Get a soil test done! A good test will reveal the texture and ph of the soil, list the nutrients that plants can actually pull from the ground and make appropriate recommendations from there. Don’t pour money into fertilizer and other amendments that may not be needed or could evetn make things worse. A highly regarded source for testing is Texas Plant and Soil Lab (texasplantandsoillab.com). Other testing facilities include Logan Labs (loganlabs.com) and Control Laboratories (compostlab.com).
Start and maintain a compost pile. Sure, it’s easy to buy bags of this excellent soil amendment, but making your own will not only save you money, it can give organic gardeners peace of mind knowing what went into the compost. The most basic of recycling activities, composting turns coffee grounds, garden trimmings and kitchen scraps, among other things, into a moisture-retaining soil amendment, vibrant with microbial activity and rich with nutrients and minerals. Go to rodalesorganiclife.com/garden/how-compost or similar sites for instructions. Having a compost pile can be quite simple, regardless of the many books and websites out there that try to make it seem difficult.
Prepare the garden bed before planting. Longtime gardeners know that a successful vegetable patch starts with the soil, so work some compost, organic fertilizer or other appropriate amendments into the ground right now, to get it ready for spring planting. This gardening activity really pays dividends later in higher yields of vegetables and flowers.
Plant things that thrive in Central Texas.That may seem obvious, however, people often long to surround themselves with the plants and trees they grew up with, no matter what part of the country they hail from.Yes, fresh blueberries are wonderful and we’d all love to have a colorful Japanese Maple in our yard, but welcome to reality. It gets really hot here and we have too dry or too wet, heavy, alkaline soil (at least, most of us, most of the time). Avoid installing plants and trees that don’t do well in those kinds of conditions. You’ll save yourself time, money and heartache if you do some research first. You can find plant information at growgreen.org.
Attract beneficial insects and other pollinators by planting native and adapted plants. Pollinator-friendly plants, shrubs and vines will beautify your yard and bring in birds, butterflies and other helpers that will appreciate the seeds, nectar and shelter. Don’t use pesticides as they usually kill more helpful insects than pests; a healthy, organic garden will contain natural predators such as ladybugs, assassin bugs, wheel bugs and green lacewings, among others. Get some tips on designing a pollinator garden at wildflower.org.
Install trees, shrubs and woody vines before spring. Planting in the ground now will enable plants and trees to get a headstart on root production before the heat arrives. It’s usually more pleasant to work outdoors this time of year, too. Go to texastreeplanting.tamu.edu for more information.
Prune at the appropriate time of year (usually late winter) and only when needed. Don’t commit ‘crape murder,’ which is where the top part of crape myrtles are hacked off. It looks awful and weakens the tree. To keep from mindlessly pruning everything in sight this month, take a day to look at the landscape without any sharp tools in your hand and decide what, if anything, actually needs to be trimmed. A few reasons to prune include improving fruit or flower production, shaping to keep branches in proportion and removing dead branches. With roses, cut back most own-root varieties by about a third, opening up the branches to let the sunlight in and cutting off crossing or dead canes. For roses that bloom just once in the spring, such as Lady Banks, trim, if needed, after they’re done flowering to avoid cutting off buds. Remember to prune live oaks and red oaks only at the coldest time of the year in order to thwart the insects that spread oak wilt disease and then apply tree paint to the wound immediately.
Spend more time in the garden. Many studies suggest that mingling with plants and critters helps lower your blood pressure and relieves stress. It’s also a great place to hang out with the kids or grandkids. As ‘author unknown’ once wrote, “Gardening is cheaper than therapy and you get tomatoes!”