I always feel bad when making out a list of chores for this month. Somehow it feels like we should be taking December off, and for the most part we probably can, but just in case you didn’t finish the tasks you should have accomplished in November, here are some chores to keep you busy.
Winter protection: So far we have had a very mild December. Even this week — despite being below freezing for several nights — isn’t in any way what I would consider a hard freeze and certainly not an “Arctic blast.” But rest assured, sooner or later it will come, and we should be ready to provide a little extra protection to broadleaf evergreens like camellias, if we want to see pretty flowers in early spring. Have some kind of frost blanket ready to go if the mercury drops into the low 20 or high teens at night and doesn’t go above 32 during the day.
General cleanup: I always approach winter cleanup in stages. By now most of my perennials have been cut back, with the exception of my various varieties of maiden grasses, which have only been cut halfway back. Like roses, I follow the “hip high” in the fall and “knee high” in February rule, which is good for the plants, but also gives me a different look through the winter — sort of a transition feeling between the seasons. While I usually leave most of my leaf litter on the ground until February, this mild weather has inspired me to clean up a good portion of it already, which has had the added benefit of revealing several clumps of daffodils already breaking the surface. Yes, the cycle of rebirth continues on in the garden and it is always a cause for celebration.
Disease and insect control: Clean up all leaves under fruit trees to prevent the spread of diseases. The same holds true for roses and berries. Applying a mixture of oil and copper or sulfur works well to control scab and mildew, and is relatively nontoxic. Try and catch a dry day when it is above freezing to do your spraying.
Pruning: Again, I save the “knee high” type of pruning until February, but if you have a limb that is slapping you in the face every time you go out the front door, then for Pete’s sake, cut it off!
Lawns: I know Seattle’s gardening guru, Cisco Morris, recommends a synthetic fertilizer this time of year because it is faster acting, but because I like to follow the KISS approach to gardening (Keep It Simple Stupid), I stick with my “one size fits all” organic lawn food, and it seems to work just fine. Watch for moles this month, apply lime to sweeten the soil and stay off the turf when it is frozen.
Weed management: Now is the time to literally nip weeds in the bud. Remove them with a stirrup hoe — my favorite weeding tool — before they get too big and go to seed. Once the ground is clean, apply a “weed preventer” (this is a product that keeps weed seeds from germinating, but doesn’t bother plants that are already growing), and then spread a 1-inch layer of compost.
Winter interest: Yes, we can plant all year long in our mild marine climate. Take a trip to the garden center to discover a whole new and exciting palette of plants that will liven up your garden through the winter. It may be just what you need to keep yourself from experiencing the winter blues.
Steve Smith is the owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.