As there will not be a January newsletter, here is an early reminder that it is best not to trim perennials and shrubs until after Valentine’s Day. Trimming any earlier can cause new tender growth that will freeze even on evergreen shrubs and delay new spring growth. The first weekend of December is our typical first frost, and annuals can be discarded as they freeze.

Read more: Out in the Garden: December 2013

You may have noticed a white, cotton-like growth on neighborhood nopales the past few months. This is caused by a parasitic scale insect called cochineal (Dactylopius coccus) – but don’t be alarmed! Normally the insects do not harm the nopales. The cochineal lives its life sucking on the pads of prickly pear cacti, producing carminic acid, which, when mixed with aluminum or calcium salts makes carmine dye, also known as cochineal. If you use a small stick to smear the white fluff you can see this intense crimson color bleed on the cactus pad. This deep rich color and its resistance to fading made cochineal one of the Americas’ most important exports.

Read more: Cochineal in the Hood

Here are some more tips from Charles Bartlett, who spoke in September at the River House about historic landscapes and water conservation.

Go native. Rather than using nandina as a specimen plant or hedgerow, use a native alternative whose berries are edible, rather than toxic to birds or pets: dwarf Barbados cherry. Asiatic jasmine isn’t bad, but the hard-to-find snake herb is a native alternative that uses less water and requires less trimming. Mountain laurel trees are slow growing but may eventually obscure historic architecture. These trees can be trimmed up to 30% for a better view.

Read more: Landscaping In Historic Districts – Part 2

San Antonio River Watershed. It can grow in a wide variety of conditions and prefers part shade but persists in full sun, as well. It also prefers moist to wet soils – but can tolerate extreme drought conditions – and is often found in the floodplains of creeks and rivers. This warm season grass can grow in all soil types including sand, clay, loam and calcareous and acid-based soils.

Eastern gamagrass typically grows from three to six feet in height, but it can reach up to nine feet in certain conditions. The leaves form a large mound that can grow to a diameter of four feet, and the leaf edges can be extremely sharp. This plant has separate male and female flowers arranged on the same spike, and the flower spike looks like a large turkey foot.

Read more: Native Vegetation: Eastern Gamagrass

As you find them, now is the time to plant bulbs that will bloom in the spring and that can be left in the ground to multiply over the coming years. These include narcissus, daffodils and paperwhites. Plant so that the top tips of the bulbs are about four inches below the top of the soil. Iris can be divided now. Notice how deep the plant is in the ground. Iris do not have a true bulb and the tubular base does not need to be planted very deep.

Read more: Out in the Garden: November 2013