UC Master Gardeners

December in the garden: prune, mulch, plant

UC Master GardenerDecember 5, 2012 

Parry's larkspur (Delphinium parryi) flowering stem.

JOSEPH M. DITOMASO

What should I do in the garden during December? — Alana G., Los Osos

Ah, December. Where has the time gone? It goes where it’s always gone, of course, but the garden, timeless, waits with a throng of edifying chores to be done. Time’s trajectory is best contemplated while working anyway.

Bundle up and take a garden walk. The framework of your garden reveals itself during this time of year. Consider the entire outdoors when preparing for winter. Clean gutters, downspouts and swales. Replenish mulch where needed and adjust watering systems to cut down on unnecessary water use. Move sensitive container plants to a protected location or indoors when frost threatens. Drape a sheet or burlap over a frame to protect in-ground plants.

Prepare vegetable beds for spring by layering on a thick sheet of mulch and fertilizer. Clear out annuals past their prime and tidy thoroughly before weeds latch on and pests find a home in the fallows.

Prune deciduous fruit and nonfruit trees now. Leave strong, healthy branches and trim off weak, diseased or dead branches. Branches that cross or appear crowded obstruct growth; don’t hesitate to create a strong shape.

Branches that may be hazardous in high winds should be lopped. Trimming and shaping grapes after leaves fall increases growth and production.

Early selections of bare root roses are now available for planting. Coastal gardeners can plant cool season flowers such as ageratum, calendula, larkspur, lavatera, phlox and spring flowering bulbs, such as tulips, hyacinth and crocus. Make sure bulbs have been chilled in the refrigerator for at least six weeks, however.

This is the time to plant artichokes, rhubarb and other bare root vegetables. Ample mulching, 8 to 12 inches, discourages weeds and frost damage.

Still harvesting? Remove brussel sprouts from the bottom first. Cut broccoli heads and allow further growth from side shoots.

Your tools will appreciate a solid cleaning and oiling and you’ll be pleased later if you organize garden paraphernalia. Finally, breathe in that fresh winter air and enjoy the holidays!

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