Category: Spring Gardening

Is Spring Early This Year?


Officially, spring arrives in the United States on March 20. Spring comes early along the Gulf Coast though, and gardeners shouldn’t be too eager to plant just yet. A few warm days toward the end of February has prompted many, this gardener included, to jump the gun and begin putting in tender plants.

Even thought the USDA has published cold hardiness zones, and has projections for last frost, the parameters are quite large. For instance, the USDA indicates that absolute last frost date in region 9A (which includes a great deal of the Gulf Coast) is March 20. However, there are very few years when we had a frost that late. Not to say it can’t happen, The average risk for last frost in our area is March 1, although it may be a little later in the northern part of the county.

Before you start putting in tender tomato seedlings you might want to wait until nature tells you it’s actually springtime. Here are some indicators that herald the real arrival of spring:

The birds are singing

Backyard birds are one of the best indicators that springtime has arrived. Birds are extremely sensitive to weather. Bluebirds, for instance, are good harbingers. As the old poem goes: “Bluebirds are a sign of spring and gentle south breezes they bring.”

Other “early birds include the American golden plover, the purple martin although they sometimes arrive before the last frost, barn swallow and yellow-throated warbler. Check out the Audubon website or Cornell Ornithology website for identifications of these birds.

Doves (white-wing, mourning and Aztec, begin their cooing mating rituals in the backyard and elsewhere. Carolina wrens and pileated woodpeckers begin visiting trees in the neighborhood.

Trees

In about a week, begin looking for buds on your trees. Willows, pecans, and silver maples are good examples of early spring budding. Eastern and Texas redbuds are also early bloomers. These attractive trees bloom from the branches before leafing out and create a wonderful show with their tiny pink blossoms.

Many magnolias also begin blooming in very early spring. Star magnolias, saucer magnolias, Jane magnolias (tulip tree) and lily magnolias are some species that herald spring.

Flowering dogwoods are also an early indication of spring.

Vines

Some say that Carolina jessamine is the first harbinger of spring. With its golden yellow flowers climbing up leafless white oaks, sweet gum and our evergreen yaupon, it sends quite a message if you’re looking for it. Find it in wooded areas.

Another early spring bloomer is the pitcher clematis. Unlike its showy cousins, it sports a small purple flower- about the size of a 50-cent piece – resembling an upside-down pitcher. It grows in heavily wooded areas.  

Lightning bugs

If you’re lucky enough to live in an area where there are lightning bugs, know that these glowing insects are also an indication that true spring has arrived. Lightning bugs spend the winter as larvae munching on worms and other small invertebrates in soft moist soil. Highly sensitive to temperatures, they are a good indication that spring has arrived.  

Fish indicators

If you like to fish, largemouth bass bedding earlier than usual is also a good sign of an early spring. Largemouth bass go to shallow water to spawn when the daytime temperatures are consistently past the mid-60s and hits 70, and nighttime temperatures stay above the low 60s. Crappie also move to the shallows when bass begin bedding.  If you like saltwater fishing, black drum begin spawning after the last freeze, when temperatures stay consistently around 65 degrees.

 Flowers

When winecups, Indian paintbrush, and bluebonnets begin flowering earlier than usual, that’s also an indication that spring has arrived.  Although it’s too late to plant wildflowers now in Montgomery County – make a note in your calendar now to plant them next fall.

People

People can also inadvertently be good harbingers of spring as well. Seeing more people in the parks, more kids playing outdoors, more bicyclists, more hikers and more backyard barbecues? Keep your eyes open for these events in your neighborhood. Although we all like to follow calendars, many of us respond instinctively to the weather.

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Plant tomatoes soon!


I know it’s still January, but spring comes very early along the Gulf Coast. I’ve already ordered seeds for my spring vegetable garden, along with some annual flower seeds to enhance the look of my native garden.

The USDA tells us that the “average” date of the last frost here is around February 27. It also reports that we are “almost” assured that we will receive no frost between March 20 and November 1, making the frost-free growing season around 270 days.

I shoot for the average, and always plan to get my spring garden planted by the end of February, or the first week of March at the latest.

I try to get tomatoes in as soon as I dare, because even the shortest maturing tomatoes take about 55 days to produce fruit. That means that tomatoes won’t begin to come in until the third week in April. Tomatoes with longer maturities may go into May. By that time, it’s beginning to get really warm. Since tomato pollen is no longer viable when daytime temperatures reach 85-90 degrees and nighttime temperatures are at 75 or higher, it’s important to make sure they’re planted early enough.

If I wait until March 20, the date I am almost assured of no more frost, some of my tomatoes won’t be maturing until late May. By then it’s going to be far too warm for them to set fruit.

Here are some varieties which do well along the Upper Gulf Coast, along with how long it takes for the harvest to come in.

Variety Days to Harvest
                   Large Tomatoes(12 oz. +)
Better Boy 70
Bush Goliath 68
Sunny Goliath 70
                 Medium 4-11 oz.
Carnival 70
Celebrity 70
Champion 70
Dona 65
Early Girl 52
First Lady 66
Heatwave 68
                  Paste
Chico III 70
Roma 75
Viva Italia 75
                      Small (under 3 oz.)
Jaune flame 75
Jolly 70
Juliet (Grape) 60
Small Fry 65
Sun Gold (Cherry) 65
Sweet Chelsea (Cherry) 65
Sweet Million 65


Spring vegetable varieties that do well in The Woodlands


As reported in the last blog, it’s not too early to begin planning for your spring vegetable garden, if you’re so inclined.

My winter cabbages are well on the way, lettuce is up and broccoli is looking good. Raccoons got into my onions and wreaked havoc. None of them have sprouted yet, so I’m doubtful I’ll have a good crop. I’ll probably need to plant again.

I’m already planning for my spring garden.

Tomatoes

Everyone loves tomatoes.  Some of my friends start them from seed. However, starting tomatoes from seed is not for the faint-hearted, or the impatient, or the forgetful…I fall into at least two of those categories, which is why I prefer to buy my seedlings, come warm weather.

Tomatoes from seed need to be started in January INSIDE. Why? Because it takes about six weeks for tomato seeds to sprout and grow into seedlings large and healthy enough to transplant into the ground. And, since spring weather here comes around the middle to the end of February, tomato seeds need to be planted early. Since it’s a little involved, I’m going to spare you the details. However, if you’re really interested in experimenting, here’s an excellent how to video: Growing Tomatoes From Seed To Harvest. Remember to order seeds soon.

If you’d rather do as I do and purchase seedlings, remember that it gets hot here quick, and tomato plants quit producing when the ambient temperature at night is 90 degrees or hotter. If your seedlings are not in the ground by mid-March, you’ve probably waited too long.

Texas A&M Agrilife Extension Service has put together a list of tomato varieties that do well in Montgomery County. The list actually includes all vegetable varieties that are proven producers in the area.  Recommended Vegetable Varieties for Montgomery County. The list includes vegetables all the way from green beans to watermelon, and also indicates “days to harvest. Another valuable tool is the Vegetable Garden Planting Chart, available on the Montgomery County Master Gardeners website.

In my last article, I have provided a list of good seed companies. Order the catalogues now, or access the websites from that post.