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Neil Sperry: Timing your plantings is critical

05/16/2014 12:00 AM

05/15/2014 1:23 PM

The question always begins, “Neil … what’s the best time to plant … ?” By the time they finish the sentence, my mental data bank has whirled through the 44 years that I’ve lived here in North Texas. Plant by plant, each answer will be somewhat different. And so, if you’d permit a rather unorthodox column this week, here are my thoughts on as many different types of plants as I can fit into this space.

Critical note: New trees and shrubs will require hand-watering with a garden hose every two or three days through their first Texas summer, regardless of when they are planted.

Shade trees. Fall is the ideal time, since it gives them the longest possible time to establish good roots before the next summer. But you can plant these any month if you keep them moist at all times.

Crape myrtles. Fall would be the ideal time, for the same reasons as with shade trees, but you won’t find much selection then. Nurseries will have good supplies from mid-May through mid-July. Buy then, so you can choose them while they’re in bloom.

Shrubs and vines. Plant anytime during the year, but be mindful of the watering. If you’re buying a popular flowering type, it may be available primarily while it’s in bloom (flowering quince, wisteria, etc.). That makes late winter and spring the times that you’ll find the best selections.

Transplanting established trees and shrubs. If you have woody plants that you’d like to move from one place to another, that must be done during the winter, while they’re completely dormant. That means mid-December through mid-February in North Texas.

Ground covers. In theory these can be planted at any season, but spring is the best, since it gives them the entire growing season to establish and begin to spread. Fall and winter plantings will be more vulnerable to cold damage and even erosion.

Annual flowers. This will vary, of course, with the types. However, you can break annuals into four basic groups. First in the calendar year, you’ll have the cool-season types that you plant in February, knowing that they will play out by late June. By mid-April, you begin to plant heat-tolerant types that will span the summer. Tropical types that require hot weather become available by early May. Over-wintering flowers (pansies and others) are planted once temperatures drop below the high 80s, generally during October.

Perennial flowers. If you find them growing in containers, you can plant them at any time. If you’re digging and dividing perennials, spring-flowering types are moved in the fall. Late summer and fall-flowering types are transplanted in very early spring.

Roses. Bare-rooted plants in February. Container-grown plants at any time, but selections are best late March through Mother’s Day.

Wildflowers. Bluebonnets and other spring types are planted in late August and early September, so that they can germinate and establish during the fall and winter. Fall-flowering types are sown in the spring.

Fruit trees. Bare-rooted plants are dug and sold during the winter. However, supplies dwindle quickly, so order your choices in December for January delivery. Container-grown types can be planted at any time that you find them in nurseries. In most cases, that will be in the spring.

Vegetables, spring garden. Planting times will range from late January for onions and English peas to mid-May for sweet potatoes and Southern peas. Each specific crop will have a two-week prime-time window for planting. Timing is absolutely critical!

Vegetables, fall garden. “Fall” gardens are not planted in fall here in North Texas. That begins with tomato transplants and pumpkins, both planted in late June, and it runs through leafy and root vegetables planted in late August. Average date of the first freeze is Nov. 20. You have to figure back from that.

Bermuda grass from sod. Commercial landscapers plant Bermuda sod 12 months a year. My personal preference is between mid-March or early April going on into mid-October, just to avoid those rare times when winter cold and prolonged winter drought might hurt the new grass.

Bermuda grass from seed. I’m more adamant on this one: May through the end of August. In a pinch, I could compromise a couple of weeks into September. Bermuda seedlings need warm soil to get their new roots established.

St. Augustine, zoysia and other grasses from sod. May through mid-September. St. Augustine is sub-tropical (as we discovered this past winter), so it definitely should not be planted later than Sept. 15. It wouldn’t have time to get good roots established by winter. Buffalograss (a risk here, due to invasions by Bermuda) and zoysias could be planted through the end of September.

Ryegrass for overseeding. September. The earlier you get it planted, the better the stand will be in the fall and over the winter. Use “perennial” rye for most uniform stand and easiest maintenance. Like annual rye, it will die out in the hot weather of May.

These planting times, of course, are irrespective of our current water curtailments. Discuss your plans with your local professional nursery expert, and let him or her help you fine-tune them.

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