Your Zone 8-10 December Garden

Your Zone 8-10 December Garden

Timothy Hammond: Big City Gardener

It's beginning to look like the holiday season, and I am here for it. I'm talking about warm jackets, hot chocolate, and nights in the garden by the firepit. But just because we are busy with the holiday festivities, don’t think the garden gets neglected for one second. There is much to do if you are in or around Zone 9. 

What I am planting this month (December) 

In Houston, TX,  zone 9B, our average temperature is 48-60 degrees Fahrenheit in December.  This is the time of year when I usually complain about the colder days because I miss those spring and summer temperatures, but not this year.  

December is a busy month for me in the garden.  This is the month that I order seeds for my spring and summer gardens. I also start spring crops like tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants this month.  So, I will bury my face in my favorite seed catalogs for the next few days. You know what's crazy? Everything I do is usually digital, except for looking for seeds. Only so many things are as satisfying as holding and looking through the various seed catalogs.   

seedling catalogue

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While I plan on spending a lot of time shopping for and starting seeds, I will still pay attention to the garden. No way. Since I have expanded to the front, I have even more garden beds to plant. Last month, I talked about planting a couple hundred cloves of garlic. Well, this month, I am focusing on planting my onions.  Every year, I say that I will grow my onions from seeds, but when my friend and owner of Quality Feed and Garden calls and tells me that he just got a fresh onion starts, my plans change.  This year, I am growing the following varieties. 

  • White Bermuda- This is my favorite variety of onions to grow. They may not form giant bulbs but can be harvested as large scallions in 30 days. I disregard plant spacing and an excessive amount of this variety.  I harvest some as scallions throughout the winter and allow the rest to form bulbs. 
  • Texas 1015 Y- This is the most famous variety of onions grown in Texas. They produce extremely sweet, 6” bulbs. This legendary variety can be stored for up to 3 months when cured correctly. 
  • Red Southern Belle- I love red onions but hate that they are more expensive than their yellow or white counterparts at the grocery store. So, every year, I plant as many red onions as possible. This variety takes 120 days to reach maturity and forms 4” bulbs.  
  • Yellow Granex- This 5” flat variety will be the sweetest onion in your garden. While they do not store nearly as well as the other varieties planted, they will be the first to be harvested since they only need 90 days to reach maturity. 

When planting onions, pay attention to the different varieties: long-day onions, short-day onions, and intermediate-day onions. In case you are unaware, the variety you decide to plant is essential.  The amount of daylight is what triggers onions to form bulbs. If you grow the wrong variety, you will end up with many green tops and small bulbs. The onions will resemble spring onions instead of bulb onions. 

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If you live in the southern United States, you should grow the short-day variety. Short-day onion bulbs in climates that receive 10-12 hours of daylight. Planting in the winter or early spring requires around 100 days to reach maturity. Here's a tip: the earlier you plant the onions, the larger the bulbs.  

Intermediate-day onions grow well in the middle of the United States. They produce decent-sized bulbs as long as your region receives 12-14 hours of daylight. A good friend who taught me a lot about gardening would plant hundreds and hundreds of these bulbs. In my opinion, they have the best flavor. This variety stores better than short-day onions but not as well as long-day onions. 

onion varieties

Long-day onions are the only variety you should plant if you live in colder climates like the northern United States. These varieties need 14-16 hours of daylight before forming bulbs. They are the best variety. If you’re looking for an onion that can be stored for months, cure them properly.    

 

What AM I HARVESTING THIS MONTH: 

  • Kale- I know that many people don’t like kale, but I am a big fan. This month, I am harvesting Dino kale and curly-leaf blue kale. I always plant extra to harvest some at the baby stage while allowing the rest to mature. 
  • Lettuce- Now that it is ready, it’s time to return to harvesting and eating salads daily.  
  • Collards- I am not the biggest fan of collards, but I know they are full of vitamins, so I am willing to overlook the bad taste for the immense health benefits. 
  • Mustard Greens- There’s nothing better than spicy mustard greens in a salad. Whether you enjoy raw or cooked, these are a must in my garden. 

harvesting 

What didn’t work in the garden this year?  

Sweet potatoes. For two years in a row now, I have had subpar sweet potato harvests.  Such poor harvests that I didn’t even eat any of the tubers. I planted six slips and harvested less than 2 pounds of sweet potatoes. This is not common; sweet potatoes are usually prolific producers, but I know what I did wrong.  

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What have I learned over the past two years?   

First, even though sweet potatoes love heat, the earlier you plant them in the late spring/early summer, the better. 

Second. Just because sweet potato vines multiply and cover the beds as if they are mulch, they are not, and the beds growing these tubers still need mulch and protection from the sun.  

Third, even though sweet potatoes are said to be drought-resistant, you will only get a good harvest by watering the bed consistently and adequately. Simply adjusting your Hoselink spray nozzle to shower and wetting the leaves will not suffice.  Apply the water directly to the root zone in the soil, watering the garden bed deeply.  

sweet potato

What else am I doing around the garden?  

This month, I am finally adding blackberries to my garden. Over the summer, while browsing for plants on Facebook marketplace, I found 3 Natchez blackberry plants. I can't be the only person who spends countless hours browsing for plants on the marketplace, am I?  These are a delightful, thornless variety labeled as Texas superstars by Texas A&M. Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on your outlook on things, only 2  made it through the extreme summer heat.  So, I will add them to the side garden. Now, I need to figure out a trellis system to support the Blackberry canes.  

I am also trying to decide on the remaining fruit trees to add to the front garden. This month, I will find a pear, an orange tree, and another type of fruit tree for the front garden. Do you have any suggestions?  

If you haven’t figured out by now, I am a big fan of efficient gardening. While I thoroughly enjoy spending hours in the garden, I want that time to be spent how I see fit—not forced to care for many plants that may or may not yield well. This is why I am such a big fan of perennials.  

Happy holidays to everyone. Let us finish this gardening year strong and prepare for another year of spring gardening. That’s one thing I love the most about gardening. There is always another season with more opportunities to grow and learn.  

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