Make wise gardening choices for South Texas summer

April 13, 2006
KAREN HERMES RENGER - Victoria County Master Gardener

There is an art to gardening - and certainly, our yards and gardens are our canvases. We redo, remove, repot, replant and rethink our garden each season. It would be nice, however, to enjoy the art of outdoor living by lounging a bit more, so this year, I am planning ahead.

Although it is still early spring, it will not be long before summer is here. Now is the time to start preparing for those hot days of summer.

As we begin our spring gardening it would be wise to plant only the most heat- and drought-tolerant plants available.

Getting started

Remember before you plant any new plants to make sure your beds are in good shape. Always mulch because it cuts down on the amount of water lost and keeps the weeds out.

In addition, be sure to check all the usual sources for heat- and drought-resistant plants.

"Native and Adapted Landscape Plants - an Earth-wise Guide for Central Texas" is a resource I use often.

Sun lovers

Some small trees that seem to do well in our area are mountain laurel, persimmon, pistachio, pomegranate and sumac. Crepe myrtle is one of my favorites, and, yes, it is a shrub. In addition, there are new varieties that are mildew resistant. All of these trees like sun to part shade and need very little water once established.

Germander, dwarf yaupon, holly, ixora, oleander, flowering sienna, and yucca are shrubs that require little water and love the sun.

Want roses?

Shrub roses such as Cecile Brunner, Old Blush, Nearly Wild, Martha Gonzales and Knock Out will require a good watering every two to three weeks if there is no rainfall. Knock Out is a real performer, and is hailed as a "breakthrough shrub rose" because of its exceptional disease resistance and hardiness. It has the Earth-kind label that is a very prestigious horticultural plant designation given by Texas Cooperative Extension. Based on extensive statewide field tests representing the largest horticultural field trial systems in the nation, only a few special roses possess the high level of landscape performance needed to qualify.

Disease-resistance, drought-tolerance and stunning floral display are all required to receive this designation. Belinda's Dream was the first rose to get this honor in 1986. According to the Aggie Web site, Mutabilis is the most popular Earth-kind rose.

Two others I want to mention are Sea Foam and Katy Road Pink. Sea Foam is a creamy white groundcover shrub rose that has double blooms with a cascading growth habit, and the Katy Road Pink is a very fragrant pink "found rose" that blooms with double flowers. Earth-kind roses may help reduce irrigation by 70 percent.

Keep it colorful

Perennials are very versatile and certainly every garden should have perennials for a source of color, especially for late summer color. Plants like black-eyed Susan, bulbine, coreopsis, esperanza, firebush, gaura, and pride of Barbados all have showy blooms. We would be remiss to forget about iris, plumbago, pink skullcap, society garlic, lantana, and Russian and tropical sage, Mexican honeysuckle, and salvia. Perennials mixed with annuals like nicotiana, impatiens, coleus, periwinkle, larkspur, and bachelor buttons and zinnias are sure to make a big show. Phlox, salvia, verbena and zinnias are annuals that will bring hummingbirds and butterflies into the garden. Remember there are lots of heat loving tropicals from zones 8 and 9 that can be used as annuals, too.

Other good choices

In addition, some reliable vines that like sun/part shade are Carolina jasmine, coral vine, cross vine, coral honeysuckle, passion vine, and trumpet vine. You may need to prune these vines to keep them under control. All of the vines mentioned, with the exception of the coral vine, are deer resistant.

Groundcovers like sedge, purple heart, trailing rosemary and varieties of sedum need very little water and are easy to care for. Grasses like liriope, Aztec and Dalea greggii are easy to use in the landscape. Dalea greggii has silvery blue-green leaves, likes dry soil and is winter hardy, and a winter bloomer.

Plant sale

Choosing plants in preparation for a potentially dry summer is wise planning. Various selections of the plants mentioned above will be available for very reasonable prices at the upcoming Master Gardener plant sale on Saturday, April 22, beginning at 8 a.m. That's the Saturday after this weekend at the 4-H Activity Center at Victoria Regional Airport. Master Gardeners supply the inventory for the sale - and those plants expected to be available include liriope, monkey and Aztec grasses, both white and pink gaura, firebush, Mexican honeysuckle, varieties of salvia and iris, and even the more exotic Bengal Tiger canna and Tropicanna, bromeliads, plumeria and orchid, loquat, golden rain and papaya trees, to name a few.