“Another Grass Bites the Dust”

Hot temperatures and humid conditions combined once again with dusty, dry conditions almost had me reaching into my freezer for a ready-made iced-turban this past week as I continued to perform late clean up chores and a few on-the-spot area reorganizations.  This warm spell has broken the winter dormancy of many plants in the Patch, filling out the artemesia, greening up the feather grasses and re-emerging the canna lilies…almost everything has greened up with the exception of my Mexican lime tree (you cannot miss it in the distance, I hate walking past it), but it is always last to show signs of life. I am considering removing this tree and replacing it with another sabal major palm, I have the space and sun here.

My Japanese maple has fresh spring foliage next to my pond, it always looks its best at this time of year, before it gets sun roasted,

and this pyracantha

Pyracantha coccinea

is currently filling the back third of my yard with its distinctive pungent aroma, an aroma that is pulling in all manner of insects like this:

Mournful thyris,

Thyris sepulchralis

It appears that this genus has been changed from Thyris to genus Pseudothyris?  Entomologists help here please?

Another apt name for these stout moths is:  picture-winged leaf moths. This one was way too busy on these pyracantha blooms to even care about the camera.

Another insect-first in the Patch.

I have my pyracantha tucked well away, squeezed between my garden shed and my neighbor’s fence.  This plant is dangerous, and it ranks right up there with bougainvillea and pampas as a shrub wielding an attitude of malicious, flesh-slashing intent to the unacquainted. This plant needs a really quiet place, an out of the way nook, a never-to-be-entered area to flex its gangly and gnarly thorny sprawl. The aptly named firethorn, if appropriately positioned, does provide an impenetrable barrier from any uninvited guests, its defenses also provide protected cover for birds. Check out some amazing pruned pyracantha hedges, berries and more general information here:


I personally prefer the more natural habit this plant exhibits if left to its own vicious meanderings.

These tiny bugs were all over the blooms of this pyracantha, I pulled a flower cluster from the plant and placed it on a tree stump…this one quickly found a hiding place. Anybody have any ideas what these are?

Thanks for the ID meredee (see comments section)

You can see my pyracantha safely positioned to the left of my shed (right picture).

While I was nosing around in this rather gnarly corner area of the Patch, I unconsciously walked into my shed, grabbed a thin shovel (my now preferred implement of choice for this activity), and took out yet another old pampas grass. This grass has served me well but it was getting rather long in the tooth as you can see, and besides, after taking out its partner-in-arm-slashing-crime a few weeks back, it has sort of been floating in space in all its straggly glory…it simply had to go, I mean look at it!  A couple of rugby tackles and some ridiculous jujitsu kicks and lots of root cutting later, it was out and hoisted high onto my already ridiculously high compost pile,

…note to self: I must get some Milorganiteimmediately! (Thanks for this volume reducing tip Andrew)

I decided to remove this black bamboo out of this stock tank, (an activity that actually turned out harder than extracting the pampas grass!) I had new plans for this stock tank.

Phyllostachys nigra

I trimmed the root ball significantly and placed the bamboo in its new container:

With the stock tank now empty, I rolled it through my gate into its new position among the Persian ivy.

After back-filling it with scrap aggregate to take up some of the volume,

I filled it up with dirt, then water, and transplanted bunches of horsetail reed for future vertical evergreen structure. A word of warning, when you first fill with water the tank has a tendency to aggressively “burp”, mine actually made a very realistic flatulent noise before proceeding to “throw up” a small amount of dillo dirt onto my shoulder…nice. I will eventually train the Persian ivy into a circle around the tank, now to finish the surrounding hardscaping.







Moving on:

While I was planting the black bamboo I noticed that all of the main branches on my adjacent mock orange had developed cracks, splits and fissures in them.

This shrubs inner bones were exposed as the outer bark was peeling away, surely this had to be a natural growth habit?  Just to be sure I made a detour to visit one of my favorite trees at the Zilker Japanese Garden at last weekend’s garden festival, a monster pittosporum, about the same age as me:

There it is on the left.

