Watching for houseplant pests, keeping holidays plants cool, and cutting back geraniums are some of the gardening activities for this month.
Plants that have summered outside may be hiding some hitchhiking mealybugs and scale that can spread to other plants. Periodically take a close look at the main stems and leaves (as when you water). Mealybugs are somewhat easier to spot than scale because they have a white cottony coating. Scale have a hard, often brownish, shell-like covering. Both can be controlled in the early stages by rubbing them off with Q-tips dipped in alcohol. A severely infested plant will need a spray with lightweight horticultural oil.
Rinsing off houseplant foliage can keep both the dust and pesky insects at bay. Set pots in the shower for a few minutes (with you if you like) or rinse them in the sink. With plants too heavy to move, wipe off the leaves with a damp cloth.
Amaryllis, cyclamen, and most other blooming holiday plants will last longer if kept on the cool side and out of direct sunlight. If you wish to make sure some flowers don't fade before a big event, you can keep the plants in a cool room or part of the house (preferably above 50 degrees F) for a few days and bring them out the day you need them.
Cyclamen in particular prefer cool temperatures, so keep them back from south-facing windows that heat up during the day. Cyclamen also prefer even moisture, so don't allow to wilt and definitely don't keep too wet or they may rot. You'll find these in stores and at florists in many colors including reds, pinks, purple and white, and in both large- and small-flowered.
If you brought in your annual geranium plants this fall and are growing them indoors this winter, chances are they're getting leggy by now. The cloudy, short days of November and December don't provide enough light for these plants to thrive. Cut back the plants to about one foot tall. They will resprout and grow bushier in the longer days of late winter.
Gardeners on your holiday gift list might appreciate a decorative basket or pot filled with handy gardening items. Plus they're fun to put together. Some items to consider are pruners, an ergonomic trowel, fragrant soap, hand lotion, seeds, plant tags, paperwhite narcissus bulbs, and attractive thermometer or rain gauge. There are many specialty gloves to choose from, including ones with padding, water-resistant, insulated, or with long sleeves.
There are many garden books to choose from for gift ideas, both instructive how-to ones and ones to inspire. With many interested now in growing their own fruits and vegetables, consider a couple references by the authors-The Fruit Gardener's Bible and Northeast Fruit and Vegetable Gardening.
Other gardening tips for this month include buying a locally-made evergreen swag or roping for decorating, visiting a Christmas tree farm for a nice outing with family or friends, making sure foil on pots of holiday plants have holes for drainage into saucers, visiting greenhouses to see new colors of poinsettias, and using plant-safe deicing products on walks and drives. You'll find the latter listed as such in hardware and other stores. Make sure when bringing poinsettias home to give them plenty of protection with paper bags or "sleeves", and keep in a warm car. They're very sensitive to cold and cold drafts near doors and windows.