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Your December yard and garden checklist

In today's "Growing Together" column, Don Kinzler explains what we should do around the yard this month to keep our trees, shrubs and perennials healthy.

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Shovel extra snow around perennials and roses for extra insulation. Alyssa Goelzer / The Forum
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December might seem like a sleepy time for outdoor gardening, but between the weather and the rabbits, our outdoor trees, shrubs and perennials are under constant attack.

By December, there’s little doubt that fall has turned to winter, and there are a few yard and garden tasks to check before winter’s deepest days arrive.

The following is an early winter checklist:

  • Shovel extra snow over perennial flowers, tender shrubs and strawberries. Snow is a good insulator, averaging an R-value of 1 for every inch of depth. According to researchers at Rutgers University, 9 inches of snow cover can make a 42-degree difference in temperature.
  • A generous layer of snow insulation has three important functions: it slows the loss of ground heat escaping upward out of the soil; it slows the penetration of cold temperatures downward into the ground; and it prevents damaging effects of alternating freezing and thawing.
  • Plants located in windswept areas blown clear of snow are especially vulnerable in subzero weather. If possible when shoveling or using a snowblower, direct additional snow into planting beds that are bare of decent snow cover.
  • Rabbits and deer no longer have an abundance of fresh greenery to graze, so their appetites turn to twigs and the bark of woody plants, which they can quickly decimate. Among their favorites are rose, hydrangea, arborvitae, burning bush, raspberry, spirea and barberry. We’re all waiting for the surefire cure or no-fail repellent, but in the meantime, fencing is the surest deterrent. No repellents work in all situations, but those with the broadest success include Liquid Fence, Plantskydd and Repellex.
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    Fencing protects shrubs from rabbits in search of winter food. Alyssa Goelzer / The Forum
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  • Enjoy the winter view out your window. If your yard or landscape lacks four-season appeal, plan to add shrubs or perennials next spring with interesting twigs, bark, dried flower clusters or seed heads. Winter landscapes are picture-perfect if the right plant material is added. Learn to appreciate the muted shades of brown against the crisp snow.
  • Locate a bird feeder in your landscape. The seed heads of many perennial flowers and shrubs provide wildlife feed and adding a feeder will attract more bird types to your yard.
  • If you haven’t already done so, wrap the trunks of young trees to prevent animal injury and winter sunscald, which burns tender bark the same way skiers get a sunburn from the sun reflecting from bright snow.
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    If you haven’t already done so, wrap young trees now. Alyssa Goelzer / The Forum
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  • Many seed catalogs have already arrived. Grab a cup of cocoa and plan your order. Seeds have been in high demand since the pandemic’s start, so ordering early will again be wise.
  • Dream and scheme for next year’s yard and garden while this year is still fresh in mind.
  • It’s easy to forget to clean garden tools at the end of the season, but high-quality tools will last much longer if cared for properly. Scrape off excess soil, finishing with steel wool or sandpaper and give a light coat of oil to prevent rust. Rub wooden handles with a mixture of equal parts linseed oil and turpentine.
  • Many garages remain above freezing until late fall, but when temperatures plummet, materials stored inside can easily freeze. If liquid insecticides or herbicides haven’t been moved from the garage to an indoor area that won’t freeze, do so now, placing them in tightly sealed plastic bags to contain the odors many emit.
  • Satisfy the gardening itch by starting an amaryllis bulb or kit sold by garden centers and national chains. They’re easy to grow and the flowers are huge.

Don Kinzler, a lifelong gardener, is the horticulturist with North Dakota State University Extension for Cass County. Readers can reach him at donald.kinzler@ndsu.edu.

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Don Kinzler, "Growing Together" and "Fielding Questions" columnist.

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