December Gardening Tips for the Northeast

The snow may start to fly in December, but there are still plenty of garden-related chores to tackle -- both inside and out.

    Holiday Trees

    Nothing enhances a festive mood like the scent of fresh evergreens. Follow these tips to make the most of your holiday greenery:

    • Choose a Christmas tree that has firm needles that don't fall from branches when handling the tree. Individual needles should bend rather than snap if you pinch them between your fingers. Also, inspect the stump; the cut end of a fresher tree will be moist and may have some sticky sap on it yet.
    • When you get the tree home, cut 2 inches off the base of the trunk. Plunge the freshly cut stump into a bucket of water. Trees can absorb 1 gallon of water in the first 24 hours. Check the water level in your tree stand twice a day for the first week. Add water as needed. Each day, trees can drink roughly 1 quart of water for every inch of trunk diameter.
    • If your tree dries out, the wound likely healed over and stopped absorbing water. Make a fresh cut on the stump and it can absorb water again.
    • When decorating indoors, avoid placing fresh evergreens on wood surfaces. Sap from branches can damage the finish. Instead, place greenery on parchment, colorful felt, or fabric.
    • When Christmas is over, recycle your tree yourself: Cut off branches, and use as insulation over perennials. In spring, chip or shred branches to create mulch. Cut the trunk for firewood. Season it this year to burn next winter.

    Tips for the best Christmas tree ever.

    Find the right type of tree for you.

    Grow Living Color Indoors

    Tuck amaryllis bulbs in pots for blooms in a few weeks. Leave the bulb shoulders protruding above soil; planting too deeply can rot the bulb. Water when soil is dry. Consider inserting a stake at planting time to support tall flower stems and flop-prone leaves.

    Display poinsettias away from heat sources or cold drafts. Keep soil consistently moist, but not soggy. Poinsettias that dry out droop dramatically and drop their flowers.

    Cyclamen thrive in cool temperatures (50-60 degrees F). Place them in a spot where temps tumble overnight. Display them in a warmer spot during daylight hours -- somewhere you can enjoy the pretty blooms. Keep soil consistently moist.

    More ideas for Christmas decorating with plants and flowers.

    Plant Shopping Tips

    When you purchase plants, request a plastic or paper sleeve or sack be placed around them for protection against cold temperatures (most houseplants are damaged by temperatures less than 50 degrees F). Don't allow live plants to sit in a cold car while you run holiday errands. Arrange your shopping so that plants go straight home when temperatures are in the freezing range. When you get home, remove the colorful paper, plastic, or foil covers from pots to allow water to drain. Otherwise, holiday plants will likely experience some form of root rot.

    Cold-Weather Know-How

    Snow Tips: If possible, shovel or blow snow evenly across planting beds and around foundation plantings. Avoid heaping roadside snow onto planting areas; it's most likely full of road salt. When snow accumulates on trees and shrubs, remove it with gentle upsweeping motions. Don't bang on branches; frozen branches are more likely to snap and break.

    Ice: When ice forms on tree and shrub branches, don't try to break it off -- you'll risk breaking branches. It's best to let the ice melt naturally.

    Purchase ice-melting products early in the season. Investigate what's available in your area. Many products contain chloride (salt). Sodium chloride- and calcium chloride-based products damage plants more than potassium-based choices. Pet-friendly ice melt won't harm plants.

    Forget melting ice; focus on creating traction. Use wood ashes, sand, or non-clumping kitty litter. Take steps to ensure material won't be tracked into your home on shoes and paws. Sand can destroy wood floors, and ashes make a mighty mess.

    Don't use fertilizer to melt ice. This creates nitrogen runoff issues that could damage local bodies of water.

    Test Garden Tip: Avoid storing pesticides where they'll freeze, like in a garage or shed. Some materials cannot withstand cold temperatures and will become ineffective. If odor is an issue, store in tightly sealed containers.

    December Landscaping Tips

    Planting Beds: Cover bare soil in vegetable and annual planting beds. Use straw, pine needles, chopped leaves, or some other organic material.

    Spring Bulbs: Get any remaining bulbs into the ground as soon as possible (if soil isn't frozen).

    Winter Mulch: Avoid heaping mulch deeper than 2-3 inches. Greater depths favor vole colonies.

    Vegetable Garden: Continue to harvest Brussels sprouts. They'll typically keep even when buried in snow drifts.

    Fruit Trees: Gather and dispose of any remaining fruits or nuts on trees or the ground beneath them. This reduces pests and diseases next year.

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