December Garden Sustainable Maintenance Practices for the Southeast

Posted by on December 1, 2017


DECEMBER When I decided on a winter walk, it was at the point in the evening when dinner was done and sleep was still a ways away.  I topdressed with a goofy hat, gloves, and scarf for a journey down the garden path.

The evening was amazingly quiet. Of course, I have no point of reference since I rarely go into the dark.  I usually spend my winter evenings inside, waiting it out.  I don’t do dark well.  I wait, in anticipation, for the Winter Solstice, the one day I am a pagan.

Along with the moon and anxious eyes, I walk in the winter wonderland. To my delight, the paths are cheery from the glow of the low-voltage lighting. The paths and garden beds make shapes that are familiar, yet different. Uplighting shines on selected trees, whose winter form and color are valuable in the landscape.  A tree or shrub that would otherwise go unnoticed when in leaf takes center stage now; bare, cold, and in flower or in color.  The Acer palmatum‘Sango-kaku’, (coral bark maple) is living up to its common name–lighting brings out the color.


The Camellia sasanqua are looking beautiful! I’m not sure if I even have any japonicas; perhaps I need to look that up. As for my sasanquas, I have ‘Shishigarshia’, new white ones, new pinks ones, ‘Kanjiro’, ‘October Magic’, and others I need to recall. There are still coneflowers hanging on and pomegranate flowers. ‘Soft Caress’ Mahonia, Mahonia eurybracteata, looking good. Pansies are in too.


Clean up spent camellia blooms to keep disease from spreading.

Continue to cut back herbaceous plants as the various frost levels melt them away


You still have time to plant trees and shrubs, as long as the ground isn’t frozen or is not likely to freeze in the next few days.

Water on a weekly basis in the absence of rain or other precipitation. Planting now allows the roots a chance to develop and withstand the heat of next summer.

Amaryllis abound during the holidays. With colors including whites, strips, reds and pinks, there is sure to be a color to help you celebrate the season.

This spectacular bulb makes an ideal gift. When handling the bulb, be careful not to break fragile roots.

  • Select a pot large enough to allow an inch of potting soil around the sides of the bulb.
  • Plant your amaryllis in potting soil, leaving about an inch of the neck exposed above the soil level.
  • Water well, and place the potted bulb near a window with bright light. In low light, the stalk will grow tall and weak, losing the ability to hold the flower heads without staking.
  • When the flowers fade, treat amaryllis as one of your houseplants.
  • Fertilize monthly with 20-20-20 or similar analysis. Remember, the foliage has to grow to replenish the food reserves in the bulb.

After the treat of last spring frost, you can plant your amaryllis in the garden.

Harvest vegetables as neededradishes, squash, kale,

I only every want to speak from experience; these are the fruits I grow in the Bee Better Teaching Garden. Check out the complete list by clicking here. There were a few stragglers in The Bee Better Teaching garden–raspberries and figs.


Bird care. Remember the birds through spring. I tend to my bird friends year-round, mostly on weekends when I’m around,  The entire process of putting out the seed and watching the birds gives me a great deal of pleasure. They add so much to the garden and to the gardener’s enjoyment.

Be sure to provide a continual supply of water. Did you know that a bird is three times more likely to die from lack of water in the winter than lack of food? Break the ice, if need be.

Waterwise:  With a waterwise design, watering in the absence of rain is a breeze.  My garden at home, the Bee Better Teaching Garden was designed with waterwise principles. I have very little watering to do, and what I do have, is a choice. My boxwood collection is contained. But the watering is smart. These containers are near a watering source, so moving around a hose isn’t a big deal.

MULCH: Mulch your trees and shrubs, being careful to keep it away from the trunks.

PEST: Pests. Check camellias and other evergreen shrubs for signs of scale insects on the back of the leaves. Dormant oil spray on the leaves and stems is an effective control.

DECORATING:. Deck the halls with boughs of holly. There is so much to use to add festive natural adornments to your home, both inside and out.

December is a prime time to prune evergreens anyway. burford, foster and Nelly Stevens hollies usually have good color on their berries now.

Recut the stems at an angle and insert them in a bucket of warm water for several hours to condition before using.

Boxwood, ligustrum, and aucuba are also excellent for holiday decorating. Indoor plants: Rosemary topiaries are widely available now from nurseries, garden centers, big-box stores, and grocery stores. They make an excellent seasonal display, providing fragrance and decor for the tabletop inside or in a container outside.

If keeping your potted rosemary outside, protect from freezing the first year. Potted rosemary can easily dry out. Keep an eye on this. That shouldn’t be a problem because you will be passing by often for a snip for cooking.

Helen Yoest



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *