According to Master Gardener records, December is the coldest month of the year, followed closely by January. To soften winter's effect on tender shrubs, hang strings or blankets of lights over them. Then keep lights on all night during cold snaps. The heat given off provides a boost to your climate zone. This also works in protected vegetable beds.
Using your fire bowl during the holidays? Even though leaves are down, don't burn under trees, and use the spark screen to protect your deck. Check your owner's manual for further instructions.
Most birds that winter locally eat seeds, so you can keep feeding: black oil sunflower seeds, safflower seeds and Niger thistle (for lesser goldfinch in a separate feeder). Birds like fruit, too; hang a string of apple or orange slices with cranberries and large raisins. Anna's hummingbirds come to feeders all winter; use one part sugar to four parts water. Keep feeders clean; toss moldy fruit; change sugar water weekly. Provide water during freezes.
kitchen and orchard
" Fertilize berry canes with manure. Tie up the canes for next summer's crops.
" Clean up any fallen fruit, and compost it at home if you can. Toss worm-infected fruit to interrupt the insect life cycle. Clean leaves from under trees. Leaves can be composted if they are disease-free.
" Garden beds should get some cleaning and mulch. Plants that grow up from a base of overwintering green leaves (such as daisies) should be cut back. Leave mums standing; it helps them overwinter successfully. Leave wildflowers, too, so they can reseed.
" Recycle your leaves in a compost heap or put them out for leaf pick-up programs. These extend into December, so check your local collector for dates.
" If you are still planting bulbs, use a bulb-planting tool, which lifts a cone of soil from the earth. Simply drop in fertilizer, a bit of soil, the bulb and the remainder of the soil. This preserves soil tilth and microorganisms in wet conditions.
" Keep an eye on pond mechanicals during freezes so they continue to run. Fish need oxygenated water even when hibernating. Don't feed fish when the water temperature is below 50 degrees.
" The Jackson County Master Gardener Association plant clinic is open for questions and insect identification on Tuesdays and Thursdays between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. at the Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center, 569 Hanley Road, Central Point. Call 541-776-7371.
" Interested in the state of the birds? Help with the nationwide bird count at North Mountain Park, 620 N. Mountain Ave., Ashland. Audubon Society volunteers help you identify species, so all levels of birders are welcome. December dates are Dec. 5 and 19 from 9 to 10 a.m. Call 541-488-6606. The count continues through March on alternate Saturdays.
" North Mountain Park Nature Center, 620 N. Mountain Ave., Ashland, is offering two opportunities for the nature-based artist: Learn to photograph lights on location during Ashland's winter festivities at 4 p.m. Dec. 4; fee $50. For a more organic expression, learn to use watercolor pencils to convey the details in drawings of leaves, animals and branches. Fee is $80 for a two-day class. Call the center at 541-488-6606.
" Siskiyou Pond and Koi Club will celebrate the holidays with a social meeting Dec. 14 at 6:30 p.m. Reservations required. Call 541-245-9357 for details and location.