December 2006
Victoria County Master Gardener Association
Ground Rules And Tools

December 07, 2006
BY OLIVIA BLANCHARD - VICTORIA COUNTY MASTER GARDENER
EDITED BY CHARLA BORCHERS LEON

Upon hearing the word December, our thoughts seem to automatically come up with lists. Varied weather conditions influence our lists of garden chores and plans. The shortened, chilly days are a time for tool maintenance and garden planning. Outdoor actions on warmer days will help insure a flourishing retreat for 2007.

COLD DAY CHECKLIST

As the north wind blows, garden tools such as hoes, clippers, mower blades, shovels, and pruners can be inventoried for sharpening, cleaning and oiling. Commercial businesses can do this service. You may choose to get steel wool, spray-type oil, or sharpening stones to complete these tasks yourself.

Plant saps accumulate on the blades and prevent tools from making sharp, clean cuts. A fine grade of steel wool will remove build-up. Spray-on oil may help as a solvent for sap. Several passes with a sharpening stone or file will provide a good cutting edge.

Digging holes will be easier if blade tools such as shovels, sharp shooters and hoes have their beveled edges sharpened. Both sides of a shovel will need to be honed. Only the outside blade of a hoe should be beveled with a stone. After sharpening any tool, the filings should be wiped away and the blades oiled.

The lawn mower blades can be sharpened. Changing to a mulching blade for summer cutting will add to the health of your lawn. The grass clippings will decompose and add nutrients back to the soil.

Rakes, trowels, shovels, weed implements and garden forks can be cleaned and protected from dirt and rust by using a 5-gallon bucket or small garbage can with a lid. Fill the container three-fourths full of sharp, builder's sand. Mix in one quart of clean oil. Plunge the tools into the mixture several times so that the oil protects the metal. Save the sand/oil mixture for next time.

Order seeds

When cold weather parks outside, pull out the garden catalogs and order early for seed varieties. It may not be the time to take a jaunt to plant emporiums or nurseries, but you can locate some on-line.

My husband and I invite fellow plant lovers to set a date for traveling during the warmer season. It is a great Christmas gift.

WISH LIST

Do you ever get that blank sheet to write down your holiday wishes? My list is short. I ask for gift certificates to places that sell garden items. I can use these gifts at any time. Garden information can be found in books and magazines.

When requesting or giving published garden materials, be specific. Specify books that address our area of Texas. Books that detail subjects such as trees, perennials and annuals, bulbs, native plants, wildflowers or garden structures may just be what someone needs.

If you give or receive Christmas plants, then the suggested care is making sure the pot wrapping doesn't plug up the bottom drainage. Too much water smothers these gifts. Also, do not fertilize new plants. And fertilization of other indoor plants should be reduced during the winter season.

A very fragrant plant, Rosemarinus officinales, or common herb called rosemary, will be seen in a topiary form on Christmas shelves. Potted rosemary will bring not only fragrance, but will be a great herb for poultry cooking. Indoors, the plant needs a bright window and good drainage. Plant the rosemary outside where a person can brush the leaves to emit a fragrance. It will endure heat and drought, but must have good drainage. Propagate it by division or tip cutting. Your new plants can become gifts to share.

For sunny days

Trees and shrubs can be planted now until February. A tree can be chosen for shade, wildlife shelter, color, fruit/nut production, or aesthetic reasons. Before planting shrubs and trees, make sure the mature size doesn't interfere with power lines, existing structures or underground lines.

Cool season bedding plants such as dianthus, violas, pansies, stock and snapdragons can be put into the ground. Roses will be put in during January or February, but the beds can be prepared by mixing composted manure, pine bark or compost with existing soil.

Gardeners can assist nature by recycling discards into valuable soil nutrients (compost) and improve tilth. Composting decreases bagging and landfilling. Use that compost as topdressing, fertilizing grass areas, preparing new beds, loosening soils or mulching.

The compost area may just be an area of your garden or yard. Perhaps a day can be spent building a structure to hold the compost. The Victoria Educational Gardens at the airport has a place for making compost. Detailed information on composting was presented in the Nov. 9 publication of this column. Go to the Master Gardener Web site, community.victoriaadvocate.com/groups/ VictoriaCountyMasterGardenerAssociation, and click on Gardeners' Dirt articles with the November date for reference.

TOXICITY OF POINSETTIAS

The rich, deep, varied colors of the poinsettia add to holiday décor, and they are beginning to show up in all the stores. The legend that the poinsettia is toxic has been passed on since l919. The story begins when an Army officer's 2-year-old daughter became ill and died after ingesting poinsettia bracts. A doctor attributed the cause of death to this plant. Since then, many tests on the poinsettia have disproved toxicity that would cause death. The legend though, still survives today.

As a member of the spurge family, or Euphorbiaceae, all parts of the plant contain white latex. The latex may cause skin allergy, rash or eye irritation.

The Society of American Florists states that the poinsettia is the most widely tested consumer plant. Extensive research done by universities, hospitals, and poison control center proves that this plant does not cause death. Eating a substantial amount of the bracts may cause possible nausea, vomiting or stomach sensitivity.

So do not let children or pets eat the bracts and do not allow the latex to remain on skin or get into eyes. If these precautions are followed, you can comfortably add the poinsettia to your holiday décor.