Seasonal Maintenance Guides For Austin and Travis County

Daylight Savings begins on Sunday, March 10th

Wednesday, March 20th is the first day of Spring

"Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished."
- Tao Tzu

Watch for late season freezes that can damage tender shrubs so be prepared to cover these plants for the night with mulch, cloth or fabric sheets and remove promptly after the freeze.

Water before a freeze, never during and don't walk on frozen plants.

Don't get caught up in spring fever and impulse buy. Plan ahead.

1. Soil preparation. Purchase your soil and compost from a reputable dealer and avoid "bargain" soil or you'll spend time and effort fighting weeds later.

2. Select plants suitable only for our area even if you see 'bargains' in the stores. We are in Zone 8.

3. Plant large swaths of color rather than mixed colors. In dark areas use whites, pinks and yellows so they may be seen from a distance. The whites and pastels are also visible in night landscapes.

P L A N T

Trees, shrubs and flowers.
After the danger of frost has passed, we can begin planting spring and summer bedding plants for our color beds. Prepare the soil for bedding plants by mixing a few inches of compost or a moderate amount of 3-1-2- fertilizer (about 2 cups per 100 sq. ft.)
 

Flowers that can be planted this month include:
Annuals: Phlox, Begonias, Coleus, and Impatiens in shade to partial shade.
Geraniums, Verbena, Petunias, Purslane in sunny well drained areas.

Bi-annual: Dianthus in sun or lightly shaded locations. (Biannual means it lasts two seasons.)

Perennials: Salvias and Daylilies can be grown in sunny or lightly shaded locations. Plant Lantana in late March in full sun.

Caladiums can be bought now (keep in warm and dry place) but don't plant until the end of April or May. Look for the jumbo variety to get the most bang for your buck.

See Flower Ideas

P R U N E
Prune all dead and diseased limbs.
You can tell if a plant is alive by breaking a limb or branch and see if it is green inside.
Now is the time to prune the majority of your plants. General rule states don't prune more than 1/3rd of any plant at one time.
Pinch off faded blossoms to encourage further flowering.

Flowers:
Leave the foliage on flowering bulbs until they die back on their own rather than cutting off as soon as the flowers have faded. These include Narcissus, Daffodils, Tulips and Iris. Cutting can have an adverse effect on next year's flowering since the bulbs use the food made by the leaves in the spring for future flowers.

Shrubs:
Once the danger of frost has passed, prune evergreens and summer flowering shrubs such as Abelia, Sage and Salvias.
Wait to prune spring flowering shrubs such as Azaleas, Spireas, Forsythias, Quince and Indian Hawthorn until after they complete their blooming season.

Ground Covers and Ornamental Grasses:
Early spring is the best time to divide plants like Liriope, Aspidistra and Ophiopogon (Mondo Grass.) Liriope and Ophiopogon can be cut down to a 1 inch height with a weed eater. Relocate them or share with friends. Cut back the old brown ornamental grasses (Miscanthus, Fountain Grass and Muhly Grass) just below the brown color and above the new growth now (approximately 9 inches from the ground.)

Roses:
Roses should be pruned by now. If you haven't, go ahead before it gets any later. You don't want to remove more than 1/3 of each rose. Antique roses need much less in the way of trimming and require less maintenance than the moderns. Many of these plants only need to be shaped up to follow their natural lines. Be sure to water your roses before you fertilize them even if you use a liquid fertilizer. Feed roses twice this month. Watering after fertilizing also helps to limit any potential root damage. Water them once a week if it hasn't rained with a drip irrigation system. Watch for any aphids and use insecticidal soap.

Trees:
You don't need to cut back Crape Myrtles severely but rather lightly shape them. This will allow them to develop several large graceful, arching trunks rather than masses of tiny shoots. We, unfortunately, see examples of what's called 'dehorning' of Crape Myrtles which is an incorrect method.

Trim any non-spring blooming trees such as Crape Myrtle, Wax Myrtle, and Yaupon Holly. Don't prune Pines as they tend to bleed more now.

Wait to prune spring flowering trees such as Redbuds and Mountain Laurels and Buckeyes.

Don't prune any Oaks now. Those should be pruned in mid-winter and mid-summer when the beetle that spreads the fatal oak wilt is not active. If a limb is broken, make a smooth cut and seal with tree pruning paint immediately.

If the tips of Boxwood, Pittosporum, Holly, and Ligustrum were damaged by cold weather go ahead and trim them back to healthy wood.

Don't cut off the lower limbs of young trees too soon. Newly planted trees need to establish a strong root system so wait until next winter. It's also better to leave these limbs on until you can determine the trees' mature shape. Mulch under newly planted trees and keep weeds and grass about two feet away from the trunk so the newly growing tree won't have to compete with other roots. Don't plant flower beds under newly planted trees for the same reason.

Trim Oleanders that may have suffered from frost damage. Trim back even if that means going almost all the way to the ground or cut at least 1/3 back.

Tent caterpillars may invade Live Oaks and can be treated with Bt sprays according to the label. Leave as many wasp nests as possible as they reduce the caterpillar population.

Spring is also a good time to tightly cover any Oak firewood leftover from winter with clear plastic. This will prevent the insects that transmit the lethal disease oak wilt from traveling to healthy Oaks nearby.

W A T E R
Hand water dry spots, newly planted areas and annuals.
Unless it rains, water all your trees, shrubs (including Roses), flower beds, groundcovers and vines thoroughly once a week. Do this even if temperatures are still cool because dry plants can be subject to greater cold damage than well-watered ones.
Mid-March historically brings our last freeze so until then we suggest covering delicates such as Camellias, Gardenias, Sago Palms and any plants subject to freeze damage and then remove the covering after the freeze. Water before a freeze, never during and don't walk on frozen plants.

Lawns:
Water your lawn every week to 10 days if it doesn't rain regularly. It's better to soak deeply to a depth of 4 to 5 inches once a week than to water lightly every couple of days.

M U L C H
Mulch your beds with 3 to 4 inches of either shredded cypress or hardwood mulch. Repeat every 6 months. This keeps the weeds down, provides nutrients, retains moisture and looks good. Keep mulch pulled several inches back from the base of each plant so the trunks don't stay wet and develop root crown rot.

F E R T I L I Z E / C O M P O S T
After this year's last freeze, fertilize or compost all planting areas. Composting requires less insecticides, herbicides and water. There are many types of compost available now so make sure you're applying the correct one. Don't feed Azaleas until after they bloom which should be in May. This is the first of the three major fertilizations of the year. Use a high grade, slow release and long lasting balanced urea coated mix with iron such as 10-10-5. Read directions and water thoroughly afterwards. You don't need to disturb the mulch as the granules will seep into the soil.

Plants and Shrubs:
Pansies and other winter annuals such as Dianthus and Snapdragons can be fed this month with a complete fertilizer as they have 2 or 3 more months yet to bloom. Water soluble formulas like Peters 20-20-20 can easily be applied as you water. Follow directions so plants won't be burned by too much solution. Organic water soluble fertilizers are also available.
Fertilize all established landscape woody ornamentals, water and then add mulch.
If you added any new woody plants to your landscape, keep them watered and avoid fertilizing them right away. Give the roots several months to become well established before you fertilize.

Trees:
For established trees that have good color, growth and seem healthy, feeding may be not needed. However, those in their first five years of growth, or those damaged or just not doing well, should be fertilized or compost added now.

Groundcover:
Fertilize established groundcover with a 5-10-10 solution, using one cup per square yard of planted area and water thoroughly afterward. Or add compost.

Lawns:
Wait to fertilize or compost turf until you've mowed the lawn grass twice which is usually sometime in early to mid-April.

W E E D
Weed all beds now. Pre-emergent weed killers may be applied now because summer weeds will be germinating. Read labels carefully. Composting is an alternative for most herbicides. Cool season weeds are growing now. Keep them mowed short to prevent competition from turf for light and nutrients and from them going to seed. Weed control products can damage trees and shrubs. Read and follow directions carefully. Weeds can be crowded out over time by promoting a strong dense turf.

