Earliest spring flowers are popping

February 27, 2024

Spring has arrived in earnest in Austin, and it feels about two weeks early. Is that right, long-time Austinites? Temps have been in the mid- to upper 80s F for the past several days, and although that’s warm, it’s still very comfortable in the shade. In response to the heat, plants are leaping up and bursting into bloom, like native spiderwort (Tradescantia occidentalis).

Bees love this flower, and I’m happy to have it for them. And although spiderwort is a spreader, especially in shady spots, the flowers are so welcome and the foliage so fresh and green that I don’t really mind. I yank up volunteers that pop up in places I don’t want them, and I whack many of them back after flowering but before they can set seed. That helps to keep them under control in my garden.

Gopher plant (Euphorbia rigida) is another early bloomer and self-seeder. Again, I don’t mind. Unlike shade-loving spiderwort, it favors hot, sunny, well-drained spots like the edges of my gravel paths. After the flowers go to seed (I let them), I cut off the lanky “arms” with their spent flower heads, pruning them back to the base and letting the fresh new growth take center stage.

When you prune gopher plant, wear gloves and eye protection. The plant has a milky sap that’s an irritant. You do not want it in your eyes. On the plus side, that sap keeps deer from eating it. (And now I’m sure I’ll hear from someone whose deer devoured it. Because deer are like that.)

Texas mountain laurels (Sophora secundiflora) in full sun are in full bloom — and they are definitely two weeks early. In my shady garden, buds are just starting to show some purple. I photographed this one down the street a couple of days ago, and naturally I took some long sniffs of those deliciously sweet, grape Kool-Aid-scented flowers. The fragrance of spring in Austin.

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Digging Deeper

March 16: Attend the third annual Budding Out Plant Sale & Festival on 3/16 at the John Fairey Garden in Hempstead. Rare and distinctive plants from the garden’s nursery and from select plant vendors will be for sale. Additional offerings include art, ceramics, jewelry, food, music, and presentations. Admission: $5 for members, $10 for non-members, children under 12 free. Hours: 10 am to 4 pm; members get early admission at 9 am (memberships available on day of event).

April 6: Come out to Austin’s Mayfield Park on 4/6 for the Mayfield Park Gardening Symposium & Fundraiser, 8:30 to 11 am. This annual benefit for the park includes a raffle, plant sale, and garden speakers.

Come learn about gardening and design at Garden Spark! I organize in-person talks by inspiring designers, landscape architects, authors, and gardeners a few times a year in Austin. These are limited-attendance events that sell out quickly, so join the Garden Spark email list to be notified in advance; simply click this link and ask to be added. Season 8 kicks off in fall 2024. Stay tuned for more info!