December begins the Persephone period that continues into January—a time of rest from growth due to our shortest days. Even evergreens rest, but the garden never truly sleeps. Camellias (Camellia spp. and cvs., Zones 6–10) carry the bloom torch through the winter holidays. This month offers us a break if needed or the chance to catch up on clearing out, cleaning up, composting, mulching, and edging.
This is tree time. December is perfect for planting bareroot or ball-and-burlap trees, pruning Japanese maples (Acer palmatum, Zones 6–8), or hiring an arborist for canopy tree pruning or removal if necessary. If you’ve got wooded areas, you can now see and have space to work as you clear underbrush and dig out crowded saplings or tree seedlings.
Send a little package of soil to your extension service (be sure to follow their instructions) if you’re seeing foliar issues in particular areas of your garden or are just curious about the makeup of your soil. Testing may be free or lower in cost this time of year. You’ll get the results in enough time to add amendments for next season’s growth if called for.
Cut greenery and berries for indoor decoration. Enjoy the fruits of your labors! And if you are gifted an amaryllis (Hippeastrum spp. and cvs., Zones 8–10) for the holidays, don’t toss it out after bloom. Save it and plant it out in April. Many are hardy in Zones 8 and 9.
—Paula Gross is the former assistant director of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte Botanical Gardens.
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