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December Garden Tips

This is the season for gift giving. Whether the recipient is a gardener or non-gardener, one idea is a Holiday Bouquet of natural plants gathered from your garden and wild areas near your home. These collections can easily be arranged into bouquets that can be set into containers for inexpensive festive decorations. They can also be placed indoors. Think of it as an arrangement that doesn't need watering. Other welcome gifts to consider are potted tender bulbs, like Amaryllis that add indoor color, and wind chimes, glazed pots and benches that add outdoor charm.  Of course, a gift certificate is always appreciated by the gardener.


  • After Christmas, your tree can be moved outside and redecorated for the birds. Anchor the tree in a bucket full of damp sand. Put on strings of popcorn and cranberries. Apples, oranges, leftover bread. Pine cones covered with peanut butter then dipped in birdseed can also be added. For best results, place the edible ornaments well into the tree. Keep in mind that your Christmas tree can provide for winter protection for birds.
  • Be sure that all garden refuse that may contain any insects or disease is disposed of in the garbage and not the compost pile.
  • You also may want to stock up on kitty litter, sand, and plant fertilizer. They all make good substitutes for salt, when used to melt ice off walks and driveways. 
  •  Other outdoor gardening activities for December include putting away any garden tools, accessories like statues and large pots, and hoses if you haven’t done so already.
  • If you have any clay, cast stone or ceramic pots that you keep outside or in a cold location during the winter, bring then in or empty them of soil which will freeze, expand, and, most likely, crack the pot. Containers remaining outdoors should also be covered to prevent the accumulation of snow and ice.
  • Tip pruning can be done this month. Many evergreens can be used in various Christmas decorations. Both the foliage and the berries of many favorites including the holly species, pines and cedars are popular for decorating the house. Remember not to make heavy pruning cuts until late winter.
  • Continue mulching and composting chores. Your plants will love the added benefits and mulching landscape plants now may help them survive the winter. This is especially important for recent plantings. Along with the mulching, you will need to watch out for animal damage to the trunk base. Voles love to feed on the bark of plants and may become a pest in the winter... It is best to keep the mulch pulled back a few inches from plant stems and trunks.
  • Clean and sharpen lawn and garden tools and store them in a dry storage area. Check belts and spark plugs change the oil, sharpen the blades and clean off dirt so equipment will be ready to go when you need it next spring.
  • Drain the fuel tank of the lawn mower, tiller and other power tools before putting the machine away for the winter.


  • Remove heavy snow from evergreen shrubs to prevent the branches from breaking.
  • After each heavy snowfall, one should tamp the snow around the young fruit trees to protect them from mice, which tunnel under the snow.
  • Newly planted evergreens should have the protection of a windbreak or anti-desiccant, such as Wilt Pruf to protect them from moisture loss. Call us if you have questions.
  • If the ground is not frozen, newly planted evergreens should again have a thorough soaking of water.
  • Winter rains tend to make us forget about watering your garden. Be mindful of plants and shrubs that are growing beneath large evergreens or under the eaves of the house which can easily dry out. Lack of water in the cold winter months can be fatal to many of these plants.
  • You can prune most shrubs and trees from now until March. Spring blooming shrubs like azaleas and spiraea should be pruned after they flower in the spring. If you prune these plants now, you will cut off the flower buds. Roses should be pruned in mid-February.


  • Amaryllis bulbs may be started if you have not already done so. If they are established bulbs in old pots, two inches of soil should be removed from the surface and replaced with a good, rich mixture.
  • Decrease water and fertilizer on Christmas cactus if the buds are developing.
  • To prolong the colorful bracts on poinsettias, keep them where temperatures don't exceed 70 degrees F during the day or drop below 65 degrees at night. Keep potted amaryllis in a cool (60 degrees) shaded location until buds open. Then move it wherever you like. Cyclamen prefer cool temperatures, so keep them back from south-facing windows that heat up during the day.
  • If you brought in your geranium plants this fall and are growing them indoors this winter, chances are they've become very leggy by now. The cloudy, short days of November and December don't provide enough light for these plants to thrive. Cut back the plants. They will re-sprout and grow bushier in the longer days of late winter.
  • Check on any corms and tubers that you dug up, and stored this fall. Remove and discard any that show signs of disease or rot.


  • The dead tops of many perennials can be removed. Leave those that provide winter interest or provide nourishment to wildlife. The list of those not to cut back includes Sedum, cone flower and the many ornamental grasses.    
  • Mulch can placed around perennials once the ground is frozen.
  • If you potted up some bulbs, such as hyacinths, daffodils or tulips, last September for winter forcing, keep an eye on them. Make sure they remain moist, and in the dark until they have established their root systems. It is possible that they have already filled their containers with roots and that the new top growth has begun. If this is so, bring them into the house and set them in a cool room, in indirect light. After a week or so, move them into bright light, and watch them bloom!


  • The outdoor gardening season may be over, but indoors you can grow many herbs. Sow seeds of parsley, oregano, sage, chives, and dwarf basil in clay pots. Once they germinate, place them under grow lights and water and fertilize (with a half-strength solution) only when very dry. You'll be rewarded with fresh herbs for your winter cooking.


  • Order fruit trees adapted to your area now. Give Mark a call and discuss the possibilities. 412-364-8662.


  • If Mother Nature hasn't blessed you with snow cover on your lawn, don't walk on the frozen grass because you'll break grass blades and may cause dieback that will show up next spring. Stay off frozen grass!!! If you have a problem with either dogs or cats disturbing your garden, spread BioDefend Dog & Cat Repellent granules over the problem areas.


  • Most of your gardening activity will of course be indoors this month, and includes regular checking of houseplants for water and pests. A common complaint in growing rubber plants indoors is yellowing leaves with dead spots on the edges. This is usually caused by over watering. Containers with bottom drainage are very important and helps remove surplus water. Remember the rule, “if in doubt, don’t water”.  It is better to error on the side of too dry rather than too wet.
  • If you grow houseplants, they may benefit from an anti-transpirant spray to keep the foliage from drying out as rapidly in homes with low humidity.
  • When watering house plants, water the soil rather than the foliage.
  • Give your large-leafed houseplants such as philodendrons, dracaenas, rubber plants, a bath this month by gently washing the foliage on both sides with a sponge dipped in soapy water. Mild dish detergent works fine. This removes the grime and allows the pores of the leaves to breathe more freely. And while you're at it, check for insect pests and treat accordingly.
  • Plants which have fuzzy, textured, or other non-glossy type leaves should be set in the sink and sprayed gently with room temperature water, until the dust is cleaned away. Be sure that the foliage is allowed to dry completely.
  • The warm, dry indoor air is prime breeding ground for spider mites. Look very closely at the undersides of leaves, at the base of stems, and on new buds for fine webbing. Another way to spot them is to tap the foliage over a sheet of white paper. If mites are present you will be able to spot the tiny critters moving on the paper. Set any suspicious-looking plants in the shower to wash off the mites, and repeat frequently until they are controlled. If it's a small plant, you can swish it around upside-down in a sink full of soapy water. Insecticidal soap also works.
  • Provide your houseplants with extra humidity by grouping plants together, or by setting the pots on leak proof trays filled with moistened pebbles. Poinsettias prefer to be kept on the cool side, 65-70 degrees during the day and 55-60 at night. Keep them in bright, natural light whenever possible, and away from heat sources and drafts.

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