May in the garden.
“The world’s favorite season is the spring. All things seem possible in May.”
– Edwin Way Teale
Mulch, mulch and more mulch! Mulch those bedding areas if you haven’t. Replenish that mulch layer if it is less than 3 inches deep. Mulch will help prevent those weeds from sprouting, and if they do sprout, they tend to be spindly and are easily pulled from those beds. Mulch also helps keep that moisture in the soil where it should be; exposed soil allows water to evaporate.
- You can purchase mulch at any garden center, but instead of bagging all those leaves try using them as mulch. If you have large leaves, you will need to break or chop them to prevent them from forming a “blanket” over the soil keeping water from coming through. If you like you can even use layers of newspaper about seven pages thick as a weed block. Cover with enough organic mulch to hold it in place.
Spring rains can cause nutrients to leach from the soil in your vegetable garden or landscape, and it may be necessary to add fertilizer. In the garden, the type of vegetables and fruits you are growing will depend on the type of fertilizer needed. Follow these guidelines to help you select the right type of fertilizer:
- If you have not had a soil test conducted for your garden area, then it is difficult to manage the nutrients. A basic soil analysis cost about $10 and will give you valuable information to better manage your landscape and vegetable garden. Soil tests should be repeated at least every three years. Soil collection instruction and form is available online from the AgriLife Extension Service.
- Nitrogen is the most limiting nutrient for plant growth. Symptoms of nitrogen deficiency might include undersized growth, and pale or yellow leaves with the lower leaves affected first. Stems are spindly and upright.
- Phosphorus is needed for root growth and fruiting. Applying too much of this element is the most common mistake made in Texas landscapes and gardens. Phosphorus is easily tied up in the soil and is not available for the plant to uptake. Too much phosphorus in the soil can actually tie up Zinc and Iron which can lead to plant decline. Symptoms of a Phosphorus deficiency might include a purplish coloring of the leaves, especially on the underside; thin, shortened stems and stunted growth.
- Potassium is very mobile in the soil and this element helps to improve a plant’s water uptake and upright growth. Symptoms of a Potassium deficiency might include gray or tan areas along the leaf margins or a scorched appearance along the leaf margin which is the outer edge of the leaf, and a general yellowing of the leaves.
- Fertilizers are identified with an analysis on the package which represents the amount of the element present in the formulation. The amount is based on the percentage by weight. It is represented as three numbers such as 10-10-10, and these numbers represented in this order – the amount of nitrogen (N), phosphorus in the form of phosphate (P2O5) and the amount of potassium in the form of potash (K2O).
- High-nitrogen fertilizers are those where the first number is larger that the other two in the analysis. By using this type of fertilizer, you can expect that this will stimulate leaf and stem growth. Use this for your leafy vegetables.
- If the middle number (P) is larger than the other two in the analysis, then you can expect that this will stimulate root growth, flowering and fruiting. Use this on your fruit and root crops.
- The third number of the analysis represents potassium; this element helps to improve the hardiness of the plant to stand up to temperature extremes.
- It is a mistake to believe that if a little works, then a lot more will do a better job. Too much of a good thing can be bad! Follow the lowest recommended rate and observe how your plants respond, then adjust as needed. But, never exceed the recommended rate in applying fertilizers or any chemical product such as a pesticide or herbicide.
- Which fertilizer product should you choose? Foliar sprays are not the best choice in applying fertilizers because the leaves are not as efficient as the roots in absorbing nutrients. Apply fertilizers where they are most needed – at the roots.
You still have time to get that summer garden in for late-season vegetables. You should definitely use transplants at this point, and these are available at our local garden centers. If this year is not the year for you to start your own vegetable garden, then plan on next year.