Tag Archives: Mark Montoya

The Drought Continues

Yesterday, I visited the home of new clients. The couple moved to Montgomery from Albuquerque, New Mexico a while back and recently decided to construct a swimming pool in their back yard. My father was from New Mexico, and we had much to talk about. The newly excavated pool space and the resulting mounds of dirt, combined with this heat and drought, reminded us all of the New Mexico landscape. Our conversation turned to what we can do to prevent this temporary mirage from becoming a reality.

If you are getting tired of dragging garden hoses and sprinklers around the yard every few days, or even hours, there is an economical solution, far short of installing a custom irrigation system. A hose timer can be added to your outdoor water faucet for under $50.00. A hose timer has several settings which will turn on your sprinkler without you having to be there!

Hose timer

Hose timers are available at EWING IRRIGATION, 5890 Monticello Drive.  They carry the Calber 8444 Logica hose end timer, which is the one I often use for my clients and myself. A nine-volt battery operates the clock.

Timers are simple to install and set. But remember two things:

1) Do not use the timer in the winter, when freezing conditions occur.

2) Check your faucet for leaks before buying a hose timer. If your faucet leaks, you cannot connect the timer, because it requires an open faucet valve at all times. It is the timer that controls the flow of water.

If you still need a hose for hand watering and clean up, buy a hose splitter and put your timer on one side. Each side has its own control valve, so the main faucet valve can remain fully open for the timer while you operate the secondary hose as needed.

Hose splitters

Hose timers are also great for watering potted plants when you go on a trip. For more information, simply google hose timers, and get ready to be less stressed about your garden in this drought. Your plants will be less stressed, too.

Mark Montoya, the Practical Gardener, is a Montgomery native who first learned gardening from his father. He has designed, planted and nurtured gardens in our city’s neighborhoods — both old and new – for twenty years.

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House Plants for the Soul

What a world! What a world!  What a world! In this messed-up world — and this horrible drought we are in, bring yourself some joy with house plants. The green in your home will soothe your soul.

Some people feel that they must wait for someone to be ill or die before they can have a beautiful house plant. I say to them, indulge! Plan to spend about fifty dollars on a variety of house plants, and they will be happier with this heat wave, living the lush life up to the holidays.

I recommend a few plants that can be picked up at any home improvement store or garden center: Bromeliads, Dracena, Calathea, Orchids, Spathiphyllum, Sedums, Succulents and Sansevieria. No ferns, though, because ferns are not a house plant.

On bringing the plants home, wrap the bottom of the pot with aluminum foil, then place it into an attractive container. I have used baskets, decorative bowls, and urns. For best results, place plants in a north or south window. To water, place about six ice cubes on top of the soil around the plant three times a week — it’s easier and less messy than trying to water from a can or pitcher. Don’t worry about fertilizer unless you want to spend the rest of your life with them.

And, don’t stress out over the plants — enjoy them! They are meant to be an alternative to the horrible conditions in the outside world. Throw them away before they die. Just say ‘goodbye’ before the holidays begin, and you will truly enjoy your interior world for the next few months.

Mark Montoya is a Montgomery native who first learned gardening from his father. He has designed, planted and nurtured gardens in our city’s neighborhoods — both old and new – for twenty years.

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Maintaining the Future

By Mark Montoya

HOT!  That is what I have to say about gardening this week.  Do as little as possible right now.  This is not the time to be digging and planting in your garden, but to enjoy what you planted months ago…and maybe pluck the occasional weed or two.  Maintenance, which includes watering, mowing, edging and blowing, is about all you should do.

Since less gardening may give you some extra time, you may consider reading or just looking at pictures.  Carole King and Karen Pell have just put together a glimpse of Montgomery’s historic neighborhoods in a book published by Arcadia.  Charming and nostalgic photos represent a southern paradise of pleasant houses and tree-lined streets.  How could those people have lived in this heat without air-conditioning?  That they did so, and created a lovely environment as our inheritance is something to be thankful for.

