Horticulture Corner-December 2019
By Maureen Loomer
December, being the last month of the year, cannot help but make us think of what is to come.”
― Fennel Hudson, A Meaningful Life – Fennel’s Journal – No. 1
One of the many avian joys of my garden is the bluebird family (five!) I have seen for two and a half years now. I thought they had a decided preference for the suet and mealworms I provide, but they had a surprise for me. I managed to get a BIG American Beauty Bush at Timmy’s Wayside Garden in Goldsboro in September which was covered with berries ($25). It settled in very nicely and I caught the bluebirds gobbling up the berries. I found a website https://www.ncbluebird.org/bluebird-care/landscaping-for-bluebirds/ for those of you interested in planning a bluebird-friendly garden for the coming spring.
If you have had enough killing frost for your perennials to become dormant, you may be thinking about cutting back dead foliage and mulching. Pine needle mulch is traditional here, and has the advantage of being resistant to bacterial and fungal degradation due to the needles’ waxy coating and acidic tissues. Pine needle mulch in planting beds that gets replaced at least every couple of years will not acidify the underlying soil, but if you put new mulch on top of the previous year’s needles, the soil pH will drop over time. Not a problem for crape myrtle, azaleas, dogwoods, magnolias and other acidophilic plants.
Although most of my beds are mulched with pine needles, I prefer to use Scott’s NatureScapes for the herb gardens. I find this hardwood mulch better than pine needles for weed control, and blends well where it interfaces with the lawn. I also like the look of hardwood mulch with the rocks in the new dry woodland garden. I am not using any mulch at all in the wet woodland garden-just rocks and some birdbaths; because, well, wet. Grumpy Gardener in Southern Living warns that wood mulch may be prone to mildew. Not in my experience, but Scott’s does not use waste wood so that may be why.
Contrary to predictions a few months ago, the latest prognostications from the National Weather Service https://weather.com/forecast/national/news/2019-11-13-winter-outlook-temperature-2019-20-the-weather-company-noaa suggest a colder than average winter for our area. This, of course, is subject to change without notice J. As long as there is no hurricane, it’s all good.
Pinecone and Lowe’s have poinsettias, cyclamen and Christmas cactus in, as well as pansies, violas and cabbages for outdoors. I think poinsettias are awfully fussy, but have to have a couple for the living room. As we all know, poinsettias like the same temperatures that people do, and must be protected from both cold and warm drafts. Mine go in my bay window (southern exposure, light filtered by wooden blinds). The trickiest thing is hydration, since they don’t like wet feet, but cannot be allowed to dry out. A moisture gauge is the most reliable way to be sure you are not over-watering. I got one at Lowe’s (thanks to Jack Durham!), and it has been a game changer. It detects light, pH, and soil temperature as well as hydration. For those of you who want the challenge of keeping poinsettia year round, try this site https://www.sheknows.com/living/articles/977967/poinsettias-how-to-keep-them-thriving-year-round/
Although it is tempting to put plants near a working fireplace, don’t do it! I find that if it is warm enough to draw my cats, it is too much for plants.
Until next month…