By Cecilia Rice
Another year is about to come to an end. December always seems to be a busy month climaxing with New Year’s celebrations and facing what unfolds in the new year. As far as gardening goes, there is not too much required except the second dormant spraying of fruit trees to protect them from curly leaf and other fungal infections. That should be done near the end of December with a copper spray mixed with horticultural oil. The same spray can be beneficial to other plants that are sometimes damaged by fungal infections. Roses are candidates to prevent powdery mildew, rust and black spot. Fire Blight on apples and pears has been a more prominent problem recently and they should also be sprayed. Pyracantha will benefit from spraying, as it is also subject to Fire Blight.
December usually brings us some very cold weather, and it is good to be ready for it rather than being caught short and possibly losing some plants. Be sure plants are well watered when a predicted freeze comes along. Wet roots will withstand the freezing, and below freezing weather better than dry roots because they are insulated by a blanket of ice that keeps them at 32 degrees. Raised beds that may be somewhat shallow could be similarly affected with the possibility of extremely low temperatures. Just keep in mind “dry roots freeze faster than wet roots”. Citrus trees are especially susceptible to freezing both because they are evergreen and they are out of their sub-tropical “comfort zone”. Many of them will have fruit on them which will likely be damaged if not protected. If the fruit is ripe it can be harvested, if it is green it will need protection. Plastic will never protect the plant if it is simply thrown over the plant in contact with the foliage since it has no insulation properties. It can be very effective, if it used to create dead air space around the plant. A simple frame work around the tree, leaving several inches of free space, then cover the framework with a plastic sheet of some kind. Some people will hang a light bulb inside to create some warmth if there is power close by. Keep in mind that most of the newer efficient bulbs don’t offer as much heat as the old incandescent bulbs do. For smaller susceptible plants an old blanket or beach towel – just something with some insulation quality can be used to cover the plant. There is a relatively inexpensive manufactured product called “frost cloth” that can be used. It has the advantage of being light weight and shedding the rain rather than becoming heavy when wet like a towel. It is often found in a light weight, or a heavier weight for better protection.
Christmas tree lots will begin popping up everywhere, if not already. Some nurseries and garden centers will carry live Christmas trees, or other alternatives that intrigue folks. The live Christmas trees often come as a “balled-in-burlap” item, meaning the roots have been dug from the ground with a ball of its soil around it. It is then wrapped tightly in burlap and shipped that way, and it is left that way until it is planted. When it is planted, it should be put in place still in the burlap and situated properly, and at that time the twine holding the burlap can be cut and any extra burlap can be trimmed off leaving any under the tree there (it will disintegrate in time) and finish planting the tree.
Bare root season will be getting underway soon. Bare root roses arrive in mid December and bare root fruit trees arrive in late December and are ready to sell in January. Blueberries, cane berries, pomegranates, figs arrive the last week of November. Asparagus, strawberries, rhubarb, and horse radish arrive in January. We sell them in pots. Bare root fruit tree lists are available at the nursery. You can take the list and plan what you want.
If you purchase or are given a beautiful poinsettia plant for a seasonal decoration, please treat it well. Remove the foil that covers the drain hole for the container and place it on a saucer with pebbles in it so that the plant doesn’t sit in water. There are many beautiful cultivars now, but I still prefer the plain red ones. Ventura, where I grew up, was called the Poinsettia city. The basic red poinsettias needed no special care there. My mother had them growing up the side of our driveway and all she did was cut them way back after they bloomed, they came back and bloomed at just the right time every year. All gardening should be so easy! We wish you all a wonderful holiday season.
Cecilia Rice is a partner at Bald Mountain Nursery on Bald Mountain Road in Browns Valley.
A note from Jeff Rice. Cecilia Rice will turn 90 this December. She has decided to retire from writing this column. Therefore I will start writing the column in January. You may see some writing style changes, but I will continue with the monthly gardening column to bring you information on what is going on in your garden each month.
Tel. (530) 743-4856 www.baldmountainnursery.com