Ask the Master Gardener: May

Audio articles on Wilson County News made possible by C Street Gift Shop in downtown Floresville!

Q: When is it time to change out my cool season annuals?

A: Pretty much any time now. I notice that the flowering cabbage at the library is starting to lose leaves, and the snapdragons are about bloomed out. I cut them back but as soon as we get our usual heat, they won’t be happy. Warm season annuals are marigold, penta, periwinkle, portulaca, purslane, salvia, and scaevola. My favorite of these is the periwinkle (vinca) because it does so well in those big pots.

Q: How can I protect my vegetable plants? I just picked my first tomato and there was a hole on the bottom where something has been eating.

A: If you are protecting fruits and vegetables from squirrels and birds, you can use plastic netting. Cover the plant to the ground and put soil over the bottom ends. Make sure you overlap the netting, because if there is a way to get to the fruit, squirrels and birds can find it.

Other damage can be caused by pill bugs, snails and slugs. You can control them by using slug and snail baits. Doug Welsh, Extension Horticulturist, says that some success has been achieved using saucers of beer and two-inch-wide bands of calcite clay (kitty litter).

Stinkbugs and leaf-footed bugs can also be a problem. Malcolm Beck used to say that the best deterrent was your shadow. In other words, check your plants daily and hand pick the bugs off before they go too long and get out of hand. I have had good luck grabbing these bugs and throwing them in a bucket of soapy water. Another friend smashes them with a brick.

If you must use pesticide, Welsh warns us to use the least toxic, effective pesticide labeled for the job. Notice that he mentions the label.  Read the label carefully and talk to your local nursery person particularly if you are using it on vegetables. Also, remember to wear gloves, don’t spray while the wind is blowing, and wear a mask. Take into account that there are many good bugs out there. To protect bees, spray in the late evening or early morning. Other good bugs include lady bugs and lacewings whose larvae eat aphids. Praying mantids eat young grasshoppers. Parasitic wasps lay their eggs in aphids and army worm caterpillars. Then when the larvae hatch, they eat the insect.

The simple answer to the bug and animal problem is to plant more than you need. Then if the problem gets ahead of you, you still have enough fruit and vegetables for your family, as well as for the local wildlife.

Q: What can I plant in the shade and partial shade?

A:  Several of the sages will do well: cedar sage, lyre leaf sage, and mountain sage. Inland sea oats is a favorite landscape plant as is red and yellow columbine. Turks Cap grows well; just don’t let it get away from you. Beautyberry, a wonderful shrub, is another good choice.

Clara Mae Marcotte is a Texas Master Gardener with Texas A&M AgriLife Extension.  If you have a question to be answered, call the Master Gardeners at 830-379-1972 or leave a message to be answered.  The website is  The Master Gardener research library is open Wednesdays from 1 to 4, at 210 East Live Oak Street in Seguin.