GROUND RULES AND TOOLS FOR FEBRUARY 2007
By Victoria County Master Gardener Karen Pye
Edited by Charla Borchers Leon

February 1, 2007
PHOTO CREDIT:  VICTORIA COUNTY MASTER GARDENER ASSOCIATION
“Now is the time to plant many trees, shrubs, fruits and vines. This example from the Master Gardener Victoria Educational Gardens (VEG) shows what can be accomplished with two grapevines planted and trellised having nice growth ready to start production.”
A little over a year and a half ago my husband and I made the wise decision to move to Victoria.  We wanted to settle in a town that wasn’t “Houston or Austin BIG”, wasn’t on the coast but near enough we could visit and central to larger cities such as Houston, Austin, San Antonio.  Victoria was the perfect fit.  I also brought my love of gardening, but the region was vastly different, moving from central/east Texas (that’s way north of I-10) to south central Texas.  I had to rethink my whole gardening program.  We relocated to Victoria at the end of June, way too late and hot to do anything about flower beds or landscaping, so I had plenty of time to do some planning.  I was very excited to read that Victoria County offered a Master Gardening course, conducted by Texas Cooperative Extension, every fall.  That would be the best place to learn about soil types, plants, landscaping, and everything pertaining to gardening.  Armed with this newfound knowledge I just knew I would be prepared to plant come the following spring.   The course ran from August to December.  Perfect timing.  After completing the course I utilized the “Get Ready”, “Get Set”, “Go” months, which is what I call January, February and March, to plan and prepare for spring planting.

Up until a couple of weeks ago, this winter was very mild.  I had to look at the calendar to remind myself that it was actually winter.  The weather provided perfect cool days, allowing for some beautiful blooms on some plants, warm sunny days for working outdoors, and some rainy/windy days to stay inside and look through seed catalogs and plan where to put which plants in the beds.  Then came the ice and cold winter weather!
PHOTO BY CHARLA BORCHERS LEON, VICTORIA COUNTY MASTER GARDENER
“Local nurseries have citrus varieties in stock this time of year. Look for healthy plants that already have fruit on them like these Texas Superstar Satsuma mandarins. Citrus fruit trees are fairly easy to grow in this region and yield good crops. Once mature, fruit stores well on the tree and can be picked over a period of several months.”
January (the “Get Ready” month) has now come and gone.  The fertilizing, spraying, and cleaning should have been done.  Now it is time to look at what can be done in February, the “Get Set” month.  The gardening year gets into full swing this month, with the average last freeze for this area being about February 19.  While we may be in the mood to plant early, we must be prepared for a late freeze and be ready to take the necessary precautions to protect any plants, shrubs and/or trees planted. Early planting assures that plants will be off to a good start and can become adjusted before the heat and drought of summer arrives.  Before planting anything it is always a good idea to have the soil tested.  It is also a good idea to correctly determine soil temperatures before planting.  To do this, purchase a soil thermometer at your local nursery or hardware store taking readings on three consecutive mornings.  They should be taken at a depth of 1-2 inches for seeds and 4-6 inches for transplants. Your seed packets and tender plants will have ideal soil temperatures listed.

February is a good month for transplanting any plants not in bloom or moving shrubs to a more desirable location.   Do not prune plants that will be blooming this spring.  These include spirea, azaleas, forsythia, quince, climbing roses and Indian hawthorn.  Prune these after they have finished blooming. Cool season flowers that can be planted are pansies, petunias, snapdragons, alyssum, ornamental cabbage, kale, dianthus, cannas and daylilies.
 
February is also an ideal month to plant roses, bareroot fruit and nut trees, and shade trees.  Be sure to select varieties recommended for our growing conditions. You are encouraged to contact the County Extension Office for recommended varieties.  The local nurseries are also great sources of information and suggestions.  When purchasing your trees, remember that the biggest is not always the best.  Select small to medium-size trees (4-6 feet).  These will adapt and establish root growth quicker.  If you have to purchase a taller tree, especially if purchased “bareroot”, cut it back to the recommended 4-6 feet.  Do not fertilize new trees or shrubs until after they have started to grow, then only lightly.  And be sure to water sufficiently.

Citrus fruit trees are a wonderful choice, fairly easy to grow in this region, yield good crops and oh! what a wonderful feeling you get when picking and eating the fruits of your labor.  Citrus should be included in all home orchards and landscapes where it can be successfully grown.  It is the ideal fruit for the home owner.  The fruit is easy to grow and once mature stores well on the tree and can be picked over a period of several months.  The major problem for home gardeners is the survival of trees after hard freezes.  For detailed information on selecting and planting citrus, visit
www.aggie-horticulture. tamu.edu and click on ‘Citrus Web’ in the left hand column.

Early to mid-February is also the best time to apply a pre-emergence herbicide to lawns that had a summer weed problem last year.  These products kill germinating seed such as grassburs, crabgrass, etc.  Apply a second application in late May or early June if your desired grass stand is weak allowing weed seeds to sprout.

And last, but not least, February is also a good time to think about your cool-season vegetable garden.  Now is the time to plant onions, radishes, greens, spinach, sugar snap peas, carrots, broccoli, beets and turnips.  Planting now will yield a good harvest before the summer heat. You can plant sweet corn toward the end of the month.  Don’t get in a rush to plant the summer vegetables, the soil for these crops need to be at least 70 degrees or higher to survive.

By taking the Master Gardener course I learned not only what I have shared with you in this article, but I also know where to go for just about any information I want to know about gardening.  If you are new to the Victoria area, are recently retired, or find you have extra time, your time would be well spent taking this course.  You’ll be so glad you did when you see the results in your yards, lawns and gardens.

So, ‘Get Set’ in February, and we’ll be ready to ‘Go’ in March!

The Gardeners' Dirt is written by members of the Victoria County Master Gardener Association, an educational outreach of Texas Cooperative Extension-Victoria County. Mail your questions in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, Texas 77901; or vcmga@vicad.com, or comment on this column at www.VictoriaAdvocate.com.
Citrus Plants for South Texas

Loquats – ‘Japanese plum’,  ‘Japanese medlar’

Lemons – ‘Ponderosa’, ‘Meyer’

Limes – ‘Mexican’ or ‘Key’

Naval Oranges – ‘Everhard’, ‘NEE3’

Grapefruit – ‘Ruby Red’, ‘Henderson’/’Ray’, ‘Rio Red’

Mandarin Oranges – Mediterranean Group –‘Willowleaf’, ‘Mediterranean’
King Group – ‘King’

Satsuma Mandarins - The Satsumas have the Texas Superstar distinction, and perform well anywhere in Texas and are very easy to grow. Varieties include ‘Armstrong Early', 'Brown’, ‘Owari’ and ‘Big Early’.