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Garden Plot: Gifts for gardeners, de-icers and tips for healthy holiday plants

Friday - 12/14/2012, 10:21am  ET

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Best gifts for your favorite gardener

Mike McGrath, WTOP's garden editor

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Mike McGrath, wtop.com

It's almost winter, do you know where your de-icer is?

I know it's time for me to be writing up last-minute gift tips for gardeners, reminders not to set your tree on fire and warnings not to eat the mistletoe. But we've already had some frigid nights, winter officially starts next week and the holidays always do a darn good job of distracting us from important "everyday" stuff.

And so I ask you, my fellow Americans, do you have de-icer at the ready? Waking up to an icy walk is not the time to start thinking about such things. So this weekend, pick up a shaker jug, and not one containing rock salt if you're going to use it near a lawn or other plants. You want calcium chloride, potassium chloride, magnesium chloride for a plant-safe rock salt alternative.

Confused? It's easy to be. A lot of the so-called "alternatives" out there are just rock salt wearing a dress and high heels.

Scan the fine print for the list of ingredients, and look for the letters "NaCl" on the label. If they're not there, you have a true, plant-safe de-icing alternative.

But if NaCl is one of the ingredients, there is rock salt in there.

Best gift for a gardener? Gloves they'll actually wear

The Christmas Clock is ticking, time for gift ideas for gardeners.

A good pair of gloves is a garden necessity. But most styles are so bulky you can't feel what you're doing. That's why I use baseball batting gloves in the garden.

They offer great hand protection and fit tight enough for you to do even fine work while wearing them. And, you can pick bright team colors like red or blue that are much easier to find than brown when put down.

I try and have four to five pairs handy so I can change them when a pair get muddy or wet. Stores with sporting goods sections can probably be persuaded to dig out their inventory for you.

Or go high-end with a premium brand like Bionic. Known mainly for their golf, tennis and other sporting gloves, Bionic makes a line of excellent, high-quality tight fitting gloves specifically for gardening.

And, Bionic gardening gloves are available at a number of local independent garden centers, so you don't have to sweat delivery. To find the retailer nearest you, click here, then click the little box that says "Gardening," and then enter your zip code.

And nobody says 'poo' to a good pair of pruners

Need a last minute gift for a gardener? We can always use a new pair of pruners. Hand pruners are the essential small gardening tool. But gardeners often lose track of our favorite pair, leave it out in the rain, or realize their pruners aren't nearly as sharp as they used to be.

And every year brings huge improvements in ergonomic design, meaning that a new pair of pruners should be much kinder on the old gardening joints. I personally like and use the "Power Gear" line from Fiskars, a company that has made great strides in ergonomic design. Felco pruners are also a great choice.

Can't decide? Buy several pairs! I typically like to have three or four good hand pruners at the ready.

You never know when some old fool is going to leave one out on the potting bench in the rain overnight.

Last minute gardening gift rundown

  • A true, dedicated mulching mower for a lawn owner whose current mower is out of date. These sleek machines turn clippings into a pulverized powder that feeds your lawn as you mow.
  • A leaf blower that has a reverse setting and a collection bag, so that you get your leaves off the ground, and get finely shredded leaves for garden mulching -- shredded leaves make a great mulch -- or for composting.
  • A worm bin for someone who wants to turn their kitchen scraps into the only plant food that's better than compost.
  • A composter for turning all those shredded leaves into garden gold.
  • A rechargeable weed whacker, because it makes you take a break when the juice runs out.
  • Or, a nice organic fertilizer like a liquid fish and seaweed mix or worm castings. Nothing says "Happy Holidays" like a festive bag of worm poop.

Holiday plant care in 53 seconds

  • Soak the base of a cut Christmas tree in a big container of fresh water before setting the tree in its stand.
  • Don't let tree stands run out of water, or green and sharp your new carpet will be.
  • Give unbloomed amaryllis lots of light and turn the plant every day to keep it straight.
  • Keep flowering amaryllis in a cool spot to see the longest show.
  • Keep poinsettias warm. Never expose them directly to outdoor cold.
  • Repot rosemary Christmas trees into larger containers or they will quickly turn brown.
  • Add 10 percent gin or vodka to the water to keep paperwhites nice and compact. Watering with a mixture of 1-part 40 percent (80 proof) alcohol to 9-parts water has been shown to prevent the droopy legginess that often plagues paperwhites.
  • Use sharp pruners to harvest evergreen and holly branches for fresh decorations.
  • And men, bring some of that holly into the house. When holly enters before ivy, it means the man will be king of the castle in the coming year.

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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)