M O W
Run through the automatic lawn sprinkler's system to make sure it's operating properly. Check for leaking water lines or sprinkler heads. Also check for any heads that may not be popping up or covering the area they were designed for. Program your system to water in the early morning hours since night watering can cause fungal diseases such as the circular brown patch which can be controlled with a fungicide. Get a spring check up from your irrigation company. Check with your Licensed Irrigator about converting to drip irrigation for planter beds to save money and reduce disease problems.

Check your lawn mower. Sharpen the blade, change spark plugs, and drain old gasoline. Make sure to disconnect the spark plug wire so the mower won't start and then tilt the mower up so the blade is easy to get to. It's better to leave your lawn slightly on the long side than to cut it too close as the crowns of the lawn could get sunburned.

Mower set at 2 to 3 inches is best for St. Augustine, while Zoysia is best when at ¾ to 1 inch tall. If you mow common Bermuda, keep it to ½ to 1 inch tall; improved Bermuda such as Tif 419 should be kept slightly shorter at ¼ to ¾ of an inch tall. Mow St. Augustine and Bermuda once a week and Buffalo and Zoysia as needed. Use mower's highest setting for Asian Jasmine. Or as a general rule of thumb, cut no more than 1/3 off the height and let the clippings fall back down on the your lawn to add nutrients to the lawn and soil while reducing the amount headed for the landfill.

One way to improve the soil beneath any dry spots in your lawn is to spread a 1 to 2 inch deep layer of compost over these spots. To level your lawn, use a thin layer of sand in the low spots.

Although 'scalping' is a widely held practice, it does more harm because it exposes tender stems to sunlight and weakens grass making it susceptible to insect and disease attack.

Alternatives:
If you don't have the time or energy to keep up large expanses of turf, you might consider installing perennial beds, groundcover or walkways on parts of your lawn.

Easter is Sunday, April 21st

Earth Day is Monday, April 22nd

"Every spring is the only spring - a perpetual astonishment."
- E. Peters

P L A N T

Trees, shrubs and flowers. Select plants suitable only for our area even if you see 'bargains' in the stores. We are in Zone 8.

Flowers

April is Wildflower Season so after their show let them go to seed before mowing which will give them a good chance to return next year.

Plant large swaths of one color rather than mixed colors. In dark areas use whites, pinks and yellows so they can be seen from a distance and at night too. In the practice of Feng Shui hot colors like red are used in southern exposures and in front yards to invite good luck while cool colors like blue are most beneficial used in northern exposures or backyards.

Watch for the beginning of the Azaleas display this month.

See Flower Ideas

Roses:
April is Rose Season. If your Roses have aphids, use an insecticidal soap. For black spot and powdery mildew we recommend potassium bicarbonate or other approved fungicides. Visit your local retailer for the best spray to control the disease and insect problems. To avoid black spots on the leaves it's best to use a drip irrigation system. Water them every 5 days if it doesn't rain and keep them evenly moist. If you fertilized last month, no need to now. Be sure to water your Roses before you fertilize even if you use a liquid fertilizer and watering after fertilizing also helps to limit any potential root damage. High grade, organic, slow release, long lasting granular fertilizers work well too along with compost tea.

M U L C H

Mulch all beds with 3 to 4 inches of either shredded cypress or hardwood mulch. This keeps the weeds down, provides nutrients, retains moisture and makes your landscape look good. Keep mulch away from the plant's base so the trunks won't develop root crown rot.

F E R T I L I Z E / C O M P O S T

If you didn't fertilize in March then go ahead now. Composting requires less insecticides, herbicides and water. There are many types of compost available now so make sure you're applying the correct one. We fertilize 3 times a year including spring, June and October. It's easier to fertilize all at once and have it done. We also recommend adding Ironite to balance our alkaline soil. If you fertilized already this year don't feed again because the plant material can develop weak root systems making it susceptible to drought, insect and disease problems.

Wait to fertilize Azaleas until after they bloomed which should be in May.
Fertilize or compost and add Ironite to all established landscape woody ornamentals, water and then add mulch.
Don't give up on the cool season flowers such as Pansies, Snapdragons, and Dianthus. They've got 1 or 2 more months yet to go. A dose of fertilizer can help such as Peters 20-20-20.

