As we continue to have very wet weather, it’s hard to believe that spring is only twelve days away. January and February brought above average rainfall, hampering garden preparation and yard work. According to the National Weather Service, the average precipitation for the Shreveport area in January and February is 8.95 inches, but January and February this year brought 14.2 inches. This excess rain means the ground in many areas is very soggy and not ready for the work that needs to be done. Hopefully, the month of March brings us more dry and sunny days so we can get to work on today’s topics.
It is always a good idea to start off your garden with a soil sample. Your results will tell you important information like the soil pH and macronutrient levels. If you are adding organic matter, manures, etc… make sure to do that ahead of time so that those levels are reflected in the results. If adding manures, make sure that they are aged. Adding “hot” manures can result in burnt plants, especially in the case of tender seedlings or transplants.
Even if the ground is too soggy to till, you can still get a good start on your spring garden prep by weeding. A weed-free garden will produce better, looks nicer, and is easier to work than a garden that is full of weeds. Your garden plants need plenty of space, sunlight, and nutrients, all of which are readily stolen by invading weeds. Unfortunately, just cleaning out existing weeds before planting will not ensure a clean garden for the season. As our cool season weeds die off or are removed, the warm season weeds readily take their place. There are herbicides that can be used on existing weeds, but thankfully there are also products available that prevent weeds from even popping up. These products are called pre-emergents and can safely be used in your garden. Read the label carefully to be sure of when to apply these products (prior to seeding or after emergence of your vegetables).
Light tilling before planting is a common practice. However, your soil needs to be dry enough to be worked. Tilling wet soil is hard to do, plus can easily lead to a layer of very compacted soil at the depth of the tines. Additionally, tilling wet soil can turn a moderately wet area into a mudhole, so it is advisable to just wait until the conditions are more favorable. Be ready to address a flourish of newly emerging weeds right after tilling because disturbing the soil brings dormant seeds to the surface.
Composting is a good gardening practice and springtime is a good time to start a compost pile. Composting is a way of turning household and yard waste into a beneficial product. Many items from the kitchen can be composted rather than put in the trash. Coffee grounds and filters, fruit and vegetable scraps, and eggshells are all components of compost. Additionally, strips of newspaper can be added. Meats, dairy products, oils, and greases should not be added because they cause bad odors and can attract unwanted attention from neighbors and wildlife. In addition to kitchen scraps, waste material from the yard can also be added. Leaves and grass clippings are excellent sources of nutrients, however, be careful that you are not adding weed seed to the pile. In theory, the pile should heat up enough to kill seeds, but better safe than sorry. Thicker plant material may need to be shredded before adding to speed up the break down process. If you have livestock or chickens, manures can be added, but don’t go overboard. A healthy compost pile should smell earthy. Your pile should be a minimum of 3 cubic feet (3 feet tall x 3 feet wide x 3 feed deep) in order to effectively “cook” in a timely fashion. Depending on the pile size, what’s in the pile and how often it is turned, you can have compost ready in as little as 3 months. Don’t be alarmed if you see lots of bugs and wiggling worm-like larvae. There are millions of organisms like fungi, bacteria, and insects that will call your compost home, helping break it down. You can add worms to your pile, but it is usually not necessary because earthworms will generally find your pile on their own. However, you don’t want to see ants taking up residence in the pile. Ants are a sign that your pile is too dry. Once your pile is ready, you may start adding it to your garden or flower beds. It can act as a mulch, and as it breaks down, it provides nutrients and organic matter to your soil.
There are lots of plants that can be put into the garden in the month of March. Snap beans, cabbage, broccoli, collards, mustards, and sweet corn can all be seeded at this time. When planting corn, keep in mind that for effective pollination, a minimum of three rows must be planted. Corn is wind pollinated, so the more rows the better. Tender transplants of tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants need to wait until the danger of frost has passed. Before transplanting, it is best to “harden off” the transplants so that the shock of planting is not as severe. This is accomplished by slowly acclimating the transplants to the environment they will be planted into. For several hours each day, put the transplants outside in a shaded area until planting. Make sure to shelter them from low temperatures and inclement weather. Cantaloupes, squash, watermelons and cucumbers are also extremely sensitive to frost, so they should be planted well after the danger has passed.
I’ve been getting lots of calls about three specific yard weeds lately: henbit, poa annua, and lawn burweed. I have good and great news concerning these weeds; the good news is that these three weeds can all be controlled right now with an herbicide called atrazine. The great news is that this same product can be applied in November to prevent these weeds from even coming up.
If you have trees that need pruning, time is running out to get that taken care of. Pruning needs to be done while the tree is dormant. Mulching around trees is an excellent practice that can ease the burden of lawn mowing and weed eating. However, it is important that you do not pile the mulch up the tree trunk so that it resembles a volcano. This practice can lead to rotting of the bark and trunk, significantly weakening the tree and opening it up to insect and disease infestation. Mulching reduces weeds, holds soil moisture and regulates soil temperature, but also protects the tree from injury during yard work. “Weed eater disease” occurs when significant injury occurs while weed eating or mowing close to the trunk. In severe cases, trees can die quickly from these injuries. A thick mulch takes away the need to even get close to the trunk while mowing and weed eating and adds an aesthetic appeal to the yard. Pine straw is an excellent mulch and in some yards is readily available.
Crape myrtles continue to be “crape murdered” in area landscapes and businesses. Keep in mind that crape myrtles are a tree and should be treated as one. To correctly prune crape myrtles, remove suckers, branches that rub each other, dead and diseased material, and limbs that do not contribute to the desired shape. You will be rewarded with a healthy tree with plenty of blooms. Simply “topping” crape myrtlesIf you are looking to plant crape myrtles, research the varieties that are available because there are vast differences in the sizes of these varieties. Crape myrtles continue to be “crape murdered” in area landscapes and businesses. Keep in mind that crape myrtles are a tree and should be treated as one. To correctly prune crape myrtles, remove suckers, branches that rub each other, dead and diseased material, and limbs that do not contribute to the desired shape. You will be rewarded with a healthy tree with plenty of blooms. Simply “topping” crape myrtles is not recommended as it leads to unhealthy trees. If you are looking to plant crape myrtles, research the varieties that are available because there are vast differences in the sizes of these varieties.
If you have perennial spring bulbs like daffodils, don’t cut the foliage until it has turned yellow. In the time after blooming, the plant is actually storing energy for the following year and the leaves are very important in that process.
For more information contact Randall Mallette, County Agent, at the local LSU AgCenter Extension Office 318-357-2224. You can also visit us at 624 Second St, Natchitoches.