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.

One sunny November morning we were still suffering what seemed to be a never-ending summer, and by that afternoon winter had arrived. By the next morning, most of us were looking for those warm fuzzy slippers that had been tossed to the back of the closet.

Now you may think that your gardening chores are over when December's Ho-Ho-Ho season arrives, but you’d be wrong. I know those last minute gifts still need to be purchased, and we couldn’t be further behind in the cookie baking department, but now is your last chance to complete the gardening chores you neglected last month. Are we behind schedule – or what?

I know it’s hard to believe, but spring isn’t that far off, and there are many chores we need to complete in preparation for that season. That large dead oak tree you had removed this summer was shading those azaleas, and when summer arrives they'll be getting too much sun. There couldn’t be a better time to move them. Just be sure to keep them mulched and watered to prevent any winter damage. Same goes for the camellias. Maybe you don’t have any to move, but it’s also an ideal time to plant new ones. Azaleas and camellias thrive in an acid soil. Acidifiers are available in both granular and water soluble form. I find the granular easier to use. Just scatter the appropriate amount (as per bag directions) and water in. Pine needles make a great mulch while adding the acidity these plants love.

Lacking some winter color in your landscape? Most nurseries still have pots of pansies and various other cool weather annuals. While you’re there, take a look at the snapdragons. A stand of tall yellow snaps behind a grouping of purple pansies is a real attention-grabber! Remember that if you keep the old faded pansy blooms removed, the more they will reward you with new happy faces. You can also get some instant color with ornamental kale, primroses and cyclamens.

If you like the challenge of planting seeds - nasturtium, California poppy and phlox can be put in a prepared bed right now.

Chances are there’s a rack of vegetable seed packets next to the flower seeds at the nursery. You could start some veggie seeds indoors now and grow your own transplants for the vegetable garden in January or February. Always use a sterilized potting soil for any indoor seed germination, as soil dug from the garden contains fungal organisms and a gazillion or more weed seeds.

I know it’s winter – but don’t put the hose in the garage. If the weather guy on your favorite television station predicts a freeze give everything a good watering. More plants die over winter from lack of water than from the cold. If a freeze is predicted and you put a protective cover over your plants, be sure and remove it first thing in the morning. Never, never, put plastic sheeting directly on a plant. Plastic touching the leaves will burn them and they will be frizzled by morning. Always put the plastic on top of the protective cover.

If someone gives you a potted amaryllis for the holidays – Lucky you. These long lasting beauties make a great gift for the special people on your list. Be sure to tell them that when the blooms fade it can be put directly into a well-drained spot in the garden and then forgotten. Plant them so the neck of the bulb is above ground. They will tolerate full sun, but prefer a little afternoon shade. I almost forget that I have mine, and then suddenly a huge red blossom appears amongst the green of the garden - Lovely, to say the least.

Before the long awaited gift-giving day arrives, cut branches of greenery to decorate the house. Yew, ligustrum, holly, magnolia, juniper, and pittosporum branches can be turned into attractive holiday decorations. A light pruning won’t hurt the shrubbery, and might even be beneficial.

Take the bag of tulip and hyacinth bulbs out of the refrigerator where they have been tricked into thinking it’s nap time for the past 6 or 8 weeks. Let someone else clean up the Christmas dinner leftovers and wash the dishes while you go outside and plant bulbs. If by chance you’re too stuffed to bend over - you could wait until New Year’s Day.

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.

Amaryllis, Red Lion