Tecoma stans – One Look Tells you Yellow Bells

Tecoma stans, also known as Yellow bells, Yellowbells, Esperanza (Spanish for “hope”), Yellow trumpetbush, Yellow trumpetflower, Trumpetbush, Trumpetflower, Yellow elder, or Ginger-thomas is a member of the Bignoniaceae (Trumpet-Creeper Family).

It is native to the Southwest United States, and Florida with a natural range that includes the Caribbean and the Bahamas, and extends into Mexico, Central America, and South America as far as Northern Argentina. Tecoma stans is the official flower of the United States Virgin Islands and the national flower of The Bahamas.

It is an irregularly shaped flowering perennial shrub that grows to 3 – 6’ in height. It has several stems and slender, erect branches with sharp-toothed, lance-shaped, olive-green leaves. From April through November, Tecoma stans produces large clusters of bright yellow, trumpet-shaped flowers that are 3-5” in length. These showy blooms are the source of many of the plant’s common names and attract bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds.

Tecoma stans grows best in well drained rocky, limestone, sand, and loam soils. It thrives in the heat, is extremely drought tolerant, has low water usage requirements, and prefers dry soil conditions. It tolerates cold within its natural range, but even in these southern areas, harsh winters will cause it to die back to the ground. It can be grown in more northern areas but should be treated as an annual, or used as a potted specimen.

The leaves, bark, and roots of Tecoma stans contain many biologically active chemicals, and extracts from those tissues have been used in traditional folk medicine to treat many diseases and conditions (Liogier 1990). Perhaps the most promising compounds are monoterpine alkaloids, which have been shown to effectively reduce the symptoms of diabetes mellitus in rats, dogs, and mice (Aguilar and others 1993, Lozoya- Meckes and Mellado-Campos 1985, Perez and others 1984).

Having become a popular landscape plant in recent years, Tecoma stans contributes to the growing trend of using native plants in both commercial and residential landscapes. It’s beautiful appearance, along with its drought-tolerance, and possible medical uses showcase the best that native plants have to offer.

Pests: The Dark Side of Gardening

Imagine that it’s a crisp, clear, sunny spring morning. You just woke up, grabbed a fresh hot cup of coffee, and are walking out to the driveway to admire that new car you just bought. And why not admire it? You worked hard for it. You spent all winter researching different models and planning your purchase. Plus, you just spent a few hours yesterday washing and waxing it.

Suddenly you stop dead in your tracks. “What the…!” You notice bits of broken glass on the ground near where the side window used to be. And there, sitting in the driver seat with a bunch of loose wires in his hand and a smirk on his face is that teenager from down the street. You’ve seen him hanging around the street corner. You’ve heard from neighbors of the trouble he’s caused them. But you never thought you’d catch him red handed trying to take something of yours.

That’s pretty much how you feel when you go out to your garden and see a bunch of pill bugs eating your strawberries, a stinkbug sucking on one of your peaches, or a grasshopper gnawing on your lettuce. To paraphrase that infamous Sith Lord, “Take your pesticide, Strike down the cabbage looper with all of your hatred, and your journey to the dark side will be complete.”

Integrated Pest Management
Fortunately, by utilizing a technique called Integrated Pest Management, we can control pests in our garden without making our backyard a nuclear waste dump. According to the Department of Horticultural Sciences, and the Department of Entomology at Texas A&M University, Integrated Pest Management (IPM) for the home vegetable garden consists of four key strategies:
1) Plant genetic resistance to pests and disease
2) Biological control (the use of one organism to control another)
3) Environmental and cultural (favorable for the plant, unfavorable for the pest)
4) Chemical

Plan Ahead
IPM starts before you even plant your garden. Choose vegetable varieties that are resistant to pests and diseases or that will continue to grow and produce vegetables in spite of pest damage. Your state Cooperative Extension system is an excellent source of information on vegetable varieties that do best in your area. Check my post from March 2011 for a listing of, and links to, the Cooperative Extension agencies in each state.

Healthy Plants
A healthy plant can better survive pest damage and ward off disease. Place your garden in an area that receives at least 6-8 hours of full sunlight each day. Ensure that the soil in your garden is high in organic matter and drains well. Consider using raised beds. Water your plants deeply and regularly, but don’t over water. To help prevent plant diseases, always water early in the morning so the foliage will have a chance to dry during the day. Consider drip irrigation. Many pests live, and eat, on the underside of foliage. Sometimes just spraying the affected area with a garden hose will at least temporarily wash them off.

