A Green Thumb | Getting Started & March Tips

April 1, 2011

Welcome my sweet friend, Sharon, to home | health | heart!  I love gardens.  I love flowers and trees and bushes.  Only I don’t know the first thing about any of them.  If you’ve been to my home you know this to be true.  One thing I really want to get better at is knowing what in the world to do with my yard.  Enter Sharon.  This woman knows what’s up when it comes to gardening.  You might say it’s one of her passions.  It is for this reason that I have invited Sharon to contribute to my blog on a regular basis with her words of wisdom regarding gardening.  I’m so excited about learning from her!  Her first post is mostly an introduction.  You might call it “Gardening 101.” Don’t miss the end, though.  Sharon ends with a list which instructs us on the types of things we should be doing in our yards right now.  Actually, the list is for February-March, but since this is April 1st, I figured it was okay. (oops–sorry for taking so long to post this, Sharon ;) Enjoy!

Howdy! It is my joy and pleasure to be able to start a gardening forum here on Katie’s blog. I am delighted to serve my friend and help in any endeavor for the glory of God. I was thrilled that Katie would ask me to contribute to her corner of the world with gardening tips and such. And by God’s grace, I will hopefully be able to contribute regularly on what I have learned, am learning, what resources to use, what works and doesn’t work, as well as share my passion for gardening. And hopefully along the way, we can dig up the best dirt!

Some people get excited about shopping for the best bargains–standing in ridiculously snake-shaping lines with coupons in hand, all in the attempt to save a buck. Some people’s eyes dance at the thought of spending hours clipping photos and meticulously cropping them on overly decorated pages of print and color. And some flitter at the thought of being bent over with tiny needles, pins, yarn, crochet needles in their hand, hooking and pricking their way to a finished and cherished blanket or sweater. These are not unworthy and unfulfilling hobbies. Indeed, they are! Just not for me.

I, on the other hand, answer to the call of dirt. Yes, dirt, my friends. The smell of mulch and decomposing matter sends blood rushing through my veins and my hands quickly pulling out the credit card once again. Spring and fall time in the worst for me. As my eyes and mind begin to think on the possibility of creating a landscape of God’s brushstrokes of vibrant pinks, earthy greens, poignant whites, soothing blues, and majestic yellows, I am overwhelmed that the Lord would give me an opportunity to take part in His ever-changing creation one season at a time.

If you are interested at all in learning more about the fascinating and addicting hobby of gardening, have a question or concern, or just want to know, “Where do I begin?” then you have come to the right place.

Gardening is like raising children—it takes time, trial and error, prayer, God’s grace, elbow grease, the right tools, the right resources, who you know and not just what you know, and family and friends to share your love or interests.

First, I’m going to say that gardening can be as simple or as tedious as you want it to be—for it depends on your current yard condition (soil quality and location), your goals, how much time you have to invest, your pocket-book, and which types of plants you invest in. After all, it is your yard or your garden. You make it what you want.

Do you prefer high maintenance plants and annuals –plants that have to replanted over and over again each season and watered a lot or trimmed and pruned consistently? Don’t get me wrong. Plants, flowers, and yards like that need to be cared for, but they make up for all your hard work with outstanding blooms and showiness that can tempt other neighbors with envy.  Are you more of a casual gardener that doesn’t mind putting up a with a few timely maintenance issues and takes care of a garden but can’t afford to kill time by mothering to death a beautiful azalea just to “keep up with the Jones?” Or is your idea of gardening include wildflowers and not much concern for weeds in one’s yard due to less than restrictive POAs?

To get us started for this month, here are some top things to consider about gardening in Montgomery County, Texas. I will follow with some recommended resources/blogs/websites/and catalogs to look into. Also, I will name some good nurseries to check out. And I will end with what you need to do RIGHT NOW, THIS MONTH to get you started. I hope in the future to include other specific topics/ information that is pertinent to gardening.

