I suppose after last night you have not been lulled into thinking winter is finally over with the recent balmy weather. According to the weatherman, March will come in like a lion. Our average last freeze falls around mid-March, so we have a few more weeks to be on the alert.
There are actually quite a few things a gardener can be planting now for food and beauty. These vegetables should be transplanted right away: broccoli, cabbage, and collards. Seeds for these should be planted: beets, carrots, collards, mustard greens, lettuce, radish, turnips, Swiss chard and spinach. You can also plant onion transplants, but bulbs may not get as big as with an earlier planting. At this point, buy and plant short-day varieties like Yellow Granex, 1015Y Texas Supersweet, or White Bermuda. Summer vegetables can begin to be sown and transplanted later in March once it warms up. These include beans, sweet corn, cucumber, melons, tomatoes and squash. Hold off on planting sweet potatoes, okra, eggplant and peppers until early April since they don’t do well in cool soil and air temperatures.
Cold hardy flowers such as calendula, petunia, viola, pansies, sweet alyssum, English daisies, dianthus or pinks, phlox, stock and snapdragons can easily take brief dips below the freezing mark. These flowers should be transplanted soon so they will have time to grow and flower before intense summer heat returns. For better results, purchase transplants in larger jumbo six-packs or 4-inch pots.
Don’t be anxious about fertilizing the lawn just yet. It is still early, and trying to push the lawn early can cause problems later in the year. Wait to fertilize until early April, or after you have mowed new growth.
Early to mid-March is, however, the time to apply a pre-emergent herbicide IF your lawn has had a history of summer weeds like crabgrass or grassburs. Be aware that the same products that kill germinating seeds also prevent new runners from pegging down roots through the herbicide barrier on the soil. This can stress the grass, slowing it down during the important time it is emerging from dormancy, and even cause yellowing. Always read and follow label directions of all pesticides.
Tidy up and encourage new growth by shearing back Asiatic jasmine, mondograss, liriope, ornamental grasses and Carex before new growth starts.
Pruning of evergreen and summer flowering shrubs should be completed this month. Prune spring flowering shrubs (forsythia, quince, azaleas, spirea, etc.) as soon as they finish blooming, if needed. Do not prune hydrangeas until after they bloom.
Fruit and pecan trees should be fertilized this month with nitrogen applied in the area beneath the ends of the branches, never against the trunk. Shrubs and annual flower beds can be fertilized with a complete, balanced fertilizer at the rate of one-half cup or one-fourth pound per square yard of area. Slow-release formulations, though slightly more expensive, feed your plants over a longer period of time.
Watch out for aphids that rapidly build up on tender new growth at this time of year. They can be controlled with a sharp stream of water, insecticidal soap or other insecticides (always read the product label to determine whether the infested host plants are included on the label).
Depending on how cold it got last night, and for how long it remained at the low temperature in your location, and how far along in bloom your fruit trees are, some trees, such as peaches or apples, might have gotten “thinned” by freezing temperatures. Different varieties are at different stages of development, and growers report that many varieties are still not showing color, which is a good thing. If a peach tree is in full bloom (all flowers wide open), then expect some loss at 28 degrees, and nearly complete loss at 24 degrees. If most of the flowers are tight, or only showing pink on the tips, then loss might not occur until 25 degrees or lower. These are only averages, and lots of things influence the outcome of a freezing event.
A couple of gardening programs coming up in Tyler might interest you. The First Tuesday in The Garden noon programs start again Tuesday in the IDEA Garden (southeast corner of the Tyler Rose Garden). The March topic is “How to Build Your First Vegetable Garden.” Items to be discussed include site selection, soil preparation, selection of plants, maintenance and how to keep the garden free of pests and diseases.
Sponsored by the Smith County Master Gardeners, these educational programs are free, and open to the public. Limited seating is available, so chairs are always needed. In inclement weather, the program will be moved inside the Tyler Rose Garden Center. First Tuesday in The Garden lectures are free.
The next East Texas Garden Lecture Series program is March 22 at the Tyler Rose Garden Center. This morning session will have two parts. First, I’ll present “Right Plant, Right Place — or Location, Location, Location,” for selecting the right plants for landscaping projects for long-term success. This will be followed by Laurie Breedlove of Breedlove Landscape Nursery and James Wilhite of Wilhite Landscape fielding your landscape design questions. Individual lecture series cost is $15, or $45 for the remaining six programs.