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Rockwall County Master Gardener Winter 2022 Newsletter

December - January - February

In this issue...

Pruning nandinas

Leaf mold compost

Garden tools

Orchid care

Ask a Master Gardener

Vegetable planting guide

Our favorites

Community news

Upcoming events


Featured articles

Pruning nandinas

Nandina or Heavenly Bamboo (Nandina domestica) is an evergreen or semi-evergreen broadleaf shrub, which is tough and durable. It is a slow-to-moderate-growing shrub, growing 12 – 24 inches per year depending on conditions, including location, light, fertility and water. Nandinas are rhizomatous, especially the straight species because of its larger size. This means that they spread slowly by underground stems to form small colonies. This also means that pruning procedures are different from most other shrubs.

It is best to prune your Nandina in late January or early February, before the new spring growth begins to emerge, and follow it up with an early spring feeding of a high-nitrogen, lawn-type fertilizer. Careful pruning must be practiced as they are pruned in an uncommon way. If you cut a given stem back almost to the soil line, it will regrow from its base. If you do that to the tallest one-third of the canes every year, you’ll have a constant supply of fresh and new growth coming up from the ground each spring. In severe cases, for example, where extreme cold has “burned ” most of the foliage, you may even want to prune half or more of the canes back to the ground. Prune with hand shears, so you can leave any new growth that is already forming in place. It is best to thin out old stems every year or head back old canes at varying lengths to produce a dense plant. Renew neglected shrubs by removing 1/3 of the oldest canes in the spring of each year for three years. This works with any of the standard types, but you probably wouldn’t want to do it to Nana Nandina varieties. These dwarf varieties do not grow with the same speed and vigor of most other Nandinas. Therefore only prune the few over-tall, lanky, or damaged stems as needed.

Leaf mold compost

Fall is the best time to collect leaves for leaf mold compost. This type of compost is perfect for vegetable gardens, flower beds, and virtually all landscaping. Just as the name implies, leaf mold is the result of the decay of fallen leaves which have started decomposing. Leaf mold is very easy to use and free too. Collect the fallen leaves from deciduous trees and spread in the garden. You may use leaf mold as a soil conditioner or as mulch, spreading it on beds surrounding plants and flowers or in and around your vegetables. As the leaves decompose, they return essential nutrients to soil which is beneficial to your plants and vegetables. Leaf mold helps to lock in the moisture and also keeps the plant roots warm during the winter months. As a bonus, leaf mold attracts earthworms who consume and process decaying leaves. It also acts as a natural habitat during the winter months for all types of insects, including pollinators. Although you can make leaf mold by collecting leaves of all sizes, it helps if you run over the leaves with your lawnmower because the smaller pieces will decompose faster. You can add the small leaves directly to your beds or make a leaf compost pile. If you choose to make a leaf compost pile, be sure and cover the pile with a tarp to keep it moist. Turn the leaf pile once a week to aid in decomposition. Some people prefer to add the leaves to their existing compost. Whatever method you choose to do, be sure you utilize this free gift from nature.

Garden tools

When I add up the amount of money I’ve spent on gardening tools and gadgets in my lifetime I feel like I could’ve been retired by now. There are the cool new inventions that make things a little easier and then there are the tried and true old faithful. My favorite by far is my grandfather’s trench shovel handed down to me (or maybe permanently borrowed from) by my mother. It has some rust on the blade and the wooden handle sometimes gives me splinters but I love it none the less. It makes me happy to think about my grandfather and me using the same tool. Another of my favorites is a hand-held mini tiller/digger. It comes in very handy when planting because it is dual purposed. Another must is a good hand held pruner and lopper. I wish I had a dollar for each pruner I have bought, misplaced, & found again. You should always make sure your gardening tools are clean and dry before storing. This prevents rust and other damage and will help your tools last longer. Here is an article with great tips on tool storage and care. Some gardeners suggest placing a small mailbox near your garden where you can store small, frequently used tools close by. The use of a wagon or wheelbarrow is also a good idea so that you’re not lugging all of your tools around with you each time you move to a different area. There are many great garden tools out there and I can’t wait to see what the future holds.

I bought an orchid at the grocery store – now what?

Orchids grow on every continent except Antarctica and first appeared about 112 million years ago – meaning they were around with the mighty T. Rex! While there are about 28,000 species of orchids and over 300,000 varieties, the most common sold in area stores as a houseplant is the Phalaenopsis.

