Here's hoping spring arrives quickly! The recent bout of wintry weather reminds us that we are not out of the winter woods yet. Our average last freeze date is mid-March, and for those of you who have lived here a while will remember, it has snowed in April. Mid-March is just an average over many years, meaning our last killing freeze could happen any time in March. Freezing weather mainly affects the timing of planting cold-sensitive plants, like tomatoes or begonias. If you decide to take chances with tender plants, be prepared to give them a protective covering, since a late freeze is always a potential threat.
Gardening is not without risk, but it is also full of great rewards. Here's hoping that there are many flower buds still protected in their scales, waiting for warmer weather to burst forth.
This wet weather should convince us to get our garden soils prepared for late winter and spring planting much earlier in the year, when better conditions permit cultivation of the soil. Now you will need to wait for things to dry out before working the soil.
These vegetables should be planted soon — Transplant: broccoli, cabbage, collards and Swiss chard. Seed: beets, carrots, collards, mustard greens, lettuce, radish, turnips, Swiss chard and spinach. You also can 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. March planting includes 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.
For flowering annuals, 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.
March is a great time for planting trees, shrubs, groundcovers and roses. Nurseries are receiving new shipments daily and will have a good selection. Thoroughly prepare soil in shrub and flower beds with the addition of compost and/or composted pine bark to help with moisture retention in all soils, and improve aeration and drainage for poorly drained soils. No need to amend the soil for trees.
Dig and divide summer and fall flowering perennials just before they initiate their spring growth. Mark locations of daffodils and other spring blooming bulbs that may need digging and dividing, once the foliage has died in early summer.
Early spring flowering shrubs, such as flowering quince, forsythia, azaleas and bridal wreath spirea, should be pruned, if needed, after they have finished blooming. Also, delay pruning of hydrangeas until after they bloom.
The old rule of thumb for fertilizing azaleas is to do so once they finish blooming. Azalea expert and author of "Azaleas," Fred Galle, says that they also can be fertilized in early spring when new growth starts. The most important thing in azalea fertilization is to apply two or three smaller amounts rather than one large dose in spring. Azaleas have shallow, tender roots that can be very easily burned by applying too much fertilizer. 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. Also, renew the mulch around your azaleas if it has broken down or washed away.
Don't be anxious about fertilizing the lawn just yet. It is still much too early, and trying to push the lawn early can cause problems later in the year. Wait to fertilize until early to mid-April, or after you have mowed new growth.
Early to mid-March is, however, the time to apply a pre-emergent herbicide, but only if your lawn has had a history of summer weeds such as crabgrass. 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.
Control winter weeds by starting a regular mowing regime. Get your mower serviced and blade sharpened now before the spring repair rush.
Next week promises to be warmer, so you can take advantage of the first in the series of First Tuesday in the Garden programs on March 3. Master Gardener Mack Humphries will discuss "Vines for Vertical Interest." He will share ideas about support structures and how vines can enhance your landscape. First Tuesday in the Garden programs are free and held in the IDEA Garden (southeast corner of the Tyler Rose Garden). Seating is somewhat limited, so bring a lawn chair and feel free to bring lunch while you listen. Program is about 30 minutes plus time for questions.
Get ready for roses! Mark Chamblee of Chamblee Rose Nursery will be the featured speaker at the next East Texas Garden Lecture Series, March 14 at Chamblee Rose Nursery on U.S. Highway 69 North. He will discuss some of the newest environmentally friendly and beautiful roses bred by Kordes Roses. He'll also discuss proper planting, pruning and other rose culture tips. Finally, he will talk about the new national rose evaluation program, American Rose Trials for Sustainability program (ARTS). Registration starts at 8:30 a.m. and the program begins at 9 a.m. Cost is $15, or $45 for a season pass for this and the next four lectures. Check out the Facebook page for details on this and the rest of the series topics for 2015 at facebook.com/et gardenconference.
Keith Hansen is Smith County horticulturist with the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. His web page is http://EastTexasGardening.tamu.edu. His blog is http://agrilife.org/etg. Find him on Facebook at facebook.com/easttexasgardening.