Gardening in El Lago

Trowels & Tribulations in a Suburban Garden - March Issue

By: Donna J. Ward, Certified Texas Master Gardener (Note: This is a reprint of Donna’s article that appears in the La Ventana del Lago.

It’s difficult these days to avoid the crowds at the local garden centers and nurseries. Spring fever has infected the citizenry and they are out in droves. The avid gardener has a hard time controlling their impulses when faced with row upon row of eye-catching annuals, perennials, veggies, herbs, shrubbery, ground covers, etc. But before you whip out your wallet take into consideration the location that you want to improve with new plantings. Many in our neighborhood live with a partially shaded garden area. Even those plants that enjoy shade need some sun - 2 to 4 hours a day - preferably in the morning. Some colorful plants that fall into that category might be clivia, digitalis, iris, lobelia, anemone, primrose, caladium, crossandra, toad lily, butterfly and shell ginger. Don’t forget that old-fashioned crinum lily with its pink or white flowers, and one of my favorites, Persian shield. Full or deep shade can still host a few attractive specimens such as coleus, impatiens, leopard plant, and if you’re creating a ’woodsy’ garden think about a type of plant that has been around for 400 million years - ferns. If you’re looking for shade-loving ground covers, vinca minor, vinca major, liriope, euonymous, ajuga are just a few. Next time your neighbor professes to be unable to grow anything because their yard is too shady, show them this column.

The azalea curtain is coming down on this season’s performance and a feeding is last on the program. Feed when the blossoms have faded, and two more times a month apart. Avoid any feeding after the first of June. This is also the best time to give them a haircut. If you wait too long you’ll be cutting off the bloom wood that would raise the curtain on next spring’s performance. If your other spring blooming shrubs are finished, prune them also.

March is the ideal time to fertilize your landscape trees and shrubs. If the St. Augustine is growing and you’ve had to mow a couple of times, feed your lawn. St. Augustine loves warm weather and doesn’t even think about growing until the days are sufficiently warm. Feeding too soon only benefits the cool weather weeds. Avoid those fertilizers with an extremely high first number - that’s nitrogen and promotes a quick ’green-up’. Looks good, but not exactly a balanced feeding in my opinion. At the risk of repeating myself, I prefer a 15-5-10, and whatever you do, don’t apply a ’weed and feed’ formulation. Most contain Atrizine, a lethal chemical that has been banned in much of Europe, but somehow our chemical manufacturers have been able to stave off prohibition. If you want to avoid chemicals entirely, there are ways to feed a lawn organically. Fit your mower with a mulching blade that chops up grass into fine particles that naturally decompose on the lawn. Many horticultural experts say that over the course of the season, this technique provides a lawn with as much nitrogen as one complete application of lawn fertilizer.

If you’ve been wanting a bit more color in your landscape, and you’re comfortable with planting seeds, you might sow some seeds of salvia, zinnia, cockscomb, sunflower, morning glory and coral vine. But be advised the last two mentioned will be with you forever, as they reseed prolifically and will come up in places you never expected. But they both have beautiful blossoms and will cover a trellis, provide some privacy, or block an unwanted view. If instant gratification is your thing, the nurseries are well-stocked with transplants of petunias, marigolds, pentas, salvia, coleus, impatiens, daisies, ixora, caladiums, hibiscus, bougainvillea, and much more. While you’re at your favorite nursery you might want to check out the roses - it’s not too late to plant another one or two.

If your inclination leans more toward the culinary than landscaping you’re in luck. March is probably the most ideal time to plant veggies. Put in seeds of cucumbers, lettuce, kohlrabi, mustard, radish, summer squash, collards, green beans (both bush and pole), lima beans and if you really hurry, beets. Since they need a longer growing season, you’ll want to pick up transplants of eggplant, peppers and tomatoes. Get those tomatoes in the ground ASAP, so they start producing before the sizzling summer temps arrive. When the night time temperatures rise, tomatoes will stop setting fruit.

Hopefully you’ve been making notes, so plan on getting to the nursery first thing in the morning to avoid the crowd.

Did you know that Trowels & Tribulations is published on the city site on the first of the month? Under Our Community you will find Trowels & Tribulations listed.

Shell Ginger