Austin’s December Vegetable Garden by Paula Wolfel

Hooray for Rain!

Colorful garden greens in the December Vegetable Garden

Add color to your leafy garden beds with an assortment of mustards and kales.

Gardening slows down a bit during this month.  As predicted, some of us had our first freeze a few weeks ago, as well as lots of rain!!   So hopefully all preparations were made last month for the lower temperatures, and the rain reduced irrigations needs. Make sure you continue to protect all new transplants from freeze and their first frost in the December vegetable garden.  If the temperatures fall below 28 degrees then cover your plants, securing them with soil, bricks, rocks, or pins.  In addition, make sure to keep an eye on temperatures near freezing and frost warnings for citrus trees: either cover them with frost cover or blankets, or if they are potted, move them inside.

Tool Maintenance

Now is a great time to reflect on the year and do a little tidying up around the garden shed. Go through your inventory of tools and see what needs to be repaired or sharpened. Dirty tools invite moisture, which leads to rust, so make sure everything is cleaned. I use an oily rag to give every tool a good polish which helps keep corrosion away. Even if your tools are stored outside, it’s a good idea to give them a little TLC to weather through the next few months. Here is a great guide to help you clean and sharpen your tools.

Your December Vegetable Garden Checklist

Even though the days are shorter, December usually gives us a lot of beautiful sunshine. Here are a few things to accomplish while soaking up some rays.

  • Continue to feed vegetables with fish emulsion or other water-soluble fertilizer every 2 weeks.
  • Water vegetable beds so that plantings do not dry out. Irrigate only if the soil is dry a few inches below the surface or in newly established seedbeds or transplants.
PLANTING (with frost protection)
  • Seeds:
    • Greens, cool season (all month)
    • Radishes (all month)
  • Transplants:
    • Asian Greens (all month)
    • Lettuce (all month)
    • Spinach (all month)
  • Seeds or Transplants:
    • Asian Greens (all month)
    • Lettuce (all month)
    • Spinach (all month)
  • Use mild days to turn compost and build up mulch in the December vegetable garden.
  • Cabbage loopers, aphids, snails/slugs, and some beetles can remain active all winter. Protect plants from damage and insulate from freezing weather with a layer of row cover. This can be left on all winter. Anchor the fabric in several places with u-shaped pins, bricks, stones or sandbags. Another option is to lay 4-6 foot lengths of heavy t-posts or wooden boards along the long edge of the row. They are easy to remove if you want to lift up a section of row cover to periodically check the progress of your plants.
  • Keep up with weeds while they are young and before they have a chance to put down roots. A sharp hoe makes quick work in vegetable beds.
  • Remove annuals that were killed or burned by frost, but don’t cut back perennials yet.
  • Keep your vegetable consumption high this winter as you continue to harvest Swiss chard, kale, collards and lettuce. Use a “cut and come again” strategy. You’ll be surprised how fast everything grows.
  • Cut or twist the leafy tops off of turnips, beets, radishes and carrots before storing, and don’t overlook the culinary potential of those leafy greens. They are totally edible and nutritious, especially when harvested fresh from the garden. Their flavor is transformed when chopped up and incorporated into soups, casseroles, vegetable sautés, or dips. Carrot tops make a tasty pesto for adventurous eaters.
  • Take some time to sit down with garden notes and graph paper or a computer app and plan your vegetable garden for next year. Place your order for the spring season while seed sources still have plenty of inventory.
  • Try to pencil out a crop rotation plan. It really does help with pest and fertility management. I use a rotation of potatoes to help break up compacted garden beds and add compost after I’ve dug up the crop.
  • Start shopping seeds for the February planting season.

Thinking Ahead: Preparation for Frost

Upside down nursery pots used for frost protection in the December vegetable garden

Use pots or buckets for protection – but remove them when it warms back up.

As a reminder from November’s articles, in preparation for freezing temperatures, make sure you mulch around all your plants and keep bare soil covered with mulch or leaves.

If a freeze is expected:

  • Water plants beforehand
  • Cover newly planted plants, and tender vegetables and landscape plants with row cover, sheets or blankets making sure to secure the fabric to the ground to prevent wind from blowing it up and to seal in heat from the ground
  • Disconnect hoses, wrap faucets, and drain sprinklers before the freezing night arrives

Additional Resources

Watch the Vegetable Gardening in Central Texas Webinar

Recommended Vegetable Varieties for Travis County

Vegetable Seed Sources

Vegetable Gardening in Austin

Plant Rotations, Successions and Intercropping

Rootknot Nematode Management

Sustainable Food Center Farmers Markets

Texas Farmers Markets

Monthly Gardening Calendar for Austin and Central Texas

About Paula Wolfel

Paula Wolfel is new to the Travis County Master Gardener program but has been gardening in Austin, Texas since 2017. She grew up in the suburbs of Chicago learning how to garden from both her father—a Sicilian vegetable and fruit tree gardener—and both her grandmothers, and then spent years in Virginia gardening. Paula loves gardening because she finds it to be a grounding force- it gets her out of her head and into the present. She loves the pride that comes with cooking a meal for her family with every ingredient coming from her garden… and then the humility she feels when she loses an entire crop because of Mother Nature. She finds gardening to be wisdom, lessons, best practices passed down generation to generation, season to season and hopes to share that with you.

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