Blog posts categorized as: Time to Plant

March: It’s tomato time in Texas

Mar 9, 2016

Regardless of the chance of a late freeze, it’s time to get serious about tomatoes. Growing prize-worthy tomatoes is a bit of a right of passage for most gardeners. In fact, tomatoes are typically the first the go-to-fruit for beginning gardeners. They’re easy, right? In some parts of the country, that may be the case. In Dallas? Not so much. North Texas doesn’t exactly offer up the easiest of growing conditions.

While many parts of the country have one condensed edible growing season that spans mid-spring through summer, we have several distinct growing seasons. Less heat-tolerant veggies, like spinach and lettuce, need to be grown fall through winter. Heat-lovers like peppers and eggplant won’t budge an inch until it gets hot. Tomatoes…well, they’re somewhere in between. While tomatoes are a tropical plant and are not frost hardy, they don’t reproduce well once our intense summer heat comes on.

The trick to good tomatoes is timing: Getting them planted such that they squeeze into those “in-between” times in our growing seasons. We have to plant spring crops before it gets too warm and fall crops before it gets too cold.

Here in Dallas, prime time for planting spring 4” tomato transplants is right about mid-March. However, if you hedge your bets and plant earlier, you’ll often get a better harvest. I typically plant mine before March 15th.  Once April 1st hits, it’s not advisable to plant 4” tomato transplants. If you live north of Dallas, say up in Frisco, you can probably get away with planting a week or so later. If you’re south of Dallas, then be sure to get plants in the ground by March 15th as a good target.

There are varieties of tomatoes bred to be more heat-tolerant. When you see the word “heat” somewhere in the cultivar name, the plant will most likely fare better in our climate. A couple of years ago a new line of grafted tomatoes called Mighty ‘Matos hit the market. Hybrids and heirlooms have been grafted onto a hardy rootstock in order to make these tomato plants more tolerant of diseases. Plants are vigorous and definitely worth trying in your garden this spring.

You’re sure to find some of the best selections of fresh plants and varieties out at your local garden centers this coming weekend. Be sure to get your soil prepped with plenty of organic compost and composted manure before you plant. Add a tomato or vegetable fertilizer at planting time. Once developing fruit reaches about ¼ it’s mature size, you’ll want to feed plants every two weeks with an organic, dry fertilizer. If you are feeding with a liquid feed, apply to the foliage and roots every week.

When it Comes to Strawberries, Sometimes Bare is Better

Mar 7, 2016

It doesn’t matter that it might get cold again or it could freeze a few more times. At some point you just have to pull the gardening trigger or you’re going to miss out! I’m not sure how one could resist getting out into the garden with the gorgeous weather we’ve been having, but if you haven’t perhaps I can offer up some motivation: Strawberries.

If you want them, now is a great time to get them in the ground. I just dropped a whole new crop of bare-root strawberries in the ground this past Sunday. Why bare-root you ask? Often, your best shot at getting a good selection of varieties is by going bare-root with berries. Plus, it’s more cost-effective.

Last spring I managed to score some of the new albino Pineberries in plug-form online (that means they arrive without a pot). I can’t tell you yet how they will perform in our Texas summers, but who could resist such a beautiful berry? Especially one that’s supposed to taste like a cross between pineapples and strawberries. I’m SOLD. The crazy green discs are strawberry plant supports I tried out, from Gardener’s Supply Co.

You can pick up handy packets of a variety of bare-root strawberries at local garden centers right now. They’ll be sold out soon, so don’t wait. Yes, you can buy potted strawberry plants later in the season, but you’ll often be limited on variety. Plus, late-winter and fall are the best times to plant in our climate. Be sure to follow the instructions on the packet for planting your bare-root berries. They’ll need lose soil (raised beds are best) in a sunny location.

Garden Look Nasty Post-Summer? Yep, Time to Refresh!

Sep 25, 2014

August has a tendency to get nasty with our landscapes. Come September when things start to cool down and we venture back out in to our gardens, it can look less than shiny. So, let's all get out there and start ripping stuff out, ok? It may still be a tad warm, but it is time to start getting cool season vegetable crops into the garden. You should start finding transplants of cole crops like broccoli, cabbage, kale and more at the garden centers now. You can also direct seed lettuce and Fava beans into your garden beds.

But before you get all planting-crazed, let's take a step back and make sure we're boosting the soil before we plant for fall. Now's the time to refresh your beds with organic compost, some humus and composted manures in the vegetable garden. Don't forget that even though you amend the soil, you still need to add in a fertilizer before you plant, especially for veggies. Organic matter has to be broken down my microbes first before nutrients are available to your plants, so don't expect the compost to "fertilize" your new plants right away.

Plant Irises in Fall for Spring Blooms!

Sep 12, 2014

Oh, I just love irises. It's hard not to love plants that are tough-as-nails in our Dallas gardens and look great. So do you have to wait until spring when irises are blooming to plant them? No way! Fall is a much better time to plant irises and when you're bound to find a better selection of variety in the garden centers or online, especially in bare root form. This fall I'll be adding more 'Orange Glaze' to my garden.

Iris 'Thornbird'

Tomatoes setting fruit? Time to fertilize!

May 3, 2014

So, it's going to be 90 °F all weekend in Dallas y'all. Summer is right on schedule! If you planted your tomatoes on time and haven't been over-fertilizing through spring, you should be seeing baby fruits on the plants now. That means it's time to start a regular feeding regimen.

