Plan Now For Spring Flowers

By Dr. William C. Welch, Professor and Extension Horticulturist,
Texas Cooperative Extension, Texas A&M System

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If you want to have an abundance of winter and spring flowers in your garden, now is the time to begin work. Most of Texas enjoys mild enough winters to develop a long lasting and good quality crop of such favorites as pansies, snapdragons, calendulas, candytufts, larkspurs, petunias, and sweet peas, to name a few.

Annuals planted in the fall will usually bloom three to six weeks earlier than those planted in the spring, depending upon the variety and species. Occasionally, plants may be damaged by extreme temperature changes, prolonged low temperatures, or high winds, but many gardeners consider it worth the risk.

Primary attention must be given to bed preparation and watering. Beds should be prepared several weeks prior to planting and raised enough to insure good drainage during prolonged wet periods. When starting plants from seed, it is especially important to keep the soil moist. Any drying during the germination period is hazardous. Water should be allowed to flow slowly through shallow irrigation furrows or a fine sprinkler every time surface drying is observed.

Seeds should be planted closer together than for spring planting. A close stand of seedlings seems to have less chance of damage from winter cold. This insures a sufficient number of plants even if part of them are winter killed. A light mulch of straw, hay, pine needles, or similar material can help in retaining moisture, preventing packing of the soil, and maintaining even moisture levels.

Well rotted manure is an excellent soil conditioner and fertilizer. Chemical fertilizers containing nitrogen, phosphorus, and potash are more convenient to use but offer no soil conditioning qualities. Peat moss, pine bark, compost, and other organic matter are essential to the success of gardening. This organic matter should compose at least 20 percent of the garden soil by volume.

For best results, prepare the soil several weeks prior to actual planting. This allows the soil to settle, reducing air pockets and allowing chemical fertilizers to become diluted and unlikely to burn the tender seedlings.