Garden Detective: December chores

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How to care for your garden this December.

How to care for your garden this December. Photo Credit: John H. Cornell Jr.

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Jessica Damiano Jessica Damiano, Newsday columnist

Jessica Damiano is a master gardener and journalist with more than 20 years experience in radio, television, print

"From December to March, there are for many of us three gardens -- the garden outdoors, the garden of pots and bowls in the house and the garden of the mind's eye."-- Katherine S. White


From me to you: Here's to the happiest of holidays, a wonderful end and a better beginning, and help with the first two of your gardens. You're on your own with the third.

1. Spray broadleaf evergreens (rhododendron, laurel, etc.) with anti-desiccant to help prevent dehydration over the winter.

2. Take hardwood cuttings of shrubs and propagate in the garage or shed in a mixture of sand and peat moss.

3. Apply compost and lime to your cleared vegetable patch now.

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4. Turn or till soil in vegetable beds to disrupt the hibernation of insects.

5. Provide a western or southern exposure for houseplants, and rotate pots with every watering.

6. Remove weak, broken and dead branches to stabilize trees in advance of stormy weather.

7.Inspect poinsettias for white flies or eggs before bringing them into your home.

8. Take note of plants you'd like to move in spring and map out a plan.

9. Brush off, rinse, dry and spray garden tools with a disinfectant such as Lysol before storing for the winter.

10. Mulch parsley and you should be able to harvest it through most of the winter.

11. Store dry seeds in a tightly sealed glass jar or an envelope in a cool, dark place. If you put them in the refrigerator, separate from fruit.

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12. Discourage rodent activity and damage by clearing weeds, fallen fruit and debris from around tree trunks.

13. Tie twine or ribbon around perennials you plan to move in spring. You might not recognize them when they're dormant.

14. Check arborvitaes and junipers for bagworms. Handpick and destroy.

15. Watch my video for tips on selecting a healthy Christmas tree at

16. As long as the ground is frozen, you can apply winter mulch now, but don't mound it more than 3 inches high.

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17. Keep watering newly planted trees.

18. Check the Christmas tree and water daily, if necessary. Be sure to keep it away from radiators, and turn off lights before going to bed.

19. Most houseplants slow down over the winter, so cut back on water and don't fertilize until spring.

20. Rinse dust from houseplant leaves, and move pots off radiators.

21. Need gift ideas for your gardening friends? See my suggestions at

22. Start lilies indoors now and they'll bloom in time for Easter.

23. After snowfall, gently knock snow from evergreens with a broom to prevent bent, broken or buckled branches.

24. Check houseplants for scale, spider mites and mealybugs. Eliminate with a simple water rinse. If they persist, spray with insecticidal soap.

25. Merry Christmas! Surround the crèche with fresh-cut holly branches.

26. Check on stored tropical bulbs like canna, caladium, colocasia, dahlia and gladiolus, and mist if dry. Discard any that have shriveled.

27. In the absence of snow cover, water shrubs growing where rainwater might not reach, such as under evergreen trees or roof eaves.

28. Take advantage of off-season and post-holiday sales to replace broken or lost garden tools.

29. Restock bird feeders and be sure to provide clean water.

30. Ignore the lawn. You're welcome.

31. Follow me at, and have a wonderful holiday!

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