Cold weather doesn’t mean no gardening

Houston “winters” are an odd mix of weather, sometimes cold and wet, other times just cold. Then, we have days that call for shorts and a t-shirt. One day could be 70 degrees with a frost the next morning. Just keep a jacket in your car. Winter is a great time for gardening in the Houston area! There are lots of things to do, that can’t be done any other time of the year or are easier to do, during the winter. On top of the list is planting trees, at the bottom (saved for a rainy day) is deciding on next springs garden veggies.

  • Plant trees and shrubs all winter. Planting in winter encourages root growth, instead of top growth. When the growing season starts, your plants will have a bigger root system.
  • Buy a copy of Year Round Vegetables, Fruits and Flowers For Metro Houston, by Bob Randall, Ph.D. Stick it under the Christmas tree, for yourself.
  • Plant herbs in your garden. Buying cut herbs in the grocery store is for suckers expensive. One plant costs about $3 and most live from year to year, even with neglect. They can fit into any landscape, just find a sunny spot in a flower bed and you’re good to go…harvest as needed. You will need to plant cilantro every winter and basil every spring
  • Plant winter veggies from seed, it’s easy…ask Dr. Bob Randall. My winter garden is always better than my summer garden.
  • Late November to early December is onion planting time, in Houston. Onions are SUPER easy! Plant a row behind your pansies, no one will know that you are growing onions and they will think you planted something with an architectural look. It took me about 15 minutes to plant 200 slips.
  • Schedule professional tree trimming for December or January. Get on the schedule now, so it’s at your convenience. We recommend Treeco Tree Service, 281-356-2754. Jack Fitzgerald is the only guy who touches my old trees at home.
  • Feed your trees and shrubs organically. They will really pop in the spring.
  • Have your sprinkler system checked, repaired, added to and adjusted this winter, while irrigators are not busy. Call Allied Sprinkler at 281-463-6663. Jim Rockwell takes care of our sprinklers here at the nursery and at our tree farm. As your landscape matures, adjustments should be made to the system. I’ve noticed that when a sprinkler system is over 7 years old, it starts having “issues”. Don’t wait until it suddenly is 90 degrees and it doesn’t rain for a week, to find out you have a problem.
  • Clean your gutters regularly during the fall.
  • Blow the leaves out of your flower beds, off the driveway and onto the lawn. Mow over them, effectively adding a layer of organic matter to your yard. Spray the yard with Horticultural Molasses to kick off the composting process. As a last resort, rake your leaves and start a compost pile. DO NOT put them out for trash pick up! Doing this is costly to the city and not environmentally sound. The city PAYS to dump it at companies that will…compost it, and sell it back to you…cut out the middle man.
  • Spray Weed Beater Ultra to control winter weeds in the lawn. Just don’t be vindictive while spraying them, hit them and move on…more is NOT better. Spray as soon as you notice them…or just pull them.
  • Do some charity work by making a lasagna/chili/casserole and dropping it off at your local fire station, (or independent nursery). They are always there for you and deserve to know you appreciate their heroic efforts to get you out of a bad situation…(or appease the HOA).
  • Remove the black mulch from your beds, bag it and put it on the curb with a note saying “free mulch”.  It will be gone in no time. Re-mulch with a natural colored, locally produced mulch. Remember, mulch should NEVER touch your plants!
  • Fill low spots in the lawn with top soil that has compost added. Areas that get Brown Patch every year are probably low.
  • If you are building a new house, save 10% of the amount you are spending on  the home for landscaping. Tossing in a few thousand dollars of plants around a half million dollar home is a huge mistake. A cheap landscaping job will hurt the value of your home and make the other yards gossip.
  • Consider a renewal pruning project instead of ripping everything out and starting over. Good planning and strategy can save you lots of money and effort. Renewal pruning can take 3 to 5 years, but the results are worth it.  We can recommend you, on how to tame plants that have been long neglected and out of hand. If you’re putting the house up for sale, this probably wouldn’t be your best option. If you’re buying a house with a wild yard, this could be the answer for you (tell the seller the yard needs serious attention, they may cut the price…it’s worth a try!).
  • Divide spring blooming bulbs. Plant Amaryllis and Paperwhites for spring color, year after year.
  • Move plants that are not happy or are not where you want them. Cut them back, by 1/3, before you start to dig. There will be less plant to maneuver around and a better chance the plant will survive.
  • Have Freeze Cloth and sod stables on hand in case of severe weather. Freeze Cloth is reusable, doesn’t need washing after every use and will last for years. Do not use blankets  or sheets that can get very heavy if wet and crush your plants. Do not use plastic sheeting that can cause more damage than doing nothing. Weigh the cost, of the one time cost of Freeze Cloth, to your time and effort of washing sheets and blankets. It also makes a great makeshift tent for the kids outside…you wouldn’t let them using your best sheets…so, why would you?
  • Not quite ready to commit to having your yard totally redone? Get the process moving. Fill a notebook with ideas, pictures and 3 lists, one of plants you love, one of plants you hate and the things you want in your yard. A Gazebo, pool, hammock, Bocce court, putting green, play area, dog run, horse shoes, storage…lots of things to consider! Spend some time thinking about how much time, effort and investment you are willing to dedicate to a new yard. If you only have 15 minutes a week to commit to your yard, pave it and paint it green. With a 2 hour investment, you could have a mini Versailles. Hire a designer or landscape architect to draw up a plan, ask for references. Make a bulleted list to ensure the designer/architect understands everything you want.  If you say “must have a dog run” and the plan  doesn’t have one, there was a communication problem…be very clear. Designers charge by the hour, for designs. You can put it in, chunk by chunk or dive in and do the whole thing. Remember that a minimum of 10% of the value of your home, should be in your yard. Existing trees, grass and plants you want to keep count towards that 10%.
  • Plan your spring veggie/herb/fruit garden. Visit  These are the seeds I use in my garden. They have some great mixes, heirlooms, Certified Organic seeds, the best international hybrids and open-pollinated varieties. Check out the Nuts, Fruit and Vegetable section in the Library section of our website.

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