In the December garden

Until hellebores began flowering the last week of November, I had not considered this late autumn as too much out of the ordinary. Yes, the month was unusually mild, but not far outside the norm, it seemed. But, plants often tell a story beyond my perceptions, and it’s clear that this period heading into winter is quite unusual.

Occasionally, there will be a few flowers in late December on the hellebores (below), and one year there were blooms before Christmas. This year, a few began flowering in late November and early December, and several others are showing colorful buds that are more typical of late January.

Most of the garden’s hollies feature red berries, but berries of Japanese hollies (Ilex crenata ‘Sky Pencil’, below with a dwarf Cryptomeria behind) are sparse and black. ‘Sky Pencil’ has a very upright growing, cylindrical form, that is, until snow or ice splays branches in every direction. Even if branches are tied tightly through the winter months, tall, unbranched growth encourages a misshapen form with older plants. Pruning tall branches can help, and after snow or ice it is necessary, but follow up shaping is required.

Autumn flowering camellias (below) continue to bloom despite regular temperatures in the mid twenties (Fahrenheit) with many buds just beginning to open. A heavily shaded ‘Winter’s Star’ has just begun flowering, and often it will bloom into late January if temperatures don’t remain frigid.

‘Autumn Encore Amethyst’ azalea (below) is always the last of the autumn flowering azaleas in bloom, often several weeks after others have stopped flowering. After a mid twenty degree night the flowers are ruined, but there are more a few days later. Except for its notable lateness, ‘Amethyst’ is a below average performer compared to other Encores in this garden.

The autumn flowering mahonias (‘Winter Sun’, below) began flowering at their typical time, but with a mild November the blooming cycle has accelerated, and now flowers are past their peak. A year ago, there were flowers into late January, but there will be only a scattered few at the start of the new year.

‘Spider’s Web’ fatsia was flowering until a week ago, a telltale sign that this marginally cold hardy shrub is misplaced in this region. But, several are headed into their third winter, with no protection in last year’s mild winter with a one night low of twelve degrees. If temperatures are forecast to drop much below ten degrees the fatsias will be surrounded by wire cages that are filled with leaves.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. tonytomeo says:

    Are ‘Sky Pencil’ berries ornamental enough to bother with, or is that holly grown primarily for vertical foliar growth. The berries look like those of coffee berry, which are not much to look at.

    1. Dave says:

      Sky Pencil is a vertical accent, nothing more. Its berries are few and small, green leaves unremarkable.

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