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Brenda's Garden
Something new for butterflies in Brenda's Garden?

Monday, September 07, 2009

White Mexican orchid treeWhite Mexican orchid tree

“Butterflies are self propelled flowers.” 
~R.H. Heinlein

DEAR BRENDA:  I'm looking for something unusual to add to my butterfly garden.  Something not many people have. Can you suggest something?  ARNY

DEAR ARNY:  How about a Mexican orchid tree (Bauhinia mexicana)? 
I first saw this in Chronicle Garden Editor Kathy Huber's yard.  She jerked a little sprout out of the ground and gave it to me.  The funny little thing actually grew and now it's a lovely tree.

Kathy's is about 15 feet tall.  Mine's about 7 foot so far.  It's multi-trunked and if you keep the lower branches pruned off once it becomes established, you can plant other things under it. 

Mine not only attracts a variety of butterflies but hummingbirds love it as well.

Bird of Paradise

DEAR BRENDA:  I have a bird of paradise that's about two years old.  It's growing wonderfully, but it never blooms.  It's in a pot.  SALLY

DEAR SALLY:  Bird of paradise (Strelitzia reginae) normally take a few years to start blooming.  Is it in full sun?  They like plenty of light and won't bloom if they're in too much shade.  If they're in a container, they want to be potbound.  This takes time too. 

They can be grown in the ground here too.  But, again, they may take a long time to set a strong enough root system to bloom.  But when they do, WOW!

Be careful of the fertilizer you use.  If you let lawn fertilizer get on them, they'll produce wonderful green leaves and no flowers.  Use one labeled for flowers.

Aloe vera

DEAR BRENDA:  My neighbor has the strangest flowers.  She swears they're aloe veras and the plant looks like it.  But I've never seen an aloe bloom.  Do they really?  S.J.

DEAR S.J.:  Yes, they do bloom.  Usually it happens after a very warm winter, which we're having more and more frequently, hence you see so many more of these blooming now.  They're sort of like bananas  (and lots of other tropicals).  If the topgrowth doesn't die back, the plant gets a head start on flowering and we get to enjoy them!

Black-eyed Susan vine

DEAR BRENDA:  I'm looking for a "civilized" vine.  It seems as if every one I plant goes berserk, growing far larger than I want.  Can you recommend one for morning noon sun, afternoon shade?  L. SMITH

DEAR L.  Okay, I'm trying hard to sympathize.  Most folks write because they can't get a plant to grow.  You're writing because everything grows "too well."  Of course, the problem might be your green thumb, you know. I can't fight nature.  I definitely do believe in green thumbs!

But, assuming you've just got great soil (and a green thumb), how about a black-eyed susan vine?  They've got beautiful little flowers that look like black-eyed susans, but they grow on a vine that should stay within, say, a 6 foot by 6 foot range.  So for you, with your green thumb, figure 8 foot by 8 foot!  They can take full sun or your morning/noon sun.  But they must be extremely well drained.  Don't plant them where water stands after a rain.  

Persian shield

DEAR BRENDA:  Everyone recommends plants for sun.  I'm desperate for something really eyecatching for a shady spot.  P.J.

DEAR P.J. One of my favorites is Persian shield.  You often find it in the houseplant sections because any farther north and it becomes an annual. But even if it does die back, which it will if we have too long a cold spell, it makes a great shade accent plant.  It's grown for its iridescent purple leaves.  Plant it with white caladiums for a "wow!" focal point.  It does great in fall so plant now.

Brenda Beust Smith
(Features > Brenda's Garden)
"THE LAZY GARDENER'S GUIDE ON CD" — a gardening book on CD offers gardening tips plus 12 pre-designed gardens for butterflies, hummers, sun, shade and more. Monthly what-to-do reminders for Greater Houston/Gulf Coast gardens. $20 each. Make checks payable to Brenda B. Smith & mail to: Lazy Gardener's Guide on CD, 14011 Greenranch, Houston, TX 77039-2103.

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