World Naked Gardening Day on the First Saturday of May is the Season to Plant Away!

Today is the well publicized World Naked Gardening Day which is the first Saturday of May, but I suspect most Oklahoman’s will participate inside their safer protective clothes.  It is a good thing World Naked Gardening Day wasn’t last weekend when it felt more like winter then spring in Oklahoma.  The weather forecast looks like all the snow and cold is now in our rear view mirror and we really can concentrate on spring planting.

May is the season when we can plant most everything and have a good chance of gardening success.  If you want to vegetable garden, whether in traditional garden rows or in patio pots or the fun new fabric grow bags this is the time to plant your tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant.  There are many other veggies you can grow from seed including warm season crops like okra, cantaloupe, cucumber, pumpkins, black-eyed cow peas, summer squash, winter squash and watermelons.  The night temperatures look like they will now be 50 degrees or higher so you can plant sweet potatoes slips that will allow you to dig your own fresh sweet potatoes later this year.

Colorful annuals and perennials provide a lot of the spark or pizzazz for our yards and patios.  There are literally hundreds, even thousands of choices of the plants you can use to add color and excitement to your home.  You need to consider light levels like sun or shade, soil type and drainage as well as your watering habits to help select the right plants to fit each area of your yard.   You also need to think about the height the plants will grow, the size and shape of the plants and the colors of their flowers to get the right fit for your landscape.

Almost all plants do best when you have prepared the soil right with the addition of good organic matter like sphagnum peat, composted bark, cotton burrs or other humus to help provide a well drained home for your plant roots.  These composted materials also help hold and release moisture in the soil and tend to help acidify our alkaline soils.

Shade and part shade areas can be dressed up with plantings of impatiens, caladiums, begonias, salvia, coleus and many wonderful perennials.  The smorgasbord is full of great choices for sunny garden color in Oklahoma including lantana, petunias, crotons, plumbago, petunias, ornamental sweet potato, zinnia, marigolds, periwinkle, sun coleus, ornamental grasses and pentas.

This is also a good time to plant container grown shrubs and trees.  Many folks had a lot of tree damage last weekend and this may be a good time to replace those wind damaged Bradford Pears or other fast growing, soft wooded trees.  We are blessed to have lots of choices in the trees that will grow across our state but you really do need to think about whether you want a tree in twelve to twenty years that will grow to fifteen feet, twenty-five feet, thirty-five feet tall or even larger as you select the tree for your available space.  There are trees that provide shade, others that provide fall color, some that produce fruit or nuts, others for spring flowers.  Some trees will cover multiple uses in addition to their aesthetic impact and the amazing job they do in cleaning your air and providing cooling for your home and property.  Shrubs make a big impact around your home or other buildings as foundation plantings and as living fences or screens.

Decide what kind of landscaping or gardening you need or want to do this season and get busy planting to take advantage of the full 2017 gardening season.  Don’t forget Mothers Day is one week away and plants make a great gift to celebrate and honor the special women and mothers in your life.   May is the season to plant away!

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Celebrate Oklahoma Land Run and Plant Away!

What better way to celebrate the Oklahoma Land Run anniversary today than by driving your spade in the ground and planting new trees and shrubs to stake your modern day claim to your yard.  On this day in 1889 our ancestors were lining up to rush into these new territories to stake out their new homes and farms.  A lot has happened in the last one hundred and twenty-eight years as most of those lands have changed hands several times and had real homes replace sod houses and barns.  Those one hundred twenty-eight years have seen wells drilled, water lines and storm sewers installed, roads and highways created and electricity installed across these plains.  Our Oklahoma forefathers were mainly trying to grow enough vegetables, fruit and grains to feed their families and their livestock as they attempted to survive in this new frontier.  It was a bonus when they got to plant roses, iris or other pretty ornamental flowers to brighten their harsh life as homesteaders.  We have the luxury of being able to choose what type of landscape and gardening we want to do.  We are not gardening for survival but for enjoyment, relaxation, beauty and to supplement our food supply.

We are likely past the last freeze or frost of the winter and are into the main spring planting season.  This is the sweet spot between winter and the heat of Oklahoma summers where we can plant most anything and have a fairly high chance of gardening success. Crops planted now and watered correctly have a good chance to get rooted in and established in their new garden home before confronting the intense heat trials of summer.  This is the season where you can “plant away” on most everything from grass seed, sprigs or sod for new lawn areas to container grown fruit or ornamental trees for shade and nutrition.  You can also plant container grown shrubs to create hedges and for foundation plantings around your home or other buildings.  This is a great time to plant perennials to provide seasonal color and to come back year after year to anchor your gardening efforts.  Some of those trees, shrubs and perennials across our state date back to those the pioneers brought in on their covered wagons during the land run.  We still see heirloom roses at old homesteads and at early day cemeteries as well as lilacs, iris and day-lilies that were first planted soon after the Land Run.

