Horticulture Tips for December

Home Grown  by Keith Reed
So far it’s been a very mild start to winter (as witnessed by the ease in locating still-green bermudagrass)! This makes it easy to forget that it can get very cold on short notice this time of year. You might remember that it was only mid-December last year when we had a weekend brush with temperatures near zero. Taking care of the following landscape tasks can help protect your landscape from severe temperature fluctuations like that could happen just about any day now.

  • Get those important plants mulched if you have not already done so. Strawberries, new perennial plantings, and immature trees are just a few examples of plants that can greatly benefit.
  • If we fail to get measureable rains soon, water plants susceptible to winter damage, especially new plantings and evergreen species (including tall fescue or other cool season turfgrasses).
  • Protect the trunks of young thin-barked trees from sun scald and winter injury. There are several different types of wraps on the market and all are effective. The idea is to reduce extreme temperature changes in the cambium layer of the trunk on cold winter days by providing a bit of shade. Just remember to remove the wrap in the spring as the leaves begin to unfurl.
  • If we get freezing precipitation, be judicious in your use of salt when de-icing sidewalks and driveways. Think about what happens to the runoff as the snow and ice melts away. If it will end up in your landscape, consider using an alternative such as sand or a clay-based kitty litter.
  • Addressing fallen leaves is still a high priority. There are several reasons for this. Leaves are an excellent component of compost. When composting, be sure an incorporate a few “greens” into the pile to speed up the composting process. This could include kitchen waste, clippings from cool season lawns, animal manure, or even commercial fertilizer. Leaves can damage a cool season lawn if left to pile up. This limits light and air to the turfgrass.
  • While it is not important to remove every leaf that falls, do try to chop them up or at least stir them around on occasion to prevent them from forming an almost impenetrable barrier. Note that chopped leaves will compost much quicker than those simply raked up and added to the pile so this is a win-win if you are composting.
  • Lastly, piles of leaves can help insects survive the winter. While it would be a mistake to assume that diligent leave removal will eliminate your insect problems next year, it certainly can’t hurt.

For more information on this or any other horticultural topic, you can contact Keith Reed, the Horticulturist in the Payne County Extension office. Keith can be reached via email at
keith.reed@okstate.edu, phone at 405-747-8320, or in person at the Payne County Extension office, located at 315 W. 6th in Stillwater.

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