A GROWING CONCERN: The other December list

FIRST AND FOREMOST, I must thank not only the community at large, but the dozens and dozens of gardeners who heeded the plea to help decorate the ice skating rink that is now open in downtown Port Angeles through Jan. 6, from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.

We are only 3 weeks and a day until Kris Kringle takes the deer and his sleigh out for the global spin.

It is also only a few weeks until champagne is popped and glasses are raised and resolutions abound as the New Year is heralded in.

We are indeed in the holiday season and with family gatherings, Christmas parties, ice rinks and New Year merriment. It will be a busy month.

So with all that activity just on the horizon, how about a little potpourri of December things to do for the house and garden:

• Light it up. Come on, everyone. I hope the third time is the charm.

I am asking, begging and pleading to have a majority of households string just one strand of lights around the door, window or bush.

You all see the displays popping up around the neighborhood, so how about only those of you who do not enjoy the festive and uplifting mood lights deliver, who adore the dark and dreary — only those folks are exempt.

The rest of you join in and light up our Peninsula with illuminated cheer. It makes a huge difference.

•  Don’t leaf it alone. Clean up autumn leaves and use them as fill for your compost.

Shred them up and use the byproduct as a soil amendment — whatever you do, get those leaves out.

• Get leaves out. Get them out of your drainage, off your plants, away from your perennials, and do not let them lie on the sidewalks where they become a slimy, wet accident just looking for you to slip and break your hip.

• Plant away. This is it, the weather is absolutely conducive for planting, and I have told you this before. Grass seed, trees, bushes, shrubs, vines and, yes, even bulbs can be planted this month.

In fact, just this past week, I planted all on this list, even spring bulbs, because now is the ideal time and most of these items are discounted 30 percent or more.

One of the oldest and most time-tested methods of improving your flower and vegetable garden soil is to sow “cover crops.” Be it legumes, rye or vetch, a cover crop sown now will keep bare soil in place all winter long.

Then in early, early spring, you till this green manure into the soil, which greatly improves its texture and structure.

This in turn enhances your soil fertility.

• Through thick and thin. Winter is the time on the Peninsula when we experience high winds, snow and ice.

All these conditions conspire with each other to damage your precious plants.

Now is the perfect time to prune out the thick branches, thin the fruit trees, remove the cross-over branches, take out any damaged limbs and do so before mayhem visits your yard and tears down your plants.

• Dreadful de-icing. Black ice, heavy frost and snow all lurk around every pathway and driveway just waiting to bring you down.

However, many of the commercial de-icers with their heavy salt makeup cause dreadful consequences for your plants next year.

First, shovel or sweep off areas immediately before foot and vehicle traffic turn the snow to ice.

Second, use sand or even fertilizer as a de-icer, both of which actually benefit the soil and plants.

And third, apply gypsum around the soil edges of all areas where you apply those nasty de-icers.

Gypsum will not only help buffer their harmful effects, but help improve soil structure by breaking away clay particles — a win-win situation.

• Mythical mulch. Heavy mulch in a layer of 6 to 8 inches is almost magical in its benefits, and now is the exact time to apply.

Your ground is wet, and so is the mulch you will have delivered.

Mulch seals in and helps retain moisture as well as conditioning the soil, feeding the plants and suppressing the weeds.

Mulch applied during winter will also smother and kill existing weeds as well.

But mulch’s best attribute is it’s ability to thermal-regulate the soil temperature so when cold well-below-freezing weather hits, followed by clear sunny weather, followed by clear sunny days with radiant heat on the exposed ground, your plants’ roots will be all snuggled in with a nice blanket of mulch ready for whatever cranky old man winter has to throw at them.

• Get on the mailing list. Now is the time to start getting all those seed and garden catalogs because winter is the time to recap last years’ garden and plan a new forth coming year.

What is better on a cold, gray day then to relax in a comfortable chair with a variety of garden catalogs and dream your way through the gorgeous pictures?

Great gardens arise from big ideas, so be ready to plot your course next year by thumbing through any and all garden material you can get your hands on this winter.

And please, go ice skating downtown.

________

Andrew May is an ornamental horticulturist who dreams of having Clallam and Jefferson counties nationally recognized as “Flower Peninsula USA.” Send him questions c/o Peninsula Daily News, P.O. Box 1330, Port Angeles, WA 98362, or email news@peninsuladailynews.com (subject line: Andrew May).

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