Common Mistakes to Avoid
We all make mistakes, even us “pros,” and I constantly assure worried gardeners that this is part of the process. To prove it, here’s my most recent toe-stumper: I planted a Japanese maple last spring, in a spot where it will eventually be very happy, in bright, but filtered, light. A few months before this, I had cut down a rather large red oak, which was well on its way to succumbing to Hypoxylon canker, that had been keeping my front beds in complete shade. The live oak will eventually fill in and provide better shade, and also, for about 10 months of the year, the sun is low enough in the sky behind my house, that my front beds still never see it directly.
But for about 2 months, in the depth of summer’s most brutal time, the sun is high enough overhead that a small portion of the front bed gets blasted with a death ray.
I noticed this in time to MacGyer-up a solution to protect my Japanese maple. I placed three trellises around the small tree and created a make-shift shade-sail out of old tea towels and left-over waste yarn. When I left town on a long set of business trips in late August, things appeared fine, so I lined up a friend to stop by and water every few days and prayed for temperatures to drop below a hundred. Mother Nature was not on my side this time, and when I returned home after a few weeks, I was saddened to see that one of my Pittosporum had gotten blasted with a little extra full sun and had paid the price. There was nothing to do but prune out the damaged areas, and be patient, while the plant, hopefully, puts on enough new growth to fill in those bare spots.
Our freeze events cause a lot of worry. But our soil in Central Texas doesn’t freeze. And some plants die back on top, but the roots are still alive. A common mistake to avoid: wrapping plants like lollipops in plastic.
Fertilizer is always a big question and whether we should add potassium. In most cases, our soil has plenty of this nutrient for native and well-adapted plants, so you can usually skip it.
We also hear: Roses only need to be pruned in February, but actually, cutting back in late summer will cause repeat-bloomers to put on a second show, and climbing roses should only be pruned after flowering.
Now, when should we move plants to a new location? Winter is the least-stressful time for most plants, unless they’re tropical/subtropical, succulents, or cold-sensitive species, which should only be moved after all danger of frost has passed. Summer transplanting should be avoided for all plants. Summer is the most stressful time for plants in the best of situations, so don’t add to that stress by moving them.
I often hear that plants don’t need to be watered in winter, but if they’re newly planted/transplanted, or if we’re getting no winter rainfall, a little irrigation may be necessary.
Another common mistake is putting lots of plants together in a new landscape, or planting them too close to the house or walkway, leaving no open space around them for future growth. And many plants have tags that say “full sun!” But that doesn’t necessarily hold true for us in the south: be sure to do little extra research on your plant before giving it a full-sun permanent home.