Gardening in El Lago

Trowels & Tribulations in a Suburban Garden - May 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.)

The scent of magnolia floats from room to room throughout the house. Nothing represents the south as perfectly as the Southern Magnolia Grandiflora, and nothing gives your dining room table a more sophisticated appearance than a huge, fragrant white blossom floating in a glass bowl. Almost makes one want to have a dinner party just to show off an elegant centerpiece!

Speaking of sweet scents, if you have any wood violets that have finished their spring display it’s time to dig and divide them if you want to share with your neighbors. Or in the alternative just leave them be, and eventually they will spread into a carpet of heart-shaped leaves. Their tiny seeds are carried easily by the slightest breeze. If your favorite nursery has any Australian violets for sale, pick up a few and place them in a shady spot that could use a bit of ground cover. They produce white blossoms tinged with purple, but their blooms are borne on straight stems much taller than the common wood violets.

This is your last chance to prune azaleas. Drop by your local garden center and pick up a new pair of by-pass pruners. They are much more efficient and plant friendly than the anvil type in that they ‘cut’ instead of ‘crush. If you wait too long to prune, you won't be able to show off your ‘bloomers’ next spring. While you’re at it give them their last fertilization before June 1st. A soil acidifier couldn't hurt either.

I’m not much into roses – they’re a good deal of trouble to my way of thinking, so I only have one. It’s just a little red, antique variety that came with me from Missouri over four decades ago and it's been complaining about Texas summers ever since. Aphids don’t seem to bother it, but black spot shows up like clockwork every summer. The leaves look as though they have been burned and eventually fall. If you’re experiencing the same problem with your roses, be sure to pick up the infected leaves and don’t allow them to remain on the ground. Rain or your watering method will splash the fungal spores back up on to healthy leaves. Watering at night makes this fungus ecstatically happy – gives it the warm humid conditions it needs to spread. To reduce the chance of infection, water in the morning or early afternoon, and don’t crowd your roses with other plants – they like plenty of air circulation.

Mulch those flower beds now – it's one of the best remedies known for conserving moisture, controlling weeds and moderating soil temperature. If you have access to pine needles they make excellent mulch especially for those acid loving azaleas and camellias. But any type of mulch is better than no mulch at all, with the exception of dyed mulch which is made from scrap wood that may be treated with chemicals. You might want to put down 5 or 6 layers of newspaper (butted up against the stalks or trunks of your flowers and shrubs) before spreading the mulch. Newspaper will discourage weeds, and is much less expensive than a roll of synthetic weed blocking material.

We're mowing the lawn pretty regularly now, so set that mower to high. Taller blades shade the stolens (runners) and helps to slow moisture evaporation from the soil during our miserably hot summers.

You and I may not like the hot summer, but okra adores it, so plant those seeds now. Okra seeds won't even spout until the weather is sufficiently warm. Sweet potatoes would like a spot in the veggie garden also, and many gardening publications will recommend planting corn in May. My experience tells me that planting now is just an invitation to Helicoverpa zea, a night flying moth who lays her eggs on corn silks. These eggs hatch in just a few days, and the larvae burrows down into the corn kernels. But planting in February produces juicy ears before the moth discovers them.

We had a pretty severe cold snap when the lemon trees were sporting a myriad of sweet scented blossoms, and no tiny fruits have appeared on my tree and those of several others who have reported the same condition. I froze enough lemon juice this past season to keep us in lemonade for this summer, but if you have none in reserve, you may have to resort to those frozen cans from the grocery freezer section. Nothing like a kick in the pants from Mother Nature to show us who's in charge!

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