the show

Drought and Freeze Plants with Big Red Sun

encore date: December 3, 2011

original air date: November 5, 2011

Justin Kasulka from Big Red Sun selects plants that tolerate freeze and drought. On tour, visit a down-sized garden in Mueller. Daphne answers: should we fertilize our lawns with “Winterizer?” Her featured plant is drought tough gopher plant. Trisha illustrates common mistakes that kill trees.

Episode Segments

On Tour

Small lot garden design by Joe & Betsy

When Betsy Hilton and Joe Denton moved to their new Mueller home in east Austin, they downsized their garden. But even in a smaller space, they’ve created a National Wildlife Federation backyard habitat. They also found room for the drought-tough plants, including hardy roses, salvaged from their former garden. In back, Joe and his son removed all the grass to create terraced patios, walkways, and a formal raised bed complete with fountain.

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Question of the Week

hould we fertilize our lawns with “Winterizer?”

Thanks to Mark Banigan for this great question!

Some of the chain-store “winterizing” fertilizers have a higher amount of phosphorous and potassium. More phosphorus and potassium are not necessary for us here in Central Texas or in the South. We want to use a product that’s higher in nitrogen. That’s the first number on the fertilizer bag. N (nitrogen)-P (phosphorus)-K (potassium).

You’ll see that some bags of fertilizer have a really high ratio of nitrogen, like 32-0-10. Lawns do need more nitrogen than any other nutrient, but is 32% too high? It sounds kind of high, but no, not if it is used properly. With a fertilizer this high in nitrogen, use a lower amount on your lawn. Read the instructions carefully. Generally, a 8-2-4 or similar ratio is better for us.

When is the best time to fertilize, and how often? We want to fertilize in very late summer and early fall, once it’s no longer blazing hot, and the nights have cooled down. Fall fertilizing gives lawns nutrients to help them build strong roots and underground growth before it goes dormant in the winter, so that it has a jump start next spring.

You can fertilize again in spring, but no sooner that mid-to-late April. You want the grass to be actively growing. Feeding too soon does nothing except fertilize weeds! Should you fertilize any other time? More fertilizer means more green, but it also means more growth, more mowing, and more watering, so try to find a delicate balance. You shouldn’t need to fertilize more than twice a year.

And after this year’s drought, some lawns may be dead, or they may be just dormant, so should they be fertilized at all? Again, it’s kind of a delicate balance again with those weed seeds ready to take over where the grass has thinned or left bare patches. If you fertilize now, you’ll bring back the weed seeds, but you also will help your lawn a little bit. For this fall 2011, I’d go ahead and skip it this time and fertilize after tax day.

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Plant of the Week

Gopher Plant

Gopher Plant

Euphorbia rigida

This is a nice little dry land evergreen succulent, and looks great in a rock garden or an area with decomposed granite. The pale bluish green leaves are offset nicely by the light colors of decomposed granite (which assists in the drainage it requires). It looks nice planted along borders as a specimen plant, or even in short containers. It's about 2 feet tall, spreading to about 3 feet wide, so give it plenty of space. The leaves are narrow and pointed, and it makes a nice clump of pale yellow flowers at the end of each plant stalk, in mid-to-late spring. It is poisonous. It's evergreen and root hardy. Plant in full sun in well-drained soil.It does rot easily, so avoid clay soil. Wood mulch can also cause rot. Don't over water it. It may need water only once a month or so, which makes it a great drought accent plant.