John Dromgoole, owner of The Natural Gardener Nursery and Lady Bug Natural Brand, has been deeply involved in the advancement of organic gardening and environmental issues for over thirty years. His nursery has been voted "Best Nursery" eight times in The Austin Chronicle's Best of Austin Poll, and is known for supplying organic products, native and well adapted plants, and bulk compost, soils and mulches. The gardens at the store have been featured in Texas Highways, Herb Companion and Fine Gardening magazines.
John's radio show, Gardening Naturally, has been on the air on KLBJ AM 590 (if you're near Austin, Texas) for 25 years. Gardening Naturally is a bi-weekly question and answer program that focuses on organic techniques for homeowners and weekend gardeners. He is also the host of Backyard Basics on KLRU (PBS, Austin) TV's weekly show Central Texas Gardener and the Weekend Gardener on KXAN TV's Saturday First Cast.
John was the originator of the City of Austin's "Chemical Clean-Up Day", which has become an annual event and has now established a permanent drop-off site. He was also a co-author on the Texas Department of Agriculture's original task force to establish standards for the organic certification of farms in Texas. In 2002, John was awarded the Dennis Hobbs Individual Achievement Award by Keep Austin Beautiful for his contribution to many different Austin and surrounding area non-profit groups, schools and the general public.
John has written articles for Texas Gardener Magazine and Organic Gardening Magazine since 1983 and has been the recipient of numerous environmental conservation and gardening industry awards over the years.
January is the month for planning and preparing our gardens for spring. This is also a time to grow here, if you have a hoop house or cold frame. We have spinach, many lettuce varieties, and more all winter long in our hoop houses.
Seed Starting. If you have a cold frame, start seeds now of onions, shallots, leeks, broccoli, cabbage, bok choy, chard, celery and spinach for transplanting in February.
Astounding Asparagus. Asparagus crowns should be available now and could be planted directly into the garden. When planting asparagus, always "double dig" the bed to loosen the soil down to about 12 inches. Asparagus is a perennial with deep roots and when you plant it is the only chance you get to give it the loose soil in which it grows best.
Veggie Sowing. Late in the month sow carrots, garden peas, collards and kohlrabi directly in the garden. Onion "sets" or transplants are available now, too. Space them about 4 inches apart, then thin throughout the season as needed.
Compost Tip. Now is the time to add compost and organic fertilizers to your garden soil, so they have time to break down into a form available to the plants by February. Rake back deep mulch to allow the soil to slowly warm for upcoming plantings.
Last Minute Bulbs. If you ended up with some bulbs that didn't get planted, put them in the ground now. It's not too late.
Get To Work On Early Spring Color. The same flats that we use for starting vegetables can be used for your flowers, too. Fill the flats with soilless seed starting mix, then start annuals such as snapdragons, stocks, pansies, Johnny jump-ups. You can direct sow sweet peas, larkspur, delphiniums, Oriental poppies, nasturtiums and cornflowers right into the garden.
Fruit Tree Tips. Fruit tree selections are at a peak this month—go out early for the best selections. We can grow apples, peaches, plums, persimmons, jujubes, Asian pears and more. Remember that bigger is not always better: small trees often suffer less from transplant shock than larger specimens.
Prune Those Grapes! It will soon be too late for them to recover and produce well this season.
Lawn Care. Spread a half-inch of compost on your lawn for lush grass come spring.
If you have transplants up and growing in the garden and a freeze is coming, the garden will be more cold tolerant if it has been watered before the freeze. Old blankets, cardboard boxes, cold frames, floating row covers and upside-down pots will all help with those late frosts and freezes that can plague us this month while we try for an early start.
Planting Preparations. Early in the month, plant spinach, peas, cabbage (try Chinese cabbage), broccoli and broccoli raab, collards, onions, celery, chives, and radishes directly in the garden.
Plant Potatoes! These are our favorites: 'Kennebec' (white), red 'La Soda,' 'Pontiac' (red) and 'Yukon Gold' (yellow). Plant turnips and rutabagas directly into the garden, too.
Seed Starting. Start tomato, eggplant and pepper seeds indoors under lights. Start seeds of celosia, coleus, hibiscus, cleome, salvias, marigolds, petunias and rudbekias.
Traveling Transplants. Asparagus and horseradish transplants are still available through the mail or at your favorite organic nursery.
Weed Warrior. Use corn gluten meal to help control weeds before they germinate. Bear in mind that it will also stop vegetable, flower, herb and grass seeds from germinating as well, so don't use corn gluten where you have just or are about to sow seeds.
