Garden beets

Cool-season root crops such as beets, onions, garlic, carrots and turnips can usually be planted during February.

It may not seem like springtime, but now is the time to start spring gardening. February is an important month in Central Texas gardening.

All the cool-season vegetables and flowers that you didn’t get around to planting last fall can go in the ground now. If your garden center doesn’t have seedlings of some of these plants yet, go ahead and plant seeds in your garden. It can be confusing to try to remember which things need to go into the garden now, so here is a rundown of what to plant.

You can plant all leafy green vegetables now — lettuces, chard, spinach, kale and beets. Root crops can go in as well. Plant beets, onions, garlic, carrots and turnips.

Be sure that you try some of the out-of-the-ordinary lettuce varieties. They come in many colors and leaf shapes. If you do not like beets, at least grow them for their leaves, which are quite nutritious (that’s why they are listed here twice). If you can find yellow beets, the flavor is often better than the traditional red ones.

Your garlic and onions will not do as well as they would have if you had planted them in the fall, but you will still have a chance at a decent crop with a spring planting. Be sure you add lots of compost to your garden beds to give them the boost they need.

Flower Options

Cool-season flowers such as mums, dianthus and petunias do well planted in cooler weather. Keep the flowers trimmed off mums until fall arrives, in order to have the best show in the autumn.

If you planted flowering bulbs, be on the lookout for their appearance. Some may have already come up in January, particularly daffodils. All these flowers are a great moral booster after a long, bleak winter.

There are some plants that will need to go into the garden as seedlings. Broccoli and brussels sprouts should be planted mid-month. Cover these the day you plant them with floating row cover to keep them from attracting caterpillars that can ruin your crop. As one of the first green things in the yard, they are quickly located by hungry insects.

You can also cover kale, which seems to be the most attractive leafy crop to caterpillars. Your main problem with lettuces will be from snails, which will multiply quickly as soon as a little warmer weather appears.

A daily trip to the garden in the early morning with a bucket is a good way to prevent them from destroying your crop of spring greens. Put some soapy water in the bucket and drop in as many snails as you can find. The soapy water will kill them, without the need for poisons.

Give root crops plenty of room to develop their roots so they can grow to a decent size. Carrots are particularly needy of room to grow. This also helps prevent fungal diseases by allowing the leaves to dry out rather than remaining wet all day.

After your crops are 2 or 3 inches tall, thin them and gently tuck some mulch around them so any bare soil is covered. This is also a good way to prevent disease problems.

Potato Planting

Valentine’s Day is the perfect day to plant potatoes. About three days prior to this date, purchase your seed potatoes from a good garden center. Most will have both red and white varieties. Both perform about the same here in Central Texas, so it is a matter of personal taste as to how many of each variety you plant.

Some garden centers also carry interesting varieties of which you may be less familiar, such as blue or yellow potatoes. As far as my experience goes, they all do well here. After you get your potatoes home, cut them into pieces that contain one to three eyes and some flesh.

Lay them out to dry for a day or so, then plant them 4 to 6 inches deep. You can keep adding more soil around them as they grow to “hill them up,” as the old-timers say. This will encourage them to produce more potatoes, which grow from the stems.

Water Plenty

Don’t forget to water your young plants. Their root systems are not very extensive now and they cannot go long without water. If it rains, make sure that it really wet the ground and didn’t just mist a little.

Of course, you also don’t want to flood your plants with too much water, either. Just keep the soil the moisture level of a wrung-out washcloth.

As your plants grow, you can fertilize them to give them an additional boost. Refer to the fertilizer package to see how often fertilization is recommended. Follow the instructions. Too much is not better; it’s just too much.

As your start to harvest new vegetables and enjoy your first spring flowers, your enjoyment and satisfaction will increase in this wonderful time of the year. Your family will thank you for the delicious additions to their dining table as you brag about how you grew them all yourself. Get started today.

Melody Fitzgerald is a McLennan County Master Gardener who has spent more than 35 years facing the challenges of Central Texas gardening.