December 2005
Victoria County Master Gardener Association
Ground rules and tools for December
December 1, 2005

Victoria County Master Gardener

As you look over your garden and lawn in December - beyond holly, poinsettias and other holiday plants - remember to notice such problems as brown patch disease and various insects. Brown patch is a disease that attacks turf causing it to look sick and stressed. It is caused by too much fertilizer and too frequent watering, improper watering times and other stresses. Fungicides that contain products such as terrachlor, thiophanate-methyl, propiconazole and myclobutanil provide the best control for brown patch, but remember the causes of it so you can eliminate stressing the lawn altogether.

Various stinkbugs, leaf-footed bugs and coreids are quite prevalent now on fruiting vegetables (tomatoes, peppers, eggplants) still growing in the garden. These can be controlled with a number of products.

Following are those products with their approved withdrawn time (given in parentheses in days) before the vegetables can be eaten after being sprayed: cyfluthrin (zero), esfenvalerate (one), insecticidal soap (zero), permethrin (zero, not permitted on tomatoes with mature fruit less than 1 inch), pyrethrins (zero), rotenone (one) and carbaryl (zero-seven, depending on the label).

You will also notice during this time that pecan trees will continue dropping nuts - some good, some bad. Good ones can be harvested and used for holiday gift-giving and cooking.

Recommended chores for the garden in December vary from plant to tool use. Now is a great time to prune berry-producing plants. If you have holly or yaupon, you can prune now and use as decoration during the holiday season. So that you will know what plants and design elements you want in your upcoming spring beds, now is a good time to study gardening books for ideas. During winter or periods of infrequent use, drain gasoline from power tools and run engines until the gas in the carburetor is used up.

If you are a gardener who just has to dig in the dirt, this is a great time to prepare new beds or beds for roses. Work into the area needed composted manure, pine bark and similar material and till with the soil. Provide irrigation to turf in dry periods. Use this time also to check irrigation systems or hoses. Also, you can set out cool season bedding plants such as pansies, violas, snapdragons and dianthus.

Another gardening tip for the month just might be to give a plant that will last for several seasons. One in particular is the Christmas cactus. This plant can be incorporated into the garden and maintained for several years to come.

In nature, the Christmas cactus is an epiphyte, meaning it grows hanging from trees in tropical areas. Its foliage is a light green with flat chain-like segments forming a blooming flower at the end. It is available with blooms in a reddish color as well as lavender and pink, coral or apricot and white or near-white.

This plant can be incorporated into your garden. It is recommended that you plant it in a container and place it on the porch or in a setting where it will not be soaked with rainwater over a period of several days. It blooms best if kept in a container because you can control the water level. Plant it in half sand and half fine bark or course peat moss.

The cactus requires normal gardening tasks all through the year. Starting with December through February is the time to give the plant a rest. No water or fertilization is needed. Once the flower has bloomed, the growth activity of the plant will commence. In March through May the cactus will begin to grow. Sprouts will appear at the tip of the joints. During this time period begin to water and add small amounts of water-diluted fertilizer. In June and July the plant needs a second rest period. Again, water sparingly, but don't let the soil dry completely. Don't fertilize during this stage.

During the final phases of its year, August through September, it is best to increase the water so the plant doesn't dry out. Buds will begin to form. This is a time to keep the plant in one place; it doesn't like sudden changes. If it does receive a change of light in this phase it could cause the buds to drop off. In October through November buds should be in evidence. The cooler weather signals the plant to bloom and anything above 70 degrees at night hinders the plant's bud development. Water during this time period.

This plant tolerates our 90-100 degree summers. Growth of the plant will be slower during this time due to the heat. Other problems that can be associated with this plant are insects. This plant attracts mealy bugs, scale and aphids. One solution is to dip a cotton swab in alcohol and rub them off. Use houseplant insecticides if the infestation increases. Other difficulties with the Christmas cactus are waiting for the weather conditions to be right for it to bloom. This plant is a short day plant. It loves to be in darkness from 6 p.m. until 8 a.m. beginning Sept. 1 until it blooms. Another condition that triggers the plant to bloom is a temperature of 55 degrees or cooler. This eliminates loss of short day requirements and produces a climate that will encourage bud growth.

The thought behind receiving this plant is the recipient can continue to receive joy from this plant through the years. He or she will also be able to propagate the plant. Propagation is best after the flower has bloomed in December. You can break off 3- to 4-inch segments. Place them in moist sand to root. Repot once the roots are visible.

Stay tuned to upcoming articles this month with various other ideas for gardening gifts. You may wish to share an heirloom plant with a member of your family for posterity, create and give a garden journal, or obtain ideas for last-minute gifts. All to come in the next several holiday issues.

Give the master gardeners the gift of your ideas for 2006 for this holiday season. We, in turn, will try to give back with articles on your favorite topics.