TIME TO GET READY FOR
Do garden chores now for beautiful, carefree landscape
February 22, 2015
By Suzann Herricks/Victoria County Master Gardener
Edited by Charla Borchers Leon/Victoria County Master Gardener
PHOTO CONTRIBUTED BY SHUTTERSTOCK.COM
It is a good time to plant fruit trees. They are desirable not only for the fruit they can bear in future years but also for their beautiful and often fragrant blooms in the spring. Fruit forms after blossoms bloom like on this plum tree stem several years after planting. Look for peach, plum and pear trees, in addition to citrus, in nurseries and garden centers.
PHOTO BY SUZANN HERRICKS/VICTORIA COUNTY MASTER GARDENER
Different pruning tasks call for different tools. Hand clippers, middle right, are used for cutting stems and branches up to 1 inch in diameter. A good set has coated handles and an easy locking system. The lopper tool, with varying lengths of handles (center front) is used for limbs up to 2 inches and has only one sharpened blade. Hedge clippers or shears (left and rear) are used for pruning hedges or trimming small limbs. Rubber grips and buffers are recommended to absorb the impact of clipping. Sharpen only the rounded side and lubricate all moving parts of shears.
PHOTO BY HENRY HARTMAN/CREATIVE IMAGES
Hardy, tender perennials can be planted in early spring for a long-lasting landscape. Shown here is perennial mealy blue sage, which blooms from early spring until frost if bloom spikes are cut back after they have faded. Colorful pink and yellow annuals are shown planted with it in Master Gardener Suzann Herricks' long, backyard bed.
"If winter comes, can spring be far behind?" Percy Bysshe Shelley
The answer to Shelley's question is, "No, not if you live in South Texas." Local lore states that there are two seasons: February and summer. This winter has been longer and colder than in recent years, and many of us are ready to get outside and begin working in our yards. But the question is what to do and where to start?
Should you fertilize now? A general rule is to treat turf grasses in the spring. However, if your grass is healthy and looks good, it isn't necessary. Another guideline states that after you have to mow twice it's time to fertilize, but that decision is up to you. Weeds are appearing, but pre-emergent herbicides that inhibit seeds from sprouting should have been applied in late January. Mow more frequently resulting in denser turf crowding out weeds or you might spray a broadleaf herbicide to control dandelions, chickweed, clover and henbit.
Spring is the optimum time to plant new trees or to prune established ones. When planting, dig a hole two times the size of the rootball, but no deeper. Fill with regular soil because composts and potting soils create a "flowerpot" where roots will encircle the pot rather than branch out. Planting too deeply results in poor health and slow growth, so keep the crown above soil level.
It is not too late to prune. But do you know why you are cutting? Pruning is done for a few basic reasons: To cut off ugly growth, to keep the size manageable, to shape for future growth and/or to remove any dead or diseased or crossed limbs. Try to keep a natural shape and avoid over pruning crepe myrtles or trimming trees so branches look like leafy lollipops.
Shrubs, woody ornamentals, grasses
"Real" gardeners are willing to rearrange the landscape. Now is a good time to move small shrubs and trees around or plant new ones. Some say wait to cut back damaged shrubs until the last chance of freeze passes, but that leaves a large task for later that can just as effectively be done now.
Hold off pruning shrubs that flower in spring such as Indian hawthorne, spirea and azaleas. Ornamental grasses can be cut down to the ground. A lawn mower will easily cut large drifts of lirope or cast iron plant to make way for new growth. Sharp shears or hedge trimmers will make an even cleaner cut. Except for climbing ones, roses can be pruned. Knockouts can be shaped with hedge shears but the very picky gardener may prefer hand pruners.
Beds should be prepared now. Till and add some compost to the area as well as a light dose of fertilizer. Weeds will love this treatment but a bit of mulch will hold them at bay until you get ready to plant. Hardy and tender perennials, such as pentas, sage, salvia, society garlic, lantana, cuphea, bulbine and ginger, can go in the ground. For those that survived the winter, cut the old growth back.
Vegetables, such as cucumbers and squash, can be planted. Wait to plant hot weather flowers until late April or May. Plants that love the heat, like standard zinnias, vincas and profusion zinnias, will not develop in cool weather and you may have to replant later. Winter flowers, such as snapdragons, dianthus, lobelia and pansies, will welcome a dose of fertilizer and provide color through May.
Scale, fungi and aphids and caterpillars begin to appear. Scale can be controlled with dormant horticultural oil. Spray before the weather is too hot because oils can cause leaf damage.
Aphids can be controlled with a strong water spray, insecticidal soaps or sprays containing pyrethrins. Caterpillars and aphids can be contained with a product containing Bt (Bacillus Thuringiensis).
Identify caterpillars before spraying to avoid inadvertently killing those destined to become beautiful butterflies. Introducing lady bugs and lacewings is a natural way to control many pests.
Tools of the trade/other things
Clean and sharpen tools, clean out ponds and fountains and service lawnmowers and weed cutters now. Getting an early start on a few of these chores will find you well on your way to a beautiful, carefree landscape. And don't forget to start on your own shape-up plan to avoid those sore muscles when you begin spring gardening.
The Gardeners' Dirt is written by members of the Victoria County Master Gardener Association, an educational outreach of Texas AgriLife Extension - Victoria County. Mail your questions in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901; or firstname.lastname@example.org, or comment on this column at www.VictoriaAdvocate.com.
• When pruning, keep natural versus severe shape.
• Avoid over pruning crepe myrtles/other trees to prevent "lollipop" look.
• Feed trees, shrubs, perennials, lawns with slow-release fertilizers that last longer.
• Mulch new plantings with shredded versus finer, pulverized mulch for longer-lasting bed cover.
• Cut off ugly growth
• Keep plant at manageable size
• Shape for future growth
• Remove dead, diseased or crossed limbs
• Fertilize lawns
• Prune trees/shrubs
• Plant trees/shrubs
• Prepare beds for planting
• Spray for pests
• Clean tools