In every season, Texas gardeners plan their menus around certain reliable home-grown crops: lettuce in…
A Spring Planting Plan of Attack
In Texas, it’s true that when spring arrives, it comes on in a rush. Once the cold departs, the race is on to spruce up the existing landscape and get new plants established. Gardeners who want to take advantage of every moment of this prime time for growing need a well-organized plan of attack for the most common gardening challenges: herb and veggie gardens, flowering display gardens, and lawns.
The timing and steps to care for each part of the landscape varies, and gardeners who use winter and early spring to establish a timetable, a list of desirable plants, and step-by-step growing plans for edibles, ornamentals, and lawns will have won half the battle.
There’s a special reward for gardeners who grow and harvest their own herbs and vegetables, and unlike gardening in the landscape, growing and harvesting edibles – if you’re in Texas – can take place year-round.
Throughout the winter, cold-season crops like broccoli, cabbage, collards, kale, and spinach, which were planted in the fall, can be harvested, making space for spring plantings. Timing herb and vegetable crops are tricky because these can be grown from seed and started indoors, then transplanted outside after the first freeze OR grown outside by seed or by live transplants after the last freeze.
North Haven Gardens offers a comprehensive, year-round schedule of planting planning dates at https://www.nhg.com/guides/north-texas-vegetable-planting-dates/.
Gardeners who re-plant in an existing bed for spring planting must first evaluate the quality of the planting area. Herbs and veggies are heavy feeders that draw nutrients out of the soil; whether it’s an in-ground bed, a raised bed kit, or a container, gardeners need to aerate compacted soil, add additional soil to bring planting beds to the correct level, and incorporate an all-purpose soil rejuvenator like Espoma’s Bio-tone before planting.
The season for starting plants that will be harvested in mid-late spring begins in January when onions and leeks (known as “slips”) get planted (https://www.nhg.com/guides/onions-leeks/), followed in February by seed potatoes and asparagus, horseradish, and rhubarb crowns (https://www.nhg.com/guides/growing-asparagus-3/).
This is also an opportunity for gardeners who didn’t plant cold-season crops to do so; as they grow, these can be harvested and enjoyed throughout the spring. These are commonly planted as live transplants, and because there’s still a danger of frost and freeze at this time, it’s important to cover and protect the tender foliage during cold spells.
When to Plant Spring Vegetables
As we move closer to spring and away from winter temperatures, even the most novice grower gets excited about the prospect of home-grown tomatoes. Tomatoes transplants for a late spring/summer harvest get planted late February through April, and this is one of the most commonly overlooked timeframes for planting.
Tomatoes require a minimum of two to three months of growth and six to eight hours of full sun to establish a root system that can support flowering and the development of fruit, and once temperatures approach the 90-degree mark, they often stop flowering. No flowers = no tomatoes, so this early timing is critical.
They also require regular, consistent watering to promote juicy fruit. In addition, there are organic fertilizers and products that can help the fruit to develop and prevent fruit rot; this is a good investment to make in your future harvest. Plan your tomato crop with the help of NHG’s Tomato Project list (https://www.nhg.com/guides/tomato-planting-guide/).
Once tomatoes are planted and getting established (by late March), the threat of frost should have passed, and we’re in the hectic spring planting window, and almost any veggie and herb transplant can be planted: cantaloupe and watermelon, peas and beans, corn, zucchini, okra, and eggplant. One of the last spring vegetables to be planted is sweet potato slips, which are planted from mid-April to mid-May. These are fast growers and will be harvested in mid-summer.
This is also the time when tomato lovers who want a fall crop can start growing tomatoes by seed so that the transplants can be planted around the end of June and harvested before the first frost. Maintain established vegetable beds with regular watering, fertilization, and mulch, and enjoy your harvest!
When to Plant Spring Flowers
Another challenge for gardeners going into the spring is transitioning from dormant and often bare flower beds and pots into blooming colors that herald spring and brighten outdoor living spaces. This can be accomplished with both annuals, which flower repeatedly for one growing season and are usually replaced every few months, and perennial trees and shrubs, which survive from year to year.
