December Gardeners To-Do List

San Antonio Express News
Sunday, December14, 2003

PoinsettiasBy the time you read this, the temperature may be nearing the freezing mark, but alas, no one ever knows for sure what the weather will be like in San Antonio! This week, the Bexar County Extension office offers you a list of gardening chores to add to your already-harried holiday season. If you are diligent now, your labor will be rewarded in the spring. So, “make haste while the sun shines” and the temperatures are comfortable!

Care for Holiday Gift Plants – Traditional poinsettia and Christmas Cactus require simple care to prolong their good looks through the holiday season. Provide indirect, natural daylight for a minimum of 5 to 6 hours a day. Poinsettias will do best indoors with daytime temps in the low 70’s and no cooler than 55 degrees at night. Avoid placing the plants near drafts, too close to heat sources, or the dry air from appliances, fireplaces or ventilating ducts. Since poinsettias are sensitive to cold weather, frost and rain, outside placement during the winter months should be avoided. However, in mild climates, an enclosed patio or entryway may be suitable, provided the night temperatures do not drop below 55º F. Make certain the delicate bracts are well protected from wind and cold rain. Poinsettias require moderately moist, but not soggy soil. Christmas Cactus, like all succulents, prefer to be kept on the dry side. Place your finger just below the soil surface to test for dryness. Remove the pot from the decorative wrapping and water thoroughly. If water is allowed to collect within the wrap, it could rob the plant of needed oxygen, resulting in root rot. It is not necessary to fertilize while the plants are in bloom. Keep your plant tidy by removing wilted leaves, broken stems, and faded blooms. You can apply these same general guidelines when caring for potted chrysanthemums, cyclamen, amaryllis, etc.

Prune – Prune hollies, yaupons, and other colorful, berry-producing plants. The cuttings will provide you with decorating material to brighten the inside your home. Use in table decorations and wreaths or wire into lengths of artificial greenery for a more natural look. It is safe to prune oaks throughout December and January. Remember to immediately paint the wounds with a latex-based paint. On the other hand, don’t feel pressured to prune all of your woody plants this month. You have all of January and most of February to complete the task! If you do prune, please don’t “deadhead” trees and shrubs (like crape myrtles)! This is unnecessary, ugly, and a waste of money if you are paying to have it done.

Plant – This is a great time to plant trees and shrubs in the San Antonio area. The plant places all of its energy into producing a healthy root system during these dormant months so that by spring, when it is time to produce above ground growth, the plant is established and ready for the task. To brighten your landscape with color during the gray winter days, continue to set out cool-season bedding plants, such as pansies, violas, stock, snapdragons, dianthus, and ornamental cabbage.

Plan and Prepare – If you are anticipating a spring vegetable garden, rose garden or flower bed, these months are perfect for getting your plans laid out on paper, studying plant choices and getting the soil broken and prepared. The #1 secret of successful planting lies in the soil, and its preparation. Visit your favorite nursery and study the soil amendments available now in the way of composts, mulches, and soil treatment products. Place orders for seeds this month so that you will have them available when you are ready to plant. Ordering early ensures that you will receive the varieties you want.

Clean Up and Maintenance – We might need to mow once more to tidy up for Christmas, but hopefully we can then drain the gasoline from the mower and other power tools, and run the engine until fuel in the carburetor is used up. This is a good time for clean up and maintenance on all outdoor tools. Replace dull blades, spark plugs, air filters, string for the weedeater, etc. Check water hoses, drip hoses, and sprinklers. This is a good time to fix leaky faucets and replace rubber seals. It may be necessary to water during extended dry spells, but remember to drain hoses prior to a freeze, and store them in a convenient location. Make a list of items that need to be replaced. Add special items to your gift list!

Last Chance – If you haven’t planted your springtime bulbs, this is your last chance!

This article was contributed by Nathan Riggs, Extension Agent-IPM, and staff from Texas Cooperative Extension-Bexar County. For more information call 210/467-6575.

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