By: Pat Cordray
It is amazing how fast we make it through each year. Here we are ready to celebrate the season with family and friends and hopefully we have some time for gardening this month. But before we get to that, you know what I must do first, so here it is. Freeze warning; If there is a freeze warning for our area, water your plants thoroughly; this protects the roots. If your tender plants are in the ground cover them with fabric made for protecting plants, like N-Sulate, tent the fabric to the ground and secure it with pegs. If your plants are in containers, follow the same instructions if you can’t take them in. If your tender plants are in hanging baskets, take them in or place them on the ground, water, and cover. Remember that plants cannot create their own heat so tenting the fabric to the ground allows the warmth from the ground to protect them. This will only give the plants a tad more warmth but it just might be enough to keep them alive during our winter. Remove the fabric when the weather warms, possibly the next day.
This month, you may think that with winter approaching there may not be much gardening to do. But that is just not true in our area. You can still plant vegetables, shrubs, and trees. For your vegetables, plant cauliflower, broccoli, green onions, Brussels sprouts, leeks, greens, and turnips, if those are the ones you like to eat. Plant any trees or shrubs that are hardy to this area. For trees and shrubs, this is important for all plants, keep in mind the mature size so you don’t plant something that is too big for the area. Feed your trees and shrubs, hold off on your camellias and azaleas until after they finish blooming. Don’t cut anything back this time of year, wait for warmer weather. Trim back your azaleas and camellias after they bloom. Isn’t it amazing to have so many gardening opportunities for the month of December.
For December, I’m still talking about bulbs, winter color, and camellias, my favorites!
Forcing ziva narcissus, amaryllis, and hyacinths is a great way to have fresh flowers in your home for beautiful color and fragrance indoors. This is a very simple project. All you need is water or soil, bulbs, rocks/pebbles, and a pot without a drainage hole or a pot with a drainage hole.
First let’s plant our bulbs in with the rocks and water. Use the pot without a drainage hole. Place the rocks in your container, you want room for the water and roots. Place the bulbs on the rocks, then add the water, don’t let the water touch the bulbs and don’t let the bulbs touch each other, think of children in the backseat of the car, no touching. Keep the planted container in a cool dry place until you start seeing growth. The hyacinths will take about 6 weeks to bloom, the ziva narcissus will bloom in 2-3 weeks, and the amaryllis will take from 3-8 weeks depending on the variety. Forcing bulbs in water will take everything they have to bloom so once they are finished blooming you can toss the bulbs.
Now, let’s plant our bulbs in soil. This time use the container with the drainage hole. Fill the container with soil and plant your bulbs in the soil. Plant hyacinths with the bulb tips above soil surface, plant the amaryllis to the shoulder of the bulb, and the narcissus bulb up to the neck. Don’t let the bulbs touch each other, then water. Turn your container to keep the stems growing straight. The amaryllis can be replanted outside once the weather warms.
Finally, let’s get your bulbs in the ground. Plant hyacinths, Dutch iris, leucojum, narcissus, ranunculus, and lycoris now. Mid-month you can start planting your tulips. Before planting bulbs in your garden, find a spot that gets full sun this time of year and is a bit shadier in the summer. Under a deciduous tree would be ideal. Planting in a raised bed is the next step in keeping bulbs healthy, bulbs may rot when soil holds water too long. How deep should you plant your bulbs? Usually, you plant the bulb with the tip at the depth of the width of the bulb. The exception to this rule is amaryllis, plant amaryllis with the neck above the soil line. Tulips and hyacinths need to be refrigerated for 4-6 weeks before planting. For beauty now, plant winter color in the beds with the bulbs, you will not only have an amazing landscape now, but in a few weeks, it will be breathtaking.
Speaking of winter color, it just gets better and better. Alyssum makes a sweet-scented mounding ground cover that is great for the outside edge of your landscape. Alyssum comes in white, purple, and pink. Lobelia is another vibrant blooming ground cover. Lobelia comes in a vibrant dark blue, light blue, purple, and white. Lobelia looks great on the outside edge of your landscape. Pansies are a beautiful cool weather blooming flower. Pansies come in purple, blue, red, yellow, pink, orange, white, and mixes of these colors. Some pansies have “faces” others are solid colors. Pansies grow 6-8” tall and look good planted en masse. Viola’s have smaller flowers than pansies but the impact is just great. These beauties bloom their hearts out and can take more heat than pansies can. They come in purple, blue, yellow, orange, red, pink, black, and mixes of these colors. Viola’s grow to about 4-8″ tall.
Snapdragons are another great plant for the cooler months. We carry the following snapdragons: Snapshot grows 6-10” tall, Montego grows 6-10” tall, Solstice grows to 16-20” tall, Sonnet grows 18-20” tall, and Rocket grows to 2.6’-3’ tall. These annuals add height and vibrant to pastel color to your landscape. Snapdragons come in yellow, white, purple, pink, orange, burgundy, and red.
For the most vibrant color of the winter, cyclamen, will fill the bill. Cyclamen is a small plant that packs a huge color punch! Cyclamen grow in clumps to 8-10” tall. They come in red, burgundy, violet, pink, white, salmon, rose, and mixes of these colors. This plant also has lovely heart shaped leaves with grey markings. Beautiful planted en masse or as a specimen. Plant these winter beauties in full sun and feed them to keep them blooming until the heat returns. These are just a few of the color plants available now to brighten up your garden or patio.
Now, for camellias. Last month I covered most of the how to plant, in a raised bed, when to plant, now, etc. I wanted to add more pictures of the blooms to show the range of beauty that camellias have, enjoy!
Enjoy the winter garden!