the show

Water Conservation, Your Style

encore date: May 20, 2022

original air date: February 23, 2019

Maximize garden beauty without draining water resources with Karen Guz, Director of Conservation for the San Antonio Water System. On tour in San Antonio, Shirley and Neal Fox designed water thrifty dimensions for wildlife and outdoor living. Daphne explains what to do about exposed tree roots and when to fertilize. John shows how to divide crowded houseplants.

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Episode Segments

On Tour

Water Wise Garden Style: Shirley and Neal Fox

Watering restrictions are no big deal to Shirley and Neal Fox. When they turned a stark San Antonio yard into dimensional gardens, they went for personality, wildlife, outdoor living, and plants that thrive without irrigation.

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Water Conservation, Your Style: Karen Guz

Maximize garden beauty without draining water resources with Karen Guz, Director of Conservation for the San Antonio Water System.

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Question of the Week

What should I do about exposed tree roots? What are the best techniques for fertilizing lawn grass and plants?

Exposed tree roots

Lynn Holliday sent great pictures of an issue that concerns many gardeners. What should she do about exposed tree roots?

Unfortunately, our soil can get compacted over time, leading to a lack of oxygen and shallow root growth that can create a tripping hazard.

Absolutely, DO NOT cut the roots!

Also, some trees tend to do this more than others. Many people want to replace the grass or fill in with a ground cover or flowering plants. That really doesn’t work, and it’s not good for the tree, either. Give it breathing room and full access to deep watering or any rainfall that comes our way.

The best thing to do: Aerate the soil in the entire root zone of the tree, remove any turf left in the area, and cover the entire rootzone, including the exposed roots, with mulch but not against the trunk of the tree. Compost around the tree (avoiding the trunk) to improve soil and water retention.

Fertilizing lawn grass and plants

Honestly, most plants truly don’t need to be fertilized. Native trees and shrubs, as well as those that are non-native but well-adapted to our region, will do just fine with the nutrients that are already available to them in the soil.

But there are a few exceptions, and if you do so judiciously and in a timely fashion, fertilization can be beneficial to some plants. Most notably are turf grasses. When you mow your lawn you’re removing leaf tissue and nutrients from the plant, and replenishment of nitrogen is going to be necessary.

Note: mow high, take off only the top 1/3, and leave the clippings on the ground to naturally fertilize. This will help fend off disease, help the roots, and cut down on weeds.

Most home lawns will do fine if fertilized at least once a year. And if only applying once, do so in the fall, not the spring.

If your lawn is struggling or you’re working to get it back in shape, you could fertilizer two or three times a year, but don’t begin until the lawn is actively growing, in very late spring. Mid-April at the earliest, or even mid to late May would be fine. Any earlier and you’re just wasting your money, because the nutrients will be gone before the plant can use them. Which also means that you’re possibly contributing to run-off, and pollution of our streams, rivers, and lakes.

Nitrogen is the nutrient needed in the highest amounts for lawns, so be sure to use a product with a high first number on the label. Lawn fertilizers are designed to be slow-release products, meaning they release nutrients slowly, over several weeks. But even still, you should be careful not to apply too much.  

AVOID “weed and feed” products, as these products will damage any trees or shrubs growing in the application zone.

Roses, fruit trees, and other plants that flower intensely can benefit from regular fertilization, depending on their needs and your soil. Compost is always a good choice. Generally, a balanced, organic fertilizer will handle all your needs without buying several different products.

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