Turfgrass in Drought

We face a tough dilemma during a hot, dry summer like this in Central Texas.  The plants in our lawns and gardens need water to survive and thrive, but we know that water is a limited resource.  My budget is a limited resource, too, which keeps my watering habits in check when I reach to turn on the sprinkler!  With this dilemma of plant health and water conservation in mind, there are a few things to know about turfgrass to help you manage your lawn through the drought this summer.

In Central Texas, we grow warm-season grasses in our lawns like Bermuda, St. Augustine, and Zoysia.  These grasses like full sun and can tolerate our hot summers.  Each of these grasses have some plant characteristics that help them to survive drought like developing deep root systems, a high tolerance to tissue dehydration, or reduced leaf area. (more…)

Bagworms

Every year it seems like we get to learn about a new caterpillar that emerges and makes a pest of itself.  Last spring, the oakleaf roller caterpillars hung from the oak trees by silk threads, and then in the fall the armyworms marched across the county eating our Bermuda lawns along the way.  Fortunately, the various caterpillars do not reach infestation levels every year!

I had three phone calls about bagworms on Italian cypress or juniper trees within the last week.  That is when I need to start brushing up on my entomology!  Hopefully, this is just an interesting case study and not an infestation of bagworms. (more…)

Blackberries

Some of my favorite memories as a kid revolve around the garden, especially during this time of year when the blackberries are ready.  We had a good patch of wild blackberries on the back fence of our place in Comanche County, and we spent evenings picking berries with a one-gallon ice cream bucket in hand.  About half the berries went in the bucket and the other half were eaten while we picked.

Later, my dad planted two 50-foot rows of blackberries in the garden, and we spent many hours picking, freezing, and making jam.  I also got to help dad prune back the canes, and we both looked like we lost a fight with a pack of cats.

This year, I have been fortunate enough to find some wild blackberries, or dewberries, and I have enjoyed a pie and some jelly from the harvest.  It is hard to beat a piece of blackberry pie and some BlueBell ice cream. (more…)

Be Water Wise This Spring

The recent rain was a blessing to see after a very dry winter and spring.  The average rainfall reports I have seen show about two inches of rain in much of Williamson County.  I have not been able to bring myself to water my yard so early in the season, so it looks green and happy now after the rain.

Even with the rain, the majority of Williamson County is experiencing abnormally dry conditions or moderate drought.  My social media newsfeed is full of Texas drought maps (further proof that I am a total nerd), and according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, 96% of Texas is in drought.  Lake Georgetown provides water for a lot of residents in Williamson County, and it is currently 74% full.  We all need to do our part to conserve water, especially as we head into the warm summer months.    (more…)

Spring Allergies and Pollen

Central Texas is known for its allergy season, and this spring the allergens are living up to their name.  I like to get outside to enjoy the spring weather in my garden or on the hiking trails, but I keep a package of tissues and a bottle of allergy pills handy to enjoy springtime.

It is not hard to see why our allergies feel out of control.  One finger swipe on my windshield reveals a yellow layer of pollen, and my outdoor furniture has to be wiped down every time I want to sit outside.

Spring allergies can be caused by pollen from oaks and other trees, ragweed, and grasses.  Oak trees might be one of the more noticeable types of pollen because we can all see the catkins on the trees, and they collect on our driveways and along the street curbs. (more…)

Pill Bugs

Pill bugs, doodle bugs, roly-polies.  These little critters have some cute names, and it’s so fun to watch them roll up into a little ball when you touch them.  They are a harmless bug with no bite or sting, and I always enjoy watching them crawl around.  Pill bugs have become a hot topic of discussion in our demonstration garden after they munched their way through a few rows of tender vegetable plants.

The common pill bug, Armadillium vulgare, is an isopod.  This is a type of Crustacean that has adapted to life on land.  They actually breathe through gills and like wet environments.  Pill bugs are usually about one centimeter long and gray or brownish in color.  Their thorax is made up of seven overlapping plates and they have seven pairs of legs.  Pill bugs can roll up into a tight little ball when they are disturbed, which is how they get their fun roly-poly name. (more…)

Stop the Crape Murder!

Spring is in the air!  I am so glad to see trees blooming and starting to put on leaves, and I cannot help but stop at almost every nursery I see to check out their plant selection.  Unfortunately, springtime brings out terrible violence in the hearts of some gardeners, and they take it out on poor unsuspecting crape myrtles.  I have already witnessed several crimes this year, and I wish I could hand out tickets for the gardeners and landscape crews who insist on the crime of Crape Murder.

Crape myrtles, Lagerstroemia indica, originally come from China and were introduced to Charleston in the late 1780’s by Andre Michaux, the plant explorer and botanist to King Louis XVI.  The flowering trees thrived in the warm environment of the Southern United States.  Now they are one of the most popular ornamental trees in the US, loved for their showy blooms, interesting bark, and beautiful structure. (more…)

Soil Test vs. Plant Diagnostic Test

One of the fun parts of my job is helping residents solve problems in their lawns and landscapes.  Many times, folks will call or stop by the office to pick up a soil test bag and form, and I cannot help but be curious about what they are growing or what kind of lawn and garden project they might be starting.

Sometimes, I get to visit with folks who have plants that are dying or already dead, and they want to submit a soil sample to find out what’s wrong with their plants.  A soil test is good, but it might not be the best tool for diagnosing dying plants. (more…)

Irrigation System Tune-Up Time

Spring is on the way!  I am already enjoying the warmer temperatures, and I confess to making a few impulse plant purchases.  Those new tomato plants were too tempting for this horticulturist to resist, even if I have to protect them from potential freezes this month.

While our lawns have not started to green up quite yet, this is a good time to start preparing for warmer weather.  One task to start doing now is an irrigation system check-up.  You can perform a three-part check to make sure your system is in good working order before the weather gets hot, and this leaves plenty of time to call a professional if your irrigation system needs repairs. (more…)

Oak Wilt Prevention Time

Every February, I start to get excited about spring and warmer weather just around the corner.  During this time of year, we start to think about pre-emergent weed control in lawns, pruning fruit trees, and trimming back perennial plants for new spring growth.  This February, I would like to put out a reminder about oak wilt prevention.

Oak wilt is caused by the fungus, Bretziella fagacearum, that invades the water-conducting vessels of the tree (xylem).  The tree responds to this invasion by plugging the tissues, which stops the transportation of water to the leaves.

Red oaks like Spanish oak, Shumard Oak, blackjack oak, and water oak are often the culprit for spreading the oak wilt fungus.  Fungal mats form beneath the bark of diseased red oaks in the spring, and the nitidulid beetle spreads the fungus from infected trees to fresh wounds on healthy trees.  Red oak trees will maintain their leaves, then drop all the leaves at once.  The leaves turn bronze, or a branch will turn brown or red.  Red oaks rarely survive oak wilt and typically die within four to six weeks after the first signs of infection. (more…)