Now is the time to plan your spring garden

by Adam Russell, Texas A&M AgriLife

December is the time to plan and prepare for spring gardens, said Dr. Joe Masabni, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service small-acreage vegetable specialist, Overton.

East Texas spring gardens are finished producing and the fall garden should be in full swing, he said. So in down months like December, it’s best to get organized and ready for spring planting.

“Now is the best time to be preparing for next year,” he said. “It’s time to clean out gardens, prepare the soil, clean gardening tools, restock your supplies and put together a plan for spring planting.”

Masabni said spring gardens should be cleared of all plant debris and weeds. Soil should be prepared with added nutrients to improve soil health, which increase the chances of better quality and quantity vegetables next year.

He recommends mixing in composts or a combination of compost and cow, chicken or horse manure based on soil tests.

“You can add as much compost as you like but add manures sparingly because they are rich in phosphorous,” he said. “Get a soil test to confirm that your phosphorous is not exceedingly high. Too much phosphorous can cause nutrient deficiencies such as zinc and iron in plants.”

Masabni said it’s also a good time now to clean and maintain gardening equipment, such as sprayers and shears.

Sprayer nozzles and hoses should be cleaned or replaced to ensure they spray evenly, he said. Masabni recommends gardeners have two backpack sprayers on hand – one for herbicides only and the other for fungicides or insecticides.

“I like to separate herbicides because you can’t clean the sprayer completely and there may be residue left, then you are killing your plants when you mean to protect them,” he said.

Masabni also recommends gardeners sanitize tools with a bleach solution to prevent any transfer of diseases from season to season. He recommends a rate of one cup of bleach per gallon of water and dipping the tools into the solution. Tools should then be rinsed and stored.

Winter months are also a good time for gardeners to plan their spring plantings by going through their notes on last year’s garden, Masabni said. Keeping records of successful and problematic varieties, harvest yields, pest and disease problems, including the date a disease or insect was first noticed, can help gardeners make decisions that can improve the likelihood of success.

Knowing when pests or disease pressure started the previous year can prompt gardeners to begin scouting before that date to reduce pest populations or spray for diseases, he said.

“If you know you had stink bugs on April 15 then you might want to start scouting closely on March 30,” he said. “That first generation of insects is much easier to control because they are small and in fewer numbers. Catching them early can reduce their effect dramatically.”

Having records should also direct gardeners on crop rotations, Masabni said. It’s important to plant varieties from different families in a location each year to reduce disease and pest pressure.

Finally, preparations for spring gardens should also include purchasing supplies, such as seeds, fertilizers and pesticides.

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