An unexpected visitor to the front courtyard gave this gardener a fright! He was beautiful in his own way but at seven feet long and in my courtyard all I wanted was for the Prairie King Snake to move along.

One of the first things we did after watching him slither around the courtyard looking for brunch was to take his picture and check him out in my snake book. While he is a good snake, eating bad snakes and small rodents, I definitely preferred he go elsewhere! Can you imagine meeting him while working a flower bed? Be still my heart! 

After traveling to San Antonio for Texas Garden Club’s 93rd Spring Convention for a week, imagine my surprise at the changes in the garden upon my return. Plants I considered dead are bravely putting up foliage. The Birds of Paradise are growing by tiny leaps and bounds, and the roses are covered in blooms. Old Man Winter was harsh but spring has arrived and Mother Nature gives us hope with each leaf that unfurls and bud that bursts forth in bloom. 

I have so much to do after all the destruction from Uri. It’s almost like starting a brand new garden. I just have to remember to take it easy and do one section at a time so the whole doesn’t overwhelm. After all, it took years of work to create the old garden, and now it’s time for a new look. 

As with all garden projects, start with the soil. Since the soil on this hill is calcareous, it’s important to use compost to lessen the alkalinity. It’s a good time to have your soil tested before spending money on fertilizers. For a nominal fee, the county extension office will test your soil. 

Now that spring is ramping up, it’s time to consider what your lawn needs. The stress from the winter storm needs to be alleviated with a good time-released fertilizer. Determine the area of lawn to purchase the correct amount of fertilizer. Take length and width of each grass area and multiply to determine square feet (apply no more than 1 lb. of nitrogen per 1,000 sq.ft.). Be sure to water several days before fertilizing. Only actively growing grass takes up fertilizer. Since the grass has greened-up it’s time to fertilize. Don’t over fertilize – over fertilizing can promote certain turf diseases. Spring application is critical – determines ability of grass to recover from devastation of weeds and disease over the winter. It provides nutrients necessary for strong healthy growth in summer. Check with a nursery professional for the best choice for your grass.

It’s warmed up, and now it’s time to plant the 150 Caladiums and oriental lilies residing in my greenhouse. They will be important to fill gaps in the garden this year. Thankfully the salvias (Lamiaceae) are rebounding, providing color and nectar for pollinators. I even have a few bleeding heart vines (Clerodendrum thomsoniae) shoots pushing up through the soil along with star jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides). 

When you visit a nursery or big box store to purchase plants remember to have a plan; take a list of what you need to help you avoid impulse purchases. Be prepared for sticker shock when you go to purchase new plants. They have an Uri storm surcharge! 

It might be a good time to go back to planting seed. Some flowers are best grown from seed due to their growth habit. When purchasing seed be sure to pay attention to the date. Don’t purchase packets that are wrinkled with moisture or left sitting in the sun – the seed will have lost its viability. One can never go wrong planting zinnia, globe amaranth, cleome, cosmos, celosia, sunflowers and balsam. 

Know the areas you want to plant. Consider how much sun each spot gets. Know what colors you want to work with. Most important, know how big your space is.

Begin with the best materials. Go early to your garden center to get the best selection. Don’t pick the tallest plants. If plants are too tall, they have a good chance of being root bound and destined for stunted growth.

You should pick compact plants with few blooms. Look for plants with dark green leaves. If plants have yellow leaves, pass them by. Always check the underside of the leaves for critters. Aphids, whiteflies and spider mites like to hide in the foliage.

Check the roots by gently sliding the plant out of its container. Healthy roots should be white, thin and fibrous. The root ball should not crumble when the plant is gently handled. A root ball that crumbles when gently handled indicates a small plant moved to a larger container. Don’t pay a premium for the larger pot unless the root ball is proportionate to the container. Avoid plants with brown roots or roots that wrap around themselves.

Unless you are familiar with the plant, make sure it has a label so that you know what you are getting. The label will have water and light requirements. It may also tell you about the plant’s growth habits and bloom times. 

As hard as this may be, pinch back the flowers at planting time to encourage the plant to put its energy in growing healthy roots. Work in organics at planting time as another way to encourage healthy roots. Be sure to water in the new plantings.

When purchasing bulbs, make sure they are firm. If the bulb feels spongy when you gently squeeze them, pass them by. They may be old or rotting. Avoid bulbs with nicks and cuts, which could make them susceptible to decay. Avoid bulbs with blue or gray mold at the bottom.

Some good choices for the garden include Blue Plumbago, cannas, begonias, coleus, geraniums, impatiens, marigold, petunias, portulaca, purslane, sweet alyssum and ornamental pepper. Add some lantana, pentas, coneflowers and butterfly bush to welcome butterflies to the garden.

With a little effort and planning the garden will rebound providing nectar for the butterflies and food for the birds. It will provide a little piece of heaven for a weary gardener!

Happy gardening.

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