>NATURES GARDEN – BETTER THAN OUR BEST EFFORTS

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This spring in Texas has been one of the most outstanding years ever witnessed for wildflower bloom. The size and density of the blooms were literally jaw dropping to anyone who had the privilege of seeing nature’s garden at its finest in central Texas.
What led to this dazzling display were hard freezes this winter where temperatures dipped below 20 degrees followed and accompanied by above average rainfalls which made up the drought deficits accumulated during the summer of 2009. It was the perfect combination of climatic and environmental ingredients to produce the ideal recipe for wildflowers at their finest. We especially enjoyed a tour of Washington County and Brenham area but have noted that wildflowers in metro Austin and all surrounding roads and counties have had a proliferation of wildflower bloom like never seen in the past. In addition to Bluebonnet , Indian Paintbrush, and Indian Blanket/Firewheel, complimented by Phlox, Coreopsis, India Mustard beautiful but an introduced invasive non-native), Verbena, Winecups, Primrose, and a host of other native wildflowers were at their prime. It makes you proud to be in Texas!

Although we as ornamental gardeners are concentrated on our mini-spaces and choices of native, adaptive, and seasonal plants to create a beautiful palate of garden textures, colors, and designs, we must get out of that rut and admire what nature itself provides and take home lessons from what we see. Although the variety may not be as great as in our cultivated gardens, the indiscriminate blending of color, textures, and forms created by random dispersal of seed over vast areas can be just what a gardener needs. I learned this spring that our tendency to get too formal and perfect in our gardening designs and plantings deprives us of another dimension that is awesome – mass plantings. This can be done even in limited space. Also tolerance for native wildflowers that germinate in our yards and lawns would add to the gardening experience by allowing nature to have a say in what is planted. Our yard was filled with flowering blue-eyed grass and pink primroses which I allowed to flourish and enjoy rather than mow them down or kill them with a broad leafed herbicide. Other native wildflowers that infiltrate our lawns and gardens that have merit include wild anemone, wild garlic, verbena, and wood sorrel. We certainly can tolerate their presence during spring blooming period before they go to seed for the rest of the year.

 Invasive plants in the composite family tend to be our biggest weed problem (e.g. dandelion, sow thistle). Although we don’t want a wildscape in our limited residential yard areas, we have an inner need to get away to see what nature has planted on the acreage of the countryside . Take a day off each spring to clear your mind of gardening as we know it, travel some lonely road in Texas and take in the beauty of natures garden filled with wildflowers when in season.  You might even spot a genetic variation such a yellow Indian Paintbrush, or an all white Bluebonnet – something only nature’s garden can create.

>TEN SPRING GARDENING TIPS FOR CENTRAL TEXAS GARDENERS

>Thinking spring? Here’s a few related thoughts for preparing for the spring garden.

1. Planning, planning, planning: Develop a garden plan for the coming season, both short, and longer term. Know what it is you want to do before digging – what goes where and why.

2. Select your plants for the coming season carefully. Research them on the internet or check with a non-commercial reliable sources for advice as to adaptability and growing features of plants that you are considering for your garden. Remember, there is the right plant for the every place depending on the micro-environment of the growing location. Impulse buying at a plant center can be wasteful.

3. Prune back any dead wood or expired vegetation to allow new growth the opportunity to take over in spring. It is usually best to wait until new growth actively occurs before pruning.

4. Cultivate bed areas to aerate and refresh them. Add new organic materials and compost to encourage microbiotic activity. The health of your soil will direcly affect your gardening success.

5. Don’t be too eager to begin planting tender plant materials as we are always subject to late freezes or wintry blasts. In central Texas, April 1st should be a safe date for planting anything tender.

6. If moving plants from indoors or low light areas where they were protected over winter, re-acclimate and re-climatize them to the higher light intensity levels in slow gradual phases.

7. Most nurseries carry fresh stock in spring through summer but phase out stock in fall and winter, so your healthiest plants will be those purchased as early as they become available. Many nursuries have difficulty taking good care of container stock.during off seasons so buying prior year stock can be risky.

8. When planting new shrubs or perennials, cut through tightly wound root balls and spread roots outward before covering with soil. This allows new feeder roots to spread and the plant to establish itself faster. The consequence of not doing that might be “girdling” or the plant strangling itself over time.

9. If you have yard maintence service, tell them not to pile mulch around tree trunks, not to prune back plants more than 1/3rd their size (esp. Crepe Myrtle), or use their string trimmers within striking distance of any plant trunk or base. These are common problems with such services.

10. Learn about the plants you grow. The more you learn, the more economical and enjoyable gardening will become. Consider taking the Master Gardener class in your county. You should learn about which plants do well in your specifc environment and climate zone and not try to “push the limit” of plant tolerances. A good place for further helpful information is “Central Texas Gardening”, at http://www.centraltexasgardening.info/