Fickle December weather on the North Coast is nothing new to those who have gardened here for years. Any day can be spring — or winter, summer or autumn — if you have a Liquidambar styraciflua, which holds its fall leaves until spring.
Lately, the weather has been more summer-like. This makes it a good time to get ahead on winter chores. Here is what can be done:
Tend to lawns: If you don’t want your lawn, remove it now by cutting out the sod, adding organic matter and then covering with cardboard and mulch. If you choose to keep the lawn, now is the time to renovate by removing thatch, aerating, reseeding and fertilizing.
Water: Since we have not had quite enough soaking rain this fall, it is vital to keep certain plants watered. Roses, blueberries, rhododendrons and newly planted shrubs and trees all need a weekly soaking until we get at least 10 inches of soaking rain within the next several weeks. It is important to make sure container plants are well-watered, so check them once a week.
Grow food: Local nurseries still carry a nice supply of cool-season vegetables. Chard, spinach, leaf lettuce and Asian greens love cold, coastal winters. Now is the time to prepare and plant beds with cane berries, strawberries, asparagus roots and artichokes.
Clean up: Trim back ragged, summer-blooming perennials. Remove spent rose flowers. Clean up around beds, removing weeds, old pots, boards and garden debris. These things offer shelter for slugs, snails, sowbugs and earwigs. Begin applying organic bait now and then once a month until spring.
Feed: Citrus plants, especially those in containers, should be given a steady feeding all winter long. A light dose of 4-4-4 along with a bit of iron is all it takes to keep plants green and robust. If citrus is growing in a greenhouse, spray monthly with an oil based organic spray to keep spider mites and scale under control.
Color up: This month and next local nurseries offer a nice variety of cyclamen. The bright hues of white, pink, red and lavender flowers cheer up patios and porches. Cyclamen even make cheerful house plants if grown in bright light and a cool location. They rival poinsettias in color, last longer and cost less.
Terry Kramer is the site manager for the Humboldt Botanical Garden and a trained horticulturist and journalist. She has been writing a garden column for the Times-Standard since 1982. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.