University of Vermont Extension 
Department of Plant and Soil Science

Winter News Article
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GIFT BASKETS AND OTHER DECEMBER GARDENING TIPS
 
Charlie Nardozzi, Senior Horticulturist
National Gardening Association, and
Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor
University of Vermont
 
Assembling a gardening gift basket, adding greenery in pots outdoors, and caring for cyclamen are some gardening activities for this month.

What gardener on your list wouldn't appreciate a decorative basket or pot filled with handy gardening items? Plus they're fun to put together. Some items to consider are pruners, an ergonomic trowel, fragrant soap, hand lotion, seeds, plant tags, paper white narcissus bulbs, and decorative stones.
           
The faux clay pots made of insulated plastic are handy for adding a touch of greenery next to your front door, as are hanging baskets. Use a 12- or 14-inch size pot or larger, and fill with old soil, peat moss, or whatever material you have on hand that will anchor branches. Prune some branches off evergreen trees and shrubs to use in the container, adding other greens and berries from local nurseries or florists, and some tiny white lights. Branches of holly berries add color until they freeze and turn black. Some faux branches of berries look remarkably real, and who's going to know when they are covered with a dusting of snow. 
           
To make a new African violet, cut a leaf from the mother plant with about an inch of the leaf stem (petiole). Fill a small pot with bagged potting mix or a mixture of sand and vermiculite. Poke a hole in the mix with a pencil and insert the stem so that the leaf itself is at the soil surface. Cover the pot with a perforated clear plastic bag and keep the soil moist. In about a month, new leaves should be visible at the juncture of the leaf and stem and you can pot this new plant in soil suitable for African violets.
           
Cyclamen like it cool -- right next to the heater isn't an ideal location. The small tuber is susceptible to rotting so if you have the time, water by submerging the pot in a bowl of water until the soil takes up enough moisture, then remove. Otherwise, water slowly so it seeps in and doesn't sit on the tuber. As flowers and foliage fade, you can give the plant a rest by withholding water and keeping it in a cool, dark location until new growth begins.
           
Feel the soil of your houseplants.  When it's dry an inch or so deep, apply enough water so it comes out the bottom drainage hole. The larger the pot, the longer you can wait in between watering.  If you have a fireplace, you may have to water small pots every couple of days. Humidifiers are very beneficial for plants, and for us.  Even setting plants on a tray of pebbles, kept moist, will help them.
           
Many houseplants, including palms and cyclamen, are attacked by spider mites this time of year. They are microscopic creatures that suck plant juices, causing the leaves to look speckled or silvery. To scout for these pests, mist the plants lightly; if mites are present, the water droplets will cling to the mites' fine webbing. Control them by misting plants daily to keep the humidity high (spider mites love dryness) and by spraying plants with insecticidal soap.


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