Early January marks the turn from analyzing last year’s landscaping and gardening to laying plans for 2015 — for plantings that will commence almost within days. Yep. We’re looking toward spring, and there are several tasks that need to be done right away. Fail to do so and you’ll end up with frustrations or failures. Here’s a list of the most pressing.
Develop new beds, or rework the old ones. Our tight clay soils aren’t the best for most flower and vegetable plants, and this is the time to get the ground ready for plantings that will start later this month.
Veteran gardeners refer to this as giving the ground time to “mellow” after you cultivate it and before you start planting.
Rototill to 12 inches using a rear-tine tiller to pulverize the soil thoroughly. Rake out roots, rocks and other debris. Layer 2 inches of sphagnum peat moss and an inch each of finely ground pine bark mulch, compost, well-rotted manure and expanded shale, then rototill again to blend all the amendments into the top foot of soil.
That will give you a planting medium that’s almost of the consistency of potting soil.
If you’re reworking a bed from last year, add the same types of organic matter but in perhaps half the quantity. Organic matter breaks down over the months and will need to be replenished. You won’t need to add expanded shale again for five to 10 years.
This is also the time when you might consider some type of decay-resistant timber, ledge stones or large river rock as an edging, so that you can maintain an elevated garden. You can always add water when the garden gets dry, but on-grade gardens can become waterlogged during prolonged rainy weather.
Have your soil tested. Texas A&M has an outstanding soil testing laboratory, and if you get your samples to it now, you’ll have the results back in plenty of time to start your spring feedings on time.
The agricultural community also uses its services, and the lab gets slammed by early spring. All of the necessary details for collecting and submitting your sample are available online at http://soiltesting.tamu.edu.
Take equipment in for repairs now. It’s not much fun to get trimmers, blowers, mowers, edgers and other garden equipment out for the first time in the spring, only to find that it’s unwilling to work. Take it in now, before shops get really busy.
Ask their honest opinion on whether it’s worth repairing, or whether it’s time for something new. There are some wonderful tools on the market today. Don’t be afraid to upgrade.
Work with your landscape designer now. You know what improvements you want to make, and he or she will have a ton more time to discuss them with you now than will be available come springtime.
As someone who has lived and worked through 45 springtimes in North Texas, I can tell you that it gets really crazy starting about the middle of March. Plan ahead and you’ll be a lot happier.
Start your spring transplants now. I realize not a lot of people do this anymore. Modern retail nurseries carry almost any plant you’d ever want to try (and a few you probably shouldn’t). But there always seem to be some old family favorites or something brand new and not yet available as transplants. That’s the time to grow them yourself.
If you have a greenhouse, you’re all set on this journey, but a coldframe, a bright windowsill or even artificial lights can suffice.
Find out the optimum outdoor planting time for each type that you’re growing. Determine how many weeks it will take to get a sturdy transplant ready, then count back to determine the time to sow the seeds. Early crops like broccoli, cabbage, chard, petunias, and other cool-season plants should be sown right away. Others will wait a few weeks.
I’ll let you do a little reading as to the best means of growing your own transplants, but I’ll leave you with a couple of warnings of how I see people fail.
First, they grow their seedlings in less than extremely bright light (almost too bright to read this newspaper). The seedlings get lanky and weak.
Second, they take tender potted transplants and set them out into the garden to face the sun, wind and cold with little or no protection. However you grow them, be sure your transplants are properly “hardened” before you set them into the ground. Expose them gradually to the outdoor conditions.
Fruit and asparagus plantings. This is the time to set out transplants of the best-adapted fruit and nut trees, grapes and bramble berries. Most nurseries are well stocked by now, and the best and most popular types will sell out quickly.
Look for varieties that are most highly recommended by Texas A&M experts for our part of Texas, and don’t be surprised to find that well-known types like Elberta peaches and Bartlett pears are highly discouraged (not adapted to this part of America).
Your county extension office will have a list of the best types, or the Texas A&M Horticulture website (“Aggie Horticulture”) can be of tremendous help.