Gardening in El Lago

Trowels & Tribulations in a Suburban Garden - May 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.)

May not only looks good, she smells pretty good too. If your morning routine is anything like mine, you're carrying that morning cup of coffee and crisp buttered toast to the patio or deck. The morning is still somewhat cool and the scent of magnolia blossoms drift on a light breeze. I lament the inability to grow my beloved sweet-scented lilacs, but magnolias and gardenias almost make up for that failure.

If your wildflowers have stopped blooming, don't rush to cut off the faded blossoms. Do as Mother Nature does, let them go to seed and die back naturally. For those non-blooming roses and daylilies, maybe they need a sunnier location, and it's not too late to move them (if you hurry). Both of these bloomers do best with 6-8 hours of sunshine. But be aware they are going to need plenty of TLC to get them through the sizzling heat which is sure to come. Water, a light feeding and mulch is the key to their re-establishment.

We all expect leaf drop to be a fall affair, but it happens again each spring. 'Evergreen' trees such as Magnolia and Live Oak drop some leaves in fall, but the remainder is pushed off in spring by emerging new growth. Evergreen is a misnomer – all leaves eventually expire. Don’t be upset when that gorgeous Magnolia Grandiflora starts to drop yellow, spotty leaves. It’s Mother Nature’s way of replacing the old with the new - I just wish she would wait until the flowers fade before the leaves begin to yellow and drop.

One of my favorite annuals for shade just happens to be impatiens. They come in a variety of colors, bloom almost continually, and never have to be deadheaded. They look equally great in the ground, in patio pots, or hanging baskets. But don’t do like a neighbor of mine did last spring. She very carefully planted dozens of impatiens in a bed bordering her shaded patio. By mid-summer there was very little new growth to be seen. When I questioned her as to whether she had slightly broken the small root ball before planting, she responded in the negative, saying she had carefully lifted each from its small six-pack slot trying not to disturb the roots and very gently placed each in the small hole she had dug. As a result, the roots continued their circuitous route, rarely venturing out into the surrounding soil. If she had broken the root ball slightly the plants would have been forced to produce outward growing roots. All of our annual bedding plants will benefit from having their root ball disturbed before placing in their prepared bed.

I was browsing a garden department the other day and overheard one of the department’s employees extolling the virtues of a well known fertilizer manufacturer’s ‘weed and feed’ formula to a customer. My mother taught me not to interrupt conversations, but I forgot my good manners, and proceeded to tell the customer that weed and feed formulations don’t know the difference between his landscape trees, shrubbery and weeds. The herbicide contained in those formulas is not selective and will kill his trees, shrubbery and weeds equally. I felt bound to tell him that a well-fertilized healthy St. Augustine lawn will choke out unwanted weeds and suggested a bag of 15-5-10. Don't forget to set the mower blades to 'High." Taller grass keeps the stolons shaded from the sun, and helps prevent excessive moisture evaporation. And when you water - water deeply, a light sprinkle is almost worse than no water at all.

Not much wants to go into the veggie garden this month except for okra. This member of the mallow family loves hot weather, and does produce some pretty attractive flowers, although nothing to compete with the magnolia. And I don't even know if they are sweetly scented, but the resulting pot of gumbo smells pretty darn good.

Barbados Cherry close up