Some of the all-time favorite bedding plants are the annual pansies and “Johnny jump-up” violas which are planted in the fall and often survive until mid-spring. These cheerful flowers are a wonderful addition to pots, hanging baskets, and flower beds; planted along with ornamental cabbage and kale, they are our most consistent performers for color in the winter and early spring.
As we move into spring, pansies can be replaced with early and mid-spring annuals that can tolerate brighter sun and warming temperatures: sweet alyssum, snapdragons, petunias, and our iconic Texas bluebonnet. Like veggies, annuals are heavy feeders; fertilizing monthly with a bloom-boosting fertilizer will extend the bloom season.
Perennial trees and shrubs are the backbones of any garden design. Some are evergreen and provide color throughout the year. Others have unique growth habits or colorful or textural bark that adds interest even when the leaves are gone. Early-flowering shrubs like forsythia, flowering quince, and azaleas are a sure sign that spring has come.
In recent years, gardeners have increasingly incorporated hellebores (Lenten roses) and heucheras (coral bells) as permanent fixtures in the garden. These small evergreen shrubs are striking foundational plants when massed in semi-shady flower beds; their wide range of colors and textures in the foliage and the winter-into-spring blooms brighten up even the darkest winter gardens. They also make great, long-lasting additions to decorative pots.
Early-blooming trees such as redbuds, ornamental cherries, and tulip magnolias bring height and structure that anchors the garden long after the flowers are gone.
Lawn Care Steps for Spring
The final step in a spring plan of attack concerns the yard. Maintaining a turf grass lawn may not offer the rewards of working in a vegetable garden or a flower bed, but lawns are often the largest area of the landscape… and the biggest headache for homeowners. Getting control of this area early on will free up time later for more enjoyable gardening tasks.
First, stop the sprouting of cool-season weeds like henbit, chickweed, and dandelions. Do this in early September with the application of a pre-emergent weed killer. This is available as both a synthetic (chemical) control or, for organic gardeners, in the form of corn gluten meal, which both suppresses the emergence of weed seedlings (thus “pre-emergent”) and also acts as a nitrogen fertilizer.
A second application of a pre-emergent happens in early March to target weeds that sprout in the summer. Gardeners may also want to keep a spray bottle of herbicide handy (or 20% horticultural vinegar for organic gardeners) for targeted spraying on hard-to-control weeds.
Spray only on a calm day with a spray nozzle directed right at the weed, as any drifting spray will also damage surrounding plants. When using any herbicide/weed control agent, it’s essential to follow directions on the package carefully, including safety guidelines for wearing gloves, eye protection, and a mask.
After weed control comes mowing, take time in the winter to get lawnmowers tuned up, sharpen blades, and mow for the first time in spring when the first bit of green starts showing. During the growing season, mower blades should be set on a high setting to protect grass as temperatures rise and promote new growth and – especially with a mulching mower – grass clippings left to decompose on the lawn.
However, early spring is the time to give a close mow and bag the clippings. Lowering the blade for the first few spring mows will help pick up thatch and leaves, and bagging clippings will catch and eliminate the seeds of winter weeds that have flowered.
Finally, after the first few mows, fertilize. Fertilizing more often – spring, summer, and fall – with a mild, low-formulation lawn or all-purpose fertilizer will gently feed grass through the growing season. Be prepared to water your landscape when temperatures rise, and remember the rule of thumb for watering lawns: less often, but slowly and deeply so that water infiltrates to the roots. NHG has a guide to proper watering at https://www.nhg.com/guides/how-to-water-your-landscape/.
Your Pro Sidekick For Texas Landscaping and Gardening Projects
Taking a long-range view and planning accordingly can save gardeners time, effort, and money, but garden planning and maintenance can be complicated. A private consultation with a North Haven Gardens “Garden Coach” gives both beginner and skilled gardeners a chance to talk through plans, ask questions, and get advice and feedback before any garden design begins.
Whether it’s the installation of a brand new flower bed, a first step into herb and veggie gardening, or a refresh of an existing landscape, our Garden Coaches will inspire confidence and help home gardeners get the project right the first time. Learn more at https://www.nhg.com/garden-coach-program/, then schedule your consultation and get ready for spring!