Change. We may not like it, but we're subject to it. Our garden's success is tied in with our adaptiblity to change with the seasons, with the years, with plant's growth or demise and with change brought on by circumstances outside our control. Each week and month, similar to any business, tasks can be performed somewhat on schedule. The degree to which these tasks are performed are reflected in the success of our gardens. The minutia of garden chores form the Stepping Stones to Success.
Daytime light is short and temperatures are cold, often frigid. Winter holidays are a pleasant memory. Besides paying the bills, what can a gardener do? You might think there is nothing to do in the garden in January except viewing it through the window, but there are a few preparatory and maintenance tasks. In the Panhandle, we can be blessed with unseasonably mild weather some weeks to perform them.
The path along the Stepping Stones to Success begins in January. Inspiration for gardening is everywhere. Gardening applications can be found in the most unlikely places.
February's weather is unpredictable, and can quickly change. Some of our most damaging extremes come in February. This usually starts as a week of warming temperatures, sometimes reaching near 80º, then a rapid plummet down towards the teens or lower. If your plants started to act like spring has come, there is little one can do to prevent rapid freeze damage. The best offense is a strong defense, by supplying your soil throughout the year with ample organic matter and timely irrigation.
February heralds the return of spring -- equi-umbra at Midday -- the tipping point to warmer soil temperatures occurs about February 20-25th with time of daylight reaching 11 hours the time when the angle (altitude) of the sun is equal to 45° at its highest altitude at Midday.
Gardening begins in earnest in March. It’s a windy and cold month, susceptible to weather fluctuations, however the soil is warming and top growth begins to appear. It’s time to dive in. Pace yourself, don’t let gardening activity become pressures, instead of pleasures.
April weather can still be volatile, usually without severe temperature shifts. April 20th is the average date of the last freeze; it is not uncommon for the last freeze to occur after April 20th. A week or two of warmish weather will fool us to think we can safely plant non-cold hardy plants. Don’t be tempted. Even with the warming trend the last several years, we can't depend on even temperatures.
Temperatures are less bracing, although with windy conditions. Often the wind is the determining factor whether the plant survives or not. Including wind protection along with new plantings needs to be a standard consideration in our area.
Typically, we have passed the time of our last freeze for this growing season. Hopefully, we won’t be surprised this year. It is still spring, which means the weather still has a certain volatility to it – vacillating between cool and rainy and hot, windy and cold all in one week! But one thing we do know, after Memorial Day, it will be hot.
May 2, 2005 was no exception to spring surprises. A late freeze was forecast for the last 2 days in April. I covered as many plants as I could with row covers and sheets. Our low temperature fell to 35º. Happy that a freeze didn’t occur, I removed the covers. On May 2nd, we woke up to see snow covering the ground, to reach a 2” accumulation, high temperature of 41º, low temperature of about 32º. Visually disturbing, but still minimal damage. By May 10th we reached a high temperature of 90º. The temperature roller coaster continued!
By May, all the heavy garden work could be completed and all that’s left is dropping new plants into the planting hole and applying mulch. April can be pretty frantic; May should be more relaxed.
The sultry days of summer have begun. The pace of life slips down a notch. Languor replaces vigour. The heat of the sun feels good (for awhile). June is a month for brewing: ice tea for the gardener (or perhaps another brew of choice), and compost tea for the garden and container plants. You’ve created a pretty setting for the evening cookout. When more southern climes stifle in humidity, linger and enjoy the Panhandle’s cooler, drier evenings.
School’s out and its vacation time, so let’s take a vacation. After spring’s furious activity, June is the month we slip into maintenance mode, and if you’ve been following the seven basic gardening principles, your stepping stones to success, it’s the month we slip into the hammock as well. We’ve worked hard in our gardens the past 3½ months, so we’ll take a break from developing new beds and plantings during June.
We’ve reached the dog days of summer. July and August are months of mainly maintenance. Cool season plants appear to be in a holding pattern; growth in parts of your landscape should visibly slow because of the higher temperatures. The plant’s energy is focused on maintaining. After the summer solstice, day length slowly begin to shorten and the garden year begins to tilt towards better times. But just like January and February, preparation begins for the second season in the vegetable garden. Now is the time to prepare some beds for fall and winter vegetable growing.
Although it’s often hot for the first week or two, the growing season has shortened considerably. Both the garden and gardener feel relief from the heat and sun. The next six weeks are the most enjoyable in the garden. If July and August have been cruelly hot, the shorter day length and cooler evening temperatures will stir plants for another round of blooming. Many times Panhandle gardeners feel they’ve been given the worst of weather conditions, but when it comes to fall, our weather is unsurpassed. Back in England, cold, cloudy and damp days are the norm while we bask in warm, sunny, low-wind days. English Isle gardeners would give their golden trowel award for our moderate autumn weather; a second gardening season much preferred to the hectic days of spring.
October weather can be even more glorious than September. In the Panhandle, days are warm and nights cool, sometimes cold. Fall flower blooms are peaking, or just past. Grasses have now fully plumed out, and many roses continue with their last blush. October bears the reward for our efforts throughout the year.
Unless an Arctic cold front plunges way south, we are usually blessed with six to eight additional weeks of blooms and vegetables. The average date of the first frost falls around October 20th, but many years it’s delayed until November.
I view the fall as the beginning of the gardening year, not the end. Indeed, there is no end, just a continuation. Spring preparation begins six-months or more in advance. There really aren’t too many October Tasks except for maintenance, the preparation for winter and of new beds for spring planting.
The first freeze of the fall may have already occurred, or not. Regardless, temperatures are much cooler as the daylight shortens. You will notice some flowers continue to bloom even after the first frost, unless it was quite severe.
The garden and landscape falls outwardly into a state of rest and recuperation. These two months provide rest, a refreshing and a renewal of spirit and enthusiasm for the gardener as the holiday season takes precedence.