Reseeding larkspurs can be planted from potted transplants.
Special to the Star-Telegram
If you want this to be your most successful year with your lawn, landscape and garden you’ll need to get busy soon. I’ve made a list of the things that are most critical for this very first part of the growing season. Scroll through and mark down the ones that apply at your place.
Keep mowing your lawn to eliminate weeds. Many of them grow assertively in winter warm spells and mowing will keep a large percentage in check.
For many of the others, such as dandelions, chickweed, henbit and clover, you can spray with a broadleafed herbicide (containing 2, 4-D) on a still, dry day when temperatures are in the 50s or warmer. It won’t eliminate the weeds overnight, but it will kill them before they bloom and go to seed.
Water your lawn anytime it goes more than two weeks between significant rainfall. Roots remain active during the winter and you want to keep the turf vigorous.
Soils are too cold for new grass to get established. You’ll need to wait until at least March to plant bermuda from sod or May if planting it from seed. April is the start of St. Augustine planting time.
If you have bare ground and simply must have some type of covering, bermuda sod has the best chance of surviving the six to eight weeks ahead. Again, however, you’ll need to keep it properly watered so that its very thin root system doesn’t dry out.
Trees and shrubs …
If you have woody plants that are in the way and that need to be moved, or if you’re trying to bring a plant in from some native setting, this is the only good time of the year to do so — while they are completely dormant.
Dig them with soil intact around their root systems. Move them carefully to preserve those balls of soil and set each plant at the recommended distances from the house and from one another. Water them immediately after planting at the same depth at which they were growing in their old location. Prune to compensate for roots lost in the digging.
Evergreen shrubs can be pruned now but strive to maintain their natural growth form in the process. Avoid squared or rounded shapes if possible.
Spring-flowering shrubs and vines should be pruned immediately after they finish blooming. That list includes camellias, flowering quince, forsythia, bridal wreath, azaleas, Carolina jessamine, star jasmine, wisteria and honeysuckle.
Avoid “topping” crape myrtles at all costs. It ruins their natural growth forms forever. It slows down their first bloom by six to eight weeks and those flower heads they do produce will be over-sized and heavy, pulling the stems into a graceless mess.
If you happen to have a crape myrtle that was topped by someone else and if you’d like to restore it to its natural growth form, the secret known by professionals is to cut it to within an inch of the ground now and then train the rapidly regrowing shoots into new trunks. Let all of them develop for the first part of the summer, then select the strongest three or five (odd numbers are visually most attractive) to be the new trunks. It works!
Color beds …
Annual color took a beating in that extreme cold one month ago. Many of us will need to amend what we had planted or possibly start over. Pansies, violas and pinks are usually the most tolerant of cold, but if even they were damaged you might want to consider changing them out. You can still find pansies, or you could switch over to early spring color in the next few weeks.
The planting list would include stocks, calendulas, sweet alyssum, larkspurs, wallflowers, Iceland poppies, California poppies, petunias, and ornamental Swiss chard among others. All of these could be planted now in protected locations or in a few weeks in open settings.
Vegetable gardening …
I outlined the planting dates for each of the vegetable crops we grow here in North Texas here over the past two weeks. Without going back through it all, remember that asparagus is planted now from dormant 2-year-old roots. Onions and snap-type English peas should be planted between now and the end of the month.
The next round comes in mid-February when it will be time to plant cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, kale and Irish potatoes. All other crops will follow later.
Fruit crops …
This is prime time for planting fruit trees, bramble berries and grapes, but stay with varieties recommended by Texas A&M for your county. It’s easy to find those varieties listed online by searching “Aggie horticulture best fruit varieties for __.”
Many of your fruit crops will need to be pruned now. Peach and plum trees should be pruned to remove all strongly vertical shoots. Your goal is to maintain them at nine or 10 feet in height with a cereal-bowl growth form. Apples are pruned to remove strongly vertical shoots (“water sprouts”). Pears are pruned very little, and then only to remove dead or damaged branches.
Grape vines should be trimmed to take away 80% to 85% of their cane growth annually. That will leave you with fewer clusters but with larger and better quality fruit.
Wait to prune blackberry canes until late spring, once they have born fruit. Those canes will never bear fruit again and should be cut flush with the ground. Pinch the growing tips out to force side branches. That will keep the plants shorter and more compact.