Plant Your Fruit Trees. Do it now so that the roots can establish themselves before hot weather sets in. If you already have peach, nectarine or plum trees, treat them with (organic) lime-sulfur spray to control peach leaf curl.
Divide Your Perennials. Divide fall-blooming perennials in the spring (and spring-blooming perennials in fall).
By the time March arrives, preparations for the late spring and early summer garden should be in full swing. There's only one problem —it can still get very cold and even freeze. So, keep handy whatever devices you used all winter to protect your garden—you may still need to them. At least keep a floating row cover available to wrap tomato cages or cover flower and veggie transplants.
Mulching Tip. Pull back mulch from the garden to allow the soil to warm quickly and eliminate the habitat for pillbugs and other seedling-eaters. Warm soil will let you plant early in the month, and that means crops and flowers can mature in early June before the heat of July sets in.
Rose Care. Prune roses very early in March since we are already past the recommended time of mid-February.
Plant Flowers for Cutting. Try yarrow (several colors), gayfeather and coneflowers. Try salvias, too, of which there are many to choose from. Then add some annuals for the cutting garden like zinnias("Blue Point"), purple fountain grass, annual statice, crested cockscombs, and the many wonderful sunflower varieties.
Plant Veggies Early in the Month. Go to town with beets, lettuce, collards, potatoes, mustard and corn. Indoor starts of tomatoes, squash, cukes, melons, eggplant and peppers can be seeded in community flats then pricked out directly into the garden.
Beautiful Bulbs. Plant summer bulbs like glads early in the month with a last planting by mid-month. Hold off on caladiums until the end of the month since they don't like cold soils and could rot easily.
One of the great gardening months is upon us. Wildflowers have gone wild and Bluebonnets dominate the flower display in our area. If you work where you don't see your garden all day, you can grow a night garden. We like nicotiana (flowering tobacco), especially 'Aztec,' an all white, fragrant flower that greets us with its intoxicating fragrance. To accompany this plant we have night blooming datura 'Angels' Trumpet' and the moonflower vine.
Planting Time. Sow corn, cucumbers, squash, eggplant, okra, peanuts, sweet potatoes (try 'Jewel') and climbing malabar spinach now. Plant tomatoes that will set fruit in the heat - these include 'Sweet 100' cherry tomato and 'Heat Wave' slicing tomato.
Wonderful Watermelon. Watermelons should be planted now for summer harvest. Small 'Sugar Baby' and fun heirloom 'Moon & Stars' are great for family gardens. Larger gardens can handle the space taker 'Charleston.'
Peas and Beans. The late spring/early summer garden starts now with plantings of black-eyed peas, purple hull and crowder peas. Consider growing black beans, such as 'Black Coco,' which can be eaten as a snap bean, shelling bean or dried bean. They thrive in dry years.
Lawn Care. Early in the month, feed your lawn with a slow-release organic lawn fertilizer. And make sure to leave the clippings where they land. They can provide up to 50 percent of your lawn's nitrogen needs.
Want a Colorful Screen For Your Garden? Plant sunflowers and candlestick plants, which grow more than 6 feet high. Or try the vining purple hyacinth bean—its lavender flower sprays and shiny purple seedpods that persist until frost will quickly cover the side of a house or a fence.
Look Out for Herbs. A new herb garden could use some rosemary, thyme (lemon, too) salad burnet, sage, marjoram, and mints. Be careful when planting mint as it spreads easily throughout the garden. Basil selections are quite varied these days but we still stick with the sweet basil and lemon basil as our main plantings.
Fertilize Wisely. I mix two tablespoons of liquid fish fertilizer with 1 tablespoon of seaweed, 1 tablespoon of Black Strap molasses, and an optional cup of compost tea in 1 gallon of water. I'll use this as a foliar feed and as a soil drench.
Remove Excess Fruit From Your Trees. Peaches especially need to be thinned in order to be more productive. I thin them to about 4 or 5 inches apart. I'd rather have 1.5 bushels of good peaches than 4 bushels of small, hard, green ones.
Mucho Mulch. Replace mulches around trees, shrubs and anything else that will benefit from a cooler soil. First apply a layer of compost to feed the soil, then the mulch.
Our zone is so diverse that some of us are begging for rain and the others are wishing it would stop. Whichever way it is for us, the balance of good and bad is enough to make the annual effort worth it.
Planting Time. Plant vegetables early in the month to allow for a July harvest—just in time for the fall garden. Direct seed vegetables like okra, melons, amaranth, beans, black-eyed peas, winter squash, and pumpkins. Plant sweet potato slips now, too.
