Much of Texas has enjoyed a mild spring, but we know that temperatures will rise. Rains may continue, but the summer could be dry and that means get ready for summer care of landscapes.
Water — plants require it, but how much and when is often difficult to determine. Even green thumb gardeners are not always certain, but everyone knows that water is a precious natural resource that we must use wisely.
Here are some landscape watering techniques from Doug Welsh’s Texas Gardening Almanac. Follow them throughout a dry, hot summer to keep your yard looking good.
• Don’t water by the calendar or day of the week. Let plants tell you when they need water — learn to recognize the signs. Walk across your lawn. If your footprints remain and are easily visible, the grass is telling you it needs water. Landscape plants can show some wilting in the evening — this is common — but if they are wilted in the mornings, they probably need water.
• For lawns, early morning (4 a.m. to 9 a.m.) is the ideal time to water. This is easy to do with automatic irrigation systems, but if you use hose end sprinklers for lawns, it can be harder. So, try out one of the easy to use timer devices that attach to a hose bib. Why irrigate in the morning? It reduces the chance of diseases to develop — particularly fungus, which favors lower temperature, moisture on leaves and less sunlight. Early morning irrigation allows the heat of the day and sunshine to dry up the water on leaves.
• When watering, use the cycle soak method, which is watering to the point of runoff, stopping for a while and then watering the same area again until there is runoff, and that’s it. Always apply water slowly for deep water penetration into the soil. This encourages deep rooting and increases drought tolerance in turf.
• Sidewalks and streets don’t need watering, right? Inspect automatic irrigation systems to ensure that spray heads are operating properly. Also avoid watering when conditions are windy, since most of the water is blown into the air and lost to evaporation.
• Let the soil dry out a bit between watering cycles. Some native trees, post oaks in particular, are sensitive to saturated soils and will decline or die in lawns that are continually overwatered. Even sturdy live oaks are sensitive to salts that buildup in the soil due to overwatering.
• For trees, in periods of extreme drought, apply water at the drip line — the outer tips of branches — with a soaker hose or let water run slowly from the end of a hose for a few hours. This is especially important for newly planted trees and shrubs to keep the soil moist until their roots get well established.
Attractive summer flowering perennials
Looking for low-maintenance, high-performing perennials that don’t need a lot of water?
• One of the showiest, longest-blooming ones is Lantana x hybrida “New Gold.” Producing a wealth of golden-yellow flowers, this lantana flourishes in heat. Deer don’t like it, but you will love this low-maintenance plant that blooms until frost.
• Esperanza (Tecoma stans) is a spectacular, heat-tolerant native Texas plant with striking masses of golden-yellow, trumpet-shaped flowers. Considered a tender perennial, it can reach 6 to 8 feet tall and 4 feet wide.
• “Henry Duelberg” salvia produces spikes of showy blue flowers from spring until first frost. Give this perennial plenty of room — it can grow to 3 feet tall and wide.
• Red yucca (Hesperaloe parviflora) is a drought-tolerant, native evergreen that blooms throughout the year. An excellent choice for full sun and low maintenance, it’s long spikes of coral to red blooms last for weeks.
To do in May
• Cool-season annuals, like pansies and snapdragons will begin to show heat stress this month. Remove them and replace with warm-season annuals. Soil is now warm enough to direct sow seeds of celosia, zinnia, sunflower and gomphrena. Vines to grow now from seed are morning glory, hyacinth bean and coral vine. For patios, fill containers with caladiums, ornamental sweet potato vine and angelonia.
• In the May vegetable garden, plant cucumber, eggplant, melons, okra, peas, peppers, sweet potato and squash. Harvest tomatoes, edible pod peas, radishes and the last of the cool-season greens. Monitor plants for the insects and diseases that show up in warm weather.
• Last call! Replenish mulch this month around all shrubs and perennials before the heat of summer arrives. A 2- to 3-inch layer of shredded hardwood will prevent weeds and retain soil moisture. Be sure to maintain a wide ring of mulch around the base of trees to prevent string trimmer damage and reduce competition with turfgrass.
Charla Anthony is the horticulturist for Brazos County at Texas A&M AgriLife Extension, 2619 Texas 21 W., Bryan, Texas 77803. For local gardening information, visit brazosmg.com. Gardening question? Call 823-0129 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.