Gardening in El Lago

Trowels & Tribulations in a Suburban Garden - October 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.

Finally – Fall – the season we have been waiting for since the first day of summer! Fall is an ideal time for planting shrubbery, trees, perennials, bulbs and of course vegetable gardens without exuding too much sweat.

If you haven’t already prepared any drawings or sketches for that new landscape you’ve been wanting – get out the ruler, graph paper, landscape templates, curves, etc. This plan makes more sense than facing the area to be planted and ‘eye-balling’ the situation. Besides, it saves money. On graph paper you can calculate just how much space a plant will occupy so that you don’t inadvertently purchase too many specimens, or underestimate the number required and have to make another trip to the nursery. See – you’re saving money already.

When planning the shape of your beds, forget those straight lines. At least keep them to a minimum. Mother Nature never planted anything in a straight row.

Get yourself a gardening book. You’re in Zone 9, and a good gardening book will tell you which plants do well in what zone, and what conditions they need in order to thrive. Better than that, buy a book published for the Texas Gulf Coast.

Decide what you want the landscape to accomplish. Do you want an evergreen look, color year round, something to hide the A/C unit or the view of the neighbor’s driveway?

Once you have your plan in place, the next step is selecting plants, but there are several things to consider before you head for the nursery. You need to ascertain the selected site’s amount of sun or shade, exposure to wind, rain runoff from the roof or gutters, proximity of tree roots, etc. A camellia planted up against the west side of the house, exposed to intense heat from the sun, not to mention radiated heat from the bricks, isn’t going to make it - you get the picture. This is where that good gardening book pays for itself.

When you get to the nursery you’ll notice that each plant (hopefully) is tagged. A good grower’s tag will tell you the plant’s eventual size, its best sun or shade exposure, and quite often include a photograph of an optimum specimen. “But (you say to yourself) full sun is a no-brainer, but how do I distinguish the difference between light shade and partial shade”? Here’s a brief synopsis:

In summer when the sun is most intense between 10:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m.,

  • Light shade is 2 or 3 hours without direct sunlight on the plant, or a slight pattern of shade during all of this time frame such as shows through open trees.
  • Partial shade is 4 to 5 hours without direct sunlight on the plant, or a dappled pattern of sun and shade within this time frame (such as under a tree whose leaves allow sunlight to filter through all day in a changing pattern).
  • Full shade is all day shade, only indirect or reflected light – no direct sunlight.
  • Dense or deep shade is very little indirect or reflected light and absolutely no direct sunlight.

Take your gardening book with you when you go to the nursery. I’m sure you have noticed that some plants aren’t always a wise choice for our area. Most of us have in the past fallen in love with a plant in the nursery only to have it go belly-up in our landscape, no matter how much loving care we gave it. I once queried a nurseryman as to why they were selling fuchsias (totally unsuited for our climate) and was told “Because the customer asks for them.” So be careful what you ask for.

What? Your landscape has exactly the look you want? We should all be so lucky. Admit it though – you have been thinking about putting in a few veggies. There is no rule written in stone that says you can’t put vegetables into your sun-kissed landscape. It’s not too late this month to set out transplants of broccoli and cabbage, seeds of mustard, lettuce, English peas, pumpkin, spinach, turnips and radishes.

For too long now you have put off building the herb bed. I know - you’ve been talking about it, but talk is cheap. Get some landscape timbers, good garden soil and build a raised bed. It doesn’t have to be huge; they’ll even grow in a whiskey barrel. Now is an excellent time to plant dill, sage, lemon balm, rosemary, chives, oregano, thyme, garlic and parsley. Once you’ve tasted holiday stuffing (‘dressing’, if you’re a Yankee) seasoned with your own rosemary, sage and thyme, you’ll wonder what took you so long.

Whoops – I almost forgot to mention bulbs – Before you don your scary costume and proceed to trick or treat on Halloween, plant bulbs of anemones and ranunculus. Then in spring when the treats are only a sweet memory and the tricks are long forgotten, you can enjoy these colorful blossoms.

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.

Katy Ruellia