Gardening is 90 percent trial and error, 10 percent luck. Everyone makes mistakes. Once a mistake is made, the best thing you can do is learn from your efforts.
Some folks argue that failures make gardening fun. While this may be true for some, others are likely to be discouraged. Truly, Texas soils and climate fluctuations present gardeners with abundant challenges. That’s why horticulturists work so hard to motivate, demonstrate and educate! Consider the following sage advice:
THE BIG PICTURE
When planning a garden or landscape, think about long-term results rather than short-term benefits. Do not opt for easy solutions if they will not endure over the long haul. For example, fast-growing shade trees are generally not the healthiest choice. Slow-growing trees may actually provide longer-lasting shade and cost less over time because they are less prone to pests and disease.
Also, homeowners frequently err by buying too many plants for a given space. They opt to “fill” the landscape beds for a quick, lush appearance. The problem is that in only a few years, perennials, shrubs, vines and trees that are planted too densely will overcrowd the spaces where they are growing. They will, at least, need constant trimming. More than likely, many of the plants will die due to too much competition for water, food and sunlight.
The solution is to thin the plant population, otherwise commit to extensive maintenance for years to come. Avoid this situation by considering the mature size and shapes of plants before buying and planting.
PAY ATTENTION TO SEASONS
In gardening, timing is everything. For example, some veggies are warm season growers and others are cool season crops. You will need to do a little homework to determine when to plant beans, tomatoes, broccoli or lettuce for a good harvest. You should also learn which varieties perform best in North Central Texas. The AgriLife Extension office provides handouts to assist gardeners.
Just as with vegetables, seasons determine the best planting time for trees, shrubs, seeds, bulbs, annuals, etc. Most trees and shrubs are best planted in the fall so that they can develop their roots before summer’s heat and drought. Bulbs, such as daffodils, are best planted in fall, as are wildflower seeds. Annuals are either cool season performers or warm season growers, so plant them accordingly. The key is to “know” plant requirements before you attempt to grow.
Other gardening practices determined by the seasons include transplanting, watering, pruning, fertilizing, dividing and clearing beds of spent foliage.
PREPARE THE SOIL
Most Texas soils present myriad challenges. They may be rocky or sandy, full of clay, compacted or boggy. To garden successfully, amend the soils with organic matter to improve the nutrient and microorganism content. Aerate or till to reduce compaction. Eliminate weeds that compete for water and nutrients.
Build raised beds to increase drainage. Before buying plants, know the soil’s pH. Plants either fail or thrive depending upon the soil’s alkalinity or acidity. The pH can be modified somewhat, but it is best to select plants that prefer the existing soil type.
A layer of organic mulch atop the soil will minimize weeds, hold moisture, insulate plant roots and decompose to help make more nutrients for plants. Decomposing mulch also improves soil structure. Organic mulches include shredded bark and leaves, pine needles or compost. A 2-4 inch layer is sufficient. Do not place mulch atop plant crowns or pile it against tree/shrub trunks.
USE NATIVE PLANTS
Select plants that thrive in the conditions that your site affords. The USDA has divided the country into “hardiness zones” according to climate, rainfall, soil types and prevailing temperatures. Texas is further divided into vegetative zones, such as Gulf Coast or Hill Country. Certain plants are considered native, well adapted or “hardy” to the conditions in these specific zones and are therefore recommended for area landscapes. In Hood County, select plants that are hardy to USDA Zones 7 and 8. Consult a few of the many publications or websites that provide informative plant data before making purchases.
Once you have selected plants that are supposed to perform well in the area, be sure to plant them in a location where they will thrive. For instance, plant shade lovers beneath trees, sun lovers in exposed areas, bog plants in wet sites, etc. Avoid sites beneath utility lines. Allow larger plants to serve as “windbreaks” for shorter varieties. Position vegetables where they will receive plenty of sunshine for most of the day. Be aware that pavement and other hard surfaces raise the temperature in surrounding areas.
Do not water, fertilize or apply chemicals without knowing plant needs. More plants die from overwatering than from other causes. Other plants die from improper use of products such as weedkillers. Use products according to label directions. And adjust irrigation systems in line with climatic conditions.
For answers to your horticulture questions, please call the Texas AgriLife Extension, Hood County at 817-579-3280 and ask to speak to a Master Gardener or visit the website at hoodcountymastergardeners.org.