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What to do in your garden: December.


Gifts from the nursery To bypass the hectic mall and give a present that will live on after the holidays, head for a garden center. For an edible surprise, pot up a dwarf citrus or cool-season greens such as arugula or butterhead lettuce. Or buy a blooming camellia, Christmas cactus, or orchid. For the promise of spring flowers, pick out a bare-root rose in a box.


Live Christmas trees San Francisco residents can have living trees such as Brisbane box, small leaf tristania, and strawberry tree delivered from Friends of the Urban Forest's Green Christmas program. Decorate and enjoy the trees through the holidays; they'll be picked up after Christmas and later planted throughout the city. Order by Dec 14; $90 per tree; or 415/561-6890.


Bare-root plants Sunset climate zones 7-9,14-17: Late this month, nurseries begin selling bare-root cane berries, fruit trees, grapes, and roses. You'll also find perennial vegetables such as asparagus, horseradish, and rhubarb. Plant as soon as possible after bringing them home. If garden soil is too wet to plant, temporarily place each plant in an empty bucket or pot and cover roots with moistened mulch.

Instant color Zones 7-9, 14-17: To quickly perk up containers in entryways and on patios, cluster blooming plants in large containers. Choose from azaleas, calendula, Christmas cactus, cyclamen, English and fairy primroses, kalanchoe, pansies, Primula obconica, and snapdragons in 4- and 6-inch pots. Mix in dwarf conifers. Protect tender Christmas cactus and kalanchoe from frost by setting them beneath an overhang or displaying them indoors.

Poinsettias Nurseries are overflowing with a colorful selection this month, with bracts in shades of salmon and lemon yellow to traditional red. Buy plants with healthy-looking leaves; avoid ones that have been stored for more than a day in paper sleeves (which block out light and reduce air circulation, causing leaves to drop off). Indoors, place plants away from heater vents in a location with bright, indirect light. Outdoors, display plants under an overhang next to the house, since temperatures below 45[degrees] to 50[degrees] can damage them. Water when the soil surface feels dry to the touch (never let the soil go completely dry).


Feed annuals Zones 7-9, 14-17: Even in cool weather, winter annuals need nutrients for root development. Feed them every two weeks with fish emulsion or once a month with a commercial fertilizer that's higher in nitrogen.

Keep cut Christmas trees fresh Trees that have been stored with their stem ends in water are your best choices because they're freshest. To prolong freshness after bringing a tree home, saw an inch off the bottom of the trunk, place the trunk in a bucket of water, then store the tree outdoors in a shaded area until you're ready to bring it indoors for decorating. Before setting the tree in a stand, saw another inch off the bottom of the trunk (you may need to remove some of the lowest branches). Use a stand that has a deep reservoir for water, and keep the reservoir full (check daily the first week). Keep the tree away from heaters.


RELATED ARTICLE: Tip from the test garden

CUT GREENS FOR BOUGHS AND SWAGS Your garden may contain all the foliage you need for holiday decorations. Long-lasting choices include Douglas fir, evergreen magnolia, fir, holly, holly-leaf osmanthus, juniper, pine, and redwood. When you cut greens for decorating, use sharp shears and keep proper pruning principles in mind so you don't harm or disfigure plants.


TO FORCE UPWARD GROWTH, cut the branch just beyond an upward-facing shoot.

TO FOSTER SPREADING GROWTH, cut the branch just beyond a downward-facing shoot.

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Title Annotation:Northern California checklist
Author:Chai, Julie
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 1, 2007
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