Northwest Checklist

What to do in your garden in December
Jim McCausland

PLANTING AND SHOPPING

Camellias. Sunset climate zones 4-7, 17: Buy and plant winter-blooming Camellia sasanqua.

Divide lilacs. If you already have an ungrafted lilac (one grown on its own roots), you can start new plants by cutting suckers from the ground beside the parent plant with a sharp spade and replanting them in another part of the garden.

Forced bulbs. Potted amaryllis and paperwhite narcissus are plentiful now in garden centers and nurseries. Choose amaryllis for color (mostly pinks, reds, and whites), paperwhites for fragrance. Give both plenty of light during the day. The flower stalks of paperwhites tend to flop over in warm indoor air; to perk them up, set plants out on a cool, frost-free porch overnight, then bring them back inside in the morning.

Living Christmas trees. Four of the best candidates are alpine fir, Douglas fir, noble fir, and white fir. During its indoor stay, care for the tree as suggested at left. After the holidays, move the tree to a cool, bright porch where its rootball won't freeze. Transplant the tree into the garden when the soil is workable; or leave it in the container for another year.

Propagate evergreens. To start new plants of azalea, camellia, daphne, hydrangea, mahonia, or rhododendron, scrape a dime-size patch of bark off the underside of a low branch. Dust the wound with rooting hormone, scoop a shallow depression in the soil just below, and press the branch into it. Then firm a little soil over the wound and put a brick or stone atop the branch to hold it down. The branch will form roots: By next fall, you can cut it free from the parent and transplant it.

Trees, shrubs, vines. Plant hardy kinds any time. For winter color, consider Berberis thunbergii (red berries), Callicarpa bodinieri 'Profusion' (purple berries), holly (see "High on Holly," page 63), and winter hazel (yellow flowers). For spring color, consider forsythia (yellow flowers), saucer magnolia (pink to magenta-purple blooms), and wisteria (purple or white flowers).

MAINTENANCE

Prune for holiday greens. Prune daphne, holly, native Oregon myrtle, rhododendron, rosemary, and salal to make garlands. Most conifers, especially cedars, yield long-lasting greens, but skip hemlock, which defoliates very quickly after it is cut.

Tend gift plants. All plants need fairly bright light, though most can stand lower light for 10 days or so during the holidays. Keep them out of drafts and away from heater vents. Water when the top 1/2 inch of soil dries out, but never let water puddle in saucers. Nip off faded flowers or yellow foliage as needed.