Lawns:
Fertilize after you've mowed the grass twice this year which is usually sometime in early to mid-April. Follow label directions, don't burn it by applying too much and water thoroughly after feeding.

The numbers on fertilizer products have ratings such as 4-1-2 or 3-1-2 which delineate the percentage of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. The nitrogen is used for root health while the phosphorus is for buds and stems and the potassium, which is better absorbed with nitrogen, is for foliage.

W A T E R

Hand water dry spots, annuals and newly planted areas.
Water everything at least every week to ten days now, if it doesn't rain. It's better to soak deeply to a depth of 4 to 5 inches once a week than to water lightly every couple of days.

Run through the automatic lawn sprinkler's system to make sure it's operating properly and check for leaking water lines or sprinkler heads. Also check for any heads that may not be popping up or covering the area they were designed for. Program your system to water in the early morning hours since night watering can cause fungal diseases such as the circular brown patch disease which can be controlled with a fungicide. Check with your Licensed Irrigator about converting to drip irrigation for planter beds to save money and reduce disease problems.

P R U N E

Prune all dead and diseased plants.
You can tell if a plant is alive by breaking a limb or a branch and see if it's green inside.
Don't prune any flowering plant.

Flowers:
Leave the foliage on flowering bulbs until it dies back on its own rather than cutting if off as soon as the flowers have faded. This includes Narcissus, Daffodils, Tulips and Iris. Cutting can have an adverse effect on next year's flowering since the bulbs use the food made by the leaves in the spring for future flowers.
Pinch off faded blossoms to encourage further flowering.

Roses:
Roses are blooming now and should not be cut back. Deadhead the faded ones cutting the stem back to the first or second five-leaflet leaf.

Grasses:
Liriope, Aspidistra and Ophiopogon (Mondo Grass) can be separated and relocated or shared with friends.

Shrubs:
Prune evergreens and summer flowering shrubs such as Abelia, Sage, Nandina, Hollies and Salvias. Finish pruning ASAP giving them time to bloom before the season. Don't be concerned with the loss of older leaves such as Magnolia, Photinia, Gardenia, Abelia, Ligustrum or Pittosporum. The yellowing, falling foliage is part of the natural cycle.
Wait to prune spring flowering shrubs such as Azaleas, Spireas, Forsythias, Quince and Indian Hawthorn until after they have completed their seasonal blooming.

Trees:
Don't prune Oak trees because they are pruned in mid-winter and mid-summer when the beetle that spreads the fatal Oak wilt is not active. If a limb is broken, make a smooth cut and seal with tree pruning paint immediately.
You don't need to cut back Crape Myrtles severely but rather lightly shape them. This will allow them to develop several large graceful, arching trunks rather than masses of tiny shoots. Remove the seed pods for more blooms. We, unfortunately, see examples of what's called 'dehorning' of Crape Myrtles all over town. This is not only hard on the plant but it will no longer have its natural shape again.
Trim any non-spring blooming trees such as Crape Myrtle, Wax Myrtle, and Yaupon Holly. Don't prune Pine trees as they bleed more now.

After they have bloomed, prune spring flowering trees such as Redbuds and Mountain Laurels and Buckeyes.

Trim Oleanders that may have suffered from frost damage. Trim back even if that means going almost all the way to the ground or cut at least 1/3 back.
If the tips of Boxwood, Pittosporum, Holly, and Ligustrum were damaged by cold weather trim them back to healthy wood.

New Shrubs and Trees:
The first summer is tough on new woody ornamentals because they are establishing a root system to handle the stresses of our climate. Keep weed eaters and lawn mowers away from tender stems. Keep them hand watered once a week and avoid fertilizing them right away giving their roots several months to become well established before you feed. Also, don't cut off the lower limbs of young trees too soon because it's better to leave these limbs on until you can determine the tree's mature shape.

P E S T   A N D   P E S T I C I D E S

Tent caterpillars may invade Live Oaks and can be treated with Bt sprays according to the label. Leave as many wasp nests as possible as they reduce the caterpillar population.

Use fungicides on Hawthorne and Photinia, if needed. Insecticidal soap works to discourage aphids on trees, shrubs and groundcover. Try composting to reduce fungicide use.

