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.

I wrote the following column prior to the freeze, so thought I needed to add a few words of encouragement before publication. Last month Mother Nature raised her scepter skyward and affirmed her command of the weather – and Jack Frost was right behind her. But we Texans are tough dedicated gardeners and we’ll get through this. Don’t be in a rush to start pruning, be patient, we may see some growth peeking out from below given a few warm spells. If you must prune, cut back until you see green, but if it’s brown entirely – just yank it out. Check the trunks of your citrus trees. If you see splits or cracks in the trunk, that tree is history. If you had a lime tree, the chances of its survival is somewhere between zero and zip. Also check landscape shrubs for cracks or splits in the trunk. But look on the bright side – you’ve been planning for quite some time on redoing your landscape, but you’ve been putting it off. Now you have every reason to do so. 

O.K., so you didn’t get everything checked off of the ‘To Do’ list. It’s not too late. Hurry and prune those roses - that should have been done in February. Give them and other shrubs a quick acting fertilizer to stimulate new growth. Shame on you for not getting around to planting new landscape specimens during the winter. Covid-19 kept you at home, what were you doing? That’s when the soil was warm and root development was possible before spring made demands to leaf out and/or bloom. You can still plant, but it’s going to take a lot of TLC to establish a root system with summer knocking at the door.

If you’re lucky enough to have a gardenia that blooms, cultivate as little as possible. Their feeder roots are near the surface. This would be an ideal time to mulch with a light material such as pine needles. Your azaleas and camellias would like the same attention. Keep the mulch moist, as those roots can dry out quickly.

When was the last time you had the mower blades sharpened? If the blades are dull, you’re not cutting grass, you’re tearing it. After you have mowed, get down and look at the leaf tips of the St. Augustine. Is it a clean cut, or is it jagged? If your lawn has a build- up of thatch, make the first mowing close, rake the clippings and toss them into the compost pile. After you have mowed a time or two a feeding of 15-5-10 would be my first preference. Those fertilizers with a high first number designate nitrogen and produce a fast green-up. In my humble opinion that’s not balanced, but hey, if you’re looking for instant gratification……..

Summer will pounce on us with both feet very soon, and utility bills become a concern for those on a limited budget. We want to give the A/C some assistance so it doesn’t have to work so hard during our sizzling summer temperatures. ‘West’ is the key word here. Ideally, plantings should shade the west wall of your home in summer. If you opt for a tree, plant a deciduous variety. That’s one that loses its leaves in winter so the sun can warm the west wall of your home, but fully leafed out, shades it in summer. If a tree is not an option, consider a trellis placed a few feet from the wall and planted with a deciduous vine – clematis comes to mind or maybe a colorful fast grower like morning glories. What a difference that can make in your utility bills, especially if you have windows on that west wall.

Every year most grocery stores sell white flowering oxalis (shamrocks to some) around St. Patrick’s Day. After you’ve refrigerated the left-over Irish stew and consumed the last of the green beer, plant them in a shady spot in the garden. Ours are blooming right now; they love cool weather, but will go dormant in summer and reappear in winter.

There are a few things we shouldn’t be doing now. Don’t prune what looks to be limbs damaged by cold. They may sprout new growth – be patient. Those caladium bulbs are just fine where they are – it’s too cold to put them in the ground just yet, and the plumerias are true tropicals. Treat them as such.

March is one of the busiest months of the year when it comes to vegetable gardening. Put on your overalls and put in transplants of broccoli, cabbage, eggplant and peppers. Plant seeds of beans (lima, pole, snap, wax, bush), summer squash, radish, turnips, lettuce, mustard, kohlrabi, collards, cucumber and corn if you hurry. And of course tomato transplants. Get the largest tomato transplants you can find. This gives them a head start to begin producing before hot weather shuts them down.

Of course most any dish can be accentuated by a few herbs. Tomatoes love pesto, salads love basil. Eggs, cheese, herbal butters, salads, soups and potatoes love chives. Meats, soups, green vegetables and compound butters love marjoram. Poultry, sausages, cheeses and pork loves sage. Peas, roast chicken, fish and stews love thyme. Greek and Italian dishes demand oregano, and in my opinion every garden should be required to grow at least one rosemary plant. I prefer the prostrate variety for cooking as its needles are more tender than the upright variety.

Looks like there’s going to be plenty to do this month.

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.

Anaheim peppers