Gardening in El Lago

Trowels & Tribulations in a Suburban Garden - December Issue

By: Donna J. Ward, Certified Texas Master Gardener (Note: This is a reprint of Donna’s article that appears in the La Ventana del Lago.

Oh the weather outside is frightful, But the fire is so delightful, And since we’ve no place to go, Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.

Oh, excuse me – I was having a flashback. Dredging up memories of ice, snow, sleet, snow tires, and scraping ice from the windshield. Whew - thank goodness that’s over.

I complain every year about the humidity, heat, mosquitoes, and generally miserable summer months on the Gulf Coast. But in winter I congratulate myself because I’m not shoveling snow from the driveway I left back in Missouri.

One of our cold weather concerns on the Gulf Coast is plant maintenance during our moderate winters. We need to remember to keep our landscape trees and shrubs well watered. Our locale lacks periodic snow blankets that melt and do the job for us. We seldom experience a deep freeze (forget the February Freezeamageddon) – so the term ‘frost line’ doesn’t mean anything to us. Our soil stays relatively warm all winter, and roots continue to grow and function. Actually, December is a good month to be planting. Nurseries are still having sales on landscape specimens so take advantage of their lowered prices. This is an ideal month to put in that azalea bed you’ve been thinking about. They look pretty scraggly now, but after spending the winter establishing a good root system you can have your own Azalea Trail come spring. Don’t ignore the marked-down camellias. They’re looking for a new home too.

The trees still sitting in the nurseries have lost a good deal of their leaves, so it’s easy to select one with a pleasing branch configuration. Never mind those with branches that are crossed, weak or broken.

Pick a warm and sunny December day to get the vegetable garden ready for next spring. It’s a good time to till in some manure and all that compost that has become friable and sifts between your fingers. Compost is a gardener’s black gold, and the price is right.

As long as you’re in the vegetable garden, and if you love English peas as much as I do, plant some this month. Leave room for some spinach, mustard, turnips and radishes as well.

Did I tell you last month just how much we are enjoying the BBB (birds, bees, butterfly) garden? November brought a profusion of butterflies. The cooler weather persuaded the lantana to begin a new bloom cycle; while the Copper Canyon daisy recovered from its drastic haircut in mid-summer when it was looking pretty disreputable. Gulf fritillaries love its golden yellow, easy- to- perch-on blooms. They also appreciated the herbs blooming at that time, and seemed especially taken with the Thai basil. They were kind enough to share the rosemary blossoms with the honeybees. What the tiny Gulf fritillary lacks in color, it makes up in population. They arrived in herds! Even though I’m not fond of the aroma of passionflower blossoms, the Gulf fritillary loves this vine enough to entrust it with the care and feeding of its children. The caterpillars will probably eat most of the leaves, but not to worry, this vine will revive and grow again to feed another generation. I saw several butterflies skip quickly across the surface of a shallow container of water and sand placed in a sunny location. Like all living creatures, water is essential to their survival.

But I digress – we’re in the holiday season, and you’re scrambling to pick up a few last minute gifts for the gardener on your list. Every gardener needs a deep root feeder to get water and fertilizer down to the roots of trees and shrubs where it belongs – instead of running off of the lawn and into the gutter. Splurge a little and get your favorite gardener a good pair of by-pass pruners. They do the job much better than the anvil type. A nice birdbath was appreciated by a family member last year, and this year he’ll get some binoculars to help identify the bathers. Since most shrubs are on sale right now – how about some shrubbery to attract birds to the garden? Dwarf wax myrtle, American beautyberry, holly and elderberries will get their attention, and mockingbirds will perform all kinds of acrobatics to pluck the purple lantana berries. If your birdwatcher is elderly offer to do the planting for them. You can’t go wrong with a book on birds or butterflies for our area, and every gardener needs a gardening book written especially for our locale. I hope I have given you a few gift ideas to buy or put on your own wish list.

Don’t forget to plant those pre-chilled tulip bulbs on Christmas Day. Let somebody else deal with the leftovers and dirty dishes – you’ve got gardening to do.

Happy Humbug!

Did you know that Trowels & Tribulations is published on the city site on the first of the month? Under Our Community you will find Trowels & Tribulations listed.

Savannah Holly Berries