Keep the Bugs Out
Keep your garden clean and weed free. Always remove any dead or diseased foliage from your plants, and remove weeds and plant debris from your garden as they can harbor pests. Consider covering your plants with floating row covers. A floating row cover is a lightweight fabric that can be purchased from your local garden supply store. The fabric allows rain, and 85 to 90% of sunlight to penetrate. It can protect your plants from wind damage and offers some moderate frost protection as well. Be sure to uncover your plants when they are flowering so that bees and other pollinators have access.

According to the AgriLIFE EXTENSION, Texas A&M System, an estimated 70% of all plant problems are caused by cultural practices rather than insects and diseases.

Lizard on a potato plant

Biological Control
Biological control is the use of one organism to help control another. Most pests have natural predators or parasites that can help to keep a pest population in check. Introducing companion plants into your garden can provide a desirable environment for these beneficial predators and parasites. Some companion plants may exude natural chemicals that repel pests. Other companion plants can even be used as a trap crop, a plant that the pest is more attracted to than your vegetables.

Identify the Problem
There are more than 30,000 species of insects found in Texas alone; fewer than 100 of these cause problems in vegetable gardens. These insects come in a vast assortment of sizes, shapes, and colors, and can fly, walk, crawl, or dig their way into your garden. For any given insect species, its appearance and often its mode of transportation will change dramatically as it progresses through its life cycle.

The key to proper identification, and successful control, of pests is early detection. Pests can migrate to, or reproduce in your garden very quickly and in large numbers. If possible, make it part of your daily routine to spend time in your garden each morning. It’s a good time to see how your plants are growing, water your plants, inspect your plants for any signs of pests, and if you’re lucky harvest a few fresh vegetables.

Vegetable IPM website
Here is a link to the Integrated Pest Management for the Home Vegetable Garden website, http://vegetableipm.tamu.edu/. This site will help you identify an insect, both pests and beneficial insects, by its name, a picture, the type of damage it’s doing, or by the vegetable it’s damaging. It also offers different methods of controlling the pests.

Chemical Control
The mention of chemicals to control pests often conjures up images of someone in a HAZMAT suit pumping barrels of highly toxic substances all over your vegetables. But many pesticides are derived from natural substances and are approved for organic gardening usage. The toxicity level of a pesticide is rated by its Lethal Dosage (LD50) Value. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, An LD50 is a standard measurement of acute toxicity that is stated in milligrams (mg) of pesticide per kilogram (kg) of body weight. An LD50 represents the individual dose required to kill 50 percent of a test population. Because LD50 values are standard measurements, it is possible to compare relative toxicities among pesticides.

The lower the LD50 dose, the more toxic the pesticide. A pesticide with an LD50 value of 10 mg/kg is 10 times more toxic than a pesticide with an LD50 of 100 mg/kg. The table below shows the LD50 levels of several chemicals.

Pesticide Acute Toxicity by LD50
Source: Montgomery County Texas Extension

ChemicalLD50 Rating 
Nicotine55MOST TOXIC
Table Salt3,500
Benomyl> 10,000
Neem> 10,000
Insecticidal Soap> 10,000
B.T.> 10,000
Pyrethrum> 18,000LEAST TOXIC

Do your best to prevent pests before they can do a lot of damage. Attract beneficials to your garden. Have patience. All gardens have at least a few pests. Monitor outbreak areas before you spray. Know your pest. By properly identifying the pest and its current stage of development, the appropriate pesticide can be chosen. Choose a pesticide that kills only the pest and not beneficials.

Trying to use “the force” or a “light saber” to keep pests out of your garden probably won’t work. But a little hard work and a well-planed Integrated Pest Management program will go a long towards ensuring a bountiful garden harvest.

Firewise Landscaping

With the severe drought and heat wave that has been blanketing most of the country, and the wildfires ravaging Colorado this summer, now is the time to take steps to prepare for the unexpected. With the rain we’ve had here in Central Texas the past week or two, last summer’s wildfires seem to fade ever farther into the recesses of our memory. But in the words of George Bernard Shaw, “If history repeats itself, and the unexpected always happens, how incapable must Man be of learning from experience.” Remember, last summer in Texas alone, almost 4 million acres were burned due to wildfires. That’s more land area than the states of Rhode Island, Delaware, and Connecticut each contain.

