The holiday season brings a flurry of preparatory activity in the home to give it that extra pizzazz for this special time of year: clutter gets cleaned up, the holiday decorations are set out, centerpieces and tablecloths are changed, garland swags and wreaths are hung. 

There's a lot that can be done in your garden and landscape to give it that extra flare: flower beds can be planted or dead headed and mulched, weeds can be pulled or sprayed, entry foyers are cleaned and decorated, and lights are put up.

Color your entry with flowers

Use the impact that flowers make at your entry, or on your patio or outdoor tables. Add flower-filled pots and hanging containers to your patio and front sidewalk. Keep your flower gardens and containers blooming heavily by fertilizing with a balanced fertilizer. A number of winter annuals, particularly petunias, are "heavy feeders" meaning they need to be fertilized regularly, about once every two months. With weather like ours, we can plant all winter long and have beautiful flowers, including poinsettias, throughout the holidays!

If you have already planted winter flowers, pinch off spent flowers. This cleans out any dead looking flower heads (aka dead heading) and gives the flowers a push to bloom more. Also, a layer of new mulch on top of the soil will give your flower beds that extra finishing touch of class, and give an added layer of winter protection to the root zone.

Decorate with poinsettias

Consider adding poinsettias to planters or buy the color bowls already planted with alyssum, pansies, etc. There are literally dozens of poinsettia colors, sizes, and varieties to choose from beginning as early as Thanksgiving weekend. Choosing a fresh poinsettia is as simple as looking at the flower in the center of the colored bracts.

"Bracts" is the technical name for the brightly-colored leaves of the poinsettia. The flower is actually that tiny yellow cluster at the top of the plant. If the flowers are still closed, the poinsettia is slightly underdeveloped. When about half of the flowers are open the plant is well developed, still extremely fresh, and will look great well past the holiday season.

Put poinsettias in a brightly lit room (or patio) with enough natural light to read and away from drafts. If you are putting them outside, bring them in on freezing nights and during windy days. Feel the soil before watering, if it is dry water through (usually about once a week). Remember, it has been proven that poinsettias are not poisonous. Drop that old wives tale!

Winter watering

Be sure to decrease water in cool weather. Visit for more information. While you are there sign up for our free email garden and landscape tips that send reminders about classes, watering, frost protection, plants, etc.

Yard spruce up

Your yard may need some pre-holiday attention. Your winter lawn may need fertilization with a slow release lawn food blend. Be smart this year and use pre-emergent instead of the backbreaking weeding. We like Amaze or Concern for weed prevention. Sprinkle it on the area you want protected, and water it in. The product creates a 1- to 2-inch-deep barrier in the soil that prevents seeds from sprouting. As long as the soil isn't disturbed, the area will remain relatively weed free for up to six or eight months. Then, just reapply to keep the protection in place. The product is ideal for graveled areas in front yard desert-scapes, perennial beds that you don't want to re-seed, etc. Post emergent herbicide like Remuda works great to kill weeds.

Frost protection

Frost prevention will also keep your holiday garden looking its best. The best protection is frost blankets. These specialty landscaping blankets are made from a geo-textile fabric that allows air to move in and out, and lets in ultraviolet light. When the dew settles and freezes, the fabric acts as an insulator blanket, adding five to eight degrees of warmth. Burlap and bed sheets can't do this.

With a little prevention, maintenance and creative decorating with poinsettias and flowers your home, yard and patio will be in high style and perfect condition to receive family and friends. Have a beautiful and safe holiday season.

• Gary and Sharon Petterson own Gardener's World and Gardener's Eden Landscaping in Phoenix. Reach them at (602) 437-0700. For the nursery, call (602) 437-2233 or visit, and for landscaping, visit

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