Bulbs for hot summers

Lee Poulsen wpoulsen@pacbell.net
Tue, 06 Nov 2012 09:18:16 PST
On Nov 4, 2012, at 9:01 PM, Max Withers wrote:

> I will shortly move to Austin TX from Oakland CA, and am trying to imagine
> gardening in an alternate universe. 

I'm glad the rainfall chart helped you, Max. I made the opposite move from the one you're going to make when I went off to the San Francisco Bay Area for grad school. I remember that I felt like I was cold all the time, especially in the summer--even though I had moved from a Zone 8b area to a Zone 10a area. The Zone 10a winter low temperatures opened up all kinds of possibilities that just weren't possible in Austin. But what surprised me more were all the additional possibilities I never knew about due to the "natural air conditioning" that the Bay Area has all summer. So leaving your cloud forest behind will be hard I think. Early spring and late fall in Austin TX are very similar to spring and fall in California. Winter is also very similar--except when an Arctic cold front comes through. Those were always the factor, and the only factor, that prevented me from growing a whole host of things that grow well in places like California and Florida (like citrus, but I discovered rare species and cultivars that allowed me to dabble in that kind of plant life). However, those kinds of freezes have become much much less common than when I grew up in Texas. I've heard that a lot more things are possible to grow now in Texas.

Not to be rude to Ina, but her comment about her climate in New Zealand being similar to what Max will find in Austin made me laugh out loud. I had a professor at school in the Bay Area who was from New Zealand, and he told me how when he first moved to the S.F. Bay Area, he felt like he was always dying from the heat during the summer! New Zealand's climate is even more unique (I hope Jim McKenney doesn't shoot me for writing "more unique") than the Bay Area's is. I think that's why NZ'ers somehow are able to grow almost anything except for maybe the truly tropical stuff. Mauro Peixoto of Brazil told me how a plant friend of his from Texas who visited one year complained about how unfair Mauro's climate was, too, compared to Texas's.

Anyway, as others have pointed out, the very best book for Austin conditions is Scott Ogden's book since he has personally grown almost everything he describes, either in Austin, or in a nearby town with the same climate as Austin's. And he seems to have found virtually every species and cultivar of geophyte in existence that will grow there, a lot of which no one else there knows about, and will make you tear your hair out about where he got all of them. To this day, there are some things he lists that I have not been able to find available for sale or trade anywhere, although I encounter literature that describes that they really did exist. (And apparently still do in Scott's gardens…) As Alberto Castillo said, Thad Howard's book is good also, but he lists a lot of things that grow in Zones 8-11, but not the southern hot, humid versions of those Zones. A lot of them do much better in the Southern Hemisphere or mediterranean versions of those Zones.

Finally, if you haven't experienced an extended length of time living in a Texas summer, be prepared. Especially coming from Oakland. By September each year, you may seriously consider moving back. The remaining 8 months of the year, though, are very nice. Yes, and most of what Tony Avent and Yucca Do sell will grow in Austin as well. Have fun and good luck!

--Lee Poulsen
Pasadena, California, USA - USDA Zone 10a
Latitude 34°N, Altitude 1150 ft/350 m

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