December 2008
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December Lawn & Garden Maintenance Checklist


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

· Don’t be afraid to plant ornamental cabbage and kale late in the year. These plants combine well with pansies and will stay pretty until the temperature dips below 20 degrees. Space young kale transplants 18-24 inches apart. Most appreciated for their ornamental value, you can also use the foliage as a garnish for your holiday foods or in arrangements.

· Get bulbs in the ground before the big freeze. Plant your favorite bulbs now for colorful springtime blooms.

· Force bulbs indoors for winter color. Bulbs like narcissus and hyacinth work well.

· Plant your garlic cloves now through the end of the year. Garlic comes in three basic types: soft neck (most common, strongest tasting, used for braiding), stiff neck (mild tasting, cannot be used for braiding) and elephant garlic (huge cloves, mild tasting). 

· Plant bare-root rosebushes. Try putting them in raised beds to improve soil drainage. Be sure to space them so the mature bushes will get good air circulation, which will help prevent disease problems.

· If you’d like to add some of the showy pink, red or white flowers for fall and winter color in the landscape, go ahead and plant camellias now.


· Prune fruit trees and shade trees to remove damaged wood.

· Wait until the end of this month to start pruning woody plants as necessary. This chore should be done while the plants are dormant, which is likely to be late December through February.


· Do not prune spring-flowering shrubs.

· Cut off tops of brown perennials, leave roots in the soil.

· Ferns will come back from the ground, cut back brown fronds.

· Cut mistletoe out of trees.

· Berrying plants, like holly and yaupon, may be pruned now while they can be enjoyed as cut material inside the house. Greenery brought in for the holidays will last longer if sprayed with an antitranspirant.


· Remember plants need water during the winter and well-hydrated plants withstand freezes better; water when the top inch of soil is dry.


· Clean up piles of bricks, stones, wood or other debris that can serve as insect breeding and overwintering sites.

· Use dormant sprays of lime sulfur or copper fungicide on fruit trees and roses for general disease control.

· Check for rodent damage around bases of trees and large shrubs. Avoid mounding mulching materials around the bases of trees and shrubs. The mulch might provide cover for rodents.

· Monitor houseplants for insect problems. Early intervention brings greater success.



· Make a list of needed repairs on garden tools and equipment. Repair or have them repaired as soon as possible after the holidays.

· The job of cleaning and properly storing garden tools seldom gets done in a timely fashion and typically is forgotten until spring comes. Take the time to create the right atmosphere to get this mundane but needed chore done. First, find a spot in the garage, plug in your radio and tune in some appropriate music, brew or otherwise acquire some stimulating beverage and then get all those nasty garden tools together. As you enjoy your drink and music, remove any dirt from the tools using a wire brush and water. Dry thoroughly. Spray all exposed metal with a rust inhibitor or clean off rust with naval jelly. Wooden handles can be sanded lightly and then rubbed down with linseed or tung oil. 

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

· Empty hoses, fountains and drip-irrigation systems. Ensure any standing water is removed from your watering equipment; store items in a dry place.

· Tidy gardens are less inviting for rodents and snails to set up housekeeping.

· Compost those tree leaves instead of bagging them to be hauled away. It’s better to use them chopped up, so run your lawn mower over them a few times first. Turn the compost pile and moisten it as necessary, just enough to keep it as moist as a damp sponge.

· If you don’t have a compost pile, at least spread your leaves over any bare-ground patches in the garden.

· Put diseased leaves, like rose leaves with blackspot, in the garbage instead of composting them. In fact, dispose of all leaves with fungal diseases.


· Protect cold-sensitive plants like shrubs, roses and perennials that might succumb to blasts of cold with mulches or screens. Place these protective barriers after the first freeze.

· Put pine needles or wheat straw over your strawberry plants.

· Cut asparagus to the ground and mulch it.

· Cut annuals at ground level rather than pull them. The roots have made little passages for water, oxygen and friendly microbes. The roots will decompose by spring.

· Protect new landscape plants from wind: staking, guy wires, windbreaks, site selection.

· Spread manure, rotted sawdust and leaves over the garden and plow them under; you’ll be surprised at the difference this organic matter will make in the fertility, physical structure and water-holding capacity of the soil.

· Take a soil sample to allow plenty of time to get the report back. Lime applied now will be of more benefit next year than if it is applied in the spring before planting.

· While you’re at it, do a final weeding. They’re usually easy to pull now, and again, removing them discourages pests from staying the winter.

· Wash and store pots that will be used for seedlings in the spring. Disinfecting them with a 10-percent bleach solution is a good idea, too.

· Dig and store summer-blooming tubers and bulbs like dahlias and gladiolus.

· Check previously stored flower bulbs, fresh vegetables and fruits for rot and fungus problems. Discard any showing signs of rot.

· Harvest lettuce, radishes and any other crops that are still producing.

· Get a soil test done so you’ll know how to amend and shape up the soil for spring planting.


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

· During heavy rains, watch for drainage problems in the yard. Tiling, ditching and French drains are possible solutions.

· Start planning next year’s garden now! Take an "inventory." Maybe you had too much of some vegetables and not enough of others - or maybe there were some unnecessary "skips" in the supply. Perhaps some insect, disease or nematode problem got the upper hand. Make a note about favorite varieties. You’re wise to order flower and vegetable seeds in December or January, while the supply is plentiful. Review the results of last year’s garden and order the more successful varieties.

· If using a cut Christmas tree, remember to give it a fresh cut before you move it indoors and put it in the stand. Give it plenty of water and avoid the drafts from heating vents. More and more folks think they want a living tree they can then plant in their yard after the holidays. Think about it before choosing this method. Does your yard need or have room for a permanent evergreen? These living trees can only be inside your home for a maximum of a week and less time is preferable. Avoid heavy ornaments or hot lights.

· Monitor houseplants for adequate water, fertilizer, humidity. Water and fertilizer requirements generally are less in winter.

· Prolong the life of holiday-season gift plants by providing proper care. Check to see if the pot wrap has plugged up the bottom drainage. Don’t over-water. Keep out of drafts from heating vents and open doorways. Fertilizer is seldom needed the first few months.

· Want to start cuttings of your favorite Christmas cactus? As soon as it has finished blooming, select a cutting with four or five 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 three to four weeks.

· Protect poinsettias from cold, place in sunlight, don’t let leaves touch cold windows; fertilize with houseplant fertilizers to maintain leaf color.

· A handy way to keep those empty seed packets for future reference is to insert them into the pockets of inexpensive photo albums.  This makes a nice record of the seed you have used from year to year. 

· You may have seeds left over from last year. Check their viability by placing some in damp paper towels and observing the germination percentage. If the percentage is low, order new ones.

· Sponging off glossy-leaved plants, like rubber plants and palms, allows your houseplants to breathe during the time of year when indoor pollution is at its height makes it a great time for this chore.


· Give your houseplants extra humidity by grouping them together. The indoor climate during the winter tends to be dryer as we heat our homes.

· If considering storage of sweet potatoes, remember they require warm, humid storage conditions. Otherwise, the potatoes will spoil. Since the typical winter home is warm and dry, it may be better to cook the potatoes and store them in the freezer, especially if you have a large quantity.

· Don’t forget to eat greens and black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day. The greens symbolize the greenbacks and the peas symbolize the coins you’ll hopefully acquire in the upcoming year.

· Look around for tools you do not have and hint for these for Christmas presents!

· Clean and refill bird feeders.