University of Vermont Extension 
Department of Plant and Soil Science

Winter News Article


STARTING HERBS AND OTHER DECEMBER GARDENING TIPS

   
Charlie Nardozzi, Senior Horticulturist
National Gardening Association, and
Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor
University of Vermont
 
Starting herbs indoors, feeding birds, and shopping for holiday garden gifts are some of the gardening activities for this month.
           
Start seeds of basil, chives, sage, or other herbs for a winter windowsill herb garden. If you don't have a sunny windowsill, consider setting up a light garden using fluorescent bulbs suspended a few inches above the tops of plants.
           
As nights grow colder, move houseplants away from window glass to prevent chill damage. Or close shades and curtains at night to help insulate them against the cold.
           
Hungry mice will chew the bark off young fruit trees at the soil line, weakening and possibly killing the trees. Trees that have been mulched up to the trunk are especially susceptible, since the mice can hide under the mulch. To protect trees, pull mulch back several inches from the trunk. Consider doing what commercial orchardists do, and place wire-screen mouse guards around the trunks of young trees.
           
To encourage birds to visit your garden this winter, set out feeders near evergreen trees or shrubs so birds have cover while they feed.  If you have bird-chasing cats, or if raiding squirrels are a problem, hang the feeders higher off the ground and away from trees and structures.
           
Keep birdbaths ice-free and filled with fresh water. Heated bird baths, and heating elements made to insert into bird baths to keep them from freezing, are available at many garden supply stores.  Make sure if using such electrical devices that they are plugged into properly grounded outlets using safe, outdoor extension cords.
           
If friends or others in your family garden, think about shopping for holiday gifts at a garden supply store.  New hand tools, good pruners, gloves, weather instruments, and books are some of the many items you might consider as gifts. If not sure what to get or what they have, then gift certificates are always welcome.
           
When shopping for poinsettias, look for ones with leaves to the bottom of the plants that are a healthy green.  For longest life, choose a plant with the flowers not yet open--these are the rather inconspicuous yellow lumps at the center of the brightly colored bracts (actually these colored parts are modified leaves).  Visit a greenhouse to be awed by masses in bloom, and to find some of the latest varieties such as with marbled or spotted bracts.  Make sure to keep the plant covered and out of cold on the way home, and away from drafts once home, as poinsettias are quite sensitive to cold.
           
Other holiday plants you might look for are cyclamen, azaleas, and kalanchoe.  None of these plants, including poinsettias, like to be too wet.  Cyclamen and azaleas last better slightly cooler, while kalanchoe and poinsettias prefer slightly warmer (65 to 70 degrees F).  Amaryllis is a bulb you can buy potted, in bloom, or just as a bulb or bulb kit to give as a gift.  They are easy to grow, and should bloom within a couple months from planting depending on variety.
           
Other garden-related activities for this month include visiting a local farm to cut a Christmas tree or to buy greens for decorating, and checking houseplants weekly for pests.
             

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