To best understand how to care for a Phalaenopsis, it really helps to see how this orchid grows in the wild. They grow hanging from trees or rocks! They are called Epiphytes – a plant that grows on another but is not parasitic. They enjoy plentiful indirect sunlight, as they would get on the trunk of a tree and if exposed to bright direct sun their leaves can sunburn. They also enjoy a bit of humidity, often doing well in kitchens and bathrooms, or consider having a pebble tray or humidifier nearby. They prefer a temperature range of 60-77 degrees, but in order to get your orchid to rebloom, they may require a drop in temperature for a few weeks. When watering your orchid, it is important that you don’t get water in the leaves as it can cause the plant to rot. As they naturally grow hanging, we actually plant them upside down and their leaves can’t drain that way. Put the waterspout very close to the growing medium at the base of the plant, after watering let drain completely. Use a paper towel to wick off any water on the leaves. Although it is popular advice – please no ice cubes! Ice can damage the plant. Let the growing medium dry out between watering.

As you might have guessed, orchids do not grow in soil. Potting orchids in soil will kill the orchid as the roots will not get enough oxygen. Many orchids sold in stores are potted in sphagnum moss, which stays moist for a longer period and doesn’t have to be watered as much as bark. After the flowers fall off and the flower stem has turned completely brown, it is a good idea to repot your orchid. You can use the same pot you bought it in, or a similar sized pot with a good drainage hole. You’ll need to purchase a block of sphagnum moss and a bag of orchid bark mix. First, cut off the dead flower stem at the base close to the leaves. Next, place a small handful of moss in a dish of water. Use gloves when handling sphagnum moss as it can be irritating to your skin! While the moss is soaking, grasp the orchid at the base to gently pull out of the pot. You’ll want to wash the roots off, removing any rotten roots and the old growing medium. Next, pour a little of the bark mix in the bottom of the pot. Then grab some of your moss and form a small ball, put it under the center of your orchid and loosely form the roots around the moss ball. Set the roots and moss down in the pot. Now alternate moss pieces and bark in and around the roots until the pot is full again at the base of the leaves. Orchids only need to be repotted every few years or when they are unstable in their pot. More on orchid care.

Ask a master gardener

What gardening tasks should I do this winter?

As the temperatures drop, gardeners begin to forget about the heat of the last few months. It is essential to get out in nature and remember why we love it. Take time to walk in the garden. Smell the cool fresh air. Listen to a bird’s song. Studies have shown that people who listen to the sounds of nature experience less anxiety and depression. As you walk, look at the leaves as they begin to change color and fall. This change occurs when the increasing darkness slows and stops the production of chlorophyll. The green color starts to fade, and the reds, oranges, and yellows become visible.

Most bulbs can be planted in December after being artificially chilled in the refrigerator. Cold tolerant plants such as pansies, snapdragons, pinks, ornamental cabbage, and kale can be planted. Clean and oil tools preparing them for next year. Bring in and clean hummingbird feeders and store for winter. Bird feeders should be cleaned but left out and frequently filled. Prune dead branches from trees. Perennials (plants that live more than one season) need to be trimmed and covered with mulch after the first frost. Leaf litter and some debris can be left undisturbed as it will provide essential shelter for pollinators including hibernating bumble bee queens and the larvae of numerous butterfly and moth species. Water plants deeply before a freeze. Disconnect all hoses from faucets and cover faucets to prevent freezing. Turn off automatic sprinklers to prevent freezing plants, streets, and walkways. Now you can relax and enjoy the cool season plants and begin planning for Spring.

Winter vegetable guide

Vegetable gardening with Laura!

We’ve moved into winter and you might think gardening is over until spring – but it doesn’t have to be! A few projects to consider getting done this winter include getting a soil test, ordering seeds, building new garden beds and compost areas and setting up an indoor seed starting station to grow your own transplants. Read on for more information on that last project!


Transplant –Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts, Cauliflower, Greens (Collard, Mustard), Kale, Lettuce, Spinach, Swiss Chard


Seed Outdoors – Spinach, Swiss Chard

Seed Indoors – Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts, Cabbage, Cauliflower, Greens (Collard, Mustard), Eggplant*, Kale, Leeks, Lettuce, Peppers*, Spinach, Swiss Chard, Tomatoes*

Transplant – Onions


Seed Outdoors – Carrots, Cauliflower, Greens (Collard, Mustard), Leeks, Lettuce, Spinach, Swiss Chard

Seed Indoors – Eggplant*, Peppers*, Tomatoes*

Transplant – Asparagus Crowns, Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts, Cabbage, Cauliflower, Greens (Collard, Mustard), Kale, Lettuce, Potatoes, Spinach, Swiss Chard

*Do not transplant until all danger of frost has passed.

What is a Transplant?

