Michael Battalio


more bugs

Only a few updates as I wasn’t able to take many pictures. First a couple of sunflowers:

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The tomatoes are doing fantastically well. The cherry tomatoes are starting to ripen. There are no insect problems yet.

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The broccoli isn’t faring so well. As I showed last time aphids are ravaging several plants. All I can do at this point is pull the plants up altogether and stomp on them to kill most of the bugs so they don’t move to other plants. I’ve never had such a problem with aphids. However, I have harvested many delicious heads of broccoli so far, so if I have to sacrifice a few to not have to use any pesticides, I can deal with that.

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Here is another photo of the verbena that I’ve shown several times so far this year. I am still astonished that it is still madly blooming after three months.

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Year without a winter

As I explained in my last post, there had been no winter as of the middle of January. We are at the end of March, and it never came. We never got below 34 and only hit it once. It’s already been in the 90s a couple of times. Consequently, everything is blooming early this year.

I begin with a photo of a bed that was ravaged by the construction company when they repaved the road. The plants have recovered nicely, and I’ve done my best to repair the bed. At the time I took the pictures, I obviously hadn’t finished laying mulch down over the bed, but I’ve finished that now.

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Here is a closeup of the irises you see in the photo above. I’ve lost the variety name of this plant, but it is from Cooley’s iris garden in Oregon (which is out of business now). I transplanted this variety from my parent’s home before my dad mowed all of my plants down after I left for TX. He isn’t a man for the patience of weeding.

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This next iris is one from my adoptive grandmother who died a few years ago. Her house has been sold, so all I have left of her extensive gardens are some irises and lilies. She always referred to this variety as ‘Chinamade,’ but I have no way of knowing if that is accurate. You can tell it is an older variety due to the lack of heft to the petals. The term for it is substance. The petals are a bit floppy and delicate looking. In the first photo, you can tell that those flowers look sturdier. This is purely a result of breeding. Older varieties also have fewer flowers per stalk, and the flowers never last more than two days. Newer varieties, if the plants are healthy, can have 10 or more flowers per stalk with blooms that last up to four days (but usually three). There has been a lot of progress in cultivating bearded iris. They are also one of the few plants (the other being daylilies) that have done well in MS and TX for me.

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Next I have a beautiful calla lily that was here when I moved in. Because it didn’t freeze, this is the first year I’ve seen the plant produce a show like this. Every other year the plant has started to grow only to be knocked back by a freeze (and not necessarily a late freeze, the plant always comes out too early).


Last is a photo of the vegetable garden before I cleaned it. I’ll post photos of the cleaned bed with a lot of pepper plants next time. You can see pepper plants from last summer still growing. I’m still picking peppers off of them. I can’t believe I successfully overwintered pepper plants. I was hopeful that the pepper plants would take off with warming temps, but it appears that peppers just have one growing season in them. I’ve already pulled a lot of them out.

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I have finally figured out how to grow tomatoes in TX. The key is starting early. Previously in the blog (Blog returns from winter hibernation) you can find photos of when I first started the tomatoes inside. I bought them some time in Feb and have kept them well watered (which hasn’t been difficult given the rain we’ve gotten).

First, here is the sideyard vegetable garden. The potatoes are almost ready to harvest, and the peas in the foreground are done. The peppers in the background are just staring to get going.


Here are some of the tomato plants. They are doing great. They are full of green tomatoes.


Here are a couple of the ‘celebrity’ variety that are tantalizingly close to harvest.


Here’s the other tomato bed. There are some daylilies in the bed as well for color.


Not all goes perfectly though. About a week ago I walked by the plants to find that one had been devoured by tomato hornworms. A vile creature that can consume an entire plant in just a couple of days. The plant below looked completely normal to me the day before. I found two enormous worms on the plant, each about 1.5” long. This is the first year I’ve dealt with the hornworms, probably because this is the first time I’ve actually had any success growing tomatoes.


Blog returns from winter hibernation

Spring is beginning, and so returns the garden blog. First is a lovely veronica that is among the first perennials to bloom in the spring.


He is a rugosa rose that is making a carefree, once a year show near the vegetable bed.


Below are some yellow ‘King Alfred’ daffodils juxtaposed with purple verbena that simply loves this spot at the edge of my property.


I bought small transplants from the nursery as soon as they were available so I could repot them in bigger containers for planting later.


Here are the tomatoes from above just a few weeks after repotting. The warmth they got in the greenhouse spurred quick growth. I put them in the garden last week.


last blooms before winter

Thanks to the cold snap at the beginning of November, the daffodils were tricked into blooming early.


