Force some bulbs for the holidays to have blooms before spring arrives. Amaryllis, paperwhites and hyacinths are all classic bulbs to force at this time of year.
Trees and shrubs can still be planted any time the soil is not too muddy.
Some garden centers will carry live or uncut Christmas trees that are balled and burlapped. They should be brought indoors for no longer than 10 days; then plant where it is to grow.
Get your soil tested and be prepared for spring.
Grape vines can be pruned any time during the dormant season. Do some pruning now if you want to use vines for wreath making.
Keep good pruning practices in mind when cutting holiday greenery. Make clean cuts at branch angles or leaf nodes, and keep an eye on the shape of the plant.
Take evergreen and hardwood cuttings. Dip them in a rooting hormone before putting them in pots filled with rooting media and place in a cold-frame for the winter. Roots should form by spring.
Stone fruits such as cherries, prunes and peaches are prime for pruning in December.
Prune outdoor limbs or branches damaged by winter storms. The damaged parts should be removed immediately. Remove suckers and water sprouts, too.
Remove older canes of blackberries.
Frost has killed back the top growth of most of our favorite perennials and they can now be pruned nearly to the ground.
Even if you plan to use a water hose this month, store it where it won’t freeze. If you don’t plan to use it any more, drain it, wind it up and bring it indoors. Sprinklers should also be stored indoors.
Fix any dripping outdoor faucets and then wrap the exposed portion of the water pipes. Insulation that becomes saturated from a leaky faucet is of little protective value during freezes.
Turn off and drain sprinkler systems by removing the head from the sprinkler at the lowest point of your lawn; or, install a sprinkler-end drain.
Drip irrigation systems should be turned off if a freezing morning is forecast; remove the end plug for drainage.
If the month is unusually dry, get out the hose, turn the water back on during a (relatively) warm weekend and give newly transplanted trees and shrubs a drink.
Watch for dry, windy conditions with low relative humidity that can damage turf. It may be necessary to irrigate periodically to help the grass survive.
Consider misting your houseplants once or twice a day since dry, heated air can stress them.
Overwatering is the biggest risk to houseplants in winter … go easy.
Check overwintered plants in the basement and garage for possible water needs.
For those with outdoor ponds, be sure to add water as needed to keep aquatic plants from drying out. Also make sure to break a hole when ice forms across the top to release accumulated gases and allow oxygen to enter.
During dry and frozen times, fill the birdbath. You don’t have to haul out the hose; just fill a pitcher with water. Some gardeners invest in birdbath warmers to keep the water from freezing.
Remove dead vegetable plants from the garden to prevent insects and diseases from over-wintering.
Apply broadleaf herbicides to control winter annual and perennial weeds. Use only as directed.
Check camellias and azaleas for spider mites and treat with insecticidal soap if mites are found.
Watch out for signs of houseplant pests like spider mites, mealybugs and scale insects. If tackled before they get out of hand, nonchemical methods are usually successful: a simple shower, insecticidal soap spray (as directed on label) or with the most tenacious (like mealybugs) sometimes an alcohol swab or Q-tip.
Don’t store firewood in the house as insects can come in with it. Leave the wood outside until you are ready to use it. Burn the oldest wood first so that pest populations do not get a head start.
As you put most outdoor gardening to bed, think about what happened this year. If you didn’t take notes during the season, set aside some time on a nice cozy evening and jot down what went well in the garden and what did not. Then put down ideas on what you will do differently next year. Consider keeping a garden journal during the following year.
Clear days are good for applying mulch to beds you didn’t get to earlier in the fall – 2-3 inches is sufficient.
Frost action ruins clay pottery and birdbath bowls. Are yours stored in a dry shed or overhang?
If possible, before bringing a Christmas tree indoors, give it a good shake and even a good cleaning with the garden hose to remove dead leaves, pollen and hitchhiking insects.
