Daily Progress, Jacksonville, TX

March 20, 2013

Lovely Lawns: Spring yard care includes working on grass, flowers, shrubs

Jacksonville Daily Progress

JACKSONVILLE — On Feb. 2, a furry little groundhog came out of his burrow on Gobbler's Knob in Punxatawny, PA – in front of thousands of followers from all over the world – to predict the weather for the rest of winter.

According to legend, if Phil sees his shadow, there will be six more weeks of winter weather. If he does not see his shadow, there will be an early spring.

Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow and the spring season in East Texas promises to bring significant rainfall and colder weather, according to at least one forecaster.

Chad Evans with WLFI Weather blog predicts that flooding will be possible in southern California to Texas with snows in northern and central Texas to Oklahoma. 

“I think there may be one event where a cold upper low brings wet snow to Dallas, Austin with perhaps flakes to San Antonio & Little Rock. The southern U.S. just looks wet with frequent rain & storms with a lot of chilly, gray days,” Evans reports.

In light of such predictions, how does one prepare lawn and garden for spring and summer beauty?

Loving Your Lawn

Mark Scallon, owner and manager of Pineywoods Lawn Care said the ideal proper care for beautiful lawns starts in the fall, with a pre-emergent weed control.

For those who neglected this important application, don’t give up hope: with careful tending, lawns can still thrive.

“Leaves should be raked to help prevent fungus, because they serve as a moisture base for fungi to get started,” Scallon said.

“One of the biggest problems we have in Cherokee County is the Rhizoctonia species, commonly known as brown patch, a fungus noted usually by thinned patches of light brown grass that are roughly circular in shape.”

To treat brown patch, Scallon said, a fungicide must be applied that is specifically labeled for that disease. Good examples are Daconil and Terra-chlor. Both can be purchased at local nurseries.

“A homeowner tending his or her own yard would fertilize starting early to mid-March, with succeeding applications made every two months during the growing season,” Scallon said. “A lawncare expert could start the applications earlier using approved nutrients with proper weed control.”

He recommends homeowners have a soil sample taken every 3-4 years to determine the soil’s proper pH and consequent lime requirements.

“Sometimes lime is applied when it can be detrimental, particularly with Centipede lawns,” Scallon said, “so a soil test will tell whether or not to apply lime.”

To take a soil sample, obtain a bag from the Cherokee County Extension office. The bag will have directions for taking the sample, which can be sent to either the soils lab at Stephen F. Austin State University or Texas A&M.

“They will evaluate the sample and recommendations for proper fertilizer and lime, if needed,” Scallon said.

Scallon, an agronomist with a degree from SFA, said homeowners can take the sample themselves, or contact a lawn care professional, who can interpret the analysis and make the proper application.

If a frost is predicted, Scallon said the best thing to do is to water the lawn. If you can do it ahead of time, do it as soon as possible after the frost. This will help the plant recover, as the freezing effect dries out plant tissue.

A different subject concerns having mowing equipment inspected and properly maintained, according to Scallon. “A sharp blade is imperative,” he said.

“After the danger of heavy frost, lawns should be scalped to remove dead tissue. This will help the lawn green up more quickly and also help to remove thatch (dead grass from the previous year).

“Care should be taken not to scalp too early; the last average frost date for this area is March 15. Any time after that date should be okay,” he said.

Also, Scallon said, homeowners with sprinkler systems should have their system checked for broken lines, heads, etc. Repairs should be made through a reputable irrigator.”

Fantastic Flowers, Pretty Plants

Kathy Moak is a master gardener who works with Cherokee County’s Master Gardener Association. The organization is the local chapter of the Texas Master Gardener program under the supervision of the Texas AgriLife Extension Service, part of the Texas A&M University System. By combining statewide guidelines with local direction and administration, the program offers the flexibility necessary to keep it a vital and responsive organization that serves all of Texas.

“Initially, we are trained by the county extension agent, but we are required to acquire additional training annually. We are a group of trained volunteers who serve the community through the extension service. Currently, there are 27 master gardeners in Cherokee County,” Moak said.

As an expert, Moak said the county has an abundance of plants which can thrive in spring and early summer, and now is a good time to begin proper care.

“There is a wonderful list of suggested plants for East Texas on the TAMU web site,” Moak said, listing a few plants local master gardeners recommend.

