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December Gardening Tips from Southwest Austin’s Natural Gardener

published on December 9, 2012

austin winter gardenWhen real winter weather (finally!) breezes into Austin, Texas, how do good gardeners protect their plants from the frost? Don’t let freezing temperatures ruin tender plants and flowers. Enjoy these useful gardening tips for December, compliments of Southwest Austin’s home for gardening, the Natural Gardener…

Gardening To Do List for December

– To protect tender plants during freezes, use sheets, blankets, or specially-designed row cover. Construct a cold frame or a “hoop house.” Mulch, mulch, mulch! Also, water well before a freeze (except for prickly pear cactus). Allow hardy perennials to freeze back, and do not prune them until early spring, if you can stand it. The dead structure of the plant helps to insulate and protect the living core of the plant and is part of the winter landscape. In addition, any pruning can stimulate tender new growth, which would be susceptible to subsequent freezes.

– Last chance to plant bulbs! It is best to plant them early this month.

– Plant flower/ornamental seeds like Delphinium, Larkspur, and Poppy.

– Plant vegetable plants like Arugula, cabbage, chard and other greens, lettuce, spinach.

– Plant strawberries. Spinach is a great companion plant for strawberries!

winter plants austin– Plant perennial herbs such as lavender, oregano, rosemary, rue, sage, and thyme; in addition to other cold-hardy annual or biennial herbs like parsley, cilantro, dill, and fennel (Dill and fennel may need some protection during freezes).

– Plant annual flower/ornamental plants. Sweet alyssum, bluebonnet plants, ornamental cabbage and kale, Dianthus, Johnny jump-up, pansy, snapdragon, and stock are examples.

– Plant hardy perennial plants like agapanthus, damianita, ferns, Mexican bush sage, Russian sage, trees, and shrubs. It is especially important, if you haven’t done so already, to plant spring-blooming perennials such as columbine, coreopsis, ox-eye and shasta daisies, Salvia greggi, and wallflower.

– Plant ground covers and borders.

– Prune, if necessary. Hire a reputable arborist or study a good, current pruning book before tackling important pruning jobs. If the pruning book is teaching the “flush cut” method, it is teaching an outdated and detrimental pruning method. If the pruning book refers to the “branch collar” method, you are on the right track.

– NEVER “top” a tree, which is pruning back the main leader (or trunk) of a tree, except for certain fruit trees. Topping has also come to mean that awful practice of harshly pruning back some if not all of the branches back to the main trunk. This is unfortunately so prevalent with crape myrtles that it has a name: Crape Murder.

– Spray fruit trees. Austin’s most common fruit trees are not native, and therefore need extra care. To keep apple, pear, peach, and plum trees healthy, and to get the best fruit, these fruit trees need to be put on a spray schedule (see the Natural Gardener website for more details about spray schedules).

– Consider purchasing a live Christmas tree for the holidays. Afghan (Eldarica), Aleppo, and Italian Stone pines can often be found this time of year. A trick for watering these trees indoors is to place ice cubes on top of the soil, making sure there is a sturdy saucer underneath the pot. Avoid keeping these trees indoors for any longer than two weeks.

– Choose and prepare areas for planting fruit trees in January. Many fruit trees, berries, and grapes become available in bare root form in January. Most fruit trees require a partner to pollinate. Therefore, choose a full sun area with plenty of space for two trees, for each type of fruit you wish to plant. Most fruiting plants prefer a well-drained, fertile, slightly acidic soil to a depth of 24 inches.

– Clean and oil gardening tools and equipment. Sharpen and repair tools, as necessary.

– Recycle old phone books and Christmas trees. Towards the end of December, look for the dumpsters dedicated to phone book recycling in the parking lots of major grocery stores. After the holidays, turn Christmas trees into free mulch! If you live in an Austin area with “Curbside Christmas Tree Recycling” service, you can leave your tree on the curb for any of the three weeks after Christmas. If you don’t have this service, take your tree to Christmas Tree Recycling at Zilker Park. The dates are December 28-29, January 4, and January 5. Last year over 3,000 trees were recycled and turned into mulch!

Thank you, Natural Gardener! Check out the store website for additional information. Or, take a trip to see them this winter. Store hours and directions are below. Happy winter gardening!

The REALTORS® at Regent Property Group support homegrown Austin businesses like the Natural Gardener. They also help homebuyers stay on top of the Austin Luxury Home market. Looking for homes in Steiner Ranch, or a lakefront lot for your home on Lake Austin? Regent can help.

Natural Gardener Hours: Mon-Sat: 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Sunday: 10 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., (Hours Change Seasonally)

Address: 8648 Old Bee Caves Road Austin, Texas 78735, Phone Number: (512) 288-6113

Directions to the Natural Gardener: This gardening store is relatively close for residents with South Austin homes in Belterra, Legend Oaks, or Sendera. For those coming from other parts of Austin, just avoid visiting the Natural Gardener during rush hour traffic!

From South Austin: Take Hwy 290/Hwy 71 into Oak Hill. When you reach the “Y”, take Hwy 71 West. Go about 1 mile to the traffic light at Fletcher. Turn right onto Fletcher and go about 1/4 mile until it dead ends into Old Bee Caves Road. Turn left onto Old Bee Caves Road and go 1/2 mile. The Natural Gardener is on the right.

From North and Northwest Austin: Heading south on MoPac, take the Southwest Parkway exit. Turn right onto Southwest Parkway. Check the odometer, go 4.5 miles. Turn left onto Travis Cook Road. Go about 1/2 mile until it dead ends into Old Bee Caves Road. The Natural Gardener is just to your right.

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