Gardening in El Lago

Trowels & Tribulations in a Suburban Garden - September 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.

When you stepped out onto your patio or deck, coffee and toast in hand this morning, did you inhale crisp, cool fall air? If you did, you were probably in Connecticut, not on the Texas Gulf Coast. But have faith; those mornings are in our future and the cool autumn days will encourage us to dig a hole and plant!

Did you notice an increased population of butterflies this summer? I certainly did, and here is the reason: At the risk of repeating myself, plants have only one goal, and that is to reproduce. The Freezeamageddon in February scared many plants into thinking they were not going to survive, so they were triggered to grow, produce blossoms and go to seed in expectation of their longevity. Butterflies need host plants on which to lay their eggs, feed the caterpillars, and attach their chrysalis (cocoon). Some are vines, some are shrubs, and some are annual and perennial flowers. They are attracted to plants that produce clusters of small flowers, as those make a good ‘landing pad.’ Tubular flowers are also on their favorites list. Here are a few you might consider: lantana, butterfly bush, Turk’s cap, coral honeysuckle, Mexican flame vine, butterfly weed, salvia, gaillardia, and one of my favorites, Dutchman’s pipe. The latter attracts the pipevine swallowtail, and it produces some very interesting blossoms. Plant on a trellis or arbor and it will cover that structure in a relatively short time.

September days will begin to cool down and when this happens we tend to neglect watering. Those azaleas and camellias are some of those most likely to suffer from lack of water and mulch. Their roots are close to the surface so will dry quickly and suffer damage from cold when winter arrives. Our roses are looking a bit scraggly, so a slight haircut just to make them look a bit more presentable is in order. Remove any crossed branches, but wait until February for any serious pruning.

September is best time to plant bulbs. They look best interspersed among shrubs and perennials. Take a few in your hand and toss them onto the area you wish to plant. Dig a hole where each lands, give them a bit of bulb food (superphosphate), and you will be amazed at the show they will put on for you when planted with this method. Nothing looks more ridiculous than tulips or any other bulb planted in a row like toy soldiers. Remember that hyacinths, crocus, muscari (grape hyacinth) and tulips need to be refrigerated 4-6 weeks prior to planting. Many of our native wildflowers reseed themselves, but the February Freezeamageddon was not kind to several of ours. You may want to get a packet of assorted wildflower seeds and plant them now in a well-drained bed. They don’t like wet feet.

We are closing in on prime tree and shrub planting time so do a bit of research as to what will improve your landscape. Many of us lost trees in February, so do you want to plant the same variety or maybe something different for a change? Go to our city web site: From there, click on Our Community, which will take you to Gardening in El Lago. This will get you to my list of Recommended Landscape Trees. I have gone into detail regarding descriptions and sizes for each. There’s bound to be one or two that strikes your fancy. They need time to establish a healthy root system during our mild winters before our sizzling Gulf Coast summer makes demands on them to bloom and/or leaf out.

For you Old MacDonald wannabes, get busy putting in spinach, pumpkin, radish, kohlrabi, collards, cucumber, and later this month, mustard, lettuce, peas (English and snap), and transplants of broccoli, beets and cabbage. Fear not, cooler weather is on the way.

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.