Helping people become better gardeners since 1999!

Garden Tips December 2014

Garden Tips December 2014

Gardening is a bit like chess.  If you want to be good, you have to think several moves ahead.  There is a strategy that needs to be developed and if one method doesn’t work you move to the next.  Think about your garden for a minute.  You know there is something that just doesn’t work.  And there are several things that work just fine.  If most things are working fine, leave them they way they are.  Just change the plan for the one thing that doesn’t work.  And off you go on another adventure in gardening.  Whatever you change, changes everything.  Just like in chess.  Every move changes all the rest of the game.  And, sometimes you win and sometimes you lose.

December is the time to plan for the spring.  If we plan now, then March, April, May and June will be spectacular.  Of course there are plenty of chores to do.  And one of those is shopping for your garden.  This month’s garden tips will give you plenty to do both in your strategy for your garden and in the garden itself.  Here are the tips.

  1. Bulbs are in the nurseries now.  Think about the color scheme you want, the types of bulbs you like, and where you might be willing to have a little experimental change.  This way, when you go to the nursery or the catalog or the big box store and buy bulbs, there is some semblance of a plan.  Otherwise it can be over whelming.
  2. It is time for winter pruning.  This means all deciduous plants get cleaned up (dead, dying and diseased) and then pruned for growth (roses, fruit trees, vines) or thinned for esthetic and air flow.
  3. Plan your decorations for the season.  Note, everybody is different and some don’t do any decorating while others go bonkers.  There is a whole street off of Embarcadero that has been decorating their yards for decades and I am sure it can be seen from space at night.  Planning is what makes it beautiful.  Sit down and write out how many of what you want where.  It will help enormously when you try to tell someone who is helping you.
  4. Get help.  You know you cannot do it all yourself (unless you are a landscape contractor then you don’t even want to see a landscape on your day off).  Line up someone to help with the lights, the front porch decorations, the poinsettias on the table and the tree.  It helps enormously if you make soup, fresh baked bread and eggnog for the helpers.
  5. Clean up beds.  Remove old annuals, dying perennials, bunch grasses that have past their prime and anything that is over grown.  Plants in landscape designs almost always outgrow the space they are given.
  6. Don’t hesitate to clear out or cut down the scraggly looking background plants too.  They can either be replaced (if you dig out the roots and refresh the soil) or just left out so other plants can have some room to spread.
  7. When you get back from the nursery store your bulbs in a cool dark space until after the festivities.  There will be time later for the spring planting.  Now is the time for buying.  the reason is that savvy gardeners will buy up all the good bulbs and if you are not there to get in on them you will get the small, sickly, rejects that were left behind.  Whatever you do though, don’t forget that  you have and where you have stored them.  Mark your calendar or smart phone or computer that the month of January or February  (the whole month) is bulb planting month.
  8. Plants for December are Primroses, Violas, Pansies, Ornamental Kale, Marigolds and whatever the nursery has in that is colorful.  Cyclamen make nice borders or pot color while Nemesia is a great delicate compliment.  They both come in several colors.  For ornamental foliage, anything variegated is great.  Variegated means the edges or the center of the leaf has a yellow accent.  This is much more interesting than just plain green without bloom.  Of course a new bunch grass or flax will make an interesting textural variation as well.
  9. Continue adding and dividing succulents if you have a low water yard.  Look in the nurseries for color variations and different sizes and shapes of leaf patterns.  Mix them up or plan them to the last inch.  Both methods work.  I like to recommend sculptural elements with succulents.  I wouldn’t go overboard, just something that makes a statement.  A bird feeder is nice too.
  10. Re mulch.  Mulch is the finishing touch for a good make over in the garden.  It doesn’t have to be new mulch, but it needs to be on purpose.  Thus, when you are stomping around pruning and digging out over grown plants you will inevitably kick the mulch all over  the place and it will look like a cat fight took place.  Take a fine rake and do a cover up job, making it look as natural as possible.  Then, when you turn the lights on at sunset the neighbors  will know you are amazing.

Good Gardening

Garden coach Jack McKinnon can be reached at 650-455-0687650-455-0687 (cell), by email at  Visit his website at

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>