Smith County Horticulturist
First, for Smith County residents considering applying for the Smith County Master Gardener volunteer program, Friday is the deadline to turn in your application.
Participants in the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service program, pledge to assist in Extension-sponsored horticulture and gardening educational programs in exchange for in-depth training in all aspects of home horticulture.
For more information about the Master Gardeners program, contact the Smith County office at 903-590-2980. Applications are online at easttexasgardening.tamu.edu in the Educational Programs section.
To get the most out of poinsettias, chose ones with bright yellow, but mostly closed flowers in the center of the colorful bracts.
The leaves should be a healthy dark green color. Don't let it get cold on the way home (maybe place in a large bag to keep cold air off until you get in the car, and get it home as soon as possible).
Place your plants in a well-lit location, but away from cold windows, hot fireplaces, or drafts from a vent. Pots wrapped in decorative foil can hold water, which can cause roots to begin to rot, shortening the life of your plant.
Water only when the soil feels dry (but don't let it get so dry it wilts).
Remove decorative foil when watering, let it drain, and then replace the foil. There is no need to fertilize it at this time of year.
GARDEN CLEAN UP
Chop them up if you can, mix in shredded leaves and in no time (or at least in a year) you will have rich compost to add to any planting project.
This is also the perfect time to refresh the layer of mulch around perennials and shrubs. Maybe you have too many leaves for the compost heap; run your mower repeatedly over the leaves to chop them up and use them to cover bare ground or top off mulch in your flower beds or garden.
As the mulch layer of leaves (or other once living things like tree trimmings, bark products or pine needles) decomposes, it enriches the soil.
Because it continuously breaks down, it needs to be periodically refreshed to keep doing its job of weed suppression, water conservation and insulation from temperature extremes.
The thickness should be maintained at no less than 2.5 inches, and keep the material away from direct contact with the base of shrubs and trees. Instead, taper the thickness so the center is open like a donut.
Don't get in a hurry to prune woody trees, shrubs, and fruit trees. Late December through February is the optimum time.
Overgrown shrubs that are crowding one another, hiding windows, blocking entrance ways and barren at the base may be good candidates for removal and replaced with more appropriate plantings.
During the dormant season, younger shrubs and small sapling trees can be dug and moved most successfully, provided that sufficient roots are maintained during the process.
This is also a good time to get vegetable and annual flower garden sites ready for spring planting.
Loosen compacted soil, incorporate lots of compost, and cover with a mulch of leaves to
keep weeds from taking over. By doing this now, you will avoid the problem that often happens in spring when frequent rains keep the soil too wet to cultivate, thus delaying spring planting and perhaps missing ideal planting windows of time.
The isles between rows are an ideal place to put excess leaves, creating an all-weather walkway and reducing soil compaction. By the end of next year, the leaves will have turned into rich compost.
YOUR GARDEN TOOLS
Steps generally include draining the fuel tank and engine of fuel — or using a fuel stabilizing additive, which allows you to leave fuel in the tank over winter; draining and changing the oil; cleaning and sharpening, adjusting and lubricating parts as needed; and replacing or cleaning the air filter.
Remove the sparkplug and place a teaspoon of clean oil in the cylinder and turn the engine over with the starter. This coats the cylinder walls and valves and protects against rust.
Put the old sparkplug back or replace it with a new one. Batteries should be cleaned off, especially the posts. A little maintenance now will help prevent early spring visits to the repair shop.
Drain and store garden hoses and watering equipment in an accessible location. The lawn and other plants may need water during a prolonged dry spell.
If you put out seeds such as sunflower, thistle, safflower, and millet, plus suet, you will draw a large diversity of birds.
Once you begin putting out bird food, continue feeding them through the spring.
Keith Hansen is Smith County Horticulturist with the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. His web page is http://EastTexasGardening.tamu.edu.