December Gardening

— Written By and last updated by Sarah Roberson
With all the hustle and bustle of the holiday season it is easy to forget about fun gardening activities that will improve your landscape. Below are a few gardening chores that will improve your landscape and burn some holiday calories.
By now many leaves have dropped from deciduous trees and shrubs so fall and winter cleanup can begin. An option for leaves on the lawn is to shred them with a mower and leave them to break down. This should have been done through the leaf falling season in order to prevent buildup. Leaves that are raked from the landscape do not have to go to curb or recycling center for eventual relocation to the yard waste pile at the Pitt County Transfer Station. Shredded or whole leaves can be composted for future use as soil amendments and topdressing in the landscape or vegetable garden. You can shred leaves with a lawn mower, mower and bagger, shredder that picks up leaves, or freestanding shredder that leaves must be placed in. Prices vary based on size and features. Leaves can be composted in various ways also. Composting can be as passive as a pile of leaves left to break down slowly on their own or as active as a home made or purchased bin that is turned weekly. Of course the easiest way to deal with those leaves is to design the landscape so the leaves provide mulch to the trees and shrubs around them. You can also blow leaves from the lawn into mulched planting areas and let them break down there.
December is a good time to think about post-emergence weed control in the lawn. Many people forget about this until February when weeds begin active growth and flowering. However, now is the time to get control while they are small. Products containing 2,4-D, mecoprop, and dicamba (or other ingredients) are labeled from most lawns. Read the label and follow the instructions before application since the use rate varies depending the type of grass. If your lawn is bermudagrass, centipedegrass, St. Augustinegrass, or zoysiagrass, products containing atrazine can be used now. With either product, follow up applications of a 2,4-D, mecoprop, and dicamba type products may be needed in February to control escaped weeds. Also if you have not treated for wild garlic or onion in your lawn it is a good time to apply Image with the active ingredient imazaquin.
Along with leaf cleanup, perennial foliage that has died back can be cleaned up. Avoid cutting tender perennials like lantana back to the ground. Instead leave the stems to trap leaves and other debris that will provide protection for the crown. Perennials producing seed that is attractive to birds should not be cut back either. Coneflowers and sunflowers are a couple of examples. Ornamental grasses can also be left up until late winter to provide interest and sound in the garden.
You can reduce spider mite problems by making a dormant horticultural oil application to roses now. Horticultural oil is also good for reducing scale insects on many plants. If you have plants with scale infestations, the winter is a good time to make dormant horticultural oil applications at high rates according to label instructions to reduce scale populations.
We can also get those spring blooming bulbs planted now. Remember that most hybrid tulips only give one good year of bloom. Plant species tulips for repeated blooming. Daffodils and hyacinths are also good choices. Plant small one-inch bulbs four to five inches deep and large two-inch bulbs eight inches deep in well prepared soil. While you’re out planting those bulbs take some time to collect evergreen foliage and berries from the landscape to bring inside and perk up your holiday decorations. A few fresh evergreen sprigs stuck into artificial wreaths, swags, or garland can give it an entirely different look. Speaking of evergreens, don’t forget to check the water in that Christmas tree stand to prevent drying.
These tasks may make your holiday to do list a little longer but the benefits to you and your landscape will be great. So take a break from the hustle and bustle of the season, get outdoors, and enjoy the gift of nature we are so fortunate to have been given.
You can find more gardening information including ticket information for the Paul James speaking event on January 25, 2014 at or call 902-1709. If you have a gardening question call the Pitt County Extension Master Gardener Volunteers at 902-1705 or email