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.

Gardeners attempting to follow the timelines set out in this column are aware that this publication through no fault of the publisher is not distributed in conjunction with those timelines. But - Trowels & Tribulations is timely published on the El Lago city web site ( on the first day of each month of publication. ‘Our Community’ will lead you to ‘Gardening in El Lago.’

Did you know that plants have one goal in life and one goal only? Whether it’s a stately oak, spring tomato, winter blooming pansy or even that crabgrass in our lawns – a plant’s one goal is to propagate its species. How do they do this? – they produce seeds. You may not think of an acorn as a seed, but it is – it’s just a very large seed! If you have oaks on your property you’ve probably noticed an excessive, disproportionate amount of them this fall. The sound of them hitting the wooden deck outside of the bedroom window disturbed my sleep for weeks. In case you’re wondering what has caused this activity – it can be summed up in one word – ‘Summer.’ It was so blistering hot and so unreasonably dry that our oaks had the bejesus scared out of them. Afraid that they were going to die, they did what they are programmed to do – they set out to reproduce their kind, and in my opinion they did a darn good job!

But it’s December and the holiday season is upon us. Can you hear sleigh bells ringing, fireplace logs crackling and carolers negotiating the snow covered streets while you’re wrapping presents and sipping hot chocolate? That might take some imagination, but imagine what you could be doing outside to improve your landscape.

You could do the garden chores that you neglected to do last month. If your azaleas survived the summer it’s not too late to move them. Just be sure to keep them mulched and watered to avoid winter damage. More plants die in winter from lack of water, than from cold temperatures. If you neglected to feed those smiley-face pansies when planted, do it now. Blood and bone meal is recommended by many ‘experts’ but they are a magnet for daytime and nighttime digging critters in my opinion. Time release pellets do the job just fine. You had good intentions to plant some wild critter-friendly, berry producing shrubs, but you just ran out of time. It’s not too late to put in some yaupon, holly, wax myrtle, possomhaw, Texas persimmon, pineapple guava, lantana, the list goes on. My Savannah holly is covered with red berries and in spring the cedar waxwings will arrive in droves, strip most of its fruit and fly away happy. What they don’t consume will be enjoyed by the mockingbirds and squirrels.

If you already have some hollies in your landscape give them a light pruning to decorate your fireplace mantle or make a centerpiece for that holiday dinner table. A little light pruning won’t hurt your magnolias, and make a lovely addition to your holiday décor.

If you're looking for a gift for elderly parents, grandparents, or perhaps older physically impaired, and possibly home-bound friends or neighbors, consider performing some gardening chores for them. A holiday card with your hand-written promise to plant a small spring veggie plot - prune those spring flowering shrubs once they've finished blooming - put in a few colorful annuals where they can be seen from the house - fertilize the St. Augustine once the weather warms sufficiently - pot up a big decorative container with some ivy for their front entrance, and carry one of those heavy bags of potting soil to a place where it is easily accessible. Put a big red bow on that card...........

I usually try to encourage your alter ego Farmer Brown to plant some veggies, but December doesn’t lend itself to planting much more than peas, both English and snap. But if you feel the urge to dig in the dirt, wait until after the holiday dinner. Encourage your guests to wash the dishes, put away the left overs and sweep up the crumbs. Let the excitement of noisy guests, the unwrapping of presents and rambunctious children slowly fade – while you breathe in the cool air of the day’s end and plant those tulip bulbs you refrigerated 6 weeks ago. But if you’re too full to perform any gardening activity take a nap instead. They can wait until after you celebrate New Year’s Eve!

Happy Humbug

Savannah Holly Berries