Time to take stock of your North Texas landscape: What to do now for grass and shrubs

By now we’ve had enough great gardening weather to determine how things are looking after last summer’s heat and the ensuing winter’s cold. Those are our two stressful seasons, so this is a great time to take stock of where we are and what we need to do now.

Mid-spring lawn care

Lawns have been lethargic this spring, even more so than in recent years. Bermuda has dead spots, and St. Augustine definitely is again showing signs of take all root rot. Both could be caused by the same fungus. As the name implies, it causes decay in the root system. St. Augustine gives the more visible symptoms. Leaf blades are yellowed, and patches of the lawn look anemic. When you pull gently on the runners, you’ll notice that their roots are shortened and very dark and brittle.

I did a good bit of research online a few days ago to see what turf researchers with southern universities have reported. I found some new and interesting recommendations. They still suggest that you use high-quality, all-nitrogen fertilizer with 30% to 40% of that nitrogen in slow-release form. But they also suggest that you not use nitrate-form nitrogen. The University of Florida even suggests that you consider applying a water-soluble, high-nitrogen fertilizer with minor elements included as a foliar feeding for several weeks. They say that the foliar applications would bypass the weakened roots and have more immediate impact on the grass.

It is also recommended that you apply broadleafed weedkillers with a pump sprayer so that you can direct them specifically onto the weeds. These materials can weaken St. Augustine somewhat — not good if take all root rot is impacting it at the time.

I’m going to slip in two very strong recommendations of my own regarding lawn care at this point. First, if you have an area of your lawn where the grass has died out, look first at the possibility of excessive shade. I find that lack of sunlight is by far the most common reason that turfgrass fails. If grass isn’t getting six hours of direct sunlight daily in the growing season, no turfgrass is going to succeed. Planting more sod is just a waste of money. And investing in the mis-represented seed mixes of northern grasses that claim they will “patch” bald spots in turf is a joke.

Second, if you have St. Augustine that died in mid-summer last year, it didn’t just “burn up.” You either didn’t water it, or, far more likely, you didn’t treat for chinch bugs. They’re quite visible, but you do have to know the symptoms. I’ve covered them before and I’ll be covering them in late June, which is when they’re likely to show up. They’ll kill St. Augustine in sun, but chinch bugs are easy to control.

Mid-April is prime time for planting new grass in North Central Texas, although I might wait a couple of weeks for soils to warm if I wanted to sow seed for bermuda. But sod of all types is readily available, and this is a great time to plant.

It’s also time for the first feeding. Apply that all-nitrogen food with 30% to 40% of the nitrogen in encapsulated or coated slow-release form for sustained feeding. Repeat in mid-June. For bermuda, make a third application in mid-August and a final application in early October. With St. Augustine, avoid mid-summer feedings and jump to an early September application. All feedings should be of the very same fertilizer.

Shrubs and vines

This is a good time for touch-up pruning and shaping. My personal preference is to avoid formal shearing. Plants lose their vigor when trimmed into formal shapes over extended periods of time, plus it’s more difficult to establish a natural looking landscape.

This is an especially important time for pruning spring-flowering shrubs and vines to restore their natural growth forms. They will produce flower buds on the growth they make over the next several months, so if you have major reshaping you need to accomplish, this is the time to do it. Follow it up with a feeding of the same fertilizer you have applied to your turfgrass (no weed-and-feed, please).

If any of your shrubs of vines has suffered freeze damage this past winter or in recent past winters, take this opportunity to remove all the dead wood. I’m thinking about plants like Texas sage, Indian hawthorns, ligustrums, and a few varieties of crape myrtles. That actually could apply to live oaks as well. You can always prune out dead wood at any time.

If you have noticed a great deal of dieback of any of your crape myrtles, watch closely for sprouts coming up from the base of the plant. If they’re unusually strong, and if the top is slow to leaf out, you may need to remove the top growth clear to the ground. It may have frozen, in which case it probably won’t come back even if given time. You’ll be much farther ahead to cut the old trunks to the ground and train three or five of the new shoots to be new trunks for the future. Start out with eight or 10 of them, gradually thinning them down to the final three or five as you can determine which have the best form. It’s amazing how quickly they can redevelop.