my december garden chores
THE PAUSE THAT REFRESHES: Gardeners, like their gardens, benefit from a bit of dormancy, and the time is upon us. Enjoy it. I’ve already shared some of my winter plans, and here’s the rest of one of the easiest of the year’s to-do lists:
Seed-catalog season gets going in earnest later in the month, so early December is prime time to inventory leftover seeds and store them in a cool, dry place. A friend stashes his in the fridge, first sealing in zipper bags with the air squeezed out, then placing the bags in a sealed plastic box rather than having strays get lost among the yogurt and mayonnaise. If you want to test your germination rate now, here’s how.
Toss those more than a few years old and make a list of what you’ll need. Not that any act of self-control stops me from ordering yet another gourd or pumpkin variety, or some oddity I simply must have or perish. My list of favorite sources is in the right-hand sidebar of every page here; my 2009 order is here.
Remember: Take the mower in for service after the final mowing, rather than in the spring rush, then store without gas in the tank by running it dry. Oh, and there are overwintered plants in the basement and garage to check for possible water needs, and also produce like potatoes in storage. One bad apple, as the saying goes. Examine for any mold or softness.
KEEP AN EYE OUT for signs of houseplant pests like spider mites, mealybugs, and scale insects. If tackled before they get out of hand, nonchemical methods are usually successful: a simple shower, insecticidal soap spray (as directed on label) or with the most tenacious (like mealybugs) sometimes an alcohol swab and Q-tip. Overwatering is the biggest risk to houseplants in winter…go easy.
START A POT OF PAPERWHITES in potting soil or even easier, pebbles and water laced with alcohol, and stagger forcing of another batch every couple of weeks for a winterlong display.
WAKE UP AMARYLLIS BULBS by watering once, placing in a bright spot, and waiting for them to respond. If no dice in a couple of weeks, water again…but don’t repeatedly water an unresponsive bulb or it may rot. It will tell you when it’s ready for action.
TREES & SHRUBS
CLEAR TURF OR WEEDS from the area right around the trunks of fruit trees and ornamentals before snow flies to reduce winter damage by rodents. Hardware cloth collars should be in place year-round as well.
BE EXTRA-VIGILANT cleaning up under fruit trees, as fallen fruit and foliage allowed to overwinter invites added troubles next season.
SCOUT FOR VIBURNUM BEETLE egg cases on bare viburnum twigs now through April. Remove cases by pruning off affected wood to reduce larvae and beetle issues in the coming year. The bump-like cases are usually on the underside of youngest twigs. I also watch in May for larvae hatch and rub the twigs then to squash the emerging pests.
PREVENTIVE PRUNING: Always be on the lookout for dead, damaged, diseased wood in trees and shrubs and prune them out as discovered. This is especially important before winter arrives with its harsher weather, where weaknesses left in place invite tearing and unnecessary extra damage. Remove suckers and water sprouts, too.
MOLE PATROL: I am still setting out mousetraps under boxes, buckets or cans in the gardens where I see any activity, to rid them from my beds and borders.
PROTECT ROSES FROM WINTER damage by mounding up their crowns with a 6- to 12-inch layer of soil before the ground freezes. After all is frozen, add a layer of leaf mulch to further insulate.
Note: All based on my Zone 5B Berkshire/Hudson Valley location; adjust accordingly.