Gardening in El Lago

Trowels & Tribulations in a Suburban Garden - June 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.)

Fresh from the Midwest some four decades ago, I remarked to a native Texan that I was going to miss the four seasons. He replied "We have four seasons, Summer, Summer, Summer and Christmas." At the time I was confused, but soon I came to understand completely. Summer seems to last way too long in these parts, and the problems that go along with summer seem to be endless.

The first concern of most homeowners with an interest in gardening and curb appeal is the care of our landscape trees during our scorching and predictably dry summer months. Considering the value a good tree-enhanced landscape can bring to your home's worth, it is important that we take time to learn a few facts.

Most trees hardly ever create a taproot, but do grow a spread-out sizeable network of feeder roots. They originate a few feet away from the base of the tree, take up water and nutrients, and extend outward in every direction. These roots are usually found in the top 12 to 24 inches of soil, but they can spread horizontally well past the drip line (the tip of the outermost branches) of the tree. Each leaf has its own personal hair-like root beneath the soil surface, and if that root dries out, its personal leaf dies. There's a variety of ways to prevent this from happening. There's the old tried and true lawn sprinkler running for hours and hours, the soaker hose, or bucket irrigation. But in my opinion the best watering method is a basic garden hose turned on to a little more than a trickle and placed at the drip line of your tree. Let it run for at least an hour, and then move it a few feet around. Continue until the area under the canopy of the tree has been soaked to a depth reaching the feeder roots. This can take up to a whole day for a large tree. Deep watering should be done once a week during our hot summer months. I guess it goes without saying that summer is not the time to be planting new landscape trees, or shrubs.

Mulch is the best friend your veggie or flower garden can have. It blocks weeds, moderates soil temperatures both hot and cold, but best of all it conserves moisture. An added advantage is that as it decays it adds organic matter to the soil. Not all of our landscape plants are deep rooted - our much loved azaleas for example have roots very close to the soil surface. They dry out quickly during sizzling summer temps. Regular watering keeps the mulch damp and roots alive. All of our shrubbery should be mulched to a depth not less than 2 inches.

Those cute little bedding plants you put in this spring are struggling to stay alive during this stressful time. I know, they're looking leggy and a bit droopy, but don't fertilize them now, they can't possibly put on new growth under such stressful conditions. They don't need the added burden of being forced to produce flowers or new leafy growth. I tend to prune them back a bit, mulch and water regularly. You'll see them practically pop with new growth once a few cooler days arrive. And don't replace them just because the nursery has them on sale. They are so traumatized at this point even Mother Nature may not be able to perform a resurrection.

Raise the lawn mower blades to their highest level on your mower, or at least educate your mowing service. The intense sun and blistering heat not only scorches the stolons (runners) but accelerates evaporation. If the blades of grass are allowed to grow taller you can at least provide some much needed shade to the soil, stolons and roots.

You may still be harvesting some veggies from the south forty, and during these hotter than hot days they wilt to reduce the amount of leaf surface exposed to the hot air. They may look good in the morning but wilt by mid afternoon. If they haven't perked up and are still wilted in the evening - you've got a problem - get out the hose. But have faith - sure as the sun rises in the east - summer will be over and we're headed for Christmas.

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.

Lemon blossoms