The most popular plants to add to your garden during this spring planting season are the annual vegetables and color annuals.   There are many warm season vegetables you can start from seed now to enjoy throughout the growing season but the most widely grown Oklahoma vegetables are tomatoes, peppers and eggplant which are usually grown from transplants or small plants you can buy at your local nursery.  These can be grown in traditional vegetable gardens, mixed in with flower plantings in flower beds or grown in raised beds, or even fabric bags or decorative containers on your patio or even on apartment balconies.  There are hundreds of varieties of tomatoes from small cherry or plum sized tomatoes to large slicing tomatoes in traditional red, pink, yellow or purple skinned selections.  Peppers vary from sweet bell peppers to sweet banana peppers and hundreds of different intensities of hot peppers.  Eggplant is often used as a meat substitute and is available in several varieties producing different sizes and colors of fruit.

Flowering annuals add the color or pizzazz to our yards and landscape and the choices expand every year as more plants are introduced and as plant collecting and breeding progresses.  You can plant for mass color impact like a bed full of begonias, impatiens, penta, petunia, periwinkle or vinca, marigolds, zinnias or many other choices.  You can plant to support pollinators, to attract butterflies, to provide touch or scent gardens.  There are so many plant choices you can be an artist and show your creative side based on the plants and colors you select.  Make sure you pay attention to your soil type, drainage conditions and amount of sun or shade available as you work with your local garden center or nurseryman to make your plant selections.

There are a few really hot blooded crops like okra, sweet potatoes, periwinkle and caladiums that will do better if you wait another week or two to plant when the night low temperatures are consistently above fifty degrees.  Except for those few crops “plant away” and get ready to enjoy and be a part of a great growing season.

WATER & TIME FOR PLANTING!

We were really dry, so dry that western Oklahoma lost tens of thousands of acres to wild fires.  We have now been blessed with some nice soaking rains across most all of Oklahoma which really help get our trees, shrubs, lawns, vegetable and flower gardens off to a great spring start.  Water is one of the most critical ingredients to support plant growth and nothing beats great slow soaking rains to motivate our plants to produce a flush of spring growth.  This is an exciting and tricky time for Oklahoma gardeners.  We have enjoyed beautiful spring like weather for several weeks which adds to our spring fever and calls us to plant!  Our instincts tell us that the earlier we can plant without getting a freeze the earlier we get tomatoes, peppers, flowers or other crops.  Early planting also get us a longer growing season to enjoy annuals before we have to confront fall freezes.  Early plantings allow more plant growth while we have pleasant spring weather and before we confront the intense heat of our Oklahoma summers.  The better established and rooted in our plants are before the stress of summer the better they can handle that heat and drought.  The challenge for gardeners is that threat of a late cold front that can kill or damage these early plantings.  Our last average frost in central Oklahoma is around April 10 and we currently show nothing below 40 degrees on the ten day forecast so it looks all clear to plant most everything.  Bear in mind we have had a killing freeze in just the last few years as late as May 3rd so you still need to be weather observant and ready to protect these early season plantings if we do get a late surprise cold front.  Based on the current weather reports it appears like you are good to plant most everything but the hot blooded tropical plants like sweet potatoes, periwinkle, okra and caladiums that do best planted after night temperatures are consistently above fifty degrees.  These hot blooded tropical’s will be lethargic and usually just sit there when planted before May 1st.

This is a great season to plant new container grown trees and shrubs.  They will benefit from spring rains and the natural urge to root out at this time of year.  Remember that new trees and shrubs will require an extra commitment to water this summer and even the next couple of years until they are rooted in more deeply.

Few gardening experiences are as much fun as picking your own fresh vegetables to wash and eat fresh or to use in your own salads and cooking.  Plant tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant transplants now to start picking locally grown produce in late May and June.  Tomatoes and peppers are still the most popular vegetables to plant and harvest yourself.   There are hundreds of varieties of each.  There are giant slicing tomatoes, cherry or pear tomatoes, red tomatoes, yellow tomatoes, and heirloom tomatoes.  Plant varieties you have had good success with and try out a new color, shape or variety to add some excitement to your vegetable gardening.   It is best to select a tomato variety that is VFN for resistance to verticillium, fusarium and nematodes.  Peppers are available in hundreds of varieties from sweet bell peppers in green, red, purple or new multicolored varieties to sweet banana peppers or hot peppers of varying intensity.  Hot peppers are rated in scoville units and although I have a limited tolerance for the hot pepper varieties many folks love them hot, the hotter the better.  Tomatoes, peppers and other vegetables can do well in flower beds, often even better in raised beds that may have better drainage and better soil.  You can also raise tomatoes, peppers and other veggies in decorative containers or other styles of container gardens on an apartment balcony or your home patio.

