Gardening tasks for December in Southeast Alaska

I know you all think I’m obsessed with gardening.  Of course I truly am.  As a past President of Southeast Alaska Master Gardeners, it is my right.  I’m just usually out selling real estate so I don’t have the time I’d like to have in the garden.  That’s why I’d like to start periodically giving a “to do” list for the garden.  None of us have the time we’d like to, but we all have 24 hours in a day.

Just because we’ve had several hard frosts and you cannot dig in the dirt doesn’t mean you cannot take a few steps to make gardening even better next year.  Here are a few of the things you can be doing NOW, in December – especially since we don’t have snow yet!

•1.        Before the snow falls, get the garden clutter off the ground.  This includes trash that may have blown into your yard from the neighbors, stray pots, and possibly even garden tools!  Let’s hope your tools are inside where they belong, but if they aren’t, you need to get them before the snow covers them until May.  Sounds gross, but if you have a dog, get that poop all cleaned up while it’s frozen.  Use a scooper or latex gloves.  (Wash your hands when you are done!)  If you haven’t already done so, disconnect all your hoses and put up insulating covers so you don’t have a mean surprise come spring.

•2.       Clean up those weeds.  Certain weeds are especially vulnerable now.  We haven’t had a lot of rain and the roots are very cold so it’s easy to get the foliage out.  Even if you don’t get the roots, by taking the tops you will weaken the plant and make your life a little easier next spring.

•3.       Cover strawberry plants and other perennials with straw.  Make it nice and thick, anywhere from 4-6″.  The purpose isn’t to keep them from freezing but to keep them frozen.  Here in southeast Alaska our winters are not really harsh, but we get many freeze/thaw cycles.  The plants keep thinking spring has arrived, start to grow, then they get another blast of winter.  If they get teased too many times, they can eventually just give up.  If you get too much straw, put it on top of your raised beds and bulbs.  It will compost in by spring.  If not, rake it up and put it in the compost pile.

•4.       Compost breaks down especially well over winter.  Those broccoli stalks need the freeze/thaw cycles to break down.  The only other option is to cook them to break down those tough cell walls.  This is a good time of year to be working on your compost.  The bears are gone for the most part, and compost just doesn’t smell when it’s frozen.  I have friends bag up their leaves for me, and I also keep some soil available to layer things over the winter.  It doesn’t take a whole lot to cover it, just keep that kitchen waste covered to keep the varmints out.  There is no compost in six weeks in Southeast Alaska – more like three years, so many people have lots of bins.

•5.       Now that you have all your garden tools rounded up and into the garage, basement, or shed, it is time to spruce them up.  Scrape off all the dirt, then buff with steel wool, sharpen if necessary, then coat with a little oil.  If you abuse your tools, they will abuse you.  That’s why a new shovel digs better than an old one.  If you take care of your tools, they will be there for you for many years, sometimes decades.

Well, that’s it for December.  With our reduced daylight hours, you really cannot plan a whole lot to do, but the little bit you do now will make a difference next year.  Besides, that little bit of outside time just could save your sanity!  I just cannot wait to see those garden catalogues in January!

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