Transition Your Garden To Spring

Man transplanting beautiful pink vinca flower into soil, top view

By Marc Hess, Editor Gardening South Texas newsletter

Early spring is a time of transition in your garden. The days get longer, the soil starts to warm and your outdoor garden beds are clamoring for your attention. You find yourself outside cleaning out plant stock, fallen branches and debris left by the winter. You are also envisioning the possibilities for this year’s plot. Gardeners are the world’s premier optimists, as every new season is the start of the best garden ever—your masterpiece, and early spring is your blank canvas. It’s time to start working. Starting your planting in March means you will have a longer growth period—time to let roots get established before the summer heat comes on.  Planting in March also allows for early weed and pest control. You can get a head start on pests before they become a serious problem later in the growing season. This month you will find your local nurseries chock full of transplants just waiting to be put in the ground.

It seems that our colorful Texas garden beds are wedged between two palettes: cool weather annuals that are fading out on one hand, and on the other hand, the colorful hot weather bloomers that grace our Texas summers, dominated by zinnias and lantanas. Right now those snapdragons that gave you lively blooms last fall are now going into their spring bloom period—which may give you their best display of the year.  But, alas, this won’t last too long. They will fade as the weather gets warmer.  Other cold weather annuals such as calendulas and stocks are in decline as well. Likewise, the cyclamen that brought color to the shady parts of your landscape will fade out in a month or two.

The hot weather is certainly on its way but it is not here yet, so what is a Texas gardener to do?


Seasonal Fillers

There are some other showy blooms that prosper especially well in the period of cool, moderate temperatures in between snapdragons and zinnias. These plants are referred to as “seasonal fillers.”Geraniums and petunias stand out as the most popular plants in this category.

Geraniums are typically available as a “transition” flower in the cooler months of the spring and fall. You will do well to grow them in morning sun when possible, as the afternoon sun can be brutal.

There is one geranium variety, Fantasia, that has superior hot weather tolerance. They cope especially well with the heat and do a good job of maintaining their bloom in the summer.

The reseeding Laura Bush petunia is another “seasonal filler” plant. Its claim to fame is that once it has grown and gone to seed in your landscape, it will be back every spring and fall. It is a vigorous spreading petunia with violet or pink blooms that has relatively good heat tolerance.  The Laura Bush petunia will not overrun the landscape like larkspurs, but they will find lots of corners of raised beds and even containers in which to germinate and rebloom.

Vinca is a good choice to replace cold weather annuals such as calendula and stock that decline in the spring. The variety called Cora is your best choice for disease resistance.

Alyssum, pansies, and dianthus may last for another couple of months when they can be replaced with moss roses and purslane.

In your shady areas you may find pentas a good replacement for your fading cyclamen. Pentas are available in several heights (from eight inches to two feet tall) with a choice of red, lavender, pink, and white blooms. They will provide continuous blooms from the time you plant in spring through Thanksgiving when the cold weather arrives.


Transplanting Your New Seasonal Fillers

In the spring you will find your local nurseries well stocked with large displays of “seasonal filler” plants with their showy blooms.

You should look for good, healthy transplants that are actively growing. Stunted, spindly plants that have not been well cared for may prove difficult to turn around. Spend your money on quality plants from a reputable nursery that knows how to take care of them.

The first thing you will want to do is to “harden off” your new transplants when you bring them home from the nursery. Similar to how plant growers introduce seedlings from the green house to an outdoor environment, you can set your pots outside in the shade for a few days before you stick them in the ground.

When you plant them, be sure that your new transplants get a good drink of starter solution and then nurse them along with repeat drinks every few days to get them off to a good start. Fish emulsion, seaweed, compost tea, or one of many soluble fertilizers are all popular choices for getting new plants off to a great start. In the quickly changing Texas weather your new plants will need to get themselves established rather quickly.


Pest and Weed Control And The Newspaper Trick

Pests are easier to control when young and when the infestation is localized or limited. Stroll through your garden every few days and look things over. Turn over a leaf or two here and there to check for pests huddled up making plans for their big invasion. Take the time to identify the specific pest or disease then find the proper treatment for your particular problem.

Weed seeds are hiding out there in the soil all the time. Those tiny weed seedlings in spring turn into big problems if left to their own devices. You can keep them at bay by vigilantly pulling them out by their roots and hoeing them back.

An alternative is to the cover the soil surface with newspaper, about four to six sheets thick. Hose the newspaper to dampen it and hold it down. Then cover the paper with mulch, leaves or pine straw to make the bed more attractive and prevent the paper from blowing away.

This virtually eliminates weeds for that growing season.

If a weed finds a hole in the newspaper and peeks through, just pull back the mulch, pull out the weed along with its roots and cover the hole with a section of newspaper and then some more mulch. By the end of the season the paper will be mostly decayed and can simply be rototilled into the soil to finish decomposing.

Texas has lovely spring weather. Trees are budding out, wildflowers are blooming and your garden beds are calling. The effort you put into your gardening in the spring will set the stage for the rest of the year. So grab your gardening gloves and get out there. Whether you’re an experienced gardener or a beginner, there’s no better time to be out in your garden than March.