The Villages Voice - December 2019

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FL Master Gardener - Preparing Your Garden for Winter

by Kathy Porter

Preparing Your Garden for Winter

As  I write this column, we are experiencing very chilly days with overcast skies. However, the forecast seems to predict we will warm up in the next few weeks. Will we have warm weather in December? That’s a tricky question. In the 16 years I have lived here, I have seen beautiful warm December days and I have seen frost and freezes. How should you plan to protect your garden? The information below will help insure you are prepared:
  • Stop all fertilizing and pruning this month. Both fertilizing and pruning encourage new growth. That new growth will be the first to freeze and the plant will be stressed.
  • If a freeze is predicted, water your plants before the freeze and then again the day after the freeze.
  • Never run your sprinklers during a freeze. UF/IFAS does not recommend this procedure for home gardeners. In addition, residents have been seriously hurt falling on icy driveways.
  • “Frost cloth” is for frost and will not protect your plants from a freeze.
  • Instead use old blankets, towels and large cardboard boxes. To be effective the cover must go all the way to the ground. Use bricks or stones to anchor the cover to the ground and keep the heat in.
  • As the day warms, remember to uncover the plants.
  • Never use plastic bags to cover your plants. The plastic transfers the cold to the plant and, if not removed as the day warms, the plastic will burn the plant.
  • For tropical plants, you can string strands of Christmas lights around the plant before you cover it for additional warmth.
  • Move hanging plants and containers to the garage or protected areas.
  • Most turf grasses will start to go dormant but still need water. The winter months are usually a drier time of year so if it does not rain, you will have to augment with your sprinkler.
There is still time to plant cold hardy annuals to bring color to the winter garden: Dusty miller, nasturtiums, ornamental kale, pansies, petunias, snapdragons and violas are all good choices. Join the newest gardening craze by planting edibles in your landscape.  Sprinkling in some carrots, chives, mustard greens, parsley, sage or spinach will jazz up your look.    Hollies are one of my favorite trees and this is the time to plant one.  I simply adore my weeping yaupon holly but there are other native hollies such as: dahoon, East Palatka, Nellie R. Stevens and Schellings holly that provide lovely color all winter and food and cover for the birds. The more birds you have in your yard, the fewer pests you will have on your plants. Most varieties of hollies are either male or female but only females produce berries. Since the berries will be in bloom at this time of the year, you will be able to pick a female holly. Some hollies, like the yaupon, will grow well in partial shade. I suggest not planting a holly that bears berries near a driveway or walkway as that can be messy. Planting a holly now means you will have a lovely tree to festoon with Christmas lights. My sincerest wishes for a happy Hanukkah, a Merry Christmas and always a New Year filled with good health, happiness and a beautiful, blooming garden.   Kathy Porter UF/IFAS Sumter County Master Gardener Phone: 352-569-6870 Send your gardening questions or sign up for The Gardener’s Journal at: askthemastergardener@ifas.ufl.edu