November 2006
Victoria County Master Gardener Association
GROUND RULES AND TOOLS

By Victoria County Master Gardeners Mary and Paul Meredith

November is a great time to be out in the yard. And, if we get one of those early cool rainy periods, thatís OK too. It will give us the opportunity to plan and scheme changes and improvements to our yard and landscape. Itís time for reflection on what worked in the yard this year and what we can do better. But before you start plans for next year, finish this year by taking care of a few essential tasks.

Winterize Tropicals

Tropical plants all need special care to prosper next year. Our weather is not tropical; we cycle through warm-and-wet, then cold-and-dry periods, and combinations of the two, here on the Texas coast. Winters in tropical climes are cool, sometimes below 50 degrees, and dry because they have no monsoonal rains. Tropicals from zone 10 and 11 plants need close to those winter conditions. While tropicals can grow in our warm to hot summer season with additional water during dry summers, both wet roots and our winter temperatures that are too cool (below their native range) can kill them. So you must protect them by reducing moisture - or their roots rot. And, protect them from cold. Tender, potted tropicals that donít drop their leaves, like Bird of Paradise, ought to be brought inside, to a warm, light location with good air circulation. They go dormant, so cut back on water and feeding. If you take plants in for cold periods and out for warmer ones, select good outside locations, sunny, on the south or west side, protected from winds and not wet.

Lush-growth, hardy, deciduous tropicals like elephant ears, bananas and gingers are beautiful. Gingers - the curcumas, some hedychiae, some zingibers and a few costaceae varieties - can adapt to local temperatures if they donít have wet feet. If they are to stay in the ground, you need to see that they are in raised beds with well draining soil. Water must run quickly through the bed in winter. Cut dead growths back after they go dormant, raise them if necessary, and add mulch to protect them. Do the same thing for elephant ears and bananas.

Plumeria with their lush leaves and beautiful blossoms are really tropical and need to be dry for two to three winter months. Before temperatures drop below 40 degrees, you can dig and pot them, and bring them inside. But itís easier to just dig them, knock off all the dirt, treat them with a fungicide, and store them in a cool dark place. Donít water. In our yard we dig up 6-footers, bare root them, loosely wrap roots in newspaper and place them all in a single tub in the back of our unheated garage from December until the last frost.

Plant Spring Bulbs and Wildflowers Now

Love spring bulbs and wildflowers in your yard? Itís not too late to plant spring bulbs and wildflower seeds. Good bulb selections should still be in stores. Plan locations for them, then ďpickíum up and putíum inĒ. Bulbs should be planted no deeper than three times the diameter of the bulb and be well drained. Select your wildflower seeds - or select assortments for a more natural look - and get them in the ground soon, because most natives take a long time to sprout. Plant these seeds shallow, covered by no more than an eighth inch of soil. Water them lightly and keep them moist, not wet, through mid-January.

When It Rains, Plan Your Garden

If you have a vegetable and fruit garden, shop the catalogs and/or your favorite local seed source in November for your spring garden selections. Order or purchase seeds now so that you will have them ready when the weather and soil temperatures are right.

ODDS AND ENDS FOR NOVEMBER


Get ready for winter birds

Get feeders ready for migrating songbirds now. While hummingbird migration ended in mid-October, donít forget to keep a hummingbird feeder or two going for the little guys that winter here.

Prepare your flowerbeds for spring


Attack late summer and early fall weeds. Yank them, dig them, and get them in the trash. If you have heavy clay soils or had problems with too much moisture for too long in your beds, raise a bed or two. Turn the bed, and then amend the soil by adding 1-2 inches of coarse sand and work in 3-4 inches of compost. Put weed blocker down or add a quarter-inch layer of moist newspaper to prevent new weeds. Top the bed with a 3-4 inch layer of mulch to retain winter moisture.

Winterize your equipment

As you stop mowing, do not roll mowing gear into storage and forget it. Drain fuel, change the oil in 4-cycle engines, lube parts, sharpen blades, etc., before you store.

It is too soon to do winter pruning

But it is a good time to plan your wintertime pruning. Walk your yard, see what needs to be cut back or shaped. Look for weak branches, branches that cross others, suckers and low branches that detract from the shape of your trees or shrubs. But, donít cut yet.

Transplant trees and perennial shrubs


Select locations that match the plantsí needs, light, drainage, etc. Consider mature plant size as well; nothing looks tackier than a 15-foot tree crowded into a 6-foot space. Moving plants to a new location or putting in new plants now encourages over-winter root development. Roots establish themselves and produce a hardier plant in spring. Texas A&M Universityís (TAMUís) Dr. Bill Welch reminds us from his web site: ďdonít spare the pruning shears on bare-rooted woody plants. Cut the tops back at least one-third to one-half, to compensate for the roots lost when digging the plant.Ē

Bee Tips

Numerous bee attacks have occurred across Victoria and surrounding counties recently. People are concerned about what to do about aggressive swarms of bees. What should you do about bees near your residence; what should you do if you encounter a swarm? We will go into living around bees in greater detail in a later Gardenersí Dirt article. For now, look at the side box with practical bee tips from bee experts in the TAMU Entomology Dept. - adapted to the Victoria area. Clip this, put it on your refrigerator, and review it with all family members.


TEXAS A&M UNIVERSITYíS
BEE SAFE QUICK GUIDE

WHAT TO DO IF YOU FIND BEES ON YOUR PROPERTY

1.  Disregard any bees foraging on flowers; they  will not attack and are doing good - pollinating our plants.
2.  Stay away from all honey bee swarms and colonies.
3.  If being chased by bees, get away from bees as quickly as possible.
4.  While running away protect your face and eyes as much as possible.
5.  Take shelter in an enclosed area such as a car, truck or building.
6.  Do not hide in water or thick brush.
7.  Do not stand still and swat at bees; rapid movements will cause them to sting.
8.  Call a pest control company for assistance in destroying the colony.
9.  Contact the County Extension Agent for more information.

WHAT TO DO IF STUNG

1.  Get away from bees as quickly as possible. Go to a safe area away from the bees such as inside a car, truck or building.
2.  Pull or scrape (donít squeeze) stingers from skin as soon as possible. Most venom is released within 1 minute.
3.  Wash stung areas with soap and water like any other wound to prevent infection.
4.  Apply ice to relieve pain and swelling.
5.  Seek medical attention:
- if breathing is difficult,
- if stung many times, or
- if allergic to bee stings.