Although spring does not begin officially until March 20, 2010, for many of us it has already begun. Depending on how far south you live, you may see the first signs of spring in February. No matter where you live in Texas, March is surely high time to get busy. Those who wait are often as not too late.
For those of us who live up along the Red River, we can usually expect several more freezes. Our average last frost date for Wichita Falls actually is pretty close to the first day (officially) of spring. Of course, being an average, what that really means is that in warmer years we may have our last freeze in late February, but in other years it may decide to freeze as late as the third week of April. In fact, our neighbors up in the Panhandle and the higher elevations of West Texas can (and do) still see frost sometimes as late as May.
Even so, those of us that live in North Texas should have planted our trees, shrubs, and perennials already. In addition, we should have planted our taters, onions, and all other cool season crops (cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, etc.). We should be doing succession plantings of lettuce, spinach, Swiss chard, and other leafy greens. If not, then it may behoove you to get in gear. Time is marching on.
All veteran Texas gardeners know that all too often spring can be short and sometimes not so sweet. The spring of 2009 was dry, following one of the driest Fall/Winter seasons we’ve seen in many years. Many Texans were praying for drought relief that finally did come in September and October. This year will likely be different and will present different challenges. We can count on that, if nothing else.
I often remind folks that here in Wichita Falls we have seen record highs in the “hundred and teens” by the third week of May. Even in so called “normal” years we begin the serious “nineties” by the first of June. So if you have just moved to Texas from Vermont, take heed. Don’t wait until May to start vegetable gardening like you would back home. You just “May” be in for a huge disappointment. Start now and be prepared to cover tender plants if need be. Time marches on.
After experiencing a few of our typical Texas Summers even newcomers will concede that it is the summer, as opposed to winter, that is the real killer of new plantings. Fortunately we are blessed with a good number of colorful native plants that come on strong during the dead heat. In the vegetable garden there is always okra, hot peppers, and a few others that will continue to produce through the hot months. Still, our sales at the nursery will peak during April and May. I have always faulted the advertising of the big mass merchandisers who want to cash in on the spring rush. They see gardening as a seasonal promotion, but if you ask any professional or lifetime Texas gardener, they will all say quite the opposite. The best time to plant most things is actually the fall and winter months (September through March). This will give that new plant some time to get established before the killer dry heat of summer plus the plant will receive the full benefit of what spring rains do fall.
In reality Texas has two growing seasons (Spring and Fall) and two dormant seasons (Summer and Winter) but also, there is no season when everything is truly shut down so we cannot do some gardening. I know that last sentence seems contradictory but in truth it bears out. For instance and again using my hometown as an example, in 2006 and 2008 we experienced our highest rainfall (and subsequent flooding) in July and August, respectively. Normally those two months are hot and dry for us. So you can see that in Texas, any time you plant, you are literally rolling the dice. Another of my famous sayings (locally known as “Dowlearnisms”) is that “One must have a sense of humor to garden in Texas.” We do expect some rain and cooler weather in spring and fall plus a long hot summer with some serious cold fronts in winter but there are no guarantees. Atypical weather is typical in Texas. Expect it……….
Seasoned gardeners and landscape enthusiasts will get out on those nice warm winter days and do some planting or prep work. During the summer we venture out in the early morning or cool of the evening. However, if you happen to wake up some nice June (or January) morning and just feel like planting a rose or something, I say go for it. Just bear in mind you may have to give it TLC through the rest of summer. We are truly blessed that here the South we can plant in all seasons with a reasonable expectation of success. Rather January than June on the rose bush to stack better odds in your favor though. Time marches on.
So I do hope you have your woody plants, perennials, and cool season veggies in the ground. I hope you will spend this spring enjoying the blossoms and harvesting fresh green onions instead of rushing frantically to get in line at the local Megamart. I hope you will disregard the carefully worded ads that affirm this sense of urgency. I hope instead you will visit your local family owned nurseries. If you don’t have one in the area then maybe it is time to seek out the closest available and make the drive. You will find the expert advice given plus the appreciation of your patronage to be worth the extra effort. “You can bet those folks didn’t drive a hundred miles to visit our Megamart……They already have one close to where they live.” (another Dowlearnism)
On the other hand, I am always saddened by the knowledge that some people who live in my local neighborhood drive right by our place of business on their way to the Megamart. They actually believe the ads in the mass media. They think they are saving money. To be sure, there are some true bargains at the big lumber yards and Super Stores, but in the garden center you’d best know what to buy and what to ignore. Just for funsies you might try asking the sales person to go even lower on that “twenty percent off sales price,” or better still, see if you can persuade that person to drop by your house and advise you on your landscape. That’s likely not going to happen.
Don’t wait for the TV ads to wake you up and get you off the couch. Winter may not be officially over but after all this is Texas………..and it is March…..and time March(es) on.