OVERTON – The time is now for East Texas vegetable gardeners to make preparations for planting early varieties and spring garden staples, said a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service expert.
Gardeners have some cool-season vegetables planted already and are soon preparing to plant early vegetable varieties, such as onions, said Dr. Joe Masabni, AgriLife Extension small-acreage vegetable specialist, Overton.
Masabni said late January and early February are also good times for gardeners to prepare for spring vegetables like squash and tomatoes by first removing any remaining weeds or debris from gardens.
“Weeds still germinate and grow this time of year so be mindful to rid your garden of them,” he said. “It will reduce the number you contend with later in the season.”
Now is also a good time to take soil samples that can help direct gardeners’ soil improvement regimens for fruits or vegetables, he said.
“Definitely soil preparation is very important,” he said. “It’s a great time to add more compost. I always recommend adding more compost before planting, especially in a raised bed. The more organic matter in the soil, the better it is for the plants. You can’t add enough compost that will break down and provide nutrients to your fruit and vegetables.”
Gardeners can prepare potting mix to have it ready to start seedlings, he said. Masabni recommends a bag of peat mixed with 1 gallon of perlite and 2 cups of Osmocote, a slow–release fertilizer.
Masabni said it’s also a good time to clean and maintain gardening equipment, such as sprayers, hoes and shears.
Sprayer nozzles and hoses should be cleaned or replaced to ensure they spray evenly, he said. Masabni recommends gardeners have two backpack sprayers on hand – one for herbicides only and the other for fungicides or insecticides.
“I like to separate herbicides because you can’t clean the sprayer completely and there may be residue left following a herbicide application, then you are killing your plants when you mean to protect them,” he said.
Masabni also recommends gardeners sanitize tools with a 10 percent bleach solution to prevent any transfer of diseases from season to season. He recommends a rate of 1 cup of bleach per gallon of water and dipping the tools into the solution. Tools should then be rinsed and stored.
Gardeners should also think about building a cold frame, a transparent-roofed enclosure built low to the ground to protect seedlings and plants from adverse weather, primarily excessive cold or wet. The transparent top admits sunlight and prevents heat escape via convection that would otherwise occur, particularly at night.
Cold frames should be built on the south side of a structure, which will provide plenty of afternoon sun and provide warmer conditions and the best protection from north winds, Masabni said.
Masabni said gardeners should keep records of successful and problematic varieties, harvest yields and pest and disease problems, including the date a disease or insect was first noticed. Notes can help gardeners make decisions that can improve the likelihood of success in the future.
Knowing when pests or disease pressure started the previous year can prompt gardeners to begin scouting before that date to reduce pest populations or spray for diseases, he said.
Masabni said gardeners should begin preparing a garden plan and order seeds to ensure preferred varieties are available. He suggests looking at online catalogues for varieties proven to succeed in a specific area and soil type.
“Be thinking about what you want to plant in your spring garden, your tomatoes, your peppers, your eggplants,” he said. “You want to be ready to start those seedlings. I encourage everyone to try new things. Trying something new that can introduce gardeners to hardier varieties and new tastes, plus provide good options for crop rotation.”