The more recently a tree is cut the better it will hold up indoors. To test the freshness of a tree, pull lightly at a needle. If the needle comes off easily, then the tree is not very fresh. The best way to assure a fresh tree is to go to a local "choose ‘n cut" tree farm. Go to www.pickyourownchristmastree.org/AL for the closest farm or check the yellow pages under Christmas Trees.
Lettuce can be kept going through much of the winter by covering with row cover fabric or constructing a cloche (mini-greenhouse) over the bed. Monitor greenhouses, cloches and cold frames daily; temperatures heat up quickly on a sunny day.
The strawberry bed can be mulched with straw when nights are regularly falling below freezing.
Use some down time to clean, sharpen, oil and repair garden tools and equipment. Wash work gloves and dry them thoroughly.
Examine the stored roots, corms and bulbs of dahlias, cannas, gladiolus, tuberoses, caladiums, tuberous begonias and others you dug up in the fall. These should remain plump and firm, and should not show signs of growth or rotting. Throw out rotting/moldy ones and, if others are showing sprouts and roots, place them in a cooler, darker place and make sure their packing material is dry. The back of the refrigerator is cold enough to stop such growth.
Wood ashes from the fireplace, used sparingly, are a good source of nutrients for the garden, especially phlox, sweet William, peony and spring-flowering bulbs. To use wood ashes later on spring plantings, store them in an old metal tub or other dry and fireproof container. CAUTION: Make sure there are no live coals before storing wood ashes.
Take your mower in for service after the final mowing rather than in the spring rush, then store without gas in the tank by running it dry.
Become a Master Gardener! Call your county Extension office for more details.
Give gardening gifts this Christmas. Clothing, boots, toys, Farmers Almanacs, pocket knives, gun safes, wild bird feeders, beekeeping equipment, tubs/wheelbarrows to put it all in and much more can be found at your local Co-op store!
Keep lawns free of leaves.
Avoid walking on frozen grass.
If you have any leftover seeds, store these in a cool, dry place. Some gardeners save their seeds in an airtight jar or plastic bag placed in the refrigerator or freezer.
Take some time to care for houseplants. With a wet cloth, wipe the dust from their leaves. Doing this allows your plants to breathe during the time of year when indoor pollution is at its height.
Move household plants away from cold windows.
Look for houseplants with leaves that have brown, dry edges as this indicates low relative humidity in the house. You can increase humidity by running a humidifier, grouping plants together or using pebble trays. To do this, place gravel in trays (in which an even moisture level is maintained) under the flower pots. As the moisture around the pebbles evaporates, the relative humidity is raised.
Holiday flowering plants are usually sold potted in a peat moss soilless mix. This mix is difficult to wet once it dries out and the water may roll right off the root ball. If the water immediately runs out of the pot at watering time, the soil may have dried too much. Place the pot in a pan or sink of warm water to soak for about an hour then remove. Let the pot drain thoroughly.
For traditional color choose poinsettias with an abundance of dark, rich green foliage that is undamaged, dense and plentiful all the way down to the soil line.
Other living plants that make good Christmas gifts include herbs. Basil, lavender, lemon balm, marjoram, mint, oregano, parsley, rosemary, tarragon and thyme grow well indoors in a sunny window.
If you received houseplants as holiday gifts, be sure to remove the foil surrounding the pot to avoid root rot.
Clean up the water garden. Remove floating leaves and algae from the water and discard any dead plant material. If there are any tender plants needing protection from freezing temperatures, remove them to a heated structure.
If you haven’t set out a bird feeder, do it this month. They’ll thank you by coming for daily visits and singing for their supper. Once you have drawn birds to the feeder, keep it filled. The birds will depend on you. A word of advice: resist the urge to feed squirrels when you feed the birds. Squirrels are cute to watch, but they can be very damaging in a garden. After you stop feeding them, they’ll stay and will keep looking for food, digging up bedding plants and even potted plants, looking for roots to chew on or bulbs to eat.