December can be productive month

Master Gardener Extension Volunteer Nealy Stapleton says that poinsettias are easy to care for and should last for months.

Master Gardener Extension Volunteer Nealy Stapleton says that poinsettias are easy to care for and should last for months.

December is a wonderful time to be productive in our yards and gardens. It’s a time of year that is a little less labor intensive, but there is still plenty to do.

Go ahead and take a soil sample. Deliver it to the Dougherty County Cooperative Extension office for testing. When results come back, you will know what amendments are needed. You can till organic matter like manure and leaves into your soil now. Add lime, but be sure to use dolomitic limestone. It will increase the amount of calcium and magnesium in your soil.

According to the Georgia Master Gardener Handbook, Georgia’s soil is inherently low in magnesium. When our soil is low in magnesium, leaves will appear to be yellowing, new leaf growth will be smaller and grass will take on a rusty color.

Here’s another suggestion. If you don’t already, begin keeping a notebook about your yard and garden. Be sure to date your entries. If you had trouble with specific insects or parasites, make notes. What areas were impacted? When did the problem start? What did you use to treat the problem? What were the results? Keep a record of weather conditions. When did you plant, fertilize and begin harvesting? By keeping careful notes, you will learn from experience, and yes, even your mistakes.

It’s time to clean up our yards, rake up all the leaves and pinestraw, and pick up pine cones and limbs. The leaves can go in your compost pile, and the pinestraw can be used for mulch. Be sure to add extra mulch to cover and protect any green leaves coming up with your bulbs. Don’t leave piles of yard trash in the yard for an extended time or you will kill the grass underneath. Flower beds should be weeded and cleaned out now, and pull up any dead annuals.

If you plan to plant roses, it’s time to prepare rose beds. Roses need a minimum of six hours of sun per day ... a full day of sun is better. Roses don’t like to get their feet wet. They like well-drained, slightly acidic soil.

December is also the time to plant dogwood trees and camellias. Like roses, dogwood trees like slightly acidic soil, while camellias prefer strongly acidic soil. Come spring, every community in Southwest Georgia will take on new beauty as the dogwood and camellias bloom.

Consider your soil conditions when you plant a tree. Donna Legare, co-owner of a nursery in Tallahassee, Fla., suggests planting bald cypress or a red maple trees in low areas that collect water. Or, if you have sandy soil, consider planting a longleaf pine. Albany is one of the 3,400 communities across the United States to be designated a Tree City USA. Simply put, the Tree City designation means Albanians care about their trees and reap big rewards from them such as cleaner air, shadier streets and the beauty they bring to our community.

Get out your pruning snips and loping shears because it’s time to get started on your pruning projects. We have 32 boxwood in our yard that we prune twice a year. It’s much less of a chore to prune them in December than it is to prune in hot, humid June.

If you’ve had any fires in your fireplace, clean out the ashes and spread them in your yard using about 10 pounds per 1,000 feet. Ashes will provide small amounts of phosphorus and potassium to your soil and reduce acidity.

If you plan to plant bulbs, check to see if your selections are rated winter-hardy. If so, they can be planted now. If not, store bulbs in a cool, dry place at 60-65 degrees. Dougherty County is in Plant Hardiness Zone 8B.

Gardening tools and plants make wonderful holiday and birthday gifts. If you visit any garden center or nursery this month, you will see row after row of beautiful white, red and pink poinsettia plants. Poinsettias are easy to care for and can last for months. Water only when the soil feels dry. Be sure to take the foil wrapping off the plant. The foil will hold water in the bottom and cause the roots to rot. Your plant will thrive in a location that receives six hours or more of indirect sunlight at a temperature of 60 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit.

Poinsettias will not do well in a drafty location, or at temperatures below 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Avoid placing your poinsettia near fireplaces, large appliances, televisions or heat ducts because of the potential for high heat. And finally, don’t fertilize your plant while it’s blooming.

Other gift ideas are wheelbarrows, bird feeders, bird baths, garden benches, rain gauges, work gloves and wind chimes. A gift certificate to a favorite garden center is always welcome, too.

There is plenty to do in your yard during December. When you can’t be outside, take out your notebook and begin planning for next year.

Nealy Stapleton is a Master Gardener Extension Volunteer and a member of the SOWEGA Master Gardeners. Readers with further questions about December gardening may call 1-800-AskUGA 1.