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.


I’m not a meteorologist, but I’m pretty sure the only sleigh bells we’ll hear will be in the mall, and snow comes in an aerosol can so you can fake the illusion of winter on your window panes. We won’t experience a real winter like the east coast thank goodness, but occasionally we do have some pretty chilly temperatures. Should a ‘Blue Norther be forecast, water your lawn, trees, shrubs and potted plants to avoid injury from the cold.

Depending on your point of view, we are lucky to be able to garden almost 12 months of the year. Don’t feel that you can put away the gardening tools just because it’s December. Think about all the things you didn’t do in November – like cleaning leaves and other debris out of the flower beds, or building new beds. There’s no shortage of leaves to add to the compost pile, and when was the last time you turned that pile or hosed it down when rain was scarce? As the word implies, ‘compost’ is all about decomposition, and that requires moisture.

Our local nurseries still have plenty of items on sale. They don’t want to have to winter over a large percentage of their stock, so they are willing to let you have some great bargains. If they still have azaleas and camellias, this is an ideal time to put them in the ground, and if you have a few that need to be moved – good timing for that also. Just remember to keep these plants well mulched and watered to prevent winter damage. It’s a good idea to read the tags on any azaleas before you purchase; some of the larger varieties such as the Formosa do well in a woodland setting or a fence row but grow too large to plant under that living room picture window. Be sure and note the eventual mature size listed on the tag.

You’ll also find larger trees and shrubs on sale this time of year. It takes a bit of effort for the nurseries to keep large specimens alive during the winter months. Their root systems in a big old plastic pot can get pretty cold sitting above ground, and keeping a pot bound tree well-watered is not easy. The nursery would rather sell them to you at a bargain price than chance losing them.

If you forgot to pick up some pansies for a bit of winter color, there’s still time. Okay, they may not look as good as they did a few weeks ago fresh from the grower, but a bit of deadheading (removing faded blossoms), fertilizer and water will work miracles. Cyclamens are another of Mother Nature’s most brilliant winter offerings. Their colors are eye-catching, and they are hardly ever in the bargain category, but I always bite the bullet and buy a few just to take the edge off of a cloudy winter day.

Speaking of color, are you gathering berry-laden branches for your holiday décor? No holly in your landscape? Plant some now if you want to collect berries for future holiday decorations. Some good berry producers are yaupon, Buford, Savannah or East Palatka hollies. The East Palatka hollies do well under the most adverse of conditions – small parking lot islands (100 sq. ft. or so) surrounded by heat-absorbing concrete, its roots in compacted soil with poor drainage, etc. Imagine what they could do with optimum conditions. If it’s showy berries you want, be sure to purchase female hollies. I know you’re thinking – “Where in the world is East Palatka?” Sounds like some far-off exotic land – not so. This holly hybrid was discovered near East Palatka, Florida in 1927 – it’s a native of North America. Another good berry producer is the possum-haw holly. In November or December they drop their leaves, but their arching branches are covered with orange, red and yellow berries much loved by the cedar waxwing or one of the other nine species of birds known to feed on the fruit. If you enjoy feeding feathered friends and want to attract them to your garden, plant wax-myrtle, American beautyberry or elderberry in your landscape.

I can almost hear your collective sigh of relief when I tell you there’s nothing to do in the vegetable garden this month – unless of course you want to plant English and snap peas.

When you’ve put away the holiday leftovers, and the dishes are washed and put away, hopefully you’re not too tired to plant those pre-chilled tulip bulbs.

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