December 2010 Garden Tips
The winter has begun with above-average rainfall and early freezing temps. Even though our first frost date is October 15, we often don’t see below-zero temperatures until January. This year and last we’ve had very cold overnights in late November/early December.
- Plants are more frost-sensitive when it is dry – more plants die from desiccation during freezes than from low temperatures per se, so if the rain abates for a period that is followed by freezing weather, make sure to water small or new plantings.
- Protect frost-tender plants such as Bougainvillea, Hibiscus, Citrus, Tibuchina, etc. You can use an anti-desiccant such as Cloudcover, and when frost is actually predicted, cover the plants with sheets or lightweight blankets or burlap. A strand of Christmas lights in a tree is often enough to protect the plant from frost, as well (and you get decoration!)
- You can still dig up and divide grasses and perennials – the moist earth, shorter days and cooler weather, combined with the dormancy of the plants, makes this the least stressful time for them to go through this process. Make sure that once you’ve excavated the plant to keep roots moist by keeping the plants in the shade and covering the roots with damp newspaper while you are working.
- You can also continue to plant California Native Plants and most hardy trees and shrubs. Water well after planting.
- Stay on top of the deciduous leaves. If you compost, shred the leaves before composting, or run a lawn mower over them. If not shredded they will mat and take forever to decompose, making a slippery, gooey mass in your compost pile or beds. You can put them out for recycling, as well, but why give up all that nice free mulch?
- Whether with your own shredded leaves or purchased material, make sure that your garden is amply mulched for the winter. Mulch will insulate the roots and retard weed growth, which has started up with a vengeance with the rainy season.
- Feed your lawn with organic fertilizer every six weeks throughout the winter which will keep it healthy but not produce tremendous bursts of growth which will require frequent mowings.
- Plant any remaining spring-blooming bulbs.
- Clean, oil and store tools such as shovels, hoes, pruners, etc. Use a light machine oil on metal parts to prevent rust.
- Clean out gutters to avoid overflow and direct water to downspouts.
- Prune pines and other dormant conifers. Don’t trim back individual branches, rather, thin trees where necessary by pruning out entire branches. You can control the size of most pines by pinching out the new shoots or ‘candles’ in each cluster.
- Winter is the season when rats forage – and damage – our plants. If you have had problems in the past or if your neighbors have noticed rats, put out traps early before the rats devour fruit trees, vines, climbing roses and the like.
- Plant Amaryllis or Paperwhites inside, or get some Pointsettas or bring in evergreen boughs to decorate the house – you will likely be spending more time inside than out in December!