In previous editions, you’ve seen my “seed indoors” or “transplant” sections, but what does that mean exactly? Let’s dive in! A transplant is a fully germinated seedling or more mature plant that is replanted in a permanent location for the growing season. You can buy transplants from your local nursery or establish a set up in your house/garage to grow your own. The “seed indoors” section, denotes the time for growing your own transplants. One of the main advantages of growing your own transplants over direct seeding outdoors, is that by starting earlier indoors, you can get earlier harvests in the spring. To grow your own, you’ll need a seed starter kit that includes a seed tray, drainage tray and a clear humidity cover. You’ll also need seed starting soil, grow lights, seedling heat mat and small plastic pots.

1. Fill Seed Tray with seed starting soil and water thoroughly. Place seeds in each cell at proper depth - you may want to plant 2 seeds (if they are smaller seeds like tomato or peppers) in each cell and thin later if needed. Make sure to label each row with plant labels/variety.

2. Put the seed tray in the drainage tray and put the clear humidity cover on top. Place the tray system on top of the heating mat and under the grow lights. Leave the grow lights on for 14 hours a day and leave the heating mat on 24 hours until all seeds germinate.

3. Once the seeds have germinated, turn off heating mat and remove clear cover. Water the seedlings by pouring water into the drainage tray underneath and allow the soil to wick up the water. Make sure that water is completely absorbed in 12 hours. Don’t let seedlings sit in standing water.

4. Once seedlings have 2-3 sets of true leaves (leaves that develop after the seed/cotyledon leaves), place an oscillating fan nearby. This will create some “wind” to strengthen the seedlings’ stems and prepare them for hardening off outside. When roots begin to grow out of the bottom of the seedling tray – pot up seedlings into individual small nursery pots.

5. Once seedlings are a few inches tall and the weather cooperates, they are ready to be hardened off. To harden off, start by placing seedlings in a location that is partially shaded and sheltered from wind for a few hours a day. Increase sun, wind and time outside each day over the course of a week.  

Our favorites!

What do we grow in our home gardens?

'NuMex Twilight' is a very hot, ornamental pequín-type chile with green leaves and purple fruit that ripens to yellow, orange, and then red. Although grown as warm season annuals - they can last through fall and into winter with the seeds collected and planted the next spring. Give as a unique holiday gift with its peppers shaped like colorful, old-fashioned Christmas lights.

Jack B.

Community news

What have we been up to?

Rockwall Farmers Market

A Walk in the Garden Event

Fall Plant and Bulb Sale

Erosion Trailer Demonstrations @RISD elementary schools

Answering MG Hotline questions

Sheriff's Posse Roundup in Downtown Rockwall

Welcoming in our new 2022 Intern Class

Thank you for making "A Walk in the Garden" a huge success!

Rain and cold weather couldn't keep the Rockwall community away. Attendance surpassed our expectations!

Thank you for your support!

Our Fall Plant and Bulb sale was a huge success. Money raised will go towards school and youth programs, educational workshops and garden events for Rockwall county.

Master Gardeners were happy to get back out in the community and share our demonstration garden with you. We can't wait to do it again!

One of our favorite "Favorite Veggies" drawn on the chalkboard was the Cutecumber!

The Children's Garden dog now has a name! Thanks for all of your suggestions. Meet Potato...or Tater for short!

Upcoming events...

Please take our short Rockwall County Master Gardeners Survey to help improve our educational outreach.

Wednesday Gardening Hot Line: “Ask a Master Gardener!” Volunteers will be answering calls and emails every Wednesday from 10:00 a.m. until 12:00 p.m. Call (972) 204-7660 or email us anytime at:


Take our poll!

Have you attended a class taught by Rockwall Master Gardeners?
No, but I am interested!

Fall Poll Results:

In our fall issue we asked what specific area of gardening you would like to learn more about. Majority of survey takers selected composting and organic gardening. Look for a future series in our newsletter on composting.

Contact us

Rockwall County Master Gardener Association

915 Whitmore, Suite B

Rockwall, Texas 75087

972-204-7660 | | website | facebook

Join Our Newsletter E-mail List


Michele Campbell, Editor

Contributors: Jennifer Bily, Judy Callicoatt, Cathy Grinstead, Faye Gadberry, Polly Mosley, Kim Townsend, Laura Wheelis, Todd K. Williams

EnviroSmart is published by: Rockwall County Master Gardener Association part of Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, the Texas A&M University System. The information given herein is for education purposes only. Reference to commercial products or trade names is made with the understanding that no discrimination is intended and no endorsement by Texas A&M AgriLife Extension is implied.

Todd Williams - County Extension Agent

Ag/ Natural Resources


Texas A&M AgriLife Extension provides equal opportunities in its programs and employment to all persons, regardless of race, color, sex, religion, national origin, disability, age, genetic information, veteran status, sexual orientation or gender identity. The Texas A&M University System, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the County of Commissioners Courts of Texas Cooperating.

Online resources:

Texas A&M Horticulture

Texas Master Gardener

Rockwall County Master Gardeners