University of Vermont Extension 
Department of Plant and Soil Science

Winter Article


Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor

December is a month for gift giving, whether you celebrate Hanukkah, Christmas, Ramadan, or Kwanzaa.  For the gardeners on your list, the choices are many.

Gardening books and videos are always a welcomed gift as are new tools and gardening gadgets, such as row markers or a rainfall gauge.  Or give a favorite friend or relative a trip to Montreal to explore the world-famous Botanical Gardens or a "coupon" for your services next spring at planting time.  Spring bulbs or seed packets make great stocking stuffers.

The 2003 North Country Garden Calendar is a favorite for gift givers and recipients.  Priced affordably for gift giving, it is a treasure trove of helpful gardening tips and activities appropriate for our region.  It may be purchased for $6 a copy ($5 if ordering five to nine copies, $4 if ordering 10 or more).  Make your check payable to UVM, and send to Garden Calendars, Department of Plant and Soil Science, Hills Building, University of Vermont, Burlington, Vt. 05405.  Order early to ensure arrival in time for the holidays.

Potted plants also make ideal gifts or decorations for the home.  In addition to the traditional poinsettia, most garden centers carry azaleas, cyclamens, kalanchoes, Christmas roses, and other colorful plants "programmed" to bloom this month.

When buying these and other holiday plants, check the foliage and flowers carefully for signs of insects, such as whitefly.  The plant should have healthy, lush green foliage, and exhibit no signs of wilting or droopiness.

Wrap the plant well in newspapers or a brown paper bag for transport from the store to car and car to home to prevent cold injury.  Once home, if using for decorations, remove the decorative foil or plastic sleeve or make a hole in the bottom so water can drain out.  If the roots stay too wet they can rot.   Place away from drafts, heat sources, and ventilating ducts.  Water when the soil is dry to the touch.

If you plan to cut or buy greens for holiday decorating, keep in mind that indoor decorations require greens that dry slowly and resist needle drop.  Balsam, white pine, and Colorado spruce are all excellent choices.  If you have collected pine cones for decorating, "bake" them first on a cookie sheet for a few hours at low heat (200 degrees F) to kill any insect pests.

Many people will visit a cut-your-own Christmas tree farm this month to search for the perfect tree.  In addition to being a great family activity, this guarantees that the tree is fresh and will last throughout the season.

If you prefer to buy a precut tree, here are a few ways to test for freshness.  Bend the needles between your fingers.  If they don't snap, the tree is fresh.  Or check the butt of the tree.  It should be sticky with resin.  Bounce the tree on the ground.  A shower of falling needles is an indication that the tree is too dry.

If possible, wrap your tree in a tarp for the ride home to prevent drying out and needle loss.  If you don't plan to set it up right away, keep it in a bucket of lukewarm water in the garage, basement, or other cool, protected location.

Before setting it in the tree stand, cut an inch off the trunk to allow for good water absorption.  A freshly cut tree will drink up to a quart of water a day.  Adding tree preservative to the water will ensure freshness longer.  Place away from heat sources and doorways.

If you potted up daffodils, tulips, or other bulbs in early fall for winter forcing, check periodically to make sure soil is moist.  When signs of growth appear, bring them into the light and place in a cool location with indirect light.  In seven to 10 days, move into bright light and watch them burst into bloom.

Other activities for December: repot house plants; stock bird feeders regularly; check stored corms and tubers such as gladiolus and dahlias for signs of spoilage.

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