For the more adventurous, the care and maintenance of your garden doesn’t have to stop at your property line.  Simply maintaining your own garden takes time and a lot of water, so everyone in our older neighborhoods should take time to admire and thank the ‘keepers of the trees’.  These folks spend their extra time and energy watering many of our younger trees.  Karen Benton, with the help of the Old Cloverdale Association, organized a small army to keep trees, newly planted by the City, alive in this hot weather.  During the past 3 years, this army has included Joe Lenoux, Chris Harnady, Michael and Rosi Smith, Jean Smyth, John and Nancy Hartsfield, Bill Stone, Willemijn Kenzer, Joe Petranka, Michael Conden and numerous others.  These folks have embraced their neighborhood as their own garden.  Thanks to all of you for keeping our City’s investment alive.

Mark Montoya is a Montgomery native who first learned gardening from his father. He has designed, planted and nurtured gardens in our city’s neighborhoods — both old and new – for twenty years.

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Crape Myrtles

By Mark Montoya

Two Familiar Varieties of Crepe Myrtles: Natchez, left; and Tuscarora, right.

I’m sure that you have noticed the incredible crape myrtles in our older neighborhoods. They just love the sun and heat. Crape myrtles are originally from Asia, and have become as traditional a part of the Southern landscape as camellias and azaleas, which are also from Asia.

Crape myrtles are very easy to root from cuttings. Make a clean 45-degree angle cut anywhere under a joint of new growth.  You must cut from a woody part of a branch at least ¾” in diameter. Trim your cutting from the top to a length ten inches long. Remove all foliage.  The joint of new growth should be at the bottom.

Drive the cutting (or cuttings) straight into damp clay soil, with a hammer, somewhere in the yard where they will stay damp. Do this now, so that you will know exactly what color you are getting. You will have new growth sprouts from the bottom by fall, and a nicely rooted tree to transplant next spring. While it is possible to grow crape myrtles from seed, this may produce plants of numerous colors, and not necessarily the color of the mother plant.

Here are just a few varieties of crape myrtles that we have in our area:

  • Catawba, purple
  • Tuscarora, watermelon pink
  • Muskogee, light lavender
  • Natchez, white, and usually the first to bloom
  • Sioux, dark pink
  • Red Rocket, red

To learn more about crape myrtles, check out this website:  www.greenwoodnursery.com, and look under deciduous trees.

In closing I would like to mention that crape myrtles are often a topic of heated discussion:  whether to be left alone when it comes to pruning, or to prune and risk the accusation of “crape-murder.” I have decided at this point in my life — and in my article, to say to those of you who know how to care for crape myrtles, “Thank you!” And, for those of you who don’t know what to do for them, or don’t care to find out, I say, do whatever you’re going to, because most likely, the crape myrtle is going to outlive you anyway.

Mark Montoya is a Montgomery native who first learned gardening from his father. He has designed, planted and nurtured gardens in our city’s neighborhoods — both old and new – for twenty years.

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Weed Control

By Mark Montoya

Just what is a weed? In the case of the dandelion, one person’s weed is another’s cooked greens. Goldenrod? It used to be the State flower. Let’s just say weeds are in the eye of the beholder, and that’s why I’m going to talk about weed control.

Weeds drive me crazy. Roundup and other weed killers are a great help in keeping the weeds and grasses that you don’t want under control. But there’s a tip that will also help with some of the volunteer trees and Asiatic jasmine that you don’t want.

I mix Roundup with water as directed on the label then add on half cup of vegetable oil and one packet of Quick Pro. The Quick Pro accelerates the Roundup and will even help the Roundup work in cold weather. The vegetable oil makes the mixture stick to the foliage. This will even kill monkey grass and nut grass.

Be very careful when spraying and never spray on a windy day. Keep your pets off the area because they can track it onto places you don’t want to kill.

Quick Pro is available at Ewing, 5890 Monticello Drive, telephone (334) 398 8202. Weed and brush killers are most effective on hot sunny days … that is now, if you haven’t noticed!

Mark Montoya is a Montgomery native who first learned gardening from his father. He has designed, planted and nurtured gardens in our city’s neighborhoods — both old and new – for twenty years.