This Flame Autumn Sage (Salvia greggii ‘Flame’) is trying to make one last show of it before the new year.


The romaine lettuce was tricked into bolting due to warm temps the last few weeks after the bad cold snap in November. The broccoli in the background is doing great. There are even some peppers left behind that.


I love lavender. This one has looked nice the entire time I’ve grown it. I never have to water it, and it occasionally throws up a showcase of blooms.


This will probably be the last blog post until spring. Updates should resume in late February/early March.


Back to getting fall rains, and with them come the zephyranthes or rain lilies. One of these I planted, and the other appeared from a previous planter. I had no idea the red one was there. Such is the surprise of buying a property that was previously owned by another gardener.


With the rain the tomatoes are beginning to put some growth on. This fall I’ve decided to pluck the first few sets of flowers off the tomatoes so that they will put on more foliage before fruiting. I know other people who do this so that the fruit that is allowed to set will be larger and grow faster because the plant has a larger capacity to photosynthesize. I’m still trying to figure out the timelines of vegetable growing in Texas. It is so very different than in MS.


This weekend I plan on planting all of the plants bought at clearance sales during summer. I feel it will be cool enough to get them through the rest of September. I am also excited to use my first batch home-made compost. I will use it to amend planting spots.

attack of the chickens

We’ve only barely made it above 100 a couple of days during August, but the garden is predictably looking quite ragged, though there are still a few bright spots. First is a crinum lily that had never bloomed before. Though very pretty, crinum lily blooms only last a day or two. It’s sad that for all that effort the plant puts forth, there are only a couple of days of show. Second is the garden standby, sedum ‘Autumn Joy’. It very much enjoys the spot on the side of the house.


I can’t say the same for several other plants that simply gave up during the summer, including a yarrow and a guara; both of which I felt certain would do well in that bed. Fear not, as I stumbled upon a sale at a nursery where I got all of these plants for less than $90. I’m an advocate for buying plants small. They are much cheaper, and they have the added horticultural benefit of being less likely to suffer transplant shock.


In the vegetable garden I’m preparing some tomatoes for the fall garden. I bought a six pack each of ‘celebrity’ and ‘solar flare’ varieties and planted them into quart sized pots so they have a head start when I set them out once it is cooler. Otherwise, the okra and peppers are slowly producing during the hot months.


Pests come in all sizes. A few weeks ago I caught one of my neighbor’s chickens eating some of my euphorbias. I scared it back to my neighbor’s yard with a broom.


rabbit damage

Continued rabbit munching damage is occurring; this time on a lobelia. I seem the scamper around occasionally in the mornings. I’ve never had to deal with rabbits before, so I’m not sure how to deter them.


Here is another plant from yuccado gardens. This is Sinningia sellovii. It is doing quite well in its first year. It seems to like the space in the bed by the driveway. I thought it would be very challenging to fill that bed, but everything I’ve picked seems to like it there.

Here is another daylily. This one is my own hybrid, Stormy Sunset. Its growth habit is quite different from its time in Mississippi. The leaves are much yellower and the flower stalks were a lot shorter, about half as tall.

The coleus from the previous couple of entries are doing great. I’ve planted them throughout the yard and in many pots on the front and back porches.


Here are a couple more orchids that are in full bloom.

A mysterious caladium has returned in one of the beds. I planted about 100 of them last year, and all of them died except this one. I’m quite surprised that this one is here. The are tender tropical plants, and temperatures dropped into the lower 20s twice during the winter. Perhaps this one is simply planted a bit more deeply than the others were. I have no idea. I’ll be interested to see if it returns next year as well.

I’ve had an excellent harvest of tomatoes this year. The secret is to planted them as early as I possibly can so that they can put on enough growth to support fruit production. Now that these are harvested I will pull the spent vines up and prepare to plant a fall crop in about a month.

Lots of new plants

Last week we got more rain in three days than we have had in five months. I fear it might be another few months before we get another rain like that. The biggest item in the garden this month is the haul of plants I bought at the Antique Rose Emporium’s mother’s day sale. All 1 gallon plants were $4.00, which is an excellent deal; I bought a lot of them.

One of the coolest was a Gomphrena called Pink Zazzle. It is tender and hardy only to zone 10, so I have it in a pot and will move it inside this winter.

Here is a sedge that will hopefully fill a spot in dry shade.

Lastly is a veronica that is hardy to zone 6.

