Good Natured Gardening: Gardening in December

‘Tis the season when Christmas appears on the horizon, and opportunities for gardening are fewer. It’s a great time to admire the remaining autumn colors, sit in front of a roaring fire, and enjoy this month’s festivities.

Baseball players take winter off to relax, so gardeners also should be able to have an off-season. No planting, fertilizing, or weeding, and no stressing. Right? In your dreams.

Clarence Schmidt

Clarence Schmidt

(Courtesy photo)

So that you can grow in the know, here’s this month’s yard to-dos.

Get a jump on building those new planter beds. Building them now will give the soil time to settle and be ready for springtime planting.

Make time for some prime-time armchair gardening. Flip through a few plant and seed catalogs for ideas.

Don’t forget about that partridge in the tree, the turtle doves, and all those calling birds. That’s a lot of birds to feed. So, clean the birdbaths, disinfect bird feeders, and stock up on seeds, and suet.

Our hummingbird buddies will need a steady supply of nectar in their feeders. Note: the cost of nectar has practically doubled, so if you really need that new car, try attracting butterflies instead.

Some bulbs to plant: alliums, anemones, crocuses, daffodils, freesias, gladiolus, hyacinths, irises, narcissus, paperwhites, ranunculus, snowdrops, and tulips.

Amaryllis, Christmas cactus, cyclamen, hyacinths, kalanchoes, and poinsettias will provide some impressive holiday colors. According to Bellevue University, “when properly cared for, an amaryllis plant can live for 75 years”. I planted mine when I was…oh, no you don’t…you’re not getting any clues as to my age. Suffice it to say that I was born at a very early age.

Consider a living potted Christmas tree. It will save you money as opposed to those one-and-done cut trees. It’s more eco-friendly, and with some loving care, can be brought back inside next December.

This month, consider giving away some fruits and potted plants from your yard to your friends and fellow gardeners. Not only is it a neighborly gesture, but it is also a way to ship out those pesky aphids, stink bugs, and leafhoppers.

As a bonus, give them that fully aged rum fruitcake that’s been re-gifted countless times. Ho. Ho. Ho.

It’s game over for the summer crops and time to harvest apples, Brussels sprouts, cauliflowers, grapes, kale, kohlrabi, leeks, lettuce, parsley, spinach, and turnips.

Powdery mildew occurs year-round in our area and thrives in temperatures of 60 to 80℉. This fungal disease causes whitish blotches on tomato leaves, squash, and cucumbers. A garden with powdery mildew can still be productive. Use neem oil, sulfur, non-toxic horticultural oil, or biological fungicides. It’s like giving those pesky fungi a taste of their own medicine.

Water houseplants less than in the summer due to reduced hours of sunlight. Check them often for mealybugs, spider mites, thrips, whiteflies, and the diabolical ironclad beetle. Indoor plants love to bask in the 65 to 75℉ range.

According to Grangetto’s Farm and Garden Supply, “As the weather cools and days are shorter, reset your irrigation timer to water less frequently. You don’t need to change the number of minutes the system waters each time, just the frequency.”

Mow lawns to keep the height at about two inches. If your lawn needs repair, plant annual rye seeds for new growth. Apply a light covering of soil amendment and water thoroughly.

Identify the bug, fungus, or weed before you spray. According to, “By spraying for a pest without knowing what it is, you could kill off its natural enemies without killing the pest. Or you might use the wrong product and kill the plant. If you’re unsure, take a sample to a nursery or your cooperative extension service and have them ID it for you”. Asking dumb questions is better than correcting dumb mistakes.

Some annuals to plant: bachelor buttons, begonias, calendula, celosia, chrysanthemum, cosmos, larkspur, marigold, nasturtium, pansies, petunias, primrose, snapdragons, statice, stock, sweet pea, and zinnias.

Tulips, crocus, and hyacinths should be refrigerated for six to eight weeks before planting.

Some vegetables to plant: beets, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, kale, lettuce, radishes, and turnips.

Some herbs to plant: basil, chives, cilantro, dill, lavender, mint, parsley, rosemary, and thyme.

Some perennials to plant: allium, Asiatic lily, aster, astilbe, clematis, coneflower, daisies, daylily, forget-me-not, geranium, goldenrod, hydrangea, lavender, and roses.

Protect azaleas, bougainvillea, dahlias, fuchsias, hibiscus, plumerias, poinsettias, and rhododendrons with old sheets or large cardboard boxes. If you’re using plastic sheeting, make sure it doesn’t touch the foliage.

Fruit trees, grape vines, acacias, hollies (only female hollies bear the red berries), Japanese maples, roses, sages, and wisterias, will benefit from a winter prune.

Most bare-root trees need a specific number of “chill hours” to set fruit the following season. Make sure your area meets that requirement.

Nurseries typically stock new bare-root roses and trees around the second week of December.

A soil moisture meter is a useful tool that lets you test your soil to make sure you are providing the optimal moisture level for plant growth. No experience is needed, and you don’t even have to be smarter than a 5th grader to use one.

If necessary, you can transplant azaleas, calendulas, camellias, cyclamen, delphiniums, dianthus, foxgloves, pansies, peonies, poppies, snapdragons, and violets. You can also transplant asparagus, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, grapes, rhubarb, and strawberries.

Plan what you want to grow next spring, and add that to your holiday list. Add essentials like tools, gloves, and, of course, a 4-wheel drive air-conditioned John Deere tractor.

Think about your past year’s gardening successes. If you had any epic failures, don’t worry, be happy. Picture those 10 lords a-leaping and how happy they must be jumping around every year.

Every setback is an opportunity to grow. You’re either harvesting or you’re learning. Keep that green thumb brown.

On average, gardeners have a 30-point higher IQ than everyone else. OK, I just made that up. But it made me momentarily feel good and that’s what gardening should be all about.

Happy holidays.

Schmidt is a Poway resident with over 40 years of gardening experience.

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