 

TOP 12 THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW

 

  1. COMPOST. COMPOST. COMPOST!! Did you hear me? That’s right. COMPOST. If there were anything you ever needed to know, this would be it. Use it for soil prep and for vegetables and all other plants and yard enhancement/treatment.
  2. Get some worms. Worms help break down organic matter (the compost and other stuff) in your yard. If you see worms when you dig a hole, that’s good. It shows that the soil is in fine condition. You can pick up some worms, especially in the spring, from corner gas stations around Lake Conroe.
  3. Spring time is the best time to start a garden, whether that be a vegetable garden or ornamental garden (showy flowers, trees, and bushes that are not for consuming).
  4. Buy only plants that are recommended for this area. And know the pH of your soil (this refers to the soil/acidity scale. 7.0 being neutral, lower than 7 is acidic and above 7 is alkaline. (Hint: if you have pine trees, you have acidic soil). There are countless catalogs, books, and websites you can buy and visit that show beautiful plants, but they are not necessarily for our climate or for your yard.
  5. We are in the 8b zone climate. That means we have temperatures that usually don’t fall below 20 degrees. Our problem here in Texas is not how cold we get but how HOT we get. Our growing season, Praise God, is 10+ months out of the year. Soak it up, baby! We have a good climate!
  6. All plants are different. Get to know your plant and your yard. Research and read labels before buying. For instance, if you water your yard a lot, don’t put drought-tolerate plants in your yard. They will not bloom. Or, is your yard mostly all day sun, then don’t buy plants that say partial sun (remember how brutal our summers are here —think August) or shade loving.
  7. Follow a fertilizing schedule. Most people in Texas suburbs have St. Augustine grass. It requires more water than other grasses and special fertilizing to keep weeds and bugs away, let alone green and happy.
  8. Don’t only go to big chain stores like Lowe’s, Home Depot, or Houston Garden Centers. I love them, but sometimes you can get unique plants and individual help from other nurseries. (By the way… Lowe’s costs more but their plants are better than Home Depot and offer a wider selection). Try out special gardening places around town that are mom and pop places. These people know what they are talking about! They SPECIALIZE in gardening as opposed to just somebody wearing an orange coat, who doesn’t have a clue.
  9. Perennials and Annuals are different types of plants. Perennials come back year-after-year and sometimes need thinning or cutting back. They also bloom more than once a year (namely spring and fall). Annuals are gorgeous and do all their show for about 3 months only. You get beauty and abundant flora for a short amount of time; they usually cost more and are smaller. And there are different types of annuals for every season. You can change out your colors and styles however many times you want.
  10. When planning a garden, you need to think about location (sunny, shady, hilly, flat, rocky, etc), space and scale (how big of an area and plant personalities such as height, texture, color, and form). You also need to think about your neighbors and consider them, too. They might not like your idea of planting a huge tree that might go over into their yard.
  11. HAVE FUN AND ENJOY GOD’S BEAUTY. AND DON’T BE AFRAID OF GETTING DIRTY. IT IS FUN AND BURNS A LOT OF CALORIES. PLUS, MOST PEOPLE WHO ARE GARDENERS ARE REALLY NICE PEOPLE AND WILL SHARE TIPS, SEEDS, AND HAVE PATIENCE. YOU NEED PATIENCE WHEN IT COMES TO GARDENING!
  12. Get to know your Montgomery County Extension Agency. It is right off of Airport Rd…right across the street from the Lone Star Convention Center. They have two great plant sales each year and are a big help for all your gardening needs. Your taxes pay for their free literature, too.

MY FAVORITE BOOKS/CATALOGS/PLACES TO SHOPS/WEBSITES

Books:

Catalogs:

Websites:

 

  • Randy Lemmon
  • Gardening by the Yard by Paul James. This guy is SO funny. You can look up his gardening shows on You Tube, as well.
  • Mercer Arboretum (down past Spring area near Aldine.) Beautiful gardens–they are pricy, but they love to help. The Arboretum is the perfect place for a date day, too, with your special somebody. Or, if you are really into photography, this is the place to go.
  • Montgomery County Master Gardener. This is a great place to get started and to see if becoming a Master Gardener is for you!
  • Houston Gardener. There is a host of information here about plants and nurseries. Worthy of checking out.
  • Aggie Horticulture. A great website for advice and helpful tips.  These guys know their stuff.

