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March 2020, Week 5

Okiedawn OK Zone 7
3 years ago
last modified: 3 years ago

I had a hard time deciding whether to post this new week as Week 5 of March or Week 1 of April, but finally March won out. So, welcome to our last week of March of, if you will, Happy Marpril.

When looking at the calendar and trying to decide which week to call it, I was reminded of April 1, 2018, which also was Easter Sunday. Do y'all remember that? It was such a crazy convergence of holidays. Many of us awakened to freezing or near freezing temperatures on the morning of April 1st that year, and I remember finding an overwintering squash bug wrapped up in my row covers when I took them out to cover up the tomato plants on the evening of March 31st. It was especially odd to have the last freeze, Easter and April Fool's Day all at the same time.

This week seems to be a bit more normal, with April 1st getting to have its own day, and we'll keep our fingers crossed that the cold nights forecast for the end of this week will, perhaps, manage to stay above freezing. The further north you are in the state, the more you need to keep an eye on those overnight lows at the end of this week.

Despite those overnight lows, I think it is pretty obvious to all of us that the season has changed, we have left winter behind, and spring is busting out all over. At our house, everything is a lovely spring green and most trees have leafed out, but not the native pecan trees. Remember that native pecan trees are not easily fooled by early warmups and we need to keep an eye on them and see what they are telling us this week. So far, my pecan tree is saying it isn't 100% on board with the idea that freezing cold nights have ended. I happen to think it is being overly cautious. Does anyone have pecans leafing out yet in their yards or neighborhoods? Our native sand plums bloomed a good 4-6 weeks early this year, a trend I'm seeing a lot the last 4 or 5 years. Most years when they bloom early, they lose their fruit crop, so it remains to be seen if their fruit will make it this year. The cultivated peaches and plums also have bloomed early in our neighborhood, so the sand plums were not alone in being early birds.

Chores for this week? I am assuming most everyone has finished planting cool-season crops, unless excessively wet ground has impeded that process. And, I am assuming everyone is eager to start planting warm-season crops. Just a reminder---some warm-season plants tolerate cooler soils and cooler night-time lows better than others. For example, I can plant tomato plants in March of pretty much every year and have the first ripe fruit by the end of April. Of course, this only works if I have flowers or young fruit on the plants at the time the plants are transplanted. This might be the year we don't get ripe fruit by the end of April, but then again we might, because a couple of the 5 plants I purchased a few weeks ago now have small fruit on them, and some of the plants that Chris gave me bloomed yesterday for the first time. The plants I started late from seed this year definitely will not produce fruit by the end of April though. Our ground is warm enough to plant tomato plants and sweet corn for sure, and it is almost warm enough to plant beans. I might even start a few yellow summer squash seeds this week. My best chance of getting a good harvest of traditional summer squash is to plant early so they can produce as much as possible before the squash vine borers arrive. All the other moths are early this year, so that makes me fear the SVB moths will show up early too, which is one of the downsides of having an early spring warm-up. I think that it is safe in southern OK to plant the crops that tolerate some coolness (but not freezing temperatures or frost) but not the plants like peppers that like it a bit warmer. I have peppers in plastic cups. They mostly have been living outdoors on the patio table, but I still have the option of moving them indoors if a cold night threatens.

It is ever so slightly early to plant warm-season flowers, but then again, some warm-season wildflowers are already in bloom here, so I'm not going to say you cannot do it. I haven't done it yet. I did notice that HD had the last of some cool-season flowering annuals (pansies, johnny jump ups, and dianthus, for example) in stock but also had plenty of warm season flowering annuals, including salvias, marigolds and begonias. I'm not quite ready for those, though I enjoyed seeing the flowers in bloom. The garden center was about as crowded as I've ever seen it in terms of plants. Every table was filled, every square foot of the concrete display space was filled with plants in larger containers, and there were rolling racks of plants filling every other bit of space. The staff had been very careful to position them properly so you still could make your way up and down the aisles or, at least, most aisles, with your shopping cart. Once the garden center was completely full, they lined up more rolling racks of plants in the parking lot--quite a few of them. I'm not sure if big shipments had just arrived this week, or if people have been staying home and not buying plants. Either is a possibility, but plenty of people were out buying plants of all kinds today.

