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What to do in your garden in December.

SHOPPING

* Gift plants in pots. Bypass crowded malls and head to nurseries this month for plants that the gardeners on your list can enjoy long after the holidays. For an edible treat, tie a bow around a dwarf citrus tree or a cluster of strawberry plants. For something in bloom, choose a camellia, Christmas cactus, cymbidium, kalanchoe, or moth orchid.

PLANTING

* Bare-root roses. Sunset climate zones 7-9, 14-17: For best selection, shop for bare-root roses this month. If you want roses for cutting, try floribundas or hybrid teas. For small spaces or containers, choose varieties that stay compact, such as 'Sunsprite' or 'China Doll'. If you can't find what you're looking for at local nurseries, try a mail-order source such as Arena Roses (www.arenaroses.com or 888/466-7434), Petaluma Rose Company (www.petrose.com or 877/738-2586), or Regan Nursery (www.regannursery.com or 510/797-3222).

* Living Christmas trees. In December, most nurseries sell a wider than usual range of conifers suitable for growing in containers as living Christmas trees. Choices include Colorado blue spruce, deodar cedar, Douglas fir, pines, and redwood. Before bringing a potted tree indoors, water it thoroughly and hose off the foliage. Once indoors, set the pot on a waterproof saucer in a cool, bright location away from heat sources. Check soil moisture daily and water as needed; keep the tree indoors no longer than 10 days. Then plant outdoors or transplant into a larger container.

MAINTENANCE

* Keep cut Christmas trees fresh. For the freshest tree, look for one that is stored in water at the Christmas tree lot. After you get it home, remove an inch off the bottom of the trunk with a saw, place the trunk in a bucket of water, and store the tree outdoors in a shady area overnight. Before setting the tree in a stand, saw another inch off the bottom (you may need to remove some branches, if they start low on the trunk). Use a stand with a large reservoir, and keep the reservoir full (check it daily the first week).

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* Protect citrus. Zones 7-9, 14-17: Young trees are more prone to frost damage than older trees. Also, immature fruits up to 1/2 inch in diameter are damaged at higher temperatures (around 30[degrees]) than larger, ripe grapefruit, lemons, mandarins, and oranges, which can tolerate temperatures down to 26[degrees] for short periods. If a heavy freeze is predicted, cover citrus trees with burlap draped over stakes, if possible; keep the fabric from touching the leaves or fruits.

PEST CONTROL

* Spray for peach diseases. Zones 7-9, 14-17: To control peach blight and peach leaf curl, spray with lime sulfur mixed with dormant oil after leaves have dropped. Repeat in February, just before buds show color. Spray on a dry day and follow label directions carefully.

RELATED ARTICLE: TIP FROM THE TEST GARDEN

How to cut greens for decorating

Your garden's evergreens are handy sources of greenery for making holiday garlands or wreaths. But when you take cuttings from valuable landscape plants such as cedar, fir, juniper, pine, spruce, and redwood, do it carefully to preserve the plant's health and shapeliness. Use sharp pruners to make angled cuts. Any multiple clippings you take from a single plant should be balanced around the plant, not just from one area.

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** Directional pruning. Force growth upward by cutting just beyond an upward-growing branchlet or bud. To foster spreading growth, cut beyond a downward-growing branch.

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** Avoid leaving stubs. Cut back to a whorl or to the trunk.

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** Cut back stems anywhere along the leafy portion.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:NORTHERN CALIFORNIA CHECKLIST
Author:Chai, Julie
Publication:Sunset
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 1, 2005
Words:602
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