Shown in the photograph above is North Crow Creek Canyon in the Mission Mountains of Western Montana. I have a beautiful view of the canyon from my front yard. Snow is piling up now that winter is here. December is probably the least busy month for gardening of the year in colder climates like ours. Here are a few things we might need to do.
Check stored vegetables and fruit often; inventory seeds and test germination of last year’s seed. Plan your 2017 garden and order seed. Keep perennials and bulbs planted next to the house covered with snow to insulate them from extreme cold. Make sure all young fruit trees have their trunks wrapped and place wire netting around trunks to prevent damage from rabbits and voles. Mulch hardy tree seedlings and bulb beds with pine or fir branches.
Save wood ashes all winter long to spread on beds in spring on plants that enjoy alkaline soil conditions.
Admit air to cold frames and cover frames at night. Uncover on mild days, but do not let sun shine on frozen plants. Pick off any decaying leaves. Cover frames every night with mats, blankets, straw, ferns or insulating row fabric. Late cabbages, kale and greens should be under hoops covered with row cover fabric.
Check stored vegetables often: potatoes, onions, carrots, and cabbage, etc. Also check stored flowers and fruit: dahlias, glads, cannas, apples, pears. Cabbage likes high humidity (80-90%) and a storage temperature of about 35 degrees. Potatoes, glads and dahlias prefer about 45 degrees and high humidity. Onions and garlic need air, with about 60% humidity, so hang and keep them dry, storing at about 35 degrees. Apples need about 30-35 degrees with high humidity.
Force asparagus in hot beds.
If there is no snow, cover perennials and roses with evergreen branches to protect them. Spread thin, flaky manure over pansies, carnations, pinks, tulips, penstemons and phloxes. Spread composted manure over the vegetable garden. Over the winter the manure will break down and feed the soil. Any pathogens will be gone by the time you begin planting vegetables in mid-March.
For house plants: start amaryllis, watering lightly at first with warm water. Keep in a warm place and gradually increase watering as the stems elongate, but do not keep the plants wet. Moist soil is best. Watch for spider mites on houseplants, mini roses and amaryllis. If you see them, wash the whole plant first with plain water; then spray with insecticidal soap or garlic/herb spray every 3 days for 2 weeks. Another method to control spider mites is to spray foliage every day with water. Spider mites do not like frequently wet foliage. Do not over water houseplants this time of year, especially geraniums, which are nearly or totally dormant now.
Late in the month, after the 20th, start seeds of begonias, geraniums, primroses, Dahlias, pansies, and lisianthus.
For potted auricula primroses and other hardy plants in cold frames, keep admitting air into the frames when it is warm enough and keep frame covers handy if the weather gets very cold. Cover outdoor primulas with light straw.
Check stored fruit often for spoilage and discard any rotting fruits.
TREES, SHRUBS AND ROSES
Take cuttings of lavender, pyracantha, sumac, spirea, mock orange, wiegela, wisteria, and robinia. Place cuttings in a mixture of ½ peat and ½ perlite. Insert small stakes into the pot to act as supports. Place plastic bags over the tops of the pots and sink them into sand or soil inside a cold frame situated out of direct sun or in shade . The cuttings should root over the winter.