What an interesting year, weather-wise, thus far. Mild winter, warm March, and thankfully enough rainfall to fill up lakes and replenish dried out soils.
Spring gardening is at a fever pitch now, and nurseries are fully stocked with all kinds of plants and products for every purpose for the itchy green thumb. Here are a few gardening tips for the month of April that you might find helpful.
Home Garden Tour. Mark your calendar for Saturday, April 28, when the Smith County Master Gardeners host their annual Home Garden Tour. Five home gardens around Smith County, each very different, will be open for your viewing pleasure. For descriptions and ticket information, go to scmg.tamu.edu .
Lawn Care. Now that St. Augustine and Bermuda lawns are actively growing, it is time to apply fertilizer. Ideally, the kind of fertilizer you use should be based on a soil test for the most accurate way of applying only what is needed. That helps both the lawn and the environment. In the absence of a soil test, Extension turf specialists recommend a 3-1-2 or 4-1-2 ratio of nutrients, such as 15-5-10, 21-7-14, 18-6-12, or something similar. The exact numbers are not as important as the ratio of the three numbers. Look for a product that has up to 50% of the nitrogen in a slow release form for longer-lasting results.
Centipede lawns are a little slower to get started in spring, and should be fertilized in late April or early May. Fertilizing grasses too early can results in a weaker root system going in to the summer.
You probably have encountered fire ant mounds while mowing or fertilizing. If you have a large number of mounds on your property, the best method for dealing with fire ants is to broadcast over the entire yard a bait product formulated for fire ant control. Ants, thinking the bait is food, pick up and take it to the mounds, where it will slowly kill the colony. It has to work slowly to give the product time to be exposed to all of the ants. Broadcasting the bait will get both the visible larger colonies and smaller hidden ones as well. After a week or 2, you can follow up with a contact insecticide to kill nuisance mounds nearer the home.
For more information on fire ants, baits, and the 2-Step Method of controlling fire ants, visit the informative web site fireant.tamu.edu (note: no ‘s’ in fireant)
Vegetables. Hopefully you have your tomatoes, peppers, squash, and other warm season vegetables already planted. If not, get them in the ground right away. Production of most vegetables is reduced once it gets hot, so planting on time can help produce the best yields. Plant bush and pole beans, cucumber, eggplant, cantaloupe, peppers of all kinds, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, summer and winter squash, tomatoes, and watermelons. Wait until later in April for warmer soil to plant okra and Southern peas.
To get the highest yields, make additions of fertilizer (called sidedressing) every couple of weeks, starting about a month after transplanting or seeding. This will keep crops like tomatoes and peppers growing vigorously for a bumper crop.
If your yard is too small for a traditional garden plot, try gardening in containers. Any kind of vessel that will hold soil will work, as long as it has drainage holes and is at least 3 gallons or larger. The bigger the container, the better! Use only quality potting mixes; avoid using soil from the garden. Grow dwarf or bush varieties to concentrate production, train plants vertically with stakes or trellises, and as in a traditional garden, the more full, direct sun the better!
Container gardens need more attention since they dry out faster and need regular additions of fertilizer to compensate for the more frequent irrigation. Add slow-release fertilizer to the potting mix and supplement with regular applications of water-soluble fertilizers.
Nearly every year we see samples of tomato plants that have symptoms of stunting, twisting, and curling. If only one or 2 plants have twisted or deformed growth, then it might be a virus. If all of the tomato plants in the garden look that way, then we suspect herbicide contamination. This is often from hay from treated pastures used as a mulch, or manure from cattle that has grazed treated pastures. While using mulch and manures is a great way to enhance your crops, be sure to know the source and any potential contamination. Same goes for using grass clippings from treated lawns.
Summer Color. Many summer flowering plants can be set out right now. There are so many to choose from including annuals, perennials, bulbs, corms and tubers like gladiolus, caladiums and dahlias, and tropical plants
Many annual flowers can be sown directly in the beds where they are to grow. Keep seeded areas moist until seeds germinate. Thin out as soon as they are large enough to transplant so the remaining plants will not be crowded. Transplants provide faster color. Tropical plants can be used as annuals, and give you a lot of colorful bang for your gardening dollars.
Perennials are wonderful plants for the garden, with many types that give different form and color, plus they don’t need to be planted every year. The list of perennials for the garden is long, with some for every landscape situation.
Roses are available this month in bud and bloom in 2 or 3 gallon pots. Antique and miniature roses are sold in 1 gallon or larger pots since they are usually grown on their own roots. A great many roses locally available are Tyler Roses, grown and processed right here in East Texas! Give roses a very sunny location with good air flow for the best blooms and least disease problems.