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December 2012 Gardening Checklist for Arizona’s Low Elevation

Author: Cathy Cromell
Issue: December, 2012, Page 102
Poinsettias



For the Low Desert

WHAT TO PLANT 
Holiday plants—Browse nurseries for living decor that can be added to the garden after the holiday season. Topiary-shaped rosemary plants make fragrant centerpieces. Maintain their shapes by frequent snipping, and use trimmings in the kitchen (all rosemary species are edible). Rosemary prefers a sunny location and soil that’s on the dry side.

Red poinsettia is a traditional choice, although growers are producing varieties in cream, pink and peach, as well as plants with unusual “double flowers” that resemble roses.

As alternative centerpieces, consider bright-red garden flowers such as chrysanthemum, dianthus, gerber daisy, geranium, pansy and petunia. These flowers are less fussy about growing conditions than poinsettia and continue to look good into spring.

Bare-root deciduous fruit trees and roses—If you don’t transplant immediately, keep roots wrapped in moist media and burlap, or something similar.

GARDEN MAINTENANCE 
Maintain cut evergreen Christmas trees—Before purchase, grasp a branch between thumb and forefinger and gently pull it toward you. If the tree is fresh, very few needles will come off. Also, lightly shake or bounce the tree on its trunk base. It’s OK to see a few interior brown needles drop, but do not buy a tree if many green needles drop.

Just before setting the tree in its stand, make a straight cut across the full base of the trunk, removing ¼ to ½ inch. This eliminates the seal of dried sap that forms after the original cut, which prevents water from being absorbed.    

Cut trees will absorb a gallon or more of water in the first 24 hours after being placed in the stand, and a quart daily thereafter. Keep well-watered, which is essential to maintain fresh, fragrant needles. If the water level drops below the cut, another seal will form in as little as four hours.

Tend blooming holiday plants—After purchase, remove decorative foil wraps from pots so that water doesn’t accumulate and cause root rot. Alternatively, remove the foil when you water, let the plant drain in the sink, and then rewrap. Place pots in a bright spot but away from cold drafts, heating vents and fireplaces. Feed with a slow-release fertilizer or with an all-purpose fertilizer for blooming plants at half-strength every two weeks.

Harvest citrus—Varieties of Arizona sweet and navel oranges, mandarins, tangelos, grapefruit, lemons, limes, kumquats and limequats may be ripening. Rind color does not indicate ripeness, so taste-test first. Homegrown citrus with or without a juicer is a welcome holiday gift.


Cathy Cromell is a Master Gardener and co-author of  Earth-Friendly Desert Gardening (Arizona Master Gardener Press)
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