December to-do list for your garden

By Rebecca Jepsen
for the Mercury News
December 12, 2008

Clean garden beds in preparation for winter. Many insects and diseases over-winter in fallen debris. Prune diseased leaves from roses, camellias, rhododendrons and azaleas. Leave leaf litter under oaks, pine and junipers; the leaf duff helps protect the roots.

Winter watering is important if there has been no rain for a week or two. Use a moisture meter or a shovel to dig into the soil (at least six inches below the surface) to see if the soil has dried out. This is especially important for new plantings.

Prune apple trees that have weak or unproductive branches. Apple trees produce fruit terminally on spurs located on wood two to eight years old. Pruning allows sunlight into the tree to encourage good spur development.

Prune blackberries as soon as harvest is complete. Remove all wood that has produced the current year's crop, and trellis remaining large branches immediately; a fan shape is recommended. Tipping (removing the end of the canes) will promote larger berries and help keep the plant more manageable.

Harvest kiwis when they are still hard, then soften at room temperature. Watch the vines for signs of ripeness; a few fruit will turn soft and the skin color will change from greenish to brown. Fruit can be left on the vine after the leaves fall off. Kiwis can be stored in the refrigerator for up to four months or at room temperature for about two weeks.

Peppertree psyllids are greenish or tan pear-shaped pests that cause damage to California pepper trees. Tiny, translucent, white eggs turn into orangish nymphs that feed on new plant growth. Leaves will appear wrinkled or twisted. The pest rarely does serious damage to the tree.

For the Master Gardeners' complete list of tips click on www.mastergardeners.org/tips/december.html

What to plant now:

Transplants: onions, lettuce, kale, broccoli, cauliflower, peas, turnips. Nurseries should have a good supply of most of these.

Seeds: fava beans, bell beans, radishes.

To find a list of cool season vegetables that do well in Santa Clara County, go to http://master gardeners.org/picks/cool.html or call the hotline, (408) 282-3105.

- Rebecca Jepsen, Santa Clara County Master Gardener