.

It seems that once again, the only way to get a white snowman in Austin is to stick with the ones less than a foot tall.

What do you think, Ernie? Winner?

Hmmm, that judge didn’t seem to happy with any of the selection. Let’s ask his twin, Grover.grover02-23-10.jpg
Clearly, our judges have better things to do than look at muddy snowmen. How ’bout frisky-time in the snow?!!

We rescued our husky some 3.5 years ago, and this is the first time we’ve ever seen him in snow. He loved it.

So did our beautiful Sheba.

Something about the snow today really brought the birds to the birdfeeder. I guess they don’t care for the snow covering up the food plants. Here’s a cardinal and chickadee.

And a blue jay. Yep, he fussed at other birds nearby. Didn’t care much for the photographer, either!

And here’s a tufted titmouse and a new beauty.

titmouseandother02-23-10.jpgI feel I should recognize this cutie. Can anyone identify it for me?  Turns out it’s an American goldfinch in its winter plumage (thanks, Caroline!).

I love those golden feathers around its face.


Sadly our snow is mostly gone already, but it was fun while it lasted. I’m happy the schools let our kids go out and play in it, and there was enough after school that my boys got to make their own muddy snowman. I’ll let you figure out which one it was. Shouldn’t be too hard…   🙂

Cedar Waxwings, A True Pleasure

cedarwaxwinga02-22-10.jpgI’ve heard all about the wonderful Cedar Waxwings, but until today I hadn’t seen them in my own yard. We’ve had a giant Yaupon in front of our house since we moved here, so I figured this had more to do with me not being around when the birds were migrating, rather than their actual absence from our property each year.

cedarwaxwingb02-22-10.jpgcedarwaxwingi02-22-10.jpgThis afternoon, I was on my way out the door when I saw them. And I dropped everything and ran back into the house for the camera. For the next 20 minutes I delighted in capturing picture after picture of these gorgeous birds, and I enjoyed watching their antics.

cedarwaxwingc02-22-10.jpgFor one thing, they truly are birds of voracious appetites. When one talks about someone who eats like a bird, most likely they aren’t referring to these gluttons. They feasted on berry after berry as a group, flew off to a nearby oak to sing and digest a bit, and then flew right back to the yaupon for more fruity treats.

cedarwaxwinge02-22-10.jpgA few would gather on a berry-laden branch all together, hanging upside-down and enjoying the branch swing until it slowed enough that more berries could be wolfed down.

cedarwaxwingf02-22-10.jpgcedarwaxwingo02-22-10.jpgcedarwaxwingn02-22-10.jpgI’m truly amazed out how gorgeous these birds are. I had no idea. The yellow belly and yellow-tipped tail blend beautifully with their graceful tan, brown, and black feathers, and that mischievous black mask made us tease them about stealing our berries.


cedarwaxwingg02-22-10.jpgcedarwaxwingh02-22-10.jpgThey didn’t mind us around at all, and they completely ignored the cat, who had slipped outside when I rushed in for the camera. In fact, they seemed a very curious, gregarious bunch. I read that these bold birds will even grab a bit of human hair while building nests in the north. Sometimes they get so intoxicated on the sugary berries that they’ll fly drunk and do a bit of a stagger walk — I was watching, but my birds apparently held their own quite well.



cedarwaxwingp02-22-10.jpgBy the time I returned home today, the birds were gone. I hope another flock will pass through soon!



Urban Forest Steward Training

My husband and I completed an Urban Forest Steward training program this past weekend here in Austin. Going into the first class three months ago, I have to say I really didn’t know what to expect. After all, I’d learned so much already about trees, so I thought. But without a doubt, I’m glad that I took the class with my husband, because we learned a tremendous amount. Most of the class was held indoors, but we occasionally ventured out for hands-on demonstrations on pruning, planting, etc.

urbanforesta02-20-10.jpgHere are several of the many facts and tips we learned:


When planting trees from containers, you really need to look deeper into the soil (pulling the tree out of the container) and look for girdling roots around the stem/trunk and encircling roots around the root mass. There’s a method to cutting, but the main thing is that you want to cut girdling and encircling roots and redirect as many roots as you can to radiate out from the center, before you backfill with dirt. Don’t be afraid to move aside some dirt to seek out those roots wrapping around the stem and main roots.

encircling02-20-10.jpgDon’t amend the soil. This goes against what many old-school methods teach, but when you amend the soil in the planting hole, you discourage roots from venturing into the existing soil, and your roots will start to girdle and strangle each other, trying to stay in the “better soil.”

