Lets Get Gardening: December 2018

First – my apologies for the lack of a November newsletter. Late October and early November came and went in a whirlwind of activity, and there just weren’t enough hours in any given day for me to get it done, and actually give it the meaningful time it requires for it to be relevant to you. Had I done a November newsletter, I would have told you that we had plenty of time to get our last-minute chores done outside, because the weather was supposed to be good for a while. I guess it’s just as well I didn’t tell you that!

I wish the weather people would come to some consensus on what our winter is going to be like. In October, I had read that both the Old Farmer’s Almanac and the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) were predicting a warmer than usual winter for us. How’s that working out for us so far?! The Farmer’s Almanac (not to be confused with the Old Farmer’s Almanac), was saying that this winter will be “biting cold” and “snowy.” I think that, so far, the “New” Farmer’s Almanac is winning at the predicting game, and we’re not winning at all.


December Featured Garden Product

Christmas Cactus – Christmas Cactus (zygocactus truncata or Schlumbergera truncata) are not desert-dwelling plants, but naturally grow in the moist forests of Brazil, so they need to be treated differently from desert-dwelling cactus. For instance, if exposed to too much light, their leaves will turn red, and they may not bloom. They also need more water than desert cactus. To get yours to re-bloom year after year, there are a few things to keep in mind:

First, don’t fertilize them while they are in bloom. Once they have stopped blooming, wait to fertilize them until they are actively growing – generally from April through early September. During that time, they can be outdoors in a semi-shady spot (as long as it’s warm out), or indoors in a place where they will get bright but indirect sunlight. They should also be watered regularly at this time.

From mid-September through early November, keep Christmas Cactus somewhat dry and cool (between 50 and 60 degrees is ideal), until flower buds start to form. Also, make sure you are not providing too much light. These plants are triggered to bloom by shortened daylight and cooler days. If they get more than 12 hours of light in a day, they may not bloom. So, if you are using artificial lights for your plants, be sure to reduce the amount of time they are on.

Once buds begin forming, start watering regularly and keep them in a warmer spot – no lower than 55 degrees. Christmas cactus generally bloom between mid-November and mid-January. When they have finished blooming, they need a resting period, where they are kept cool (50 to 55 degrees) and slightly dry before you begin to fertilize them again.

You can get your Christmas cactus to branch out more with pruning (and you can get more plants while you’re at it). Remove a few sections of each stem by pinching them off with your fingers or cutting with a sharp knife. These sections can be rooted in moist vermiculite to propagate new plants.

Don’t be in a hurry to repot your Christmas Cactus – they like to be a little root-bound, and do better if repotted infrequently. If you do repot, use a pot that is wider than it is tall, and only go up about one inch in size.

In this month’s issue of Let’s Get Gardening

Subscribe to our monthly newsletter for seasonal gardening advice and recommendations for your garden, yard, and bird feeding. In this month’s issue:

There are still things to do outdoors, even in December.


  • Even though it has felt it for a while now, we’re not quite into winter yet, and this weekend’s temps are a nice reminder. Of course, by mid-week, it’s going be a lot more wintery again. It is Michigan, after all, and our weather is not ever something you could call consistent!
  • You can also force bulbs indoors over the winter. There’s nothing like flowers in bloom in your house in late winter to get you in the gardening mood, when it’s still frozen outdoors and you can’t really do any gardening.
  • Hedge your bets on the weather this winter, and pile mulch on top of your perennials, once the ground is frozen. This helps protect them from the changing temperatures throughout the winter, which we often get.
  • If you didn’t get the opportunity to clean up your flower beds before the weather changed and the snow started to fly, it’s really not a bad thing. Many gardeners like to “tidy up” their beds at the end of the season – cutting back perennial flowers and grasses. I prefer to wait until spring to do this job, because the seed heads are a great source of food for the birds.


Trees & Shrubs:

  • I know a lot of people who have said they didn’t get a chance to rake up their leaves before the snow started falling. If you’re among them, don’t drive yourself too crazy over this. While large piles of leaves on your lawn aren’t a great thing for it, this article explains that some leaves can be a good thing!
  • Before the ground freezes, put up wind screens around your evergreen trees and shrubs, to help keep them from drying out over the winter. When the ground is frozen, plants can’t take up water, and evergreens especially can lose what water they do have when it’s windy.
  • The wet snow we got last weekend was the type that can cause a lot of damage to trees and shrubs, especially when we get even more than we did. Heavy snow can weigh down and potentially break branches, so promptly remove snow to help prevent damage.
  • Are you getting fresh greens for the holidays, such as a wreath for your front door and roping for your porch railing or fence? If so, keep them fresh longer by spraying with water when the temperatures are above freezing.


  • If you didn’t get around to cleaning up your tools yet, now is the time to do that. Tools left all winter with dirt and debris on them will rust and not last nearly as long as those cleaned up before being stored for the winter. 
  • Be sure to put away hoses and other watering items, if you haven’t yet. Pick a warmer day, so that you can be sure to get all the water out before putting them away. Keep spiders and other critters from inhabiting your hoses over the winter by rolling them up and them connecting the hose ends to each other.


  • We are seeing a changing of the guard in the form of the birds in our yards right now. While some of our birds are year-round residents, some of our summer birds have left for warmer climates, and Dark-eyed Juncos have started showing up.
  • Keep feeders full, so that the birds don’t have to waste precious energy searching for food.
  • Clean out your birdhouses and leave them out all winter, if they are not susceptible to breakage from freezing temps.
  • If your birdbaths are not likely to be damaged by the freezing and thawing cycles of our winters, leave them out all winter. When they fill up with snow, that then sometimes melts, it gives the birds a source of water.

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    More info on all of these tips can be found in our monthly newsletter: Read the October 2018 issue of Let’s Get Gardening

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