Looks like March is coming in like a lamb, and spring gardening fever is spreading across the area. Recent rainfall has replenished a lot of soil moisture, restoring hope for a more normal year weather-wise. However, we must remain vigilant since drought conditions that affect our vegetation can be different than municipal water supplies from lakes and reservoirs. Because of the uncertainty of this summer’s weather and current lower lake levels, Tyler and many other municipalities are still on mandatory water conservation status.
This winter has been relatively mild, yet most peach varieties may have received enough chilling hours to produce a normal crop of fruit. Texas AgriLife Research in Overton keeps track of chilling hours (and other weather data); go to http://etweather.tamu.edu for current and historical weather records.
Keep your fingers crossed that we do not get a late severe freeze that could damage our various plants as they come out of dormancy. The average last freeze for our area is around March 15, but like in previous years, it has also snowed in April!
Fruit Crops. Tree fruits should be fertilized (according to soil test results) before spring growth begins. There are newly revised Extension publications for all of the major fruit crops in Texas available online at http://aggiehorticulture.tamu.edu (go to Lawn & Garden -> Fruit & Nut). These guides provide recommendations on all aspects of growing and producing tree fruits and berries, from planting to harvest.
Newly planted peach trees should have been cut back to about 24 inches at the time of planting. If you have not done this yet, it is not too late. Then this summer, select the strongest three to five shoots arising from the top 6 inches on the main stem. They should be evenly spaced along the trunk. It is recommended that only three, evenly spaced scaffold limbs be retained, but some growers will select four scaffold limbs per tree. Allow the major limbs and non-competing side shoots to continue to grow.
An important key to establishing and growing fruit tree and berries (or any other kind of plant) is to keep the area around the base free of weeds and grass which aggressively compete with the young plant’s small root system for water and nutrients. The easiest way to do this is to maintain a 3 or 4 inch layer of mulch in a 5 foot diameter, but do not allow mulch to touch the trunk.
Vegetables. Finish planting cool season vegetables soon, and get ready to sow and transplant frost-tender, summer vegetables later in the month — just be ready to protect frost-sensitive plants in case of a late freeze. Floating row covers or frost blankets work great to provide a few extra degrees of protection, plus it helps keep insect pests like aphids and thrips off of the plants.
The following should be planted right away – transplant: broccoli, cabbage, and collards; seed: beets, carrots, collards, mustard greens, lettuce, radish, turnips, Swiss chard and spinach. Summer vegetables can begin to be sown and transplanted later in March. These would include: beans, sweet corn, cucumber, melons, tomatoes and squash.
Delay planting sweet potatoes, okra, eggplant (transplant) and peppers (transplant) until early April since they don’t do as well in cool soil and air temperatures as other summer crops.
Lawn Care. Wait another month to fertilize your lawns. Let the grass green up naturally without pushing it into growth. Turfgrass spring green up is in response to temperature and day length, not fertilizer. Fertilize in April after mowing actively growing grass one or two times. This practice results in a turf that is more resistant to summer stress by helping develop a stronger root system.
The best weed prevention is a sound lawn maintenance program of frequent mowing, proper fertilizing and timely watering. Mowing infrequently or at the wrong height, over or under fertilizing, and frequent, shallow irrigation are some of the factors that lead to poor turf quality. No amount of weed preventer or weed killer can overcome poor lawn care practices.
Now is the time to apply a preemergence herbicide (weed preventer) if crabgrass or sandburs (grassburs) were a problem last year. Follow label directions carefully and do not exceed application rate.
Sharpen your mower blade and tune up the mower now before the spring repair rush. If you decide to scalp your lawn, wait until all danger of freezing is over. If you do scalp, turn that huge amount of clippings into a fine soil amendment by composting it rather than sending it to the landfill.
Azaleas. The old rule-of-thumb for fertilizing azaleas is to do so once they finish blooming, and this is not wrong. However, azalea expert and author of ‘Azaleas’, Fred Galle, says that they can be fertilized beginning in early spring as growth starts. The more important thing in azalea fertilization is to make two or three smaller applications rather than one large dose in spring. Applying too much fertilizer can burn their shallow, sensitive roots. A rule of thumb would be to use one-half to 1 pound of fertilizer per 100 square feet of bed area. Small plants (less than 12 inches) need only about a teaspoon of fertilizer per plant. Larger individual plants would need about a tablespoon per foot in height. Evenly distribute fertilizer, keeping it away from the stem and off the leaves, and then thoroughly water to wash off leaves and into the soil. An organic or slow release fertilizer will provide a steadier, long-term release of nutrients without stressing your plants.
Renew the mulch around your azaleas and other landscape shrubs if it has decomposed or washed away. Pine straw, bark mulch and shredded leaves are good options. Mulch is so important in conserving soil moisture, and keeping root systems cooler during blistering hot summers. Plus it can add low amounts of nutrients as it breaks down, and increase the biological activity and health of the soil.
Tidy up and encourage new growth by shearing back Asian jasmine, mondograss, liriope, and ornamental grasses now before new growth starts.
Pruning of evergreen and summer flowering shrubs should be completed in early March. Wait to prune early spring flowering trees and shrubs (such as forsythia, quince, azaleas, spirea, etc.) until after they finish blooming, if needed. Do not prune hydrangeas until after they bloom in the summer.