The Ornamental Garden in December
Winter officially starts this month and the holiday season is upon us. Darkness comes early now and nighttime temperatures are definitely chilly. It’s time to check all of the plantings in your ornamental garden to make sure they are well tucked in for the colder weather ahead. Venture out into your garden to tackle any remaining tasks on your gardening “to do” list:
- Remove matted leaves and any other debris that might harbor overwintering pests in your flower beds.
- Remove weeds from your ornamental beds. Common chickweed, henbit, purple deadnettle, and other “winter weeds” sprout in mid to late fall. Pulling these bad boys now will put you ahead of the weeding game come spring.
- Make sure you have a good supply of sand or sawdust on hand. As some plants are sensitive to de-icing salts, sand and sawdust are better alternatives for use on icy walkways near plantings.
- If you forgot to do this earlier in the fall, drain all water hoses and store them in a garage, garden shed, basement or other suitable place out of the weather. Don’t forget to drain non-frost proof outdoor faucets.
- Check for plants that have been displaced due to soil heaving after the ground freezes. Replant them, making sure roots are well covered to protect them from freezing temperatures.
- Watch for standing water in perennial beds after long periods of rain or snow. Water that collects on the surface of the soil during winter will freeze and can damage perennials. If necessary, dig shallow trenches to help drain excess water away. Make a note to raise the flower bed in spring to improve drainage.
Now that you’ve tended to all of your outdoor chores, let’s talk about caring for your indoor plants. During the busy holidays, it’s easy to forget about houseplants. Rather than have them suffer in silence, here are a few reminders:
- Make sure your houseplants have adequate light. Turn them periodically so that they grow evenly and don’t lean toward the light.
- Increase humidity around houseplants by misting often or placing the plants on a tray of moist pebbles. Cover delicate plants, such as maidenhair ferns, with a glass bell jar, cloche or terrarium. This makes it easier to care for the plant and can look quite elegant. Don’t forget to put the plant on a tray or other waterproof surface to protect your wood furniture.
- Water houseplants during the winter months when the soil in the pot feels dry two inches down. Water thoroughly, allowing the excess water to drain away. Hold off on fertilizing your houseplants until spring.
- Poinsettias look their best over the holidays when you pay attention to their light, water, and room temperature requirements. They prefer bright filtered light. They will also thrive in a sunny south-facing window, but don’t let the foliage press against a cold window pane. Water them regularly, checking to make sure the water drains away from the roots. They like evenly moist, but not soggy, soil. You can prolong the floral display by keeping the indoor temperature at about 68°F during the day and cooler at night.
- Keep pets away from holiday plants such as poinsettias, mistletoe and holly. Ingesting poinsettia foliage is not normally life threatening to pets but the sap can cause mouth and stomach irritation as well as vomiting. Also, if the plant has been treated with a pesticide, the chemicals in the pesticide may cause more serious medical problems for a pet than ingestion of the sap. Mistletoe and holly berries are more toxic than poinsettias and can cause more serious health problems for pets.
- For advice on selecting Christmas trees and decorating for the holidays, be sure to read this issue’s feature article on” Holiday Decorating with Fresh Greenery.”
Last but not least, the holidays are a great time to share rooted cuttings from your houseplants with friends and neighbors. Plants make wonderful “hostess” gifts and are a nice alternative to sugary sweets or scented candles. If your friends are (gasp) not “plant people,” they’ll appreciate your thoughtfulness if you include a few plant care instructions with your gift.