For The Answer
December is an unpredictable month as far as weather goes. We often get our first freeze in December but most days of the month are pleasant enough to be working in the yard.
In the vegetable garden it is not too late to plant cabbage, broccoli and spinach transplants, but they may be hard to find in the nurseries. If you planted cole crops and other greens in September and October keep them well fertilized for maximum production. Sidedress with 1 cup of slow release lawn fertilizer every 4 weeks for each 5 ft of row or every 2 plants. Harvest spinach, lettuce, mustard, collards and other greens by the leaf as you need it. The plants will last until spring. Be ready to pick all your tomatoes if a freeze is forecast. They should be large enough to ripen satisfactorily on your kitchen counter. The green manure, cereal rye, can still be planted early in the month. At least four weeks before you plant your spring vegetables, string mow the tops and till the roots and tops into the soil. Cereal rye is also the most effective nematode treatment we have. The roots trap the debilitating worms. Tomatoes and peppers are especially susceptible to nematodes.
December is a great time to plant shrubs, trees and perennials. The selection is not always great at the retail nurseries but some of the sales are outstanding. Dig the hole as deep as the root ball and 2 or 3 times as wide. There is no real advantage with putting starter solution or compost in the planting hole. My favorite shade trees are live oak, Texas Red oak, cedar elm, bur oak, chinkapin oak, Lacey oak, Chinese pistache, anaqua, Monterrey oak and Montezuma cypress. For conifers consider Italian stone pine, Arizona cypress, deodar cedar, Japanese black pine or Aleppo pine. Small trees are an essential part of a good landscape. Check out shantung maple, loquat, crepe myrtles, desert willow, ornamental pear, oriental persimmon, yaupon holly, rusty black haw, Texas mountain laurel and Texas redbud.
If you buy your tulips or hyacinths early in the month there is time to chill them in the refrigerator for 6 weeks and plant them by mid January. Daffodils and paperwhites do not need the chill hours. Select the old fashioned daffodils like campernelle, quail or trevithian if you want them to naturalize. Paperwhites are great because they bloom in January, have no pests (even the deer do not eat them) and they are good xeriscape plants.
For the shade garden, plant cyclamen and primula in the winter. Protect the primula from slugs, snails and pill bugs with beer traps or slug bait. Pansies also should be protected from pill bugs. Pansies are the premiere winter flower for full sun but the large specimens of snapdragons, stocks, and dianthus can also still be planted.
The lawn may still be soggy from heavy rains in November. Brown patch is rampant across the city. Apply Turfcide, Fungaway, Terrachlor or similar labeled fungicides to stop the disease if the killed areas are still spreading. Mow frequently enough to keep the winter weeds from forming seed heads. Sometime this winter, aerate the lawn and top dress with compost. To me, this is the most effective activity there is in keeping a lawn vigorous and healthy. If you need help completing this task, there is at least one firm in the San Antonio area that will aerate and spread compost for you. They have a machine like a reverse vacuum cleaner that does a wonderful job at a reasonable price. Call San Antonio Water System (SAWS) at 704-7527 if you would like the information.
December is a good month for bird feeding. If you are tired of having the white winged doves and squirrels eat all of your sunflower seeds, try safflower seeds in one feeder and thistle seed in another. The cardinals, titmice and chickadees like the safflower seed and the finches like thistle seed.