Swale Garden

What can you do with the soggy mushy parts of your property? How about planting some plants that love water? Known down here as Swale Gardens these are gardens planted in areas that either remain damp or flood after a rain and remain wet for a while.

The first thing to do was to dig a trench about 8″wide x 4″deep along the edge of the wet area and fill it with gravel. This takes the water off the lawn and funnels it into the swale garden.

Now all the water runs into the swale garden when it rains, leaving the grass drier. I lined the area between the trench and the lawn with larger rocks.

The irises were here when we purchased the home. I’ve added curly rush, Papryus, Umbrella flower, Spider lilies, Agapanthus and all have done well so far.

Other recommended plants for rain or swale gardens in the Houston area include: Cardinal Flower ( Lobelia cardinalis ), Lizard tail ( Saururus cernuus ), Spider lily ( Hymenocallis liriosme ), Pickerelweed ( Pontederia cordata ), Leatherwood, Titi ( Cyrilla racemiflora ), Horsetail ( Equisetum hyemale ), Buttonbush ( Cephalanthus occidentalis ).

More information:
Rain Gardens Sprouting up Everywhere
Going native with plants: A new-old direction for water conservation

Cattleya and crosses

Cattleya orchids are the orchids you see in corsages. Some are scented, some are not. They come in an endless selection of colors.

Cattleya orchids need lots of light so after blooming put them in a south facing window. They like it to be fairly warm aim for a day temperature of 75-85’F and a night temperature of 55′-60’F. They need a temperature difference of about 15’F to put them into a blooming cycle. So put them outside in the spring or fall or put them near a door or drafty window. If you put them outside put them in the shade. Bright sun inside your home is like shade outside your home.

Pot them in sphagnum moss not dirt or bark if you are keeping them as houseplants. Your home is too dry for them to grow on bark as they do in the wild. If they are planted in moss water when the top of the moss is totally dry. I find I need to water once a week if it’s been a sunny week and about once every ten days if it’s been cloudy.

If you do plant them in bark check them daily they will need to be watered several times a week. If you are not sure when to water them and they are planted in bark, place a wooden skewer deep in the middle of the pot. Leave just a little showing. Pull out the skewer to see if it is wet or dry in the pot.

If the orchid is getting enough water leaves will not flop or be wrinkled, roots will be green. Wrinkles on leaves, white roots mean the plant is getting too little water. Do not let it sit in water, but water more frequently being sure to let excess water drain out. If the plant is getting too much water, the roots will turn black and rot.

I fertilize them when I re-pot them and don’t bother much otherwise. Orchids love root fertilizer and hormones as well. Several companies sell these fertilizers.

These may be divided when they out grow the pot. Separate the pseudo bulbs with a sharp knife, be sure to have several in each section.

I belong to an ‘orchid of the month club’. Which means that before too long I have orchids coming out of my ears and no place to put them. Last winter I decided the cattleya orchids were on their own. ‘Live or die’, I declared, the choice is yours.

Surprisingly they did survive the mild winter later in a colder winter with several real freezes they died.

To grow cattleya orchids outside in Houston year round you need a wet spot in the garden. They love to be damp and it just can’t be too humid for them.

Despite being sun loving plants, full sun in Houston was too much. I find 2-3 hours of sun is enough to keep the leaves kelly green and give them enough food for blooming.

If the weather gets cold protect them when you cover your other tender plants.

Cattleya plants first arrived in the new world from South and Central American unexpectedly. They arrived in England with a shipment of ferns and were used as packaging for the ferns. William Cattley potted some up out of curiosity. In 1818 they bloomed and have been the love of flower lovers ever since.

Despite attempts to grow and local more they were lost to the new world until they were re-found in 1889.

Their popularity decreased their numbers in the wild and continues to do so today.

No bloom – plant needs more light
Root rot – they love water but be sure they are not sitting in water. Move them to a new better draining location.
Virus – their is no hope, destroy plants before virus can spread ( leaves get yellow blotches and streaks that turn brown. Leaves may have rings of yellow dots. )
Scale – physically remove scale, treat with insecticide oil.
Mealy bugs – wash off with soap and water.

Propagation is easiest by division.

Soldier’s Orchid (Zeuxine strateumatics L. Schlecter )

Soldier’s Orchid
Soldier’s Orchid

Sunday the sun came out and the temperature climbed not just over 50′ but clear up past 65′. I was able to get out into the garden and pull a few weeks and found this plant in several beds. Thanks to the experts at The Garden Web Forums I found out this is a Soldier’s Orchid.

Native to Asia it is now found here starting in Florida, and working its way over to Texas. It appears in December or January, blooms a couple of weeks and disappears till next year. It will re-grow from the roots and appear in a different location next year.

Considered by lawn fanatics to be a weed, gardeners know better.

These orchids failed to show in 2008 but reappeared in January 2009.

Spider Plant aka Airplane Plant

This is a fun plant. Known as ‘spider’ or ‘airplane’ plant it has long all green leaves or green with white striped leaves. it sends out shoots in the spring with very tiny white flowers. Later these shoots develop baby plants which can be cut off and planted once roots form or left on the plant.

This plant is not picky about anything. It will grow in any window, and doesn’t mind if you forget to water it occasionally.

Tips of the leaves will turn brown if salt builds up too much, repot it in fresh soil and when you water it, be sure to let water flow through and out the bottom for a few minutes.

Worm castings

How ever would we get through January with out all the garden catalogs clogging our mailboxes? More catalogs arrived today and I decided it was time to buy the fertilizer.

I love putting worm castings in the garden. I discovered them totally by accident. I had this house plant that was green and healthy but never grew much. Then all of a sudden it caught up on several years growth in just a few weeks. When I took it down to water it I discovered a caterpillar had made his home in the plant. It’s a wonder he didn’t eat the plant.

Since then I put worm castings in the garden every spring.

You can find them online and in better nurseries. Be cautious, the quality varies greatly, buy from someone you trust.


Cymbidium orchids are usually lightly scented and come in a variety of yellows, whites, pinks, reds and purples.

Cymbidium orchids need lots of light so after blooming put them in a south facing window. Cymbidiums like a bit of cold weather ( ~40’F) and an occasional frost, so find a drafty window or door to place them by if you are growing the indoors.

Once you are sure that it will stay above freezing, transfer this plant outside and bring it in just after your first frost. Cymbidiums will handle temperatures down to 28’F and need some cold nights or they won’t flower.

I find these guys grow best in a dirt and bark mix, about half and half of each. Try not to transplant them often they are finicky and sometimes won’t bloom for a year after being re-potted. I fertilize them only when re-potting them. I fertilize in the spring and the fall for the outside ones.

Water, before they get dry, about once a week inside. Outside find a nice wet spot in the garden for them.

These may be divided when they outgrow the pot. Be sure to have at least three, but preferably more, bulbs per division. Plant the older bulbs near the edge of the pot and the newer bulbs towards the middle where they will have room to grow.

More Info:
Cymbidium Society of America