What to do in your garden in December

Jim McCausland,  – December 10, 2004


Camellias. Sunset climate zones 4-7, 17: Buy and plant winter-blooming Camellia sasanqua.

Divide lilacs. If you already have an ungrafted lilac (onegrown on its own roots), you can start new plants by cuttingsuckers from the ground beside the parent plant with a sharp spadeand replanting them in another part of the garden.

Forced bulbs. Potted amaryllis and paperwhite narcissus areplentiful now in garden centers and nurseries. Choose amaryllis forcolor (mostly pinks, reds, and whites), paperwhites for fragrance.Give both plenty of light during the day. The flower stalks ofpaperwhites tend to flop over in warm indoor air; to perk them up,set plants out on a cool, frost-free porch overnight, then bringthem back inside in the morning.

Living Christmas trees. Four of the best candidates arealpine fir, Douglas fir, noble fir, and white fir. During itsindoor stay, care for the tree as suggested at left. After theholidays, move the tree to a cool, bright porch where its rootballwon’t freeze. Transplant the tree into the garden when the soil isworkable; or leave it in the container for another year.

Propagate evergreens. To start new plants of azalea,camellia, daphne, hydrangea, mahonia, or rhododendron, scrape adime-size patch of bark off the underside of a low branch. Dust thewound with rooting hormone, scoop a shallow depression in the soiljust below, and press the branch into it. Then firm a little soilover the wound and put a brick or stone atop the branch to hold itdown. The branch will form roots: By next fall, you can cut it freefrom the parent and transplant it.

Trees, shrubs, vines. Plant hardy kinds any time. For wintercolor, consider Berberis thunbergii (red berries), Callicarpa bodinieri ‘Profusion’ (purple berries), holly(see “High on Holly,” page 63), and winter hazel (yellow flowers).For spring color, consider forsythia (yellow flowers), saucermagnolia (pink to magenta-purple blooms), and wisteria (purple orwhite flowers).


Prune for holiday greens. Prune daphne, holly, native Oregonmyrtle, rhododendron, rosemary, and salal to make garlands. Mostconifers, especially cedars, yield long-lasting greens, but skiphemlock, which defoliates very quickly after it is cut.

Tend gift plants. All plants need fairly bright light,though most can stand lower light for 10 days or so during theholidays. Keep them out of drafts and away from heater vents. Waterwhen the top 1/2 inch of soil dries out, but never let water puddlein saucers. Nip off faded flowers or yellow foliage as needed.