December garden to-do list

Ensure your garden overwinters well with this checklist.

December – What to do in the garden this month

It’s December, but your yard work isn’t done! Here’s a list of what you need to do to ensure your garden overwinters well.

Around the Garden

Blooming now

Witch hazel (Hamamelis) and the pale-green blossoms of Corsican hellebores.

“Beauty Berry” (Callicarpa) now bears luminous purple berries – even more beautiful when planted near sulphur-yellow Hamamelis pallida ‘Arnold’s Promise’. If you can’t find Callicarpa in berry right now, remember to look for it at your garden centre when it is more easy to come by (and less attractive) in other seasons.

For the bird lover

Keep bird feeders clean and well-stocked.
Pay attention to bird baths now; birds especially need water to bathe in winter in order to keep their feathers clean and fluffy – it helps them stay warm.

Tips from John Morton at Wild Birds Unlimited in Vancouver
Sprinkle raisins on the snowy ground for overwintering robins, as they don’t come to bird feeders. To make your own seed/fat mix, use unsalted peanut butter, or beef suet to bind the nuts and seeds in.

Ideas for Christmas gifts for bird lovers
“The Birds of Southwestern BC” by Richard Cannings et al (their bestseller); a bird-bath heater to keep your bird’s bath from freezing over. Check out for more info.

Planning your food garden

Give thought to next season’s vegetable garden if you’re in the mood to dream. Make a list of veggies, small fruits or whatever you’d like to plant – many seed catalogues are mailed out this month. Here are some to check online:
Baker Creek – heirloom seeds, great selection of sweet peas
Seeds of Diversity – preserving heirlooms to protect genetic diversity
Renee’s Seeds – good quality, lots for containers
Stellar Seeds – organic seeds grown in Sorrento, BC
West Coast Seeds – organic, open pollinated, heirloom and heritage seeds
Two Wings Farms (Vancouver Island) – great tomato varieties!
Saltspring Seeds – check out their early bird special

If soil is not frozen, plant broad beans any time this month. Dig compost into the planting hole and plant deeper than normal – about 7.5 centimetres (3 inches). On the coast, if you still haven’t planted garlic, try slipping some in. Yes, it’s later than normally prescribed, but…it might just work. You have nothing to lose.

In milder winter zones, experiment with Russian composting now. Strictly adhere to only raw veggie and fruit peelings, etc. and never proteins/fats/grains which may attract uninvited critters like Pepe Le Pew and Mr. Ratatouille. Dig a deep hole (a foot or deeper) in your soil, empty compost bucket therein, top with lots of soil. Mark each “deposit” with a stick or other marker so you know where to dig the next hole, about 60 cm (2 feet) away.

Plant sweet peas

Experiment with starting sweet peas in winter. They’ll emerge a lot earlier than spring-planted ones. Plant unsoaked seed twice as deep as normal (5 cm/2 in) atop a Russian compost deposit. The heat generated from the buried compost will encourage germination, lusty growth and huge blooms.

Check your shrubs and trees

Check around the bottoms of fruit and other trees – mulch should be below the root “collar”; this is where there is a distinct widening at the bottom of the trunk (however slim it may be), just before it joins the tree’s roots. The collar should always be exposed. Insects, diseases and root problems are often the result of this area being covered by soil or mulching material.

Transform tired/burned-out container plantings by tucking in dogwood twigs – such as amber Cornus sericea ‘Budd’s Yellow’ and striking red Cornus alba ‘Sibirica’. If you don’t have them in your garden, consider adding them, as they are both tremendously useful and look beautiful against the snow. Keep pruned to maintain brightly-coloured stems. Like hydrangeas, rather than shortening stems, thin the plant from the base by pruning off individual twigs/stems at ground level in early spring.

A few strategically placed solar-powered garden lights can transform dark spots of your garden into winter wonderlands!

Outdoor trees can be decorated for the birds. Festoon with edible treats – children love to do this. Buy suet or get it free from the butcher to bind nuts and seeds and make decorations. Shortening or other solid fats are bad for birdies. Peanut butter is okay but use unsalted.

After festivities are over, and if your ground is frozen, store living trees outdoors in the most sheltered spot you can find, away from wind. Protect roots well with extra burlap sacks and snow if available. Plant your tree as soon as the ground thaws. Choose a site where the tree can grow – it might get very large. Avoid putting it right in front of your picture window.

Keep your indoor holiday plants healthy

Keep poinsettias evenly moist, and display them in a brightly lit situation. To discourage spider mites, mist them daily (along with your living tree if you have one!).

Check water in your Christmas tree daily to avoid needle drop, keeping the “well” in the tree stand full at all times.

Keeping live Christmas trees indoors is stressful for the trees, particularly if your house is air-tight and dry. Be sure to keep it well watered. It should not be kept inside longer than a week to 10 days depending on your home. There are many ways to add humidity to forced-air heated homes. Try placing low, wide containers of water around the tree’s base. If you have the kind of deck or porch you can view from indoors, keep it outside.

Greenhouse / perennials

Especially if it’s freezing out, regularly check plants in the greenhouse or perennials in pots outdoors. It seems counter-intuitive, however in order to survive plants need water during a cold snap. It prevents their roots from drying out.

Season’s greetings

Invite friends over to build wreaths, swags, or other decorations for the holiday season!

Happy Holidays!