April Organic Gardening in Texas

By Linda Crum     Montgomery County Master Gardener

April is the best month for viewing wildflowers in Texas. Call the wildflower hot line 800.452.9292, choose option four, and plan a road trip to view these spring beauties. To obtain a bluebonnet fix right away, check out this link: http://www.wildflower.org/bbcam .

Bluebonnets on a Montgomery county road

If you want wildflowers in your own landscape, plan on planting seeds in late September or early October for next spring’s flowers. All five species of bluebonnets are considered Texas’ state flower.

Pruning chores this month include azaleas, wisteria and climbing roses after the flowers fade. Roses such as Lady Banks, Veilchenblau, American Beauty and the Swamp Rose bloom only in spring. Remove any dead, old or crossing canes. Lightly prune remaining canes after blooming and refrain from additional pruning until after next year’s bloom.

If you missed fertilizing in March, feed plants with a slow-release organic fertilizer now. Azaleas respond well to organic fertilizer and a three-inch layer of mulch such as pine needles. Cottonseed meal is technically not a fertilizer, but contains six percent nitrogen, two percent phosphorus and one percent potassium. It is particularly beneficial to acid loving plants such as azaleas, camellias and blueberries.

Fertilize grass around April 15 with a slow-release fertilizer that contains no more that 15 percent nitrogen. High nitrogen fertilizers contribute to thatch and are more likely to pollute the environment. Texas A&M AgriLife Extension does not recommend the use of weed and feed combination products for two reasons. The herbicide in those products will weaken or even kill trees and shrubs. The application timing of herbicide and fertilizer differ.

Continue to spray the foliage of plants, including vegetables, weekly or bi-weekly early in the morning with dilute applications of seaweed extract, fish emulsion or compost tea. Mulch all flower beds with pine needles, shredded leaves or native mulch to deter weeds and keep the soil moist and cool.

Deadhead roses by pruning canes above outfacing leaves that have five or seven leaflets. Or cut off at the neck (just behind the blooms) the bush will re-bloom sooner and produce more roses over the season. So if you want more blooms, just cut off their little heads and throw out the conventional pruning wisdom.

Vegetables to plant: transplants of peppers and tomatoes until mid month, transplants of eggplant. Seeds to plant include butterbeans, bush green beans, corn, cucumber, cantaloupe, okra, southern peas, watermelon, and until mid-month, summer & winter squash. Watch potato and squash plants for clusters of eggs on the underside of the leaves. Remove the eggs and save yourself damage from beetles and squash bugs.

All summer-blooming flower transplants can be set out in April; however, wait until the end of the month or May to set out vinca transplants. Vinca likes a well-drained hot spot and is susceptible damping off, caused by a soil-borne fungus, when soil temperatures are cool. According to scientists, the disease is greatly decreased when seedlings are watered with a four percent solution of fish emulsion. Temperatures have moderated enough to move plants like orchids and plumerias outside.

Most summer-blooming flower seeds can be planted now. Wait until the end of April to plant zinnia seeds. Plants that are given good air circulation and full sun have fewer fungal leaf problems. Dig and divide crowded fall-blooming bulbs such as lycoris and perennials such as aster and chrysanthemum, especially if they failed to bloom well last fall.

Tender herbs, such as basil, can be planted now. If growing basil for culinary use, do not allow it to bloom. According to the late Madeline Hill, the taste of the basil changes if allowed to bloom.

When adding new turf or plants to the landscape, consider their water requirements and choose wisely. Group plants according to water requirements. Check out the Texas A&M website: http://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/extension/xeriscape/xeriscape.html

Evaluate the plants in your landscape. If you find yourself constantly battling insects or disease on any plant, get rid of that plant. Replace freeze-damaged and insect-prone plants with natives. Call the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension office at 936.539.7824 or 281.353.9791 x 7824 to receive information on native and well-adapted plants for this area. The floral and vegetable demonstration gardens at the Extension office are open Monday-Friday, 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. except for county holidays.