Dec. 2012 Garden To Do List: Zone 6

Susan Wells
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November 2012 To Do Lists: Zone 8

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Clean the air indoors and you’ll clear your mind. NASA studies have chosen the following plants as top air purifiers: bamboo palms, Boston ferns, dwarf date palms, gerbera daisies, peace lilies and rubber trees. Indoor plants help to remove such pollutants as formaldehyde, odors from paints/stains/varnishes, adhesives, particle board, ammonia and alcohol.

 Indoors

Poinsettias have been a holiday favorite since the 1920’s. They 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 can make with poinsettias is overwatering. They are prone to root rot if the pot sits in a saucer full of water. (Poinsettias exude a milky and sticky liquid that may irritate the skin, but is not poisonous. It is a good idea to keep them out of the reach of young children and pets.)

Flowers/Perennials

When cold weather threatens get out there and water your beds thoroughly. Well hydrated plants will be better able to deal with a cold snap.

Gather remaining leaves for the compost pile and for winter mulch on beds. One or two inches of organic matter on top of the soil  is adequate for most gardens. Raking leaves off the lawn before snow buries it will save your turf come spring.

Bird seeds and suet cakes with a high fat content will keep the birds warmer. Provide fresh water for them, too. (They can’t drink ice.) Check your local Home Depot Garden Center; many carry devices that will keep your birdbath from freezing.

Birds will also enjoy clusters of hanging grapes or cranberries strung together hanging on a branch.

Leave dried flowers, ornamental grasses, and seed heads that look good and provide food for birds.

Don’t miss your chance to plant spring-blooming bulbs. You can stagger the planting of daffodils and tulips a few weeks apart to extend the blooming periods, or plant them at varying depths in the soil for longer lasting color. The shallower ones will bloom first, and the deeper ones later.

The papery coverings of tulip bulbs are especially tasty to squirrels. If squirrels have been a problem in the past, you may want to cover the bed with chicken wire before you mulch.

Plant winter annuals above your spring and summer blooming bulbs for instant, long-lasting color. Some best bets include calendulas, cyclamen, pansies, Iceland poppies, primroses, and violas. (One great combo is grape hyacinth popping up among red primrose.)

The hellebore’s soft blooms appear in winter to add a bit of delicate color to the shade garden, sometimes with snow still on the ground. Hellebores have an unusually early bloom time and a vigorous growth habit, making it a self-seeding perennial favorite. It even resists deer and the evergreen leaves are a favorite in floral arrangements and as a garden accent.

Consider using your winter vegetables and herbs in the flower beds and containers. Kales, cabbages, mustard greens and curly parsley add a lot of texture and color.

Mulch sensitive plants with a layer of straw.

Ornamental grasses add movement and beauty to the landscape and winter provide shelter.

Most of your perennials should be cut back by this month. Don’t cut back your spring bloomers, roses and mums.

Continue to cleanup and discard any diseased and dead branches from your roses. Do not prune roses this time of year. We’ll prune in January.

For the home gardener, wood ash is a great source of lime, potassium and trace elements. It contains most of the 13 essential nutrients the soil needs for plant growth. As wood burns, nitrogen and sulfur are lost as gases, but calcium, potassium, magnesium and trace element compounds remain. The carbonates and oxides remaining are valuable liming agents, raising pH, thereby helping to neutralize acid soils.

Know the pH of your soil before adding too much wood ash. Where soils are acidic and low in potassium, wood ash is beneficial. Use wood ash on flower beds, lawns and shrubs. The exceptions are acid-loving plants such as blueberries, rhododendrons and azaleas.

The fertilizer value of wood ash depends on the type of wood you burn. Hardwoods such as oak weigh more per cord and yield more ash per pound of wood burned. Hardwood ash contains a higher percentage of nutrients than ash from softwoods such as Douglas-fir or pine. One-half to one pound of wood ash per year is recommended for each shrub and rose bush. Spread ash evenly on the soil around perennial plants. Rake the ash into the soil lightly, when soil is dry, being careful not to damage the roots. Never leave ash in lumps or piles, because if it is concentrated in one place, excessive salt from the ash will create a harmful environment for plants.