Now is also a good time to tightly cover in clear plastic any Oak firewood you may have leftover from winter. This could prevent possible transmission of the deadly Oak Wilt from traveling to healthy Oaks nearby.

L A W N   A N D   G R O U N D C O V E R S

As a general rule of thumb, cut no more than 1/3 off the height of your lawn and let the clippings fall back down to add nutrients to the lawn and soil.

Mow St. Augustine and Bermuda once a week. Buffalo and Zoysia may be cut every 3 weeks or as needed. Use a mulching lawnmower to let clippings fall back into the grass nourishing the soil. Groundcovers should have already been cut back for the year.

Your lawn mower may need a new blade and spark plugs. We recommend draining old gasoline too. Make sure to disconnect the spark plug wire so the mower won't start and then tilt the mower up so the blade is easy to get to. It's better to leave your lawn slightly on the long side than to cut it too close as the crowns of the lawn could get sunburned.

Mower set at 2 to 3 inches is best for St. Augustine, while Zoysia is best when at ½ to 1 inch tall. If you mow Common Bermuda, keep it to ½ to 1 inch tall; improved Bermuda such as Tif 419 should be kept slightly shorter at ¼ to ¾ of an inch tall.

Fertilize or compost after you've mowed the grass twice this year which is usually sometime in early to mid-April. Follow label directions, don't burn it by applying too much and water thoroughly after feeding.

One way to improve the soil beneath any dry spots in your lawn is to spread a 1 to 2 inch layer of compost over these spots. To level your lawn, use a thin layer of sand in the low spots.

Purchase your soil and compost from a reputable dealer and avoid "bargain" soil or you'll spend time and effort fighting weeds later.

Weeds are growing now so keep them mowed short to prevent competition prevent competition with the turf for light and nutrients. Weed control products can damage trees and shrubs so read and follow directions carefully. We suggest digging the weeds out with their roots as soon as they appear. Weeds can be crowded out over time by promoting a strong dense turf. Mowing frequently also prevents weeds from producing seeds which can take over your lawn.

Although 'scalping' is a widely held practice, it does more harm because it exposes tender stems to sunlight and weakens grass making it susceptible to insect and disease attack.

If you see brown circles on St. Augustine sod, it's a condition known as brown patch and can be controlled with a fungicide.

Alternatives:
If you don't have the time or energy to keep up large expanses of turf, you might consider installing perennial beds, groundcover or walkways on parts of your lawn.

See Flower Ideas

Mother's Day is Sunday, May 12th

Memorial Day is Monday, May 27th

"April is a promise that May is bound to keep."
- H. Borland

P L A N T

Plant trees, shrubs and flowers that will flourish in Zone 8.
Plant woody ornamentals before the heat of summer takes its toil on under established root systems.

See Flower Ideas

W A T E R

Hand water dry spots, annuals and newly planted areas.
Water twice a week in the early morning, if allowed. Check your area's watering schedule. Night watering can cause fungal problems. It's better to water deeply occasionally rather than light sprinklings often. Plants do best with a good soaking and then let the soil dry out a bit. Check with your Licensed Irrigator about converting to drip irrigation for planter beds to save money and reduce disease problems.
Watch for any standing water around your landscape because it provides a breeding ground for mosquitoes.

M U L C H

Mulching keeps moisture in, provides nutrition, keeps weeds down and makes your landscape look great. We recommend a depth of 3 to 4 inches of shredded hardwood mulch or cypress mulch. Keep mulch away from the plant's trunk to prevent root crown rot.

P R U N E

Pinch back old growth on annual and perennial plants to encourage side shoots.
You can tell if a plant is alive by breaking a limb or branch and see if it is green inside.

Flowers and Bulbs:
Cool season flowering annuals such as Pansies, Snapdragons and Dianthus can be revived for one more bloom cycle if you cut off the old blossoms and keep them well watered.

Pinch back old growth on annual and perennial plants to encourage side shoots. This will encourage branching with more flowers.

Those spring flowering bulbs that look raggedy are storing up reserves for next year. Allow the foliage to turn yellow before cutting it back. If you'd like to use their bed for new flowers this year then dig up the bulbs, dry for a week or so in the shade, cut away roots or foliage and store in a cool dry place for fall planting.

