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IT IS DIFFICULT TO THINK ABOUT GARDENING when shopping, holiday lights, Christmas trees and winter rain storms consume our energy. Why not take some quiet time on a sunny afternoon and recharge your batteries with a fun gardening activity? Between rain drops and shopping trips, you may find something pleasurable to do.

BUY A CAMELLIA This month many nurseries offer a nice selection of budded and early blooming camellias. These hardy beauties make fine holiday gifts for the gardener with or without a green thumb. Sasangua camellias sport many small, cheerful flowers on a low-growing, almost sprawling structure. Sasanguas make good espalier specimens as well as container plants. The Japanese camellias, "Camellia, japonica," are available also. They have a more robust, bushy growth habit. Flowers are fat and showy.

PLANT BULBS It is not too late to plant spring-flowering bulbs so take advantage of nursery close-out sales and start digging. Many bulbs are up to 50 percent off. Selection is limited, but you will find some good buys. Fill a few pots up now and you will have nice color next spring.

COLOR THE GARDEN Perk up barren flower pots and boxes with cool-season annuals and perennials. Many nurseries offer 4-inch pots of primroses, pansies, violas, Iceland poppies and calendulas in bud and bloom. A pot full of living color makes an inexpensive but beautiful holiday gift.

THINK FOOD With the arrival of bare root season this month you will find a wide variety of berries, grapes, fruit trees, strawberries, roses, artichokes, asparagus and rhubarb. If the ground is too wet for digging, try planting bare root stock in containers for setting out next spring.
[photo of Stellar's Jay]
FEED THE LAWN If you didn't feed the lawn earlier this fall it is not too late to do so now. During the cool wet months of winter lawn grasses begin their active growth spurt. Fertilize now and again in early spring. Winter rains thoroughly wash the fertilizer deep into the soil where roots need it the most.

FEED THE BIRDS Give the birds in your garden a treat by making them suet cakes. Suet is hard fat, usually from beef, that birds can pick on. To make suet cakes, melt fat in a heavy pan over low heat. When slightly cool mix in bird seed, peanut butter, cornmeal, oatmeal, dried fruit, sunflower seeds. For grit and calcium add crushed egg shells. Pour mixture into paper-lined muffin tins. Place hardened set cakes in mesh bags and hang out with bird feeders.

BE DIFFERENT While fresh cut conifers are the traditional favorites for holiday decorating, you might be adventurous and try something different. A Ficus benjamina is especially beautiful when draped with lights and ornaments. Although leafless at this time, Japanese maples exhibit their handsome twigs and branches and show off twinkling lights and special decorations. Dwarf citrus trees laden with fruit are stunning when laced with miniature white lights.


(Photos of Sasangua camellia and Stellar's Jay)

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