TEXAS CERTIFIED EXPERT GARDENER — January gardening check includes preparation for Spring

Published 12:02 am Thursday, January 11, 2024

The holidays are now recent history, we need to focus our attention on gardening tasks and planning (our gardening to-do-list) as there are many tasks that can be accomplished now, as we anticipate spring planting.

As gardeners most of us know the last ‘anticipated’ frost date for many parts of SETX occurs near the end of February or beginning of March.

According to the Old Farmer’s Almanac, our last frost date arrives (Beaumont area) February 26th. As any experienced local gardener knows and understands this is an estimated date and an unexpected late frost could arrive later in March.

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This is important to note if you (like me) plan on getting a “jump-start” on a spring vegetable gardens with cold-sensitive plants, such as tomato and pepper plants, but first, let’s discuss preparations, beginning with reviewing seed catalogues, seed selections, re-using plant containers and numerous other garden tasks.

Numerous seed catalogues have been “leafed” through (pun intended) as I received fourteen to date.

This gardener certainly has favorites beginning with my all-time favorites: Baker Creek (The Whole Catalogue-500+ pages), Baker Creek 2024 Rare Seed catalogue, Willhite Seed Inc, (Poolville, TX), Seeds n’ Such and Burpee.

Every year each catalogue is scrutinized for “new” plant varieties, as well as “exceptional” performers previously planted. As I review each catalogue, notes are made, and seed information collected so I can place my order quickly before the vendors are out of stock.

I recommend that if you have not already done so, get started quickly. While waiting for the multiple orders to be delivered, use the time wisely.

Last year’s pots are re-used, which means they must be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected before use. Discard last years’ soil and place the soil into compost bins.

Encrusted soil needs to be brushed out of the container and discarded. Next make a bleach solution using a 10:1 ratio of water to bleach (10 parts water to one part bleach). Allow the containers to remain submerged in the bleach solution for a few minutes, then remove them allowing each to air dry completely before filling with a germination media.

Once the containers are dry, fill with seed germination soil for the best results use ‘fresh’ germination soil.

Don’t skimp on this step, since using “regular” potting soil is too heavy and weighs down the seeds, “drowning” the roots. A light germination mix is necessary to allow air and water to pass through the soil mix easily.

A light germination soil mix can be created by sifting sphagnum peat moss, then adding vermiculite using a 2:1 ratio. The germination media should be moistened before planting seeds, ensuring the seeds don’t wash out of place.

Once your seed orders are delivered, it’s time to plant seeds into germination containers following package directions and transplanting instructions. It is important to water containers from the bottom, so as not to disturb the seedlings’ tiny root system as they are being formed.

Once seeds are planted add a sprinkling of fine sand or a light dusting of cinnamon to minimize gnat populations. It is important to note that most seeds prefer a germination temperature of 70-degress and require light.

Always review the seed packet information for light requirements, as some seeds will not germinate if covered with soil.

Fortunately, our winter weather makes working outdoors enjoyable preparing flowerbeds and vegetable gardens for their “new” inhabitants. We often need to remove plants and weeds from the previous season, add soil, composted manure or top dress with a 3 to 4-inch layer of composted mulch.

Some gardeners (like me) have winter gardens and we must work around growing plants or simply remove them when the time is right, or if they are not producing any longer. Simply cut them to ground level, allowing the roots to decompose in the soil to the benefit of the next crop.

If adding soil, include feeding the soils biome (microbes) an organic fertilizer. Chemical fertilizers do not have the needed microbes required by the soil to improve nutrient uptake by plants.

Just know that winter vegetables can still be planted now: Swiss Chard, lettuce, mustard, pak choi, tatsoi, Chinese mustard, turnips, spinach, radish, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower and many others.

Cold hardy flowers can also be planted, such as pansy, viola, snapdragon, dianthus, ornamental kale and cabbage, daises and sweet alyssum.

Now is the perfect time to plant trees. It is much less stressful on them planting while dormant, rather than when they are actively growing.

Always remember to consider the trees’ mature height and width when selecting the planting location, since often trees will attain heights of 30 feet or greater with a canopy width similar to its height over the course of several decades.

Make certain the trees mature height will not impact structures such as building, electrical lines, or the root system will not undermine your home’s foundation, swimming pool or underground utilities.

Did you check each gardening tool this fall?

Really?

You cleaned each of them?

Removed the clinging soil and rust?

Sharpened & oiled each tool?

Really?

Or are you going to find them strategically located around the yard … exactly where you left them?

Give each one a thorough inspection and decide if they need to be maintained or replaced. Keep in mind gardening tools are expensive, well-placed effort now will aid you in spring when you need each tool to perform as intended.

If they are in good condition, give them some love: a good cleaning, remove rust, oil as needed. For rust-free tools, fill a bucket or two with sand, then top with used motor oil and mix.

Store shovels, hoes, spades, and short handled tools in the bucket. The tools will remain rust-free and ready for use, and this even works with pruners and clippers.

Let’s go out and grow ourselves a greener, more sustainable world, one plant at a time.

Send Certified Texas Expert Gardener John Green your questions and please continue sending comments to jongreene57@gmail.com.