Don't miss Toby's holiday tips and advice on maintaining your garden this winter.
1. The perfect December houseplant is a colorful poinsettia. They offer weeks of enjoyment and Christmas cheer. Place poinsettias in a location where they’ll receive six hours of bright, indirect light. Water the plants weekly over the kitchen sink; a plastic saucer placed under the pot will protect your furniture.
2. Fresh herbs are a wonderful addition to holiday dishes. Rosemary, parsley, chives, and cilantro are often available from local market gardeners if you’re not growing these plants in your own garden.
3. December is a month for decorating.; Southern tradition calls for wreaths, swags, and table arrangements filled with fragrant, evergreen foliage and seasonal fruits.
4. Gardening catalogs find their way to your home during the holiday season. Organize them and prepare your orders for the spring season.
5. Buy your live Christmas tree as soon as possible. Remove two inches from the trunk, place the tree in a bucket of water, and leave it in the shade outside until you are ready for decorating.
6. Gardening books make great Christmas gifts! FYI, Here’s one new book: The Carolinas Gardener’s Handbook by Dr. Polomski and yours truly. Cool Springs Press 2012.
General Lawn & Plant Care
7. Annual flower gardens are spent by now, having succumbed to killing frosts, with the exception of cold-hardy winter annuals. While the labels on experimental plants are still legible and your recall is fresh, record cultivar names in a garden journal or spreadsheet for future reference. It may help to take a picture, too.
8. Consider mulching garden beds to prevent “frost heaving,” which is caused by the freezing and thawing of the soil. It is best to start mulching after leaf removal. In coastal gardens, winter flower beds can benefit from routine watering and the application of an organic or slow-release fertilizer product.
9. Spring-flowering bulbs should be planted by now; however, daffodils can still be planted for late blooms. Don’t forget to include native perennials, such as rain lilies and blazing stars liatris. Paperwhite bulbs, amaryllis, and lily-of the-valley pips can also be potted for forcing indoors.
10. Both cool-season and warm-season lawns need very little care, other than hand-pulling weeds or spot-spraying undesirable broadleaf weeds .
11. Consider using some of your downtime away from lawn care to service your mowers, blowers, and other maintenance equipment.
12. Don’t allow leaves to build up on your tall fescue lawn. A heavy coating of leaves will block sunlight and weaken lawn grasses. Rake and compost tree leaves, or use a mulching mower to shred the leaves right in place.
13. In Piedmont and coastal gardens, herbaceous perennial beds can be groomed, and established perennials can be divided and transplanted to new locations. Do not fertilize perennial beds with a nitrogen source at this time. Mountain region gardens can be mulched as needed before the ground freezes.
14. Use the winter months to prepare new beds that will receive roses in spring; this includes soil testing old and new beds. Cut back established roses to waist-high (3 feet). Place mulch six inches high over graft unions for winter protection.
14. Continue planting trees and other deciduous woody ornamentals as the season allows. Shade trees planted near power lines should be “small tree” species.
14. If you are looking for winter color, a trailing pansy may be a good choice for large-container gardens.
14. Established garden mums can be cut back drastically and mulched to overwinter them. Container mums should either be planted in the ground or nestled together in a cold frame to protect their roots from freezing.
Fruit and Vegetable Gardens
15. Many vegetable gardeners save seed of heirloom and open-pollinated varieties. Dried seeds should be kept in a cool location. Place them in labeled envelopes and store them in an airtight container.
16. Cold frames and row tunnels can extend the planting season of cool-season vegetables. Vegetables that can be started by seed with the help of cold protecting devices include lettuce, mesclum, mustard, turnips, onions, spinach and carrots. Garlic bulbs and shallots can be planted in Zone 8 gardens spaced four or more inches apart and mulched with straw or compost. It is best to buy organic cloves at a garden center to avoid growth inhibiting chemicals in grocery store garlic.
18. Prune out dead wood on fruit trees and remove decayed fruit. Give the ground under and around fruit bearing plants a thorough raking to eliminate diseased foliage and other sources of pathogens. A good cure for cabin fever in the winter is to begin pruning mature apple trees. Newly planted fruit trees, brambles, and vines should not be trained or pruned severely until late winter when buds begin to swell and forsythia bloom.
Wishing you and yours a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!