Time to begin your main spring planting

The weather always figures out a way to be at the center of any Oklahoma gardening discussion. After 4 weeks of unseasonably gorgeous spring weather where we hardly ever dropped below 40 degrees or even 50 degrees for much of that month we got quite a little cold front last Easter weekend that took us down below freezing across much of Oklahoma and resulted in a hard freeze in parts of northern Oklahoma and particularly in the northeast part of the state. Our last average frost date is usually around April 7, although we have had killing frosts recorded as late as early May. Weather fronts like last weekend are why real nurserymen and garden centers try to get folks to wait to plant annual vegetables and ornamentals until around mid April. It has been so warm and pleasant this year and with most of us having cabin fever from a winter indoors many Okies had already started planting tomatoes, peppers, petunias, impatiens, begonias and other warm season crops.          

Hopefully, your early plantings survived the cold snap and will get a new burst of growth now as the weather warms up and chances of more frost disappear from our weather forecasts. We are now at the start of the main spring planting season and you should be able to proceed with planting most all kinds of plants except for the most heat loving plants like periwinkle, caladiums, okra, melon crops and sweet potatoes which will do best if you wait to plant them after May 1 when night temperatures will have warmed up a little more. Hopefully you have already done some soil preparation and are ready to “plant away” now that we have passed our last average freeze date. If you haven’t already prepared your flower beds with the addition of peat moss, bark or cottonburr compost or other good organic matter make time to do some good soil preparation before you plant for best results. My Dad used to always emphasize that soil or flowerbed preparation is to gardening as your foundation is to your house. If you have a good foundation your home will stay level, secure and strong. If you have happy healthy soil that is well drained and open enough for good air movement with active mycorrhizae, enzymes, good bacteria and earthworms you are likely to grow happy and healthy plants. If your soil is tight and compacted and stays very dry or stands in water your are likely to struggle in your gardening adventures. Regular addition of mulches, humus and organic matter over the years will continuously improve your gardening experience. 

Remember the importance of watering your new plantings to help them get established, well rooted and to grow without drought stress. A thorough watering after planting and regularly thereafter as they start to get dry but before wilting or discoloring will maximize their growth and impact. Regular feeding with a water soluble fertilizer you mix with water and water onto your plants, a well balanced granular fertilizer, or a specially blended slow release fertilizer that can feed for several months will help your trees, shrubs, lawn, vegetables and flowers maximize their performance. You can now “plant away” on container grown trees, shrubs, perennials, vegetables, summer flowering bulbs, grass seed or sod, and color annuals.

Take a close look at the plants in your yard to see if you got any cold or frost damage. The first part of the plant to show damage is usually the tender new growth at the ends of each shoot. If your tender shoots all look green and alive you probably escaped any significant freeze damage. If some of these shoots are black and limp or browned on the edges you probably got some light frost damage and want to watch those fruit trees, shrubs or annuals to observe how they respond. Sometimes they will grow right out of it and you will notice no lasting effects. If the growth tip actually froze it is usually best to cut off the damaged shoot and new growth will likely come out on the good undamaged stem or tissue below the frost damage. If you are in one of the areas to the north that got a really hard freeze, some got as low as 17 degrees, you could have frozen back your fruit crop, berries, vines and plants all the way to the ground or you may have totally frozen out tender plants. Fruit trees, berries and shrubs that froze back hard may not produce a crop at all this year and it may take several years for the plant to return to the size and condition before the killing freeze. Thankfully, for most of us in central Oklahoma the anticipation was worse than the actual event and most plants I have seen were not damaged or suffered some “freezer burn” to their softest terminal shoots and will quickly bounce back with new growth below the damaged shoots.

Keep an eye on the weather but take advantage of the beautiful spring days to get out and exercise in the garden and to plant more trees, flowerbeds and container gardens.

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