What to do in your garden in December

Kim Nelson

PLANTING

Cool-season color. Sunset climate zones 10-13: Set out transplants ofcalendula, chrysanthemum, cyclamen, dianthus, Iceland poppy,Johnny-jump-up, pansy, petunia, primrose, snapdragon, and sweetalyssum.

Cool-season crops. Zones 10-13: Set out transplants ofbroccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, kohlrabi, and onion seedlings. Sowseeds of beets, bok choy, carrots, chives, collards, dill, fennel,green onions, lettuce, radishes, spinach, and turnips.

Living Christmas trees. Zones 1a-3b: Consider Coloradospruce (Picea pungens) and Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii). Zone 10: Try Arizona cypress (Cupressus arizonica), Colorado spruce, deodar cedar (Cedrus deodara), Douglas fir, and piñon (Pinus edulis). Zones 11-13: Good choices include Afghanpine (P. eldarica), Aleppo pine (P. halepensis),and Italian stone pine (P. pinea). During its indoor stay, care for the tree assuggested at left. After the holidays, transplant it outdoors.Subtropical Norfolk Island pine (Araucaria heterophylla) can be grown indoorsyear-round.

MAINTENANCE

Apply dormant spray. To smother overwintering insect pests(aphids, mites, scale) and their eggs, spray deciduous fruit treesand roses with dormant oil after their leaves fall. Spray thebranches, trunk, and the ground inside the dripline.

Care for poinsettias. Place the plant in a brightly litroom, away from cold drafts, heater vents, and direct sunlight.Water when the soil surface feels dry, but never let the soil getsoggy or allow water to pool in the saucer.

Protect citrus trees. Zones 12, 13: When temperatures below28° are forecast, irrigate trees deeply, then cover thecanopies with burlap, blankets, or old sheets.

Refurbish tools. To clean spades, trowels, and such, fill a5-gallon bucket with sand and mix in 1 quart of vegetable oil (suchas canola). Plunge the metal tool heads into the sand several timesuntil clean. To remove rust spots on pruners and saws, gently rubthe blades with sandpaper. Sharpen blades with a whetstone, spraythem with machine or mineral oil, and wipe clean. Rub wood handleswith linseed oil.

Spread winter mulch. Zones 1a-3b: Spread a 3- to 4-inchlayer of organic mulch over beds of bulbs and perennials to protecttheir roots and prevent plants from being heaved out of the groundduring freezing and thawing cycles.

DECORATING

Assemble luminarias. Also called farolitos, or little lanterns, luminarias are easy to make.Fold down the top 2 inches of a paper lunch bag, and then pour in 2inches of sand. Place a votive candle or tea light in the middle ofthe bag, tapping it into the sand. Set the open bags 2 feet apartalong paths, driveways, or patios.

Create a botanical wreath. Gather materials from your gardenand local craft shops to make a wreath. Using florist's wire andhot glue, attach bay leaves or snippets of dalea, eucalyptus, orjuniper to a wire wreath frame. Fill in with clusters of oregano,sage, and thyme, rosemary sprigs, and seed pods of carob, mesquitetrees, or Texas ebony. Finish with accents such as dried chiles,devil's claws (Proboscidea louisianica), pomegranates, or yucca pods.

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