Winter Gardening

by Elmer Krehbiel, Master Gardener
February 13, 2004

The cool-rainy days of winter are for the three Rs, that is reading, repairing, and reorganizing. Garden books, magazines, and seed catalogues are expected to present some other ideas that may be worth considering for this year.

First, the rain is natures basic ingredient for developing healthy, productive plants. Winter moisture usually indicates the arrival of spring and early summer production of crops.

Cool temperatures add chill hours that are required for peach trees and other plants that grow better in a northern area.

Timely Tips

As soon as the soil dries enough to cultivate, the final preparation of the seedbeds should be finished for planting. If the soil just needs air, a hand-garden fork is the best tool for a small area. A hand fork does not cut earthworms, as does a rototiller. If soil amendments are needed, a rototiller will mix organic matter, fertilizer elements, sulfur, or lime more completely with the soil.

If cool temperatures continue, it may not be too late to set onion bulbs or plants. Ideally, onions should be set in January or early February.

Other vegetables that should be planted in January or February are: asparagus, beets, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, garlic, Swiss chard, collards, kale, kohlrabi, lettuce, mustard, English peas, edible-pod peas, Irish potatoes, radishes, spinach, and turnips.

Most fruit trees should be pruned to the shape of a funnel and topped off within reach at six to seven feet high. Publications with diagrams are available at the Cooperative Extension Office, Bryan/College Station libraries.

If pruning is required on evergreen shrubs, shade trees and summer-flowering shrubs, it should be completed while they are dormant.

Antique roses should remain at their normal size, and may not require pruning. If they need a little trimming, the cuts should be about one-fourth inch above outward-pointing buds and before the leaves develop.

Modern rose bushes are fast-growing plants, and should be pruned now before the leaves develop. The amount to prune down depends on the size of flowers that you prefer.

Normally in the Brazos Valley, gardeners allow just three to five canes to grow, then cut them down to one-half or one-third of their mature size. Some roses in the American Rose Garden in Tyler were pruned down to about nine inches high. After the plants were pruned to one cane and down to just above the nodule from the variety graft, they developed the largest flowers that I have ever seen in a rose garden. However, do not prune climbers, ramblers, or bushes that bloom heavily in the spring and early summer and then stop flowering.

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