While most of the country anxiously waits for spring, warm weather is already here in Texas. Most Texas gardeners have their favorite food crop seedlings already started indoors and are getting ready to start setting out their cool-temperature-tolerant plants. While having those seedlings ready to transplant is important, you also need to take time to prepare the soil before planting your Texas garden.
1) Don’t Treat Your Soil Like Dirt
Knowing more about your soil can save you time and money. Texas has 15 major land resource areas, and each one has a specific type of soil, vegetation, climate, and topography. All told, Texas has 61 different soil types. What one gardener can grow easily in Houston’s acidic clayey-loam another might struggle with in Dallas’ alkaline black clay.
Because soils are complex matrices of nutrients and microorganisms, it’s helpful to know what sorts of nutrients your soil has in abundance and what it lacks. Fortunately, you can contact your county extension office for help. You can also arrange to have your soil tested by the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. Just read and fill out their sample submission guidelines for their Soil, Water and Forage Testing Laboratory to have them analyzed.
2) Proper Care and Feeding
Lawns are best fertilized in the fall so that the fertilizer can work down into the soil to help root growth. Your garden, meanwhile, will likely need fertilizer this spring. Just how much fertilizer you use depends on what you grow because different kinds of plants consume fertilizer at different rates.
Fertilizers are mostly nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium: a jug of 10-20-10 fertilizer contains 10 parts nitrogen, 20 parts phosphorus, and 10 parts potassium. Granular fertilizer can be added and worked into the bedding soil to a depth of one foot. A good ball park amount is 2 cups ( or two pounds) for every 100 square feet. Depending on how well your garden soil drains, a second application of liquid fertilizer can be done when plants have grown to between 4 and 6 inches. However, it’s best to go easy, since too much fertilizer (urea nitrogen) can prevent roots from absorbing water and make the plants look burned. It can also kill them.
Compost and manure are organic fertilizers containing additional nutrients and microorganisms beneficial to your garden soil. Tilling mulch into the soil helps hold moisture, encourage airflow (aeration), and helps with drainage — all of which are especially good if your soil is sandy or clayey. Be sure to mulch around your seedlings after planting to retain moisture. Manure should be composted for 6 months to one year before use to kill bacterial pathogens and parasites as well as mellow the smell. Because different species have different digestive systems, not all manure contains the same amount of nutrients. Cow and horse make lower levels of urea nitrogen while poultry produce 4-5 times higher so a little goes a long way.
3) Planting Tips
When your soil is ready the frosts are over, it’s time to transplant your seedlings. Seedlings require careful handling to keep the root ball intact, loose soil, and adequate water. A good time to plant them is on a cloudy day or early evening so that they won’t get sunburned. Also pay attention to soil depth to keep the same height above the surface. Spindly-tall tomato plants can be planted deeper as the seedling will send out new roots from the stem and will strengthen the plant over time.
One last tip from our garden: birds enjoy feasting on your seedlings’ tender green shoots. Often, they just snap off all the new leaves and that’s the end of your plant —which can be frustrating if you only have two or three of a particular variety of tomato or pepper that you really love. The trick is to shield your vulnerable little green buddy. Take a disposable plastic cup (or yogurt or cottage cheese container) and cut the bottom off it. Put this over the top of the seedling so smaller bottom end is facing up. This lets in light and water but reduces the area for birds to peck at. Sprinkling cayenne pepper onto your seedlings will help drive away birds and rodents without having any effects to the plant.
How are your getting your Texas garden ready for spring?