December 2013
Home Grown Tomatoes

December Chores and Gift Ideas

  It’s cold outside, but this little lizard found a warm place to play in my office.

With three weeks of autumn left before the Winter Solstice, there is still enough late afternoon daylight to enjoy garden chores without the intense heat of October days.

Frost hasn’t been too drastic here at the Tomato Tower, although the banana trees and Colocasias have been bitten pretty drastically. Still, the limp foliage needs to be cut away from the base of the stalks and sent to the compost heap. Also, mulch is applied to the banana stumps to protect them from the upcoming cold weather.

This is the time of year that I attack the roots of a few invasive plants that seem to like the moist areas of tropical gardens. Small-leaf spiderwort (Tradescantia fluminensis) and chameleon plant (Houttuynia cordata) are nice groundcovers, but they have been getting out of hand over the last couple of years. When they smother out the trilliums and jack-in-the-pulpits, it’s time for them to go.

Right now is a good time to layer the primocanes of your blackberry bushes to share in the spring. Bury the stems under about three to four inches of soil and leave them until the spring foliage buds start to show, then cut away from the crown and cut the rooted sections. Plant them in nursery pots for sharing or starting a new blackberry trellis row.

This is the time of year I divide my strawberry plants, too. Pull up runners that have taken root. Trim off all of the foliage from the crown and then wash off all soil from the roots. Bundle the plants loosely and place them in moist peat moss to overwinter in a cool dark place.

Note: When you harvest strawberry runners for next year’s bare root planting, be sure to take this year’s runners. Always keep up with the age of your strawberry plants and rotate them out of the garden after four years of production for maximum yield.

Now is a good time to prepare your flowerbeds for the spring.

  Left to right, the Giant Garnet variety of mustard volunteers in this bed twice a year and produces enormous amounts of this tasty green … or red. Fatsia japonica blossoms start their show in late fall.

Remove all dead foliage and roots from the beds, and spread a layer of at least four sheets of newspaper over the surface. Water the newspaper so it will become one with the soil underneath. Add a heavy layer (at least three inches, four would be better) of mulch, then dress it all up with a layer of pine straw.

In the spring, you will be glad you did this because it will all become nice, healthy soil.

If your tender perennials have not yet died down for the dormant season, trim them back and mulch them heavily for the winter.

As you probably have noticed lately, I have been reviewing more and more books related to gardening topics. Please understand I will not waste our valuable time telling about bad reads. I have already done that on Amazon or at other booksellers’ websites. If the books are good enough to be included in this column, then they are completely recommended by me.

Recently, I renewed an acquaintanceship and perhaps even converted it into a friendship. I was at a social gathering last month when I realized the author of one of the books in my nature reference library was there. The gathering was held just across the street from my house, so I ran to get my book for him to sign. Our paths cross so infrequently I didn’t want to miss the opportunity.

I am talking about Dr. Mike Howell, author of "Spiders of the Eastern United States."

I have had the book since shortly after its publication in 2004, but realized I bought it before I began reviewing books. You want my review now?

  Left to right, Dr. Mike Howell signs my copy of his book. Spiders is a great photographic guide for identifying the eight-legged creatures in and around your home.

This pictorial guide is a must have for gardeners and naturalists alike. It makes a great companion to any college-level biology course book and high school students can use this guide as a key tool for positive identification of our spiders.

You can’t go wrong with good reference books for holiday season gifts and this one is definitely a good one!

If you have any questions or comments regarding the features discussed in this column, email me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Become a fan of Home Grown Tomatoes on Facebook and keep up with the latest news. Tell all your friends, too!