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 think that this is the year that I am going to change my gardening modus operandi. My past M.O. has always been to till the soil, rake it level, plant the seeds or transplants, drag out the hose, the sprinkler, and bend over to pull the predictable weeds. I have reached the stage where such activity is more of a chore than a fun hobby. It’s container gardening for me from now on. I’ve purchased a few of those styrofoam ‘whiskey’ barrels and they’ll hold enough potting soil to support a tomato plant, a cucumber, a couple of peppers, a variety of herb plants, lettuce, radish and maybe a trio of cabbage and broccoli transplants. Just remember that container gardening is a different game than what you’re accustomed to. If your usual M.O. is gardening in the back corner of the yard or behind the garage in a raised bed you’ve pretty much taken care of the drainage problem, but in a container it is imperative that there is adequate drainage holes to allow excess water to escape. But be aware that when excess water escapes – it leaches out nutrients. I like to use a time-release fertilizer when I garden in containers.

If your family is still large enough that you need to crank up the John Deere tractor (maybe that’s an exaggeration in our neighborhood, but you know what I mean) you may want to put a few things directly into the soil that won’t lend themselves to container gardening. Corn, for instance - it needs to be planted in a ‘square’ as long, straight rows are not conducive to pollination. Southern peas need a fair amount of room, as do beans – both pole and bush types, so a container is not really a good option. You could put a few bush green bean plants in a container, but it would take several pickings before you harvested enough to feed two people. This month is ideal for planting either in the ‘south forty’ or ‘whiskey’ barrel.

Our last frost date has passed, so if those plants that took a hit from Jack Frost are planted in the ground you’re probably safe in pruning them back. A good rule of thumb is not to remove more than 1/3rd - but I’ve been known to be a bit more severe, and they’ve come back bigger and better than ever. If you keep any of your tropicals in pots, get them out of the garage and gradually introduce them to more light. Do this with all of your tender plants that have been leading a sheltered but low-light life-style all winter.

The daffodils and paper whites are looking rather scraggly – pinch off the faded blooms so they won’t go to seed. Seed production saps energy from the bulb – and don’t cut off the foliage as it’s storing vigor for next season. When the tulips have faded, dig the bulbs and toss them in the trash, or leave them alone - but they won’t bloom again – at least not around here. Make note of any bulbs that are doing well for you this spring. You’ll want more of them in your garden next year, and fall will be the time to purchase and plant them again. There is an exception to every rule and in this case the exception is the caladium. They prefer to go in the ground in spring once the soil has warmed. Easter is a pretty safe bet for their planting date.

This is the month to fertilize everything. Water – feed – and water again. Your St. Augustine has probably been mowed once or twice by now, and if not, no fertilization is recommended before a first mowing. Use a high nitrogen (1st number) ‘jump-start’ fertilizer for the first feeding - a (15-5-10) is a good formulation. Feed the azaleas when they have finished their bloom ‘show-off’ period….feed again in 30 days and again in another 30 days. Plan ahead so that your third feeding is no later than the first week of June. Other shrubby spring bloomers also need a feeding after their blooms have faded. Evergreen shrubbery and trees are looking for a little snack too. Remember that their feeder roots are located at the drip line. Scattering fertilizer at the trunk of a tree or shrub is a waste of time and money.

I’ve noticed that the song birds are returning to the bird feeder since the natural fall produced seeds are becoming scarce. Raw peanuts in the shell are a favorite of the rose-bellied woodpecker and the blue jays. In my experience the jays probably plant as many as they consume – so be forewarned, the friable, well watered and fertilized soil in your container gardens this year might also host a peanut crop!

Barbados Cherry close up