"My December to do list," by the Whistling Gardener

A girl with a Christmas present. Photo courtesy of the Whistling Gardener.
The Whistling Gardener shares his to do list for December. Photo Courtesy Sunnyside Nursery.

This weekly column is being reproduced with the permission of Steve Smith, The Whistling Gardener, and owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville.

It’s been another one of those interesting falls in the northwest. The weather was mild until mid-November when we finally got our killing frost and it was indeed a killer with about 10 days of freezing weather.

Many of us have plants that still hadn’t turned their fall colors and now the leaves are freeze-dried in place and may just remain there for most of the winter. While this does not make for a pretty sight I don’t think it is cause for alarm. If those leaves aren’t gone by the end of the winter they will fall off as the new leaves of spring push out.

In the meantime we will have to do our best to make things look presentable. And on that note let’s get on with the list.

GENERAL CLEANUP: with the recent hard freeze it is safe to say that summer annuals can be removed and perennials can be cut back. Most leaves are now down (except for those freeze-dried ones) so either rake them into the beds and leave them there until February or rake them up now and follow up with a fresh one inch layer of mulch (EB Stone bales of compost the best unless you can go bulk).

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. Bonide All Seasons Oil sprayed this winter will also go a long way to controlling tent caterpillars this coming spring. Monterey Copper and Oil is another option that has a low toxicity. These products are great for all deciduous plants, not just fruit trees.

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.

WINTER PROTECTION: watch the weather forecasters and be ready for when the temps drop below 20 degrees. 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 an organic fertilizer like EB Stone Nature’s Green. Watch for diseases like red thread and treat with Bonide Infuse. Keep off the grass when it is frozen.

GIFTS FOR YOUR FAVORITE GARDENER: it is after all the holidays and even in the month of December you can find interesting plants at the garden center as well as some fabulous gift ideas for wrapping and placing under the Christmas tree. In the next few weeks I will write about some of my “finds” that I think any gardener whether casual or hard core would enjoy receiving.

Steve Smith is owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville and can be reached online at


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