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Grasses in the Garden

By Mark Montoya

If you have not yet discovered the beauty and usefulness of ornamental grasses in your garden, now is the time to start looking. By planting grasses now, you give them an opportunity to take hold and flourish up until the first frost.

Dwarf zebra grass provides a backdrop to cleome.

Taller grasses – four to six feet high – can make great screens. One of my clients in Old Cloverdale allowed me to use grasses that are making quite a show right now.  You can check it out at 1875 Galena Avenue, and see a healthy display of miscanthus sinensis variegates (Zebra grass—the tallest variety).

Grasses add wonderful contrast to shrubbery and are easy to grow. However, some need to be contained in pots so they won’t get out of bounds. Horsetail (equisetum hyemale) is one. This plant can grow in hard, dry soil, or in a pot placed directly in a pool of water. Purple fountain grass is very popular in Montgomery, and is perfect in pots surrounded by contrasting flowers.  However, it cannot survive a cold winter.

Grasses need sun (or part sun), make problem areas vanish, and look great when massed together. When planting any grass, I wear gloves and a long sleeve shirt, because some of them are itchy and others can cut your skin. For the most part, the good outweighs the bad, because grasses generally require little water and grow in any soil. Grasses are also very nice in a vase indoors, alone or mixed with flowers.

Check out these other grasses online – all can usually be found locally:  leymus arenarius; cordyline; Mexican feather grass (nassella tenuissima); scirpus cernuus; and liriope muscari variegata.

Mark Montoya is a Montgomery native who first learned gardening from his father. He has designed, planted and nurtured gardens in our city’s neighborhoods — both old and new – for twenty years.

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The Beauty of Wildflowers

By Mark Montoya

I suppose that there are some good things that can come of a recession.  Traveling within our state for the past two weekends, I have noticed that the wildflowers are exceptionally plentiful. What a delight to see the results of not mowing the grass along the highways this spring! In your upcoming travels, I hope you can take note of some of these wildflowers. I have grouped them by color because that is what you will notice first:

YELLOW—Coreopsis, Cinquefoil, Buttercup

WHITE—Daisy, Soapwort, Fleabane, Queen Anne’s Lace

LAVENDER/PURPLE—Vetch, Spiderwort, Verbena

These are among the first to bloom, and there are more to come as June approaches. I plant wildflowers in my garden every year; many of the plants reseed themselves, and I also collect seeds for planting from the dried blossoms or the seed pods. These poppies reseeded from plants last year, which were initially grown from seeds given by a friend.

If you are interested in having your own wildflowers for next spring and summer, it’s not too early to plan for their winter sowing. Now is a good time to consider where you want to have them. Select one of the sunniest spots in your garden. Then, get your seeds. In addition to collecting seeds, I buy my wildflower seeds at Lowe’s (in a can or bag) and wait until the winter to sow them. Try to get your seeds now, because they may not be available later in the year. Most retailers tend to sell plant and seeds only in the spring, thinking that’s the only time people are inspired to work in the garden.

In the months from December to February, broadcast seeds on the surface of the ground. Then, scratch the soil with a hard rake wherever you sprinkled the seeds—this will gently incorporate them into the soil. Wildflowers are so easy, you don’t even have to make a big effort to prepare the soil or ‘plant’ them. While doing this, you can plant Pansies, Sweet William, Foxglove, and other winter bedding plants in the same area for winter color.

Winter is the best time to sow these seeds, and from the spring into the summer you will have a bounty of assorted wildflowers that will surprise and amaze you every day. Using this method, I am presently growing Calendula, Bachelor Buttons, Verbena, Phlox, Alyssum, Baby’s Breath, various Poppies, Cosmos, Forget-Me-Nots — and some things yet to bloom which I can’t identify! All these flowers are planted in 40 square feet, bordered with boxwood, and cost only $10.00 last year. In addition to the colors and variety, I’ll sow more in the same spot, let the poppies reseed, and have even more next year!

Mark Montoya is a Montgomery native who first learned gardening from his father. He has designed, planted and nurtured gardens in our city’s neighborhoods — both old and new – for twenty years.

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