Shrubs:
Cutting back branches or shoots on Salvias and Lantanas after a bloom cycle encourages more branching and flowers. Complete pruning of spring blooming shrubs after they have finished flowering.
Don't prune summer flowering plants.

Trees:
Don't prune Oak trees until July or August when the beetle that transfers Oak Wilt disease is not active during those 100 degree temperature days. Don't prune or trim off the lower branches of newly planted trees. It's better to let young trees become established before you remove any limbs.

Roses:
Prune Roses that only bloom in the spring after they finish blooming. Remove dead or weak wood. Deadhead Roses and other plants that don't naturally cast their blooms to keep them attractive and reblooming. Water twice week, if possible. Check your area's watering schedule. Fertilize Roses every 4 to 6 weeks with small amounts of a complete fertilizer that is high in nitrogen or use compost tea. Continue spraying for insect and disease control when needed. Consider planting new varieties that are more disease resistant.

M O W

St. Augustine and Bermuda once a week. Buffalo and Zoysia may be cut every 3 weeks or as needed. Use a mulching lawnmower to let clippings fall back into the grass to nourish the soil.

F E R T I L I Z E / C O M P O S T

Your flowering plants can be fertilized with a slow release, organic product or compost to produce longer lasting blooms. Composting requires less insecticides, herbicides and water. There are many types of compost available now so make sure you're applying the correct one. Make sure to water well after feeding.
Fertilize Azaleas after they bloom now.

P E S T   A N D   P E S T I C I D E S

Mites and aphids can be discouraged with blasts of water. Direct spray upward from beneath the plant or you'll miss most of these pests. Products to control pests and diseases are numerous so choose the lowest toxicity or an organic blend for your particular pest problem.

Powdery mildew (soot like covering) can be found on Roses and Crape Myrtles due to high humidity possibly from too much shade. These are sun loving beauties. Look for less toxic products such as neem oil, sodium bicarbonate or potassium bicarbonate. These will work for black spot too.
Don't worry if you see little round balls on tree leaves and twigs because these are galls produced by insects and don't need any attention.
Use lighter weight horticultural oil on scale insects for your woody plants rather than the heavy dormant oil.

Chinch bugs may be spotted in late May and usually appear in a sunny area next to a drive, curb or other masonry structure. Over watering and over fertilizing may make your turf more susceptible to chinch bugs but there are several insecticides available. Treat just the infected areas and not your whole lawn. Composting may reduce chinch bugs.

L A W N S

Check lawn mower blade as stringy, ragged grass ends may indicate a dull blade that makes for an unattractive appearance. Check spark plugs too.

Use a mulch mower to return the clippings to the soil for more nutrition. Cut the lawn on regular basis so the clippings don't get piled up. If they do, just run the mower over them again. See April's Maintenance Instructions for mower heights.

Fertilize/Compost:
If you didn't fertilize your St. Augustine or Bermuda last month, now is the time to do so. And mid-May is the time to lightly fertilize your established Buffalo grass. The spring feeding will go a long way and is the best thing you can do for a strong and thick turf. Follow fertilizer directions because too much could burn or kill your lawn. We also use Ironite to balance our alkaline soil. Composting is another alternative.

This is the last month until October to fertilize cool season perennial grasses such as Fescue and Rye. However, they are not recommended for this area due to our hot summer months.

Water:
Watering early in the day is best because evening watering can lead to fungal disease which develops more easily on damp grass blades. Thoroughly soaking your lawn and the ground beneath it approximately twice a week is much better for your turf than lightly sprinkling it every day. Verify with your Water District for watering frequency schedule.

Weed:
Dig weeds out, roots and all, as soon as they appear. Keeping your lawn fed, watered and mowed can also help limit weeds. 'Weed and Feed' solutions are not recommended because they aren't good for the environment and they might not eradicate the type of weed you have.

Alternatives:
If you don't have the time or energy to keep up large expanses of turf, you might install perennial beds, ground cover or walkways on parts of your lawn. Consider converting planter beds to drip irrigation.

See Flower Ideas