“When selecting plants,” Moak said, “it is important to remember East Texas ranges from Zone 7b to Zone 9a on the USDA Hardiness Zone.  For instance, Cherokee County is in Zone 8a, meaning average low temperatures range from 15 to 10 degrees."

 Other considerations during plant selection include sun requirements, watering needs, and fertilization requirements.  All of this information is available at the time of purchase at the nursery or online.  Caution:  “full sun” suggestions for nursery-bought plants sometimes means “partial shade” or “morning sun only” during Texas summers.

Moak’s suggestions include a variety of plants to attract butterflies and hummingbirds such as Summer Phlox with pink, white and purple flowers; Salvia greggii which features white, red, shades of red, pink purple; Salvia Indigo Spires that have blue flowers; Russian Sage with blue flowers attracts butterflies; and Turks Cap, with red or pink flowers, also a Texas native which tolerates sun to shade.

Other plants appropriate for growing in this area are roses with the Earthkind designation, with different plant sizes and flower color available; esperanza, with yellow flowers; Althea or Rose of Sharon, with white to shades of pink; Hardy Hibiscus, with white, red, pink flowers.

“Also,” Moak said, “duranta, azaleas and hydrangeas, coneflowers, daylilies, hardy hibiscus, and coneflowers, daylilies, hardy hibiscus, and brugmansia (if there is enough room) are all suggestions for area planting.

“The winter is a good time to prepare and improve the soil.  Remove grass/weeds, and plow, spade, or till the area.   Probably the best thing that any gardener can do is add decomposed organic materials to the flower beds in the form of compost.  If compost is not available, add ground leaves or pine straw to the soil.  The leaves and pine straw will eventually breakdown and add nutrition to the soil.

“During normal years, snapdragons and pansies can be planted in the autumn or very early spring and will bloom until hot weather returns.”

Shrub  Savvy

Shrubs recommended by the master gardener include Nandina, Loropedulm, Indian Hawthorn, Azaleas, Camellias, Elyangnus, Desert Willow, Various Hollies, and Forsythia. Crape Myrtle grows in a variety of colors and sizes, and is very popular and colorful in the area.

Serious Shade

 For those desiring to provide yards with some shade, the following trees are all conducive to area plantings: Red Maple, Shumard oak, Cherry-bard oak, Japanese Black Pine, Bald cypress, Weeping willow, Dogwood and Black Walnut.

Some yards have spots where grass and bedding plants refuse to grow. In those cases, ground covers are often planted.

“The reasons for planting ground covers are numerous.  They are used to cover large areas to add interest and texture to the landscape, to cover problem spots where not much else will grow, and to hold soil on slopes to prevent erosion.  Most commonly in East Texas, ground covers are used to cover shady areas where grass will not grow.  Many ground covers are low maintenance which has its own benefits.  None require mowing.  When choosing a ground cover, care should be taken to determine the shade/sun needs of the plant and watering needs.  Many are drought-tolerant,” Moak said.

 Some plants she recommends that do well in East Texas and tolerate shade are Ajuga, English Ivy, Ferns, Liriope/ Mondograss (commonly known as “Monkey Grass,”) fig ivy, pigmy bamboo, Vinca Major, Boston Ivy.and Pachysandra.  Plants that thrive in the sun and will tolerate some shade are Asiatic Jasmine, Juniper, Japanese Sweet Flag, Sedum and Golden Oregano.

Perfect Planting

For all plantings, Moak advised considering the plant’s needs.

 “If the plant needs sun, don’t plant in full shade or vice versa.  Also consider the growth habit of the plants.  Don’t place tall plants in front of short ones as the tall plant will hide the shorter plants and could shade the plant out,” she said.  

“The water needs of the plants should also be considered.  Placing a low need water plant next to a high need water plant will lead to plant failure.  Group like water need plants together and provide the appropriate water for the plant needs. Care should be taken to read the recommended planting guide (depth, spacing, sun requirements) at the time of purchase, or through internet/book research before planting.”

Rodney Williams of Williams Plant Farm in New Summerfield said the difference between annuals and perennials has to do with the plants’ tolerance for freezing temperatures.

“Perennials go dormant, but can handle the cold weather,” he said. explaining that annuals exposed to freezing temperatures and biting winds won’t survive, and that’s why they are raised in greenhouses with constant temperatures.

Williams agreed with Moak that plant needs should be considered before planting.

“Make sure the soil is okay for annuals, de-weed, plant and water,” he said, “using a slow-release fertilizer.

“In hot weather, water every day and fertilize about every three waterings.”