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Gardeners' Dirt: Seasonal gardening tips

By Barb Henry - Victoria County Master Gardener Edited by Charla Borchers Leon
Jan. 24, 2013 at midnight
Updated Jan. 23, 2013 at 7:24 p.m.

Recently retired Texas A&M University Extension Horticulturist Doug Welsh's "Texas Garden Almanac" is a Texas-specific reference manual for gardening. Welsh was the first statewide coordinator for the Texas Master Gardener program and co-editor of the Texas Master Gardener Handbook. Following his book is like having your personal consultant at hand all year long.

Editor's note: With consistent inquiries on gardening guidelines, today's article begins seasonal gardening tips from the Victoria County Master Gardeners.

Oh, the weather outside is frightful and not conducive to thoughts of spring gardens or summer flowers, but the garden calls in every season, and winter is no exception. Be thankful for the cool and damp - and enjoy.

In these unpredictable winter months, there is plenty to do to maintain and prepare our lawns, beds and veggie gardens for spring. Like me, many Texas Master Gardeners will turn to a trusted and revered book for timely tips and reminders.

Texas-specific reference manual

I refer to a Texas-specific reference manual - Doug Welsh's "Texas Garden Almanac" - which is probably in every Texas Master Gardener's library. Planning, mulching, fertilizing, pruning, some planting or transplanting should be done in these cooler months. Getting all tools and irrigation systems in working order now helps beat the spring rush for tune-ups and repairs.

The tips here come directly from Welsh's Almanac, though highly condensed. So, bundle up and enjoy your winter gardening. Spring will be here before you know it.

Garden design

Use the winter months to peruse gardening books, magazines and catalogues for ideas for additions or changes to your landscape. Plan new beds for herbs, veggies, flowers, a well-placed tree or statuary.

With our ongoing drought, a birdbath would be helpful to wildlife in your area. Plan to plant your bare-root roses in February. Start other new additions in March.

Soil, mulch

Soil should be prepared for all the planting to come by incorporating good compost into the top 8 to 12 inches of currently unplanted areas. Add organic material every time you add plants. Amending your soil can be done now, but don't overdo additives. Have your soil analyzed if you suspect major changes or you're in a new home. Contact the county extension office for information.

Mulch your beds and young trees to conserve moisture and heat and to protect roots from the cold. Mulch again before spring.

Flowers, shrubs, trees


Flowering bulbs should already be planted.

Add organic matter to the soil every time you plant (except trees). Texas heat depletes nutrients quickly.

Plant or tend to established cool-season annual flowers.

Fertilize established plants with a high nitrogen fertilizer.

Plant bluebonnet transplants. Be vigilant for pill bugs or sow bugs.

Delay pruning. Freeze damage insulates live tissue.

Weed as needed. Avoid herbicides in cold weather.

Remove dead plant debris, "sanitize" the area.

Order bare-root roses.

Plant new trees or shrubs, transplant existing ones during this dormant season.


It's pruning month - remove dead or damaged portions of existing trees, shrubs, etc.

This can be our coldest month - protect cold sensitive plants.

Wildflower plantings are ready to grow and bloom. Weed carefully.

Replace unhealthy or freeze-damaged plants

Fertilize established cool-season annuals with a high-nitrogen fertilizer.


Divide fall-blooming perennials and grasses, if needed.

Plant spring annuals.

Plant trees, shrubs, vines and ground cover while cool - less stress for everyone.

Plant spring-flowering trees like redbud and dogwood.

Cut back ornamental grasses if new growth is emerging at plant base.

Fertilize as last month.

Finish any pruning now. Let badly damaged perennials gain some new growth before pruning off all dead wood.

Move sheltered plants back outdoors.

Beware of late freezes and frosts.

Garden veggies, herbs, fruits


Transplant cool-season crops, and sow seeds for late-winter veggies and herbs.

Plant bare-root fruit and nut trees.

Plant trees, shrubs and vines as directed for each plant.

Protect citrus from freezing.

Fertilize lightly with high nitrogen products, preferably water-soluble.


Transplant cool-season veggies, sow seeds of carrots, beets, greens and lettuce.

Jump-start spring planting by growing cool-sensitive giant transplants in containers that can be sheltered if freeze is predicted.

Transplant cold-tolerant herbs like chives, cilantro, dill, fennel, garlic, parsley, rosemary, etc.

Fertilize lightly with water-soluble, high nitrogen product. Herbs should not be fertilized, as too much growth results in poor quality.

Make last-minute purchases of bare-root fruit and nut plants.

Protect citrus plants from a late freeze.


If you gamble, plant warm-season crops the first week of March.

Not a gambler? Buy transplants and transfer to larger pots easily moved indoors if temps drop.

Plant warm-season herbs like basil and mint now.

Fertilize veggie gardens with a high-nitrogen granular product.

Monitor crops for insects.

Take care of fruit blossoms, or there will be no fruit.

The fertilizers referred to above are high-nitrogen and should be applied per 100 square feet accordingly: urea, one fourth of a pound; ammonium sulfate, one half of a pound; or blood meal, one pound.

Let's hope 2013 brings good conditions for healthy gardening. Follow these proven tips and reap the rewards of beauty and bounty from your garden this year.

The Gardeners' Dirt is written by members of the Victoria County Master Gardener Association, an educational outreach of Texas AgriLife Extension - Victoria County. Mail your questions in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901; or, or comment on this column at



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