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Calendar - December
Gardener's Checklist - DECEMBER FILLERS
December Articles - Click Here
December 1 to December 11
   
1.
For spring fragrance, plant roses and daphne and for fresh tasting fruits consider fruit trees, strawberries, blackberries and more.
 
2.
Remember to water plants under wide overhangs because they may not get enough moisture from winter rains.
 
3.
Apply three inches of mulch to flower beds, around shrubs and trees, and the winter vegetable garden to enrich the soil and keep it from compacting in the winter rains.
 
4.
Brighten your spring  garden by planting perennials: asters, chrysanthemums, foxglove and gaillardia among many choices.
 
 December 12  to December 18
 
1.
Decorate your home with flowering plants like the Christmas cactus or cherry, the cymbidium orchid, potted chrysanthemums and cattleya orchids; not to mention the Christmas flower, Poinsettias. They also make nice gifts.
 
2.
Christmas shopping can be made easy with a trip to the local garden center. Pick up flowering plants, bulbs, seed packets, gardening books and more.
 
3.
Plant bulbs in a decorative container this week to give as a gift at Christmas.
 
4.
Delphinium and columbine can be planted now so they can establish their root system over the next couple of months.
 
 December 19  to December 25
 
1.
Give a cheerful Poinsettia for a hostess gift this year when you attend holiday parties.
 
2.
Early-blooming shrubs, such as flowering quince, daphnes, and acacia, are perfect to plant now for a show of color in the early spring.
 
3.
It's too early to prune roses in California.  Wait at least until after Christmas.
 
4.
Consider a dwarf tree as a Christmas present. Plant it in a tub and add a big, bright bow. It will be appreciated now and in the years to come.
 
 December 26, to January 1
 
1.
If your garden has holly, cotoneaster, pyracantha or other berried shrubs or trees be sure to incorporate them into your holiday decorating. A few well planned snips will also help shape the shrub.
 
2.
RED ALERT:  If you haven't yet sprayed your peaches or nectarines to prevent peach leaf curl, do so without delay.  Follow up with another spraying when the buds swell to "popcorn" stage (that's when the buds just show color).
 
3.
Container gardening can be colorful and rewarding in the winter as well as spring.  Choose primrose, snapdragons, cyclamen, pansies or violas to create a mini version of blooming beauty.
 
4.
Continue feeding annuals and pinching off their faded blooms so they will produce more flowers in the months to come.
 

 December Garden Fillers

 For bright, eye catching colors in your winter flower beds plant iceland poppies. Their long stems support translucent cups of vivid orange, white, cream, yellow, pink or red blossoms.  It's a dazzling array for any season and all the brighter because of the rain and cooler weather.  You can purchase starter plants or those in four inch containers which are ready to bloom.

 Plant them in a sunny spot with a loose, well draining soil.

 Visit your local nursery for many varieties of living Christmas trees this year.  Since these trees have lived outside all their lives, they need a little extra consideration when you bring them indoors.  Seven days is the recommended maximum length of time indoors. Keep them well watered and in a location that gets good light. Avoid placing the tree close to a fireplace or heating outlet because the excess warmth can damage a live tree as easily as a cut one. After Christmas, remove all the decorations and clean off the foliage with a fine mist of water once you've moved it outdoors. Keep the tree in full shade for a week and gradually move it back into the full sun.

 How about a couple of tips on keeping your holiday poinsettia looking good during the Christmas season?  Choose a plant with leaves which extend all the way to the soil.  This is indicative of a healthy root system. Protect your poinsettia from sudden temperature changes. They like to live in 65 to 70 degree temperature range. This helps the poinsettia to preserve the bright color of the petal-like bracts. If the temperature drops to about 50 degrees the poinsettia's leaves will drop. Water the plant thoroughly so all the soil is saturated and water seeps through the drain hole, but never let your poinsettia sit in water. After that, check it daily and water again when the soil feels dry to the touch. Fertilize the poinsettia with a good house plant fertilizer once a month. Poinsettias must have at least six hours of bright indirect light each day to be at their best; choose a place away from drafts, radiators or heat registers.

