OVERTON — Dr. Joe Masabni, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service horticulturist, Overton, said it’s time for gardeners to plant some vegetables and prepare seedlings for others.
“It’s time to plant potatoes, onions and other cool-season crops like mustard greens, kale, peas and spinach,” he said. “It’s your last window to begin seeding plants like tomatoes and peppers indoors for spring gardens.”
Masabni said potatoes are a great crop because there is a wide range of varieties for gardeners in various regions of the state. Potatoes should be planted in soil that drains well.
He recommends planting a full small potato about the size of a golf ball with sprouts, but golf ball-sized pieces of larger potatoes that are sprouting can also be planted shallow in the soil, 2-3 inches deep, about 2 feet apart.
“Then as the potato grows, you want to add soil on top of the stem,” he said. “When the stem gets about 8 inches tall, bury about 4 inches of the stem, leaves and all, with more compost or soil mix. That lets the lateral roots develop and form new potatoes.”
He said that this method works well for container gardening, such as 5-gallon buckets, grow bags or large pots. For example, cut the bottom out of a white 5-gallon bucket and plant according to Masabni’s instructions. When the potatoes are ready for harvest, lift the bucket to expose the potatoes.
“It’s an easy way to harvest potatoes and separate them from the soil,” he said. “I recommend a white bucket because dark colored buckets absorb more heat and can stress the plants.”
Masabni said gardeners should take soil samples and have them tested to make sure the area where potatoes are planted meets requirements for potassium and phosphorous, which are important for good quality and yields.
Masabni said sets of onions should be cleaned and sorted by size before planting. Dirt and dead leaves should be removed and ill-looking slips should be discarded to avoid transferring possible pathogens to the garden.
Gardeners should also remove any onion slips that are smaller than the diameter of a phone charger cord, he said. He said 10-20 percent of plants in slips are typically subpar and can be discarded. Pencil-sized sprouts typically perform best.
“They should be sorted by size and planted together based on size so they will grow in uniform,” he said. “Bigger onions grow faster. You don’t want to pick one here and one there when you can have a block or row of onions ready this week and then another ready in subsequent weeks.”
Masabni said it’s late but not too late to start tomato seedlings.
“They take 6-8 weeks to be ready, so start them as soon as possible if you haven’t,” he said.
Masabni starts his tomato seeds in small containers filled with potting mix or compost. Be sure they drain well, he said. He recommends placing containers outside in a cold box or other cold frame structure or inside a greenhouse.
“Seedlings that are grown indoors under constant warm temperatures and poor light conditions tend to grow tall and spindly,” he said. “The cool nighttime temperatures in a cold frame or greenhouse slow the plant and you have a shorter, sturdier plant. They get warm temperatures and sun during the day and cool temperatures at night. The plants love it.”
After germination, add some half-strength ratio fertilizer, he said. It is also best to allow the soil to dry between waterings.