End of season gardening to-do’s


Bright and showy camellias should bloom through early January. Photo by Janet B. Carson

With the arrival of the holiday season, gardening chores get pushed to the back burner, but there are still some important tasks to accomplish. How well we end one growing season can determine how well our plants grow next year.

We had an unseasonably early cold spell in late October, and by now, almost all plants in the garden should be dormant or headed that way. If you have not been raking, try to get at least some of the leaves raked up to allow sunlight, oxygen and rainfall to make it through to the underlying plants.

Deciduous perennials should be cut back and the spent debris removed. Cleaning up the garden is a great way to prevent problems from building up, and it also makes a more aesthetically pleasing landscape. Plant debris that was not diseased can be added to the compost pile, but if it was heavily infested with insects or diseases, get rid of it.

While most plants are now dormant, deciduous hollies are full of red berries. Photo by Janet B. Carson

Fall-blooming camellias are putting on a show, and provided they had ample moisture last summer, they look spectacular. Expect blooms from now through early January. Berry-producing plants get to be stars as well. There are still berries on the beauty bush and bittersweet, and the deciduous hollies are beginning to shed leaves and expose their berries. The amount of fall color will be in proportion to their care this past season.

December is still a great time to plant trees and some shrubs, and transplant larger trees and shrubs. Soil temperatures usually don’t get too low in Arkansas. While plants are dormant, the energy can go to the roots, allowing them to get established before the tops begin demanding extra energy for growth. Water well and mulch, but don’t add any fertilizer to the planting hole. Usually, we have ample winter rains to take care of water needs, but pay attention and water if needed.

An early end to our summer gardens prompted many of us to plant winter annuals early. If you haven’t planted, there is still time to do so — but do it soon. Opt for larger, blooming plants for late-season planting. Small, nonbloomers probably won’t offer any color until spring if planted this late. If you have already planted, don’t forget to fertilize periodically to keep them blooming their best. Spring flowering bulbs can still be planted. If your bulbs have been in the ground for years, don’t be alarmed if you see them poking their heads above ground in December. We see this happening more and more each year, and the foliage is very cold-hardy. Just be sure you don’t cut it off or damage it since those bulbs only have one set of leaves.

If your vegetable garden is done for the year, prepare your garden for winter. Remove and dispose of all plant material.

And last but not least, clean your garden tools. If using gas tools, try to run the tool out of gas. Before tools rest for the winter, clean them thoroughly, and rub some linseed or vegetable oil on the metal and wood parts. A light coating of oil can prevent metal from rusting and wooden handles from drying and cracking.