Friday, December 21, 2012

Timely Tips for December

Here's this month's column for the "Marion Gardener," a little later than usual. Enjoy.

Timely Gardening Tips for Marion County (December)
David Y. Goodman
UF/IFAS Marion County Master Gardener

Merry Christmas, green thumbs!

Unlike our poor sad friends up north, we don’t have to worry about “White Christmases” and all that nonsense here in Marion County. No… here Christmas is a time of cool nights and sunny days… and ongoing gardening. I grew up in South Florida, where it’s always green, so the multiple freezes and brown grass up here took some getting used to – but it’s a lot better than living further north, where snow, drizzling rain and weeks of grey skies drop your dopamine levels into the basement of despair.

If you have a greenhouse or a sunny window, December is a great month to start sprouting sweet potatoes. Toothpicks, a healthy tuber and a jar of water are all you need to get going. Poke three or four toothpicks into a sweet potato at about 1/3 of the way down from the end with the stem scar/little eyes on it. Then use those to suspend it into the jar, and fill it with water so at least half the potato is submerged. You may have to change the water occasionally if it gets nasty, but that’s part of the fun. In a few weeks, sprouts will appear. When they get 2-3” long, break them off and stick them into some soil. They’ll root and the potato will continue making new sprouts, sometimes for months. In fact, you can just about plant an entire bed from one good potato in the window. By March, you ought to have plenty of little vines ready to go.

Another thing you can do this month is create new garden spaces. The weeds grow really slowly during the winter and the weather outside is perfect for working. I like to use this season to double dig new plots, build raised beds and clean up and mulch around my dormant trees and shrubs. Don’t wait until spring to get rolling – it’s better to get things pretty and functional now before the rush to plant starts.

Ever start trees from seeds? Though they don’t come true to type, many trees will produce wonderfully even without being a named variety. I’ve started pecans, peaches, persimmons, loquats and other attractive trees around my yard – for free. Many seeds and nuts that fall to the ground late in the year need a time of chilling to sprout – and that time is now. Soak acorns, chestnuts, pecans, hickory nuts, black walnuts and other seeds in water for a day or two, then pick a spot in your yard (or use a pot) to plant them. The chill of winter should initiate germination them and in spring, you’ll have baby trees popping up. I’m experimenting with mixed nuts from the supermarket this year – why not? At $3 a bag, I’ve nothing to lose – even though I know some varieties will be out of our growing range. Interestingly, trees that start from seed often have faster growth and stronger taproots than those which are bought and transplanted. It will take a long time for them to bear this way – but who knows – you may end up with something really cool. If you’ve got a scientific streak and like to experiment, this is a cheap way to satiate your inquiring mind. (Though you might want to mark where you’ve planted things so you don’t accidentally decapitate your seedlings during a spring mowing!)

Enjoy the chill air – and enjoy celebrating the Nativity with your family, friends and plants.

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At December 22, 2012 at 8:33 AM , Blogger Kimberly said...

We're working on our raised beds too...hoping for a really great garden this spring. I've grown some palms from seed, and avacado. But the avacado shriveled and died when I transplanted it. Second go, with a gigantic seed this time around...we'll see. As for the grocery nuts...great idea!

At December 22, 2012 at 11:25 AM , Blogger David The Good said...

It's worth a shot. If you're far enough south - which I think you are - you can grow macademia nuts and tropical almond. Yeehaw!

I wonder what happened to your avocado? Sounds like a fungal thing to me. Now I usually start five or six at the same time for redundancy... I really hate waiting and then having one kick off. Been there, done that!

I've got two hass varieties started in my greenhouse, along with a giant Thai variety (I had a send one of those but it's now planted happily in Ft. Lauderdale). Of course, the varieties I'm starting won't grow this far north, but hope springs eternal. ;)

I really love starting trees from seed - I'm glad you're in the same boat. Isn't it amazing?


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