Tomato fruit halleck

When you continually fertilize tomato plants through spring, before they've set fruit, you can often end up with a whole lotta plant, but no tomatoes. Too much Nitrogen prior to flowering and fruit set will encourge plants to keep putting their energy into more green leafy growth, instead of into flowers and fruit production. That might be all fine and well in a more mild climate, but here in Texas you have to get plants flowering and setting fruit before the summer heat sets in. If you plant too late or over-fertilize in spring, plants can go into heat-delay and you get little to no harvest.

Best practice is to amend your soil with organic compost and composted manure at the beginning of the season and work in a dry organic fertilizer at time of planting. Then wait to feed again until plants start to set fruit.

Once baby fruit is about 1/4 it's mature size, start feeding your tomato plants with an organic tomato or vegetable fertilizer about every other week. That's a side-dressing of dry fertilizer. If you're using liquid feed, such as Hasta Gro, apply it to the roots and foliage weekly.  Apply and mix per the application rates on the package.

Cherry tomatoes will start to hit harvest time in mid- to late-May with slicers typically ready to pick in mid-June. Want to start your fall tomato transplants from seed? Do it now! Plant into the garden in late-June through early July.

Foliage: The foundation of a garden

Feb 3, 2014

If you ever wondered whether foliage in a landscape was that important, I offer you a shot of the quarry at Butchart Gardens on Vancouver Island, B.C. Sure, there are a ton of flowers there. But look at this photo! Wow. Fabulous foliage is not only the skeleton of the garden, it's the muscle. Beautiful. So don't over-focus on flowers when you're crafting your garden. Foliage is fabulous!

Butchart sm

January is Pajama Gardening Month!

Jan 8, 2014

I know, it's cold outside. Most of you aren't really that interested in getting out into the garden. BUT, if you plan to be tiptoe-ing around your veggie garden this spring picking homegrown tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and any number of other veggies and herbs, now is the time to start your seeds!

That's why I like to call January "Pajama Gardening Month". You can get your gardening fix indoors, all whilst still in your PJs. Starting seeds indoors is fun and rewarding. You just have to get the timing right and have a few good tools.  If you're in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, here are some things you should be starting from seed this month indoors:

Sapho tomato

Cole crops: You can start your last succession of cool season crops indoors now. Broccoli, cabbage, kale, chard, collard greens, kohlrabi, cauliflower and more.. Seeds need supplemental light so make sure to use a good setup. After 5 or 6 weeks you can transplant these seedlings outdoors, in February.

Warm season crops: Start tomatoes NOW, then you can start peppers, eggplant inside starting now through February. These crops take a bit longer to get to transplant size, about 8-9 weeks. In the DFW area, tomatoes can be planted outside late-February through the end of March for a June harvest. You can continue planting peppers and eggplant through April and May. If you want to start a second fall crop of tomatoes from seed, you’ll do that indoors in May.

Herbs: Start seeds indoors of warm season herbs such as basil, oregano, sage, thyme, chives etc.

Salad greens: You can still start salad greens both indoors and by direct seeding outside right now through February. Remember that lettuce seeds need light to germinate, so don't cover their seeds with soil when you plant them. Simply press them into the surface of the soil and keep moist until germination.

Indoor seed starting equipment: I use the Jump Start system from Hydrofarm because the lighting is perfect for seeds, the lamp can be adjusted to different heights, and it's a good for small spaces. You can use small trays with a seed starting soil mix, or the little compressed pellets from say Jiffy. I use those a lot and they work great. Make sure you have a humidity dome (plastic cover) for your tray. If you're using posts or pellets, make sure you have a water tight seed tray to set them in so you can cover them with the dome. The picture at left is only one example of the many different options available. Sometime you just have to experiment to find the option that works best for you. Also, a seed starting heat mat is necessary once you get into fall and winter, and you're starting seeds for spring planting.

If you'd like to find these products for purchase, visit your local independant garden center. I picked up my supplies for today's Good Morning Texas segment at North Haven Gardens in Dallas.

Let your melons go to seed…and see what you get!

Sep 25, 2013

You may or may not know that when you plant a hybrid cultivar, and you allow that cultivar to go to seed, that those seeds will end up growing into progeny that may look nothing like the parent plant. Heirloom, open pollinated varieties will come "true from seed", however. 'Green Zebra' tomato for example is an open pollinated tomato variety. When you save seed from the fruit and replant them next season, you'll get 'Green Zebra' tomatoes. Not so if you save seed from 'Celebrity' tomato, an F1 hybrid. Your resulting seedlings from 'Celebrity' seeds will exhibit charactaristics from the parents of 'Celebrity', but may look nothing like 'Celebrity'. Such is the case with my rogue melon seedlings, which planted themsleves all over my garden from last years dwarf hybrid 'Faerie' watermelon.

Tiny melon

These super cute teeny tiny watermelons have been producing in my garden all summer long. They came up anywhere and everywhere, all over my front garden. The vines only reach about 3' to 4' long, an the melons are palm-sized. The flesh is yellow when mature with pink flesh. Now these little buggers have a lot of seeds, but the flavor is great. Hmmm...wonder what will come of their seeds next year? I call it 'Too Cute'. LOL

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