The best tree and shrub planting season continues now through mid-March. Root systems will continue to grow all winter long, giving you a fairly well-established plant by the time the real heat sets in. A better established root system conserves water and is more drought resistant next year. (It is also easier on YOU,  as you will be watering less often in the winter!) Try planting some spring-flowering trees and shrubs such as azaleas, redbuds, Mexican plums, anacacho orchid trees, and Texas scarlet flowering quince.

-Don’t miss the fall fertilization and pre-emergent window. NOW is the optimal time to apply your pre-emergent!! It is so much easier to prevent those weeds from growing than it is to pull them or treat them after they are up and spreading.

-Fall is the best time for lawn aeration and compost application. Be sure to use an aerator that takes plugs out of the soil rather than a spike aerator, which can actually compact the soil more, defeating the purpose of aeration. Applying a ¼” to ½” layer of compost after aeration adds beneficial microbes to the soil, which aids in water conservation.

-As temperatures cool, consider cutting back your watering schedule to water only once a week for established trees and flowerbeds, or as little as a ½” of irrigation applied every two to three weeks for established lawns.

-Mulch around all your plants and trees to help protect their roots in the winter months. Place a 2-3” layer of shredded hardwood mulch around your trees and shrubs, but keep it pulled back from the stems and trunks. Mounding the mulch around the base of your plant will lead to stem and bark rot over time, and is especially important for trees. Don’t create a mulch volcano around your plants, create a mulch donut!

-Plant vegetables and herbs now. Fall and winter gardens are quite productive, and it is time to be seeding or planting transplants of mustard, carrots, kale, beets, parsnips, lettuce, winter greens, spinach, peas, cilantro, dill, fennel, chives, oregano, and thyme. You can also plant transplants of broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kale, cabbage, Bok choi, and cauliflower.  These are all evergreen and will produce all the way through the winter. You may also plant these in succession so you don’t have all your vegetables ready at the same time. Seeds of mustard, radish, lettuce, and spinach can still be planted now while it’s still warm and sunny.

-Keep the soil on newly planted seeds and transplants moist. We still have some hot days this month, and the seeds should not dry out while they are germinating. Check the soil at least twice a day in hot weather.

– Annual flowers such as pansies, snapdragons, violas, ornamental kale, ornamental cabbage, Swiss chard, calendulas, and cyclamen can be planted now to give you color all winter long. Winter annuals are heavy feeders and require a good quality fertilizer that has nitrate rather than urea as the nitrogen source. Your plants will be much healthier, as the microbes needed to break down the urea nitrogen and make it available to your plants are dormant in the winter.

-Watch for caterpillars on the Cole crops (broccoli, collards, cabbage, kale, etc.) and spray weekly with Bt or Spinosad.

-Perennials that bloom in the spring may be divided at this time. These include canna, bearded iris, and daylily. The general rule is to divide a plant in the opposite season of its bloom.

-Lawns plagued with take-all patch will benefit from an application of peat moss spread evenly 1/3” deep and then followed by a light irrigation.

-Now is the time to re-pot your Phalaenopsis and Paphiopedilum orchids and encourage them to bloom by making sure they have a night and day temperature differential of at least 10-20 degrees.