The weather is a little unpredictable this time of year, but the trend is decidedly toward warmer weather. Let’s outline the care you’ll want to be giving various parts of your landscape and garden as time and conditions permit.
Trees and shrubs
Finish any dormant-season pruning of shade trees to remove dead and damaged branches. Prune evergreen shrubs, but avoid formal shearing whenever possible. Prune summer-flowering shrubs, but never “top” crape myrtles for any purported reason. It ruins their shape forever. Wait to prune spring-flowering shrubs and vines until after they finish blooming.
If you have established trees and shrubs that need to be relocated, you must do so while they are dormant – before new growth begins in the next few weeks.
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Fruit trees and vines
Prune peach and plum trees as soon as possible to maintain short, bowl-shaped growth forms. Ideally they will end up being 9 or 10 feet tall and 15 or 16 feet wide. Remove strongly vertical shoots (“watersprouts”) from apples. Do little or no pruning to figs, pears, pomegranates and persimmons, trimming only to remove dead or damaged wood.
Remove 80 to 85 percent of cane growth from grape vines, maintaining the strong scaffold branching system along their supports. See online illustrations for better details.
Wait to prune blackberry plants until immediately after harvest, then cut canes that have just born fruit completely back to the ground. They will never bear fruit again.
Onions and snap-type English peas should be planted and growing by now. Plant into well-prepared garden soil. Next crops to be planted would be Irish potatoes in mid-February. Buy certified “seed” potatoes from a nursery or feed store. Cut into two or three pieces, each containing two or three eyes. Allow to dry and callous for a couple of days before planting.
The various cole crops, including cabbage, broccoli, kale and the more difficult Brussels sprouts and cauliflower are also planted from nursery transplants in mid-February. Leafy and root vegetables are planted later in the month.
Annual and perennial color
There is a subset of annual flowers that can be planted before all danger of frost and light freezes has passed. They need the cool weather, but they can’t handle the extreme cold of late December and January.
So sometime this month you could plant stocks, sweet alyssum, Bright Lights and Rhubarb Swiss chard, English daisies, wallflowers, foxgloves, larkspurs and others.
Summer- and fall-flowering perennials can be dug and divided in the next couple of weeks. That list includes cannas, mums, fall asters, summer phlox and others. Foliar perennials such as purpleheart and wood ferns can also be dug and divided at this time.
If you’re working up beds for spring planting, remove all the existing turfgrass. Sprays won’t work at this time. I use a flat-bladed nursery spade and dig off the top inch of soil. That gets most of the runners and roots for St. Augustine and bermuda. Rear-tine rototillers do a better job of pulverizing the soil so you can fold in 2 inches of sphagnum peat and 1 inch each of finely ground pine bark mulch, well-decayed compost and well-rotted manure. Rototill to a depth of 10 to 12 inches, raking out any roots, rocks or debris you pull up to the surface. This preparation also works well for vegetable plantings.
Begin by mowing your lawn. If you want to drop the mower by one notch to scalp it, that will clean things up a great deal. However, scalping is a dirty job. Wear goggles and a high-quality respirator to avoid emergency visits to the ENT specialist. Technically speaking, it might be better to wait a week or two to scalp your lawn, until it’s just a bit warmer.
Mowing will eliminate most of the broadleafed (non-grassy) weeds like henbit, chickweed, dandelions and clover. Those that do bounce back can be treated with a broadleafed weedkiller spray (containing 2,4-D – many good brands are available). I’m not an advocate of “weed-and-feed” products because it’s far too early to be feeding warm-season lawn grasses.
If you have grassy weeds such as rescuegrass or annual bluegrass, there is no product you can use safely at this time that won’t also damage or kill your permanent lawngrass. Your best bet is that same close mowing to slow their growth. They will quickly blend in with your bermuda or St. Augustine as they begin to green up and start growing. Your only way of addressing these cool-season annual grassy weeds is by applying pre-emergent weedkiller granules (Dimension, Halts or Balan) the last week of August or first week of September. Once they’re up and growing it’s too late.
If you’re needing to plant new turf this year, you’re still a month or two too early. Sod can be planted starting in late March as the soil warms up. Mid-April would be better. If you’re planning on planting bermuda from seed, you’ll need to wait until May. Soil temperatures are just too cold before then.
Finally, if you’re planting new grass to replace grass that has died in previous seasons, be sure you have enough sunlight. Thousands of people waste millions of dollars by assuming new grass will grow where the old grass failed. They may even have had their trees trimmed, but of course, the trees grow right back. If you need to switch to a shade-tolerant groundcover, spring is a great time to get that process started.