I Heard a Bird Sing
I heard a bird sing
In the dark of December,
A magical thing,
And sweet to remember:
“We are nearer to Spring
Than we were in September,”
I heard a bird sing
In the dark of December.
– Oliver Herford
In December, many of us turn our attention to the holidays, to lights and wreaths and cheerful displays that will chase away the darkness of the short, cold days. Late December marks the winter solstice, the longest night of the year, and we officially turn the corner into the season of winter.
Gardeners begin to find some rest in December, and if you’re like me, the fireplace beckons more loudly than the yard. Nonetheless, on sunny days it’s good to get outdoors and to take care of a few gardening chores during the month.
Don’t prune flower buds off of early bloomers like camellias!
Shrubs and Trees
- In zones 8 and higher, protect your tender citrus trees and ornamental shrubs from a surprise frost by covering them with burlap or other fabric. Drape the fabric over wooden stakes or a simple frame to keep it from coming in with the leaves of the plant. Remove the covering as soon as the weather warms.
- Prune dormant trees and shrubs, and winter-flowering shrubs after they finish blooming.
- Take cuttings to root indoors.
- In zones 7 and warmer, apply dormant spray to take care of overwintering insect eggs.
- In zones 9 and warmer, you can plant bare-root trees and shrubs, roses, and fruit trees.
- If you planted new trees this fall, inspect the stakes and guy wires to make sure they’re still straight and firm.
- Firmly stake leggy shrubs and saplings to prevent breakage in winter weather.
- Gently remove snow from boughs only if it is heavy enough to threaten breakage – otherwise leave it for insulation. Do not attempt to remove ice.
- Water plants if there has been insufficient rain, or if your plants are protected under eaves or larger trees.
Plant seeds indoors for a head start this spring.
Perennials and Bulbs
- If you’ve been chilling bulbs for winter forcing, they can be brought out once they have plenty of roots and have been chilled for 2-4 months.
- Continue planting spring bulbs as long as the ground isn’t frozen.
- Plant gift bulbs—such as amaryllis and paperwhites—in containers.
- Inspect your stored tender bulbs, and remove any rotten or diseased ones. If they are looking dry or wrinkled, mist the storage medium with a little water.
- Start seeds indoors in a warm window or under a grow light.