University of Vermont Extension 
Department of Plant and Soil Science

Winter News Article

WATCHING FOR SPIDER MITES AND OTHER DECEMBER GARDENING TIPS
 
Charlie Nardozzi, Senior Horticulturist
National Gardening Association, and
Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor
University of Vermont
 

Protecting your plants from snowblowers, watching for spider mites on houseplants, and cutting back geraniums, are some of the gardening tips for this month.

When you are clearing your driveway with a snowblower this winter, direct the snow away from plants. Otherwise, the blowing ice crystals may damage the tender bark of young trees and shrubs. Or, alternatively, protect plants with a wrapping of burlap.

If Mother Nature hasn't blessed you with snow cover on your lawn, don't walk on the frozen grass. Walking on frozen grass without the protection of snow can break grass blades and may cause dieback in your lawn that will show up next spring. Put up flagging or stakes in sensitive areas to keep visitors on the path.

Many houseplants, including palms and cyclamen, are attacked by spider mites this time of year. They love the dry and warm conditions indoors.  To scout for these pests, mist the plants lightly. If mites are present, the water droplets will cling to the mites' fine webbing. Spider mites are microscopic creatures that suck plant juices, causing the leaves to look speckled or silvery.

Control spider mites by misting plants daily to keep the humidity high, or by using a humidifier.  You may give plants a bath in “mild” soapy water.  Or you may spray plants with insecticidal soap or other similar products.  Just make sure “mites” are on the label, as they are not true insects and so insecticides may not affect them.  Even if using “safe” sprays, make sure you follow all label directions for use indoors.

Keep birdfeeders and suet feeders stocked. If a feeder remains empty for any length of time, the birds will look elsewhere for their meals and you may not be able to lure them back.

If you brought in your annual geranium plants this fall and are growing them indoors this winter, chances are they've gotten very leggy by now. Cut back the plants to about 1 foot tall. They will resprout and grow bushier in the longer days of late winter.

Other gardening tips for this month include cutting your own holiday tree at a local farm (makes for a great weekend outing), buying some wreaths or roping made locally from evergreens, buying flowering holiday plants, and thinking of garden gifts this holiday season.


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