Study your Garden Journal from last year and lay out a new plan if needed. Winter is such a good time to study the bones of a landscape.

Vegetables

Plan to rotate the crops in the vegetable garden. If you have space, try not to plant crops from the same family in the same place more often than every four years.

An inexpensive, easy to grow and nutritious way to add fresh greens to your diet, is to start sprouting seeds for your sandwiches, pizzas and salads. A variety of seeds hold a variety of healthy benefits, including antioxidants. Try sprouting alfalfa, broccoli seeds, cabbage, celery, clover, garlic, kale, mung bean, radish and sunflower seeds. The amount of time needed for the seeds to sprout varies with the type of seed used. (Directions for sprouting : place 2 tablespoons of seeds in to a quart jar. After rinsing seeds, cover them with an inch of warm water. Cover the jar with a tight lid, and let the seeds soak for 24 hours. Drain the soaked seeds and rinse twice. Lay the jar on its side on a kitchen counter, out of direct sunlight. At this point, change the lid to a perforated one, and rinse daily until the sprouts are ready for the table.)

For an alternative to growing fresh parsley indoors: cut the tops of your carrots and line them up in a shallow glass dish or pan with just enough water to cover half of the cut side. Every two weeks or so you can ‘mow’ the carrot greens and use them as you would parsley.

Harvest frost-sweetened Brussels sprouts, carrots, parsnips, cabbage, and kale. The longer the carrots stay in the ground, the sweeter they’ll become.

Pick a hand full of fresh herbs for making herbal vinegars. Use 8 cups of fresh herbs to 1 gallon of your favorite vinegar. (Pour the gallon of vinegar into a second container. Stuff the herbs into the vinegar’s original container. Now, with use of a funnel, pour the vinegar back into its’ original container. Cap tightly and store in a dark place for a few weeks. When you are ready to use it, or give it as a gift, strain the herbal vinegar into a clean bottle, only filling it half way and add a few sprigs of the fresh herbs. Top it off with more vinegar, and enjoy the fresh flavors.)

Mulch sensitive crops like strawberries with a layer of straw. Remove it come spring.

If you are growing greens through winter, use your floating row cover or plastic sheeting for extra warmth. Anchor it down to protect it from wind.

Cut back asparagus fronds.

Trees and Shrubs

Planting trees and shrubs now through the end of March is the optimal time. This gives their roots all winter to get established and enables them to handle summer heat. Containerized trees and shrubs can be planted all year but right now is best.

Be sure to keep newly planted shrubs and trees well watered if the weather is dry during the winter. Keep the soil moist not soggy. Well-hydrated plants can handle the cold much better than if they are stressed.

After they lose their leaves, deciduous plants such as fruit trees may be pruned.

Have a plan in mind before starting to prune. Do not remove more than one-quarter to one-third of a plant’s foliage in any one season. Pruning more than that will potentially reduce the plant’s ability to photosynthesize and feed itself. This creates stress, making it more prone to attack by pests and diseases.

Deciduous shrubs should be dormant by mid-December. Trim shrubs if needed unless they are spring bloomers.

Make sure your evergreen trees have enough water to hinder ‘brown-out.’

Don’t let mulch at the base of trees pile up against the trunks. We don’t want to encourage critters to spend time there.

Lawns

You can enjoy some time off from mowing the grass, but you can let your mower mulch the fallen leaves and add more organic material to your soil. If you have not changed your mower blade to a mulching one, pick one up at your local Home Depot.

Continue to remove leave piles from your turf, as they will kill the grass if left there through the winter.

Warm season grasses are dormant in December and should not require watering or fertilizer.

Continue to water turf that has been overseeded with rye grass, as needed. (You may need to continue to mow your rye grass this month at a height of 2 inches.)

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