Photo By John Nelson, IDV Solutions
Photo By John Nelson, IDV Solutions
A Change in how Wildfires are Viewed
In the past several years, there has been a major paradigm shift in the way wildfires are perceived. For decades, there was a zero tolerance policy towards wildfires and an emphasis was placed on how to extinguish them once started. The realization now is that fire is a necessary element in nature. Small wildfires that happen occasionally cause less damage and prevent the accumulation of fuel in the forest such as leaves and dead branches. This in turn helps to prevent the mega-wildfires that occur when this fuel has built up over many years and is finally ignited. Firefighters are also taking a more proactive, rather than reactive, approach toward wildfires. Emphasis is being placed on steps that can be taken before a wildfire starts that will minimize the damage it causes.

Where the Forest Meets Your Home
Damage to property is greatest when a wildfire moves from the forest into inhabited areas. This “Wildland Urban Interface” is the new battleground where preventative steps can be taken now that will greatly enhance your home’s ability to survive a wildfire. According to Jack Cohen, Research Physical Scientist, U.S. Forest Service, “You don’t have to live in a concrete block home with stainless steel doors and a metal deck all the way around it. You just have to remember – it’s the little things that count.”

Keep the Fire on the Ground and out of the Tree Canopy
Post-fire assessments of homes damaged by wildfires uncovered two key points. First, wildfires increase exponentially in size and intensity when the fire can spread from the ground up into the tree canopy. It takes less than sixty seconds for the fire front to move through a given point. By keeping the fire close to the ground, a home can more easily survive without igniting as the fire passes through. Second, and perhaps most surprising, was the fact that 75% of the homes burned in wildfires was due to ember accumulation, rather than direct contact with the wildfire. Embers blown by the wind can travel more than a mile from the actual fire. During a large wildfire, one home per second may ignite due to embers. Given that it takes an average of 20 firefighters to contain a single house fire, one can easily see that more fire fighters, and more fire trucks is not a realistic answer to containing wildfires.

The Home Ignition Zone
Proper landscaping and maintenance in the area surrounding your home can serve as a fire break by reducing flammable vegetation and materials, and limiting the ability of a wildfire to move from the grass up into the tree canopy. According to the Texas Forest Service, the “home ignition zone” is the area that extends up to 200 feet out from your home in all directions and can be divided into three sub-zones.

Zone 1
Zone 1 extends 30 feet out from your home and should be well-irrigated, and free from fuels such as dead vegetation, leaves, clutter, debris, and firewood stacks. Keep your lawn mowed, and use low-growing plants that are carefully spaced, have high moisture content and low resin content. Emphasize the use of flowers within this space and limit dense placement of cedars, rosemary, arborvitae, and pines. Trim trees in this area up to at least 6 to 10 feet above the ground and 3 feet back from over your house. Use non-flammable mulch within 5 feet of your house, such as gravel or river rock, and be sure to limit “ladder fuel” plants that will allow a wildfire to go from the ground up into the trees.

An untrimmed Live Oak tree is a potential “Fuel Ladder” to allow a wildfire to spread from the ground up into the tree canopy.
Zone 2
Zone 2 extends from 30 to 100 feet from your house. Where possible, limit trees in this zone to clusters of two or three that are also limbed up 6 to 10 feet above the ground. Use low flammability plants here, remove woody debris, and extend your irrigation system to this area.

Zone 3
Zone 3 is the area between 100 and 200 feet out from your home. This area should also be free of woody debris and have the trees thinned so that the canopies are not touching.

The Main Purpose
The overall goal of Firewise Landscaping is to keep the wildfire close to the ground, so that it can quickly move through your property, and limit areas where embers can gather and start spot fires.

Ready, Set, Go
As a homeowner or landowner, we often take comfort in the fact the Fire Department is nearby and that we regularly make our homeowners insurance payments. But ultimately, we must do everything in our power to be prepared for a wildfire. Just remember the phrase “Ready, Set, Go.” Be ready for a wildfire by practicing Firewise Landscaping. Have a set plan in place for when a wildfire approaches. And, when it comes right down to it, go. If you need to evacuate, you can at least take comfort in the fact that you did everything in your power to limit the intensity of, and damage caused by a wildfire to your home and property. The lives of your family are far more important than trying to make a heroic last stand. Be sure that our last quote of the day never applies to you, “History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce.”