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Southern Gardening - Potpourri for December

Christmas has always been such a joyful time of the year, and let's make this year even more joyful in spite of Covid restrictions. T'is the season for bright decorations, merry Christmas trees, poinsettias, forced amaryllis and daffodil bulbs, along with Christmas carols of the past. Even if there are fewer in attendance at our homes for Christmas this year, we can always make the best of this odd situation. If you have time on your hands, start making homemade cookies, fudge, bundt cakes with red and green icing, pepper jelly and homemade rolls for gifts. Last year I found that I had 4 large jars of strawberry preserves, which had been tucked away and out of sight. So I purchased small jars and Christmas ribbons. Then I heated the strawberry preserves on the stove, added cayenne pepper, which magically became Christmas Pepper Jelly. How easy was that. Friends and family were grateful for this gift that is great on cream cheese and with ham.

The garden is winding down, and there is much activity pulling out and pruning back. The large stands of lime green coleus look scraggly and moth bitten, so out they go. I had taken about a dozen cuttings last month, which I rooted and planted in pots. Now these plants, which are about 8 inches high and will contribute to cuttings I will root over the winter months for planting next spring. Coleus can withstand some cold, so I plan to let them live on until a freeze deals them a fatal blow. In my pot garden, I plan to severely cut back the gorgeous large geraniums and bring indoors. The same goes for dragon wing begonias, plumbago, hibiscus, and mandevilla. The main reason I go to the trouble of salvaging these plants is that they will be bigger and better next year with this head start, so to speak.

Pine straw gets a big play in my garden in the winter time because it single handedly will block out weeds. It is also a mulch to protect perennials that have been cut back, and even protect begonias from the cold. Many of the begonias will come back next spring with very few deaths. I put a heavy layer of pine straw mulch under azalea bushes to protect the roots if we do have an unusually cold winter. One can always tell when an azalea dies from cold since the roots are split. (The plant may live and bloom one more season then die.) Pine straw can hide a multitude of problems such as bare areas around magnolia and oak trees where grass will not grow. To date I have not tried the artificial straw and probably will not since I want the pine straw to organically improve the soil. If you are going to plant tulips this year, but them now, and refrigerate in the crisper for 6 weeks, then plant outdoors for spring bloom. I do not like to get them in the ground before mid January to February because, with a lot of rain, they will rot in the ground. Squirrels also take their toll on freshly planted bulbs.


There are many species of the Camellia family, including the sasanqua, one of the loveliest of fall to winter blooming shrubs depending on its location. These actually can bloom anytime from late summer to late winter. Some are ruffled around the edges and these tend to be fragrant. Their blooms last only a couple of days, but then more come into bloom. However, the short-lived blooms do not lend themselves as cut flowers. They like a slightly acid well-drained soil, and prefer light shade. Their hardiness zones are from zone 7 through 9. Fast growers, they make a wonderful choice for a hedge, and grow to up to 12 feet. They have few diseases, have a color range from white to pink to dark red. Their blooms really make a grand show against their dark green leathery leaves.

Merry Christmas & Happy Gardening!


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