February2006
Victoria County Master Gardener Association
Ground rules and tools for February 2006

February 2, 2006
GAIL DENTLER - Victoria County Master Gardener

Gardening in February is more of a planning and maintenance month to get better foliage and flowers during the blooming season. Now is a great time to plan a new bed or start mapping out the vegetables you want to grow. This is a great season for crops like asparagus, beets, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, lettuce, onion plants, Irish potatoes, radishes, spinach and turnips.

One idea for planning a spring vegetable garden is to incorporate it into your landscape. I have heard so many of my neighbors say they want a vegetable garden but they don't have a big enough space to dedicate to the garden. You could put a cucumber vine or tomato plants growing up an obelisk, use strawberry plants to line your bed, with lettuce popping out from behind. One could use oregano to line a bed. Be creative. And just make sure that the veggies you are trying to grow get the proper sun and moisture to help them produce a great crop.

Pruning

This month, you may prune, if needed, any trees or shrubs that you have in the landscape. Roses can be pruned, but remember that climbers and other once-blooming roses are best pruned after the spring flowers have faded. Climbing roses should be trained, but not pruned, at this time. Weave long canes through openings in trellises or arbors and tie them with twine. Securing canes now prevents damage from winter winds and contributes to stability and growth of flowers later in the blooming season.

Trees can be removed of any dead limbs now. In fact, this is the time to do major pruning. Research has shown that you shouldn't even use a pruning paint, unless if you prune live oak trees out of season (from March to November) to protect them from potential oak wilt disease.

Planting

Now is also a great time to plant a tree. When buying trees, the biggest is not always the best. You want to select small to medium-size trees (4-6 feet). They adapt and establish root growth quicker. When planting, remember to prune back one-third of the top growth to compensate for root pruning and transplant shock. Don't fertilize new trees or shrubs until after they have started to grow, then fertilize lightly the first year.

If heading to the garden stores, select container-grown plants or bare root roses to fill in those bare spots in your rose garden or borders. When buying roses, only select grade No. 1 or No. 1.5. These are plants that have three to five healthy green canes at least 3/8-inch in diameter. Anything less than this will usually be weaker plants that won't perform well for you.

This is a great time to start sowing seeds. A perlite mix is excellent for starting seedlings. You can sow seeds in a flat or container in protected structures to form plant growth before the heat arrives. In South Texas, the following flower seeds may be sown into a well-prepared flower bed: nasturtiums, annual phlox, California poppies, cone flowers and larkspur.

Turf trouble

The last item on our checklist for this month is to look at your turf. It seems various residents in the Victoria area have expressed concern about what to do with turf grass struggling due to what appears to be drought, chinch bugs or take-all-patch disease. Weeds are taking over these weak lawns as well.

Roger Havlak, Extension Turfgrass Specialist from San Antonio recommends raking up the dead grass, tilling up the lawn, and getting a soil test for future fertility recommendations. Till the soil in preparation for new turfgrass, incorporating organic matter if needed. It is also suggested that you treat the bare soil with a fungicide containing either of the active ingredients thiophynate methyl or myclobutanil. The first is available in a granular or liquid, the second in only a liquid. Both are available in several brand names.

Before replanting the lawn, lightly incorporate one bale (3.8 cubic feet) of peat into the soil. This helps to acidify the soil slightly and helps to control the take-all-patch disease. Again, firm the tilled soil and plant new St. Augustine on top. The recommended variety is Floratam. It is resistant to chinch bugs and diseases. After 45-60 days from planting, apply another layer of peat, plus apply a complete chelated micronutrient fertilizer over the turfgrass. Chelated vs. non-chelated micronutrients are better to use because they are specially formulated to be readily available to plants.

Still dry

Although we've received light rains recently, we are ever so dry, especially in the sandier areas. Trees and shrubs planted in the last few years need supplemental watering due to the drought. Use a soaker hose to accomplish this task.

Even older trees may need special care if they are in sandy type soils. If there continues to be a shortage of rain, this will get worse. Trees under stress develop hypoxylon canker disease and die within 30 days.

Education

In South Texas, spring usually comes early; it will be here before we know it. The Victoria County Master Gardener Association is hosting its Spring Symposium on Saturday, March 4, to get ready for the planting and growing season. Gardeners and those interested in learning more about gardening are invited to attend the daylong educational program conducted by local and area expert speakers. Lunch and refreshments will be served. Garden-related silent auction items and door prizes will be offered. Look for more information soon in upcoming articles in this column.

Garden tour

The Annual Garden Tour co-sponsored by the Victoria County Master Gardener Association and Trinity Episcopal School, which normally takes place in the spring the first weekend in May, will be a fall garden tour this year. The tour has been set for the weekend of Oct. 21-22.

Don't forget to visit the Master Gardener Victoria Educational Gardens (VEG) at Victoria Regional Airport for educational gardening ideas all year long.