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Garden Detective: December chores

Holly tree with berries. Photo Credit: iStock

Holly tree with berries. Photo Credit: iStock Credit: iStock

As the year winds down, it's time to reflect on the past, in our lives and gardens. We can resolve to change ill will, and move ill-placed plants; plan to fill gaps in our relationships, and in our gardens; and fill our hearts with hope, knowing a new year will bring new opportunities, and hopefully new perennials. As writer Oliver Herford once wrote, it may be December, but "we are nearer to spring than we were in September." Wishing you the happiest of holidays -- and a short winter.

1. Check all your trees and prune all dead, broken or weak branches. As we're all well aware, they can wreak havoc in strong winds.

2. Inspect poinsettias for white flies or eggs before buying them, or you might find your house infested for the holidays.

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

4. Bring terra-cotta and clay pots indoors; they may crack in the cold over winter.

5. Amaryllis, paperwhites and other bloomers will look best for the holidays if placed in a cool (50-60 degree) room for a few days before taking center stage.

6. Rinse and dry spades, pruners and other tools, then spray with a disinfectant such as Lysol before storing for winter.

7. Mulch parsley in the garden and you'll likely get to harvest through most of winter.

8. Happy Hanukkah!

9. Add compost and lime to the vegetable patch now and soil will be enriched by spring.

10. Store dry seeds in a tightly sealed glass jar or a paper envelope in a cool, dark place. You can refrigerate, but separate from fruit.

11. Protect yews, azaleas, rhododendron and arborvitaes from browsing deer by surrounding with chicken wire.

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

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

14. As long as the ground is frozen, you can apply winter mulch.

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

16. Give the compost pile a turn and, yes, keep adding to it all winter long.

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

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

19. Keep Christmas trees away from radiators, keep water reservoir filled and turn off lights before going to bed.

20. Take advantage of off-season and last-minute holiday sales to buy discounted garden tools.

21. Today is the winter solstice, which means that (as long as the Mayan doomsday prophesy was wrong), our days will be getting longer.

22. Still alive? Good! Remember to keep bird feeders filled and provide clean water for your feathered friends. They survived, too.

23. Rinse and wipe large houseplant leaves to remove grime and dust.

24. Most houseplants slow down over the winter. Follow their lead: Don't fertilize and cut back on water.

25. Merry Christmas!

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

27. Conventional de-icing salts can wreck walkways, harm pets' paws and poison plants, but most "green" de-icers aren't as effective; stick to cat litter for traction.

28. In the absence of snow cover, water shrubs that are growing under evergreen trees or roof eaves; rainwater might not reach them.

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

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

31. No chores today. It's time to celebrate. See you next year!

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