Gardening Tips for the Texas Coastal Bend in January | 2013 By Kitty Angell

"The start of a new year brings with it the chance to learn some important things regarding our environment. One of the major issues in Texas is the scarcity of water. The Texas A&M University system experts are investigating whether use of ‘soapy’ water is viable to irrigate home landscapes.

Dr. Raul Cabrera, an ornamental horticulturist with Texas A&M describes gray water as ‘soapy’ water left after tap water has been run through a washing machine or used in a bathtub sink or shower and does not contain serious contaminants.

He said the Uvalde Agrilife Center will evaluate short-term and long-term effects of gray water on plants and the surrounding soil. One major concern on home landscapes is possible salt content. Some detergents have high sodium, chloride or boron levels which could potentially ‘burn’ a plant. There is also concern about gray water and its effect on irrigation systems, particularly drip systems. The researcher will study the plumbing and delivery technology needed to retrofit households so ‘gray’ water can be used, possibly reducing household landscape use by up to 50%. 

If you want to preserve the life of your Christmas plants such as poinsettias, amaryllis, and Christmas cactus, keep the soil moist but provide drainage by removing the foil wrapper from the plant. Keep it away from heating ducts and store in your coolest room. For a longer life, storing at 60 to 65 degrees is best. 

Start the preparation of beds and garden areas for spring planting. Till in several inches of compost, composted pine bark or similar material. Speaking of compost and mulch, a scary Internet post has been going around for a few years. Unfortunately, it is mostly true. Cocoa mulch is a health risk to animals, especially puppies and small dogs for whom it can be deadly. Found in many home garden centers, cocoa mulch is known for its fine texture and sweet smell. Cocoa mulch is dangerous if the dog starts eating it. Never seen a dog eat dirt? Come by my house and I’ll show you a puppy that does!

The problem with cocoa mulch is that it contains two key ingredients found in chocolate: theobromine and caffeine. Dogs are highly sensitive to these chemicals, called methylxanthines. In low doses it can produce vomiting and diarrhea; higher doses cause rapid heart rate, muscle tremors, seizures, and death. The fact is that 50% of the dogs that eat cocoa mulch will suffer physical harm, but 98% of dogs won’t eat it. Three factors affect its toxicity to animals: the type of chocolate, the size of the animal, and the amount ingested. 

Now let’s get back to plant matters. This is the ideal time to select fruit trees, berries and grapes. If you are unsure what local varieties are recommended for the Coastal Bend, contact your local Texas Agrilife extension Center at (361)790-0103 or

A word of caution for newly planted trees and shrubs. Don’t fertilize until they have started to grow, and then sparingly for the first year. If we should actually have a freeze, wait to assess the freeze damage to existing citrus and other semi-tropical plants until warm weather is here to stay. Once new growth appears, you can remove damaged material. 

Now is the time to sow seeds in flats or other containers to get a jump on plant growth before our hot weather arrives. January or February is when plants like begonias, impatiens and petunias should be sown. Wait until late January or early February to sow warm temperature plants like tomatoes, peppers, periwinkles and marigolds. 

Although bush roses should not be pruned until February, you can work on training your climbing roses now. Remove dead or weak canes, but prune no further. Securing canes prevents damage from winter and spring winds. Weave long canes through arbors, trellises, fences, and other openings by tying them with jute twine, plastic, or other plant ties. The same holds true for training vines like Carolina and Star jasmine. You will be surprised how luxurious and bursting with flowers they look when in full bloom!
By Kitty Angell 
Aransas/ San Patricio Master Gardener

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