Plant now to get your plants off to a great spring start and to get a full growing season.  Be weather observant so you can protect your plants if we are challenged with a late cold front and to water your plants when dry.

2017 Spring Has Officially Kicked Off!

We officially kicked off spring on Monday of this week and it certainly has been feeling like spring.  Many of our trees, shrubs and perennials are leafing out and flowering several weeks early.  Our last average freeze for most of Oklahoma occurs between April 1st in southern Oklahoma and April 15th in northern Oklahoma and about April 7th to 10th in central Oklahoma.  Based on that history of average freeze dates we would still encourage you to wait a couple more weeks to plant warm season vegetables and ornamentals.  Based on the long term forecast this may be a year you can gamble on an early planting and get away with it but the safe plan is to wait until around mid April to plant tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, begonias, impatiens, geraniums and the hundreds of other warm season crops to feed our stomachs and our souls.  If you do plant early please keep an eye on the weather reports and be prepared to cover your tender crops with hot caps, row covers, boxes, sheets or other protective covers if you see we are going to have a light frost or freeze.  You can safely proceed with planting most trees, shrubs and perennials now.

We have passed the optimum time to plant our cool season vegetable crops like onions, potatoes, cabbage, lettuce, spinach and cauliflower so if you have seed or plants you haven’t planted yet please plant them at once or grab some at the garden center before they are gone.  They need to be planted now to get a harvest before it gets too hot and these cool season crops succumb to the Oklahoma heat.  We are also at the final days to get much effect from pre-emergent herbicides on your lawn or in your flowerbeds.  If you want to control summer weeds before they come up, you need to get your pre-emergent down at once or many weeds will already be germinated and you won’t get the benefits of this treatment.  Once the summer weeds are up you can hand pull them, use selective post emergent herbicides or you can solarize a whole area where you plan to create a new flowerbed or do totally new plantings.

This is the season to complete your soil tests at your county extension office and then to make pH corrections as needed.  On the east side of the city we sometimes need to use lime to lift the pH but across most of Oklahoma City and western Oklahoma we battle high pH or alkaline soils and need to apply soil sulphur to lower the pH.  Don’t apply lime or sulphur until you have a good soil test and know what pH you are starting with in your soil.  Now is a great time to apply fertilizers to your existing trees, shrubs, lawn and new plantings to support the new growth that your plants are initiating as they start the new growing season.  Apply fertilizers over lawns, under the drip lines of trees and shrubs and in strips or circles about 4 inches to six inches from the stem of new vegetable and flower plantings. It is best to apply a balanced fertilizer of nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium where the three numbers add up to over 20, like 10-20-10, 21-7-14 or many other fine fertilizers.

Organic matter in your soils can dramatically improve soil structure, improve drainage and moisture holding capacity, retain nutrition in the root zone and produce happier and healthier plants.  Add Sphagnum peat moss, composted cotton burrs, pine bark, leaves, straw, manure, alfalfa or other organic matter to new or existing flowerbeds to improve the water and nutrition management in your gardens.

We have had a great season of crocus, daffodil, hyacinth and tulip flowers.  Let the foliage stay as long as possible and the foliage is green to help produce the food to store for the next years flowers.   Enjoy the gorgeous Red bud flowers on the trees in landscapes and the native varieties blooming across our state as you travel our highways.  It is easy to understand why early state leaders made it our state tree when you see them in gorgeous bloom at this time of year.  Go ahead and prune out any winter or storm damaged branches on trees and shrubs that do not leaf out this spring.

There is much to do in the garden but be patient on the warm season crops for another couple of weeks and then we ought to be able to give the “plant away” instructions.

Spring is blooming all around us!

Spring is blooming out all around us as the yellow forsythia and red quince flowering shrubs come alive with vibrant colors. Trees are budding out and flowering and fruit trees like ornamental pears, peaches, plums, apricots, crab apples and saucer magnolias are at various stages of flowering. We celebrate the beauty of crocus, daffodil, hyacinth, and tulip bulbs that were planted last fall or in prior years and have burst forth from the earth to announce spring. This is the beginning of the growing cycle and we will be blessed to watch growth and the annual miracles of nature from now until the first hard freezes late next fall.

