South Regional Reports

South December Garden To-Do List

December is the perfect month for planting fruit trees. Photo: Shelley Powell

Plant fruit trees. Peaches, pears, nectarines, plums, apples, and persimmons all appreciate cool air and warmer soil. The roots are busy growing without having to support all that foliage. Established trees can be sprayed with dormant oil to help control insects and disease. Because of our volatile southern weather, a few dormant oil-spraying rules apply: Don’t spray in the middle of a hot sunny day, don’t spray within 48 hours of a hard freeze (below 28°F), and don’t accidentally spray any evergreen hedges behind your fruit trees.

variegated agave
Applying diatomaceous earth around this tender agave (Agave cv., Zones 9–11) helps discourage insects. Photo: Shelley Powell

Bring tender plants inside. Once you’re done shoving every tender plant inside the night before frost, it’s time to sort them out. Check the plants for insects, toss the dead ones out, and foist off excess copies onto friends and relatives. Dusting the top of the soil with a little diatomaceous earth helps control many insects without any chemical fragrance.

Pay attention to your soil this month for a year of healthier plants.

adding garden lime
Add some garden lime to any acidic soils. Photo: Shelley Powell

1. Amend your soil with lime. Calcium takes a while to make its way into the soil, so adding garden lime now can benefit plants in the spring. Apples, pomegranates, lavender (Lavandula spp. and cvs., Zones 4–10), lilacs (Syringa spp. and cvs., Zones 3–8), and lawns can all benefit from a little lime in low-pH soils.

soil sample boxes
Many university extension services will analyze your soil for free. Photo: Shelley Powell

2. Take a soil sample. Planning a new garden area or having trouble with an old one? Now is a great time to send in a soil sample for testing. Land grant universities generally offer a soil testing service. You can also contact the extension service for advice.

composting compost in veggie garden

3. Prepare the soil in your vegetable garden. December is a great month to invest in your soil. Whether by adding compost or planting a cover crop, you can make sure to enrich the soil for the upcoming season of veggies while keeping the winter weeds out. It’s also time to plant peas. Snow peas, sugar snap peas, and shelling peas (which double as nitrogen fixers!) germinate fine in the cooler temperatures and grow produce any time there are a few days of mild weather.

Learn more about maintaining healthy soil here:

—Jason and Shelley Powell own and manage Petals from the Past, a garden center in Jemison, Alabama.

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