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Gardeners' Dirt: Seasonal gardening tips for wintertime

By By Cara Marie (CJ) Jones - Victoria County Master GardenerEdited by Charla Borchers Leon
Jan. 16, 2014 at midnight
Updated Jan. 15, 2014 at 7:16 p.m.

In planning, planting and preparing for a new garden, you should consider plants that do well locally. In addition, you may wish to include those that attract butterflies and/or hummingbirds as well as provide color to your garden.  For example, you might consider the Esperanza shrub that blooms bright yellow tubular flowers in spring, summer and fall. It is a sure bet for hot, xeriscape conditions and readily attracts butterflies and hummingbirds. It can grow quite tall and should be clipped back after a deep freeze for new growth.  It is known to provide bright color and to repel deer.

Tips By the Month

January

•  Plant spring bulbs

•  Trim perennials

•  Begin adding new trees

•  Mow winter weeds

February

•  Prune carefully

•  Mulch heavily

•  Apply pre-emergency herbicides

•  Prepare equipment for use

•  Expand and repair irrigation system

March

• Weed, weed, weed

•  Divide perennials

•  Build new beds

For more information

•  "Texas Garden Almanac" by Doug Welsh

•  usna.usda.gov/Research

•  texassuperstar.com

•  aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/ornamentals/native

•  aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/picturepages

Having endured those first frosty mornings when the thermometer affirms that winter has settled in, gardeners take a deep breath and dig in - literally. The time is nigh.

Plan, prepare

January, for gardeners, marks the beginning of the road to spring and all those lovely plants, trees and blooms that enliven spirits in spring gardens. It is time to work in the plant beds, enrich soil gently and prepare for the beauty to come with spring. January is the perfect time to begin planning those new beds that have been dancing in gardeners' heads since last spring.

Plant prune

Haven't already started planting those spring crocuses, daffodils, tulips and narcissus? Why not? January days are still ahead when the temperatures cooperate and when working in the garden is heaven.

When hyacinths poke their fragile heads above the soil and begin to bloom in profusion, spring has arrived. It's time for bluebonnet transplants, too, but keep watch for pesky bugs that love to nibble on them.

Prune your perennials. Trim back those perennials that have ugly deadheads after the freeze; perk up cool-season annuals with a bit of high-nitrogen fertilizer.

Put in trees, tend to grasses

Winter is the best season for putting in those trees that have been dancing in dreams since last spring. Plant living Christmas trees outdoors in a shady location after giving them a week to adjust to the cooler outdoor weather.

Mow winter weeds and water lawns thoroughly if rainfall doesn't hit at least 2 inches in January. Lightly fertilize fescue and bluegrass and overseeded perennial ryegrass.

Plan rose beds, check out equipment

While hard freezes still occur in south Texas, the arrival of mid-February usually means the last freezing temperatures can be anticipated. It's also the time when gardeners start to plan their rose beds. It's easy to remember to prune roses on Valentine's Day.

Heavy mulching now will not only help retain winter moisture in the soil but also introduce air in the soil as it is tilled in to decompose as spring arrives.

Apply pre-emergence herbicides and save muscle strain in April. Fertilize trees, shrubs and vines now so nutrients can be absorbed before spring growth begins.

Check those irrigation systems and make repairs or additions. Check out mowers, weed whackers and other engine systems that will be cranking up in spring; repair shops are usually more available now.

Smell beginning of spring

March shifts gardening into a higher gear. Gardeners can smell spring coming about this time and do not hesitate to jump into gardening with the longer days. There will be a lot of weeding this month.

Divide fall perennials and ornamental grasses so they can reestablish before the hot days of summer. Look for new growth and cut back dead foliage from ornamental grasses. Make sure annual and perennial flowers get a bit of fertilizer.

Amend soil, finish pruning

Start adding larger quantities of organic matter, but be careful not to significantly alter the soil. If you add both sand and organic matter to clay soil, the largest, strongest adobe brick known to humanity may result. Pine bark and compost perk soil up without altering the soil base. Let the winter moisture carry plants through March.

If pruning has not been finished, now is the time to finish up. Freeze-damaged perennials should not be pruned until new growth has begun.

Crank mower, then fertilize

Time to crank the mower for San Augustine and Bermuda grass; mow 1 inch lower than ended last year to remove winter-damaged foliage and make way for spring growth. Hold the fertilizer until April. Fertilize vegetable gardens with high-nitrogen granular fertilizer. Check fruit and nut crops - insects and diseases also like March.

Begin planning, planting and preparing

It is time to start planning, planting and preparing new gardens. Often, spring brings dreams of butterflies, birds and squirrels. Provide plants that will provide food, shelter and a place to raise young.

Even deer are welcome wildlife companions if care is given to deer-resistant plants such as dogwood, cast-iron plant, lantana, split-leaf philodendron, vitex, star jasmine, hummingbird bush and hundreds of other desirable plants that will grow beautifully in the garden while being unwelcome to grazing.

Spending time during these winter months in preparation for spring will bring you a great deal more time to enjoy all that comes with gardening.

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 vcmga@vicad.com, or comment on this column at VictoriaAdvocate.com.

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