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December to-do list from the Iowa gardener

by Veronica Lorson Fowler
IOWA CITY– Even as the snow starts to fly, there’s still an opportunity to get out and enjoy the garden.
As long as there isn’t snow or ice on the ground, you can continue to do some garden chores. It’s never to late to rake leaves and now is a perfectly fine time to do any necessary pruning.
If you haven’t already, mound all but the most hardy roses (such as rugosas.) Simply toss a few spadefuls of loose soil or compost in and around the base of the rose to make a mound 8 to 12 inches high. Pat gently. This protects the vulnerable graft of the rose at its base from winter extremes.
Did you remove your hoses from the outdoor faucet and bring them indoors? Otherwise, they may trap water and damage pipes.
Cut evergreens from your yard. They make beautiful holiday decorations. Just remember that each cut is a pruning cut, so do so with care. Make garlands, strew on a mantle top, or even tuck into a vase with some pretty holiday flourishes.
Keep poinsettias evenly but not overly watered. They dry out easily, but will yellow if kept soggy. Position them in a bright spot away from cold drafts and blasts of heat from a vent or fireplace.
 If you clean a wood burning stove or fireplace, dump the ashes on your compost heap. Ash is a great source of phosphorous.
If you have a live tree, water it daily. It sucks up an amazing amount of water.
Don’t fertilize houseplants this month. With our shorter days and cooler houses, they’re not growing much.
Check on forced bulbs. If necessary, water to keep soil evenly moist. Once you see shoots one-half to one inch high, take out the pots and put them in the sunniest, brightest spot you have.
Evaluate your landscape in winter. Think of good places, come spring, to plant evergreens and trees or shrubs with interesting bark. You’ll be able to enjoy them next winter.
Veronica Lorson Fowler lives in Ames and is the author of several garden books, including “Gardening in Iowa” published by the University of Iowa Press. Subscribe to her free electronic Iowa gardening newsletter at www.theiowagardener.com.