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Neil Sperry: Get ready to spring into action on chores

Posted Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2014  comments  Print Reprints
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It has been my observation over the past several decades that North Texas gardeners get caught by surprise every year, right about now. It still feels like winter (as evidenced by the past several cold fronts), yet there are critical gardening tasks that must be performed almost immediately. Where they’re appropriate, I’ll give the “do-by dates” for the Forth Worth area and its surrounding cities. I won’t give a lot of details, so that I can spend my space getting all the things listed.

Plant onion sets and English snap peas (seeds) immediately. Late January would normally have been even better.

Find and buy recommended varieties of fruit and pecan trees, grapes and blackberries as soon as possible. Supplies will diminish quickly, and bare-rooted specimens of these plants must be planted soon.

Plant cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts transplants, also Irish potatoes between now and Feb. 20. These crops must be mature before really hot weather rolls in in late May.

If your pansies and other winter color annuals didn’t fare well with the cold, there are excellent frost-hardy options to set out now. Consider sweet alyssum, larkspurs, calendulas, stocks, pinks, ornamental Swiss chard, wallflowers, foxglove, English daisies and, in a couple of weeks, petunias.

Transplant established trees and shrubs that you want to move before spring growth begins. Again, the sooner the better. Hold as much soil as possible in place around their root balls to help them survive the move.

Finish pruning fruit trees and grapes immediately. It will take only a few days of warmth for peaches and plums, for example, to start budding out. You need to have the pruning finished beforehand. Main plants you’ll be pruning: peaches, plums (both to encourage horizontal growth and to remove strongly vertical shoots), grapes (to remove up to 80 to 85 percent of canes). Little or no pruning will be needed for figs, pomegranates, apples, pears and pecans. Wait to prune blackberries until after harvest has been completed.

Finish pruning bush roses before Feb. 20, sooner if possible. Again, only a few warm, sunny days will cause them to start growing. Knockout roses start growing especially early. (By the way: if you have Knockouts or other roses that have produced canes that were clubby and deformed, a “witch’s broom,” to quote a term, they probably have rose rosette virus. If so, you must remove those plants entirely as quickly as possible, roots and all.)

Trim evergreen shrubs to reshape them before they start growing. Don’t let them invest effort and nutrients in producing growth you’ll just prune away anyway. Depending on the type of plant and when it starts growing, this work should be completed by Feb. 20 or 25.

Trim Asian jasmine groundcover beds to remove browned stubble that was hurt by the ice and cold. Adjust the mower to its highest setting. Push it into a fairly inconspicuous part of the bed, and mow a square foot or two, to see if you’re going to like the results. It will even the bed’s height and get rid of the stubble. As the new green growth comes out in a couple of weeks, it will be instantly beautiful.

Liriope and mondograss may also have been scorched by the cold. If so, trim the dried leaves away. Set your mower on the ultra-high setting for mondograss. You’ll have to hand-trim the taller liriope, because you don’t want to cut it as low as even the tallest setting on the mower. Do this trimming before the liriope starts sending out its new “candles” of growth. (That means immediately!) If you do see some new shoots developing, trim above them. If you cut through the new leaves, you’ll be looking at the browned cut edges all summer.

If your trees and shrubs suffered ice damage, it’s time to start dealing with that. Tackle tree pruning first. Trim off any stubs left over from broken branches. Call for the help of a certified arborist for things that are too high or too large. Get that underway immediately, before they start growing for spring if at all possible. You may want to wait another few weeks to remove browned tissues from shrubs. However, if their stems are shriveled and dried, prune to remove the dead growth.

We’ll finish with a trio of late-winter lawn tasks. Apply a broadleafed weedkiller (containing 2,4-D) to eliminate dandelions and other broadleafed weeds. It’s too early for fertilizing, so apply only the herbicide, and use it in spray form. The weedkiller can be applied anytime temperatures climb up toward 70, as long as rain is not expected for a day or two.

Second, scalp your lawn by dropping the mower down a notch or perhaps two. That will allow you to remove all of the browned blades, as well as many of the winter weeds. That should be done in one to three weeks.

And third and finally, apply your pre-emergent weedkiller (Halts or Dimension) between March 5 and 15. Repeat the treatment June 5 to 15. Many people are already asking, and it’s simply too early to do so now.

Neil Sperry publishes “Gardens” magazine and hosts “Texas Gardening” from 8 to 10 a.m. Sunday on WBAP AM/FM. Reach him during those hours at 800-288-9227. Online: www.neilsperry.com.

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