Gardening 101

Spring got a jump start with the nice rains most of the area received last weekend. There is no substitute for a good soaking rain for all of nature. If you are not collecting rain water to use on your plants you are missing an opportunity to dramatically improve their overall health. Rain water collection systems can be as simple as a large plastic trash can under a down spout or elaborate enough to provide for all your water needs. Rain water that is properly stored and filtered is not only safe to drink but many find the taste superior to public water supplies. Rain water collection conserves our natural resources and also can result in reducing overall water costs. There are many helpful publications to get you started and one I recently found was developed by the Texas Water Development Board titled ‘Texas Guide to Rainwater Harvesting’ Second Edition. It was developed in cooperation with the Center for Maximum Potential Building Systems and provides detailed information on how to design and build rain water collection and storage systems of various types. It also provides data on rain fall averages, collection rates and average gallons used for different household appliances and uses. This information is essential if you are planning a whole house system. For a copy, contact the Conservation Department, Texas Water Development Board, at P.O. Box 13213, Austin, Tex. 78711-3231. With the end of March approaching, you should have applied a pre-emergent herbicide for annual grassy weeds. This can be repeated in 90 days, if necessary. All dormant pruning should be complete. You can now begin a monthly application of a rose fertilizer. Your flowering bulbs should have an application of a high phosphorus fertilizer and allowed to die back before you cut the dead foliage. If you are planning to add new shrubs, now is an excellent time to get them in the ground. When planting shrubs, I like to make the hole at least twice as large as the ball of the plant. I replace the soil in the hole with new potting soil and add a time release fertilizer under and around the root ball. Water the plant well and frequently during the first month or so until new growth is observed. You can then water less frequently. This method works well for native and drought-tolerant plants that require little water once established. Be careful in buying discount plants. Many times the tag has been lost and all you will know is it’s general name such as ‘needlepoint holly.’ There are many varieties of holly and some are dwarf, some standard, some need male plants to have berries etc. This can result in plantings that can be too small or too large for the landscape objective you had in mind and necessitate purchasing another plant and losing a season. It has only been in the last few years where plants are labeled well and include essential information. This information generally includes sun requirements, hardiness zones, water requirements, pollination needs and size of the mature plant. Some even note if the plant is deer resistant such as our Texas Mountain Laurel. I am not against discount plants, but you need to be sure you’re really getting what you need for your landscape. Got worms’ Well, if not you may have a health problem’in your garden that is. Earth worms are a good indicator of overall soil health. If your garden and beds have earthworms, you probably are doing a good job of incorporating mulch and other organic matter into the soil. Earthworms feed on organic matter and also breathe air. If your soil is compact such as those with high clay content, earthworms will not do well. Worms are not happy in sandy soils either. For worms to thrive and aerate and fertilize your soil you must have organic matter such as compost in you soil. Normally, three or four inches incorporated into the soil is adequate but can vary based on your soil type. Worm castings are excellent fertilizer and it can be obtained at larger nurseries. This is a good choice for all fertilizer needs but especially if you are growing ‘organic.’ I recently learned there are over 2,000 types of worms in three categories. The three categories are: earth worms, night crawlers and manure worms. Now all we need to do is figure out which ones the fish like the best. If you don’t have worms in your garden you may need to buy a few to get them started. Regular old red earthworms (fishing worms) are okay, but night crawlers can’t take the heat. I use Louisiana Wigglers that I purchased and now grow in a worm bed. They are great fish bait for the grandkids and love my manure and mulch in the garden’the worms not the grandkids. As we move into April, warm weather flowers and vegetables should be planted. You should delay fertilizing your lawn until your second mowing of grass, not weeds. Use a fertilizer with a 4-1-2 ratio like a 20-5-10. It is also important to mow often. By waiting to mow after grass has grown tall not only weakens the grass but also builds up excessive thatch. A little thatch is okay on the lawn as some of the fertilizer you added is in the thatch. Too much, however, can kill the lawn and provide a hiding place for bugs and diseases. Since the thatch contains some of your expensive fertilizer, catch it with a grass catcher and start a mulch pile. You can then use the mulch for your flower beds and garden, and the worms like it as well. The Central Texas Master Gardeners will offer a gardening course in Coleman this fall. It will be hosted by the Extension Office in Coleman and The Central Texas Master Gardeners Association (CTMGA). CTMGA was formed in 2003 and consists of members from Brady, Coleman, McCulloch, Menard, Brown and Mason Counties. In 2005, master gardeners from these counties reported over 650 volunteer hours at an estimated value of over $16,000 to the communities in the area. Master gardeners are required to have continuing education each year and in 2005 reported over 250 hours. Many master gardeners are also members of local garden clubs and contribute additional volunteer hours in the many community projects the garden clubs undertake. More details on the class will be provided later. Finally, I appreciate the encouragement from many of you regarding this article. Remember to email your questions and comments to

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