 

 

CHECK OUT THESE NURSERIES

WHAT TO DO RIGHT NOW

  1. Water your plants before a freeze. Or cover plants. Dry roots=dead plants when it comes to freezes. Make sure to uncover your plants in the morning or heat builds up under the sheet.
  2. Mow the lawn once so you can pick up the dead limbs and leaves so you don’t kill the grass. Don’t mulch the leaves, yet. And by mowing your yard, it looks better, and it gives an opportunity for the sun to reach your roots.
  3. Prune all roses on or after Feb 14th, except climbing and antique ones until after they bloom.
  4. You should have planted trees/bushes in Jan and Feb so they have time to set strong roots before the brutal summer approaches.
  5. **Don’t murder the poor Crape Myrtles. Just cut the old seed heads off. They prune them back a lot up North because they have such a short growing season. Remember, ours is longer. And enjoy bare barks!
  6. Prune established trees in Jan-Feb. along with fruit trees like peaches.
  7. Plant pretty cold annuals or feed your established ones like pansies and cyclamen with a slow-release food in late Jan and early Feb. But, it is time now since we are at the end of the month to just pull them out and get ready for spring annuals.
  8. Lay out a pre-emergent herbicide in early Feb on your yard to avoid grassy weeds in later spring. Right now, if you have just a few weeds here and there, they are more than likely broad-leaf weeds and just need a spot-treatment. Use GreenLight Wipe Out or Fertilome Weed Out.
  9. Fertilize your entire yard in March with a 15-5-10 (Nitrogen—for green growth, Phosphorus—flower/fruit production, Potassium—overall strong roots and health) combo. Try Nitro Phos Imperial (you can get it at Houston Garden Center). Water. Fertilize. Then water again.
  10. You can use Scott’s Weed and Feed Bonus, but be VERY careful around trees and plants and bushes. This stuff is going off the market next year because of its “atrazine” chemical in it that can get into surface water and hurt other nearby plants instead of grass. It will do the trick and kill weeds, but use only once this year in the spring. It is not recommended for those living near the gulf and who have a lot of established trees in their yard. If you follow a fertilizing schedule, which I will post later, you will have a year for your yard to get healthy and you will never need the Scott’s Bonus S Weed & Feed. A weedy yard shows you have problems. Just make sure to mow at an appropriate height and don’t water more than 1 ½ in a week (put tuna can out during watering times with sprinklers and see if tuna can fills up all the way—if it does..only water that much per week in the spring (like 15 mins per station)
  11. Begin planting pretty spring annuals if you want now. Just remember that they will not last once our summer starts coming on.
  12. Divide crowded perennials like daylilies and daisies.
  13. Plant veggies like beets, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, chard, collards, green onions, irish potatoes, lettuce, mustard greens, tomatoes, turnips.
  14. Don’t remove greenery from fading daffodils and other naturalizing bulbs. They are setting food for blooms next year.
  15. Watch Pecan trees. They are the last to bloom once there is no danger of anymore freezes. Feed them in Feb.
  16. Prune plants but not perennials that are going to bloom in the spring. Don’t prune off freeze-damaged limbs. Wait until April to make sure.
  17. Feed camellias and azaleas after they bloom! Prune azaleas after they bloom, but no more than a 1/3.
  18. Don’t plant caladiums, yet. It is still too cold. And don’t put out tender tropicals. We may still have a late freeze.
  19. Remove some flowers from newly purchased plants when you plant them for stronger roots.
  20. Use this time of year where things are bare and just starting to come back to life to do “bare bones gardening.” Look at your angles, heights of plants, and start planning and thinking about what plants to move and purchase in order to fill in gaps.


 

 

 

 

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