This year the show has started several weeks early due to our unusually warm weather and the absence of usual frosts and freezes. There is no certainty that we have seen our last freeze of the winter yet, this early start may still be interrupted so be careful not to get too aggressive in planting warm season crops yet. Our last average frost is usually about mid April, or still a month away. In the last decade we have had years with the last killing freeze at the end of February and other years with the last killing freeze in early May and this is how Oklahoma ends up with an average of Mid April for the last killing freeze of the year. There is plenty to do in the yard and garden without gambling on early plantings of the tender warm blooded crops like tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, begonias and periwinkle which are best planted after mid April and usually we plant okra, sweet potatoes and caladiums in early May.

With the garden calendar running early your window to get the best effects from your pre-emergent weed killers is closing quickly. The sooner they are applied to your lawns or flowerbeds the more goatheads, sandburs, crabgrass and other summer weeds they can control and kill at germination. Oklahoma State University has long recommended application between the time the forsythia and redbuds flower for best results. The forsythia have been blooming for about two weeks and the redbuds are just starting. Don’t procrastinate any longer. Get your pre-emergent applied right away if you want it to work this season. Many folks have taken advantage of this beautiful weather to already plant their seed potatoes, onion sets, onion plants, cabbage, cauliflower and strawberries, asparagus and other cool season crops. If you have not planted those yet, visit your local nursery or garden center and get them planted right away. Folks will plant these crops on up into early April but the best yields normally come to those who plant sooner. The old timers often said to plant these cool season crops between Valentine Day and St. Patrick’s Day. The later plantings of cool crops have to battle longer days, higher day time and night time temperatures before they reach harvest and this can reduce their overall yield. We are also winding down the planting season for cool season root crops like radishes, carrots and beets as well as leafy crops like leaf and head lettuce, mustard, Swiss chard and kale.

This is a good time to feed your pansies that made it through the winter to help drive another round of growth and flowers this spring before they succumb to the late spring and summer heat. We are dry and in need of rain so don’t forget to water your pansies and new plantings periodically when Mother Nature is not providing the needed rain. This is a great time to plant new trees, shrubs and perennials in your yard to add the long term “skeleton” or framework to your gardening effort. Once these “permanent” type crops are established they will grow and evolve each year to be the bones of your landscape and to add to the nature growing in your yard.

Wrap up your pre-season pruning and focus on cleaning up your existing flowerbeds and digging out or creating new flower beds as you get ready for the “plant-away” signal at the middle of April. Enjoy this beautiful March weather and use it as an excuse to spend time in your yard and gardens. Time spent working in the garden now will be paid off with big harvests and pretty flowers over the rest of the growing season and for years to come.

Four “P’s” of late February – Pruning, Pre-emergents, Preparation, and Planting!

This is the four “P” season, time to prune, pre-emerge, prepare and plant in the Oklahoma garden. We have had unseasonably warm weather the last few weeks as Oklahoma does on occasion and already have daffodils blooming, a few fruit and ornamental trees in flower and buds popping on many other plant materials. This is a good season to prune trees, shrubs and most everything except spring flowering shrubs and fruit trees as pruning those now will result in reducing your early season harvest of flowers or fruit. When pruning trees and shrubs first prune out any dead wood or branches. Then prune to shape the tree or shrub as you hope to size or shape it. There are also many plants, like roses that respond well to harder pruning where you cut back the canes or braches to stimulate new energetic shoots from down low on the bush. Remember the new growth will usually come out from a bud or joint just below your cut. If you pay attention to the location of the bud on the joint you can even predict the direction of the new branch to assist you in shaping and directing the plant. Use clean and sharp cutting tools to make a clean cut instead of smashing or ripping the cut which will require longer for healing.

If you hate to fight weeds and want to reduce your weed pulling frustration in your lawn or your flowerbeds, later in this growing season, this is the time to apply pre-emergent herbicides for control of warm season weeds and grasses. We usually apply different products on the lawn and in the flowerbeds. You need to identify your type of lawn grass to make sure you select the best herbicide to spray or spread as granules. Make certain not to use a pre-emergence herbicide on lawn or flower bed areas where you plan to sow seeds or if you have plants you like that come back from seed each year. These pre-emergent weed killers work by killing the seed as they start to germinate. Some pre-emergents kill grass seeds, others kill broadleaf weeds and some work on grasses and broadleaf’s. None can tell the difference between good seeds and bad seeds so do not use them where you plan to sow good seeds. Most pre-emergent’s work for four to twelve weeks after you apply them to your lawn or flowerbeds. They work best when watered in well after application. There are post emergent herbicides you can apply after the warm season weeds and grasses have germinated but they are more selective and more likely to burn or damage plants you don’t want to damage.

