Gardening in El Lago

Trowels & Tribulations in a Suburban Garden - September 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.

Years ago there was a television commercial that asked the viewer: "How do you spell R E L I E F?" The answer is - S E P T E M B E R. I know, it's still warm, but the temps are in the 2 digits, not 3. We haven't had to drag the hose and sprinkler around as much this summer as we did last year, but like all gardeners we're looking forward to cooler weather with the official arrival of autumn on September 23rd.

I don't think it would be overstating to say that many of us neglected some of the summer gardening chores. When we stayed in the A/C and escaped the heat, the weeds were having the time of their lives - you can tell from the abundance of them in the flower beds. Time to start pulling them and maybe do a little edging and mulching.

Hot summer temperatures have been petty stressful on the St. Augustine, and all those heavy spring rains are bound to have leached away nutrients. It might be a good idea to think about another feeding. You can buy something that says “Winterizer” on the label, or if you just happen to have some 15-5-10 on hand – use that. Just a light feeding - less than you would use in spring. Just don’t apply something with a really high first number which will stimulate top growth. We just want our lawns to feel snuggly and sleepy through the winter months.

Most landscapes could use an infusion of color about now – the excess heat of the summer changed vivid colors to dull brown. Start some fall color in your landscape by planting seeds of petunias, alyssum, snapdragons, pinks, stock, larkspur, Johnny-jump-up, calendula, sweet William, and African, English, and Shasta daisies.

Okay, so you don’t want to mess with seeds – check with your favorite nursery for fall blooming perennial transplants. They will take off like a shot with the cooler temperatures. But don’t get overanxious to put in those smiley faces – it’s still much too hot for pansies. Of course who can pass up those small pots of autumn colored chrysanthemums?

With all the rain we had this spring, and the summer showers, did you give any thought to building a rain garden? So what is a rain garden? A rain garden is a low or shallow depression you create in your landscape strategically placed to catch rain water that runs off of your rooftop, driveway, or lawn. Water collects in this low area and allows it to seep into the soil slowly, filtering and purifying it before it enters the underground water channels. Oils from our driveways, herbicides, fertilizers, and pest control chemicals from our lawns run directly into our sewers which drain into Galveston Bay. As much as 50% of the pollutants that enter our sewer system originate in our yards. Isn’t that a good reason for building a rain garden? A rain garden should be approximately 6 - 8 inches at its deepest point and progressively more shallow at the edges. You can make it as large or small surface-wise as you wish. But remember you are not creating a fish pond, but a depression to capture and hold water until it has a chance to soak into the soil. Your rain garden will be dry most of the time, so you will have to water it during rain-free periods if you want to keep the plants flourishing. Remember that it is a garden, not a water feature. Some of the more common and easily obtainable plants suitable for a rain garden are hardy verbena, black-eyed Susan, Texas star hibiscus, Louisiana iris, umbrella sedge, American elderberry, Mexican mint marigold, daylily, rain lily, ruellia, butterfly weed, river birch, inland sea oats, crinum, Peruvian lily, rose mallow, cast iron plant, coneflower, swamp maple, horsetail and most ferns. Of course it’s up to you to read labels to determine their proper planting location. Take into consideration their sun or shade and water requirements, remembering that the deepest part of your rain garden will stay wet longer.

If you've dug the overalls out of the closet and the spading fork out of the garage, home grown veggies are in your future. There's an abundance of vegetables to plant this month - collards, cucumbers, kohlrabi, spinach, radish, pumpkins, turnips (Ugh). About mid month you might want to put in mustard greens, lettuce and peas, both English and snap. Transplants of broccoli, cabbage and beets work best as those veggies need a longer growing period, so transplants give them a head start.

Once you've accomplished all the tasks you have assigned to yourself, pour a cool one, sit on the deck or patio and feel September in the form of a soft autumn breeze.

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.

Basket of Snow Peas