University of Vermont
Department of Plant and Soil Science

Winter News Article
line

HEATING BIRDBATHS AND OTHER DECEMBER GARDENING TIPS

Leonard Perry, UVM Horticulturist
and Charlie Nardozzi, Garden Consultant
   
Providing birds with water by means of heated birdbaths, starting herbs indoors, and choosing the best poinsettias are some of the gardening activities for this month.
   
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 and online.  Make sure if using such electrical devices that they are plugged into properly grounded outlets using safe, outdoor extension cords.
   
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 or your neighbors have bird-chasing cats, or if raiding squirrels are a problem, hang the feeders higher off the ground and away from trees and structures.  Spend a few dollars more on high quality bird seeds, such as black oil sunflower, to appeal to the most birds and give them the nutrition they need. 
   
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, make sure houseplants are away from window glass to prevent chill damage. Or close shades and curtains at night to help insulate them against the cold.
   
When shopping for poinsettias, look for ones with healthy green leaves all the way to the bottom of the plants.  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.
   
If friends or others in your family garden, think about shopping for holiday gifts at a garden supply store or even hardware or home store.  New hand tools, good pruners, gloves, weather instruments, and garden magazine subscriptions 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.  If money is tight, consider a gift certificate of your own time this coming year to help with mowing, planting, weeding, building a raised bed, or other activity.
   
Garden books always make nice gifts for gardeners.  Depending on their interest, consider The Fruit Gardener’s Bible by Lewis Hill and Leonard Perry, The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible by Ed Smith, or Homegrown Herbs by Tammi Hartung—all from Storey Publishing.  New releases this past year include Foodscaping: Practical and Innovative Ways to Create an Edible Landscape, by local author Charlie Nardozzi; and The Right-Size Flower Garden: Simplify Your Outdoor Space with Smart Design Solutions and Plant Choices, by popular speaker Kerry Mendez.  Garden calendars make nice gifts too, and Kerry has a garden calendar on this same topic (pyours.com).
  
Other activities for this month including cutting your own Christmas tree at a local grower, if such trees are part of your tradition, and checking houseplants for pests weekly.

(Charlie Nardozzi is a nationally known horticulturist, author, gardening consultant, and garden coach; gardeningwithcharlie.com).

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