For The Answer
By Calvin R. Finch, PhD, SAWS Water Resources Director, and Horticulturist
Week of November 28, 2005
“Monthly Gardening Tasks – December”
December is a great month to plant trees and shrubs. The cool winter weather allows the plants to develop a root system before it gets hot again. For shade trees, consider live oak, bur oak, Mexican white oak, cedar elm, Chinese pistache, chinkapin oak, Montezuma cypress, Lacey oak, or Texas red oak.
The most versatile shrubs to plant around the house are hollies and nandinas. Most are evergreen and they have good shade tolerance. Dwarf yaupon holly form globes about three feet tall and around. Dwarf Chinese holly is about two feet tall and three feet wide. Dwarf Burford holly reaches about four feet tall. Standard nandinas reach about six feet tall. They have showy berries in the winter and the foliage will often be colorful, especially if they are grown in the sun. All of the shrubs listed make excellent foundation shrubs around the house.
This time of the year it gets harder for songbirds to find seeds, berries, and insects. Bird feeding will bring them in to your garden and patio for easy observation. For the insect eaters like chicadees, wrens, titmice and kinglets put out blocks of suet. Various flavored blocks are available at bird food stores, feed stores, pet stores, and many nurseries. To attract the American and lesser goldfinches provide thistle seed in a tube feeder. Sunflower seed is the favorite feed for all birds including cardinals. The squirrels also like sunflower seed so provide it in a steel feeder with a weight-sensitive perch so the pesky squirrels will not chew up the feeder to get the seed.
For winter color in the shade there are two premiere blooming plants – cyclamen and primula. They are cold hardy and have blooms everyday of the winter. Cyclamen are available in red, white, lavender, and pink. The colors are very rich. Primulas come in an upstanding plant with pastels flowers (obconica) or a flat-growing plant with intensely colored flowers. Protect primula with slug and snail bait.
Pansies are the best annual flowers for the sun, but snapdragons, stocks, calendula, alyssum, and ornamental kale are also reliable cold weather bloomers. For intimate plantings try violas or Johnny-jump-ups. At planting enrich the bed with compost and a cup of slow release lawn fertilizer for every 50 square feet of bed. Texas gold columbines are starting to grow. Fertilize them as well. If you used up your slow release lawn fertilizer and it is hard to find at the nursery, winterizer lawn fertilizer works well.
The lawns in many neighborhoods have begun to go dormant. The browning from cold weather is natural and no amount of watering will make it green again (unless it encourages the weeds) until late spring. Mow your leaves where they lay on the lawn and they will add organic material and nutrients to the soil. Leaves are also great mulch for the flower and vegetable gardens. It is unforgivable to bag them up to send to the landfill.
In the vegetable garden it is not too late to set out broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, and spinach transplants. Plant greens, rutabagas, and carrots by seed. Be ready to cover the tomatoes and citrus trees. Agricultural fabric like Gro-Web is available at your favorite nursery or old sheets work Bougainvilleas, hibiscus, plumeria, mandevillea, and other tropical plants should be in the greenhouse or other freeze-proof structures.