We had an unbelievably beautiful early December. Light rains moistened the soil and the hills have turned a vibrant green. For gardeners, December tends to be a tricky month. It can be warm and sunny with offshore winds clearing the air, a second summer. It can fool apple trees into producing buds that open into pretty pink blossom, only to be wind whipped and rain damaged, forcing the tree to put on another show in late winter.
December is a good time to enjoy floral color indoors. Poinsettias that are in every grocery store and nursery this time of year will brighten any home for the holidays. To keep them beautiful, check the soil daily. Most of us know the results of letting a poinsettia plant go dry. It drops its leaves from the bottom up and exposes its knobby knees. Water the soil until it runs freely out the drainage hole in the container. To keep the plant in bloom, maintain it at a temperature of 65 to 70 degrees and cooler at night if possible. You can get poinsettias to rebloom outdoors the following year if you are willing to follow a rigorous schedule of feeding, watering, repotting, and temperature control.
Treat yourself or a friend to a Christmas cactus (Schlumberger) as a gift. Its flowering is related to day length and nighttime temperatures so Mother Nature is telling them to open their buds now. Do not over water your Christmas cactus as they are prone to root rot. You can enjoy their pink, white, and red blooms for months. When they are finished blooming you can move them to a secluded place in your garden and bring them in next fall.
Another popular plant that will brighten your home in December is cyclamen. Its dainty flowers resemble dancing moths and come in shades of pink, red, lavender and white and are often fringed or double. Their heart shaped variegated leaves often have a burgundy veins.
Did you remember to put paper white narcissus on a bed of pebbles, covered with water? Its not too late if you can find some nice plump bulbs at the bottom of the box in a nursery. Or, place a hyacinth bulb (named for a divine hero in Greek mythology) in a vase made for this purpose. Add water to the base of the bulb and place the container in a cool dark place until it fills with roots. Move the container to a cool bright space and enjoy the magic.
Try something new this season and may the holidays bring you color, fragrance, and good cheer!
Tip of the month
Were you given a pretty flowering cyclamen plant for the holidays? Cyclamen plants grow in the fall, bloom in fall, winter, or spring, and go dormant when there is no rain in the summer. Flowers will fade and leaves drop. Never fear! The plant is alive and well. The cyclamen that you received as a gift is most likely a Cyclamen persicum and will reflower the following fall if you stop watering until September or early October. Or, better yet, plant it outdoors in semi shade and let nature take it course.