Dig a hole twice as wide and no deeper than the height of the root flare — it’s better to plant high than low — that root flare of the tree needs to stay visible. Sides of the bowl should be sloping and not smooth like ceramic (typically found when digging in clay soil).

Plant wisely — learn the height and requirements of a tree before you plant it. Planting large trees under electrical wires or trees in other poor locations only leads to heartache later, not to mention time and money wasted. 


Every cut is a wound. Only prune when absolutely necessary. Always cut outside the branch collar, not flush against the tree.

There are methods to helping a wound heal better — not necessarily “sealing” it — so research this before you harm your tree. One method includes cleaning up the jagged edges of a wound with a sharp knife.

Prune from the outside, NOT from the inside of the canopy — these inner branches are most critical to the tree’s health. In other words, raising the canopy of a tree might be nice for humans, but it is an ill-fated practice in regard to the tree itself. And don’t top the tree.

It’s best do any pruning and shaping in the first year, and then leave the tree alone as best you can. Prune off suckers and secondary leaders as appropriate for the long-term shape and stability of the tree.

Mulch should extend as wide as the branches of the tree extend — the root system often extends as far as twice as wide as the canopy of the tree, depending on the species. 

Grass and trees don’t mix. One affects the health of the other. Grass affects whether the roots of the tree can obtain oxygen and water, and it’s the smaller roots farther away from the tree that do this work.

Oak Wilt

Oak wilt spreads via root systems in red oaks and live oaks, but it spreads by fungal spores as well for red oaks. This is why you find major live oak/oak wilt centers with infected trees surrounding them, but it’s the red oak that can create the situations to spread out and create new oak wilt centers.

Looking at Trees in the Urban Environment

As a result of this class, our eyes have been opened to the great harm an urban environment causes trees. The way developers place asphalt, sidewalks, curbs, and raised beds shockingly cuts off the root systems of many urban trees, leading to the premature demise of these trees. Damage from lawnmowers and construction vehicles also severely wound trees. And then there’s mulch. All around town right now, I’m seeing huge mounds of mulch at the base of trees, smothering the root flare and going several inches up the trunk, and this will lead to weakness and potential rotting of the tree base. Think about the costs involved in dealing with weakening trees, dying trees, and the replacement of once-old and massive trees. Urban development with thought and care might have let those beautiful trees remain healthy and standing for decades to hundreds of years to come.


Graduation and Leaf for a Leaf

urbanforestb02-20-10.jpgAfter the last class, in conjunction with the Leaf for a Leaf program at the city libraries, we helped plant trees at the Carver Library in Austin. With the planting of about 30 of a variety of trees, we helped turn what was once an open, high maintenance grass lawn into what will one day become a shade-offering “Growth Potential Grove,” as the program calls it. Our son got involved and helped.

leafforaleaf02-20-10.jpgWe really are grateful for the knowledge we gained during this class, which was taught by several different foresters and arborists from Austin Parks and Rec, UT, Austin Urban forestry Board, Texas Forest Service, and other groups. It sure opened our eyes to look at trees in the city, forest, and home environments in a whole new way. And this weekend, we planted five more trees in our own yard. Mmmmm, oxygen.

The Habitat Mom

It seems I became a Habitat Steward and hit the ground running. My approach to our elementary school to become a Schoolyard Habitat, a simple enough task in that we already qualified except for needing a birdbath, turned into quite the endeavor. Soon I was leading a Habitat Team, working on a new butterfly-hummingbird garden design, creating guidelines for a new Legacy of Giving environmental project for two of our grades related to habitats, starting a new school garden blog, and, oh, what seems like a thousand other tasks. I have to say that, while it as been hard and non-stop work, I am loving it. The rewards as a parent, a community member, and a Habitat Steward have been simply so many that I can’t count them, and all of them make this little green heart swell.

The past 3 days I’ve been speaking to all the 3rd- and 4th-graders about habitats in central Texas. I’ve been giving PowerPoint presentations to back-to-back classes — today’s last and final class will make nine total. I think I know this slide show pretty well now! The kids have all been interactive and fascinated and loving all the photos. But it’s no surprise that the biggest reactions come from the giant swallowtail caterpillar that looks like bird poop!

ppt02-19-10.jpgI want to thank all my fellow Austin Garden Bloggers who generously sent me photographs of wildlife in their garden so that I could put together a very unique and special presentation. As I go through the slide show each time, I know where each photograph came from, and I feel as though all these wonderful people are right there with me helping our students love and appreciate nature. Thank you, my friends!

Bee My Valentine

Inspired by this day of love, it was a perfect time to complete a long desired project — bee boxes to provide nesting places for our native Texas solitary bees.