Seed Starting. Start seeds of peppers and tomatoes in containers for later planting (in July) for the fall garden. We really like the 'Clear Pink' tomatoes we tried last year. They were delicious, vigorous, and productive.
Flower Fun. You still have time to plant heat loving flowers, such as Hamelia (which attracts hummingbirds), sunflowers, globe amaranth or any of the many types of wonderful zinnias. 'Blue Point' zinnia is great for cutting.
Pick Up Fallen Fruit! Rotting fruit harbors pests and diseases. Thin fruit on heavily burdened trees to be sure remaining fruit will reach their full potential and support any branches that are weighted down with fruit since they could easily break in a strong storm.
Treat Pest Problems Early. The longer you wait, the more they spread and the harder they will be to get rid of.
If you haven't started mulching, now is the time to do it. I frequently hold off on mulching until late spring, but you can be generous with it at this point. Grass clippings or straw are very effective and easy to find.
Watering Tip. Slow deep soaking with drip irrigation or a soaker hose builds a very drought tolerant root system in any part of the landscape or garden.
Get Going on Transplants. Put out transplants of vegetables such as tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and okra early in the month and they will be well established for the fall garden. Now is also the last chance to plant sweet potatoes.
Planting Time. Plant corn, squash, melon and southern peas now so you can harvest them late in the summer.
Soil Moisture. Remember to keep the soil evenly moist for the vegetables to do their very best. Feed your vegetables and flowers with liquid fish or seaweed fertilizer or a topdressing of compost.
Garden Color. If space allows, plant some more color. In the Shady areas, dependable coleus or begonias are very colorful and well adapted. Plant marigolds in sunny locations for a brilliant show of color and variety. Cockscomb is an old fashioned favorite and a fine choice for cut flower gardens.
Slug Solution. Use diatomaceous earth or broken eggshells around seedlings and transplants to repel slugs and crawling insects.
The days may be long and hot, yet this is the time to start your fall vegetable garden. You can even plant some seeds in your garden's warm soil now.
Seed Starting. Early in the month start seeds of eggplant, peppers (fall is great for peppers), and tomatoes. You can also plant winter squash and southern peas in the garden now. Direct seed pumpkins this month, too. Be sure all seeds stay evenly moist as they germinate and begin sprouting up.
Thin Those Fruit Trees. There is nothing more disappointing than finding a limb full of fruit on the ground in the orchard. Remember to thin fruits by pinching off those growing close together and support limbs that are overburdened with fruit.
Pruning Tip. Prune off blackberry canes that are through producing by cutting them off at ground level. Next year's fruit crop is in this year's new wood. After pruning, mulch around the remaining canes and water well.
Sunflower Savvy. Sow sunflowers in successive plantings about every three weeks and you'll have a long season of them.
Garden Color. More color for the late summer and fall garden comes from bachelor's buttons and cockscomb. Marigolds planted now are magnificent in the cool fall garden. Petunias, portulaca, vinca and salvias will all offer old-fashioned color in your garden.
Lawn Care. Treat your lawn to a half-inch layer of compost to help it become much more drought tolerant. Lawns watered deeply and infrequently, about every 8 days, develop a deep root system.
Despite the heat, many gardeners are working on the best garden of the year: the fall garden. Early in the month, the last transplants of tomatoes, eggplants and peppers can go in.
Seed Starting. Start your broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, Chinese greens and cabbages around mid-month.
Seed Savvy. Direct-seed carrots and mustard greens, but be sure to moisten and mulch the soil for these to come up.
Transplanting TLC. This is no month to leave the garden unattended. Young transplants need daily care. Start a flat of lettuce for transplanting next month, and keep young transplants and seedlings shaded from the harsh sun.
Prepare for Pinching. Pinch back your basil to encourage more leafy growth. Go ahead and start parsley, cilantro, dill and more basil from seed. Pick up fallen fruit in the orchard to help reduce disease and bug problems. Remove berry canes that produced this year and cut back slightly the tips of this year's growth. This promotes lateral growth of the canes, increasing your berry crop next year.
Water, Water, Everywhere. Make sure that this year's planting of shrubs, trees, and perennials get the moisture they need. Water deeply, apply a layer of compost, and then mulch on top.
The fall garden is a vigorous, productive garden, so rebuild your beds with compost and organic fertilizers before planting. I like to foliar feed the plants because it provides the quickest response.
Planting Preparations. Early in the month (during the first week), plant fall potatoes. Also, plant garlic, shallots, leeks and onions now.
In a Pinch. Pinch chrysanthemums back very early for the fall bloom.
A Sweet Harvest. Near the end of the month, harvest sweet potatoes if the plants are dying back. If the first tubers you dig up are still small, wait until about two weeks before the first frost to harvest the rest.
