Gardening Tips for the Texas Coastal Bend in December By Kitty Angell

"You’ve bought the beautiful poinsettias for some living holiday color in your home, the rest of the Christmas decorations are up, and cards sent out. Now, light a peppermint candle, make some hot chocolate and sink back in your favorite easy chair. This is the perfect time for the gardener to take an inventory of how their garden fared this year. Make notes of plants that need to be moved or removed, and think about what improvements and changes you’d like to make in your landscape
plan. These notes will prove invaluable when it comes to seed and plant buying time.

Winter is the perfect season to take measures to prolong the life of your tools, mower, hoses, and other garden paraphernalia. Clean tools with a wire brush, then sharpen them using a sawing motion in a bucket of sand mixed with oil. If you don’t have time to do this, just take them to a local garden store that sharpens tools. If your mower blades need sharpening, take them to a mower shop while they’re not needed.

Freezes in the coastal bend are infrequent, so there is no need to drain the water hoses except in the case of a deep freeze. After you’ve checked your hoses, now would be a great time to straighten up your utility area or garden shed for a fresh start in the spring. Be sure to store pesticides and other hazardous materials in a locked cabinet and out of the reach of children.

Your compost pile doesn’t need much attention, but it does need to be covered. It will benefit from an occasional turning. Be sure to have extra soil available so that each six-inch layer of leaves can be covered with several inches of soil. Always wet the layer of leaves thoroughly before adding the soil. Add about one pound of complete lawn or garden fertilizer to each layer of leaves to provide the necessary nitrogen for decomposition. 

You can still put out cool-season bedding plants such as pansies, snapdragons, dianthus, stock and violas. If you are tired of planting annuals, use our many days of good weather to prepare your garden beds for spring planting. Be sure to work in extra organic matter, and your beds will be ready for spring. 

Mulches conserve moisture and aid in the establishment and maintenance of plants. Once you have replenished the soil with compost matter, use mulch to cover the soil surface around plants. Organic mulches such as pine straw, pine bark, wood chips, etc., not only conserve moisture, but also increase the organic content of the soil as they decompose. Mulch is beneficial in many other ways. It reduces evaporation of water from the soil and keeps the soil temperature moderate, thus creating a more favorable growing environment. Mulch also suppresses weed growth which competes with plants for water, nutrients, and light, and protects the base of a plant from wind and cold. Also, prepare beds and individual holes for rose planting in January and February. Use composted manure, pine bark, and similar materials mixed with the existing soil. 

Bringing live or living plants into the house for the holidays adds a charming touch to your decorations, but beware cedar cuttings as so many people are allergic to them. A better idea is to use holly, yaupon, and pyracantha. They can be pruned now and the flowering branches are perfect for decorative material. 

A final word on plants before the New Year begins: Think about giving indoor herbs as a gift at Christmas. Just make sure your friend or loved one wants to try growing culinary herbs and has a sunny window sill or room in which to house them. Chives, basil, rosemary, mint, and oregano make great gifts, whether placed in individual pots or placed together in a window box. Gardening is an economical and unique way of showing you care."
Kitty Angell is a Aransas/San Patricio County Master Gardener.

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