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.

Are you sitting on the couch with that cup of hot chocolate thinking that because it’s February there’s not much to do in the garden? Well if that’s what you’re thinking, you’ve got it all wrong. Remember those cool weather weeds that popped up all through the St. Augustine last spring? You can put a stop to them this month by applying a pre-emergent herbicide if you’re into that sort of thing, but it’s been my experience that once warm weather arrives those cool-weather weeds will be history. If you feed your lawn on a regular basis and keep it healthy, it will choke out most weeds.

Some of us have already put in a few tomato plants, but be careful, Jack Frost could decide to hit us with an unexpected cold snap. Those of you who keep ’frost cloth’ on hand will be ready to cover those tender plants, otherwise a few old sheets or pillowcases should do the trick. If the temperature is predicted to drop close to freezing, double wrap to provide adequate insulation. Just don’t lay plastic directly on any plants - it will surely ’burn’ the leaves. If you think it’s necessary, put the plastic on top of the frost cover or sheets.

If you didn’t get around to cleaning up that perennial bed, now’s the time. Cut off all old foliage to make room for new spring growth. Don’t be too anxious to prune the hibiscus, you risk forcing new growth that could be harmed by a cold snap. If you’re a neat-freak and can’t stand the brown scraggly growth you can cut away the brown, but don’t cut down into green. Once new growth appears, then do your serious pruning. You can however prune the roses now. Thin out the canes - a majority of five is plenty. Roses like sufficient air circulation to help prevent the ever present black spot and mildew problems so prevalent on our Gulf Coast. Wouldn’t hurt to give them a feeding to promote blooms - a fertilizer with a high middle number, and of course a good layer of mulch to protect the roots from summer’s sizzle and help to conserve soil moisture. Hold off on pruning the flowering shrubs until the curtain goes down on their performance.

Local nurseries are ready for you to pick up transplants of spring and summer color. They have plenty of small potted petunias, marigolds, geraniums, snap dragons, salvia, coleus, dianthus, begonias, ixora, lantanas, impatiens, pentas, and plenty of others to choose from. Incidentally if you want to attract butterflies to your garden, be sure and pick up some of the lantana and salvia. Ferns happen to be some of my favorite plants, and three or four small pots will soon fill a hanging basket and give your landscape a tropical ambiance.

Do you like gladiolus? Start planting now and again at two week intervals up until May and early June. You’ll be cutting these gorgeous blooms for an extended period of time. Be prepared to stake them as the flower spike can be pretty heavy and have a tendency to fall over if not provided with support.

To all of you wanna-be farmers, prepare to plant broccoli (transplants should be in the nurseries by now), spinach, radishes, Irish potatoes, English and snap peas, mustard, lettuce, collards, beets and corn. Hold off on the corn until mid-month. You can keep planting onion sets through all of February.

I know you’re thinking "There she goes again" preaching about crape murder. Crape myrtles don’t have to be pruned every February. As a matter of fact they should not be pruned - ever. (Well. O.K. if they just need a bit of shaping). Whoever came up with that idea should have their saws confiscated. These lovely ’lilacs of the south’ naturally have an open airy canopy, and pruning them forces the production of weak spindly growth which totally ruins the architectural integrity of this beautiful tree. Many of you have taken this advice over the past few years and I thank you, but there’s still a few folks who haven’t gotten the message. If these perpetrators happen to be your friends, relatives or neighbors, please set them straight. I’d love to see every crape myrtle in El Lago display all of its flowering glory not marred by ugly ’nubbins’ where sturdy branches used to display their lacy, colorful blossoms.

I know you’re raring to go - put down the hot chocolate, be prepared to make your neighbors jealous of your green thumb.

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.

Governors Geranium full bloom