Other plants are coming into their own as well. Here is a crimum lilly about to bloom, and a yarrow:
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I’ve been having pest problems as well. I discovered a rabbit foraging among the perennials yesterday, and it took off behind the church across the street once it noticed me. It has been munching on the lupines. It took one to the ground, and the other two aren’t looking so great.

The vegetable garden looks great. I have grown the biggest broccoli head I’ve ever had this spring, and it is completely organic.

The eggplant and corn also look very good.

Coleus in the greenhouse are about ready to set in beds for the summer. The ones in larger pots I’ve transplanted so that they are larger once they get in the ground.

Lastly, my orchids look amazing. They love the sunroom, but once they bloom I move them across the house so I can enjoy them. Here are just a couple:

new plants

The harsh winter is finally subsiding. 2013 was a year of weather extremes. I’ve been very busy, so this will be a bit of a long entry. I’ve planted a lot in preparation of the hot summer. I fixed two beds near the road with plants I brought back from my parent’s house during Christmas. There was a stowaway in the irises and daylilies, a lovely crocus.


The Billbergia nutans that I planted in September has bloomed. The foliage still looks rough though.

I’ve taken a chance on a couple of shrubs from a big box home improvement store. They look nice now, but I’ll save judgement until July.

Here is a lone columbine I planted a few weeks ago. I’m told that it will be able to take the heat, but it is so delicate that I’m not sure. Thusly, I only bought one of them.

The vegetable garden progresses along. I inattentively let some of the broccoli go to flower, but the spinach and peas are doing quite well. In the raised beds that house my daylilies I left room for corn and tomatoes. The peppers and eggplant remain in the greenhouse until mid April.

I planted some daffodils around the property, and some of them have bloomed quite late.

I bought another round of plants from Yucca Do Nursery (see “Getting ready for fall”). Mostly I’ve been using them as a source of shade and drought tolerant perennials. Here is a Chinese bloodroot (Eomecon chionantha). It will get about three feet wide and has half-dollar sized white flowers. In the foreground on the right is an African Hosta (Drimiopsis maculata). It is not a true hosta, but is equally as beautiful and should be drought tolerant (supposedly). In the background on the right is a Blue Rabbit’s foot Fern (Phlebodium pseudoaureum). I also purchased a Sinningia sellovii, Pittosporum heterophylla, and Carex leavenworthii. I’ll reevaluate these plants come fall.

In other news I’ve applied a top dressing of compost to the lawn and have started coleus in the greenhouse again. In the near future I’ll be putting down a new layer of mulch on everything in anticipation of the long summer. I recognize that this year and the next should be major planting years so that everything will acclimate in time to sell the house sometime in 2017. Realizing that my timeline is years out I can save money and buy the smaller plants and let them fill in.

Winter's toll

Winter has been hard on the garden this year. We had the fourth coldest Dec-Feb period for Bryan. Consequently several plants that should live through most winters did not make it including a plant I bought just during the fall. I’m most disappointed in the lavender which I meticulously watered during the summer in the hopes that once established it would survive on its own. We had several episodes of winter precipitation, and the weather station recorded a low 21.6 in January. While that is nowhere near the lowest temp that we usually get (in USDA zone 8b for Bryan temps can get to 15 F), temps were cold for long periods. Additionally, we have gotten very little rain since the large amounts last Fall.

On the garden front I’ve been working on getting beds ready for spring. I’ve finally edged the beds along the street (below) and planted some perennials in there (mostly to take up the space the lavender was supposed to fill).

I planted peas a few weeks ago and it has taken them this long to finally start to grow thanks to the cold. Some broccoli is already starting to head much smaller than I wanted. I believe as a result of planting in the shade and the cold. Spinach is also starting to grow. I have some more in the greenhouse that I will set out in a couple of weeks. I planted a spring crop of broccoli today.

Lastly, I built the second raised bed in the side yard. I’ve put some day lilies and irises in.

I’m waiting for a shipment of roses to come in; one will be placed in the blank spot between the windows in the above photo. Soon I will order some foundation plants for the eastern front of the house. I’m still debating whether to tear out the healthy boxwood on the western front.


Finally rain. Over two weeks the house has picked up about 7” of rain. We needed all of it. Everything is finally green again. Wildflowers that were on the edges of the lawn (in the weeds) have started to flower. Among them is a dwarf coreopsis, a white rain lily I didn’t know was there, and a third familiar plant whose name escapes me at the moment. They distract from the crabgrass that grows where the St. Augustine does not, so I leave them where they grow and try not to hit them with the mower.

