Gardening in El Lago

Trowels & Tribulations in a Suburban Garden - April 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.

According to my calendar, spring officially arrived on the 20th of March. The patch of blooming wild violets brave enough to poke through my lawn’s layer of thatch, made that day official. We are all still reeling over the disaster brought on by the deep freeze, so any sign of spring is welcome.

There’s always plenty to do in the landscape this time of year, but many of us are overwhelmed by the enormity of what needs to be done this year.

Many have lost citrus trees, tropical shrubbery and if your greenhouse heat is powered by electricity as is mine, good luck with those heat loving orchids!

Going to your favorite nursery is similar to going to the mall a few days before Christmas and fighting the crowd of last minute shoppers. But seeing those shoppers can’t help but give me hope that we dyed-in-the-wool gardeners will prevail.

If you are replacing any trees perhaps we should quickly go over the basics of planting a tree in our locale.

  1. Prepare the planting area at least three times the diameter of the root ball and not quite as deep as the root ball is tall.
  2. Remove any burlap surrounding the root ball, or if potted, carefully cut away the plastic pot. Do not yank the tree from the pot by pulling on the trunk, this results in broken roots,
  3. Set the tree in the prepared hole with the upper surface of the root ball slightly above the surrounding soil. This is extremely important.
  4. Backfill with the soil taken from the hole, use water to settle the soil around the root ball, and apply a two or three inch layer of mulch over the settled soil, but not touching the trunk.
  5. If you create a berm or ‘doughnut’ around the planting area, water will soak in and not run off. Keep well-watered for at least four weeks. Your constant attention is critical at this time as we are entering our usual sizzling hot summer months.

Prune any flowering tree or shrub that has finished blooming. But don’t wait too long to do so, as you will be cutting bloom wood for the next cycle.

Easter is a good time to plant caladiums. They don’t enjoy cool soil and will just sit and rot instead of putting forth their colorful leaves. Did you know that removing the smaller ‘eyes’ on the bulbs will force the larger eyes to produce even larger leaves? Pretend you’re removing the eyes of those potatoes for tonight’s dinner. Remember whites and greens do best in shade; reds need partial sun, but not too much.

You’ve probably mowed the St. Augustine at least twice, so now is the ideal time to fertilize with my go-to fertilizer numbers….15-5-10. I consider those numbers to be my basic ‘good for almost everything’ fertilizer. If you’re looking for blossoms a high middle number is a better choice.

April is still vegetable planting time. Put in some seeds of bush, snap, pole, lima beans, cucumber, kohlrabi, peas, summer squash. Transplants of peppers and eggplant can go in now. My personal opinion is that it’s too late for tomatoes, but if you must, buy the largest transplant you can find. Once the nighttime temps warm up, tomatoes no longer set fruit. That’s why we need a head start.

By now we all realize that this is not our usual spring, but we will prevail in spite of Mother Nature and her attempt to make our gardening lives a bit more difficult. But - “Hey Mom, we’re up to the challenge.”

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.