The third “P” is for preparation. We can already plant trees, shrubs and cool season crops this is the time to take soil tests, create new flowerbeds, add peat moss, compost or other organic matter to your existing flowerbeds before the main planting season for warm season crops. This is a great time to get your containers cleaned up, filled up with good soil and ready for planting. You can do a spray of dormant oil to help control scale and other pests before the season starts on your shrubs and trees.

We have entered the planting season and can now plant bareroot fruit trees, grapes, blackberries, raspberries, strawberries, rhubarb and horseradish. We can plant Irish potatoes, onion plants, onion sets and seed or plants of lettuce, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, and many other green leafy crops or root crops like radishes and carrots.

Take advantage of the pretty days to escape your cabin fever and get outside in your yard and engage in the four “P’s” of late February – pruning, pre-emergents, preparation, and planting.

Gardeners Getting Anxious For Spring

Lots of pretty warm days and just a few freezing nights the last couple of weeks has really stimulated our spring fever. The humans and the plants are getting anxious and want to start growing. Many of the early spring flowering bulbs are pushing growth up out of the ground and will soon be in flower. Many of the perennials are starting to send out their first growth of spring. Flowering shrubs, fruit trees and our ornamental trees all are producing swollen buds, pregnant with first new leaves of spring ready to burst forth. This is always a tricky season for Oklahoma gardeners. We are anxious for the growth of spring but hope it doesn’t get too warm, too early and cause the new growth to come on out and to then get damaged by a hard freeze which is likely still ahead of us. Our last average freeze in central Oklahoma is usually around April 7th but in the last five years the last freeze has been as early as late February and as late as early May so we have one to three months before the last freeze based on recent history. Many gardeners practice their gambling skills by planting earlier than the safe date in hopes of getting an early start on the growing season and a longer overall season. This is a risky practice and often results in planting twice. There are a number of products and techniques you can use to provide extra protection from light frosts or freezes. Cover tender plants with boxes, sheets, blankets, even newspapers or use a commercial product like hot kaps, row covers or Wall-O-Waters for extra protection of three to twelve degrees.

There are many plants you can plant now without being a wild gambler. You can plant ornamental trees and shrubs, fruit trees, flowering shrubs and many perennials or cool season annuals now. Over the last decade many more folks have gotten involved in food gardening and are raising fresh produce and berries very locally, right in their own yard. There are a number of cool season crops to plant right now and most of these are very easy and trouble free to grow. The hardest work on most of the cool season crops is preparing the soil, planting them, then the all important watering as they grow. Some of the easiest crops are root crops like Irish potatoes in red, gold, purple or white and onion sets or plants in yellow, white or red. These are usually plant, water, water and harvest type of crops. Plant these from now until mid March. There are many perennial food crops to plant now including strawberries, rhubarb, horseradish and asparagus crowns as well as grapes, raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, boysenberries, gooseberries and youngberries. Sow seed of cool season greens like lettuce, mustard and Swiss chard, root crops like turnips, radish, carrots, beets and specialty crops like kohl rabi and Brussels sprouts.

Not only the trees and flowers are starting to germinate or grow but also the crabgrass and weeds. This is the time to kill crabgrass, goat heads, sand burrs and summer weeds before they germinate. Most good herbicides or pre-emergent’s will kill the weed seeds as they start to germinate for about four to eight weeks after they are applied to your lawn or garden. Depending on the product you apply, if applied at mid February it will kill most of the labeled crabgrass or weed seeds that try to germinate over the next four to eight weeks so until mid March or mid April depending on the product. They should be watered in well after application. There are a number of good pre-emergent’s but I suggest one that contains one or more of these active ingredients, Prodiamine (Barricade), Dimension, Treflan, Balan, Team (Treflan & Balan), Gallery, Tupersan or Sulfentrazone. These are all available from many manufacturers and in herbicide only or weed and feed combinations so you can feed your lawn at the same time you are controlling or killing future weeds. It is generally much easier to prevent or kill the crabgrass and weeds at germination then to control them later with a post emergent herbicide.

Enjoy the warming sun as you do these garden projects, prepare the soil for warm season planting later, get your soil tested and prepare for a full spring of gardening.