University of Vermont
Department of Plant and Soil Science
HEATING BIRDBATHS AND OTHER DECEMBER
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
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;
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