by Carol Siddall, Master Gardener
This time of year is a good time to think about preparing our beds for spring planting. If you have never had your soil tested, this might be a good time to do so. You can go to the AgriLife office in Odessa, 1010 E. 8th, or Midland, 2445 E. Highway 80, to pick up a soil testing kit. There are instructions on the kit on how to do it complete with mailing instructions. They will email you back the results in about a week if you choose that route. Or you can also go to firstname.lastname@example.org. They will give instructions also. There is a $10 charge for a routine analysis.
After you have found out the state of your soil, there are some basic practices that will continually improve its quality. Adding compost to the top 4 to 5" is an easy strategy. Organic material adds air space to the soil and improves drainage. If you haven't already started a compost bin, now might be a good time to start one.
This is also a good time to have a general clean up of your beds. Remove debris from your beds, cut back the old and dead growth from grasses and perennials. Besides the compost, well rotted manure can also be added at this time. "Well rotted" being the key.
Now your soil is ready to plant when Spring is here. One major factor to consider when planning where to place plants, is how much sun this particular bed receives. A simple way to determine this is to visit the bed or beds in the morning, in the middle of the day, and late afternoon. This will help you decide whether you need sun or shade loving plants.
After planting, mulching is extremely helpful for reducing the frequency you have to water and keeping weed growth at a minimum. There is wonderful mulch provided free by the City of Odessa at the Time Machine on West 42nd. We recommend 4" of mulch. That sounds like a lot, but by end of summer, there will not be 4" left. After your plants are planted and growing, don't forget to deadhead (pinching off dead blooms). This will put the energy into producing a new flower instead of seeds. You want the color show to continue!
Happy gardening and get those hands dirty. The blooms in spring will make it worth it!