December in the Garden

It’s December now and a lot of your plants may be looking a little stressed right now.  That’s okay, it’s just that time of year.  Plants are resting, storing up energy for spring growth.  Even though lots of our plants are resting, aloes are getting ready to put on a show with their blooms.

Garden Prep

If you haven’t mulched your garden beds, here are some good reasons to rethink that strategy.   Apply 3 inches of mulch to keep soil from compacting during rains; retain moisture; and insulate and regulate the temperature of the ground, protecting plants and their roots; and lastly, keep the weeds down.

Remember: when mulching, keep mulch away from the trunks of plants to avoid disease and rotting.

Planting

Camellias sasanqua and azaleas are blooming right now so it’s a great time to shop the nurseries while they are in bloom so you know you are getting exactly the color flower you want.

If you still haven’t planted those spring-flowering bulbs you bought way back in September/October, you can still put them in the ground and expect a nice show from them in the spring.    They like to be in the ground while it’s cold so now is the  time!!!

Bare-root roses will be arriving in nurseries soon.  If you buy some , open them up when you get home and soak the roots for 24 hours to replenish moisture they’ve lost during their travels.  Try to plant them as soon as possible.  Dig a hole deep and wide enough to comfortably accommodate the roots without squishing everything down, leaving a little mound of dirt in the middle of the hole for the base of the plant to sit on, letting the roots drape down the sides.  The grafting point of the rose should be just at or above the surrounding soil when you fill it in.  Water deeply after you’ve planted.

What to plant now:

Flowers From Seeds:
Alyssum, Ageratum, Baby’s breath, Calendula, California poppy, Carnation, Cineraria, Clarkia, Columbine, Delphinium, English daisy, Forget-me-not, Foxglove, Gaillardia, Godetia, Hollyhock, Larkspur, Linaria, Lobelia, Mignonette, Painted tongue, Pansy, Phlox, Scabiosa, Schizanthus, Shasta daisy, Snapdragon, Stock, Sweet pea (bush), Viola, Wildflowers.

Flowers From Bedding Plants:
Calendula, Columbine, Coral bells, English daisy, English primrose, Fairy primrose, Foxglove, Iceland poppy, Pansy, Snapdragon, Stock, Sweet pea (bush), Viola.

Veggies:
Artichokes, Beets, Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, Cabbage, Carrots, Cauliflower, Celery, Endive, Garlic, Kale, Kohlrabi, Lettuce (head and leaf), Onions, Peas, Radishes, Rhubarb, Spinach, Swiss chard, Turnips.

Watering

Withhold watering your old roses this month to let them harden off in preparation for the heavy pruning we’ll do in January to set their shape for the rest of the year.

Hold back water on your tropicals unless the soil is very dry.

Reduce water on everything else, but don’t let plants dry out completely.  They are dormant, but they do need a drink once in a while due to the cold and lower humidity.  Cold weather dries plants out, so they do need some water, but not in excess.  Apply water in the morning so the plant dries out during the day to avoid promoting disease.   If we get a good rain, we’ll all be happier!

Speaking of rain, have you cleaned out your gutters yet?   If you wait until you have a problem when it rains, it’s a much ickier job to do and you’ll wonder why you waited!

Fertilizing

If your azalea’s or camellia’s leaves are more yellow than green it might be time for a dose of Ironite.   Lack of iron just wears plants down, just like people.  I had to give a few of  my citrus trees a couple of doses of iron this year and they are looking much stronger and healthier for it.

Feed your shrubs and trees that are getting ready to bloom in January and February.  They are using a lot of energy in preparation.

Although we don’t want to do heavy fertilizing on most of our plants, a light application on your veggies would give them a boost.

Pest & Disease Control

Fresh mulch and some Worm Gold (castings) are your strongest allies against most garden pests.

Cooler weather and a good rain will bring out slugs and snails from their hiding places.  (I love a good snail hunt in the dark with a flashlight!)

Deciduous fruit trees are in their dormant phase so, once they have dropped their leaves, it’s time to spray dormant oil on them to smother overwintering aphids, scale and mites.  Spray the branches, trunk, crotches, cracks in the bark and the ground around the tree to the drip line.   You’ll want to spray again when the first buds begin to swell.  Your full service nursery can help you with the appropriate spray(s) and don’t forget to read the directions thoroughly.

Pruning

This is a good time to prune your native plants as well as your deciduous trees.

The basic rule of thumb is that the cool weather is the most dormant time for most plants and since they are “resting” it is a great time to prune.

I mentioned earlier to hold back water this month on your roses to harden them off.  In January we’ll do the heavy pruning on roses to set their shape for the rest of the year.

If you have wisteria, it’s time to prune back the wispy ends leaving the more woody branches.  This will stimulate more growth and blooms in the spring.  My wisteria is starting to become a substantial plant and I’m training it to grow across my front porch.

Prune back dormant grapevines and cut ornamental grasses to the ground.

Chrysanthemums: After they finish flowering cut chrysanthemums back leaving 6-inch stems. They will begin to grow again next March. Old clumps can be lifted and divided.

Miscellaneous

It’s possible we’ll get frost this month.  Remember, as tempting as it is to cut off damaged leaves and branches after a frost, don’t do it!  If you prune back the damage, it will encourage your plants to grow too early and the new growth will sap energy from the plant during the dormant season.  Plus, if we get another frost, more damage definitely won’t help.  I know it’s hard not to trim for reasons of appearance, but just let your plant look bad and leave it alone until you start seeing new growth in the spring.   Put the clippers down and step away from the plant…..

Pay attention to succulents and cacti in containers.  Move them to protection under eaves or protected areas in the garden to protect against frost or hail damage.

My houseplants are not looking very vibrant at the moment, but they are just resting like the outside plants.  Don’t fertilize now while they are in “down time” and let them dry out between waterings.   With our homes buttoned up against the colder weather, houseplants are more stressed due to warm air from heaters, lower humidity, and less light.  Now is a good time to wash your houseplants down and give the plants a good flush to wash the salts out of the soil.

And, in the spirit of the season:  North American Real Christmas Trees are grown in all 50 states and Canada.  There are close to 15,000 farms growing Christmas Trees in the U.S., and over 100,000 people are employed full or part-time in the industry. There are about 350,000 acres in production for growing Christmas Trees in the U.S.; much of it preserving green space. For every Christmas Tree harvested, 1 to 3 seedlings are planted the following spring.

Happy Holidays!

Credit where credit is due: This monthly garden chores compilation comes from a lot of resources, past and present, including: Sunset Magazine, Union-Tribune, San Diego Floral Association, San Diego Horticulture Society, San Diego Home & Garden, Anderson’s La Costa Nursery, miscellaneous tidbits found on the web, in the library, from fellow gardeners, and my personal experience in the garden.