Northeast Gardener's December Checklist

It’s a year’s last month. Most of us have stashed away gloves and tools for the season, and a few can kick off their boots with a toasty fire to warm their tired limbs. While our gardens sleeping beneath a blanket of mulch and snow and do not require attention, there are still plenty of things to think about and do.

For starters, look at the landscape, discovering its basic outlines and contours. Tall or short deciduous trees, shrubs and evergreens comprise vertical walls, critical focal points in the winter garden. With off the leaves deciduous woody plants, the structure becomes more evident, and masses of shrubs or parasite trees accept new character — particularly if they’ve got interesting bark, like the multistemmed redtwig or even yellow dogwood (Cornus spp), or even the Japanese coral bark maple (Acer palmatum ‘Sango-kaku’, zones 5 to 8), an outstanding cultivar with odd coloration.

With everything looking gloomy and empty, evergreens become the dominant landscape feature, therefore take inventory — do you have a good mixture of evergreens on your beds and borders?

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Enjoy winter evergreens. Vertical evergreens, like the columnar white cedar ‘Emerald’ (Thuja occidentalis ‘Emerald’, zones 3 to 7), are great for mixed borders, as they punctuate space and take up little room. Planted in classes, they draw on the eye and offer a good backdrop to grasses and stonecrops.

Keep in mind that deer love to eat cedar and can easily defoliate plants. If you are in deer country, loosely wrap burlap as high as possible around the tree to protect it. It’s awful, yes — but it is far better than having to change out your cedars, that can be costly.

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Nothing beats on boxwood for classic good looks in containers in this time of year, especially by doors, where it can be dressed up with miniature white lights or left au naturel. For best result, mix things up with different-size containers and plants, and be sure they are watered on a regular basis throughout the season. If you are utilizing ceramic pots, it is ideal to keep them on a covered porch therefore freeze-thaw cycles do not harm the containers.

Boxwood (Buxus spp) is also lovely in the winter when planted in groups of varying sizes with all the creeping ground cover bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi, zones 2 to 6), that Native Americans telephone kinnikinnick. It’s a dependable evergreen that enjoys acidic soils and full sun.

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Bearberry is a good choice for cold-climate areas where winters are harsh, and it seems particularly good planted around the base of white birch (Betula spp).

Its reddish stems contrast brightly with its shiny, rounded leaves, which turn bronze in dormancy. Good cultivars of this underused perennial comprise ‘Massachusetts’ and ‘Emerald Carpet’.

Cut little packages and tie them together with ribbon or twine to decorate preferences, or add them into fresh arrangements for the holiday table.

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Take inventory of outside seating. Most terrace furniture gets winterized beneath protective covers or moved into the garage, however the Adirondack-style chair shown this is made of tough postconsumer plastic from recycled milk jugs and will stand up to winter’s worst weather. Since the substance is a composite, the color won’t fade and the seat resists cracking and splitting, unlike its own wooden counterparts.

Furniture that stays in position is a great option, and on gentle days it is good to have the ability to sit outside and soak up the sun. Doesn’t that sound better than dragging a lawn chair from a storage shed?

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Keep an eye out for wildlife. This birdhouse makes a great focal point from my kitchen window, and it is practical too. As juncos, cardinals and grosbeaks forage for crabapples and winterberries on my house, they often perch on its roofing or land on the split-rail fence nearby.

Feeders suspended from branches or wrought iron poles set in strategic places can offer many hours of viewing pleasure. Make sure to install your feeder sticks before the ground freezes solid.

It’s true that birds are the blossoms of the winter, bringing color and joy!

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Walk around your premises and check trees for fallen limbs or broken branches. Winter storms can wreak havoc and cause widespread harm; get outside with a broom following moist, heavy snow and brush it off shrubs and tiny trees to prevent permanent damage.

Collect branches and add them into a brush pile on your property — somewhere from view, where they can decompose and make a shelter for wildlife.

Light pruning may be done at any time today that plants are dormant. Look for healthier bud tips and snip off dead branches to increase the brush or burn pile.

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Note areas that may require stonework. Start getting names of reliable masons or landscape contractors who service your community.

If you are a new home owner, notice slopes and grade changes that may require retaining walls and be prepared to devote some hard-earned cash on hardscaping next calendar year. Be sure to check references and be sure that your contractor is fully insured.

Smaller jobs, like walkways, patios and chair walls, are good to think about in the landscape design process; the stripped-to-the-bones view of your premises at this time of year can make you see where privacy is needed or where to route a stepping stone path through a side yard.

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Get outside with a camera and take photos of your backyard. Back indoors, you can brew a pot of tea and examine the images while you thaw.

Keeping photos organized in easy-to-access folders on your computer will help immensely as you plan your next movement. You are able to organize plants by particular areas of the backyard, such as “Front Walk” or “Peony Bed,” or set them by groups, such as foliage or blossoms. It’s good to have a visual record of your own landscape, particularly as you chronicle the growth and development of new areas. I am amazed at the transformation of a lengthy border I installed a few years ago — I’d forgotten how small everything was!

See the way to arrange photos in a flash

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