I was happy to find the same fissures and splits albeit on a much grander scale.  These shrubs / trees have an insane trunk structure.

The Hinckley’s columbine, azaleas and sago palms were also putting on a great display…

Back in the Patch I snooped into the hearts of my own sago palms and was happy to find, although now pruned completely bald, new spring growth was slowly unfurling.

On a darker note:  (insert…

labored breathing just about now)…Sheee…Cuff

I pried out my final agave americana from the ground after discovering once again a weevil hole in one of it’s sharp blades.  I lifted it up onto my operating picnic table, (I thought it a more appropriate extraction setting for yet another patch postmortem).

While I was whistling the theme tune from “Dexter”,  my daughter excitedly pointed out yet another Darth Evil Weevil running for safety toward the edge of the operating table. It is funny how these long-snouts seem to emerge after the agave is out of the ground, it is like they are “inconvenienced” and already grumpily looking for another “undisturbed” agave to move into and destroy, but not this one…no chance.

She spotted it, and in a true Rock-Rose fashion http://wwwrockrose.blogspot.com/, she squished it and immediately made me a proud parent.

“I promise I will not mention the weevil ever again…Jenny” :-)

Between the weevil and the frosts of last winter, my agave population has been substantially diminished.  I thought this would bother me, but it has not. The process, like my recent purging of four pampas grasses, has opened up new areas to fresh evaluation and potential new plantings and hardscaping opportunities.  Also my planting tastes have changed significantly since these beasts were placed in the ground.

For now, the new gaps in my cactus and succulent bed will be taken up with this mammoth ceder carcass courtesy of Bob at Draco Gardens, http://dracogardens.blogspot.com/

it fits in Patch perfectly.


A sotol wearing a bright ragwort tie…

…and more new mountain laurel growth then I have seen in a number of years.

The best things this week: an Austin bloggers get together at Pam Penick’s garden http://www.penick.net/digging/ and afterwards a daddy-daughter dance / date…dinner at Guero’s, then onto the dance to trip the light fantastic.

Okay so we finished at 9:30pm, but it felt like midnight to us both.  I had a great date Miss P, and I am eternally sorry that I broke out into a habitual rock / goth dance as soon as Joan Jet: “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll” came on, I could not help myself…still, better get used to it now, it will be even more humiliating when I perform it with my customized satin black walking frame…it is only a matter of time.

Thanks for my birthday dinner, cake and Wii fun G&T.

Stay Tuned for:

“Plants vs Zombies”

All material © 2011 for eastsidepatch. Unauthorized
intergalactic reproduction strictly prohibited, and
punishable by late (and extremely unpleasant)
14th century planet Earth techniques.

  • Annie in Austin March 29, 2011, 8:51 am

    I love seeing your garden evolve, ESP, with plants coming and plants going and plants changing places like square dancers. There’s only so much room in the hall, but everyone gets a few spins around the dance floor before dropping exhausted in the compost heap.

    The cedar carcass from Bob really IS perfect for the Patch!

    My Mexican lime never woke up and we’re trying a Satsuma now. All the agaves & aloes died of cold here … given the choice would they prefer to freeze rather than go by weevil?

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

    PS That Zilker pittosporum has always been one of my favorite plants, too… but it’s a Southern plant, so we met as Pittosporum. Mock Orange for an Illinois gardener is Philadelphus coronarius.

  • ESP March 29, 2011, 9:48 am

    Hi Annie.

    Yes there has been more plants going recently :-) I like your ball-room analogy and it is like that, only you do not drop onto my compost pile…you have to have a pitchfork stuck into you before being catapulted up to its higher peaks.

    I have a lot of these old ceder carcasses from Bob, great for elevating Mexican gazing balls.

