December offers both the darkest and the most optimistic of days for gardeners, but, unfortunately, there is much time between each state. The ever-shorter, darker days of the early part of this Cold …
This item is available in full to subscribers.
If you're a print subscriber, but do not yet have an online account, click here to create one.
Click here to see your options for becoming a subscriber.
If you made a voluntary contribution in 2022-2023 of $50 or more, but do not yet have an online account, click here to create one at no additional charge. VIP Digital Access includes access to all websites and online content.
December offers both the darkest and the most optimistic of days for gardeners, but, unfortunately, there is much time between each state. The ever-shorter, darker days of the early part of this Cold Moon month can envelop even the most optimistic individual in a cloud of doom.
The past growing season is but a distant memory, and a new growing season seems as remote as Mars.
Mulching to keep your bulbs cold in late winter will ensure they don't rise early and die by frost.
Yet, as we sip another cup of espresso or hot chocolate to banish our doldrums, we should be grateful for these modern amenities. Think of ancient ancestors, especially if they were from northern European countries, who lived where the earth was plunged into cold darkness in December. They feared how to survive the winter, and those fears were mingled with fears that the lifegiving sun might never return.
Since human beings have always been enterprising creatures, they decided to try luring the sun back with bonfires, chanting and drumming. Plants such as holly, mistletoe and evergreen that remained green symbolized life and, therefore, became objects of veneration.
Unlike our ancestors, we now freely visit grocery stores overflowing with an abundance of fresh produce and other items. Yet, like our ancestors, we fill December nights with light and color to raise our spirits and ward off the darkness. The evergreen tree remains a symbol of life and stands proudly in homes and businesses, and music continues as part of all cultures.
Since Colorado’s winters are often mild, restless gardeners may still find green life under leaf mold where a few hardy beets or carrots lurk or a hardy pansy is thrusting its cheerful face toward the weak sunlight.
Then, just when we think we cannot tolerate one more dark day, nature rewards us with the sun’s return. No wonder increasing numbers of gardeners celebrate this return on the Winter Solstice (December 21).
Q: We moved here from Louisiana a few years ago and are still trying to figure out this mulching business and other Colorado gardening quirks. Won’t plants rot if they are covered with mulch under snow?
A: Nothing rots here, not even my compost piles. We mulch in the late fall and winter to keep our soil COLD. Our notorious February thaws are increasing, causing bulbs and perennials to break dormancy. Just when that tender green foliage emerges, the March lion destroys everything with snow, freezing drizzle and cold.
Experienced gardeners save their mulch until the soil is completely frozen and then spread it. I wander alleys with my clippers in hand and clip branches of discarded evergreen trees to lay over areas where I have bulb planted.
Don’t worry about your difficulty in deciphering our climate. Even the experts are challenged, and global warming makes it even more of a puzzle.
Q: I’m worried about my hollyhocks. They have nearly a foot of green growth now. What can I do to protect them from winter’s snow and cold?
A: Absolutely nothing. Isn’t that nice to hear? Like grape hyacinths and numerous perennials, they produce new basal growth now. The plants are hardy enough to survive the winter, but they actually do better when there is a snow cover. These plants have evolved over the centuries, so I’m trusting they will continue to survive.
Q: Can you provide some ideas of plant-related (not poinsettias) gifts to give to gardening friends who don't like common commercial gifts?
A: What a lovely idea! I hear of more people doing this every year as they try to escape the season’s commercialism. These suggestions will be useful for all green-thumbers anywhere.
Gift certificates for nurseries are always winners, as are subscriptions to magazines (the gifts that continue to give).
Colorado Gardener at $18 for five issues gives you the best bang for your buck. All articles are written by Colorado gardeners, for Colorado gardeners, so information fits our quirky climate and resistant soil. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
American Gardener at $35, published by the American Horticultural Society in Virginia, provides information relevant to all parts of the country. Subscribers are also eligible for seed exchanges.
A visit to your favorite nursery will offer many ideas, in addition to providing a peaceful respite from the frenetic cacophony of shopping malls.
Amidst the tranquil oasis of tinkling wind chimes, murmuring waterfalls and lush plants (my nursery), you can find stationery, magnets, garden tools and gloves, succulents, ornamental containers, fairy garden plants, statuary, etc. etc.
Unfortunately, one beloved Denver-area nursery was a recent victim of developers’ jaws, so support your favorite nursery now. Nurseries are as integral to a community’s vibrancy as McMansions.
Two informative books about bees might also interest friends: Pollinator Friendly Gardening by Rhonda Hayes, $21.99, and The Bees in Your Backyard by Joseph Wilson, $29.95.
Don’t let December’s darkness depress you. Focus on the new solstice and join me in chanting, drumming and cheering the sun’s return. Then remember, “A delightful thing about a garden is the anticipation it provides,” notes W. E. Johns.
To a December filled with hope.
Joan Hinkemeyer is a long-time gardener from a family of green-thumbers. She was an estate gardener in Beverly Hills, California, and had her own landscape consulting business for over 20 years.
We have noticed you are using an ad blocking plugin in your browser.
The revenue we receive from our advertisers helps make this site possible. We request you whitelist our site.