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Despite the heat and drought I have managed meager harvests including these peppers and okra. Everything is really cranking now that it has cooled off though. I’m going to have more peppers than I’ll ever know what to do with. Still no tomatoes though. We’ve only managed two days below 70 at night (see previous post about tomatoes and low temps).

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Lastly just a beautiful hibiscus I picked up for cheap ($1.50) the other day. I haven’t done anything with it. I’m just leaving it in its little 4” pot and letting it bloom its heart out. The setting sun catches the blooms in the late in the day, and it is gorgeous.

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Getting ready for fall

Not a lot has been happening in the garden over the last month and a half. I’ve mostly just been waiting out the summer. My house has gotten about .75 in of rain since the middle of May, so I haven’t done much gardening. I do have a few things to show. I’ve been on a plant buying spree in anticipation of cooler fall temperatures. I pulled out all the sunflowers from the side perennial bed and some plant waiting to go in. Just some standard plants a purple coneflower, some ornamental grasses, a sedum, gaura et cetera. Admittedly it will take a while for this bed to fill in. I’m okay with that though. I’m leaving that big empty space in for a shrub, probably a torch bush.


The vegetable garden goes well. Again, I’m waiting on cooler temps for the tomatoes to begin setting fruit again (lows above 70 prevent the plants from fruiting). The bell peppers and okra are going just fine. I just planted potatoes, and the pumpkins need to be watered. I planted some lima beans a couple of weeks ago, but only three out of the whole pack sprouted, then two died, so I have one lima bean plant. I believe the culprit is a hoard of rolly pollies. They are everywhere, and I believe they decapitated the young sprouts. How that one lone bean survived I do not know.


I have finally finished the daylily raised bed and am waiting for it to cool down to plant them. We are still getting highs in the 100s daily. I’m going to wait until it at least stays below the low 90s to plant.


Finally, I bought some plants from Yucca Do Nursery which specializes in drought tolerant plants for TX. They were having a sale, and I got a Billbergia nutans, Ctenanthe setosa, Kaempferia x ‘Pink Lace’, Rhodea japonica, and Zephyranthes x ‘Aquarius’ (which bloomed due to the thorough watering I gave it at planting). The common name for Zephyranthes is Rain lily. They flower after a heavy rain. I have some orange ones growing natively in my lawn. I love them.


New Garden

I’m going to start using this space to document my tribulations in beautifying my new property. I bought this house in July of 2012, and I’m going to spend the next five (or less, hopefully not more) years prettying up this space as I work on my Ph.D. When I bought the property the landscape wasn’t much, but I know via Google street view that the owners prior to the previous owners (two owners back that is) were quite good gardeners, and they highly improved most of the soil around the property. Thus, my job is much easier than it could be if I were simply dealing with heavy, Texas clay. I didn’t occur to me until a few months in sot start taking pictures, so alas, I do not have what the property looked like when I first moved in. I do have quite a few things to show now though. Let me first start with the vegetable garden. While most of my property is quite shaded due to five large southern live oaks I have on the mere .25 acres of land, the two side yards to get mostly sun. The western side yard gets more than enough to have a nice vegetable garden. Here is what I have so far: an excellent crop of broccoli and a lot of spinach. The beans and potatoes have already been planted. The potatoes (bottom on left) look excellent.


The ornamentals are starting to look pretty good as well.
Jacob’s ladder (top), elephant ear blooming (bottom)

Oleander (top), Lilies (bottom)

Rose garden (top), bottle brush (I think, bottom)

I’ll be updating this much more frequently now that I’ve have my own garden. Look for an update every two to three weeks.


So, imagine my horror when I discovered that my newly germinated seedlings to be munched on by deer. What you see here is just about the only way to keep deer from eating anything - that is put something they can’t get through. I’ve found all kinds of repellants just don’t work. The deer in our yard have become too brazen and wise to fall for anything beyond full war. What you see in the pictures ain’t pretty, but the deer haven’t tried to eat anything again...yet. They don’t give up so easily though. We shall see how long this keeps them at bay.

All i’ve done is suspend some bird netting above all the seedings. I’ve supported them with sticks, and I’ve made sure there weren’t any large holes. This solution only works because my garden is really small. Any garden much bigger than this it becomes impractical to put up netting, and it is easier to erect a fence around the garden (it has to be a really large fence, at least 6 ft tall to keep them from jumping it.) Alternatively you try any of a number of repellants (I’ve had occasional success with really strong smelling soap [Irish Spring]). Anything that smells really strong has a chance of repelling them, but if they get hungry enough it won’t matter what you do (sans stand watch all night yourself.)

I’m about to be gone for two weeks, so I hope the garden makes it without me around to water it.