We drilled several holes into an Ashe Juniper log obtained from a friend, and since we had an extra, we decided to replace the decaying hackberry branch holding up the habitat sign with yet another bee box.

We ended up making a third bee box, this time from pine and bamboo, the latter of which we cut down from the yard of our neighbor across the street. She was quite willing to share, as she loathes the bamboo that is encroaching into her lawn from the house next to her.

But won’t it make such a nice resting spot and nesting spot for little bees in need?


I heart bees. Thank you, hubby, for making these boxes for our little pollinating buddies. Happy Valentines Day, everyone!

Sustainable — Loving and Living It

“Sustainable” — it’s the new catchword and the new black. It’s a word I’m trying to reiterate over and over again with my family, and now that I’m leading a big habitat project at our elementary school, it’s a term I’m making sure our students know, as well.

Doves, mind you, don’t seem to understand the word “sustainable” nor the word “reduce,” the little wasteful gluttons. But on occasion, they do lend themselves out for a nice winter picture, so for the moment I’ll forgive them.

dove02-10-10.jpgIt warms my heart to see how many bloggers are spreading the word about environmental care by encouraging fellow bloggers to think, act, and make lifestyle changes in regard to taking care of Earth. Suzy at HipMountainMama is leading One Small Change, Dee at RedDirt Ramblings recently hosted a reel mower giveaway, and Jan at Thanks for Today has established the Garden Bloggers Sustainable Living Project.

sustainableliving.jpgThis post is multi-purpose. One, I need to report on my One Small Change progress for January and February. Two, I want to partake in Jan’s Sustainable Living Project, and three, I want to share all these bird photos I just got this morning! I’ve been trying to find woodpeckers in the trees for months, and I was shocked to finally see one — at our birdfeeder!

rbwoodpkr02-10-10.jpgTaking all these shots, I was reminded that our kitchen window could really stand a good vinegar wash. 

 In my own garden, as many know, I’m dedicated to planting as many drought-hardy Texas native plants with organic methods as I can. My plants are like my children — I want to nurture them when they are young, help them grow up big and strong, and guide them to being able to make it on their own. Someday, we might move away from this house, and if my plants aren’t able to survive without care, they might not make it. I also long to be lazy — the better my plants can establish, the less I’ll have to do… one day.

My biggest project at the moment is guiding our elementary school to become a Certified Schoolyard Habitat. We’re putting in a new butterfly-hummingbird garden as Phase 1, and the list of Phase 2 environmental projects is growing — we’ll be putting a water collection system and more. Co-existing with this habitat project is another project for the 3rd- and 4th-graders — learning about wildlife habitats and then teaching the community about them through 3-D murals. The excitement over habitats is spreading fast, and I feel so good helping our students become environmental stewards.

rbwoodpkrb02-10-10.jpgOn my sidebar, I call myself green-blooded. While my blood might *look* red, especially when I cut myself on a thorny spine or do some other clumsy thing in the garden, my heart and soul are always thinking about ways to protect the environment, and so my blood really runs green. If you put on your special Super-Enviro-Power goggles, you’ll be able to see it. If you don’t have any, then I’ll just raise my hand in a Vulcan greeting. 

In January, for One Small Change, I did three primary acts for the environment: I removed all remaining nandinas from my property, sending the bushes to city mulch and throwing away the berries. I also took all our old leftover chemical products, bleach, and paint from our past to the Austin Hazardous Waste Facility, and some from two of our neighbors. We’ve been using natural cleansers for a long while now, and finally the evidence from our former lifestyle is gone, gone, gone. And finally, I’ve been learning many different organic products to help gardeners stay green. I feel more knowledgable about offering green solutions to problems in the yard. Understanding the soil food web was a big part of this. It all begins in the earth, and truly everyday is Earth Day in my book. (Officially, Earth Day is celebrated on April 22).


This month, my son asked us to make something for the wildlife for our February change. We are going to make a bee box or two and a screech owl house. Looking ahead to March, I think I want to train my family to open blinds daily to let the light shine in, and I want to strategically place mirrors to help get more natural light across our house without having to turn on artificial lights. There’s a tendency in this family to become inert in regard to opening/closing the blinds, and the result is way more “turning on the lights” than should be necessary. Right now my study blinds are open, and the cats are on my desk watching the birds outside, and the puppy is occasionally growling and barking at the hanging plant hovering outside. No, pup, it’s not an evil threat, but it would look nicer if the plant in it hadn’t died this winter.

I feel so hopeful this year that Earth is finally getting the kind of attention it so needs and deserves.

Take care of yourselves and our wonderful Earth this spring, and always. And live long and prosper.