February is the start of a new gardening season
The best advice I can give right now is to watch the weather and try to make sure you can get out and work on those beautiful days we usually have in February. This week it went from a springtime 70 degrees to around 10 degrees with rain, ice, snow and very cold winds in many places almost overnight. At least we finally got some rain. Cold, dry winters are very hard on plants, and we won’t be able to assess the damage until things start to turn green in a few weeks. We just have to be thankful we didn’t have a tornado.
Spring sowing times are quite forgiving in southern Oklahoma. Now you can plant onion seedlings as soon as the weather is nice and the soil is not too wet. My favorite onions for southern Oklahoma are Texas Sweet 1015. The average last frost date for southern Oklahoma is April 15th. If you want to make sure you’re growing the plants you love, seeds of cool season crops such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Swiss chard, lettuce and turnips can be sown indoors. or in a greenhouse eight weeks before the date of the last frost. Warm season crops such as peppers, eggplants and tomatoes can be started six weeks before the last frost date. Local nurseries will soon receive plants for spring planting as well. They already have onion plants and seed potatoes.
It’s a good time to prune shrubs and deciduous trees. Not only is it easier to see what you’re doing and get to it since the leaves are off, but pruning just before new growth begins is the safest time for plants. Never remove more than a third of a plant at a time. Prune for plant health by first removing broken, diseased and crossed branches. Prune trees with branches that make walking or mowing difficult. It’s hard enough to mow in August without getting hit in the face with low growth limbs. If you are removing larger branches, use the 3-cut method. Undercut the limb about 8 inches from the trunk and about a third of the way into the limb. Then make a second cut an inch or two after the first cut to remove the branch and a third cut on the outside of the branch collar next to the trunk, not flush with the trunk. This will prevent the limb from splitting and damaging the trunk and will help it heal without disease or insect damage. Do not apply a bandage or anything else to the cut; let nature do the healing. Whatever you do, don’t top or denigrate a tree. This is the unsightly and damaging procedure used to cut down trees under power lines and results in weak and rapid tree growth, slow decline and eventual death.
The number one cardinal rule of pruning: you will not commit pancake murder! Never cut down a crepe myrtle plant. Better to leave them alone and do nothing at all than to ruin one of the most beautiful trees in the South. You can wait until late February or March to prune crape myrtles because they are “late”. ruin crepe myrtles.
This is the perfect time to fill your beds with compost. The compost will nourish the soil and the plants. Compost improves the tillage of sandy or clay soils. It’s called “garden‘s gold” for a reason.
This is a good time to add a 3-4 inch layer of mulch around anything that doesn’t already have it. Organic bark mulches are best and moderate soil temperatures, retain moisture, reduce weed growth, help control erosion, “feed” the soil as it breaks down and changes in compost, and they look good. Don’t buy the cheap dyed mulches which can contain all sorts of harmful ingredients and are often made from old crushed pallets which can contain arsenic and other harmful chemicals which leach into the soil and are absorbed by plant roots.
Prune spring-flowering shrubs like forsythia immediately after flowering. You’re going for a natural, arched shape, not a geometric or lollipop-like object that belongs in Disney World or the Wizard of Oz. The way to maintain natural beauty is to remove a third of the oldest and largest branches down to ground level each year. This will keep the shrub’s beautiful natural shape with plenty of blooms each spring. This pruning method works for all shrubs, including shrub roses. Get good protective gloves, wear long sleeves and use long handled loppers. Now crawl just under the shrub where you can access it and cut off 1/3 of the oldest branches at ground level. You will be amazed at how much smaller, better and healthier the shrub looks.
Take a gardening class. The best information about which plants will grow well in your area and which will not at all comes from local gardeners who have learned from experience. The climate of southern Oklahoma, especially south of the Arbuckles, is unique and unpredictable and makes gardening interesting, frustrating and amazing. Betty Sue Tow and I will teach Gardening and landscaping at Southern Tech for the spring semester. Together we killed many plants and learned first hand what, when, where and how to grow plants in southern Oklahoma. Call Southern Tech to register at 580-223-2070. We would love for you to join us and create gardening memories. Happy gardening!