Seed Starting. Mid-month, start seeding carrots, snow peas, Chinese cabbage and kohlrabi directly in the garden.
Begin Transplants. Start lettuce and cabbage in containers for later transplanting. Plant turnip, mustard, beets, spinach and chard every two weeks for a steady supply through the fall.
Don't Forget to Divide. The old rule of thumb "divide spring flowers in the fall and fall bloomers in the spring" applies at the end of the month.
Seed Sowing. Start transplants of pansies, violas and snapdragons early for the fall garden. Sprinkle the seed tray lightly with corn meal to help prevent damping off, a fungal disease that can kill seedlings.
I'll admit that cauliflower hasn't been the easiest vegetable for me to grow from seed. But I love it. Now, I know to stop the struggle and plant cauliflower this month from fresh transplants. Give them plenty of space in a fertile, rich soil, preferably with a slightly acid pH.
What to Plant? Here's just a sampling of what else to plant during this busy month: lettuce, collards, mustard, kale, spinach, Chinese cabbage, cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, radishes, carrots, beets, fava beans, turnips, and peas. The alliums are also in line, so try leeks, garlic, shallots and onions.
Direct Seed Herbs. Some of the wonderful herbs you can direct seed in the garden include parsley, dill, coriander (cilantro), and fennel.
Cover Crops. In areas of the garden that won't be planted, sow seeds of a nitrogen-fixing cover crop such as crimson clover (Trifolium incarnatum) or Austrian peas (Pisum arvense).
Soil Building. Build your garden soil with 2 inches of compost before planting new crops.
Trees and Shrubs. Plant trees and shrubs now so they can develop a strong root system before summer returns.
Beautiful Bulbs. This month, spring-blooming bulbs will be arriving at gardening centers for you to plant right away. Dig up summer-blooming bulbs such as caladium, gladiolus, and dahlia bulbs to store for the winter.
Seed Sowing. Sow larkspur seeds for early spring bloom.
Mowing Tip. Mow the lawn under the pecans for an easier harvest. Store pecans in a cool place and then shell them for freezing for long-term storage.
Stupendous Strawberries. Plant strawberries now for spring harvest.
Time to Make Cuttings. Take cuttings of hybrid and European grape vines this month and root them for setting out next spring.
Remember, plants need water even when they're dormant. A winter drought can be as damaging as a long dry spell in the summer.
Cold-Hardy Crops. While some gardeners may be putting their beds to rest in late November—after the first freeze—tomatoes and peppers may survive for harvesting into December with a little protection from the light freezes.
Feel Like Eating A Salad? Keep planting lettucefrom seed and transplants. We did this last year and had greens all winter long. Now is a fine time to plant broccoli, carrots, collards, cauliflower, chard, and beets.
Greens Galore. Now is a great time to grow spinach and kale. 'Red Russian' was an excellent kale variety for us last year.
Sow Wildflower Seeds Now. Larkspur is a favorite in the cutting garden.
Fallen Fruit? Clean up mummified or fallen fruit and any diseased plants and leaves should be removed and composted.
Compost Tip. Collect leaves to make compost, for sure, but leave some as a habitat for small insects that winter-visiting birds enjoy.
Thinning Seedlings. Thin carrot and poppy seedlings need to be thinned for better productivity.
In most years, vegetables grow all winter long in our area with minimal protection. In the event of a freeze, protect fall plantings with floating row cover, burlap, an old blanket or hoop houses covered with plastic. In dry winters, the garden and landscape will need irrigation and mulch as if it were summer. Bear in mind that water helps improve a plant's hardiness in the cold.
Seed Starting. Start seeds for onions, broccoli, cabbage, lettuce and spinach in flats in a cold frame for later transplanting. Also start flower seeds including larkspur, delphiniums, snapdragons, pansies, violas and many different and colorful poppies in flats. Or sow the seed directly in the beds where you want the flowers to come up.
Clean Up Time!. Clean up around fruit trees now and you'll prevent pest and disease problems from plaguing your trees later. Pick up fallen and rotted fruit, rake up leaves and, if they are disease-free, add them to your compost pile. The local nurseries will have fruit tree selections in soon, so think about what varieties you may want to try.
Pondering a Persimmon Tree? . This year, why not add a Japanese persimmon to your garden landscape? These beautiful and highly productive trees produce a crop that is ripe in late fall, long after any of the other fruit trees have finished producing.
Cut It Back. Cut asparagus back to the ground once the soil freezes. If you do not have asparagus, the crowns will soon be available in garden centers.