THE HOW DO GARDENER: Now is the time to plan a spring garden

Master Gardener Rick Bickling joins the staff of The Independent this week as a columnist. Read The How Do Gardener weekly to learn more about gardening in Williamson County.

By Rick Bickling

The How Do Gardener

As we turn the calendar page from February to March here in Central Texas, signs of the approaching spring are becoming more and more evident.

When I looked out the window this morning, I was delighted to see the first peach blossoms just starting to bloom. My fall vegetable garden is reluctantly offering up its last harvests of the season. The gentle rain of falling oak leaves is just beginning to hit the ground and offers a foreshadowing of the fluttering brown deluge yet to come.

Of course what once was my front lawn, before our record heat and drought last summer, has been vigorously sprouting strange, green, alien intruders that seem to mock the last dry brown remnants of St. Augustine grass.

As our thoughts also turn to spring, now is the time to take stock of our yards and make plans for our warm season garden. So grab a cold drink and find some shade, or huddle over a hot cup of cocoa and put on a warm sweater depending on what these unpredictable mornings hold, and let’s get started. By planning, and where appropriate planting now, your landscape and garden will be ready to flourish in the months to come.

The best way to start getting your garden ready for spring is to clean it up. Remove any dead or spent plants from the garden and, if they are not diseased, add them to your compost pile. Pull any weeds that may have started to take hold. Once you’ve cleaned up, you will want to amend your soil by adding compost to garden beds and tilling it in. This will help replace nutrients taken up by the previous planting.

Grab a pencil and some paper and draw a diagram of your yard. You don’t need a degree in art or an expensive software program to draw a rough sketch of your landscape and garden plan. If you have the original survey from when you bought your house, make a copy of it and use that as a starting point. If not, just make a rough sketch of the footprint of your home. Draw in existing landscape features, and planned garden areas. Indicate which way is north and make note of any shady or poorly drained areas.

When planning what vegetables to plant, it’s easy to get carried away and want to grow everything under the sun. It’s always fun to try something new, but focus on growing what you really like. Make a list of the warm season vegetables that your family likes and rank them from most to least liked. Plan on planting what you like. If no one in your family likes lima beans or squash, for example, then plan on planting more of what is most appealing.

Once you know what you want to  plant, decide what the intended use for each vegetable and herb will be. Do you plan on canning enough to last through the winter? Will you be freezing or dehydrating? Or, will you just eat and enjoy what you harvest this spring and summer. Different varieties of many vegetables are better suited to a specific purpose such as canning. Do your research.

Don’t forget the flowers. When planning your vegetable garden, it’s easy to overlook the importance of flowers. Look at your landscape as a whole and determine what native or locally adapted flowers are best suited to the different areas of your yard based on their color, size, water requirements, and the amount of sun needed. Flowers are an attractive, and highly effective way of drawing pollinators into the yard and garden.

Now that you know what you will be planting and what your harvest will be used for, you can determine how much of each variety you should plant. Look at your existing bed space and any areas of your yard that you may want to convert to garden beds.

For new beds, avoid low-lying, poorly drained areas. Clear the ground, till and amend the soil now. Better yet, try raised beds. They are a great way to avoid having to deal with the rock filled soil around here, and will maximize your harvest in the space available.

As soon as you’ve determined which vegetables, what varieties, and how many of each you will be planting, go ahead and buy your seeds now. This will ensure that you get exactly what you want and have them ready to plant when the time arrives; however, wait until just before planting to purchase transplants.

One of the most important factors in having a successful home garden is planting each vegetable at just the right time. The Williamson County Texas AgriLife Extension Service recommends the following spring planting dates for Liberty Hill:

Asparagus: After Feb. 1

Beans, snap bush: March 5 – May 1

Beans, snap pole: March 5 – April 15

Beans, Lima bush: March 15 – April 15

Beans, Lima pole: March 15 – April 15

Chard, Swiss: Feb. 1 – March 10

Collards: Feb. 1 – March 25

Corn: Feb. 25 – May 1

Cucumbers: March 5 – May 1

Eggplant: March 15 – May 1

Lettuce: Feb. 1 – March 15

Cantaloupe: March 15 – May 1

Mustard: Feb. 1 – April 1

Peas, southern: March 25 – May 20

Peppers (transplant): March 15 – May 1

Potato, sweet (slips): April 10 – May 15

Pumpkin: April 1 – April 20

Radish: Feb. 1 – May 1

Squash, summer: March 5 – May 1

Tomato (transplant): March 15 – April 10

Turnip: Feb. 1 – March 10

Watermelon: March 15 – May 1

Well, there you have it. It may seem like a lot of work, and it probably is, but if you haven’t already done so, now is the time to start getting ready for your spring garden. Sometimes it’s easy to become overwhelmed by everything that needs to be done in the garden this time of the year, but remember to enjoy each day on its own merit. These pleasant spring days working in the yard will soon give way to hot summer days of weeding, harvesting, and canning. So don’t let the anticipation, or dread, of your spring garden, and the promise of warmer temperatures yet to come, distract you from today. Remember, “To everything there is a season.”

Rick Bickling is a certified Master Gardener in Williamson County. He developed a love for gardening as a boy while planting gardens, trees and shrubs with his father and grandfather. He has been designing, planting and maintaining landscapes and gardens for more than 30 years. As a Master Gardener, Rick is able to share the research tested horticultural information of the Texas AgriLife Extension Service with readers of The Independent.

For more information, visit www.howdogardener.com or reach Rick by email at howdogardener@LHIndependent.com.