December 2007
Featured Articles

PLANT

• Pot amaryllis, paperwhites and hyacinth bulbs for indoor blooming.

• Continue to set out cool-season bedding plants, like pansies, violas, stock, snapdragons and dianthus.

Prepare beds and individual holes for rose planting in January and February. Use composted manure, pine bark and similar materials mixed with existing soil.

• Plant or transplant trees and shrubs. Bare root stock is available at many nurseries. If weather is freezing or too wet, pot them for later planting.

• If you haven’t planted your spring bulbs, it’s still not too late. Most require at least 60 days of cold temperatures to bloom. It might be too late for daffodils, but it should be okay for tulips and hyacinths. If the ground isn’t frozen, don’t delay; plant them as soon as possible.

• Plant green onions, leeks, mustard greens and turnips in the vegetable garden.

• Want to start cuttings of your favorite Christmas cactus? As soon as it has finished blooming, select a cutting with 4 or 5 joints, break or cut it off, and insert the basal end into a pot of moderately moist soil. Place it on a windowsill or other brightly lit area. The cuttings should be rooted within 3 to 4 weeks.

FERTILIZE
• Lightly feed pansies, ornamental cabbage and kale between bouts of cold weather.

• Reduce the fertilization of indoor plants.

• Store any left over lawn fertilizers in a dry location and out of reach of children and pets.
   
PRUNE

• Don’t get in a hurry to prune woody plants. Late December through February is usually the best time to prune them.

• Cut off tops of spent perennials (unless seedheads offer food for birds).

• Gather and shred all dead leaves and vegetable material for the compost pile.

• Start dormant pruning of established fruit trees.

• Cut tall hybrid tea roses back to 18 to 24 inches to reduce wind whipping and plant damage.

• Prune damaged branches throughout the winter months.

• Berrying plants, like holly and yaupon, may be pruned now while they can be enjoyed as cut material inside the house. Use good pruning practices to avoid distorting your plants.

WATER

• Protect your lawn from excessive winter damage by providing irrigation during dry periods.

• Continue to water trees and shrubs, especially newly planted trees and all evergreens.

• Water cool-season annuals after fertilizing.

• If a freeze is forecast, well-watered roots are less susceptible to freeze damage.

• Keep poinsettias well-watered and away from direct sun and heat sources, like fireplaces or radiators. They’ll droop and won’t recover well.

• Daily check the water level of your live indoor Christmas tree.

• Drain and store garden hoses and watering equipment in a readily acces-sible location. The lawn and plants may need water during a prolonged dry spell.

PEST CONTROL

• Use dormant oil if temperature gets below 75° on scale insects on shade and fruit trees.

• Apply dormant oil early to roses before new growth emerges to prevent overwintering insects and spider mite eggs.

• Continue to monitor for rodent or animal damage if this has been a problem in the past. Problems to look for include rubbings on tree trunks from young deer bucks and gnawed or stripped bark from lower trunk areas due to rabbits and mice.

• Mow grass for the last time and cut the grass quite short. This helps prevent winter injury and reduces mold fungus. Don’t mow if grass has gone dormant.

• Cut mistletoe out of trees. Remove infested limbs if necessary.

• Check trees for the spindle-shaped bags of bagworms.

• In flowerbeds, handpull any young winter annual weeds, like wild garlic, chickweed, Poa annua and dandelion, or cover with a shallow layer of compost.

• Monitor houseplants for insect problems. New houseplants or gift plants can also harbor pests. Isolate these plants before adding them to your collection. Early intervention brings greater success.

• Spray houseplants to control scale, mealy bugs, spider mites and other insects.

• Store pesticides in a cool (not freezing) dry location for winter, out of reach of children and pets.

ODD JOBS

• Buy a live tree grown by a local tree farmer for Christmas!

• Consider rotating plantings. Alternate deep rooted plants with fibrous rooted plants to improve the structure of soil.

• Store leftover seeds in a cool, dry location, for example, in a sealed jar placed in the refrigerator.

• Check vegetables in storage for spoilage.

• Check your yard, garage or tool shed for garden products and equipment that should be stored indoors for the winter.

• Clean, sharpen, sterilize and oil garden hand tools for winter.

• Drain gasoline from power tools and run the engine until fuel in the carburetor is used up.

• Mulch roses by mounding soil 6 to 8 inches deep over the plants to protect the graft.

• Ponder the merits of growing something you’ve never considered. Mushrooms, for example, are interesting, healthy and could be a very good thing for the planet, too.

• Buy a new gardening book and enjoy reading it. (It’s another gift-giving opportunity!)

• Mulch strawberries with straw, leaves or evergreen boughs. Mulch needs to be 6 inches deep after it has packed down.

• Mulch perennial beds with 2 to 4 inches of straw, shredded leaves or other lightweight material.

• Mulch roots of tender shrubs such as azaleas and rhododendrons to keep vigorous during winter.
   
• Don’t miss the rare sunny day to rake up the last of the leaves and cut back ratty perennials.

• Ventilate cold frames in mild weather.

• If you haven’t cleaned the gutters, now is the time to do it. You can hang lights and clean gutters at the same time, or clean the gutters after the holidays instead. Keep them clear and free running to prevent damage to wood fascia and siding.

• Move plastic and clay planters indoors for the winter to prevent cracking.

• Turn compost pile to encourage winter breakdown.

• If you have gardening friends on your gift list this year, consider surprising them with a ‘green thumb’ type of gift. Garden items make unusual, welcome and unique gifts and the selections are vast. There is something for nearly everyone in any price range.

• Either remove decorative foil from bottom of gift plant pots or punch holes in the foil to allow water to drain properly.

• A moderate amount of leaves on a lawn can provide a natural mulch, but if large amounts are left to soak up winter rains, they will smother the grass beneath them.

• Take advantage of good weather to prepare garden beds for spring planting. Work in any needed organic matter, and have beds ready to plant when needed.

• If possible, maintain a supply of water for birds over winter. Small heating coils can be used in stone birdbaths to prevent water from freezing.

• Clean and refill bird feeders.

• If you have everything under control, tidy and put away, settle down with a cup of tea and ponder the last growing season. What did best? What failed? Why? If you spend a little time thinking about it, you can generate a whole new list of "to do" projects for next spring. You’ll know what to rip out, what to move, and what new varieties you’ll want to try. If you planted vegetables, consider how you used what you grew.