You may think there is nothing to do in the garden in December as the weather is bleak and the plants are dormant. But this time of year is wonderful for buying bushes, planting bulbs and keeping poinsettias in your home.  First I will tell you about some bushes that would be a great gift for the gardener in your life. This time of year is the best time to plant bushes. We tend to get a lot of rain in December and January so once you plant your bush you won’t have to be as vigilant about watering. And your bush will have the long, cool winter to establish its root system before spring comes. Here are some favorites for December.

The holly plant, with shiny dark green leaves with prickly edges, has always been associated with Christmas, most likely because it really puts on a show in December. Botanically known as Ilex, holly plants are a genus comprising of about 400 species. On the left is a holly bush I found in my mother’s yard. As luck would have it she doesn’t know which one it is. Anyone? Anyone? But some of the more typical favorites are Nellie R. Stevens, burford and savannah. On the right is a favorite in my yard- nandina. I hardly notice this bush during the warm months but it is a jewel in the winter. Nandina domestica, in botanical terms, can get up to 8 feet tall. The pictured bush is over ten years old and has survived many a dry, hot summer without any assistance. If I were a more crafty woman I would make holiday decorations with nandina clippings. In another lifetime…

A camellia bush is another great choice. Originally from China and Japan, these bushes are known for an incredible show of blooms when nothing else is in bloom. The two most common types of camellias are sasanqua and japonica. Japonicas bloom winter through spring and need adequate water to look their best, but are surprisingly drought tolerant once established. They can be planted in a wider variety of exposures than sasanquas. Sasanquas typically bloom in the fall, love morning sun and afternoon shade, have smaller leaves and tend to be slower growers.The bush pictured is a camellia sasanqua called Yuletide. If you were to buy one as a gift for the favorite gardener in your life, they could just put it in a pot like my mom, Sandra Prelipp, has done here.

It is not too late to buy a poinsettia. They really do brighten up the house in winter.  When you bring your poinsettia home, remember that it has spent all of its days in a greenhouse. To prolong its beauty try to place the plant in a place where it will get six or more hours of indirect sunlight each day. Excessive heat, lack of light and over or under watering are the greatest enemies to your poinsettia. Keep the plant in a room with a temperature around 60 degrees, not near any cold drafts, hot air registers or the fireplace. Water the plant when the soil surface is dry or the pot’s weight is light. Water it in the sink until water runs out the bottom, then just leave it in the sink until it has completely drained and feels heavy. Move your plant carefully because the branches are brittle. And not that you are going to feed it to your pets or children, but do beware that it is poisonous.

And finally I wanted to talk about bulbs. Each year I neglect to plant bulbs because I think I have missed the good time to do it. Well the time is now! I recently visited Bernice Wade and Barbara Stiles at their home in the Gimghoul neighborhood. These twin sisters have amazed their neighbors for many years with their incredible garden. They said it is actually best to wait until after Thanksgiving to plant bulbs because if we get a warm snap in October the bulbs get confused and want to bloom. So now is a safe time. Spring and early summer flowering bulbs must be planted in      the fall/ early winter in order to develop a root system and satisfy the cold requirement of the bulbs. Plant the bulb pointy end up. That’s about all you need to know. It’s easy to spot the pointy end of a tulip; tougher with a crocus. But in most cases, even if you don’t get it right, the bulb flower will still find its way topside. Plant big bulbs about 8 inches deep and small bulbs about 5 inches deep.
Do you have a favorite plant or a tip for gardening? Please share! I do not claim to be an expert on any of this but just love gardening all the same. And with that I am off to plant some bulbs in the rain.