If you don't have your hummingbird feeders up yet, it might be time to go ahead and fill them and hang them. The hummingbirds returned to southern OK about two weeks ago, and I assume they have been flying further north each and every day. There's still no purple martins here yet.

Most butterflies and moths already have been highly visible, and I have seen two monarchs in the last week. They are fairly early this year. I don't necessarily think I see them in March of every year, and some years they are not highly visible until about a month from now. So, the rest of you may be seeing them sooner than you expect. I don't think I've even seen any milkweed in the pastures yet. I'll have to walk around and look for them to see if they are up and growing. They are up and growing inside the fenced garden, but then all the perennials in there are early this year as well. The special guest at our house last night and today is a male luna moth hanging out underneath the porch light. I hope he finds his special lady in time since their life spans are so short and we need for them to reproduce so we'll have some luna moths around next year.

The garden chores you're doing the week will depend on how far along you are in planting, weeding, mulching, etc.

Tim mowed again today. Then the riding mower broke down again. I think this is the third week in a row he has had to repair or replace something. That poor old mower is 18 years old now and I've been encouraging him to just go ahead and get a new one, but he seems determined to squeeze another year or two of service out of it. He ordered a new fuel pump for it today. At the rate he's replacing parts, it will be almost brand new, one piece at a time, by the end of this year.

We have fire ants everywhere. I guess I'll order some Come and Get It online to treat the raised beds for them. Normally I'd just pick it up at Mike's Garden Center in Southlake when we make our regular trip down to Costco. We haven't been to Costco in several weeks now (not since the panic buying wiped out all the good stuff, lol) and have no plans to go anytime soon, so I guess I'll order the fire ant killer online and just wait for it to be delivered. I miss going to Costco but I think I miss dropping in at Mike's Garden Center on the way down even more. I rarely see any of the organic fire ant killers in stores in southern OK or far northern TX, so ordering them online is about the only option if we're not going to be down there near Mike's Garden Center. As much as I love shopping in the DFW metroplex, they have a huge number of cases of COVID-19 down there, with significant numbers of new cases reported daily, so I'm staying away from it. Here in our relatively poor, lightly populated rural county in southern OK, there's no reported cases of COVID-19 yet, though I expect that will change.

Since all the moths and butterflies are active so early this spring, be sure to keep your eyes open for the moths that bring us cabbage worms and cabbage loopers. I expect they'll show up earlier than usual as well. I think that I normally start seeing them sometime in the first half of April down here. I haven't seen any yet. If you aren't growing your brassica crops beneath netting or summer weight row covers, then it might be a good idea to have some sort of organic pesticide handy to spray the brassica family plants at the first sign of these pests. I normally use Bt 'kurstaki' for them. Spinosad also is organic and also will work, but it is more broad-spectrum so I rarely use it in spray form. I don't mind using it in a pelleted bait form that targets specific soil-dwelling pests like fire ants or pill bugs. The brassica caterpillars reproduce so prolifically that it is hard to stay ahead of them just by handpicking all the tiny worms off the plants before they can do too much damage. Aphids also tend to show up around now, so watch for them on tender new growth. If you grow crape myrtles, and if you are in an area that has regular issues with crape myrtle bark scale, be sure to watch for these pests as well. It also would not be too unusual to have Colorado potato beetles showing up anytime between now and the end of April, so if you're growing potatoes this year, watch for them. They are pretty easy to control by hand when they first show up merely because you can find them, remove them and kill them before they have a chance to reproduce. Once they are reproducing, it is much harder to control them manually. Spinosad is very effective for them as a spray on the plant foliage though.

So, that's a few basic discussion items to get us started on this new week. Have a wonderful Sunday in your garden if working out there is on your list of things to do today, and be sure to tell us all about what you're doing in your garden.


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