Gardening in El Lago

Trowels & Tribulations in a Suburban Garden - June 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.

Well, here it is again – summer arrives about this time every year. Of course it’s not officially here until the 20th of the month, but Mother Nature doesn’t have a calendar, and she pretty much does what she wants – when she wants.

She was darn nice to us in May. The gigantic gardenia in my back garden died over the winter (yes, even Master Gardeners do lose plants) but the southern magnolia in the front yard was blooming gloriously. I cut several blossoms and brought them inside. The aromas drifting throughout my house were intoxicating.

But now it’s June – the beginning of summer and what seems like a never ending maintenance chore. The critical need at this time of year is water. Forget the light sprinkle – water deeply. Sprinkling causes more problems than it cures. A stingy watering causes roots to come to the surface looking for moisture. You’ll need a good soaker hose to accommodate elevated beds and hard to reach places; and I can’t say enough good things about root feeders for trees and shrubs. Remember to deep water your shade trees at least once a week during extended dry spells.

Azaleas are shallow-rooted and should never be allowed to dry out. Water slowly once or twice a week with a soaker hose or let the garden hose dribble slowly at the drip line. This is a dangerous time for these plants. Failure to provide sufficient water during the summer will surely deprive you of blooms when the curtain goes up for their spring performance. Lack of water now could be fatal long before the curtain is scheduled to rise.

The camellias would appreciate a little extra attention as well. They’d like to be on the same watering schedule you have for the azaleas. If their buds drop in winter, you can bet it’s because they dried out the previous summer. They like plenty of water, but don’t like their feet to remain wet for an extended period of time. Lots of water and good drainage will result in healthy, blooming plants. They’d also like a light foliar feeding this month – a hose end sprayer is the easiest method to accomplish this.

A good way to conserve moisture and keep roots cool is spelled – M-U-L-C-H, but never let it touch the bark of a tree or shrub. Mulch holds down moisture – but what happens when bark stays damp? Can you spell – R-O-T?

You’ve been too busy to feed the St. Augustine – right? You’ve still got a chance to give it a light feeding and pump up that beautiful green color. A 15-5-10 formulation should do the job quite nicely. Notice I said “light feeding.” Don’t be a member of the club that believes if a ‘little is good – a lot is better’ – it doesn’t work that way. A St. Augustine lawn wants your mower blade raised to “High” so that the blades of grass shade the roots from the intense summer sun.

If you have an irrigation system, check to be sure that your sprinkler heads are delivering water droplets – not mist. If they are emitting a mist – you’re wasting water and money. Mist evaporates before it can be absorbed down into the soil, and a light breeze just blows it to your neighbor’s yard.

Daylilies ‘peak’ in June. This is a good time to make your selections when you can see the color of the blooms – unless you’re the type of gardener that enjoys a surprise.

Aren’t those tomatoes right out of your garden superior to the ones trucked across country to your grocery store? If the variety you planted has done well for you, why not plant the same variety for your fall garden? Pinch out the top few inches of your existing tomato plants and root them in small pots to be ready for planting when fall arrives. Or if you want to try a different variety, start seeds this month. I planted a Beefsteak in a large pot - never again. That’s too much plant for a pot as I had a difficult time keeping it within bounds. Next time I’ll go for a ’patio’ variety.

As summer’s heat intensifies, you may notice that your cucumbers taste bitter. Not much you can do other than just yank ‘em out – they’re not going to get any better. You can plant more seeds in mid to late August for a fall crop.

Has Covid -19 caused you to cancel your summer travel plans? Many of us have opted to stay closer to home this summer. If this is the case, and you’re looking for something to do – think about building a rain garden. What’s a rain garden? I’m glad you asked. It’s a low or shallow depression you create in your landscape strategically placed to catch water that runs off of your rooftop, driveway, or lawn. Water collects in this rain garden and allows it to soak into the soil slowly, filtering and purifying it before it enters the underground water channels. Did you know that harmful oils from your driveway, herbicides, fertilizers, and pest control chemicals from your lawn run directly into our sewers which drain into Galveston Bay? Our yards are the source of as much as 50% of the pollutants which enter our sewer system. So you can see, there’s a good incentive for building a rain garden.

First off, you have to determine the right location. Next time it rains, grab your umbrella, go outside and try to pinpoint the areas where water collects naturally or where you could persuade it to collect. You may find it necessary to excavate a swale or lay a pipe to direct the runoff to the rain garden, so be sure to avoid any damage to existing tree roots when you dig. Ideal depth should be 6 to 8 inches at its deepest point and shallow at the edges. Bigger is not always better – but in this case it is. The larger your rain garden, the more polluted water collected and purified.

Well, you didn’t think I was going to let you just stand there looking at a hole in the ground did you? There are a gazillion plants suitable for a rain garden. Natives are best as they are adapted to thriving in our weather, soil and ecosystem. Your favorite nursery will have suggestions as to what to plant.

As in all conventional gardens, mulch is also an important ingredient in a rain garden. The idea is to let the water soak into the soil, not evaporate. Just as the mulch around your shrubbery deters weeds, it does the same in your rain garden. In this case you’ll want to use a heavier mulch such as pine straw or shredded hardwood – something that won’t have a tendency to float away. Of course your rain garden won’t stay damp – you may have to water occasionally. After all, it is a garden! And it can look like one – spiff it up a bit with some rocks, a boulder or two, or maybe a piece of garden art.

What is she thinking? - you ask yourself. She wants me to build a mosquito maternity ward? Not to worry. It takes about three days for the critters to hatch, but the water will have soaked in before they do, thereby killing any larvae. Think about it - this could help to downsize the mosquito population in our neighborhood. Female mosquitoes are naturally programmed to deposit their eggs in your rain garden, but it’s really a mosquito Planned Parenthood clinic!

If you want to learn more about rain gardens, and I hope you do - there is plenty of information on the internet. This could keep you busy for a good part of the summer.

In the meantime, have a safe and happy summer.

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.

Flower Show Alvin 2009