December is a slow month in the garden. It is too late (or too early) to prune anything, weeds are not too rambunctious, and cool temperatures mean slow growth. Slow growth does not mean no growth. Roots continue to grow, so be sure to water, especially if we don't get some rain soon.
Lack of rainfall is something of an issue for many landscape plants, watered or not. If you have lived around the Old Pueblo for a while, you know how dusty it is. In general plants can tolerate being dusty, but dust blocks sunlight from reaching photosynthetic tissue. Less light is not too bad if there is also no rain to trigger growth, but with irrigation it can be troublesome.
It is not critical, but plants generally appreciate a nice rinse. I spray water up over all my plants once a month or so. It is also one way to help clean the yard for the holidays ahead. Of course I don't have to tell you to not do this in the evening if a frost is expected.
Another thing to do to "spruce" up the yard for visitors and for yourself is to plant some seasonal color. Almost an entire alphabet of annuals can be planted. Alyssum, bells of Ireland, bachelor's buttons, blue sage, calendula, corn flower, cosmos, dianthus, dusty miller, echinacea, flax, firecracker vine, foxglove, gallardia, godetia, geranium, heliotrope, hollyhock, Johnny-jump-up, kale (flowering), linaria, lobelia, mina, monkey flower, nasturtium, nigella, ornamental cabbage, pansy, poppy, petunias, pinks, phlox, rudbeckia, snapdragon, stock, sweet peas, toadflax, verbena, violets, wallflower, and zinnia.
Don't worry if some desert plants lose their leaves. Many desert landscape plants are what we term "cold deciduous." In a warm winter, they may not lose any leaves at all, but if it gets cold enough, start raking. There is also a genetic component that decides leaf drop. I have three sister
mesquite trees, all grown from beans from the same mother tree. One is the thorny sister, one is the tall gangly sister, and one goes bald with the least hint of cold.
In the vegetable garden, plant cool season vegetable sets, including onion sets (seedlings). You can also plant cool season herb sets such as cilantro, parsley, dill, fennel, calendula, monarda, yarrow and nasturtium. While it is too late to start most winter vegetables from seed, you still could start some using sets from a nursery. You could even plant a mini-garden in a large pot. Select one around eight inches deep for lettuce, 12 to 18 inches deep for bigger crops like broccoli.
December harvesting is fun, especially when you can brag about it to friends and relatives back east. Harvest ripe citrus as you need it. A gentle tug will drop fully ripe citrus into your hand. Let un-ripe citrus soak up some more sunshine and get even sweeter. (Tree-ripened grapefruit needs no sweetening to enjoy.) Harvest any pecans left and enjoy them while they are fresh. Get the last of the pomegranate before the birds do. Persimmon can be harvested as well and stored in the fruit drawer of the refrigerator.
If you have deciduous trees, rake up your autumn leaves. Use this wonderful free fertilizer as mulch under trees and shrubs. Or add it to a compost pile. For slow decay, bury leaves in unused flower beds. Do not try to have a compost pile in the same beds where you are actively growing plants. Composting limits the nitrogen available to plants as bacteria use it to break down the debris. Once composting is complete the nitrogen is again available to plants.
Just a few other things to do in the yard in December. If you haven't yet, switch irrigation controller to winter water schedule. Catch and remove winter weeds as they germinate. Fertilize your winter rye lawn, once monthly should help it keep looking lush and green.
And don't forget to go outside and enjoy your yard.
It doesn't have to cost much to turn your yard into a pleasing space to relax in. For a personal consultation, or for more information on a five-week landscaping class that starts in February, contact me (Jacqueline) at 292-0504. Please leave a voice message.