"Gardening Tips for the Texas Coastal Bend in March" | By Kitty Angell

"As much as I like to walk outside and smell the salt air in the morning, I particularly enjoy walking out and smelling the first harbingers of spring. Carolina jessamine, freshly tilled soil, wildflowers all amass to let me know that we are now in my favorite season!

It’s almost “un-Texan” to not want to drive through the parts of our state that produce the best show of wildflowers; bluebonnets especially. Even though most agree the best time to see them is in April, the color show actually begins in mid-March. The Texas Department of Transportation (TXDOT) resumes its Wildflower Hotline in March. To tell you the area with the best color at any given time, go to www.dot.state.tx.us or call (800)462-9292.

Before you go tripping off to look at wildflowers look at what you’ve got going on at home. My grass looks terrible. It is in serious need of some TLC. Sometimes it’s not the lawn itself that needs care. Leaves need to be removed and trees trimmed so that sunlight can reach the grass. For the first mowing, set the mower at its highest level, sharpen the blade and take off no more than one-third of the blade length at a time. Do not scalp the grass!

Normally, the week after Easter is the time for turf fertilizing. However, Easter comes early this year (March 31), so wait until at least mid-April and don’t fertilize until you’ve mowed it a couple of times. St. Augustine and Bermuda grass need to be growing vigorously before they are fertilized. Over-watering and over-fertilizing turf grass does more harm than good. Although you won’t get a quick fix with greening, organic fertilizer adds organic matter to the soil, increases microbial activity and is less likely to contaminate streams, ponds and ground water because it resists leaching.

Now is the time to cut back perennials and shrubs that bloom on new wood. Continue to pinch tips of perennials to make them bushy. Prune shrubs by removing old wood and selectively shaping the plant. For evergreen and summer-flowering shrubs, pruning should be completed in early March. Prune spring blooming trees and shrubs as soon as they finish flowering. Roses should be fertilized every four to six weeks from now until September.

Look at your plants that are disease-prone, and consider replacing them with native and well-adapted selections, especially EarthKind ™ and SuperStar ™ species. The AgriLife Extension Center in Rockport offers a free booklet called “IN OUR COASTAL GARDENS” about native and adapted plants for the Coastal Bend. It’s a great little booklet and will educate you on what works and what doesn’t (especially including salt-tolerant plants) in our area. 

"The bluebonnet is to Texas what the shamrock is to Ireland, the cherry
blossom to Japan, the lily to France, the rose to England,
and the tulip to Holland." - Jack Maguire

Set out tomato plants as soon as possible. Celebrity, Heatwave, and Sungold are good tomato varieties. Also, set out pepper and eggplant transplants. Vegetable seeds to plant include bush and pole beans, arugula, butterbeans, corn, cucumber, lettuce, radish, squash, turnip and mustard greens. 

When it comes to annuals, you can’t beat Wax Begonia, Black-eyed Susan, Drummond’s Phlox and Pentas. The best perennial to plant is probably Katie Dwarf Ruellia (Dwarf Mexican Petunia.) Butterfly Weed and Lanceleaf Coreopsis are also good perennials. Coral creeper is a wonderful groundcover, especially in the sandy soil of the beach. Hands down, the best shrub to plant is Gold Star Esperanza, a Texas SuperStar ™. It loves heat and sun and displays fragrant yellow bell-shaped blossoms from spring until winter. For those who love ornamental grasses, Inland Sea Oats is a hardy plant for the coast. Tropicals always depend on the severity of our winters or whether they can be moved indoors. Plumerias are great because you can pull them up and move inside. Gingers and Bird of Paradise are also showy tropicals. 

Herbs to set out include: Oregano, parsley, rosemary, chives, sage, thyme, lemon grass, and lemon verbena."
By Kitty Angell, Aransas/San Patricio Master Gardener

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