Springtime! Finally azaleas and other spring flowers are bursting into their spring glory. This is a perfect time for not only enjoying the fabulous scenery and landscapes in East Texas, but also for getting into your own yard for planting, cleaning up and creating your own personal paradise. There’s plenty of gardening things to do in the month of April, and here a few items for your list.
Mark your calendars for the East Texas Garden Lecture Series, which continues on April 12 with “A Warm Welcome — Landscape Tips for Curb Appeal.” Join Master Gardener Dee Bishop as she teaches you how to create the “wow factor” in your front yard to give your home and garden great curb appeal. She will provide a ton of tips as she creates dynamic container gardens, drawing on her many years of experience creating designs and gardens. Registration begins at 8:30 a.m. at the Tyler Rose Garden Center, and the program begins at 9 a.m. Cost is $15 (or $45 for this and the remaining four 2014 programs).
Thinking about growing some edibles at home? You’re not alone. This national trend continues to increase as folks for many different reasons are growing fruits and veggies in the home garden and landscape. So, what can you plant now? The most recent freeze may have set back or even killed early-planted tomatoes. Hurry and get your tomato transplants and set them out now. Larger transplant sizes will start producing sooner, and that is a good thing because once it gets really hot this summer, tomatoes will stop setting fruit.
Now is the perfect time to plant peppers. Unlike tomatoes, they do not tolerate cool air and soil temperatures and can be permanently stunted if exposed these conditions. Peppers are perfect plants for tucking into sunny spots in the landscape. Besides being very productive, they are very colorful, especially if the fruit is allowed to remain longer to its mature color. Also, unlike tomatoes, peppers do not like to be buried deeply when transplanting.
Other veggies to be planted in April include bush and pole beans, cucumber, eggplant, cantaloupe, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, summer and winter squash, tomatoes and watermelons. Wait until mid-month for warmer soil to begin planting 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.
You don’t have to have a lot of space to grow veggies. 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.
Avoid the temptation to purchase bargain bare-root fruit trees now. Look for fruits that have been grown in containers for best establishment results. Easy crops to grow include blueberries, blackberries, figs and Japanese persimmons.
April is the month to begin fertilizing lawns. The ideal time to apply fertilizer is after you have mowed green, actively growing grass (not weeds) once or twice. Early to mid-April is a good target date for St. Augustine and common bermuda. Delay fertilization of centipede until May. For best results, have your soil tested for pH and fertility before applying fertilizer. In the absence of a soil test, use a (3-1-2) or (4-1-2) ratio of fertilizer such as 21-7-14, 12-4-8 or 15-5-10, or something similar.
Many lawn soil tests for our area show an excess of phosphorus, and therefore products with high phosphorus content (the middle number) should be avoided. In such a case, a product such as 15-0-15 might be an good choice. Only a soil test will give you this kind of information. A soil test will also tell you if you need to apply lime to reduce the acidity of the soil. Soil testing information is available from every county Extension office, or on the web at http://soiltesting.tamu.edu and look for the “Forms” link.
Many summer flowering and foliage plants can be set out right now. There are so many to choose from including annuals, perennials and some bulbs, corms and tubers like gladiolus, caladiums and dahlias.
Examples of annual flowers include amaranthus, celosia, cleome (spider flower) cosmos, marigold, portulaca, zinnia and gomphrena. These 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. Surplus plants can be moved to other areas. Transplants will provide faster color.
To help prevent diseases in your flower and vegetable beds, do as the farmers do and rotate the types of plants grown in the same location from year to year. For example, do not plant begonias or impatiens in the same spot every year. Switch to another unrelated plant. This also adds variety to your landscape. Experiment with a new plant you haven’t tried before.
Annuals for shady spots include New Guinea impatiens, coleus, perilla, Persian shield, chicken gizzards (Iresine), caladiums, nicotiana, annual salvias, begonias (many types in addition to the common wax begonia), and torenia (wishbone flower).
Perennials are wonderful plants for the garden, with a wide assortment providing form and color, and they don’t need to be planted every year. There are perennials for every landscape situation.
Roses are available this month in bud and bloom in 2- or 3-gallon pots. Antique and shrub roses are sold in 1-gallon or larger containers since they are usually grown on their own roots instead of being grafted. A great many roses locally available are Tyler roses, grown and processed right here in East Texas!
April is also a good month to add trees and shrubs to the landscape. Resist purchasing attractive nursery plants that don’t fit in with your overall landscape plan. Otherwise, the yard can become quickly overgrown, crowded or look haphazard.
Spend your money, and time, on thorough bed preparation for shrubs and flowers; they’ll be there a long time and you want to do it right from the beginning. Mix in lots of organic matter such as well-aged pine bark, compost and/or peat moss. A soil test will tell you what nutrients to add, and whether or not the soil needs lime if it is too acidic for the type of plants you plan to grow.
Keith Hansen is Smith County horticulturist with the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. His web page is http://EastTexasGarden ing.tamu.edu. His blog is http://agrilife.org/ etg.