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Garden Almanac

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December 2014

Natural color
The winter holiday season is here. Many garden chores now wait for spring in a new year, but we can still add greenery to brighten our front porch pots and celebrate another successful year of gardening.

The indoor garden
This is a busy season for the indoor garden. There are lots of opportunities for decorating using fresh greens, stems, and berries purchased at a local garden center or cut from your own garden. Table centerpieces, mantels, and doorways are just a few areas where you can bring a little of the garden inside. Consider planting deciduous holly, red or yellow twig dogwood, nandina, 'Little Gem' Magnolia, or a foster holly in the garden so you can cut wonderful greens or berries from them in winter.

It is still not too late to purchase a beautiful amaryllis or some paperwhite narcissus, but if you want them in bloom for a certain date you may need to purchase them already blooming right before your event. When you're forcing bulbs, it is difficult to predict exactly when they will bloom. Even so, I still plant quite a few and keep them in my windowsill. If they end up blooming in January or February, they are always a welcome and cheerful addition to my indoor garden.

Poinsettias are still popular at the holidays, but if you are ready for a modern twist, try a Hellebore, Stephanotis, moth orchid, lemon cypress, or rosemary topiary this year. There are lots of alternate choices for holiday plants and most work well with any decorating style.

In the landscape
Winter is a great time to prune many trees and shrubs. Depending on the plant, it can be easier to see where and how much you need to prune at this time of year. Some plants, like Magnolia and holly, also make excellent greens for decorating inside the home. Pruning is both an art and a science, so when in doubt consult your local professional horticulturist for specific pruning guidelines.

Continue removing leaves from your landscape beds. Many perennials don't like a wet winter and a pile of wet leaves on top of them can just make it worse and end up killing them. Using a blower instead of a rake to blow the leaves out of the landscape beds and onto the lawn helps preserve existing mulch. After that, pass over the leaves with your mower and bagger to chop them up for composting or easily bag them. Try to have all your landscape beds leaf-free going into January. This not only looks better in the winter, but by late winter you can focus on other chores instead of picking up cold, wet, or frozen leaves.

Spring-flowering bulb planting season is coming to an end for the year, but if you still have bulbs the best place for them is in the ground, so plant them as soon as you can. The same rule applies if you receive spring flowering bulbs as a hostess or holiday gift. Plant them as soon as you can or pot them up and keep them outdoors in a protected area and guard them from squirrels. The bulbs need time to root out in their pots and once they are sufficiently chilled you can bring them inside in late winter for forcing into bloom.

The Lawn
Once leaf removal is complete, it's time to take your mower in for annual service, which is important for its longevity. Annual service includes cleaning the mower, changing the oil, and sharpening the mower blade. If the blade isn't sharp, you're just beating the blades off the grass instead of cutting it. A good, sharp blade keeps your lawn looking clean after it's cut and is healthier for the lawn. Most good lawn mower service companies start getting busy after the new year, so get your mower in for service quickly so you're not caught without it come spring.