The Gardeners' Dirt: Late winter tips for Victoria gardeners

By Brenda Heinold - Victoria County Master Gardener; Edited by Charla Borchers Leon
Jan. 25, 2018 at 10:26 p.m.
Updated Jan. 26, 2018 at 6 a.m.

Although Victoria and surrounding counties woke to a blanket of snow in early December, temperatures remained above freezing in most areas.  Little damage was done to landscapes. The snow-covered rose blooms shown here remained perky long after the snow melted.  Even some warm-weather flowering annuals like cosmos continued to bloom until the killing freeze on New Year's Day.

Although Victoria and surrounding counties woke to a blanket of snow in early December, temperatures remained above freezing in most areas. Little damage was done to landscapes. The snow-covered rose blooms shown here remained perky long after the snow melted. Even some warm-weather flowering annuals like cosmos continued to bloom until the killing freeze on New Year's Day.   Victoria County Master Gardener Barbara Heinold for The Victoria Advocate

This year certainly got off to a chilly start. The first four days saw freezing temperatures in Victoria and surrounding counties, even dipping as low as the upper teens to mid-20s. Then, with last week's sleet and several days in the mid- to low 20s, the frost-sensitive annuals in our gardens that survived the snow in early December have almost certainly been decimated.

But, make no mistake about it; our landscape is still very much alive. What we do now can have a great impact on our gardening success throughout the remainder of 2018.

Planning for the spring

January and February are great months to review what did and did not work in our gardens in the previous year. Selecting appropriate plant varieties is a fairly easy task with the wealth of free information available at Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service's website and in its printed and online publications. Many plant- and gardening-specific publications can be obtained by visiting your county extension office.

Equally importantly, we must match our plants' needs to the resources we can reasonably devote to caring for them. It is important to understand the nutritional and water needs of selected plants, how much time is necessary to care for them and whether they are prone to disease and insects. Matching recommended plants to our ability to care for them is probably the most important thing we can do to improve our gardening pleasure and success.

Research recommended vegetable varieties for your county and make lists of those that you would like to plant. I recommend printing the list available at http://bit.ly/2Dz79Qw and marking your choices on the copy. Then, take the marked-up copy with you when you shop for transplants or seeds. If you don't find your first choice, you will be able to make a wise second choice.

Preparing beds for spring planting

The winter months are an ideal time to prepare old and new beds for spring planting. The first task will be to mark the layout of the bed, remove existing weeds and turf, till or spade organic matter into the soil and cover the entire bed with a layer of mulch. If you are establishing a new bed, strive to achieve a balance of 50 percent organic matter and 50 percent soil to a depth of 12 inches. Refer to last week's column on composting for information on organic matter.

In established beds, be sure to remove any dead vegetation before mixing organic matter into the soil and adding fresh mulch. Remember that your beds need organic matter added each year.

Refer to last week's article on composting for information on organic matter.

In established beds, be sure to remove any dead vegetation before mixing organic matter into the soil and adding fresh mulch. Remember that your beds need organic matter added each year.

Planting in late winter

Many vegetables and flowering annuals can be planted now through February. The next few weeks are your last chance to plant cool-season vegetables. The second half of February, in general, is the first chance to plant warm-season vegetables. Consult a planting guide for specific planting dates.

Irish potatoes should be planted in mid-February. Remember the old advice to plant them between Lincoln's birthday (Feb. 12) and Washington's birthday (Feb. 22). Do not wait too late. Potatoes need enough time to mature before the combination of hot temperatures and heavy rainfall that can come in late April and May.

Trees, shrubs and roses can all be planted in January and February. Follow specific planting guidelines available through Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service.

Pruning

In general, do not prune spring-blooming ornamental plants until after they bloom. Mid-February is the best time to prune shrubs and roses, with the exception of those like the Lady Banks rose that bloom just once a year. Although trees are best pruned in the winter months, remember that your shade, ornamental and fruit trees represent a significant investment of money and time. Be sure to consult a pruning guide to determine how much to prune, when to prune and even whether to prune at all.

Watering and fertilizing

Water and fertilize actively growing vegetables and cool-season flowers with high-nitrogen synthetic or organic fertilizers. Although your lawn will also benefit from adequate water, hold off on fertilizing your turf until late March. Plan to water your turf grasses once in January and twice in February unless we receive adequate rainfall.

Make light applications of water-soluble fertilizer and high-nitrogen fertilizers on newly planted vegetables and flowers. Fertilize established trees, shrubs and vines in February, but do not fertilize those that are newly planted.

Maintenance

Finally, remember to keep an eye on the weather forecast. Late January and February can be the coldest time of the year. Do not let your guard down. Remember to protect cold-sensitive plants from freezing weather. We are almost to the home stretch. Do not let a sudden cold snap catch you unaware.


The Gardeners' Dirt is written by members of the Victoria County Master Gardener Association, an educational outreach of Texas A&M AgriLife Extension - Victoria County. Mail your questions in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901; or vcmga@vicad.com.


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