What to do in your garden in December

Sharon Cohoon,  – December 10, 2004


Bare-root roses. For the best selection, visit nurseriesthis month; favorites disappear quickly. Look for these newcomers,all with fragrant blooms. (If your nursery doesn’t carry them, askif 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), deepburgundy; ‘Meiberos’ (aka Elle; Star Roses), pink; ‘Neptune’ (WeeksRoses), 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, andother spring-blooming bulbs. Crocus, hyacinth, and tulips that havebeen chilled in the refrigerator for at least six weeks can go intothe ground late this month too.

Shrubs with winter interest. If color is sparse in yourgarden 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 brightlycolored berries – for example, beautyberry (Callicarpa), cotoneaster, holly, pyracantha, or toyon.


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

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

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

Prune for holiday greens. Conifers and some broad-leafedevergreens benefit from judicious shaping this time of year, andyou can use the clippings for holiday decorations. Good candidatesinclude 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 fewinches of the ground this month. New growth will emerge in thespring.

Refurbish tools. To clean shovels, spades, forks, hoes, andother digging tools: Fill a 5-gallon container with sand mixed with1 quart vegetable oil, then dip tool heads into the sand severaltimes until they’re clean. For tools with crisscrossing blades,gently remove rust spots with sandpaper. Sharpen blades with a millbastard file, spray them with machine oil, then wipe themclean.