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Christmas shopping for the gardener

December 9, 2011

Dr. Lelia Kelly - MSU Extension Service
Dr. David Nagel - MSU Extension Service
Dr. Wayne Wells - MSU Extension Service

Christmas is a wonderful time. Fond memories of the year, giving thanks, sharing gifts with loved ones, brilliantly decorated homes and businesses, Christmas carols, and parties all help put us in a shopping mood, even with having to deal with elbow to elbow crowds.
To avoid some of the Christmas shopping crowds and to help you find gifts for those who you may think have everything consider gardening gifts. The ideas are unlimited and the gifts can last a lifetime.
First, get out of the way of the masses of shoppers by heading to the lawn and garden sections of your favorite department stores, or shop a specialty lawn and garden center. The diversity of gift ideas is expansive and costs range from only a couple dollars to several hundred.
Gardening and lawn care books are instructional and very enjoyable to relax with especially during the doldrums of winter. Gifts such as bird feeders, birdbaths, squirrel feeders, butterfly boxes, birdhouses, etc. will encourage wildlife and add a whole new dimension to the landscape.
Any gardener is pleased to receive new tools as gifts. A few suggested ideas in various price ranges include: pocket knives, electric grass shears, work gloves, pruners, sprinklers, pesticide sprayer, hose reel, lawn rake, garden hoe, shovel, wheel barrow, edger, leaf blower, lawn mower, etc.
Gifts to indicate weather conditions such as rain gauges, indoor-outdoor thermometers, and barometers are also great to have.
Lawn sculpture can be found in every shape, size, color, and range from quite humorous to elegant bronze statues.
Enjoy your Christmas shopping and if you find a gift that you simply must have you still have time to drop some hints or even wrap a present for yourself.
 Fertilizer Storage
Have you ever pulled out that leftover fertilizer bag in the spring and it is set up like concrete? To avoid this next spring, store your opened bags of fertilizer in a sealed plastic bag or plastic waterproof container with a snugly fitting lid. Then store the fertilizer in a dry location. Proper storage prevents the stored fertilizer from absorbing moisture and keeps you from having to go through the ordeal of beating that hard cake of fertilizer with a sledgehammer.
 Christmas Trees
Be sure to check the freshness of a tree before you buy it. Look for needles that spring back when bent and stay on when the tree is shaken. When you get the tree home, saw 2 inches off the trunk to reopen clogged water channels. If you plan to wait a day or more to decorate the tree, put it in a bucket of water and leave it outdoors in a shaded location.
 Holiday Plants
Potted gift plants such as azalea, begonia, Jerusalem cherry, cyclamen, and poinsettia, will last longer if given proper care. Avoid drafty locations like doorways and heating vents.
Water only when the soil is dry. Do not over water. Remove the foil from around the pot to permit excess water to drain away, or punch a hole in the foil at each drainage hole. When possible, display the plants in bright but not direct sunlight.
 Roller coaster temperatures lead to several disease problems in the landscape. Alan Henn, state plant pathology specialist, says gardeners need to be watchful for several problems. Rose cane diseases, particularly cankers, tend to become more prevalent when we get several rounds of freezes followed by temperatures in the sixties. Downy mildew on several crops occurs more frequently. Pythium attacks lawn and ornamental plants. Botrytis occurs in vegetable and ornamental plants in protected structures like high tunnels and cold frames. 
Preventive measures include removing dead and diseased plant material and treating with appropriate fungicides.
Henn says he is seeing these problems most often north of Highway 98, but the problems may become worse farther south as the cold fronts keep coming through. Also happening now are bark splits on woody ornamentals. There is nothing to be done now, but be prepared to prune next spring.
 An unusual Christmas gift for vegetable growers would be some unusual seed. Many growers like to try the hottest pepper (Bhut joloka), the largest cantaloupe (Canoe Creek Colossal), the biggest pumpkin (Dill’s Atlantic Giant), white carrots (Snow White, White Satin), fractal broccoli (Romanesque) and other out of the ordinary types. Most seed packets are less than five dollars and would make great stocking stuffers for avid gardeners.
 Composting slows down when the temperatures get cold. The process has to generate its own heat and carbon/nitrogen ratios become more critical as we add dead plant material like fallen leaves and brown grass clippings rather than green leaf prunings and green grass. Gardeners can either accept the slower process or they can supplement the pile with a high nitrogen source like blood meal, soybean or cotton seed meal or commercial fertilizer.

Kelly, Nagel and Wells are affiliated with the MSU Extension Service. Provided by the Oktibbeha County Extension Service; call 662-323-5916.

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