Gardening in El Lago

Trowels & Tribulations in a Suburban Garden - February 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.)

There's something relaxing about spending your day curled up on the couch looking through gardening catalogues and planning for spring's burst of green and the end of gray, dismal days. Our New Year Resolutions are a vague memory by now and we need a new direction in which to channel our efforts. Start by tossing out all of the catalogs which arrived in December and January from the East Coast and the upper Midwest. No matter how enticing the descriptions and photography may be in these publications – much of it won’t grow here. Stick with your local, reputable nursery for plants suitable for our locale. Many of the large big box stores in our area also have a nursery department, but be aware that their home office is in another part of the country, and they may be buying similar nursery stock for all of their stores regardless of location. So before purchasing, be sure that tree or shrub will flourish in your neighborhood. The Galveston AgriLife office gets a multitude of calls each year at this time asking "Will (fill in the blank) grow in my yard?" Drive around your neighborhood, and if you don't see any of your desired specimens growing there, they probably won't. But if they will, February is the time to get them planted and developing a strong root system before Mother Nature makes demands to produce blooms or leaves. I can't emphasize enough how important it is that your newly planted tree or shrub become established before its first summer in your landscape.

Since this is the ideal time to add trees to your landscape, I'm going to very briefly touch on that subject. As you drive around our neighborhood, pay attention to the number of trees on front lawns that have been planted under other trees! Did the person doing the planting not think that the top of the newly planted tree was eventually going to reach the lower branches of the existing tree? Ideally trees need sun to thrive, but some varieties can adapt to moderate shade, and these are classified as "understory." A few to consider would be Japanese maple, fringe tree, American holly and sweetbay magnolia. My preference though would be to plant some shade-loving flowering shrubs. Azaleas come to mind first, as they do wonderfully in the shade, particularly the shade of pine trees. They thrive in an acid soil, and those falling pine needles are an epicurean delight to an azalea. Camellias also enjoy similar conditions. Other shade-lovers to consider might be Oregon grape holly, mock orange, sweet pepper bush, Virginia sweetspire and hydrangea. A variety of gingers would love a home in the shade of your trees. But before you part with any money do some research - how tall, how wide is your chosen plant(s) eventual size? You don't want to be in the same situation as some of your neighbors who eventually will need to call a tree removal service.

Remember those plumerias that you dug up and stored in the garage over the winter? Well, it’s time to repot them and put them outside on mild days. Be careful though, they are true tropicals, and will succumb to a cold snap. Be prepared to bring them back into a sheltered area should less than acceptable temperatures be predicted.

I guess everybody knows that February 14th is the traditional day to prune roses. Prune all floribunda, grandiflora and hybrid teas on this date. Don’t get over anxious to trim up the climbers – wait until after they have finished their bloom cycle. Fertilize later this month and continue every 30 days through June. Keep the soil moist; spray for aphids, mildew and blackspot every 10 days to 2 weeks. And don’t forget a good top dressing of mulch. Roses take a lot of TLC, but that fragrant bouquet on your kitchen table makes it all worth while.

Sooner or later warm temps will awaken the St. Augustine, so be ready. Take the lawn mower now to have the blades sharpened. A sharp blade cuts, while a dull blade tears; that's not a good look for your lawn.

You've always had a hankering to live on a small farm, and your thoughts these days lean toward diggin’ some dirt – the vegetable garden variety of course. Build that raised bed that you didn’t get around to building last spring. Was one of your New Year resolutions a commitment to eat healthier? You're in luck. February is a prime month to put in a vegetable garden, and you can’t get much healthier than your own vegetables - picked at their prime and eaten before the vitamins and minerals dissipate and the sugars turn to starch. I don’t have to tell you just how much better they taste than those picked too early, trucked across country, gassed, waxed, refrigerated and generally abused. So get to the closest seed rack and pick up a package of beets, collards, kohlrabi, mustard, lettuce, radish and spinach. Mid-February has always been the best time to put in seeds of sweet corn. Plant a few of your seeds in each hill. A corn bed needs to be planted in a square configuration. Long skinny rows don’t pollinate very well. By planting early, you get the corn before the worms do. For broccoli and cabbage you'll need transplants.

So put down those catalogues, put on your overalls, pick up the spading fork - it's time to get diggin'.............................

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 below Gardening in El Lago.

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