 The Christmas Berry or California Holly (Toyon), ranks high on the list of useful California native shrubs.  Not only does it have beautiful evergreen foliage and a striking crop of bright red berries in the fall and winter, but it also bears clusters of white blooms in the spring. You can plant it now and be able to snip off branches with berries for decorating next  holiday season. It is valuable as a screen, bank planting, erosion control and is even fire retardant if it's kept moist. Plant the Christmas berry in full sun or partial shade; it is a "water wise" plant, although it does even better with summer waterings. In desert areas it should have routine summer waterings.

 The bergenia is a perennial belonging to the saxifragia family. It serves a multiple of garden uses including winter color in all but the coldest of climates. The winter blooming bergenia has stalks that seem to almost nod and produces compact clusters of blossoms on somewhat shorter branches. The flower resembles a hyacinth in its early stages but as it opens there are a multitude of rose, purple or lilac blossoms.

 This plant's second best feature is treasured by the gardener.  It has the ability to thrive in most soils and spread with ease. While it certainly does better in an enriched soil, this plant once established in a shaded area can be fairly drought tolerant.

 The flowering season can begin early winter and continue up to late May.  At this point the foliage begins to take over. With the addition of the other bergenia varieties, you can have a near perfect ground cover planting with an assortment of colors and blooming times. Baiting for snails and slugs will take care of most problems.

  December Garden Articles                              

 AZALEAS BRING A HINT OF SPRING FOR YOUR GARDEN

 Did you know rhododendrons and azaleas comprise one of the largest and most important groups of flowering plants in the west ? There are over 800 species and according to the New Sunset Western Garden Book, 10,000 named varieties in the International Register of which 2,000 are currently available.

 Although rhododendrons and azaleas share family traits it's the azaleas which are more widely adaptable to most climate zones.  Azaleas make great foundation plants in your garden. They lend themselves well to mass plantings as well as colorful accents in containers. Azaleas capture a full color range from white, pink, rose, lavender, purple, red and orange.  There seems to be an azalea for every need in the garden!

 Preparing your garden for planting azaleas requires changing the soil from its native alkaline nature to an acidic one.  There are several ways to go about this.  You could remove the native soil in the planting beds by about 50% and refill them with 50% organic mixture (at least 1/2 peat moss) 30% soil and 20% sand. (Azaleas need light soil because they are surface feeders). Or you could build raised beds for the azaleas and plant them in the same mixture.

 Now you're ready to plant.  Azaleas should always be planted with the root ball two inches above the soil level. Never allow the soil to wash in and bury stems.  Since azaleas are surface rooting they benefit from a good mulching.

 Use redwood or fir bark or chips as the mulch.  Keep the mulch from the stems of the plant. The mulch should be 2 inches deep.

 Fertilizing azaleas begins at the end of the bloom period. They should be fed with a good acid food once a month until August. This will promote good growth. In August switch to 0-10-10.  This fertilizer contains no nitrogen for growth.  It only contains phosphorus and potassium which stimulate bud set and root growth. (Note: if you continue with a nitrogen fertilizer the azaleas will actually drop their buds.)  Continue feeding monthly with 0-10-10 until the azaleas begin to bloom.

 Sun tolerance of azaleas varies by variety. The Belgian Indica hybrids were first developed for greenhouse forcing.  Because of their tolerance for low temperatures (20 to 30 degrees) they adapted nicely as landscape plants. Characteristically they have large open flowers and lush full foliage. They prefer morning sun and afternoon shade.

 The Southern Indica varieties were selected from the Belgian Indica hybrids because of their tolerance for sun and vigorous growth pattern. Generally speaking they grow taller, faster and more vigorously than other varieties of azaleas.

 Or choose a Kurume azalea bred for their compact, dense, mounding growth pattern.  These hybrids are covered with masses of small flowers.

 The varieties mentioned above are evergreen.  If you are in the market for deciduous azaleas consider the Knapp Hill-Exbury hybrids.  These are known for their fiery colors ranging from red-orange to pink and even white.  These azaleas aren't as picky about soil and watering.  Fall foliage is an added bonus. It can range from brilliant sheets of orange to maroon.

