Planning the Garden for the Spring
Dr. Mario A. Villarino, County Extension Agent for Agriculture and Natural Resources in Hopkins County.
I know. Who in the world is thinking about gardening in February?. Believe it or not, many gardeners make decisions during the winter related to their garden, because in Texas, our gardening season is between the last potential freeze date (March 25) and the time when the heat starts to wilt our plants, in some years, the first part of July or roughly 100 days in the season… if we do not have a drought, or army worms, or grasshoppers nor the many other little devils that can ruin your vegetable crop. Vegetable gardening in Northeast Texas is hard. It always is. This is why gardeners in the region are so proud of ANY significant crop they get. Most of the time, your cucumbers and squash are going to do fairly well, if your soil is not too acidic.
Acid soil is good for Azaleas and pine trees, not for gores. In fact, acidic soils are good for hardly any plant. Some roses can handle them, as knockout bushes, but in general, you have to fix the soil if the pH is too low (or acidic), and fixing the soil takes time. The first step is to take a soil sample to determine the pH of the soil. I often talk about pH because the magical number on the pH scale can determine if the plant will survive or not. The pH levels are given in numbers 1 to 10. The balance pH, where all the particles neutralized each other is 7. At pH 7, all the particles in the soil (positive and negative) neutralize each other and processes can occur. If the pH is below 7, change occur allowing different nutrients to move and others to become static. The difference between numbers are also ten-fold. A pH 6 soil is ten times for acidic than a pH 7 soil and 100 times more acidic than pH 8 soils and so on, quickly you will noticed that things can get out of control if the pH is few numbers apart to where the soil needs to be for a particular plant. Also, to add more to the confusion, different soils can have different pH very close to each other. You can have an acid soil in one part of the yard, and a very different one on the back of the same property. This is because pH is determined by the particles making the soil, not the size of the particles. The size of the soil particles will make them sandy or clay, or mixes in between them. Most of the clay soils are alkaline, as sandy soil have the tendency to be acidic, but this is not always the case. The best way to determine the pH of your soil is to run a soil test. We can help you at the extension office to show you how to collect a soil sample for soil test. It is also, relatively cheap. A complete basic profile cost $10, around the price of one large plant. Is it worth it? Go back few lines and read again the chemistry part of this article and you will quickly determine that yes, it is worth it. How do you fix the pH problem then? Simple: if you have an acidic soil, adding agricultural lime will solve the problem, for few years. How much lime to use? The soil test will tell you how much to apply per acre. The soil test, is by far, the best investment for the gardener if you are planting in the soil…. You might ask, where else you can plant if is not in the ground? You can always plant in containers.
Planting in containers have several advantages. The first one is that you can use potting material to grow your plants, especially if you are having problems growing plants in your garden before. Pot planting in soiless media also has the advantage to retain water better that what our sandy soils can do. The component of the potting soils most of the time include additives to increase moisture retention. So, when you water the plant, the water will stay on the planting soil longer allowing time for the plant to absorb it. In a container, the plant will have a period of drying out which will allow proper respiration by the root system. And yes, roots need air to complete their cycle, which explain why water-logging can kill your plants faster than drought. But most of the potting mixes do not have nutrients, so, it might be needed to add fertilizers if the mix does not contain any. Slow release fertilizers are better than conventional ones because will last longer without burning the plant. As you can see, there is a lot to consider before you start gardening!. To talk about these issues, the Hopkins County Master Gardeners are organizing a basic vegetable gardening seminar on March 7, between 7:00 and 8:00 pm at the Professional Ag Workers Building located at 957 Connally street in Sulphur Springs to talk about the vegetables that grow better in Hopkins County and how to grow vegetables in containers. The seminar is $10. Refreshments will be served. Free tomato plants for your garden will be available (Large Healthy Surprise). For more information on the seminar, or any other agricultural topic, please call the Hopkins County Extension Office at 903-885-3443 or email me at email@example.com.
Upcoming programs: East Texas Forage Conference in Emory, March 1, 2013 starting at 9:30 am at the Rains County Extension Office, located at 410 Tawakoni Drive, in Emory. 3 CEU for private applicators and 2 DOPA credits.