Garden

By the time April arrives, everyone has spring fever. The garden centers are filled with people purchasing plants for their landscape. And who could blame them? The weather this time of the year is usually the best it ever gets in Central Texas, inspiring the desire to get close to nature and dig in the dirt.

It is important, however, that our enthusiasm does not cause us to purchase an overwhelming selection of plants without a clear idea of where we will plant them and how to care for them. Here are some things to consider before that big trip to the garden center.

First, take a look at your landscape and see where additional plants are needed to enhance the usefulness and enjoyment of your yard. Think about how you want to use the area. Do you want an outdoor entertainment area? Do you want a peaceful retreat from the world instead?

Are you primarily interested in an area to grow vegetables and herbs for your culinary efforts and for your health? Or do you want a place that is super easy to care for and that will be whipped into shape in very little time, while you mostly enjoy the view from inside your house?

Knowing how you want to use your outdoor space will tell you more about where to focus your efforts and what to spend the money to buy.

For an outdoor entertainment area, the first consideration is the hardscape. This includes things like seating, paving, perhaps a barbecue area or a drink-serving area. Make a rough sketch and be sure that you know the square footage that will be available to you so you don’t under- or overestimate how much room each item on your list will take.

Think About Shade

In Texas, it is very important that outdoor areas have something that will provide shade. This can be trees or perhaps a screen of some sort. If you need to plant trees, smaller tree varieties will be less trouble and upkeep in the years to come, while providing the necessary shade just fine.

A tree doesn’t have to be 50 feet tall to shade a patio area. Some people consider deciduous trees to be a good choice. They provide shade in the summer months but shed their leaves in the winter when the afternoon sun will warm the area.

You can choose flowering shrubs for beauty, but be sure you will not be entertaining someone who has an allergy to bee stings. If this is the case, choose non-flowering trees and shrubs, along with plants that have beautiful foliage but no flowers.

Give yourself plenty of room to move about, especially around the barbecue and food-preparation area to avoid the risk of accidents. Another great element to an entertainment area is a fountain, which will provide the cooling effect of water and perhaps mask the sound of traffic in the area.

If you want a peaceful retreat, consider fencing off an area and provide a bench or a couple of seats for quiet contemplation. You can use actual fencing, or plant a row of shrubs to enclose the area.

You can give the space a feeling of tranquility with garden art, such as a statue or fountain, or even a small pond. Think about the mood you would like to encourage in the area and buy accessories and plants that promote that feeling.

Fragrant Plants

One way that you can add to the mood of a location is to put fragrant plants in the area. Roses or an herb garden are great in this setting.

This leads us into the culinary garden spot, resplendent with vegetables and herbs for the cook in the family. For best results, plant this garden near the house for ease of access.

There are many vegetables and herbs that will grow almost all year in Central Texas. Most herbs are able to take our winters just fine. They will grow more lush in the spring, summer and fall, but I have herbs of at least a few varieties all year long.

At the end of April, you can plant your herbs if you did not plant them in the fall (the best time to plant everything but basil). This is also the time to plant your vegetables for summer such as squash, peppers, tomatoes, green beans and okra.

You should be starting to see baby potatoes soon from your February planting, as well as broccoli sprouts.

All the areas of your yard will do better if you use compost to enrich the soil and mulch heavily around all the plants. Keep the soil moist but never soggy and don’t wet the leaves.

Keep an eye out for pests and treat promptly with an environmentally safe product. Whatever you do, educate yourself on plant varieties and gardening practices for our area, and you will be rewarded with a pleasant and productive landscape this year.

Melody Fitzgerald is a McLennan County Master Gardener who has spent more than 35 years facing the challenges of Central Texas gardening.