This weekly column is being reproduced with the permission of Steve Smith, The Whistling Gardener, and owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville.
One would think that by December there wouldn’t be much left to do in our gardens, and for anyone with a typical northwest low maintenance yard with mostly evergreens and a few deciduous shrubs surrounded by a sea of bark that might be the case. Not so for the rest of us. We are compulsive dedicated gardeners who live for the chance to commune with nature right in our own backyards.
Call us obsessed if you wish, we really don’t care. Gardening for us is relaxing and therapeutic and the rewards far exceed the pain and suffering we tolerate to dig in the dirt. Here’s what we can do this month.
GENERAL CLEANUP: all the leaves are now down so either rake or blow them into the beds and leave them there until February for mulch and insulation or if that doesn’t suit your gardening style then rake them up and throw them on the compost pile or in the yard waster dumpster. Follow up with a fresh layer of mulch one inch thick which will keep the weeds down all winter long and keep your plants warm and happy.
DISEASE AND INSECT CONTROL: Clean up all leaves under fruit trees to prevent the spread of diseases. If you have had issues with scab and mildew and worms then one or two applications of Bonide Orchard spray (contains sulfur and pyrethrum, both natural products) on one of those “nice days” this winter will help. Monterey Copper and Oil is also a good low toxicity spray for the same issues. Both of these products can be applied to roses and lilacs and virtually any of our ornamentals that have struggled with diseases and insects. Don’t forget to feed the slugs too.
PRUNING: For the most part save your pruning for the month of February after the really hard freezes have passed. Of course there is nothing wrong with a little nipping and tucking any time of the year but hard core pruning is best left until February. This goes for roses and vines and fruit trees and just about anything that we seasonally prune.
WINTER PROTECTION: Watch the weather forecasters and be ready for when the temps drop below 20 degrees like they are supposed to do this week. Move containers close to the house or even into the garage for a few days. Cover tender plants in the garden with some kind of material that will hold in heat be it a wool blanket or a commercial frost fabric or even a loosened bale of straw or pile of twigs and leaves. Leave it on the plant until the weather moderates and then remove it so the plant can breathe. Also, be sure and drain your bird baths and fountains so they don’t break.
LAWNS: It’s a slow time for lawns but they will benefit from a late application of lime and fertilizer. Watch for diseases like red thread and keep off the grass when it is frozen.
FEEDING OUR COMPULSION: Remember that there is something of interest every day of the year here in the northwest. Even in the month of December you can find interesting plants at the garden center so when you need a break from the chaos of the season head to the nursery. While you are there you might also find some items to put on your Christmas wish list just in case the family is at a loss for what to get you.
Steve Smith is owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville and can be reached online at firstname.lastname@example.org.