    I am getting weary of my Mex. lime tree, I am sure it will come back to life from the base at the very last minute, but I am getting weary of it, have I told you how weary I am of my Mexic…….besides I have to have another sabal major, it is the perfect spot with all the existing soft leafed yuccas in this area. I lost a lot of agaves, mostly americana, I checked in on my aloes and they are returning through the mush.

    Freeze or weevil? I think they would prefer freeze, has to be less painful then an insect with a long snout having babies inside you that then proceed to tunnel all the way into your heart…Brrr.

    Yes that Zilker pittosporum is one amazing specimen, and interesting on the mock orange front.


  • Pam/Digging March 29, 2011, 1:29 pm

    Yes, freezing to death rather than weevils anytime. I hate those weevils!

    Still, I can’t quite imagine the Patch sans agaves and pampas grass. They’re such drama queens, both of them. Who will be the diva now? I’m sure you’ll come up with something wonderful.

  • ESP March 29, 2011, 2:00 pm

    Agreed Pam.

    I still have one monster pampas and a few agaves, but I do feel a subtle aesthetic shift happening that has nothing to do with getting regular lashings and puncture wounds from the drama queens. There is only room for one diva in the Patch, and I think you know to whom I refer, Ya :-)

    Thanks Pam


  • Les March 29, 2011, 5:58 pm

    Growing up we had a neighbor who was allergic to pyracantha, but did not know it until he started pruning. It was not pretty. I am all for pampas removal as this has to be my least favorite ornamental grass. And finally, the bark split on pittosporum is usually diagnosed as cold damage here, but I hope yours is something else less fatal.

  • ESP March 29, 2011, 7:09 pm

    Hi Les.

    I have never pruned my pyracantha, and I have no intention to, especially after hearing your neighbor’s allergic story. It felt good to get rid of these old pampas grasses and my space looks much cleaner without them, and much larger…it is amazing how much space these grasses consume.
    I really hope your prognoses on the pittosporum cold damage is not correct, but I think you are right… I will be keeping a very close eye on this shrub for any fungal activity.
    Thanks Les,


  • meredee March 29, 2011, 7:40 pm

    Your tiny mystery bug looks like a dermestid beetle (see here for a description of the family: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dermestidae ). Maybe they were eating the pollen?

  • ESP March 29, 2011, 8:16 pm

    It is indeed. Thanks you for the ID meredee, and yes it must have been the pollen they were attracted to…there were so many of them. Interesting that these dermestid beetles or skin beetles (insert obligatory Lecter noises) are used to clean animal skeletons in natural history museums and aid forensic experts on crime scenes. There is no-one buried under my garden shed, honest…it is the pollen on my pyracantha that was attracting them, the pollen I tell you :-)

    I appreciate your help identifying them.


  • meredee March 29, 2011, 8:35 pm

    No problem, ESP. Thank you for having such an interesting blog!

    Your writing and pictures have been an inspiration as I start to plan my own garden… stock tank planter – check! … ooh, maybe I need one of those sotols … etc. (I’m going to pass on getting any agave weevils – poor agaves!)

  • ESP March 29, 2011, 8:58 pm


    Got to have some stock tanks, and most certainly yes to a sotol or three and do not forget the soft leafed yuccas!
    I stuck my latest weevil on a tooth-pick and placed it up high on a mound where I know the Naboo frequent with a tiny note attached…it is strangely a culinary delicacy for the tribe, and I like to keep on their good side if you know what I mean :-)

    May your new garden forever remain weevil free.


  • Suzie/Viva Verde March 29, 2011, 10:44 pm

    your weevil travails have left me paranoid! i’m out every other day poking and prodding looking for those bore holes.

    How long has it taken that mountain laurel to reach it’s current size? been thinking about investing in one but want to make a good initial placement.

    also, would love to crash a future get together. i’ve seen your patch, and it left me mighty inspired. Pam, if you see this, please add me to the list for next time!

  • ESP March 29, 2011, 11:01 pm

    Hi Suzie.

    The evil-weevils have me totally paranoid also! You will have no doubt if you have them, their boring holes in the agaves are quite unmistakable.

