Gar­den­ers’ fa­vorite month means rolling up sleeves

It’s time to get go­ing.

Austin American-Statesman - - AUSTIN 360 LIFE - By Judy Bar­rett Spe­cial to the Amer­i­can-States­man

Here it is — Gar­den Month in Cen­tral Texas. March is when ev­ery­one con­sid­ers get­ting se­ri­ous about gar­den­ing this year. The weather is nice, there is prob­a­bly go­ing to be a lit­tle rain, no frost in sight. Op­ti­mism spills over the land­scape. And that is a good thing. Still, if you are just think­ing about get­ting into veg­etable or flower gar­den­ing, take a deep breath and de­velop a plan.

One of the most com­mon causes of dis­ap­point­ment in gar­den­ers is as­sum­ing you can grow any­thing you want any­where you want. A re­lated is­sue is think­ing you can grow as much as you want. Some first-time veg­etable gar­den­ers at­tempt to repli­cate the en­tire farm­ers mar­ket on their 10-footby-20-foot pa­tio or in two raised beds. It just can’t be done. It is tempt­ing, of course.

Any en­thu­si­as­tic gar­dener who looks through a rack of seed pack­ets wants one of each. You start out slow: “Tomatoes, of course, and beans, we like beans, oh, and squash, we all like squash — green, yel­low, oh, and white, look at that! And melons, for sure, maybe wa­ter­mel­ons and can­taloupe and hon­ey­dew. Oh! Ar­ti­chokes!” Pretty soon you have enough seeds to plant a small is­land na­tion.

Be­fore you start shop­ping, look at the space you have. If you are hop­ing to grow some of your own food, you don’t need a big gar­den, but you do need some space in full sun. It can be in a flower bed or con­tainer or raised bed gar­den, but it needs good soil and sun­light.

If you want flow­ers, the same holds true. New plants need light and rich soil to flour­ish. And you want the plants to flour­ish or else you’re just wast­ing time and money and con­jur­ing that dread phan­tom — the black thumb. No­body re­ally has a black thumb. Green thumbs are avail­able right around the corner. It only takes some in­for­ma­tion, pa­tience and a re­al­is­tic eye. So make a plan, then start think­ing about what you’d love to see grow­ing.

Al­most ev­ery­one wants tomatoes, and March is the month to plant them. But plant well after the mid­dle of the month, even if it is hot­ter than usual. More tomato plants croak from plant­ing too early than from plant­ing too late. They hate cool nights. Even if they don’t die from the cold, they can eas­ily be­come stunted, leggy, and gen­er­ally unattrac­tive and un­pro­duc­tive.

Tomatoes like cozy spots with rich soil and a plen­ti­ful sup­ply of mois­ture. Wrap their cages in row cover fab­ric to keep the winds from rav­ish­ing them and the cool from chill­ing them. Feed them a good or­ganic liq­uid fer­til­izer ev­ery other week to get them off to a good start and keep them grow­ing en­thu­si­as­ti­cally.

Plant sev­eral dif­fer­ent va­ri­eties if you have room and in­clude some heir­looms. You’ll be de­lighted with the va­ri­ety of col­ors and tastes avail­able. Speak kind words to them daily and check for any pests that might be hang­ing around. Be­fore you know it, you’ll be brag­ging on your home­grown cap­rese salad.

In many cases, you’ll find that buy­ing plants in small 4-inch con­tain­ers is more sat­is­fy­ing than buy­ing seeds. If you want only one squash plant, buy one. The seeds will tempt you into plant­ing more than you want, have room for, or will take care of. When you are plant­ing, re­mind your­self that you will have to tend these plants even when the weather is hot, there is no rain, and air con­di­tion­ing is just in­side the door. That’s where the re­al­is­tic eye comes in. If you love gar­den­ing, go big. If you are just get­ting started, ease into it.

Some plants are eas­ier than oth­ers. Zin­nias, morn­ing glo­ries and al­most all herb plants will grow with min­i­mal care. All they need is sun, water when the soil is dry and some space. It is too late to plant cilantro, let­tuce and broc­coli, so for­get about those. Plant okra when it gets re­ally warm. Plant pep­pers and tomatoes soon and try adding a tepee with beans climb­ing up it in a corner of the yard.

Have some fun with this project and share the fun with your fam­ily. Or don’t if you pre­fer soli­tary gar­den­ing. Re­mem­ber, you are do­ing this not be­cause you have to but be­cause you want to — for the taste of it, for the beauty of it, for the sense of pride that comes with it, and for the fail­ures too. Ev­ery gar­dener has fail­ures. They are part of the process. Gar­dens are never the same from one year to the next. You learn and you change your plan and your pref­er­ences. That’s part of the plea­sure of the gar­den.

Try some­thing you’ve never grown be­fore. This year I’m try­ing lima beans. My hus­band hates lima beans, but he’s prob­a­bly never tasted fresh li­mas, and be­sides, I like them and I’ve never grown them. Last year I tried the new heat-re­sis­tant rhubarb. (My hus­band loves rhubarb and I don’t care much one way or the other.) To­tal fail­ure. It curled up and died and was a waste of space. Now I know not to bother with that again. I’ve tried tomatil­los — yay! Hubbard squash — boo! And many things in between. It was all fun and in­for­ma­tive and no­body starved.

Con­tinue adding but­ter­fly plants to your gar­den if you have room and some for the bees as well. A lot of crit­ters pass through our gar­dens, and it is up to us to make their pas­sage more re­ward­ing for them and us as well. Milk­weeds, pen­tas, sun­flow­ers and many other nice flow­ers are all wel­come sources of sus­te­nance for the in­sects that pol­li­nate and beau­tify our out­door space.

Now that March is here, it is time to get out­doors and en­joy it. The most im­por­tant task is to build a com­post heap. That will en­sure a spot for all those ex­tra plants you can’t re­sist when you visit your lo­cal nurs­ery, fa­vorite com­mu­nity gar­den plant sale or the sales put on by Mas­ter Gar­den­ers, gar­den clubs and gar­den cen­ters. There are so many choices, so many temp­ta­tions, so many won­ders. In­dulge a bit, but try not to overdo it.


Get ready to start plant­ing a va­ri­ety of flow­ers like pop­pies and daisies.

Now is the time to plant tomatoes.

Start­ing your gar­den from seeds can cause you to plant too much.

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