University of Vermont Extension 
Department of Plant and Soil Science

Fall News Article

RINSING HOUSEPLANTS AND OTHER DECEMBER GARDENING TIPS

 
 
Charlie Nardozzi, Horticulturist and
Leonard Perry, UVM Extension Horticulturist
 
 
Rinsing houseplants to clean leaves and wash off pests, providing water for birds, and storing tools properly for winter, are some of the gardening activities for this month.

Set pots in the shower for a few minutes or rinse them in the sink.  If holding over the sink, put your hand over the soil to avoid spilling it, especially if the plant is newly potted. Rinsing off houseplant foliage can keep both the dust and pesky insects such as mites and aphids at bay. With plants too heavy to move, wipe off the leaves with a damp cloth.

If you keep birds around by feeding them, you should provide water for them too. The only realistic way to do that in winter is to use an electric birdbath heater that plugs into an outdoor outlet, or a birdbath with such a heater already built in. They keep the water just above freezing and don't endanger the birds.  If feeding the birds, make it a routine to not only check on the bird bath water (it can evaporate quickly some days), but to check your birdfeeders daily.

Wipe hand tools clean after use and before storing them for winter. Any moist soil left on the blades can encourage rust, and dirt can dull pruner blades.  Also wipe wooden handles with linseed oil to keep them from splitting due to dryness. Before putting tools away or forgetting them for winter, sharpen the blades.  You can find files just for this in hardware and complete garden stores. 

If you brought in your annual geranium plants (sometimes known as Pelargonium) this fall and are growing them indoors this winter, chances are they've gotten very leggy by now. The cloudy, short days of November and December don't provide enough light for these plants to thrive.  Cut back the plants to about one foot tall. They will resprout and grow bushier in the longer days of late winter.

Don't walk on frozen grass, especially if you don't have snow cover on your lawn. Without the protection of snow, grass blades are easily broken, causing dieback in your lawn that will show up next spring.  Similarly, try not to drive or park on lawns, otherwise you’ll be looking at the tire tracks long into next season.

Try to visit a local greenhouse, as the sight of so many plants all in bloom is sure to lift the spirits on a cloudy and cold day.  If you’re buying holiday plants, make sure to protect them on the way home with a paper “sleeve” or bag, especially poinsettias which are quite sensitive to cold.  Once home, keep plants away from drafts, and don’t overwater.  Make sure if foil around the pot that there is a hole for water to drain, and that the pot is in a saucer if on furniture. 
 
If you have friends or family that like to garden, think of gardening gifts for holiday presents.  Books, gloves, hand tools, weather instruments, and fancy pots are some ideas to consider.  This year, instead of giving baskets with local and homemade food items, we’ll be giving decorative colorful pots filled with these.  If you can’t decide, how about a coupon for so many hours of help in the garden, or even a gift certificate to a local garden or book store?

Other tips for this month include starting seeds for sprouts for salads (a sprouting tray makes a good gift too), and checking plants at least weekly for pests.
 

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