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Archives for December 3, 2017

This week’s gardening tips: Veggies to plant in December, don’t leave leaves on lawns

Dan Gill is a horticulturist with the LSU AgCenter. Email questions to or add them to the comment section below. Follow his stories at, on Facebook and @nolahomegardenon Instagram.


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Gardening: Berries brighten winter landscapes while keeping wildlife happy

Few things brighten a wintertime garden like berries. These plants offer interest and wonderful pops of color to an otherwise drab landscape.

They also have an added advantage of providing food for our feathered friends in late winter, when the foraging is scarce. And these creatures also bring movement and excitement to the winter scene. I think nothing is more beautiful than the bright scarlet of a male cardinal with the backdrop of a winter snow scene.

There are many berried plants you can include in your garden. Although it is becoming a bit overused, I still love the bright red clusters of Nandina domestica. There is also a nandina with white berries that, while not spectacular in the landscape by itself, is quite interesting and different when mixed with the red version.

For other red colors, there are also hollies. Again, rather ubiquitous; I don’t usually think to plant these things, just because they are so widely used. But they come in many shapes and sizes and so are quite useful to add to the garden. I do love the deciduous holly winterberry, though. Its bright berries line the stems like large, fat beads. And it conveniently drops its leaves in the fall so they don’t distract from the show.

Viburnums are wonderful native shrubs. These guys have gorgeous white flowers in the spring, most of which are very fragrant. And then, in the fall, they dangle thick clusters of red from their branch tips.

In addition to the several red types, there is also the arrowwood viburnum, Viburnum dentatum, which has dark blue berries for a different look. Another — the nannyberry, Viburnum lentago — produces berries that stay green for a long time and bring an interesting texture to a hedge planting. Finally, late in the season, these also will turn almost black. Most birds shun these berries till much later in the winter, when they descend in masses to strip the plants of their fruit.

Skimmia is a lesser-known shrub that sports clumps of red as well. This is a smallish evergreen plant that naturally grows in a rounded shape and will grow to 2 or 3 feet tall and wide. It also will take a fair amount of shade or sunlight, or both. So it makes a really nice foundation plant. Like hollies, this plant comes in male and female, and only the females produce the berries. So purchase one male to tuck in an out-of-the-way spot and provide him with a bevy of girls to make up his harem.

Also, be sure to enjoy the beautyberry, Calicarpa sp. We have a native version of this. I have to say I think the Chinese variety is much more showy, but both have small clusters of bright purple berries that coat the length of the stem. And, again, the foliage drops, leaving the purple to shine forth. The berries on these plants grow only on new wood, so, each spring, cut the plant back very hard. This will keep it tidy over the years, while also causing it to grow a new head of branches for the best show.

There is also a white version of the beautyberry. But I would suggest you not waste your time or space on this. It puts out glossy, porcelain-like berries that just glow on the plant — until the first frost. After they freeze, the berries turn brown and ugly, and the plant can’t even do us the kindness to throw them down in disgust, but clings tightly to them all winter long.

I also can’t talk about berries without mentioning crabapples. These get a bad rap, as older versions drop their fruit in the fall, making a huge mess. But plant breeders were looking out for us, and they came up with varieties that hold on to their fruit throughout the winter. And these newer forms come in red, burgundy, orange and even yellow. Add the spring flowers, pretty tree form and interesting bark, and you have a tree that really deserves a prime location in the garden.

I also have decided to rethink both the hawthorne and the pyracantha. Long shunned for their propensity to catch every disease and fungus out there, these plants also have been rebred for more disease resistance.

The results have left us with a hawthorne that is a fabulous small tree with beautiful grey bark and thick red berries that hold all winter. And pyracantha is now a large shrub with full clusters of yellow, orange or red berries. These are especially loved by birds late in the winter, and the thick thorny branches are also popular nesting spots. Hard to complain about any of that.

So, pick out a few of these plants to add to your garden. They will bring new beauty and color to your garden the whole winter long.

Mary Stickley-Godinez is The Daily Progress’ gardening columnist.

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5 garden tips for this week, Dec. 2-8

1 Keep an eye on the cold

Check weather forecasts regularly and protect sensitive shrubbery from nighttime freezes from now through February. A string of holiday lights often provides enough warmth to do the job. Or support a bed sheet or clear plastic above and around (but not touching) plants at night. For plants that do get nipped, wait until March to prune off damaged stems no matter how unsightly they look, because the dead foliage will provide insulation against future damage.

2 Delay tactic

Wait a bit longer before harvesting those now-orange naval oranges and tangerines. Otherwise, they may be sour or bitter enough to curl your eyebrows. Robertson naval oranges will be sweeter in a couple of weeks; Washington naval oranges usually sweeten around Christmas and continue getting sweeter in January and February. Most home-grown tangerines taste best if you can wait until February to start the harvest. So for now, look — and maybe drool a bit — but don’t touch yet.

3 Fighting disease

To prevent springtime fruit tree diseases, such as peach leaf curl, apply dormant sprays to deciduous fruit trees as soon as leaves fall completely. Spray from the ground up with Liqui-Cop Fungicide combined with Neem Oil within the next few weeks kill disease spores and to smother overwintering insect pests hiding inside the bark. Both products are commonly available at home and garden centers.

4 Preventive measures

Carrotwood trees are blooming now. To prevent the formation of those hard, messy seed pods and fruits on these and other ornamental trees, spray the foliage with “Florel Fruit Eliminator” now before flowering ends. It’s available from garden centers and home improvement stores. The active ingredient, a natural plant hormone called ethephon, causes the fertilized flowers to fall off so fruits can’t develop.

5 Growing tip

You and/or your children may enjoy growing a sweet potato vine. It will thrive in a well-lighted room even during winter months, producing decorative vine-like stems covered with red-tinted, heart-shaped leaves. Using three well-positioned toothpicks, support the tuber so half of it sits in the water in a vase or glass jar. As it grows near a window, periodically feed with just a little liquid plant food and train the vines to climb or cascade.

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