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.)

If you're waiting for Santa's elves to help with your December gardening chores, you're going to be sadly disappointed. Their work schedule is full and you're on your own. No doubt the cookies are made and packed away in those cute holiday tins, the wrapping paper is at the ready for those presents you've been accumulating throughout the year, and the Christmas tree's freshly cut trunk is submerged in a bucket of water - revitalizing it as much as possible to survive the unforgiving environment it will be forced to endure for the holiday season. Now that the essential preparations are under control you can concentrate on maintaining and improving your winter landscape.

We are fortunate in that our climate allows us to plant some colorful blooms to perk up a mostly monochromatic winter color scheme. This is an ideal time to put in transplants of dianthus, delphiniums, pansies, primroses, ornamental kale and of course cyclamens. Remember that pansies are heavy feeders, and if you keep the spent blooms removed, the more they will reward you with their smiley faces. If you don't mind a bit of waiting for blossoms it's time to plant seeds of California poppy, nasturtium and phlox.

Azaleas and camellias may be on sale at your favorite nursery, and they would like to go home with you. The Formosa is the largest azalea, and it blends well into an informal woodland setting. Don't forget that they don't care much for hot afternoon sun, but prefer dappled shade under trees, or maybe a little morning sun and afternoon shade. They do best in an acid soil, and granular or hose-end acidifiers are available in almost any nursery.

There's not much to be done in the veggie garden, but if the spirit moves you, leeks, mustard greens, turnips and English peas can go in now. - but hurry. This would be an ideal time to dig some compost into the vegetable garden in preparation for spring planting. You may want to start onion seeds indoors now to have transplants for January or February.

You can make your own indoor holiday decorations from your own landscape. Cut branches of holly, ligustrum, juniper, yew, yaupon, and magnolia. Arrange them on the fireplace mantle or make a wreath for your front door. Those plants will benefit from a light pruning. If you have purchased potted poinsettias for your indoor decor, keep them evenly moist, out of drafts and near a bright filtered light.

It's always possible that we could have some pretty cold weather this month, and I know we don't want to spend too much time outside during those chilly days, but think of the critters who have no choice - birds for instance. More birds die of thirst than hunger. How about giving them a holiday gift? - a shallow bird bath perhaps. It not only adds to your landscape's decor, but may keep some of our feathered friends alive through a cold snap. Mother Nature is doing her part to feed them with shrubbery from your yard. They will spend much time feeding in your garden if you have possum-haw holly, wax myrtle, American beautyberry, elderberry and Savannah holly, just to name a few.

Like the birds, your landscape plants will suffer from lack of water during a cold snap - 'winterkill' is not a pretty sight. Should a cold spell be predicted deeply water the lawn, trees, shrubs and potted plants to reduce injury.

Nurseries and local garden centers have a good selection of last-minute gifts for the gardeners and 'wanna-be' gardeners on your list. Additionally give some thought to that senior citizen relative, friend, or neighbor. They don't so much need physical gifts, but they could use some physical assistance. Till up a small spot and plant a colorful flower bed, or a few winter veggies. Maybe plant a large pot with some colorful blooms and put it by their front door. And do you know how difficult or practically impossible it is for them to carry a heavy bag of fertilizer or potting soil? Carry it to where it is convenient for them to use. You can give a gift of caring to a senior with little effort on your part and it can't help but make you feel good too!

Here's hoping your holidays are happy and healthy. Enjoy your family and friends, eat until you almost pop, and when we get together again in February we can talk about diets - Nah - never mind.

Merry Christmas and a Happy and Prosperous New Year..........................

Barbados Cherry close up