December 2012 Gardening To Do List: Zone 5

Susan Wells
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November 2012 To Do Lists: Zone 8

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Make sure you’ve raked or mulched (by running over with a lawnmower) the leaves off your lawn before snow falls too deeply to get at them. Otherwise the leaves will smother the grass when the spring sun comes back out. Bring evergreen trimmings into the house to use as holiday decorations, but make sure not to cut more than about five percent of any one plant or you will damage it. Leave snow on evergreen branches. They are supple and will bend. If you try to remove snow, they may break.

Perennials/Annuals/Houseplants

On a warm day, trim back and mulch perennials.

While the soil is moist and the pulling is easy, remove any ground cover that’s crowding perennials and shrubs and creeping into tree pits.

Poinsettias do best in a sunny window with an indoor temperature of 60 to 70 degrees. Avoid temperature fluctuations and areas where there are warm or cold drafts. Don’t fertilize the poinsettia when the plant is in bloom. One of the biggest mistakes we make with poinsettias is overwatering. They are prone to root rot if the pot sits in saucer-full of water or if water is caught by the colorful foil.

Remove indoor screens from sunny windows where you want to grow herbs, succulents and flowering annuals. Make sure to put only plants that can stand direct sun in these windows. If you don’t have a good southern exposure, set up grow lights to keep your indoor herbs and lettuces vigorous for winter harvesting.

 Force blooms for holiday color. Keep cyclamen and paperwhite narcissus in a cool spot to prolong the blooms. As soon as a flower fades, remove it. Water paperwhites sparingly if in soil; if growing in water, be sure to keep the water level above all the roots.

Look for drying and browning of edges of houseplant leaves that can indicate too little humidity. If plants are suffering in dry heated indoor air, group pots together to increase humidity, set pots on a tray of pebbles filled to half their depth with water, or set up a humidifier nearby.

The leaves of indoor plants get dusty, which can interfere with photosynthesis and transpiration and provide insects a place to hide. Give smaller plants a rinse with the sprayer at the kitchen sink. Larger plants can be set in the shower. The leaves of large-foliaged plants can be wiped off individually with a soft cloth dipped in a solution of a few drops of mild dish detergent in a quart of tepid water, then rinsed with clear water. Be sure to wash off both sides of the leaves.

Vegetables

Cover spinach and other overwintering crops with a row cover then top with several inches of straw.

To make your carrots sweeter, store them in the garden for winter. Stack layers of straw around the carrots to prevent the soil from freezing. When you’re ready for a sweet treat, just pull the straw away and dig what you need.

Sow seeds of basil, cilantro, and dill indoors every two weeks for a steady supply of fresh herbs. Clip rosemary regularly so it will put out side branches. Rosemary will make a lovely topiary indoors, too.

Most home compost bins do not get hot enough to kill weed seeds or disease organisms, so instead of composting, bury the diseased foliage and stems far from the garden. You will return the organic matter to the soil, but not give the disease-causing spores a chance to re-infect your plants next year.

Trees/Shrubs

Water your living Christmas trees with ice cubes, but don’t leave it indoors for more than a week or two—plant it in the hole you dug last month.

Tree Gators make watering newly planted and young trees more convenient. They wrap around the trunk and when you fill them, the water seeps through holes at the bottom. It’s time to remove them for winter so rain and snow can directly reach the soil. Examine the tree for rot, boring, moisture, or damage of any kind.

While you’re raking, gather fallen pine needles and toss them under acid-loving shrubs, tree, and perennials, including blueberries, azaleas, rhododendrons, hollies, white birch, magnolia, camellias, raspberries, and hydrangeas (if you want blue flowers).

Rake up dead, mushy hydrangea leaves since they can harbor fungus and scales. Put them in compostable paper bags for your community’s yard debris program that uses high-temperature composting.

When night temperatures are steadily in the twenties, cover hybrid tea and grandiflora roses with a loose mix of compost and shredded leaves. Cover plants at least a foot high, holding in the mix in place with chicken wire if necessary.

Lawn/Turf

Continue to rake heavy accumulations of leaves on the lawn to prevent suffocation of the grass crowns. You can also run the lawn mower over the lawn with a grass catcher, then put the shredded leaves in the compost bin or directly into the garden soil.

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