February 2016
How's Your Garden?

How's Your Garden?

 
Beets need proper spacing to make a good root.  

Beets

At $1 to $1.50 each, it pays to grow your own beets! Now is the time to plant the spring crop. In my garden, the old Detroit Dark Red variety seems to have the best survival rate. I’ve tried golden beets, but always lose more than half the young seedlings to cutworms and other critters that must find them as sweet and delicious as we do! The trick to growing vigorous beet plants is giving them space. Seeds sprout more than one plant, which results in crowding. Crowded plants will just sit and do nothing. Because the plants are so close together, pulling one seedling can also uproot adjacent ones, so make easier work of it by cutting the extra plants with nail scissors.

Plant Asparagus Crowns

It may be slow getting started, but once established a bed of asparagus will yield for 20 years without replanting. A sunny corner of the garden that is out of the way, but easy to reach, is ideal for starting your bed. If the soil is heavy clay, improve and raise the soil up 12-18 inches high for good drainage. The key to a long-lived productive plot is excellent drainage. Order asparagus crowns such as those from the Jersey or UC breeding programs, which will have Jersey or UC in the name. These hybrid varieties are more vigorous and productive than the older seed-propagated Mary Washington. Set crowns as soon as they arrive, planting in trenches about 5 inches deep in sandy soil, or 3-4 inches deep in clay soil. (If you start with Bonnie transplants, which tend to have many plants in a pot, separate the individual plants to the spacing on the label.) Wait until after frost to plant because young plants are sensitive to cold. As the plants grow, fill in the trench. Let them grow tall and develop a strong root system, keeping the bed watered and fertilized until the plants are killed back by frost in the fall. Next year you can begin enjoying the young spears as they appear in early spring. After harvesting for about 6 weeks, let the subsequent spears grow tall so they will rejuvenate the planting for next spring’s harvest.

Fescue Lawns

If you have a fescue lawn, it will be growing vigorously again, but don’t be tempted to fertilize it like your neighbor might be fertilizing warm-season grasses such as Bermuda, zoysia, centipede or St. Augustine grasses. Because fescue is a cool-season grass, the ideal time to feed it is in the fall. Too much fertilizer in spring will encourage disease. Fertilize lightly only if the lawn looks too yellow and weak, but otherwise just apply a thin topdressing of composted manure (an eighth to quarter inch) over the lawn with your spreader. The ideal growing height for most turf-type fescues is 2.5-3 inches. Don’t mow too closely because it only weakens the grass and encourages weeds. Taller grass will also have deeper roots that will come in handy come summer! The ideal time to fertilize fescue is in the fall.

Water Evergreens

Boxwoods, gardenias, camellias, and other evergreens will burn more easily in a frigid wind if they aren’t well hydrated. Make sure that your evergreens, especially any in containers, are well watered.

 
  Camellias may not bloom as well now because many started blooming earlier when the weather was unseasonably warm.

Camellias

If your camellias aren’t blooming as well as they should, did you see blooms on them last December when it was unusually warm? Many camellias and other spring-flowering plants that started blooming too early had their buds and blossoms blasted by freezing weather when it finally arrived. This will be especially true of the earliest ones.

Plant Onions Now

It’s time to start setting out your Bonnie onion transplants. Onions take up such little space in the garden, yet provide you with pounds of seasoning for months, particularly if you store the bulbs with good air circulation in a cool, dry place. For green onions, plant extras to cut the tops off without worrying about impeding development of the bulb. Plant so the top part of the neck of the plant is partially above ground. If you can’t plant your onions right away, untie the bunch, separate the seedlings and put them in a pail with a couple inches of moist soil over the roots to hold for up to a week. Did you know that the size of your onion will be directly proportional to the number and size of leaves on the plant? For each leaf there is a ring of onion and the size of the ring depends on the size and health of the leaf. Fertilize your onion plants with Bonnie Plant Food to grow great-big onions.

Lois Trigg Chaplin is author of The Southern Gardener’s Book of Lists and former Garden Editor of Southern Living Magazine.