December is upon us. Our year in the garden is winding down as the
temperature drops. But for landscape lovers, there are visions of more
than just sugar plums dancing in our heads.
Plant trees and shrubs
If you've been promising yourself (and your spouse, I'm guessing)
that you really, really will get around to that landscaping project
you've been discussing, don't put it off until next spring. This
is a very good time to plant trees and shrubs, depending on where you
live. This currently applies to growing zones 7 - 10 Because they are
in their dormant period, trees and shrubs are less likely to suffer
"transplantation shock" at this time of year.
Preparing the site is the most important part of this project. As a
general rule, you need to dig a hole about twice the size of the root
system of the plant that you are planting or transplanting. If you
have your own compost, add a generous amount to the bottom and sides of
If you are transplanting a tree from another location, it is important
to set it in the hole as close as possible to the same level as it was
in its previous home. Be sure the transplanted tree is sealed in well
with water without flooding. You can "stake" larger or taller trees
if there is a possibility they could be uprooted by strong winds or
winter storms between now and next spring.
There is an excellent online resource with specific tips and
instructions on transplanting just about tree and plant you can
imagine. Go to http://www.humeseeds.com/qa_ndx2.htm#tran and scroll
down to "Transplanting." You can click on a direct link when you
find this column at my Web site www.landsteward.org along with a lot of
other useful resources.
On the subject of trees, if you're planning on buying a "live"
(as opposed to artificial) Christmas tree, consider buying a REAL live
one, complete with roots, that you can plant as part of your landscape
after the Holidays.
A few tips: Buy a tree that is balled in burlap and keep it balled
while in the house. Keep it in the house for as short a time as
possible. Keep it moist but not really wet. If possible, choose the
outdoor location and dig the hole before you bring the tree indoors,
because the ground might be frozen too hard for easy digging later!
Keep the soil in a wheelbarrow in a shed or garage so it will be easy
to handle at planting time. If the ball was bound with nylon twine,
remove it before planting. If the root ball is in a wire basket, it is
okay to leave it on when you plant it as the roots will find their way
Feed the lawn
If you're going to fertilize your lawn, the first two weeks of
December are a good time to do it. This is because fertilizing at the
onset of winter supports and improves root strength while your lawn
slowly continues to grow through its semi-dormant period. Look for a
slow release 3-1-2 formula, and use about one pound per 1,000 square
feet of lawn. Cool season grasses would need light follow-up doses 2
to 4 times over the year; warm season grasses perhaps 3 to 6
If you do decide to fertilize the lawn, be sure to rake away any
remaining fallen leaves or other debris before you start.
Add those (shredded) leaves to your compost pile, being sure to turn
them from time to time to prevent mold forming. If you are not already
the proud owner of a composting system, December is a good time to
start. By next spring, you'll have some valuable compost for your
Essentially, compost is the broken-down residue of assorted organic
material that has been worked over by worms and microscopic organisms.
By the time they've finished with it, you have a rich, loamy brown
substance that looks nothing like its original components.
You can simply start a "pile" in an out-of-the-way location or
construct something a bit more permanent. I wrote a column that
details some simple and effective ways to start and maintain a compost
system. You can find it at
Most of all, enjoy your December landscape!
The Plant Man is here to help. Send questions about trees, shrubs and
landscaping to firstname.lastname@example.org. For resources and additional
information, or to subscribe to Steve's free weekly e-mailed
newsletter, go to www.landsteward.org