By early December, gardening is the last thing on most peoples' minds. Nonetheless, here are some timely plant and garden_related tips from the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture:
- December is a good month to start thinking about landscape improvements for next season. Look through books for ideas. If your plans are elaborate, make an appointment with a landscape professional. Many landscape designers and landscape architects are less rushed this time of year.
- Gardening catalogs should start arriving this month. Start a list of items that you want to purchase for next spring. This is also a good time to review pictures you have taken of your gardens during the past growing season. You can see what you might need to add to your gardens and yard.
- Shrubs and trees
- As long as the ground is not frozen, you can plant trees and shrubs in your landscape. Be sure to mulch transplants and keep them well watered.
- Prune trees and shrubs that are dormant or rejuvenate overgrown shrubs by severely cutting them back. Keep in mind that if you prune spring flowering shrubs, like azaleas and forsythia, you are pruning off their spring flowers.
- Prune evergreen branches to use in holiday decorating.
- Bring Witch Hazel branches indoors. The blossoms are very fragrant. Enjoy cut branches of beautyberry and winterberry holly with their colorful berries.
- Perennials, annuals, and bulbs
- Remove heavy layers of stray leaves that may have accumulated around perennials. They can mat down and smother perennials, and they promote rotting.
- Empty the soil from your container gardens. Add the soil to your garden beds or to the compost pile. Clean, sterilize, and store the pots. They will be ready for planting next year.
- Plant paperwhite narcissus bulbs in a shallow container of soil or gravel. They will bloom indoors during the winter months. They need no special cold treatment, only a steady supply of moisture. Keep the container in bright sunlight. You might have to stake or tie flowering stems upright if they grow too floppy. These delicate little flowers send out a fragrance that will permeate your home.
- Lawn care
- When you have finished your last mowing of the year, make sure that your mower is properly stored. Run it until it is out of fuel. Old gas can turn to varnish, and severely damage the engine.
- Get your lawnmower ready for next spring. Be sure to sharpen the blade.
- Fruits and veggies
- Weather permitting, spray fruit trees with lime sulphur and dormant oil to rid trees of overwintering insect eggs and fungus. Thorough coverage is important. Do not spray when temperatures are below freezing.
- Indoor gardening
- Check houseplants frequently to see if they need water. Dry heated air can cause them to lose moisture more rapidly than they do in the spring and summer when indoor air is more humid. However, if you keep your home on the cool side, houseplants may need less frequent watering in the winter months.
- Reduce or eliminate houseplant fertilizing during short winter days unless your plants continue to grow actively. Most plants grow more slowly now because there are so few hours of bright light each day.
- Wash your plants with lukewarm water with a few drops of mild dishwashing liquid added. Dust and grime not only look bad on the leaves, they filter what limited light we have this time of year. They also invite insect pests.
- Inspect houseplant leaves __ especially the undersides __ for the fine webbing and pinprick yellow discoloration. These are signs of spider mite infestation. Spider mites are common pests that thrive in warm, dry, indoor conditions. They are very difficult to see without magnification.
- Chores and maintenance
- Continue to keep bird feeders full. Word will get around, and many visitors will come to call during the winter months if you provide a steady supply of suet and seed!
- From an environmental standpoint, spreading sawdust, sand, or cat litter is the best way to deal with icy sidewalks, steps and driveways. If you prefer to use a de_icer, try urea nitrogen fertilizer. It can burn plants if heavily concentrated, but used with restraint it actually helps fertilize grass and shrubs adjacent to treated areas.
- Drain your hoses and put them away so they don't freeze and burst.
- Clean and oil your garden tools for winter storage. Place some sand and oil in a large bucket, then slide your garden tools in and out of the sand. This will do an excellent job of cleaning them, as well as applying a light coat of oil that will prevent rusting.
- December is a good month to replace garden tools that have seen better days. Prices are generally lower this time of year.
- Holiday Gardening Tips
- Fresh greenery around the house is a holiday tradition. Here are some tips from the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture for keeping the halls decked and merry:
- Poinsettias are the favored flowering holiday plant. While red is still the traditional color, pinks, whites, variegated, salmon and yellow varieties abound. Plant sizes vary from standard four- to six-inch pots, to miniatures to tree forms and even hanging baskets. Regardless of the size or variety, poinsettias like bright light and even moisture. With plenty of light, they can keep their colored bracts for many months. All too often, however, poinsettias are used as centerpieces, away from lights. Leaf dropping can be avoided with a little extra light.
- Besides poinsettias, consider purchasing Christmas cactus, kalanchoes, and cyclamens to make your home more festive for the holidays. Be sure to remove any foil wraps on the containers. These can hold water in the pots, which might cause the plants to rot from excess moisture. Make sure these plants are well wrapped before leaving the store for the trip home.
- If you plant amaryllis bulbs now, you can have blooms by Christmas. Amaryllis also come in multiple colors now. After the magnificent bloom is spent, cut off the bloom stalk and place the pot in a sunny window.
- Keep fresh-cut Christmas trees in a cool, not freezing location. After bringing a tree home, cut 1 to 2" from the base and plunge it into a bucket of tepid water with preservative added to prevent the cut end from sealing over. Don't let the water run dry! When bringing a tree indoors for decorating, allow it to rest in the stand with water in it for several hours to allow the tree to "relax" its branches as it becomes acclimated to indoor warmth. Then decorate.
- Potted or balled Christmas trees should be placed in a cool, not freezing, area until brought indoors for decorating. These trees should not be brought in for extended periods. A day or two indoors before Christmas and a few days after will not harm them. If kept too long indoors, they will break dormancy. After Christmas, take the tree out to a chosen site and plant it. Water well and mulch.
- Don’t forget the gardener on your gift list. A gift certificate to a nursery, garden center, gardening magazine or mail order source would be appreciated.