Gardening in El Lago

Trowels & Tribulations in a Suburban Garden - March 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.)

To say that this winter was peculiar would be an understatement. We had some pretty serious cold snaps, but that didn't seem to affect our impatiens which as you all know are pretty tender. Of course by the time you read this that may not be the case. I'm told it was an "off year" for orchids. Apparently so - a couple of mine had the audacity to just up and die. The cymbidium which has in the past produced over 100 blossoms simultaneously just sat there and sulked. But spring has sprung and hope springs eternal in the heart of a gardener.

The 'azalea trail' exhibition at your address will soon be coming to an end, so fertilize right away after blooming. Give them a haircut at the same time - don't wait too long, as procrastination results in cutting off bloom wood for their next spring performance. As long as you're in a work mode you might as well mulch them and also the camellias while you're at it. Both have feeder roots near the surface and they need all the help they can get to retain moisture and moderate soil temperature. As you well know, a sizzling summer is right around the corner.

Perhaps you have noticed that some of your fall perennials didn't bloom up to your expectations. More than likely it could be the result of overcrowding. Now is the best time to dig 'em up, thin 'em out and transplant. Share any extra with friends and neighbors. If your daffodils have finished performing, pick the faded blooms. Going to seed saps energy from the bulb.

As we speak, our local nurseries are exhibiting a riot of color in the form of petunias, marigolds, pentas, salvia, coleus, impatiens, daisies, ixora, caladiums, hibiscus, bougainvillea, just to name a few!

St. Augustine is probably the most shade and traffic tolerant lawn grasses for our area. I'm not a fan of those high nitrogen (1st number) 'green up' fertilizers. The lawn may quickly look good, but I just don't feel that they are the balanced proportions for overall good health. A 3-1-2 formulation is preferable in my opinion. Just remember not to fertilize until you have mowed a time or two. St. Augustine is a warm weather grass and doesn't even think about growing until the weather warms sufficiently, so feeding too early only benefits the cool weather weeds. They don't need your help. At the risk of repeating myself for the gazillionth time - never, ever use a 'weed and feed' formulation on your lawn. Most contain Atrizine whose main purpose is to bring about the starvation and eventual death of those pesky weeds. Unfortunately it is non-selective, and views your trees and shrubs as just another annoying weed! You know what that means.

Around St. Patrick's Day many retailers are offering pots of white-flowering oxalis, often referred to as shamrocks. Did you know that they are perennials, and if you give them a shady spot in the garden, they will go dormant in summer and bloom again for you next winter?

I am happy to report that the frequency of traditional February "crape murder" in El Lago has significantly declined. Whether it's my annual protestations, or folks have finally realized that Mother Nature never intended for the "Lilac of the South" to be butchered each February. Cutting its branches down to the nubbins totally ruins the attractive architectural structure of this lovely tree, not to mention promotes weak spindly growth. It would be greatly appreciated if you would point this out to friends and neighbors who are still guilty of this horrific practice. The crape myrtle's open, airy canopy produces just the right amount of filtered shade to grow other southern beauties at its base - azaleas and camellias.

Studies show that gardening is a more effective stress-reducer than reading a good book. Gardening also promotes physical fitness through exercise and the production of wholesome food items. So what are you waiting for? The south forty is ready (it is ready - isn't it?) for you to plant seeds of wax, bush and pole beans, cucumber, lettuce, peppers, southern peas, radish, turnip, mustard, kohlrabi, zucchini, summer squash and beets (if you hurry). You'll need transplants of tomato, eggplant, cabbage and broccoli. There, aren't you feeling more relaxed and energetic? No need to thank me.

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.

ORCHIDS showing off again