Neil Sperry

The next two months are critical for North Texas gardens. Here’s what you need to do

Things move in “ultra-fast-forward” when temperatures climb to summertime levels. Your margins of error are reduced to their lowest, and gardeners are quickly sorted between those who succeed and those who are left wondering what went wrong with their plantings. Here are the things I’d deem most critical in your next two months of gardening in North Central Texas.

Hand-watering new plants in your landscape

You simply cannot count on sprinkler irrigation alone to supply the necessary water until new plants get established. Use your garden hose and a bubbler or water breaker to soak the soil deeply every two or three days.

Protecting new trunks

Wrap the trunks of new oaks, pistachios and maples. These trees have notoriously thin bark when they’re young. While they’ve been growing in nurseries they have protected one another from the rays of the sun, but when we bring them out into our landscapes they’re suddenly exposed to full sunlight. That sun ravages their trunks. The bark dries and splits, and a year or two later it peels away, exposing the interior wood to decay and invasion by borers. Use paper tree wrap from the nursery or hardware store to protect the trunks for their first couple of years.

Checking your sprinklers

If you have a sprinkler system, put it through a test run to be sure all the stations are operating properly. This doesn’t require great knowledge or experience. You just run each station for a couple of minutes as you look for heads that are missing, damaged or covered by vegetation. Be sure that all of your plants are being watered properly. Make any necessary repairs, or contract with someone to do that work for you if you’re not able to do it yourself. In the meantime, supplement where you need to by using hose-end sprinklers (the old-fashioned way).

Chinch bugs in St. Augustine

Chinch bugs threaten to return to your St. Augustine, and if you find them, treat immediately to stop further damage. They will always be in the hottest, sunniest parts of your lawn. Affected areas will appear dry, but watering won’t help. Get on your hands and knees and part the grass. If you see BB-sized, black insects with irregular white diamonds on their backs, those are the chinch bugs. You should have no problem finding labeled insecticides to control them at the nursery or hardware store. Don’t delay treating. Their damage is swift, and it can be permanent.

St. Augustine lawns turning yellow

Gray leaf spot is already returning to North Texas lawns. It appears as irregular, large yellowed areas in otherwise healthy turf. If you look closely you’ll see 1/4-inch gray/brown, diamond-shaped spots on the blades, often along the mid-veins. Because of the yellowing, your temptation may be to apply nitrogen to green the grass, but that actually exacerbates the problem. Instead, apply no nitrogen between mid-June and early September. Apply a turf fungicide labeled for controlling different types of patch diseases.

Webworm outbreak

It seems like they’ve sprung up in the past couple of weeks. Suddenly our pecans and other large shade trees have become infested with them. Your best defense is to clip them off the ends of the branches as soon as you see webs starting to form. Use a long-handled pole pruner (taking great care to avoid all overhead power lines). If they’ve gotten ahead of you and you’re unable to prune small twigs to remove them, pull the webs open to expose them to the sun and drying winds, also to hungry birds. Spraying is not an effective option due to their heights up in the trees.

Look out for lacebugs

Fact is, you’ll probably never see the adult insects. They’re usually on the backs of plants’ leaves and they have clear, glass-like wings. But you’ll see their damage on the leaves of pyracanthas, azaleas, loropetalums (fringeflowers), Boston ivy, chinquapin and bur oaks, sycamores, American elms and many other shrubs and trees. They suck the color right out of the plants’ leaves. The foliage will be pale tan with black, waxy specks (excrement) on the backs of the leaves. They don’t kill the plants, but they make them unsightly. Lacebugs are easily controlled with almost any general-purpose insecticides. Systemic types are especially good.

Shop now for crape myrtles

Nurseries have their best supplies of the entire year and you can buy while the plants are in bloom. That ensures you get the exact shades that you want. Ask plenty of questions, however, about how tall and wide your chosen varieties will grow so that you can be sure they will fit the spaces you have available for them. That’s the only sure way to avoid the barbaric act of “topping” crape myrtles. With more than 125 varieties in the marketplace ranging in mature heights from 2 to 32 feet at maturity, there’s a color and size for every need.

You can hear Neil Sperry on KLIF 570AM on Saturday afternoons 1-3 pm and on WBAP 820AM Sunday mornings 8-10 am. Join him at and follow him on Facebook.