Gardening Tips for December

Now is a great time to get the soil ready for future beds.

The first hard freeze of the season finally arrived for most of the area, and put an end to our annual flowers, tomatoes, peppers, and other tender, tropical vegetation. Unless, of course, you took action to protect them.

But, cold weather does not mark the end of the gardening season. This is an ideal time of year for some important gardening activities. One nice benefit is that we can work outside a lot longer without passing out from heat exhaustion.

Another important fact is that almost all trees and shrubs planted at this time of year get established sooner than those planted in late spring and summer.

If you have plans for a new flower bed or vegetable plot, rose garden, or landscape section in the coming months, I encourage you to go ahead and start soil preparation now. The weather doesn’t always cooperate with our plans, and often the soil is too wet when we are ready to dig and plant. Obtain your soil amendments that you plan on using (compost, aged bark, peat moss, aged stable manure, fertilizer, limestone, etc.), and when the soil is dry enough to work, break ground and incorporate your soil amendments. Even if you don’t plant right away, the soil will be prepared and in great shape, ready to grow new roots whenever you finally do plant.

Place your orders for seeds of flower and vegetable now so you will have them available when you are ready to plant. By ordering early, you will be certain of getting the varieties you want.

Have you enjoyed a Thanksgiving or Christmas cactus this year? While they don’t look like much for most of the year, when in bloom they are drop-dead gorgeous! Like to start some more plants? It’s very easy. As soon as it has finished blooming, select a cutting with 4 or 5 joints, break or cut it off, and stick the cut end into a pot of slightly moist potting soil. Put it on a windowsill or other bright place, and it should root within a month.

Don't send your leaves to the landfill or burn them - turn them instead into a valuable and rich soil ammendment!

Don’t put up the mower just yet. Not all leaves have blown off the trees. Use the mower to chop up and recycle the tree leaves back into the lawn, or collect them for mulch or the compost pile. Don’t let fallen leaves remain on the lawn all winter. Fallen leaves left on the lawn can cause disease problems if a thick layer keeps the grass wet and dark. However, mulching chopped up leaves into the lawn does not cause problems, and is a good way to deal with them, since our mild southern winter allows microbes, which break down organic matter, to continue to grow and do their composting work.

If the layer of chopped up leaves is still too deep, covering up the grass, rake and use them as an excellent composting material.

Fall-planted, cool-season vegetables should still be growing nicely.  Most cool-season crops can tolerate a light frost or freeze. Between the rows and around the plants in the garden is an excellent place to use chopped tree leaves to help conserve soil moisture and control weeds.  Keep your vegetables vigorously growing with an occasional side dressing of nitrogen fertilizer.

Did you buy some bulbs earlier this fall? Still haven’t planted them? Not a problem, but plant them this month for best results.

Remember to provide food and water for birds this winter. If you put out a variety of seeds, like sunflower, thistle, safflower, and millet, plus suet, you will draw a large diversity of birds. Once you begin putting out bird food, continue feeding them through the springtime.

Don’t get in a hurry to prune woody trees, shrubs, and fruit trees. Late December through February is the optimum time.

However, if you want to trim some hollies or other berry plants for indoor decoration, go right ahead. Do not ruin the beauty and natural form of the trimmed plants. Also, keep in mind that holly berries are poisonous, so keep them out of reach of youngsters.

Master Gardener Training. If you are interested in participating in the 2012 Smith County Master Gardener program, including the training that starts in January, time is running out to send in your application. The deadline for turning in applications is December 16. The Smith County Master Gardener program is a master volunteer program conducted by the Texas AgriLife Extension Service, whereby people pledge to volunteer a certain number of hours, assisting in Extension-sponsored horticulture and gardening educational programs, in exchange for an in-depth training in all aspects of home horticulture.

For more information and application, you can call our office at 903-535-0885, or visit our web site at:  http://easttexasgardening.tamu.edu and go to Educational Programs.

Texas pesticide applicator license holders who need CEU’s to maintain their license can get 5.5 CEU’s (1.0 Laws and Regulations, 3 General and 1.5 IPM) at a program today, December 6 at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center in Overton. A program description is available at the above-mentioned web site. I’ll be speaking on Lawn and Garden Pests.

Registration is $30 at the door and includes lunch, refreshments and handout materials. Registration begins at 7:30 with the presentations starting at 8:30 a.m. and ending at 2:45 p.m.

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