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Late winter gardening checklist

Updated: Jan 30, 2023

Spring is coming, so now's the time to prepare! Here are some things we recommend paying attention to in January and February to start the season off strong.

Things definitely slow down in the garden during the winter months, but expert gardeners also know that there's still plenty to be done to get ready for the coming spring! In this post, we'll talk about some basic activities you'll want to pay attention to in the latter parts of the winter so that you'll be ready to hit the ground running when warmer weather begins to arrive.

Get your tools in order

Given increasing materials costs, you might find that sharpening blades and rehabilitating old hand tools rather than replacing them is well worth the effort this season. So when cold or rainy weather makes it too forbidding to dig in the dirt, consider using your idle time to sharpen mower blades, chainsaw chains, and pruner blades. Replace worn and broken handles on your other gardening implements. Consider applying a coat of linseed oil to your tool surfaces, as this will help prevent rust and preserve wood moisture to stave off cracking. (Note that linseed oil is an excellent alternative to petroleum-based oils for this purpose because it doesn't leave behind harmful residues that will be transferred to your soil when you use the tools later.) And even though you're probably a month or two away from your first good mow of the season, it's a good idea to perform routine preventive maintenance on your mowers, trimmers, and other power tools now so you won't have to deal with a sputtering engine the first time you really need them.

Tackle hardscaping projects

It isn't much fun getting outside in the coldest of weather, but here in central Texas, the latter days of winter are often great for working on lawn and garden repairs and improvements that don't necessarily involve plants. Perhaps you're thinking of adding a deck or pergola to your outdoor living space -- or maybe a water feature and some raised planter beds. Or maybe you're ready to erect a small greenhouse for some of the more sensitive plants you've had your eye on. You might need to do some earthwork and add in landscaping rock or a small retaining wall to an area that has been eroding or draining poorly in previous seasons. Hardscaping projects like these can be time-consuming, hard work in the warm season. They can also become overwhelming on your to-do list once the grass begins growing in earnest and you have to add regular lawn maintenance and plant watering to your daily routine. So take advantage of the milder winter weather to get a head start!

Tend your trees and shrubs

Although many people assume that the dormant season is a time when you can basically forget about your trees and larger shrubs, this is actually the ideal time to be giving them some TLC. Specifically:

  • Check for scale insects. Crape myrtles, Indian Hawthorns, hollies, and junipers are all prone to cool-weather infestations of these tiny insects, which include thousands of different species, most smaller than a pinhead in size and covered by a protective waxy coating. They tend to congregate in clumps, producing a scale-like covering over plants (hence the name). They feed on plant sap and produce a sticky excrement that can lead to fungal issues on leaves and stems. They can become a serious nuisance if left untreated, and early detection is key to keeping infestations under control. Be sure to inspect all parts of the plant, treating mild infestations with a dormant oil spray, which works by coating plant surfaces in mineral and suffocating insects and their eggs and interrupting their feeding patterns. These oils dissipate quickly and aren't toxic to pollinators. For heavier infestations, a malathion solution may be called for (if applied before new leaves break for the season). Be sure to read product labels carefully and talk to one of our experts for specific application advice.

  • Prune trees and larger shrubs while they are dormant. There are several reasons why late winter is the ideal time for pruning your shade and ornamental trees and trimming your fruit and citrus trees. For one thing, bare branches make for better visibility as you're making your cuts, meaning it's easier to determine what needs to go and what needs to stay to preserve the best structure for future growth. Cool-weather cuts are also less prone to infection by insects, fungi, and disease, since these things really kick into action during the warm season. And since trees are at rest during the dormant season, more energy can be diverted to healing from pruning cuts at this time than when the trees are actively growing.

  • Fertilize newly planted trees and shrubs. Remember, trees only look like they aren't growing during the dormant season! In fact, they are using energy to grow and extend their root systems in preparation for taking in increased nutrients to support new growth in the spring. So this is a prime time to fertilize trees and shrubs that are two years old or younger to boost their resistance to any lingering stresses of winter and prepare them to take off in the spring. We recommend using an organic fertilizer such as Hasta-Gro.

Fertilize cool-season flowers

While we're on the topic of fertilizing, this is also the right time to give your cool-season blooms like pansies and snapdragons a fresh feeding. We recommend Nelson Color Star to refresh their color and extend the bloom time.

Also, despite what we said above about late winter being a good time for pruning trees and larger shrubs, we need to also mention that this is not the ideal time for dead-heading flowering plants or pruning back incidental dead branches on your smaller, more frost-susceptible plants. You don't want these more sensitive plants to be diverting critical energy to healing from those pruning cuts in the event of a late-season frost. So be patient and wait until late February or early March to begin your trimming.

Prepare your soil for new planting

Probably the most important thing you can do at this time of year is prepare your garden and bed soils for new planting in the spring. Even if you had a marvelous time with your soil last season, those plants that were actively growing in your beds have probably depleted the soil of many vital nutrients. Seasonal rains, fungal activity, past fertilization treatment, and various other environmental factors may have also impacted the soil's pH balance. So if you want to get the best results from your spring planting efforts, we recommend beefing up your soil's ability to support new plant growth. Some tips:

  • Test your soil. If you've never done so in the past, or if you're concerned that your previous efforts to amend your soil haven't been producing your desired results, now is a great time to get your soil tested. We have DIY kits available that will give you a basic idea where you stand, but you can obtain more complete recommendation through soil testing with our sister company Carmine Feed & Fertilizer. For specific soil preparation advice, you can also reach out to the local ag extension office.

  • Add 2-3 inches of fresh compost per 100 square feet of soil. Working this in will introduce critical organic content to depleted soil and stimulate the activity of microorganisms that help process and make nutrients available to your plant root systems. It will also improve your soil's structure for better drainage in the spring.

  • Allow your prepared soil to "rest" for 30-60 days before new planting. This gives those microorganisms time to go to work before any root systems begin withdrawing nutrients. A resting period ensures that when seeds or roots enter the soil, they have maximum germination and growth potential because nutrients are at their optimum levels and availability.

As always, our knowledgeable team is standing by to help with all your gardening needs. Feel free to call or stop by anytime, and we'll be happy to point you in the right direction as you get ready for the coming spring planting season!


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