The day after Christmas is a special time for gardeners. December 26th is the time of year when the winter/summer solstice has passed. If you are in the northern hemisphere, the days are beginning to grow longer; if you are in the southern hemisphere, the nights are growing longer. Midwinter or midsummer, it’s a time of change.
December Gardening in Australia
For people north of the equator, thinking about gardening in Australia requires some flipping over a mental page, and thinking about what would be happening in July. But that is also why, pandemic conditions and so on remain calm and stable, Australia is a great place for northerners from around the globe to vacation. The warm, balmy days (perhaps even a little overly warm in some areas) make it a great time to visit the beaches, do some sightseeing, and enjoy the lush summer growth of those amazing Australian native plants.
Grass Trees Glauca Xanthorrhoea.
Neither a tree nor a grass, but instead a holdover from times prehistoric times, the grass trees are simply amazing plants. They have a sort of hollow core with rootlets that transport nutrition dispersed inside it. The outer ring is made up of leaf bases that have grown over the years. In December, at least a few of these amazing monocots are still in bloom. They put up a bloom spike, called a scape, that can grow to be three or four feet long, with tiny blossoms distributed along its length.
Without specialized knowledge, grass trees have a low survival rate in nurseries. They require a particular type of mycorrhiza that help provide nutrients for the growing plant. Lack of these mycorrhizae contributes to the death rate of potted or transplanted grass trees, but overwatering and poor drainage are also contributing factors. Grass trees are best purchased from a licensed, certified plant specialist who is willing to instruct novice owners on how to care for their plants.
Native Australian Finger Limes (Citrus Australasica)
Finger limes are another native Australian plant. While it grows happily in the brushy thickets of Australia, cultivating it is relatively new. Some plants have been planted in Florida, but it will be some years before they will bear a significant amount of fruit. Meanwhile, these succulent citrus fruits, about the size of a man’s little finger, are something of a delicacy. They are harvested at the end of summer. The fruit has a shelf life of about four weeks when refrigerated, so that makes them a shoo-in for the delicacy market. They bloom in late summer and are ready to pick in autumn.
Midsummer anywhere is usually a good time to support your plants with a little extra plant food. This might be a liquid fertilizer or a mulch that is designed to break down and add appropriate nutrients to the soil. If mulching, keep the organic matter away from the trunk of the tree to help prevent pest infestations. Since this is a dry time in many parts of Australia (but not all – it helps to know your own microclimate) a drip watering system might be beneficial for some plants.
Time for Seed Catalogues
In the northern hemisphere, this is a good time to browse seed and plant catalogues and to dream about spring. In many areas, it is too cold or too dry to put out new plants, but it is never the wrong time of year to think about the plants that are doing well in your garden, the ones that you enjoy most, and the ones that you have been wishing to have, but just have not quite managed to have good luck with them.
Some things to think about when you are considering making garden changes include:
Do you have heavy clay, fine sand, lots of organic material or nearly bare earth? What does that plant or tree you’ve been dreaming about require? It is a good idea to make the necessary soil amendments as far ahead as possible so you can see whether they are holding up, or if you need to make changes. Drainage and natural water sources are important to consider.
Selecting a tree or other plants that fit your environment.
It is often easier to grow a plant that is already adapted to your soil or climate. While it might be a gardening triumph to get a plant from a different climate to grow in your garden, it is usually more efficient and far less expensive to grow native plants.
Those Gift Plants.
People who are not gardeners might have given you plants as a gift. These can be wonderful, thoughtful selections, or they might be a little bit of a challenge. If you suspect that the giver might hope to see that tree or plant a year or two down the road, you might need to do some fast research to discover its particular requirements. A few of them might even be happier if you simply keep them in their pot, or re-pot them in a slightly larger one.
Gardening in December
Hot or cold, warm or dry, gardeners will find a way to enjoy their garden. They will read colourful plant catalogues, add them to the compost bin, and clear and clean up untidy parts of their gardens. If there are plants that are not doing quite as well as others, they might create a shade to protect them from the sun, or create a windbreak to keep off the cold wind. Or they might simply keep gift plants in a protected environment such as a sunny window or a greenhouse. Because gardening might be seasonal, and gardeners might be more aware of the lengthening or shortening of days than many people, gardening itself is always in season.