Certified horticulturist and arborist Leon Macha likes to call himself a “lazy gardener.” He seems like a busy man to be calling himself lazy, but he explains, “anything I can do to make my work easier, that’s what I do.”
Macha addressed a group of almost 30, gathered to ask questions and listen for gardening tips to make their own lives easier at the El Campo Library Thursday. Circulation librarian Donna Merta encouraged attendees to send in questions via e-mail.
“When should we feed our over-stressed, drought-beaten lawns before winter?” Jeanette Hasse of El Campo asked.
“We have some of the best soil in the country, right here in Wharton County, so I don’t put a lot of emphasis on lawn feeds or fertilizers,” Macha said.
With rich soil, well watered lawns don’t need a lot of additives or fertilizers, in Macha’s opinion. “The so-called ‘winterizers’ are gimmicks by fertilizer companies so they can make more commercials to sell you more fertilizers,” Macha said.
He spent a little bit of time talking about fertilizers for plants in general, emphasizing that, despite different names and catchy slogans that go on the packaging, all fertilizers are made of the same basic chemicals – possibly with some other materials in them.
“Your fertilizers need to have the three main nutrients for plants,” he said, “nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium.” Three numbers prominent on most garden fertilizers and plant foods indicate the percentage of the three main components.
“I use a 19-5-9 mix that can be used on just about anything,” Macha said. “Fertilizers or foods with this ratio can be used on roses, garden beds, vegetables, potted plants and all.”
Macha warned that overusing fertilizers can do more harm than good, especially without proper watering during the feeding process.
“Most of the nitrogen in plant feeds are in a salt-based form and are released slowly when watering,” Macha said. “Plants will only uptake what they can use, the rest will stay in the soil until more water is added.” If too much fertilizer is used the plants will yellow, wither and die because the water to fertilizer ratio is off and the salts will choke the plants.
Plants also need a good supply of organic matter such as pine bark mulch and leaf litter. The mulch adds air and organic matter to the soil making it fluffy and easy for roots to stretch and move through. If the mulch layer is thick enough, two to four inches thick, weeds will have difficulty growing and propagating in garden beds.
An attendee asked about cedar mulch, which Macha said would be fine too, and added that pine needles are the best mulch to keep weeds down, but they are not very useful in a vegetable garden.
“Pine needles are great when you are putting down a barrier around shrubs and plants that are in a permanent bed,” Macha said. “A vegetable garden will be dug up and replanted seasonally so they get in the way at that point.”
Macha brought out some photos submitted by Hasse showing several live oaks on her property that have cracks and openings in their bark. There were also spiders and other insects living in the cracks and making things look bad. Macha explained what caused the cracks and fissures in the bark.
“The freeze of 2021 is most likely the cause of these splits.”
He advised removing the bark around the split and letting the tree heal itself. Insects will not linger if there is no place for them to hide.
After a few more questions and discussion, circulation librarian Ruthie Buzek announced drawings for door prizes and little snack packs were handed out.
There were more than 20 door prizes provided by local businesses and the library.
As the program closed, many patrons stayed to talk with Macha about garden tips and advice, as well as to collect pamphlets and handouts he had prepared.