 FIRESCAPING -- AN ALTERNATE LANDSCAPING TECHNIQUE FOR HIGH RISK AREAS

 "Fire-scaping "or designing landscapes to minimize losses due to fire, is an increasingly important fire safety and prevention tool. In California we don't have to think long ago to remember Santa Barbara, the  Oakland Hills, Murphy, the Fountain Fire, and many other fires that have devastated communities over the past few years.

 As more people crowd into rural, densely vegetated areas it will be important to remember that these areas need to have fire preventative measures in place before the populations build. A little pre-planning will go a long way, for instance, think through your landscape plans and make them "firescape plans".

 Studies show that devastating fires sweep across and destroy large areas of land, homes and communities each year, in virtually every part of the country. Therefore, it's only wise to take steps like those listed below to fire-scape your home especially if you live in a rural area.

 1. Wildfire spreads uphill rapidly. If you're purchasing land for a new home, select as flat a site as possible. If you do choose to build on a hilly site, locate the driveway on the downhill or windward side of your home so it can act as a barrier to fire.

 2. Clearly mark the entrance to your home and driveway avoiding narrow or winding roads that can obstruct and delay fire trucks and other emergency equipment.

 3. Design the yard as a firebreak, building vegetation free walls at least two foot high. Select the least flammable plants available. Choose hardwood trees over conifers because the hardwood trees will not burn as easily.  If you are uncertain as to the best choices of plant materials check with your local California Certified Nursery Professional"! at your local garden center.

 4. Create a safety zone encircling your home only with vegetation less susceptible to fire. Look for foundation plantings that are slow to burn. Keep fire safety in mind with all of your plant selections regardless of where they are placed. Evergreens and conifers are among the more flammable selections, but you can still include these popular mainstays in a safety conscious landscape by planting them at least 20 feet from your house and from each other.

 5. Remove limbs within 15 to 20 feet of the ground or the roof of your home.  If your home has a chimney, you should also get rid of any branches that fall within 14 feet of the chimney. Remove all vines from your house, fence, wall or other structures.

 If you are building in or contemplating moving to a rural area, fire scaping is a necessity.  Selection of plant material that has fire retardant qualities will enhance the beauty of your home and your peace of mind.

 THE ABC'S OF COMPOSTING

 Compost heaps cut down on the landfill usage and provide a rich and renewable source of nutrients for your garden.  Starting  a compost heap is something you can do any time of year, and with the following three steps it really is as easy as ABC!

 Step A

 A compost heap works by generating intense heat and biological activity, breaking down all the materials you include into a rich organic substance. To hold the compost, you can purchase an inexpensive, prefabricated compost bin at your local garden center, or ask for advice on building your own at home.

 Step B

 Fill your compost bin with three substances in alternating layers four to six inches in depth; leaves, grass clippings, plants and other organic materials; cottonseed meal or chemical fertilizer or other nitrogen-rich substances and garden soil mixed with ground limestone or wood ashes. Do not include diseased or infested plant materials, fats or meat scraps. Keep the compost pile no higher than five feet.

 Step C

 Your compost heap will start to work four to five days later after it reaches 140 to 160 degrees at its core. After five to six weeks, use a shovel to turn the outside of the material into the center of the pile and apply water if the heap is dry.  After three to four months, your compost heap will become dark and crumbly, a signal it is now ready to use.

 PLAN A CREATIVE CHRISTMAS WITH GIFTS FROM THE GARDEN CENTER

 Is your Dad one of those folks on your Christmas list who has everything? How about the postman, the babysitter and all those other folks on the list that you want to remember but brownies are out this year because folks are so health conscious?  Well, the garden centers can provide some really great selections from stocking stuffers on up to major gifts. Here are just a few of the suggestions:

 * For the Birds! Choose bird baths, bird feeders and other accessories that can turn a backyard into a wildlife sanctuary.