    This mountain laurel has to be about nine years old, I keep it pruned up high, I think they look better that way.
    If you friend me on Facebook I will add you to the group.


  • Gail March 30, 2011, 1:14 pm

    You’re welcome! Loved the father/daughter picture of you and Miss P. And she said you really did dance until you got too hot and had to rest. :) Iced turbans for dancing too?

  • jenny March 30, 2011, 5:11 pm

    Oh Yes, it’s time to prune the pyracantha. Long before I understood how bad this plant was I planted it on the wall to grow as an espalier. I could never take it down. We have put too many holes int he wall to keep it up there! Of course I can’t let it do its own thing like you. Someone, who will be nameless, has to get up on the ladder. Sorry about the losses. We have all lost things this last two winters and more will be lost to this horrible drought. I see some of my cedars are in serious trouble. Glad you both had fun at the dance. Going out to squish a few things.

  • ESP March 30, 2011, 6:41 pm

    Hi Gail…I told you! Hot was not the word, there was little or no A.C. happening, I broke a sweat after the first dance, and she would not let me miss a song. I should have planned ahead with a cooler and portable turban, though I am not sure she would have let me wear one for fear of dying of embarrassment.

  • ESP March 30, 2011, 6:52 pm

    Hi Jenny.

    There is no taking down a pyracantha – might as well try to dig up a giant timber bamboo :-) Your poor nameless person! I hope you cook him your fabulous lamb dish as a token reward for surviving the encounter. I do like this wild plant, and the bloom fragrance takes me back to my primary-school days when a similar smell would emanate from the hedgerows, though not from a pyracantha. I wonder what it was?

    Yes losses, but you know what? I like a fresh start, I dug out my Mex. lime today and even though there was new growth at the base, I was so happy to finally let it go…I was so tired of dealing with its brownness for the last two years, it has been tan for as much time as it has been green…not acceptable.

    Had a fun date me and her – never once been out, just the two of us – she was on her most “sophisticated” behavioral pattern, I bet she wished I was :-)


  • Pam/Digging March 31, 2011, 7:32 am

    Suzi, it would be great to meet you. Like ESP says, you just to need to Friend one of us on FB (remind me of your blog when you do), and we’ll add you to the Austin blogger group.

    Re: the agave weevil, I understand that even softleaf yucca and other related plants are not safe from its depredations. You’d have to cut a lot of wonderful plants from your garden in order not to risk it.

  • ESP March 31, 2011, 8:30 pm

    Hi Pam.

    Have you heard of anyone in Austin who have lost yucca or other plants to the evil weevil? Curious.


  • Bob Pool April 1, 2011, 10:41 pm

    “Zer iss only von Diva is zes garten, eh”, she says with a little saliva sling.

    Man, you clean up well. I was surprised, no goofy shoes either.

    A plant you might want to consider for a replacement where the grasses were is Sweet Broom. Looks pretty good, gets big, blooms. I saw some at the Depot too.

  • ESP April 2, 2011, 11:10 pm

    Bob… you know that Austrian girl as well as the Naboo it appears.
    I do clean up occasionally…and goofy shoes? I do not know what you mean :-)
    I tried broom a few years back with no success, though I am not sure that what I tried was Sweet Broom?

  • Pam/Digging April 3, 2011, 11:18 pm

    Well, I lost a mangave ‘Macho Mocha,’ which is a hybrid agave, to the weevil. But Tom Spencer was the one who told me softleaf yucca is vulnerable. I don’t know if he lost one personally or not.

  • ESP April 4, 2011, 8:57 pm

    Hi Pam.

    I have read that softleaf yucca is also susceptible to the evil weevil also, so far so good in the Patch. Tom, did you lose one to the weevil, curious?
    It looks like another of my Mediterranean fan palms has succumbed to fire ants once again, central decline…(note to self)…I must stop planting this plant in such sharp soil!
    If it is not one thing it is another!



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