How to Prepare for Spring

by Elmer Krehbiel, Master Gardener
February 15, 2002

The attitude of family about the landscape and annual gardens should be the first item to consider. What do you expect from your landscape and annual gardens?

If you do not prefer gardening activities, there are many groups that establish and/or maintain them for a fee. Many families are not excited about the yard work, and just want them to look respectable with a minimum of time and cost required. Some families may allow time to study, establish, and maintain the yard as a change from the stress of their regular job, or for the production. Any reason will do!

We expect to grow attractive flowers, shrubs and trees in our landscape and delicious vegetables in the vegetable beds. This climate is much better for producing multiple crops of flowers and vegetables than Oklahoma, Kansas, Arkansas, Virginia, Montana, Ohio, and Nebraska. Those areas have their own opportunities and problems.

After we moved here during August of 1972, I heard from local gardeners that the clay soil, salty water, and hot summer in this area were problems for many plants. Then I asked, listened, and read about ideas on managing the landscape and gardens. Many successful gardeners have different methods of management.

Our method has been to have the soil tested. I have applied many sacks of processed cow (60 more last year) and sheep manure, pine bark mulch, gypsum; also 16 cubic yards of mushroom mulch, 10,750 pounds of Bryan compost, pine needle mulch, oak leaf mulch, and compost as a base in raised beds.

In recent years, I have applied more gypsum on the lawn than fertilizer (18N-6P-12K+minor elements, or 15N-5P-10K= minor elements) during November or December of every other year. I then cut the grass about three inches high with a mulching mower, and the results have been: green grass, no pests, and less water required.

A small amount of gypsum was applied around the trees and green shrubs each year. A small amount of fertilizer (13N-13P-13K+ minor elements) has been applied around flowering shrubs  and in the flower and vegetable beds. The lawn-tree ratio of fertilizer was mixed into the soil before I planted sweet corn and more was applied around the plants when they were about one foot high.

Several pages of old-white newspaper were spread around the shrubs, trees, and between the rows of flowers or vegetables, which were then covered with grass clippings or soil to prevent weeds andretain soil moisture and temperature.

For easy flower and vegetable gardening, prepare a suitable seedbed, select adaptable species/varieties, then plant during the best time of the year and maintain plants properly. That may require moving plants; keep the amount of moisture and fertility suitable for the crop. In this area, many crops have special requirements to be successful.

The good news was some special results as: colorful azaleas and gardenia shrubs/pine needle mulch and rainwater; productive rose bushes/oak leaf mulch; a one-pound Irish potato, a 14-ounce tomato, a crop of sweet corn ears with no insect or worm damage, and reasonable flower, fruit and vegetable production during these many years.

The bad news was that a few shrubs and trees died. A few flowers and vegetable plants were trashed due to the cost of controlling the insect and/or disease problem.

Dr. Elmer Krehbiel is the former President of Keep Brazos Beautiful. See his column in The Eagle.