When it comes to Garden Tasks, December is a slow month. That’s a good thing because it’s the holiday season and there are plenty of other tasks to do.
It is too late (or too early) to prune anything. This year the weeds are not too rambunctious, and cool temperatures mean slow growth. Slow growth does not mean no growth. Roots continue to grow, so be sure to water, especially if we don’t get some rain soon.
Lack of rainfall is something of an issue for many landscape plants, watered or not. If you have lived in the Southwest for a while, you know how dusty it is. In general plants can tolerate being dusty, but dust blocks sunlight from reaching photosynthetic tissue. Less light is not too bad if there is also no rain to trigger growth. BUT. Along come us humans with our irrigation. Irrigation tells low-water plants to grow, but being covered by dust during the short days of winter can be troublesome. It is not critical, but plants generally appreciate a nice rinse. I spray water up over all my plants once a month or so. It is also one way to help clean the yard for the holidays ahead. (Please say that I don’t have to tell you to not do this in the evening if a frost is expected! Water the ground but not the leaves when frost is nigh.)
Speaking of rain and water – if you haven’t yet, switch irrigation controller to winter water schedule.
Plant Some Color
Spruce trees don’t do too well in Low and Middle Desert – but you can “spruce up” the yard by planting some seasonal color. More about Living Holiday Trees that will do well here.
Almost an entire alphabet of colorful annuals can be planted now.
Alyssum, bells of Ireland, bachelor’s buttons, blue sage, calendula, corn flower, cosmos, dianthus, dusty miller, echinacea, flax, firecracker vine, foxglove, gallardia, godetia, geranium, heliotrope, hollyhock, Johnny-jump-up, kale (flowering), linaria, lobelia, mina, monkey flower, nasturtium, nigella, ornamental cabbage, pansy, poppy, petunias, pinks, phlox, rudbeckia, snapdragon, stock, sweet peas, toadflax, verbena, violets, wallflower, and zinnia.
Don’t worry if some desert plants lose their leaves. Many desert landscape plants are what we term “cold deciduous.” In a warm winter they may not lose any leaves at all, but if it gets cold enough, start raking. There is also a genetic component that decides leaf drop. I have three sister mesquite trees all grown from beans from the same mother tree. One is the thorny sister, one is the tall gangling sister, and one is the “scare-dy cat” and goes bald with the least hint of cold.
In the vegetable garden, plant cool season vegetable sets, including onion sets (seedlings). You can also plant cool season herb sets such as cilantro, parsley, dill, fennel, calendula, monarda, yarrow, and nasturtium. While it is too late to start most winter vegetables from seed, you still could start some using sets from a nursery. You could even plant a mini-garden in a large pot. Select one around 8 inches deep for lettuce, 12 to 18 inches deep for bigger crops like broccoli.
December harvesting is fun, especially when you can brag about it to friends and relatives back east. Harvest ripe citrus as you need it. A gentle tug will drop fully ripe citrus into your hand. Let unripe citrus soak up some more sunshine and get even sweeter. (Tree ripened grapefruit needs no sweetening to enjoy!)
Harvest any pecans left and enjoy them while they are fresh. Get the last of the pomegranate before the birds do. Pineapple guava and persimmon can be harvested and stored in the fruit drawer of the refrigerator.
One Final Task
Don’t forget to go outside and enjoy your yard!
Note to my Readers –
Rather than a list of chores for the month, I am trying this paragraph format. Please let me know – which do you prefer for the calendar? List or discussion? Please take a moment to say something in the comments below.
May I recommend my (out of print) book? The Month By Month Guide offers tips for your landscape (yes even lawns and roses) in every month of the year. I have a few copies left and am offering them to you – my loyal readers. Price is what you would pay on Amazon – except when you buy from me – you get a signed copy!
From the review:
“A great reference book is key to successful gardening in the region where you live. takes the guesswork out of gardening for anyone residing in the Southwest. With this book, you’ll know what to do each month to enjoy a thriving garden all year, from January to December. Chronologically organized, this guide is full of critical gardening when-to and how-to advice, along with illustrated step-by-step instructions.”
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