by Cathy Bylinowski, Horticulture Instructor, Nutrition & Health Education Specialist, MU Extension-Jackson County
December is definitely a slower gardening month. The shorter days and colder temperatures put a stop to above ground plant growth. There is still plenty to do if you need a dose of winter gardening. Here is a list of gardening tasks and new projects to try during these winter days and nights, gleaned from MU Extension publications and the Missouri Botanical Garden’s website:
1. Rake leaves!
Yes, some leaves are still falling. My neighbor’s pin oak dropped most of its leaves last week and the wind from the west conveniently (for the neighbor!) blew them into my yard. I rake them up and drag them back to my slow, low-tech leaf compost pile. The 3-foot high pile becomes a foot-high pile by the following spring. Tree leaves can be a gardener’s best friend when used correctly.
The decomposed leaves are a great addition to clay soil and improve growing conditions for many plants, including vegetable gardens and many ornamental perennial flowers. Consider using leaves to start a compost pile. For more information on composting in general, review MU Extension’s guide sheet on composting- extension.missouri.edu/p/g6956.
2. Mulch with a mower!
Mulching with a mower saves time and money: Adjust your lawn mower to its highest setting and mow in a crisscross pattern. Mow twice to cut leaves to the size of confetti. These small pieces of leaves will filter into the lawn, decompose and release nutrients for the grass. Use the following tips for mowing and mulching leaves:
Use a sharp mower blade.
Maintain normal mowing heights.
Mow at a height of 3-4 inches.
Mow before leaves pile up too high.
Do not let a dense layer of leaves lie
on turf more than four days. Rake
after an extended rainy spell.
Dry leaves chop more easily than wet ones. However, dry leaves make dust, so wear a dust mask over your nose and mouth. Always wear safety goggles. Do not mow wet leaves.
3. Mulch new bulb beds and perennial beds after the ground freezes.
Stiff leaves and crumbly leaves that do not form mats make great mulch. You can also use compost as mulch. Be sure the root zones of azaleas and rhododendrons are thoroughly mulched.
Any organic material will do, but mulches made from oak leaves, shredded oak bark, or pine needles are preferred for these woody ornamental plants.
4. Try an amaryllis this winter.
I encourage you to try growing one from a bulb. It takes 6 to 8 weeks for it to bloom, so if you plant one soon, it should bloom by late January to mid-February, 2020.
Many garden center stores still have bulbs for sale. Plant the bulb in a pot that is about two inches wider than the diameter of the bulb. Choose a container that has a drainage hole. Use potting soil that drains well. Place in a warm spot and keep the soil moist. When a green leaf starts to sprout from the top of the bulb, move it to an area with bright, indirect light, near a south facing window or under grow lights.
Amaryllis are tall and vigorous plants. You might need one or more bamboo or wire supports to help hold the apple green leaves and big flowers stalks up.
I challenge you to keep it growing and have it bloom again next year! This article includes instructions on how to do that- https://extension2.missouri.edu/news/amaryllis-a-showstopping-holiday-bloomer-2958
Have a relaxing holiday season!
Feel free to call our MU Extension office if you have questions about gardening projects for 2020. Our office is at 1600 NE Coronado Drive, Ground Floor, Blue Springs, MO 64014, 816-252-5051.
Cathy Bylinowski, Horticulture Instructor, firstname.lastname@example.org