December's Southern California Gardening Tips

Poinsettias — Enjoy them all Christmas long. Then plant this perennial after the holidays in a frost-free location, preferably on the north side of your garden for years of enjoyment.

More Tips

Shorter daylight hours coupled with cold weather make your gardening activities a bit more difficult to get to, however, this is a good time to finish cleaning up the garden and start planning for spring. Remember that a great landscape increases the value of your property from 5-15 percent, so between that and just enjoying the beauty of a garden, it is worth the work.

Anything you can do to help birds this time of year is appreciated. Putting out seed, water and shelter will attract winter visitors and enhance the enjoyment you get from your winter garden. Sunflower seeds, thistle, safflower, millet, and suet if you are in the colder zones, will bring you numerous species from Goldfinches to Chickadees. Just remember, once you start feeding, you should continue.

Some of you have already begun to experience frost and snow. For those tender plants, you can place stakes around them and cover the plants with old sheets at night. Move potted plants to a sheltered area or porch or under a bigger tree. Don’t prune frost damage until new growth begins in spring as many times dead material will help protect the plants from more damage. It’s always a good idea to take cuttings of your favorite plants to grow in a protected area so you can replace any that do not make it through the winter. Brush off any settled snow to prevent damage and branches breaking under the weight.

If you have woody, established trees and shrubs, some gentle pruning can be done now. Get rid of diseased, insect injured wood, and broken limbs, but don’t over do it. Don’t leave stubs that can attract disease or insects and avoid severe pruning.

Make sure to check your soil during dry periods and water accordingly.

Leaves & Lawns
Make sure to keep fallen leaves off your lawn as this can cause the grass in some areas to get too wet and dark, leading to disease. Remember to harvest those fallen leaves, if disease free only, for your compost.

Indoor Winter Plants 
Color up your home for the holidays with Poinsettias, Cyclamen, Chrysanthemums and African Violet, just to name a few. Most indoor plants like to stay moist because their roots are very fine and they need light. Don’t place them near heaters or radiators. Finicky plants like to be moved off windowsills at night if there is a drastic drop in the room temperature.

You can still place bulbs out in some areas, as long as the soil has not become hard from frost. Research now for your spring and summer flowering bulbs.

Fruit Trees
Some trees, like apples and pears benefit from winter pruning, after their leaves have fallen. Berry bushes can also be pruned back.

You can still plant pansies and other winter annuals. This will spice up your winter garden and make for early spring flowers, too.

Trees and Shrubs
Check your zone for hardy trees and shrubs that can still be planted--just take care to be sure they are watered--but don’t over water. Prepare the soil for new beds now, working in leaves, compost and organic matter.

Turn up your soil, getting rid of insects, weeds or any diseased matter. If you are working cool season crops, remember they have very shallow root systems so be sure to water and mulch