Moms

North Texas gardeners can easily make their yards pretty in pink

If you're looking for a few spots of pink to perk up your plantings, help is as near as your neighborhood nursery. In fact, the bigger problem may be in narrowing your choices. Let's look at six of the most popular candidates, and see what it takes to succeed with each of them.

1 Azaleas have been blooming the past several weeks in North Texas gardens. Azaleas require special care and attention if they're going to survive here. The issue is alkalinity. For most of us, our native soils are extremely alkaline, and for all of us, our irrigation water is even more so. Azaleas can't handle alkaline conditions, so we must begin by building good planting beds.

Remove 10 inches of the native soil, and replace it, as you develop raised beds, by adding 20 inches of organic matter.

Combine equal amounts of finely ground pine bark mulch and sphagnum peat moss.

Rototill the bed to mix the components thoroughly, then wet it and turn it several times over a couple of days to moisten it completely.

As for varieties, there are many fine pink azaleas, ranging from baby-soft pinks to bright, hot pinks. One series, Encore azaleas, has become the bestselling group over the past 15 years. That's because they rebloom three or more times over the summer and fall.

2 Roses are always appropriate choices. You'll find many shades of pink (and other colors, of course), in many different growth forms of roses. Many of our finest roses are labeled as EarthKind, following the research by Texas A&M horticulturist Dr. Steve George and his legions. You'll find lots more information on these roses on their TAMU EarthKind rose website, aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/earthkind/roses.

You should have no trouble locating them in local retail nurseries.

3 Hydrangeas are very popular spring flowers for gift-giving, and they're handsome woody plants in the landscape as well. They're botanical curiosities, because the same variety will bloom pink in alkaline soils and deep blue in acidic soils. In our area, again owing to our alkaline soils and irrigation water, you're better off just settling for pink and not trying to convert them over to blue.

Hydrangeas are fairly challenging here, so you may want to limit the number you plant until you're sure they're a good match. Plant your hydrangea in a loose, highly organic soil mix that you can keep moist at all times. They can handle sun for a couple of early-morning hours in the summer, but they require shade all the rest of the day.

4 Oleanders are subtropical favorites that keep making their way into North Texas. We're right on their northernmost boundary, and folks within the urban heat pockets will do better with them than gardeners who live in the country. They bloom heavily in May, and then they'll repeat to lesser degrees through the summer. Flower shades include red, pink and white, and mature heights range from a few feet with the less cold-hardy dwarf types to 10 feet and taller for regular oleanders.

It does need to be noted that oleander stems, leaves and flowers are poisonous, so you might want to think twice about planting them if you have children who seem to graze on the gardens.

5 Desert willows are becoming mainstream in nondesert North Texas. By their name, one might assume them to be from really dry regions. In principle, that's true, but in reality, they grow natively in moist riverbeds in Southwest Texas.

They're cousins to catalpas (not really willows at all), and they produce orchidlike blooms in late spring and summer. The plants themselves grow to be 10 to 15 feet tall and wide, and their growth form is erratic and extremely informal.

6 Althaeas, more commonly known as roses-of-Sharon, are extremely cold-hardy forms of hibiscus. Their flower shades include lavender, rose-red, pink, white and bicolors. Their big round of blooms comes later in spring, and then they'll bloom on and off through the summer. They do best in full or nearly full sun, and the plants will grow to 8 to 15 feet tall and wide, depending on conditions and variety.

Use them much as you might use crape myrtles -- as tall accent shrubs at corners and entries, or as colorful screens along the back or sides of your gardens.

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