Late winter gardening tips for Oklahoma
Will Rogers said, “If you don’t like the weather in Oklahoma, wait a minute”. Nothing could be truer these past few weeks for sure!
One of the most rewarding things to do now to get ready for the spring garden season is to plan. Think about what worked in last year’s garden, and more importantly, what didn’t work. Spring means a chance to start over, so dream big and plan big. Walk around inside where it’s warm and cozy and look out your windows. Do you need to remove a shrub that is overgrown and blocking a nice view or limb it up so you can see under it? Do you need to plant something to block a not-so-nice view such as your neighbor’s storage building? Try an Oklahoma Native or Oklahoma Proven plant for long lasting beauty.
Keep food and unfrozen water out for the birds. The best all around foods for birds are black oil sunflower seeds and suet feeders.
Prune spring-flowering shrubs such as forsythia immediately after blooming. You are going for a natural, arching shape, not a geometric or lollipop-shaped object that belongs in Disney World or The Wizard of Oz. The way to maintain the natural beauty is to remove one-third of the older, larger branches down to ground level each year. This will keep the natural, beautiful shape of the shrub with lots of flowers each spring.
Spring planting times are pretty forgiving in southern Oklahoma. You can plant onion plants as soon as the weather permits, the ground is workable, and the plants are available. Seeds of cool season crops such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, swiss chard, lettuce, beets, and turnips can be started inside or in a greenhouse eight weeks before the last frost date. Warm season crops such as peppers, eggplants, and tomatoes can be started six weeks before the last frost date.
The last average frost date for southern Oklahoma is April 15th. Of course, that’s an average of all the last frost dates the past 100 years, and sometimes it comes in February, and sometimes it comes in April. The best thing to do is watch the weather. Go ahead and take a chance and plant things a little early. You can always cover things if a late frost is predicted. Even if you lose a planting to a late freeze, you still have time to replant. Unfortunately, the seasons here often go from winter straight to summer with very little spring. If we do have spring, it may be so wet we can’t work the soil, or so windy the blossoms dry up and blow off. That kind of puts a damper on those big plans and dreams, but gardeners are optimistic. It has been said that gardeners stay young because they always have something to look forward to and have faith in the new gardening season. Gardening is also good exercise. It gets you outside in the fresh air and sun; and working in your yard is good, free therapy. There’s nothing better than pulling weeds to relieve stress.
Thou Shalt NOT Commit Crepe Murder! It’s happening all over the south right now – landscape companies are sending out people with chainsaws to neighborhoods and commercial locations to have people actually pay them to mutilate and destroy their beautiful Crepe Myrtle trees. Never EVER whack off a Crepe Myrtle tree. You wouldn’t do that to any of your other trees in the landscape. Research has proven that drastic pruning of Crepe Myrtles does NOT make them bloom more. Crepe Myrtles bloom way more if they aren’t pruned at all than if they are butchered, hatracked, or otherwise mutilated. The only training Crepe Myrtles need is to remove the 4 D’s: dead, diseased, damaged, and dinky branches. Remove branches growing inward to let air circulate through the center of the tree; and remove branches that touch in order to prevent wounds that allow insect and disease damage. Keep the sprouts pinched off at ground level, and remove seedheads after blooming if you can safely reach them to promote quicker reblooming. That’s all you need to do in order to have one of the south’s most beautiful trees. The number one thing you need to remember when purchasing a Crepe Myrtle is to get the right size plant for the right location. There are sizes available to fit any landscaping need.
It’s a perfect time to top off your beds with compost. Compost will do more to improve your landscape and to lessen your work than any other thing you can do in your garden. It will feed the soil and the plants, improve your soil tilth – no matter what you have, keep the soil temperature cooler in summer and warmer in winter, keep most weeds from sprouting, keep moisture from evaporating when the hot temperatures and drying winds come so you will need to water less, and make everything look neat and tidy. It’s called ‘Gardeners’ Gold for a reason.
Spring is a good time to plant new shrubs and trees. You can order them online as bare root plants or buy container grown. Many area nurseries, feed stores, and home improvement stores will be getting shipments in soon. Try to get them before they sit in a parking lot for weeks drying out from wind and lack of water. It is hard for a six-foot tree in a two-gallon container to take up enough water to keep the leaves healthy even if it is watered several times a day, which it usually isn’t.
Plant things for winter interest and for the birds. If you’ve looked out your windows lately, and your yard looked bland and boring, this is a good time to make it more interesting. There are many plants that grow well in our area, provide food and shelter for over-wintering birds, and bring beauty to winter landscapes. Things you want to look for in plants to provide winter interest are colorful berries, attractive or unusual bark, evergreen foliage, or an interesting branching pattern. One of the best plants for winter is Holly. Holly has year-round beauty, is evergreen in the winter, has beautiful red berries, and provides food and shelter for the birds. Ornamental grasses provide beauty and movement to the winter landscape. Many have plumes that last all winter and provide seeds for the birds. Cut down in late February to keep new growth coming each spring. Deciduous hollies such as Winterberry lose their leaves in winter but are covered with brilliant red berries for beauty and the birds. Red chokeberry shrubs are loaded with red berries in winter, and are good for wildlife. The 2010 Oklahoma Proven Shrub is a red chokeberry called “Brilliantissima”. River Birch trees, Lacebark Elms, and Crepe Myrtles have beautiful, exfoliating bark that provides winter interest. Burning Bush shrubs turn electric red in the fall and have a branch structure that is interesting as well as thick enough to provide shelter for birds. Nandinas turn beautiful colors in the fall and have red berries for the birds, also. Happy Gardening! Pat