 * Large gardening tools are always a winner.  Check out rakes, shovels, trowels, and wheelbarrows as some ideas for avid gardeners and ones very often appreciated because they don't buy them for themselves.

 * For neighbors and friends give a flower pot or small urn overflowing with hand-held tools, such as trowels, pruning shears and handsnips.  And don't forget to include gloves and small garden ornaments.

 * Gardening books are always a hit! There are so many to choose from: the do it yourselfer books to the large coffee table books filled with colored photos of world famous gardens.  These are gifts very much appreciated during the long winter days as the promise of spring lives on in the photos.

 * Windchimes often bring the outdoors inside your home during the winter with their melodious tunes. They serve as a reminder that warmer days are just around the corner.

 * Fill a flower pot with different kinds of bulbs and give it to a co-worker or a holiday hostess in place of a bottle of wine.  Speaking of hostesses, everyone enjoys a beautiful pot of blooming poinsettias, cyclamen or azaleas during the holiday season.

 And if we've given you too many choices and you really can't decide then choose a gift certificate from your favorite garden center and let your friends and family have the fun of choosing their own gift.  

 THE ORCHID TREE IS A BLOOMING SUCCESS IN THE SOUTH

 The Bauhinia family pops up in many places... some come from China, Brazil, tropical Africa and even India calls them natives. While they are more often considered to be a deciduous tree, they can be evergreen in some climates.

 With this type of background you can imagine that they do better in warm areas, although the purple orchid tree can easily withstand temperatures down to 22 degrees.  The most popular trees in this family are the purple orchid tree and the Hong Kong orchid tree.

 The orchid tree which has both purple and white varieties, calls India and China home.  It is the most frequently planted tree of the group and if you happen to live where spring is warm and stays that way you'll find this one of the most spectacular trees ever! The flowers are two to three inches wide, ranging from light pink to a near orchid purple. It blooms January through April.

 Even when the tree is not in bloom it is highly recognizable with its twin leaves.  It has moderate water requirements and likes to be planted in a warm area.

 The Hong Kong orchid tree is native to Southern China and has equally spectacular flowers that resemble some orchids.  This flowering variety has an even greater range in colors from a cranberry maroon, purple, rose and orchid pink.  Frequently you will find a full range of colors on the same tree.

 The red bauhinia is a great spreading plant that makes an excellent espalier. This plant calls South Africa and tropical Africa its home. The flowers are as spectacular as the familiar bougainvillea.  The lively blossoms can be as deep in color as brick red or as clear as orange.

 Visit your local garden center and ask a California Certified Nursery Professional"! about the varieties of bauhinias that will work best in your garden.

 COLORFUL CALIFORNIAN

 Of all the colorful native plants in California none is more beautiful than the berried beauty we call variously Christmas Berry, California Holly or Toyon. This is truly a shrub for all seasons, but most particularly for fall and winter when it's literally massed with the most brilliant red berries you could ask for. Talk about holiday decor, you can have it completely in this colorful Californian. And the berries last well when picked. True holly was never so easy to grow. This California Holly can practically be ignored in the garden, yet it never sulks.  All it asks is a well drained soil and whatever water you want to give it. On a sun baked hillside in nature's garden, it sees no water for months on end, yet it always looks fresh and vigorous.

 Considering its year-round aspects, the California Holly has dark evergreen leaves, elongated and serrated handsomely. In spring and early summer its panicles of white flowers are attractive against the foliage. More important, they give promise of a good crop of berries to follow in the fall.

 You can grow the Christmas berry naturally as a large shrub or prune it up to a single or multiple trunked small tree. Check with your local California Certified Nursery Professional"! for planting suggestions.

 A relative of the Toyon but non-native is the Chinese Photinia. Its  year round appeal includes not only a fall show of berries but a second color show in spring when the new growth appears in a bronzy, almost red display.  And a hybrid member of the family,  Fraser. s Photinia has been bred to emphasize the foliage color. In the spring Fraser's Photinia is a brilliant red in both stem and leaf, giving way to a more familiar dark green as the season progresses.  No berries on this hybrid, but none the less beautiful.
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