T’was the night before Christmas and all through the yard
My plants are all hoping that it doesn’t freeze hard.
The grasses and seed pods are left up for the bees
They need to be there in case of a freeze.
My garden is resting and sleeping so sound
That not a sprout or a seedling is yet to be found
But y’all must not fret or have fear
For the garden will be blooming the very next year.
Well, I am not a poet, but you get the idea. December is the month when our gardens are really in a state of rest. And they deserve it. In our area, gardens work extra hard to fight the heat and humidity of summer and to bloom longer than their northern counterparts. And this past February, my garden woke up earlier than ever before. That means a longer growing season and more plant “exhaustion.” Sleep garden, sleep. Actually, someone just walked by my garden and called out “it is in a state of transition.” I like that. Transition sounds better than “You have a lot of dead looking plants!”
What can you do in December while your yard rests? I always have lots of indoor holiday plants that I will then put outside this spring. Cyclamens will take a freeze and they look so nice inside or on porch for color this time of the year. Once I put away holiday decorations, the cyclamens stay for some color and then will go outside in February. Some people actually have them return each year. I have not been so lucky. I stagger planting Amaryllis so that I always have one blooming inside. Amaryllis bulbs can be planted outside after they bloom and they will come up and bloom next year – just maybe not at Christmas when you would like them. Only plant the bulb half-way into the soil. Narcissus also can be planted outside and you may find them blooming next year as early as November.
Remember last December right before Christmas and the hard freeze that we had? This is a wake up call for what we should and can do to protect Tropicals and tender perennials. Many things breeze right through below freezing temps such as most perennial Salvias, Pelargoniums (Geraniums), Dianthus, snapdragons, and pansies. Tropicals should be brought under cover on a porch or inside a garage. If you have large containers, cover them with cloth. Old sheets work well although your yard will look like it is decorated for Halloween. Do not use tarps or plastic –plants need to breathe. You will smother them if you cover them with plastic.
The most surprising thing I found blooming in my garden now was my Cestrum elegans or Red Cestrum shrub. It is a mass of tubular shaped blossoms. It seems to bloom from autumn through until the heat of summer. Cestrums have only a few arching branches so it is a tidy shrub and does not out grow its space. I highly recommend it so do an online search for it. I have not seen it at any local Lowcountry nurseries. Yet.
It is not too late to plant spring bulbs. I will plant mine after Christmas. They have been in the garage fridge since October. I always order species bulbs – that is tulips and daffodils (narcissus) as close to the original form as possible. They seem to take our heat better than hybrids. Since our ground does not freeze to any great depth, you can plant bulbs any time in December or even January. Do not panic if we have a warm spell and your bulbs start poking up earlier than they should. When we get a little cold spell they will go dormant again. My Chinese ground orchids (Bletilla striata) is blooming right now three months ahead of schedule. I imagine that a few cold nights will send them into dormancy. And we will have some cold nights in December. That is a given.
One fun thing that I did was plant a winter garden in a large container to put on my porch. It has all sorts of evergreen plants and a couple of ornamental kale plants. I used silvery shades of green to complete the winter theme. It should look nice all winter long and give me some interest when everything else is appears a little bleak. Once the garden centers clear out their Christmas trees, you will find all sorts of interesting winter plants like the kales to put in containers.
And don’t forget that my book, Lowcountry Gardening for Newcomers: How to Succeed as a Comya Gardener, makes a good Christmas gift. You can find it at LowCo Gardens, Southern Marsh Nursery, Bruno’s Garden Center, and the Greenery.
Best Wishes for a great holiday season and Happy Gardening in the New Year.