Southern California Checklist

What to do in your garden in December
Sharon Cohoon

PLANTING

Bare-root roses. For the best selection, visit nurseries this month; favorites disappear quickly. Look for these newcomers, all with fragrant blooms. (If your nursery doesn't carry them, ask if it will order from the wholesale grower, listed in parentheses.) Hybrid teas: 'Aromatherapy' (Jackson & Perkins), bright pink; 'Della Reese' (sold only through Armstrong Garden Centers), deep burgundy; 'Meiberos' (aka Elle; Star Roses), pink; 'Neptune' (Weeks Roses), dark lavender. Shrub roses: 'Midnight Blue' (Weeks Roses), dark purple; 'Pure Perfume' (Jackson & Perkins), white. Climbers: 'Lemon Meringue' (Weeks Roses) and 'Scent from Above' (Jackson & Perkins), both with yellow blooms.

Bulbs. Coastal, inland, and low-desert gardeners (Sunset climate zones 22-24, 18-21, and 13, respectively) can still plant anemones, daffodils, freesias, ranunculus, and other spring-blooming bulbs. Crocus, hyacinth, and tulips that have been chilled in the refrigerator for at least six weeks can go into the ground late this month too.

Shrubs with winter interest. If color is sparse in your garden now, add a winter-flowering shrub, such as breath of heaven (Coleonema), Camellia sasanqua, New Zealand tea tree (Leptospermum scoparium), or pink powder puff (Calliandra haematocephala). Or plant a shrub with brightly colored berries - for example, beautyberry (Callicarpa), cotoneaster, holly, pyracantha, or toyon.

MAINTENANCE

Care for indoor plants. To counteract the dry air from heating systems, place potted plants on trays filled with a layer of pebbles that are barely covered with water. Grouping plants together and misting frequently also help increase humidity.

Fertilize cymbidiums. To encourage flowering, feed cymbidiums with a bloom-promoting fertilizer, such as a 15-30-15 formula, until buds open. Once plants flower, move them into shade for longer-lasting blooms.

Prepare for frost. Move tender container plants under house eaves or indoors when cold weather is predicted. Cover plants in the ground with perforated plastic or burlap supported by a frame - one made of four tall stakes, for instance - that will keep the cover from touching the foliage. Don't forget to water; plants withstand low temperatures better when given adequate moisture.

Prune for holiday greens. Conifers and some broad-leafed evergreens benefit from judicious shaping this time of year, and you can use the clippings for holiday decorations. Good candidates include cedar, cotoneaster, cypress, fir, holly, juniper, magnolia, pine, pittosporum, podocarpus, pyracantha, and toyon.

Prune raspberries. To keep low-chill (everbearing) raspberries under control, cut back all canes to within a few inches of the ground this month. New growth will emerge in the spring.

Refurbish tools. To clean shovels, spades, forks, hoes, and other digging tools: Fill a 5-gallon container with sand mixed with 1 quart vegetable oil, then dip tool heads into the sand several times until they're clean. For tools with crisscrossing blades, gently remove rust spots with sandpaper. Sharpen blades with a mill bastard file, spray them with machine oil, then wipe them clean.