December in the garden!

December weather makes me want to be in the garden all day. It can be the best season to grow vegetables and herbs and the most rewarding time to add color and variety to the landscape with mass plantings, a new focal planting or an eye-catching border. It’s normally a dry month so lawns and landscape plantings require about 1⁄2 inch of water each week. Hibiscus, gardenia, and other shrubs may suffer bud drop later if not watered as needed. Plants like hibiscus that are still in the pots you bought them in tend to dry out very quickly.

When a frost of freeze is predicted make sure the ground is moist and be prepared to move orchids and other cold sensitive plants indoors or provide protection for them. See Cold Protection and Chilling Damage of Landscape Plants: You can add or transplant trees, shrubs and other plants and divide perennials. Add new cold-tolerant fruits to the landscape but delay tropical fruit plantings until spring. Because of the cool weather, water loss through foliage will be low and above ground new growth minimal. Start flower transplants.

Yellowing turf areas generally green up with an application of iron or a minor nutrient spray. Replant hard-to-mow and shady areas with ground covers appropriate for our area.

Growth slows with shorter days and cooler weather so discontinue fertilizing outdoor plants except vegetables. Delay any major pruning until after winter. Renew mulch to conserve water and control weeds. Monitor indoor and outdoor plants for disease and insects. While cooler weather generally means fewer pests, some populations actually increase at this time of year. See Landscape Pest management:

Extend the life of poinsettias and Christmas cactus plants by putting them in a cool, bright location. Water them when the soil surface begins to dry. Poinsettias are very much a part of our holiday décor. Dr. Joel Roberts Poinsett, an amateur botanist from South Carolina introduced these colorful plants to the United States. He was our first ambassador to Mexico and discovered a shrub with brilliantly colored red leaves growing by the side of the road in Taxco, Mexico, in December 1828 and sent cuttings home to his plantation in Greenville.

Did you know that the poinsettia's main attraction is not the flowers, but its leaves? The flowers are the yellow clustered buds in the center (termed “cyathia”). The colored leafy parts are actually bracts or modified leaves. When buying a poinsettia, look for unopened buds or those showing as little yellow as possible.

Care & Handling of Cut Poinsettias:

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