What to do in your garden in December

Sharon Cohoon

Shopping

Holiday gifts from nurseries. Tired of crowded malls? Shopat nurseries. Even nongardening friends like cyclamen, orchids,miniature conifers, and other tabletop plants, vases, cachepots,decorative birdhouses, and more. Or check out the gift shops atbotanical gardens for one-of-a-kind finds.

Planting

Artichokes. Even if you don't like to eat artichokes, plantone or more now for their ornamental value. You'll get handsomesilvery leaves, big green flower buds, and, if you don't eat thosebuds, violet-blue flowers that will stop your neighbors in theirtracks. (I know; I watched them from my home office lastsummer.)

Bulbs. Coastal, inland, and low-desert gardeners (Sunsetclimate zones 22-24, 18-21, and 13, respectively) can still plantspring-flowering bulbs. Tulips, crocus, and hyacinth that have beenchilled for at least six weeks can go in now too.

Natives that look like holly. Ilex (holly) is fine for the acidic soils of the Northwest,but it's not the best choice for Southern California. Plant toyon (Hetero­meles arbutifolia) instead, suggests LaCañada Flintridge landscape architect and native enthusiastRonnie Siegel. Hollyleaf cherry ( Prunus ilicifolia), hollyleaf redberry ( Rhamnus ilicifolia), and Rhamnus crocea also provide greenery that resemblesholly.

Bare-root roses. Nurseries that specialize in bare-rootroses include Laguna Hills Nursery in Lake Forest, ParkviewNursery in Riverside, Burkard Nurseries in Pasadena, LakewoodNursery in Cypress, and Kniffing's Discount Nurseries in El Cajon.Visit www.helpmefind.com if you'rehaving trouble finding a particular rose. Varieties to try: 'JuliaChild', a butter-yellow floribunda with old garden rose blossoms.An All-America award winner, this is a thoroughly delicious rose,and it's also disease-resistant. Another floribunda that deservesattention is 'Brilliant Pink Iceberg'. Try interplanting it withwhite 'Iceberg', its classic parent, as they do at HuntingtonGardens. 'Starry Night', a shrub rose with single, white flowersthat look almost like a dogwood's, is another underused winner. Itthrives in clay soil and hot inland climates, says Riversidegardener Susan Hinojosa.

Camellias. Add winter-blooming Camellia sasanqua to the garden for holiday blooms.Red-flowered 'Yuletide' is deservedly popular, but there are manyother varieties. If you aren't finding many choices at your localnursery, visit Nuccio's Nurseries in Altadena, which specializes incamellias and azaleas. Or request a catalog and order by mail (626/794-3383).

Fruit trees. TreePeople, the nonprofit organizationpromoting urban forestry in Southern California, gives awaythousands of bare-root apple, apricot, nectarine, peach, and plumtrees to low-income families at this time of year. Visit www.treepeople.org to donateto the program.

Wildflowers. Broadcast seeds of baby blue eyes, blue andscarlet flax, California poppy, clarkia, godetia, and otherwildflowers. Rake lightly to cover seeds with a thin cover of soil,or walk over seeds to press into ground. Keep soil moist untilseeds germinate, or broadcast just before rain is expected.

Maintenance

Care for indoor plants. To counteract the dry air fromheating systems, place potted plants on trays of moistened pebbles.Grouping plants together and misting frequently also helps increasehumidity around plants.

Harvest winter vegetables. Begin picking brussels sprouts,starting from the bottom of stalks. Cut broccoli heads, allowingside stalks to produce sprouts for later harvesting.

Prepare for winter rains. Clean out gutters, downspouts, andswales. Buy barrels or other storage devices to collect rainwaterfor plants. To keep soil from compacting in the rain, replenishmulch in garden beds.

Control weeds. Pull out annual bluegrass, spurge, and otheryoung weeds as they emerge and before they have a chance to setseed ― easiest to do after a rain when soil is soft.

Harvest greens. Conifers and broad-leafed evergreens benefitfrom light pruning in winter ― and you can use the clippingsfor making holiday wreaths and swags. Longest-lasting types includecedar, cotoneaster, cypress, fir, holly, juniper, magnolia, pines,pittosporum, podocarpus, pyracantha, toyon and viburnum.

Trim a tree for wild birds. Decorate a small conifer orother evergreen tree with garlands of unsalted popcorn,cranberries, and grapes strung on fishing line. Add ornaments oforanges and grapefruits sliced in wedges and dried corn on the cob;use fishing line again to tie ornaments to the tree.

Pest and Disease Control

Spray fruit trees. If pests and fungal disease attacked yourdeciduous fruit trees this year, take steps now to prevent attacksnext year. Spray trees with a mixture of lime sulfur or fixedcopper (on apricots, use only fixed copper) and horticultural oil.The oil smothers the eggs of overwintering insect pests; the limesulfur or copper discourages fungal diseases like peach leaf curl.Spray all branches, the trunk, and the ground beneath the trees outto the driplines.

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